31 December 2015

Do You Make Room for Teaching INefficiently?

We all love how efficiently technology helps us find, recall, and create information, right? I can more efficiently contact the parents of my students through our online Student Information System. I can recall and edit old documents and lessons plans from my Google Drive just by searching. I can grade assessments more efficiently through my MasteryConnect GradeCam, Google Forms, and/or any number of apps and websites set up to give our students fast, formative, differentiated practice and feedback. (We use Renaissance Learning's, Accelerated Math most in my district, I just saw MathSpace at the St. Louis EdSurge event, Khan Academy has a coaching/practice element, and FrontRow has contacted me before - seems like a good product.)

But sometimes, in our hussle to meet and assess our power standards, track students progress and remediate/differentiate, or run class through our time-tested, "this works best for me" classroom procedures, we get TOO efficient. 

I have an old friend from college, Matt Inman (now a private-practice therapist in Austin), who started a podcast and blog this year titled, Inefficiency. His motto is, "Going out of our way, for that which we love most." The idea has really resonated with me personally as I've binge-listened to past episodes this month, but the idea that is sticking with me professionally came from episode 6 with psychotherapist, Dr. Roy Barsness. Dr. Barsness was describing a patient he had invested a lot of time and energy with, spent a lot of "inefficiency" on, who wound up becoming inappropriately attracted to him - to the point of suicide if he would not go to bed with her. He recounts his experience with this difficult patient:
"Many people would have dropped her...what i hated was the difficultly of working with a borderline patient, and that the patient was the problem. All I knew was my patient wasn't my problem. The problem in that room I was me - I didn't know how to be with that patient. And so I tell my students, be really careful with psychopathology, because this is the only way the patient knows how to be, and YOU have to learn how to be with that and to discover together where there's a different way of being. And so I hated that blaming of the patient, and especially of the borderline during my training... I thought, "I can work with her. The problem is... she needs a lot more than I can even give yet, but I was scrambling like crazy to find out if I could find it..." - Dr. Roy Barsness, Inefficiency Podcast, Ep. 6
My wife and I joke(?) a lot at home about how often on TV and in movies that teachers end up sleeping with their students, so lets steer away from that as NOT the point of this example. Think about those students in your school who bounce from teacher to teacher, never really connecting with anyone. How often do we talk with out colleagues that, "if she would only figure out ______," or "I really need his parents to ______ before he can be successful in my class."

Don't these kids get the most lost when we rigidly stick to the efficiencies that technology afford us in our classroom? Flipping out classrooms is a terrific use of video and so transformative for many students' ability to better understand lecture content, but I've seen a lot of students turned away at some of their neediest moments with, "Go watch the video." Its inefficient to say something that they should have gotten from that lesson's video, but it might be most caring. We go to great lengths to set up our class websites, and get all of our handouts/content online. It's quite efficient to always directly dismiss students to the class website or Google Classroom when they need something we've put on there, but sometimes, I think the right thing is to just stop what you're doing and serve that student.  It's inefficient, but our students matter, right?

"But you're just dismissing their immature behaviors and lack of responsibility." You were just thinking that, weren't you? I'm not writing this to excuse irresponsibility from 16/17/18 year olds that should really know better (and often DO better at their after-school jobs, or even in other teachers' classrooms). The key to building that relationship with that difficult, needy student is, as Dr. Barsness put it, "to discover together where there's a different way of being." Whether they are or not, I think our default assumption as teachers has to be one our best intentions from our students. That on most days, most of the time, they're giving us the best of what they have to work with in the situation.

As much as legislatures across the states want to make clear the evidences of our work after just a few months, education is a marathon. You might get thanked by a great lecture or a particularly interesting/engaging project/lesson/activity, but the things that matter most for our students happen after they leave us. in the NEXT math class, they pull that nugget of knowledge out and apply it to a project. In someone else's class they come up with a creative inquiry question to drive a project and then see it through. Our students that end up learning the most from us are the ones that needest us and we were able to give - we inspired or gave to them more than others.

I think finding moments to teach inefficiently in the midst of all the efficient technologies we build around us makes all the difference in finding satisfaction, purpose, and reward in our work. Nothing about scanning a bubblesheet makes me want to go back to class everyday, but taking time for creatively engage my students or reflect on one more thing to try with my students gets me there often.

Where is your well? In order to continue coming back, again and again for our students, we must have more to give. What are you filled with? How do you renew? ONE important life-giving activity is reflection and looking forward.

Matt posted a 2015 Year End Review on the Inefficiency website that I would wholeheartedly encourage you to fill out before returning to school. Don't pressure yourself to do it all at once, though. I think I took 3 different sessions of sitting for about 20 minutes to get through it, but it was great for thinking back and on setting personal AND professional priorities for 2016.

21 December 2015

Data suggests print books making a comeback - does it matter for classrooms?

Just picked up this article in Quartz reporting Neilsen data suggesting the print books made a comeback last year, specifically buoyed by Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, adult coloring books, and (I don't understand this one) books authored by YouTube stars. http://qz.com/578025/against-all-odds-print-books-are-on-the-rise-again-in-the-us/

What's that mean for education? For the classroom? Is the next wave of innovation going to be a rejection of tech, where we all throw out our iPads and Chromebooks?

I think this change is in part a natural reaction to new technology - everyone bought a Kindle in the last decade, lots of people starts buying e-books, and then some users realized they didn't like the experience most of the time. Ever tried sharing an ebook with your friend? "Hey, I just read Malcom Gladwell's new book; so good! You oughta check it out! Want to borrow it?" Ebooks as a format aren't so great for reading to kids or as gifts for kids, either. Don't get me wrong, my kids LOVE interactive books/stories and their Leapfrog LeapReader books, but "I downloaded this book to my iPad for you" just doesn't give my daughter the same experience as going to the library and clutching tight her borrowed copy of Barbie Super Sparkle. 

I believe the increase in sales of physical books this past year represents a maturation of the digital, ebook market because it means that users and producers have figured out what digital books are and are not good for. With every new technology, there is a period where we kick the tires a bit (typing out everything on an iPad screen several years ago, for instance), and then decide the added cost/adaption/complication of implementation is not worth the gain. If the only reason you have your kids reading texts in the classroom on screens instead of paper is the savings on printing costs, I don't know if that's worth the loss in value of marking up and making a text your own as a reader. Users that bought an e-reader several years ago just to read (not annotate, share links, and highlight) their ebook might be going back they miss dog-earred pages, rustling pages, and the satisfaction of closing the book on that last page.

A few years ago when iPads were new in classrooms, I went to a session on apps for literacy for K-3 kids at a tech conference and was introduced to an app that was going to revolutionize letter-practice because kids could use their finger to change colors and even use a multi-color or sparkle "pen". You know what else kindergartens love? Real glitter, and tape, and markers, and stickers, and paint, and stuff they can bring home to their parents. It was a fun addition, but like this app, the bounce-back of print books is indicative that in some settings, we end up trying to use tech to fix things that we don't need to or shouldn't fix.

In summary, it makes sense to me (a person that much prefers reading books to print) that people are buying books again. And I also believe that physical textbooks will continue to be replaced as 1:1 device environments and e-texts become ubiquitous in the modern classroom. Why? It's because of what we need textbooks to be. 

The textbook was a great invention last century. One book with all of the info a student might conceivably need (for that course.) If all you want from a textbook for your students is examples, practice problems, and the answers to the odds in the back, you're probably going to be fine with any textbook from the last 20 years (so the book will at least acknowledge graphing calculators and the Internet), but we need more from our educational resources!

Our students need:
a resource with all the information that they need - some will need more or less supplemental or prior-skill material out of their "book"
a resource that brings in multimedia as the norm, not an add-on
a resource with tools kids can manipulate, be it geometric shapes on a coodinate plane, simple machines and force, or chunks of texts they can rechunk or number
a resource that is (almost) never outdated or obsolete because the district budget couldn't afford the new edition
a resource students can add to and collaborate with others to chronicle their learning alongside the "official" content
I do not believe that a desire for "experience" will ever be absent from the act of reading, so books might never disappear. However, the information communication demands in the classroom have and are changing, so while we will continue to build reading nooks in classrooms, our educational resources must change to reflect the speed, immersion, and flexibility with which we consume and publish in this century.