I am just a few hours away from teaching the first class of the semester. I have a limited number of face to face sessions so I think this first class is even more critical than in a K-12 classroom. Every moment together counts.
Katie Martin’s pic of six questions to ask your students showed up in my Twitter feed. I followed the link to her blog post about four ways to create a learner-centered classroom. Both are worth a look. I completely agree with her that reviewing the rules or the syllabus are important but should not be the first thing a teacher does no matter the grade level. When I taught middle school, we started working on the first day and I either wove the rules in as part of our activities or spent some time with the students creating classroom rules and norms together. I wanted the message to be that this was an interactive class where we worked hard, played hard, and learned hard.
The goal of Martin’s six questions are to help teachers build relationships with their students. They are reasonable questions that would certainly help a teacher personalize classroom learning for students.
But, I did wonder about one of the questions: What comes easily to you? This is a potentially powerful question. But as with all things: it is all in what we do with. If the answer is used to customize activities so Suzie always gets to write and Billy always gets to draw because it comes easily to them, I think we could be taking student choice too far.
Given a choice in how to respond, I’m probably going to choose the way that comes easiest to me, in my case by writing text. In fact, publishing my little sketchnote/infographics and committing to public writing has been my way of moving away from what comes easily and pushing myself outside the proverbial comfort zone. (I probably add 750 words a day to my journal…writing isn’t the problem for me, publishing is.)
I shared my course outline with some colleagues and at least one pushed back on requiring a “TED style talk” to present the work from their passion project. Wouldn’t some people be uncomfortable doing that, he asked. Yes, I’m sure they will, and I might tone down the “TED talk” rhetoric so it eases the pressure a bit, but the students WILL do a stand up presentation about their semester-long project. They are going to become school administrators and education leaders, and they need to get comfortable presenting ideas in front of groups of stakeholders.
We do lots of things that make people uncomfortable in my class at one point or another, from coding to recording videos of ourselves to solving challenges. For some people, just taking a course called School Technology causes anxiety. I combat that by being as supportive and reassuring as I can that while they will be expected to try out tools, failure will not affect their grades. (I don’t grade anyway really but that’s a whole other blog post.)
I am offering lots of choices this semester: from pursuing your passion to choosing from various tools to “writing” to your blog using a variety of media. But, I also am planning whole group activities around topics and tools, and I will expect participation from every student to some degree.
I think we should use the answer to the question of what comes easily to a student as a foundation for supporting them and a springboard for pushing them beyond the walls created by their preferences. I am a huge fan of Seymour Papert’s idea of hard fun where learning is challenging, but we find satisfaction in that challenge. He comments:
My whole career in education has been devoted to finding kinds of work that will harness the passion of the learner to the hard work needed to master difficult material and acquire habits of self-discipline. But it is not easy to find the right language to explain how I think I am different from the “touchy feely … make it fun make it easy” approaches to education.
My class is not easy in many ways and does require students to do more than a typical textbook, lecture, discussion kind of graduate class. You will get metaphorically dirty in this class but if you’re willing to try out things that may be difficult for you, I can promise you hard fun.
Blog Challenge Update:
Bad news: I had just turned out the light and plumped the pillow last night when I realized I had not posted a blog entry. I made a futile attempt to see if I could do it from my phone if only to keep the very short streak going but gave up pretty quickly and went to sleep. And slept soundly so clearly wasn’t too upset about missing.
Good news: In an effort to be more public about my blogging (honestly, I could probably write away here for months without anyone knowing), I shared my 10,000 Steps post on Facebook and got some nice feedback.