23 August 2011

Five things to do, Five not to do

As the school year begins in many nations, I thought I'd connect to a few things I think are important from day one... both things to do, and things not to do.

Alternate information forms have value
in many situations.
Do... offer multiple media versions of information you offer to students. If you have a syllabus, or just a note home to parents, plug it into Balabolka or into a website like VozMe and create an mp3 audio file. Link it to translation software. For certain student or parental populations, consider creating a picture story. Offering multiple paths to information access will make everything run better in your classroom, in your school - for students, parents, and visitors.

Do Not... assign seating or expect all students to sit on the same type of chair, or in the same way, or even to sit at all. I might have nothing good to say about former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, but somehow he rose to some fairly high positions without ever accepting a standard desk or an office chair. We really never were in a "one size fits all" time period, though we pretended to be. But now the time for pretending is over. Let your students sit in chairs, on balls, on the floor, on the windowsills, or stand and lean. Why would you possibly care?


Do... offer a wide range of places and ways for students to be comfortable. All kids become behaviour problems when they feel trapped and uncomfortable. If they need to control their auditory environment, pop those earbuds in. If they need to leave for a few minutes, what are you accomplishing by keeping them in? If they need to eat or drink, they are hungry or thirsty, and if your classroom can't be cleaned, that's the problem.

Do Not... ban mobile phones. You're not winning this battle anyway. Instead use these in class, for research, for communication. Have the students keep them on their desktops, find information for the class, photograph experiments, UStream projects home to parents.

Do... offer a Tool Crib for your students. Rather than have the same device for everyone, switch it up. Handhelds, Tablets, TabletPCs, Macs - desktops and laptops. And offer software choices as well, Microsoft Office, Open Office, Google Docs - Balabolka, FoxVox, NaturalReader, WordTalk - Safari, Chrome, Firefox -  anywhere you can offer choices, offer choices. This is how kids will build their toolbelts.

Windows speech recognition...
it really works, and its free
Do Not... insist on handwriting, let kids enter text and data any way that works for them. First, outside of school, and perhaps toilet graffiti, handwriting is pretty much dead as a part of daily life. Though, surely, some kids really like it, and for them the physical act of writing is tightly linked to memory. For others it was, is, will be a nightmarish test of coordination. So let them keyboard - on whatever keyboard they like. Or let them dictate. And if they need to get the hand-eye skill, let them draw instead.

Do... have a classroom Twitter account, a classroom Skype account, a classroom UStream account, a classroom Google account. You want to link your learning community broadly to the world. Using these social media tools classes have roamed Scottish castles from Virginia, met astronauts from Edinburgh, linked to Australian kids from Michigan. They have shared knowledge with scientists and poets. The future of your students will be global, get them started now.

"T minus 3 hours and holding," deadlines
slide, they just do.
Do Not... sweat "due dates." Despite our "real world" myths, "due dates" except in show business and daily news, really aren't hard and fast rules. How many Space Shuttles lifted off on time? How many car models come to market on the day planned the year before? How many office projects see completion dates "slide"? What's important is to work on a plan to get it done so it - whatever "it" may be - is a project, work, assignment of "real value." And if it is not of "real value," why are our students doing it in the first place?

Do... let kids declare "time outs." Use a "do not disturb" sign, or some method of allowing a student to "back away" from the room for a time - even if they don't physically leave. We all need this. We close our office doors. We go hide for lunch. We sit in our car with the music blasting. Why would we imagine that kids don't? That they can go all day in the unbelievably "social" environment of school without the need to hide for a bit?

Do Not... give kids a "second shift" of work when they leave school. They are in there all day, that should be the bulk of their work time. They all have other - honestly better - things to do out of school. It is their life learning out of school which should be given context and clarity through your classroom work. Extending their world, rather than extending yours. Besides, we know that homework primarily measure parental socio-economics, and never more so than with the "flipped" classroom of Salman Khan which puts the essential learning into a completely variable context. Thinking homework? Think again.

South Park kids know the score on homework...

- Ira Socol


~ Sil in Corea said...

You've got some great ideas here! I recall that when I started teaching, 40+ years ago, the teacher in the next classroom complained about how noisy my kids were. They were enthusiastic, or they'd have been as dead-quiet as her students. ;-)

Best Wishes from Asia, ~ Sil in Corea
P.S. Heheh! They are still noisy, mostly because I teach conversational English.

doyle said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

You have some innovative ideas and requires teachers to have an open mind which will be the key to having the US start to gain in Education.
Thanks again.

Karen Janowski said...

Great practical post which should be shared with all educators. When these methods are used, most learning and behavioral issues disappear.

Brittany Enright said...

I am an EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama. These tips will be very beneficial to implement within the classroom. I agree that it is important for teacher’s to present different ways for students and parents to be able to access information. I have recently learned how to make a podcast in EDM 310, so I will definitely be utilizing that skill to present information for my future students. I really like how this post focuses on ways to reform traditional classroom structure. It is important to be innovative and for teachers to implement technological tools and variety within the classroom. I believe I will be trying out many of your suggestions in my future classroom. However, since I am an elementary education major, I will have to emphasize the importance of handwriting in my classroom. When students first learn how to write, they are expected to follow a specific model of handwriting. If I end up teaching lower elementary grades, I will have to make sure that my students are able to follow the model correctly.