Sunday, August 3, 2008

What Are Students Really Saying?

It was a seldom break from listening to Buck Howdy, Rebecca's favorite singer/songwriter these days. I was able catch a short segment of On the Media entitled "FAQ Check" on our local NPR station instead of humming along with "Baa, Neigh, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo". The segment was on asking questions and finding information on the Internet. I was all ears. Please feel free to be so too!

Towards the end of the segment Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, was talking about the difference between humans and artificial intelligence (AI). After Mr. Shirky talked about AI's inability to make inferences I got to thinking about my teaching. The power of making inferences with students and seeing patterns is crucial to the craft of teaching (somewhere there's a blog post about being able to apply this to online learning). And viewing every moment an honor as a teacher understanding these inferences and patterns is important to me.

I teach students in K-8 Technology Literacy. I hear often how students look forward to their weekly "special" with me for 42 minutes. I work hard to make every class engaging, fun, and skill-building for students. Their time with me is precious making maximizing every moment important.

Despite my intentions and being in front of a computer, on any given day I can hear any or all of these 3 comments:

  • "This is boring!"
  • "This stinks!"
  • "Mr. Wargo can we have free time now?!?!"

As a young teacher, this kind of feedback would rattle me to the core. I'd even sometimes get a bit defensive. But then I began to realize there were some patterns in the inferences students were making. I realized two primary things about these top 3 comments:

  1. A foundation to Technology Literacy is reading (literacy). If my lessons required reading levels (or even sometimes writing levels beyond that of my students), the technology can be branded as boring despite it's coolness factor.
  2. My instruction, modeling, or sequence of engagement needed to be revisited big time. Often times, my expectations, goals, or just sheer explanation was murky to them.

I value students' feedback and want to hear more it. Through the feedback loop, I try to develop their articulation so they can clearly identify their thoughts and feelings: a cornerstone of K-8 schooling, I think.

Sometimes, it's admittedly hard to do in today's depth and breadth of covering curriculum where pacing charts regiment instruction and tests loom on the horizon. While data is important to instruction, so too are the patterns of inferences we see and hear from our students. I need to continue to understand students-to get into their heads as I point out here.

In thinking about my teaching, I realize how important is to teach students about reading inferences especially with the volume of content that is created our collaborative technologies. That is the topic of my forthcoming blog post. Patterns of inferences, or as Daniel Pink calls Symphony in A Whole New Mind, are also essential.

I can't wait for September to come!

**Now back to our regularly scheduled programming of Buck Howdy.**

[As a sidebar, there were lots of "stories" or "angles" that could have been taken with the On the Media piece "FAQ Check". One interesting piece are the listener comments to the segment. Analyzing the inferences and any patterns would be a fun, educational exercise.]

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