The WIRED Classroom (continued)
If we are successful, we create classrooms which engage students in solving problems, making decisions and exploring intriguing questions. They spend their time mastering basic skills like computation, reading and writing, but often as not these skills are applied to issues and challenges drawn from the world about them or the world discovered "online" which might be thousands of miles away.
Collaborative projects are a staple of the Wired Classroom. For an excellent list of resources in support of such projects, visit the excellent Web site created by teachers in Alberta. Other examples can be found at the Grand Prairie ISD and at the Bellingham (WA) Schools.
WebQuests (http://webquest.sdsu.edu) are a particularly promising approach being developed with leadership from San Diego Univeristy and funding from PacBell.
Other online learning projects are posted by PacBell at the Blue Web'N site (http://www.kn.pacbell.com/wired/bluewebn/)
When we enter the Wired Classroom, we see intense focus upon task, often as not with teams of students exploring, researching, inventing and creating. The path for learning has been clearly defined with frequent check points and conferencing requiring students to demonstrate both progress and quality. They must meet standards before moving ahead.
We should expect even more than these indicators from our students. In addition to the activities listed above, we should demand fresh thinking and rigor. We should write and share rubrics [example] which clarify these high expectations. It is not enough to "go through the motions."
In all too many cases we have settled for mere usage of technology as evidence of success. This focus upon activity can no longer suffice. We are not doing technology for technology's sake.
Some of the activities often heralded as models fail the basic test of significance . . .
The report may be full of glitz and glimmer but lacking in content or value.
It is a foolish waste of technology, money and information power to assign information gathering, topical research projects such as the following . . .
Student research should focus upon essential questions . . .
How does the teacher act?
A good teacher knows when to act as "Sage on the Stage" and when to act as "Guide on the Side." Because student-centered learning can be time-consuming and messy, efficiency will sometimes argue for the Sage. When students are busy making up their own minds, the role of the teacher shifts.
When questioning, problem-solving and investigation become the priority classroom activities, the teacher becomes "Guide on the Side."
In a recent hands-on workshop [Power Learning at KETC'98] designed to model this type of classroom experience, participants provided the following list of verbs to describe the activities of a teacher who is a "Guide on the Side" while students are conducting their investigations:
The title of one chapter, "Coming to Know One's World," is an apt way of thinking about classrooms which place a premium on exploring. The guiding principles of constructivism match the themes of this article:
The Brooks offer a list of behaviors which makes a wonderful self-assessment tool for teachers thinking about their constructivist behaviors. The chart below is adapted from their list and simplified for assessment purposes.
Ratings: 4 = most of the time 3 = much of the time 2 = sometimes 1 = rarely
Many teachers will find the journey toward an increasingly student-centered classroom both a challenge and a joy, provided they are fully supported during the learning process with a robust professional development program.
What kinds of structures?
The Wired classroom requires a great deal of structure . . . Scaffolding is the essential ingredient which helps to keep the classroom humming with purposeful, productive learning. The better the framework we supply as teachers, the more successful our students will become.
In order to clarify expectations and keep students on task, the teacher outlines the jobs which need to be completed, points students to the resources required and then monitors their performance to make sure they are moving forward deliberately and successfully.
The teacher requires students to show work at frequent check points along the path, conferencing often to supply just the right amount of the guidance so that the students are developing independence and responsibility within reasonable boundaries.
An example of careful structuring for a fifth grade student can be found at this site which outlines a unit of planetary study. http://wwwsil.bham.wednet.edu/1planet.htm
An example of careful structuring for high school students can be found at this site which outlines a unit exploring bioethics and cloning. http://www.gpisd.org/Modules/Highschools/!GPISDMO.DUL/VISIT1.HTM
What kinds of assessments work best?
Students need to see models of the products they are expected to create. If they have a clear picture of what they are trying to produce, they can keep holding their own work up to compare it with the exemplars shown by the teacher. In addition, the better job we do of defining standards through the use of rubrics and other assessment devices, the better students will be able to align their efforts with the task requirements.
We need to focus attention on the tasks which are completed throughout the learning journey, not just the end product. We take the important action verbs and keep asking how students might improve and grow.
As much as possible we select challenges and issues from the "real world" and ask that students give us their best thinking in response to these issues.
We do not wait until the end of the process to ask how we are doing. We do not focus solely on product. We make assessment ongoing and frequent, changing our strategies and asking students to adjust and modify their efforts as we see what is working and what is not. As teachers we employ our assessment findings to steer our own efforts, directing our attention where it will do the most good and shedding those strategies which are proving inconsequential in favor of those proven beneficial. We employ assessment as a prime tool in support of program development.
As much as possible we foster independent and peer assessment by students. We want them to learn how to shape and improve their own efforts. Self assessment requires a strong grounding in the use of criteria and standards.
Credits: The icons are from Jay Boersma, except for
the computer which is public domain from Microsoft.
Other drawings, photographs and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.
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