Wednesday, February 1, 2012

e-Learning and Student Initiative

Instruction in my carpeted classroom happens when I am done taking role and the kids have quieted down.  I tell them on that day what we're going to do--what the plan is--and they react to my initiative.  Maybe I'll make them be quiet to show them part of Romeo and Juliet.  Maybe I'll give them a vocabulary or timeline worksheet and try to figure out what to do with the kid who missed the last two days and can't do the assignment.  Maybe I'll review from past instruction, hearing primarily from the 20% most outspoken kids and using their responses to gauge the understanding of the rest.

Instruction in my digital classroom is built ahead of time.  I've gathered the resources or given instruction on what sort of resources the students should gather.  My palette as I create the "instruction" phase of a task includes print-articles, videos, and examples of other completed assignments.  If I absolutely need to, I can create new text to help with instruction, but mostly I direct students to others' text.  This creates in them the skill-base and life-habit of reading and watching a variety of media in order to accomplish a meaningful task. 

There's a flip that happens in the digital classroom: instruction is only semi-relevant, but task-completion is critical.  In the carpeted classroom, we spend a lot more time doing instruction (and punishing non-participants) than creating artifacts that demonstrate proficiency.  In the digital classroom, if a student can produce a proficient task but only reads one of the five articles on the topic, that's efficiency to be celebrated.

As to interactivity, a course can be made immersively interactive with multi-author websites/pages, synchronous group discussions or instruction, and web2.0 gadgets that squeal when you poke them, but unless the initiative is given over to the student, the interactivity is just glitz and busyness.

In that previous paragraph, I admit to having written "unless the student takes the initiative" the first time around.  But I'm trying to stamp that out of my vocabulary, because one thing I've noticed is that teachers in carpeted classrooms (including myself) keep the initiative, keep the initiative, keep the initiative when the class is in session, then go to the teachers' lounge and complain about how those darn kids never take the initiative.

I've used the word "initiative" several times in quick succession.  Let me build a metaphor for learning initiative using the game of chess.  If you and I sit down to a friendly game of chess (mentally supply the crackling fire, classical music, and mug of hot drink), I will do my best to keep you off-balance throughout the game.  Every single move you make . . . I want you to be reacting to something I just did to you.  I want you reactionary throughout the whole game, never able to form or execute a plan of your own.  I want to retain the initiative.

In the carpeted classroom, the teacher has the initiative.  And as long as we have 35 pubescent bodies crammed into a confined space for 57 minutes at a time, we'd better keep the initiative.  That's no joke, and no exaggeration.  In the digital classroom, by contrast, the pieces are already set out (by the teacher/chessmaster) and the student sits down to confront a board that is "winnable" if he can just manipulate the pieces in the right way.  The initiative is put into the student's hands.

I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Einstein

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