Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What I Learned from My Students

As a teacher, I spend a great deal of time planning for my students. I structure and scaffold student-centered learning experiences in my classroom and often think during that process about the "aha moment" my students will have as they work. Then, as the learning unfolds, I inevitably have the "aha moment" that I never expected. One such moment occurred just last week.

The Learning Experience -

We use the Wordly Wise Vocabulary program at our school. In the past, I have struggled a little with how to make it more "learner-centered." The biggest thing I like about the program is the usage elements that are included. Students must know how to use the words, not just memorize the definitions. So to capitalize on the usage of the words, I decided the students would create vocabulary podcasts similar to what can be found with the podcasts or the Princeton Review podcasts. We began by listening to some of these podcasts. Then the students worked in groups to plan their podcast including writing out the script. If they had time, they put in background music using Garageband. This was the first time the students used Garageband so there was a learning curve with that as well. They had to include the definition of the word, the origin, synonyms, antonyms and they had to use the word in context. In addition, they had to have a creative element. The podcast could be a "radio" skit, a funny story, a song or a rap. I put together a rubric for the project so the students would see what was considered quality.

The Real Lesson -

You would have thought that asking the kids to put the information into a creative format was asking them to climb Mt. Everest. I have never heard such groaning! A good number of the kids wanted to just read off their notes and list the synonyms, antonyms, etc., rather than finding a way to incorporate that into something creative. "It's too hard to be creative." "You mean we can't just read from our notes?" As a result, some of the students ended up with a "skit" which basically was a call-in radio show that somebody asks about the definition, synonyms, antonyms, etc., of the word. Only a few groups really got into the creative format. In addition, there was one group that a group member was absent during part the project work. The others basically couldn't progress with the creative aspect because that one student was not there.

It takes higher-level thinking to synthesize information into a creative format. It struck me that the responses I received from the students proved that we haven't asked our students to create often enough. They are much too good at regurgitating facts and not nearly good enough at using information in a creative format.

The final projects aren't the quality overall that I wanted to see with this; however, I think that if we repeat this project with a new set of words the students will achieve a much higher quality. It was interesting to me that some of the kids were more comfortable working with the technology tools than others. Some felt like the technology almost impeded their progress while others embraced the technology. I had one student say to me today, "How are we supposed to get work done digitally if it takes so long to learn how to use the digital tools?" Maybe, just maybe, this student hasn't had enough prior experiences using technology for learning. It's good for us teachers to remember that we have students at all different developmental levels with using technology tools too.