Technology in the Classroom: Bridging or Widening the Gap?

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The ability to engage our students with technology, devices and apps, in the classroom is undeniable. Witnessing students who are engaged in activities that are only available in a technology environment can be inspiring. Students who are collaborating on a group essay, in real-time, with a student that is presently sick at home- was once thought to be impossible. So what could possibly be “Dangerous” about the current and future environments of our classrooms?

America’s development of our educational system has been one that continually adapts to deliver the vision that everyone is entitled to an equal education. From urban to rural educational systems, and everything in between, there are legal battles to ensure that our youth is grounded on equal footings to make the most out of themselves- no matter what their background and where they grow up. While we have succeeded in many areas to level the playing field, it is common knowledge that there continues to exist a gap in education when it comes to wealth.

As we look to technology and the World Wide Web to provide content and information to anyone, anyplace- we must be conscious that while the claims of opening the playing field and bringing global competition may be true, this playing field is only open to those who can afford the equipment to play. Comparing the sporting world to the educational classrooms, one can clearly see the danger I am referring to.

When you look at the sporting events that are truly open- Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Soccer- one can clearly see (just drive by your local fields/parks) that any child can afford to participate in these sports by simply getting equipment, make shift equipment if needed, and a group of kids. in comparison, select sports are still exclusive and not truly open to all- Golf, Tennis, Gymnastics, and Hockey. Whether a need of wealth for equipment, access to playing surface, or both: these sports are predominantly participated by players who have access to the funds to do so.

The same can be said when we compare technology in the classroom. Walk into the classroom of an affluent neighborhood, and you are almost guaranteed to see some form of a 1:1 environment. Can we say the same if we are to tour our urban area schools? Where are we likely to experience a Google Expeditions lesson taking place? While the message being sent is to open up experiences for those who normally couldn’t afford it, is this the experience being delivered? Which environment can afford the iPhones necessary for 25-30 students in just one classroom to go on this Expedition?

While I applaud the creation of Google Expeditions, iPads, Chromebooks, GAFE, Office365, and the countless Apps that are beneficial to teachers and the classroom- I will continue to advocate for the use case where by all students are able to take advantage of these advances in technology to better themselves and the world around them! There are advantages that wealth provides, however, we must limit this divide in our classrooms. We must be attentive to providing every student the opportunity to an equal education with technology.

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Thank You!

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3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!

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3 Things It’s OK to say as a Teacher!

As a teacher and parent, I find there are many opportunities to be open and honest with students. By doing so, you can build a solid level of trust from which you can build a solid relationship. Many educators are afraid to be truthful with students for fear that they will hurt the fragile self-esteem.  How can we tell students that success is getting up one more time than they have been knocked down- if they have never been knocked down? How is a child supposed to build self-esteem without ever having to hear negativity? You see, it is not that you provide negative feedback, but rather what you follow-up your statement with!

  1. “You are being LAZY”- I actually had a principal who hounded me for over 3 years to “be more diplomatic” when I spoke to students and parents. During this time, not a single complaint was ever brought to her attention, as it was only her issue with me. She even gave me a book to read “The Myth of Laziness” by Mel Levine. (I don’t think she thought I would read it.) After reading about half of the book, which brought out some good points, I found a paragraph where the author had contradicted himself, highlighted it, and returned it after the weekend. The premise for her was that LAZY was a label, and I should use the word unmotivated as they could become motivated. In being a good teacher, I gave it a try for 2 weeks, with which my students and a parent (during parent conferences) stopped me and said “You mean (I’m being) LAZY”? YES, that’s EXACTLY what I mean! You see, it was not that I was labeling anyone, but just being truthful. The students and parents understood this because I would similarly praise students when their work was Spectacular or Excellent! The statement allows every student to know what you mean with clarity, and as long as you are praising their positive efforts, you have every right and student’s understanding that their work is unmotivating. 😉
  2. “I am disappointed with you(r actions)”- This is an extremely powerful statement to make when you have a great relationship with your class. Throughout any school year, there are so many A-HA moments and times to recognize positive behaviors that students revel in the wave of positive feedback. Especially in elementary school, students attend with the objective to be the best student and impress their teachers. Just walk through the hallways on the first day of school if you don’t understand this. If you are meeting your students at their level, and forging a relationship built on each student giving their best effort to improve everyday, then this one phrase is all you need to hit home an important point. This phrase MUST be followed with a sincere conversation about what disappointed you, and what the student needs to do to recover. It requires a true love of the student to then say “I am PROUD of YOU”! When you get to this point, your students’ trust in you, and will be motivated to do their best everyday (except for those bad days that always come along)! There truly is nothing more motivating for kids today than to have someone who is truly PROUD of them!
  3. “It’s NOT good enough”-  Whether you are talking about grades, effort, or attitude, there is nothing wrong with letting your students know the truth.  The truth is what they want to hear. they may not like it, but they will respect you more if you speak it. This is for every student at their level of failure. If a student gets a 90, everyone’s first reaction is to praise, however, a 90 score should draw a “It’s NOT good enough” for your best students. Why should your top students expect anything less? Didn’t you promise to push each and every one of them to reach their full potential? If the A student is short of a 100% due to a lack of focus, you must let them know. If your C student gets a C+, you must let them know how PROUD you are of them, but you must also motivate by letting them know not to be satisfied. To push every student at their level to become better and push their potential should be the goal in every classroom. It is only then that you are truly teaching to every student to give an effort that is good enough!

In the end, it comes down to the students. We talk about differentiated instruction- but this is a myth. There should never be any talk about differentiated instruction as the foundation of the job is built on the premise of doing so. If you are truly differentiating, it should be in your efforts to reach your students each and every day! You can talk about providing different content to your students, but the content is not going to change broadly. You can, however, change the attitude of which each student approaches learning!

What Will Teachers Focus On Returning From Winter Break?

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Returning from Winter Break is always a whirlwind time for all involved in education. Parents, teachers, and students are experiencing the mixed feelings of the anxiety of having to return to the repetitious school day and the excitement of returning to the school day. So with the beginning of the second half drive to the end of another school year, just what should teachers be focused on?

There will be a variety of ideas and thoughts that will come to mind: State Testing, Projects, Teaching to the Test, Differentiating Instructions, Curriculum Planning, Data Analytics, Assemblies, etc….

Here are the Top 5 Focus Points for the Best of the Best Teachers:

  1. The Students
  2. The Students
  3. The Students
  4. The Students
  5. The Students

Contrary to the media and public hype around everything that is outside of the teacher’s control, it is only the focus on their students that your true teacher understands that they can control! With only 180 days to be a positive influence in the education of each child, and knowing they are in the second half stretch, the best teachers know that they must focus on the needs of each child to inspire them. It really is that simple!

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The Myth of the Quiet Class

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The Myth of the Quiet Class

The Tale of Two Classrooms

As you look into Classroom A, you notice the teacher up front teaching the lesson of the day. The students are seated quietly with their feet flat on the floor, and hands positioned on their desks. As a question arises, a select amount of students raise their hand, get called on, and answer the question.

As you enter Classroom B, you notice the teacher is walking up and down the aisles, periodically stopping at the board to write something down. The students are far from quiet, but respectful. Some students are standing in the back, and you notice that some students are sitting on giant balls and some are on a couch. When a question is asked, students are sharing answers with each other, and even answering aloud to the teacher.

Classroom A is the perfect classroom as presented on TV and in the movies. This is the way a class presents itself when the principal or other visitor is expected to appear when coming in for a visit. Is this how the public envisions the perfect classroom? If so, let me list why Classroom B is my preferred classroom, and a quiet classroom is far from the perfect classroom:

  1. A Quiet Classroom is NOT an engaging classroom: Students are in school to learn which requires them to be inquisitive. In a room where a teacher demands that students be quiet and respectful at all times, there is no room for students to grow.  There is a time and a place for students to be respectful and give their teacher their undivided attention, but we all know there are classrooms where this is expected for every minute they are in the class. I don’t call this the perfect classroom, but rather the quiet torture room- where students are assigned to a year’s worth of torture. “Do not speak unless, spoken to.” “Raise your hand if you wish to speak.” “I will not recognize you until you raise your hand.” At what point are students expected to take charge of their education? A student here is not engaged, they are simply in a quiet room.
  2. A Quiet Classroom is lead not by a teacher, but by a dictator. Literally and figuratively, the dictator will have full control of the class. He or she will be in charge and will dictate what each student will learn. They will not be questioned in what they teach, for questioning an idea or thought would be questioning their authority. The dictator here is simply nothing more than a live newscaster delivering the events while the students simply have no choice but to listen and accept the words being spoken.
  3. Lastly, A Quiet Classroom provides no feedback. I had a fellow colleague once ask me “Why do you allow your students to talk and answer out loud?” (followed by a negative comment about my teaching style). I answered, “Simple: My students are not afraid to be wrong. By answering aloud, they understand that they are letting me hear their thoughts as I teach. This in turn allows me to understand why they are getting things right and, more importantly, wrong. At times, listening to them has influenced me to rethink my predetermined thoughts. How are YOU able to determine if all of your students are learning if they are not?” I am not sure if she understood the question as she walked away, but truly, how could she? What does a teacher learn about class mastery by always calling on the student with the hand raised?

What do you hear happening in a Quiet Classroom? I remember the sounds that echo in the hallways of a school whether the classroom door was closed or not. Without stepping foot inside the classroom, you can tell if the students are engaged with a great teacher.  It is clear in the sounds that come from the room, the talking, the laughing, the questions, the questioning, and the answers. To a true teacher, it is the sound of perfection: Students engaged in learning through conversation with other students and their teacher!

As you walk through a school, truly listen to the classrooms as you pass by……..What do you hear?

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5 Steps Parents can take for a Successful School Year

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With all of my former colleagues heading back in for another exciting, inspirational school year, I feel it necessary to advise my fellow parents on some steps to make this year a success for their kids. Every year, both student and teacher enter the classroom on a clean slate, but it will not be long before the hazards of a “Bad School Year” become apparent (Pun Intended). Here are 5 simple guidelines to help avoid it.

  1. Stop thinking a “C” represents Failure- over the last 10-15 years, there has been a shift in the mentality of the grading system in schools. Along the way, the prolific idea of getting Straight A’s became the movement of the norm. Getting an A used to be reserved for students who went above and beyond the actual work needed to be completed. Today, however, students are receiving As just for completing the work on the average requirements- yes, AVERAGE?!  Should your child receive a B or C from this year’s teacher, do not jump to the conclusion that your child is failing, even if they received straight As the year prior. The work they did the year prior has no indication on the work being asked of them this year, nor does it have any indication on the requirements of the current teacher. The expectations of each teacher will vary, which does not mean that one teacher is better than the other. It simply means that your child will have to reach or exceed the new expectations set forth by their current teacher. Be ready to explain that receiving a B from Mr. High Expectations, is better than the A given to them by Mr. Easy. Remember that a C represents “average”- as defined, 1. the typical or normal quality, degree.  Is it really a negative to be of typical or normal quality? If you honestly believe that an average student deserves an A, then I would suggest that your standards need to be raised.
  2. Open your mind to the possibility that it may be “your child”- I have had a running joke with one of my former colleagues for over 10 years because of these situations. Her child happened to be attending the same school we worked in, and a teacher approached about a situation involving her child. In a classic parental reaction, the exact words of…”What? Oh, no, not my child!” were exhaled. Now in defense of my colleague, her child was and is a poster child of excellence, and admirable qualities, however in this instance, it was her child. The situation was handled accordingly, after retracting said words, because of the willingness of the parent to trust the teacher. Many situations are mishandled or blown out of proportion due to the fact that as a parent, you choose to side with your child without trusting the teacher or the facts in each particular case. Yes, there are cases where a teacher has developed a vendetta on a particular child or parent, but these are extremely rare and have usually developed over time (showing a pattern). Teachers are in the classroom to teach and expect the conduct of their students to respectfully allow every individual their right to an education. The goal of every teacher is to create a safe and encouraging environment for all, and if your child is disrupting this, it needs to be dealt with. Trust me, no teacher is ever excited to make a disciplinary call to any parent.  They are made as a last resort, and your support is greatly appreciated! If upon receiving such a call regarding discipline, your reaction was to state “My child already informed me of what happened….” and you then ask “What did YOU do?”, then you are part of the problem.
  3. The way you learned is not the way your child will learn- First, let’s simply acknowledge the known fact that all students do not learn the same way. Good. So what would make you think that your child must learn in the same fashion that you did? We must also acknowledge the fact that education is transforming to meet the needs of today’s students for tomorrow’s careers. We must also allow the education system to do its job and educate our children. Using Math as a prime example- simply memorizing that 2 x 2=4 is no longer good enough. Students are being asked to understand why this is so. Students are required to provide the correct answer, however, they are now being given the opportunity to learn and understand the different options that lead to the correct answers. It is similar to the change in parenting where you actually explain an answer to your child, rather than express “Because I said so!” Should your child have some homework that you do not understand, simply document this in a note to the teacher to inform them of the troubles your child had. Please do not force them to complete the assignment the way you learned, as it limits your child’s ability to expand their learning and understand the lesson at hand.
  4. Your child’s grades are not the best indicator for future success- If you have spent any time on FaceBook, you will see many parents announce and exclaim the success of their children by posting their report cards every marking period. Every parent should be proud of the work their child is doing, but the report card is not the best indicator of success. As a matter of fact, every teacher will tell you that the report card actually holds little value, other than to update a child’s progress. I had a conversation once with a mother who claimed that because I gave her child a B, I would cause her to not qualify for Harvard! Folks, if you believe that Harvard is worried about what your child received in 4th Grade, YOU are one of THOSE parents! The best indicators of your child’s success will be based upon 2 ingredients: Effort and Social Skills! The level of your child- above, average, below- is irrelevant. You must focus on the effort your child is putting forth to improve. No student is getting paid to learn, but if they were, their grade does NOT indicate they are learning. Learning is indicated by the gaining of knowledge from current levels. Thus, your focus needs to be on the effort to gain knowledge, not that your child is an A student. Second, and most importantly, your child’s social skills- or lack of them- will be a huge factor of success or failure in the future. The world is built on communication skills, and the ability to work with others. Whether in a partnership, or in a group, the jobs of tomorrow will demand that your child work well with others. Let’s be honest, even if you are extremely intelligent, you will have a hard time keeping a job if you can’t relate to others. Do your part as a parent and make sure it is……not my kid!
  5. Be Thankful for the teacher- Whether or not you agree with the policies, the grades, the discipline, or the work- just be thankful that the teacher is willing to place him or herself in front of your child every day to do their best to educate them. To think that every year will be a blessed year for your child is impossible. There will be teachers who make a lifetime impact, and unfortunately, there will be teachers who make education a nightmare (Hopefully not). Either way, the year will be a learning experience for your child and can provide them with a foundation to be successful in the job market. We will all have bosses that impact us positively and negatively just the same. Make sure to support your teacher irregardless of your personal feelings towards them. A teacher’s job is hard enough, and the last thing any teacher wants is to have issues with parents. What other career is being guided by politicians at the federal, state, and local level; Departments of Education at the federal, state, and local level; So-Called Educational Leaders; Billionaires and their Foundations; Administrators at state, local, district, and school levels; and Board of Educations? Most of whom have little to no experience actually running a classroom. Support your teachers, support your schools, and try not to be that parent! In the end, every teacher wants to help every student- no matter what you do as a parent. Trust me though, you will get a lot more from a teacher you support than from a teacher you are fighting against.

Please talk to your child every day and encourage them to simply “Try your Best!” Keep your expectations high, but also be willing to explain why you are still proud of your child’s effort even if they are not a straight A student. As a teacher, I have so many more stories of inspiration from my C students, as many A students didn’t have to work as hard. If your child is PROUD of their effort, as the parent you need to be PROUD of your child! Work together with your child’s teacher to make the most of the school year, and the results will come. Your child will never give 100% effort to learn if they know you do not support their teacher. That responsibility falls squarely on your shoulders! Best of luck to a great year. Remember that every year, every week, every day can be a fresh start to their education!

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