Friday, January 4, 2008

It's About the Teaching

It's good luck I ended up in South Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Because the country is in the process of developing, I've been able to keep up on my Google Reader list via cell phone.

May seem like a trivial thing. But there have been some great posts lately from writers who I often read. Many that make me realize this blog and my involvement in the blogosphere as a whole is fulfilling its original purposes:
  1. Helping me to find and use Web 2.0 tools in the classroom; but to a greater extent and more importantly,

  2. To make me a better teacher.
Bud posts about similar reasons for blogging. So does Cindy in this post. Two posts I read one morning a few weeks ago hit it home for me.
The first is from a new post Karl suggested, Beyond School. Clay writes about a lesson he taught in the spring:
Sure, the attempt to be “Classroom 2.0″ with the 1001 Flat World Tales was not your run-of-the-mill way to deliver a lesson - it was inventive, it was fresh, and it had pedagogical potential to improve both engagement and literacy. But. In terms of its content, its basic objectives, it was nothing new at all. Just a traditionally irrelevant and arbitrary, teacher-dictated little exercise in writing a nice little story for school with other nice little students stuck in their classrooms around the world.

It wasn’t “Beyond School” at all. It was Classroom 1.0 with Web 2.0 bells and whistles. In terms of vision, it was still “school-y.”

“Nobody’s doing anything about it.” It kept on echoing. My pride in the 1001 Flat World Tales collapsed as a result. I wasn’t “teacher 2.0.” I was one of the “Nobodies” that frustrated students by my complicity in schoolhouse irrelevance.
From this experience and his first year of blogging, he reaches this conclusion:
On New Year’s Day, 2007, I started this blog. I named it “Beyond School” and, in the months that followed, thought I was being true to the aspiration so vaguely adumbrated in that title. A lot has happened in the seven months since that time that has energized my professional life beyond my wildest expectations, and none if it would have occurred if I hadn’t started participating in the edublogosphere.

But I see now that my personal journey to get Beyond School is only now starting to crystallize. It’s not about web 2.0 for me anymore (though that is a tool I’ll continue using). And it’s definitely not about “Classroom 2.0,” since I dislike the realities of schools and classrooms as much now, as a teacher, as I did when I was a very miserable high school student.

Putting “what it is about” in positive terms is more difficult, but here are a few stabs. It’s about not being “a Nobody doing anything” when my students are looking for “Somebody doing something” about what they care about. It’s about inviting them to discover that they have the power to do something too. It’s about being a community leader more, and a teacher less. It’s about extending my relationship with these young adults beyond the nine-month term (if church youth group leaders can do it, so can teachers - and they can do it in the name of earth instead of heaven). It’s about re-conceptualizing schools as community action centers instead of walled gardens (or day-care centers, or juvenile detention centers). It’s about designing relevant experiences and projects in which any metaphors or synecdoches that, Nature help us, they learn, will have a purpose and meaning beyond an alphanumeric grade.

It’s about trying to be World-Changing instead of World-Ignoring and World-Ignorant.
The same morning I read this post by Dan (who won the title of "Best New Blog" in the Edublogger Awards this year) where he defends the use of handouts and worksheets:
Let me say, first, that I think there is a decent heart here, something that may lightly rattle those  teachers who content themselves cranking out worksheet after worksheet, passing them out after a rote opener, and then receiving questions at their desks.

But I think her post also reflects:
a. the 21st-century-learning crowd's total misapprehension of how students learn mathematics, particularly of how students who don't understand mathematics at all learn mathematics, and
b. the 21st-century-learning crowd's haste to throw out old mediums along with their bathwater.
Maybe technology isn't going to "change" education. Maybe a better way to talk about it is as an additional condiment option - like the first time you have ranch with your french fries. Ketchup has its advantages, uses, and shortcomings, as does ranch.
In the past two years, I've reflected on my student teaching and my need to remember my college training and find my own voice. I've explored the pedagogy of vocabulary instruction and the ed-tech tools that could compliment that instruction - topics that I'd like to address more fully in a Master's thesis someday. I've further explored my teaching abilities and developed classroom management skills as a substitute and considered alternatives to the traditional model of education. But the reflections I've done here and the thinking it encourages has multiplied the learning from the experiences ten-fold.
Looking at the big picture, it's not about the technology. It's about the teaching - pedagogy in practice.


  1. I think you're entirely right that we should not look to technology to change education, but rather as a possible tool. Like anything, technology will not always be the best way to reach and teach our students, but I worry that because there is such a push for teaching with technology that other tried and true teaching methods will get pushed to the side. I'm not against using technology in the classroom, I just think that other methods should not be viewed as irrelevant.

  2. Mary, from reading your blog, it sounds like you are appropriately guarded about the danger of seeing technology as a holy grail. I have some specific comments I'll leave you there. But yes, we are on the same page.

  3. It occurs to me though, that the main point in this post was that technology (blogging) is making me a better teacher more than it is teaching me more about technology. I'd take the former over the latter any day.