Monday, October 27, 2008

Listening to the little voices in your classroom

This year our district is focusing on capturing student voice as it relates to education and the work we do. We are looking at how we can use student voice to design more engaging work for students. We I say engaging work I am not just talking about work that is fun and exciting but work that truly captivates students interest, whether it be hard or easy, and forces them to think and persevere. This definition is part of the work Phil Schlechty has done on school reform. This year I have stepped out on a limb when it comes to student voice in allowing them to have a say on how I changed my curriculum.

Last spring I surveyed my 6th and 7th grade technology students on what I was teaching and how I was doing as a teacher. I asked their thoughts on my teaching style, curriculum, and what their suggestions were for improvement. This is something I have done in years past but stepped away from for awhile as I worked through my administration program and grew my family. After looking at the surveys I found that there was a resounding need to retool my curriculum as students were bored with what they were doing. For the most part their suggestions were the typical ones of "don't talk so much", "We need more work time", "You are such an awesome teacher", "Why can't we play games"; But others were more insightful like "I want to do animations", or "why do we don't video". Now I didn't base my curriculum changes solely on what the students said but I looked at what they were doing both in my class on current projects I was having them do as well as what they were doing outside of class during their free time. What they were doing in my class as well as during their free time mirrored what they were asking for. So using that small bit of data I retooled my curriculum to fit with what they were asking/showing they wanted/needed.

To this end I am incorporating the use of typing games to teach basic typing skills and reigning in the amount I talk by showing kids free online training exercises on the programs we use (, showing them how to use the help features included on the programs they use, as well as seek out classmates with the expertise they need (thereby reducing my talking in class). I will be honest to say it is rather hard to make these changes and I am not having all the success that I had hoped for but I am seeing some positive results and much more satisfied students. The one major success story I have had is with the use of Digital Stories.

In my tech 2 class I am having students create a digital story on social issues facing 10 to 13 year olds today. For this project students have had to: write a contract, think about resources needed (training and physical), write a story board, give a pitch on their idea, and edit their pictures. Now I am sure I am not doing this in the official digital story telling way but the point is that students have and are doing a lot of work to get their story done before the deadline of 10/31. It is interesting to watch them work on these stories and go through the process of creating their story. Some straight through the period while others work for a little bit then take a couple of minutes to chat with friends but the work gets done. The conversations are even more enlightening as they are talking not only about what is going on in school and in their lives but also about the project. They bounce ideas off of each other, they ask for help intertwined with conversations about math tests, boyfriends, etc. It is amazing to watch this take place and I can't wait for the end result.