When you doubt what you once professed…

This has been a long time coming. It’s been building in me and building in me, and, well, it’s time. You see, there’ve been movements in the Education field over the past couple years to reform just about everything. Most importantly for me, there has been a push to utilize resources such as Twitter and EDCamps and this and that, and I bought into it all for some time. But, I have to admit, I’m just about done. Now please hear me out — it’s just not working — for me.

I’ve always been a reader and have always felt that, even when things go well, they can go better with insight and another set of eyes and research and just about anything that forces me to take a hard look at what I’m doing. I like to think that I’m pretty good at what I do — but I also truly believe that I can get better — and that’s every single day. This is what we demand of our students and it’s exactly what we should demand of ourselves. Yet far too many of the seemingly self-designated “leaders” in this push for reform are simply looking to say “I know best, listen to me…” or “This worked for me, so it’ll work for everyone…” or “Because I have 10,000 followers on Twitter, I must know what I’m talking about…” or (my favorite) “Because I have 10,000 followers on Twitter and I’ve got this (essentially) self-published book — please buy it on Amazon, it’ll only run you $19.95 — I know what I’m talking about…”

Quite simply, the topic has allowed many to get on their bully pulpit on Twitter and essentially let everyone know that if you don’t believe in getting rid of grades or letting a student turn in an assignment 3 weeks late or getting rid of homework or letting a student take a test 8 times in order to get the A that his parent is demanding, then you’re an ineffective teacher. How dare you doubt us? 

I once led a Professional Development session in which I touted the merits of using Twitter for all things Ed. I stood in front of my peers and explained how many benefits there were in taking part in EDChats and networking with professionals across the world (I still stand by this one) and just listening to the wealth of knowledge that’s being disseminated by the leaders. I walked my peers through the basics, gave them a list of the EDChats, and another list that included all of the big “names” to follow.

And it didn’t take long for me to regret this.

I watched as these “leaders” got on their soapboxes and I watched as more and more of these “leaders” pushed those books. I watched as more and more Admins started buying in to what was being sold by these “leaders.” And I realized that we’re traveling down a slippery slope.

And the last thing that I’m trying to say is that I know more than “them,” or that I disagree with all that “they” are professing. I just think we’re being naive to think that this is easy and, more importantly, that we need to take a one size fits all approach to this. I also feel that we’re dumbing things down to the point of facing a true turning point in what we’re doing. We are assisting in making our students lazier and we aren’t doing them any favors by lowering our standards, and, in my opinion, when we tell them they can turn anything in whenever, that there’s no need for homework, blah, blah, blah, then we’re setting them up for failure when they move on to the next level and the level beyond that. We have lowered our standards and expectations to the floor.

And I’m not basing that statement on what some book tells me, I’m basing that statement on what I’m seeing with my own two eyes. I’m seeing Honors level High School students who cringe when you ask them what a gerund is or to create a compound complex sentence or to give me an adverb when I ask for the first adjective that comes to mind about Character X. I’ve listened as students have told me time and time again that “there’s nothing on my topic on the Holocaust” because Google didn’t return something with its first “hit.” I won’t even dive deeper into the inability to properly search for anything other than to say that we’re raising kids who give up if Siri doesn’t respond with an answer immediately — and Siri is pathetic, for the most part.

“But those skills aren’t important in the 21st Century,” you say. And, in my opinion, you’re wrong. They’re every bit as important as learning to collaborate and persevere and to exhibit more grit. And can somebody please give me a break with all of this grit talk? We’d never even have to worry about this if we allowed kids to fail in the first place, because nobody wants to fail and it’s only natural to learn how to right the ship, so to speak.

But what do I know? I’m simply a classroom teacher without X-degree and I certainly haven’t written a book or promoted it endlessly on Twitter.

I believe that there is something to be gained in everything that we do. I believe that Twitter can be a great thing for some people. I believe that some people gain from reading what works for others and then figuring out how to adapt it to what works for them. I believe that some people gain an incredible amount by attending EDCamps and bringing what they pick up back to their own situations.

I’ve just had it with the idea that there’s only one way to do things today and if you aren’t willing to do it this way, then you are unwilling to change or you’re difficult or you just need to get with the times. Perhaps some of us simply know that what you’re selling doesn’t work for us. Perhaps we’ve found something better for us. Perhaps what you’re selling works for you but not others. There’s nothing wrong with this idea.

But that idea doesn’t sell books, that’s for sure.

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#onelittleword

New Year’s Resolutions. I’m sure we’ve all made them at some point, and I doubt that most of us have ever true maintained one for an entire year (I think the longest I ever went was a month – but man, I was in shape that month!)

But during this year’s holiday season, while trying to figure out what I wanted to resolve, I came across a tweet from Lisa Dabbs (@teachingwithsoul) which led me to her blog post entitled Ditch the Resolutions and Do the Word! (Careful readers will also notice that Lisa was influenced by Ali Edwards, who blogged about her #onelittleword for 2014 — just trying to give proper credit!)

Immediately, I was drawn to Lisa’s post due to this photo:

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I mean, c’mon now, how cool is that??? I was hooked – and immediately started to think about what my word needed to be for 2015. It was about a nanosecond after this that I started thinking about how I could use this with my students. I started twisting it all around and then finally realized (because I’m smart like that…) that there was no need to twist anything around. That’s the beauty of the whole thing – students don’t need different instructions to do this – the project is strong enough on its own that it lends itself to success by everyone, regardless of age.

So yesterday, our first day back after Winter Break, I introduced the project to them. We spoke of past failed resolutions. We laughed at how we all thought we’d do this or do that. And then I showed that thrive graphic and explained the project: Rather than a resolution, choose one word to keep you centered throughout the year. But choose wisely, because that’s your word for the whole year. While there were some puzzled faces, there were many more faces filled with excitement. They were hooked.

All students were required to do three things after choosing their word: tweet out their photo using the hashtag #onelittleword, email a copy of the photo so that I could show them off on this blog, and print out a copy so that I could show them off on our one little word wall.

I was actually amazed that there were only a few words that repeated (although you might see that somebody wasn’t quite sure how to spell perseverance!

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So, a little bit about the process. I envisioned the students using PhotoShop or another similar program to do this. For my Yearbook students, they didn’t have an option and had to use it (their projects are below). They use PhotoShop on a daily basis, so it wasn’t much of a stretch for them to do this. For my other students (Mass Media and English), I was simply expecting them to write their word on a piece of paper, maybe decorate it, have a friend take a photo and voila. What I love is that it took all of about a nanosecond for the students to realize that they could easily do this using SnapChat – great problem solving on their part!

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So there you have it. I really like what they’ve come up with and truly hope that it helps to guide them through their year – whether that be as a freshman / sophomore or a senior who’s closing in on graduation.

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Oh yeah, there’s that whole little thing about my word. I really spent some time on this and finally decided that this is the word that I’m focusing on the most this year. There are so many things that I want to do, so many places that I want to see – and that’s going to start in earnest, this year…

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The Power of Twitter in the Classroom…

I’ve been using Twitter for a couple years now — reluctantly at first, but with a vengeance over the past year.  I’ve been trying to figure out how to use it with the students I work with for some time now, but finally decided to just dive in. I was originally concerned with the overall objective — what was I trying to accomplish? Would using it be sound, education-wise, or would it simply be a new toy?

What I’ve found is that it certainly isn’t just a toy, and I’m loving what my students have been giving me so far.

Originally, my intention was to have the students Tweet as an exit slip (a quick piece which demonstrates the understanding of the day’s lesson). I thought this would be a great start and that it would be a quick way for me to see if they got it, so to speak. After some expected hiccups, like the fact that our school still blocks the students’ use of Twitter (cough, cough) and the fact that Twitter immediately suspended the accounts some students were creating (not sure why that was the case), we’ve found some success — and not just with the exit slips.

I’ve found that it’s helping me as a teacher in a couple of ways.

First and foremost, it’s enabled me to communicate with students and to clear up some questions. Here’s a simple example:

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That’s something that would have really bugged me — and it was a great question on her part. (By the way, it took me that long to respond to her because I was asleep when she originally Tweeted me!!!)

Another way that it’s helped is to let me see a little clearer in to the students’ minds. As much as teachers like to think we foster discussion amongst all students in the classroom, we’re kidding ourselves if we truly believe this to be the case. Twitter allows all students to join the discussion, especially those who are quiet or shy or just afraid to share. It’s truly rewarding to see students responding through Twitter to these students!

As for the students, I think they’re seeing that the conversation can leave the classroom (that’s actually another benefit for me as well!) The students’ first reading assignment was Chapters 1-6 and there were four hashtags that we used to organize our Tweets — #TKAMcharacter (which character do you like the most so far & why?) #TKAMquote1 (which of Lee’s sentences stuck with you the most) #TKAMpredict (it’s early on, where do you see Lee’s story going from here?) and #TKAMexit1 (what stuck with you the most from the first reading assignment). Here’s just a sampling of where they took some of these ideas:

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It’s also enabled me to push the students to dig a little deeper in their responses — and don’t forget, they’re only getting 140 characters to respond — actually less, because their knucklehead of a teacher took some away with the hashtags! Sometimes, what they give us is on the verge of something really good, but it’s just not quite there:

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But this is where it really gets magical in my mind. A colleague of mine, Mary Logan, who also teaches Mockingbird, saw what we were doing and then took the time to respond to the students’ Tweets. I mean, she went off (in such a good way!)

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I mean, are you kidding me??? That’s just flat out awesome — it’s a teacher’s dream to be able to validate a student’s work, let alone to have another person do it. Ultimately, I hope that someone far away sees what’s going on and takes part in the conversation — that would just be incredible.

The students are already seeing that the conversation isn’t static, that we’ve got the possibility of  beginning a world wide book club — and yes, I’m enough of a dork to think that that is darn cool.

Incidentally, I think it’s very important that we keep in mind the responsibility we have as teachers to promote cyber safety and how to use social media appropriately. They’re kids, they’re going to be tempted to abuse what’s available to them — and all kids have done this through the ages. But if we model the appropriate behaviors and stress the importance of using it appropriately, isn’t that a tremendous byproduct of the technology?

I don’t want to make it out like everything has been incredible — things started a little slow, depth-wise, but their responses have improved drastically and I’m seeing them call each other out for dogging it on certain tweets (yes, that was for you, Mary!) I also had a situation in which two friends were kidding around, but it appeared as though a fight was going to happen. I think it’s a great learning experience for the students to see how things can easily be misinterpreted — that tone can be a tough thing to have a strong grip on while on Twitter or online in general.

In the future, we are going to Tweet up with students from another local school district as we are both studying Elie Wiesel’s Night. Essentially, in “old” terms, we will get the opportunity to have a set of pen pals to work with as we study this piece and I’m really looking forward to seeing not only what we can do while working with kids from another school, but also in seeing how they are using Twitter.

I’ve been extremely encouraged so far — are you using Twitter in your classroom? If so, what has and hasn’t worked for you?

(And you don’t have to be a teacher to join our conversations! Please feel free to join in!)