Make it a Requirement, not a Choice

Dr. Scott McLeod is celebrating the 6th anniversary of his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant by calling all bloggers to participate in Leadership Day 2012.  Its purpose?  To blog about effective technology leadership and provide administrators with some insight into what we’d like to see happen in the world of educational technology.

I’ve thought a lot the past couple of days about the most important thing for administrators to know about educational technology.  I desperately want my new principal to embrace digital learning with the obsessive fervor I have for it.  I want her to understand that apps are great – but there are so many other uses and ways to incorporate iDevices.  I want her to see how incredibly engaging technology, when used the right way, can be for a class of fifth graders with the highest discipline rate in the school.  But I think the thing I most want to see from my administrator is a requirement that everyone begin incorporating some aspect of technology into the classroom.

I’ve spent two years trying to drag the faculty of a combined elementary middle school, kicking and screaming, into the digital learning field. Teachers, I think by nature, can be some of the most stubborn people on the planet.  Our (yes, me too) resistance to change can be our greatest downfall.   I fear we hurt our students by not being more willing to change our outlook and our practices to fit what today’s students need.  I call on my principal to make this change a requirement, not a choice.

1. Make it a requirement that all teachers document in their lesson plans the various technologies that will be incorporated in each lesson or unit.  Even if the administrator never looks at the plan – having a space where the teacher must show technology use will stress the importance of using it.  If the spot is blank during the planning stage, then there will be time for the teacher to remedy the situation and create a lesson using technology effectively.

2.  Require teachers to sign up to demonstrate a lesson incorporating digital learning.  Administrators are required to a do a certain number of observations of each teacher.  Make one of these observations a technology observation.  Within the first semester, teachers must sign up for an observation showing how they incorporate technology efficiently in a lesson.  I think it’s important to require this in the first semester so that teachers get a taste for it and will continue to use digital learning strategies for the remainder of the year.  I also think it’s important to allow teachers the freedom to sign up for the observation.  This first ensures the lesson they are being observed for uses technology, and second it gives teachers a little bit of ownership in the observation process.  Additionally, I’ve always said that the best way to learn these new technologies is simply to use them.  Forcing teachers to incorporate them will hopefully show  the extreme benefits of educational technology and take some of the inherent fear away from trying something new.

3.  Provide professional development – and attend it yourself.  Do this in a number of different ways, the same as you would in class.  Have teachers you’ve observed teaching outstanding technology rich lessons teach model lessons at faculty meetings.  Have teacher “Appy Hours” where round table discussions and idea sharing can happen freely.  Provide instruction in specific technology tools using said technology tools.  For example, teach educators to use podcasts by having them watch or create a podcast.  Make grade levels responsible for building a digital Personal Learning Community (PLC).  Require each grade level to find and share one quality blog or post a month and instruct teachers in how to build their own PLC.  Most importantly, provide teachers with a forum to celebrate successes, discuss lessons that need some help, or ask questions.

I hope that in my role as technology coach at our school, I can convince my new principal to adopt some of these practices.  I hope that these ideas give you a place to jump start your own digital revolution.  I would love for others to share how administrators are making educational technology a priority.   I know I can always use a fresh idea when presenting to my faculty.

Note-making

Teacher work days begin on Tuesday, and students start next Monday.  I’ve faced the fact that my summer is nearly over and I have (finally) started thinking about lessons for next year.  Note-making was one of the most successful practices I put into practice last year, and I think it’ll be one of the first lessons I teach after all of the rituals and routines lessons are finished.  I teach special education, so I find that traditional lecture and note-taking isn’t necessarily the most useful practice for my kids.  If it worked for them, then they wouldn’t need my support.  So, my job is to find alternate ways to help my students be successful.  Note-making was a wildly successful way for my kids to own their own notes instead of simply copying down words they may or may not be able to read into their notebooks.

We begin by practicing with our interactive notebooks.  There are so many different ways to use an interactive notebook, so I’m going to detail how we set them up.  We use a simple right/left set up.  With the notebook open flat, the left side pages are “your side” referring to the students’ side and the right side is “my side” referring to the teacher’s side.  Anything I ask them to do independently they do on “your side” and anything I give them to write down goes on “my side”.  Simple enough, right?  So where’s the tech?

I’ve found that my kids remember so much more if they own their notes.  They generate all of their own notes on topics, and then we discuss and share before I make sure they have all the information they need.  With special education students, I have a wide variety or readers and non-readers.  How can I ensure that everyone has equal access to the information?  Podcasts.

Students watch podcasts twice. The first time to simply take in the information. The second to make notes.

With new topics, instead of standing up and delivering a lesson’s worth of notes, I find or create a podcast to introduce the topic.  I try to keep the podcasts between 5-8 minutes long so that the kids don’t get bogged down in either too much information or useless information.  The rule for all podcasts in our room is Watch it twice.  Once to watch and twice to note-make.  It’s important for kids to just soak up the podcast on the first watch.  If they are focused on note-making when they initially watch or listen, then chances are they are going to miss something.  By giving them the opportunity to view or listen to podcast without the pressure of having to note-make, I ensure that they are attending throughout the experience.  I typically set a timer for twice as long as the podcast on the second viewing to allow time for note-making in their interactive notebooks.  Each podcast is different though, so be sure to check in at the end of the time and see if they need a few more minutes.

After the students make their own notes (which I do not check for spelling or accuracy – the only requirement is that the student be able to read or tell about their own notes), they have a five minute pair share with a partner to prepare for sharing with the class.  The remainder of the lesson is for discussion about the notes they made and me hitting the highlights with the Smartboard.  Students copy down the highlights (which have all come directly from the students themselves) on “my side” (the teacher side) of the notebook to ensure they have the essential information and to give parents trying to help students study some guidance on the topic.

I try not to reinvent the wheel with these podcasts.  iTunesU has a huge variety of podcasts available for download.  I have to say that by far my favorites are from the Tennessee State Department of Education – Governor’s Study Partner Program.  They have podcasts sorted by K-8 Math and English standards.  Since I’m in South Carolina, I typically just have to check the grade levels above or below my own if I can’t find what I’m looking for.  I can also create my own podcasts with software like Keynote or Powerpoint – but that’s another blog post.

ith best practice being student ownership of material, this note-making activity is one way I’ve found for my kids to truly own their education.  Additionally, it provides an opportunity for my students, who may not have on grade level reading skills, to access the same information as their non-disabled peers without stigma.  The automatic hook of using the iPods or iPads keeps them engaged in what otherwise would probably have been a fairly boring lecture.  I have very little behavior management issues after the first few weeks of school.  I’m incredibly strict in my “One and out” policy.  You get one warning with the iPods.  If you can’t follow directions or follow the rules, you lose the use of the device and complete the task using a textbook or reading passage instead.  It typically takes one or two students losing the iPods to prove my point, and then I literally have no behavior problems.  Instead, I have a group of students actively engaged in making their own notes and learning the material.