Thursday, April 1, 2010

Focus: Student Empowerment

Four classrooms. Four teachers. Hundreds of students. 118 devices. In the spirit of transparency, what, if anything is changing in these classrooms? To the teachers? The students? The learning? Isn’t that what this is all about? Shouldn’t we be in search of the answers to those questions?

As teacher Beth Lewis states, “In a profession as challenging as teaching, honest self-reflection is key.” So, in the spirit of transparency, the four teachers I’m working with are chronicling their journey; you can climb inside their heads here, here, here and here… It is from reading their words that I know they are open to the ideas of shifting their pedagogies and re-imagining what learning looks like in a 21st Century classroom. I so appreciate their willingness to share their learning. As a wise person once said, “When we make our learning transparent, we become teachers.”

But what about the students? Isn’t the need to be transparent equally as important? I find myself wondering how having the tools accessible at all times has changed learning in those classrooms. Certainly, it has a lot to do with student engagement. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend about an hour in both Sherry’s and Tricia’s classrooms and I can tell you that during those two hours, every single student was completely, utterly engaged in their work. Not a single student was “chillaxing” or worse yet, sleeping. Yes, this is a step in the right direction.

But I’m really interested in digging deeper; in finding out what it looks like when the students own the learning. I see glimpses of this in each of the classrooms, like in Megan’s third grade classroom where each student has access to an iTouch. Megan has fostered a “take control of your own learning” attitude and is slowly, slowly encouraging her students to be true independent thinkers, problem solvers and innovators. This is the sweet spot; the place where true, authentic learning happens…where students are engaged, empowered and impassioned...where learning is transformative.

So, for the remainder of the year, it is through that lens that I will focus my attention. How does having access to these tools enable students to take control of their own learning? How do these tools awaken the desire to learn; where learning isn’t something that is done to the students but something that originates deep inside each of them? In my next post, I’ll share some of the observations, reflections and work gleaned from the students themselves. I cannot wait…