Typically in my school district, the last day of school for students is immediately followed by two full-days of optional professional learning for teachers. This year was no different. At the elementary level, the focus of the first day was inquiry-based mathematics. And, the second day contained opportunities for participants to dive into (1) Writing Workshop, which has been a focal point of ours for two years, and (2) Guided Reading, a practice we will prioritize next year.
For me (and for the teachers, I believe) the highlight of the second day was the two Edcamp-style time slots – from 9:45 to 10:45 am, and from 11 am to 12 pm – during which teachers facilitated conversations based on topics of their choosing (as long as they related to Writing Workshop or Guided Reading in one way or another). The idea was to provide teachers with opportunities to celebrate their successes, while also giving them time to plan for the future. And, much of this planning ending up occurring across grade levels and/or schools, which made this time that much more valuable.
While all of these sessions were undoubtedly worthwhile, Christina, a first grade teacher, arranged one that was notably unique. During this learning opportunity, attendees explored ways in which their students could create and publish Writing Workshop digital portfolios by combining apps that included Seesaw, Shadow Puppet, Doodle Buddy, and more. But, as much as we love these technologies, what mattered most was the fact that this session was facilitated by her first grade students.
That being said, looking back, here are ten questions I have about this student-run Edcamp.
- How strong are our relationships with our students? Strong enough for our students to come back into school to work with us two days after school has ended?
- “Why write for your teacher when you can publish for the world?” – Alan November TEDx Talk (start at the 7 m 30 s mark)
- In other words, if six-year-olds know how easy it is to publish for an authentic audience, how can we expect them to get excited about handing it in for an audience of one, the teacher?
- If first graders can publish, can’t everyone else? (I’ve seen kindergartners do it too.)
- If students are publishing at such a young age, at what age can we guarantee they’re learning about digital citizenship and digital literacies (which include social media)?
- If first graders can learn these apps, and teach others how to use them, how can we still use “I’m not good with technology!” as an excuse to limit students’ experiences? (We can’t.)
- Why aren’t more students asked to lead the learning of other students or educators?
- In general, students aren’t used to having a voice in their learning. Are they aware they’re missing out, or do they not know that other options exist?
- For us educators who want a voice in our learning, are we providing these desired experiences for our students?
- Seriously. How amazing are these first graders?
In the End
Above everything else, the most valuable lesson for me is…
If most of what we learn during professional development can be made obsolete by a software update, we’re focusing on the wrong stuff.
Christina was able to incorporate various technologies into her classroom, despite the fact that none of our Writing Workshop professional learning explicitly focused on technology. We learned about the Writing Workshop framework (along with the Units of Study), and once she developed a deep understanding of these practices, the natural next step for her was to enhance what she was doing with a combination of technologies that (1) were already available to her, and (2) she explored through a webinar. Furthermore, several other teachers have also taken it upon themselves to do the same.
Rock solid pedagogy comes first, whether it’s Writing Workshop, Guided Reading, inquiry-based mathematics, or anything else. Once the pedagogy is there, the rest will follow.
What questions can you add to my list?
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