The lesson should have been a slam dunk. I had taught almost the same lesson several times before because of teaching a rotating enrichment type of class. This is my fifth group of students in two years, so it seemed that any kinks there might have been would be worked out by now. Welcome to technology. As cool as it is (and I am a huge proponent of using any and every digital tool that is available), there are times a simple highlighter can do so much more than the mouse on the computer. In Part 1, I described the series of lessons that I’ve used multiple times in my classroom. In this part, I would like to explain how sometimes the best classroom lessons may need to stay in the classroom and stay out of the computer lab.
We worked through multiple layers as we read and reread the speech: unfamiliar terms, rhetorical devices (highlighting with different colors), noting mood, tone, and volume. Students appeared to do all of these things. I circulated and watched this happen. When the last day arrived, I asked students to submit their annotated texts online. I really couldn’t wait to see how well this worked in the digital classroom. I shouldn’t have been so excited. There were really very few submissions that were “models” of what I was expecting to see. Some had comments, but some skipped whole segments of the activities (did not note volume or tone, for example). Many identified the rhetorical devices in some way but perhaps only one or two instead of every instance of all devices.
It did not take long to figure out what had happened. During previous “non-digitized” classroom lessons, students pushed chairs together and worked in groups of at least three to four. In the computer lab, working with the person in the next seat may be acceptable but too much movement invites chaos. Though students had the computers at their fingertips and could readily search for definitions and examples, they seemed stifled by the screen in front of them. They may have been more distracted in an environment that offered easy access to online radio. After the disappointing annotations, I thought I would trade in that easy access for the chaos of my classroom any day. In that chaos there is talk. In that chaos, my students are learning from each other. And in that chaos, there is Maya Angelou’s speech on paper that has writing all over the margins and different colored highlights.
Don’t misunderstand. I have enjoyed showing my students the digital tools I use for writing, that I use when I collaborate with other people who live nowhere close to me. We do our students a disservice when we either try to shield them from the digital world or we don’t explore what is out there ourselves. In this case, however, I missed a key step in the computer lab lesson. I did not open up the lesson to true online sharing and show my students how we could bring our collaborative classroom environment into a different setting. Google Docs, Wikispaces, and so much that I am fumbling to learn. And now Google Drive is entering the scene. So as I’m learning what I should have done in that computer lab lesson (that was good but could have been great), I’ll hope that I’ve at least ignited the spark for independent learning and inquiry.