The following is a post written by a twitter colleague who is new to the world of blogging. A wonderfully honest and passionate look at the power of focusing on learning and not just teaching.
Today I watched my Year 8 class implode before my very eyes. It wasn’t pretty, but it was interesting. From my cozy little position, half way back in the classroom, I watched and I mused and I literally cringed, but I didn’t do anything to stop it.
It was a completely different classroom dynamic. Vivacious students who normally participated sat with eyes cast down, pen in hand aimlessly doodling as one by one the little light flickering over their heads dimmed. The most ‘gregarious’ sat whispering amongst them selves oblivious to what was happening at the front of the room. One student stood up, walked to the back of the room whispered in another’s ear and then moseyed on down to her front row position and then proceeded to entertain the class with a two pen drum solo. I observed this and more for about twenty minutes before realising much like the Titanic, this lesson had sunk.
You see my class hadn’t imploded dramatically. It was actually painstakingly slow. A casual observer may have seen no real reason for such obvious disengagement. A computer perched on the front desk signaled that this lesson had engaged in the world of these digital ‘natives’. The sleek presentation that lit the screen ahead was infallible. The students grouped in threes around desks seemed collaborative and conducive to powerful discussion and student interaction. However, despite the apparent ‘bells and whistles’ and engagement with technology… I was bored. And if I was bored it was almost certain they were too.
With about 15 minutes of the lesson to go, I stood up and walked out of the classroom, leaving my year 8 English class to finish their lesson with my colleague.
My original purpose was to observe the lesson to assist my colleague with some behaviour management strategies for this class. I found it gave me so much more to think about. How can one class look so incredibly different in the span of 3 periods?
Yes, on the surface my colleague seemed to have a good thing happening. Students seated in what would be a collaborative setting and pedagogy that seemed to have engaged with technology. But the reality was, this was just chalk and talk with a digital facelift. Students weren’t actively participating, they weren’t constructing meaning for themselves. They weren’t ‘in the task’. The technology was a glorified, albeit more efficient, white/chalk board. Three periods later as they strolled into their English classroom, I again observed from the middle of the room.
As they took their usual seats, organised in clusters around the room, I observed a different class. Novels out on desk and a genuine buzz as they discussed last night’s reading homework.
‘I think Ellie is starting to get too bossy’, said one.
Another argued back, ‘She is starting to think like a soldier. You’d be bossy too if this was your life.’
A whisper at another table, ‘I think Lee and Ellie are going to do it!’
And finally, ‘What would you do if this happened our town?’
BINGO. I found my in.
‘What would you do if this happened in our town?’ I asked. Each table was given a sheet of butcher’s paper and a texta and 20 minutes of brainstorming ensued.
With about two minutes brainstorming time remaining, I looked up and felt really positive, until I glanced over to the corner to see two students eyes cast toward what could only be a mobile phone. My stomach sank a little as I walked over and stood behind the pair, ‘Can you take your phone to the office please.’
‘Oh, but Miss…it’s for the activity.’ I was doubtful, but let them continue.
‘See, we’re on Google Maps, trying to work out what we would do if our town was invaded.”
Sure enough, they were. The class was suitably impressed, but not as much as I was. Miss ‘go walk about this morning’ looked up and asked, ‘Can we all go on Google Maps?’ My answer was absolutely, but unfortunately the technology just wasn’t available, I suggested a printed map from the computer but was quickly turned down.
‘Miss, if you book the lab for tomorrow, can we just keep reading from where we are up to?’
The icing on the cake: Mr ‘I’m not reading this book – it’s dumb’ looked up and asked genuinely, ‘This is the first book I’ve ever finished, can we read the next one?’ His friend next door looked at him and said, ‘Oh, I bought that one the other day, you can borrow mine when I’m finished.’
And so 3 hours after watching my little year 8 class implode, I watched them erupt, enthusiastically discussing the possibilities of book #2. The whole class buzzed collaboratively not just on task, completely ‘in task’. And that is when I realised that the answer to my question, ‘How can one class look so different?’’ was bubbling somewhere near the letter C:
CONNECTED AND COLLABORATIVE.
I’m not the authority, but today, I just seemed to get the mix right.
It is never about managing behaviour.
Fostering learning through authentic, engaging and empowering pedagogy is key to student engagement and today this collaborative approach made all the difference to one little class’ learning.