Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reflections on "The Balance of Screen Time"

Edutopia's post, "The Balance of Screen Time," (September 23, 2013) raised some excellent points about students' use of technology.  I believe there are two big questions:  What do kids need to learn?  What is the most effective way to facilitate this learning?

Too many times, parents and teachers (myself included) fall into the trap of using the latest and greatest technology because we can.  Unfortunately in some cases, the engaging technology comes first, and the educational component can occasionally be an afterthought.  That is one thing that I really appreciate about LPS.  The focus here is truly on what the kids need to know and be able to do.  The technology is just one tool to help us achieve that goal.

In my sixth grade LA classroom, the students just finished their Book Club unit.  Throughout this unit, students participated in weekly Lit Circles to give them a chance to dig deeper into their novels.  It was fascinating to watch these discussions get deeper and more advanced each week.  During the last Lit Circle of the unit, I had the kids experiment with Cover It Live.  The 8 person group in the middle held their weekly discussion as usual.  The rest of the class observed and participated via computer.  The kids who read the book were able to carry on a parallel discussion while the kids who hadn't read the book commented on the engagement of the participants and the high quality of their thinking.   It took the Lit Circle experience to a whole new level!

Although I will always want the kids to have that face-to-face discussion time, I see the value in drawing in the rest of the class as well - both as observers and participants.  Perhaps the most interesting part was when we debriefed at the end.  The groups who had been observing shared what they noticed and admired about the discussion they had just seen.  Then, they took that learning back to their own discussions and emulated those higher level skills.  What a great day in LA!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Reflections on "Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply"

This article talks about the importance of developing empathy - both in ourselves and in our students.  I have always recognized how developing a safe environment that encourages risk-taking is critical to students' success in learning.  However, what I didn't know is that there is scientific research that identifies a "very strong relationship between social-emotional learning and cognitive development and performance."  This makes complete sense to me, although I never really thought about it that way before.

I think this article struck me tonight because today in class, my students participated in their first Lit Circle discussions of the year.  At the end of the 20-30 minute discussion, each group filled out a self-evaluation form in which they rated the group members on items like using their book in the discussion, listening to others, asking/responding to questions, etc.  Prior to the group self-evaluations, we discussed the purpose of this reflection:  it is a concrete way to give specific feedback to each group member about what they did well and what they could do differently the next time.  It was absolutely fascinating to watch how carefully and gently my students gave feedback to each other.  Although I had modeled both appropriate and inappropriate comments, and we discussed being open to the possibility that sometimes we see ourselves differently than others see us, I was incredibly impressed at the empathy my students showed as they completed this part of the activity.  Even the special education teacher who co-teaches one of the classes with me commented on how she loved watching them reflect in this manner.  I believe this is one example of pro-social behavior that was referenced in the article.

Moving forward, here are some questions I'm thinking about....  How do I help my students take this sensitivity and thoughtfulness beyond the walls of my classroom?  Can I help them transfer these skills to the hallways, lunchroom, locker room, bus, etc?  They were so impressive today, so I know they can do it.  What can I do to facilitate this in other areas of their school experience?