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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Reflecting on B-12 English Department Meeting

At our recent B-12 cross-divisional faculty meeting the English Department shared a variety of technology-related projects. From the Lower School we heard about Dibels reading assessment software, Lexia software for students' self-paced reading instruction, and Scratch programming projects for developing facility with oral and multimedia expression. From the middle school we watched several student-produced videos that demonstrated a high level of engagement with their novel study and great use of video-editing as a publishing format. From the upper school we heard about the advantages of class blogs and FirstClass conferences for communication and passing of electronic documents.

We also heard about Ms. Kornet's "ning" project for her class's study of Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. [A ning is a social media platform on which participants have a profile page, blog, and discussion threads, as well as a feed of all activity on the site, not unlike Facebook.] In Ms. Kornet's project each student assumes the role of one of the characters from the novel and participates on the ning in the manner of that character. Students don't learn the assumed identities of their classmates until the end of the project. Here is a screenshot from the ning site (click on it to enlarge and read the content.) What a wonderful way to build engagement with this novel!

What struck me about this meeting of the English Department was not only the great number of innovative "tech" projects going on (and great teachers!), but also that our basic curricula around reading, writing, and oral expression has in many respects adopted digital tools that we take for granted. For instance, the use of word-processing, keyboarding, and reading online didn't come up as a topic at this particular meeting. I think this is because these tools are embedded on a daily basis we don't necessarily think of them as "tech," and certainly not as innovative. Part of my role is to articulate our vision of what we ask ourselves and our students to do with technology, and I think we are well-positioned to consider next steps in our basic expectations for routine use of digital tools for all students. For example, all students should learn to produce compelling written text published digitally that has embedded hyperlinks and multimedia elements that model current best practices of publishing on the web. Students should gain fluency and independence communicating and writing collaboratively using free tools like Google Docs and personal blogs. Students should routinely use digital tools for brainstorming, bookmarking, and citing sources. Students should gain experience and support with non-linear but focused patterns (and habits of mind) of reading online. I think we have several shining examples of these technologies in our classrooms, but I'd encourage us to move from conceptualizing them as "tech" and move towards the day when these will be the tools we take for granted, embedded across the curriculum. 

Lastly, in relation to our English curriculum I'd echo nearly every library mission statement I've ever read which is encouraging a lifelong love of reading. We want our students to truly enjoy reading and writing in all its forms. This is a good topic for a future meeting, and when we work together, teachers, librarians, and technologists we are the better for it. I welcome your comments and reactions, and encourage your participation in this digital text forum by use of the "comments" feature below.

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