When I talk to other teachers about the benefits of student collaboration, often their biggest question is: How do I find other classrooms to collaborate with? If you are already connected with other educators through social media, this part seems easy, but if you are just beginning your connected journey, it’s a very real problem. If you’re still a little short on virtual teacher colleagues, I’d like to suggest three ways you can begin to connect.
In an interview with Voices from the Learning Revolution, national teacher leader Renee Moore reflects on the 21st century learning challenges in rural America — and in particular, in the Mississippi Delta where she teaches. “Technology access for the students in our public schools ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous,” she says, but “too many schools are using what computers and Internet access they do have to provided computer-assisted remediation drills for students in preparation for their state tests.” Moore identifies 5 actions that federal and state leaders could take to improve the chances for rural students to become connected learners. Among them: Reopen and restaff school and public libraries where so many residents have their only access to the Web. Monitor districts to assure equitable distribution of technology monies. And provide support for effective teacher networks – local and virtual – to promote professional learning.
While I was washing the pot in which my spaghetti sauce simmered to take on all its goodness, similarities to our Powerful Learning Practice Connected Coaching pilot struck me. That experience was downright extraordinary too. And the ingredients were topnotch.
I’ve always done inquiry science, but it’s been more teacher-directed than I wanted. Over the summer I took an e-course in “Unleashing Student Passion,” hoping to find a better approach. It was challenging for me because it exposed so many places where I want to be better. I needed to stop holding students back from becoming the learners they will need to be as they grow up. I have always helped students learn the science and be curious. But I knew it was time to take another step, to help the kids in my classroom kindle their own passion for learning.
The more I move into 21st century tools and teaching practices, the harder time I have with our current grading system. The more opportunity I give students to work collaboratively, experiment, and pursue their passions, the harder it is to assign grades to this kind of learning and growth. Our standard “letter grade” system does not encourage learning. It does not encourage students to challenge themselves. It does not encourage creativity or innovation. It encourages memorization, competition, and discovering the easiest path to an A. Does this seem right?
One of our many jobs as teachers is to keep a professional separation between who we are and what we do. When we are doing our best, we are presenting ourselves in ways that help to manage that professional distance in thoughtful and productive ways. In social networks, this looks like being present, being thoughtful, and being intentional in the ways that we use those spaces to promote what we think is essential — ways that do not confuse our teacherness and our friendness and help our students understand the difference between the two.