If We Stop Throwing Glitter in the Air…

Every time I observe technology being used for the sake of using it, it makes me think of glitter thrown in the air. The effects are amazingly similar – the shiny substance blinds and excites us at the same time. But before we know it, the fun part is over and it’s time to clean up the mess. At this point, students are “checked out”, and teachers are stuck with remediation groups since kids didn’t learn much from the lesson. 

In a glittery classroom, I see students sitting in front of laptops, completing template-based projects that answer only right-or-wrong questions. Each product looks exactly the same as other 25 in the classroom. Well, the clip art may be different since students had a “choice” for images. I see teachers who believe they effectively integrate technology in such lessons and it defines them as 21-century educators. Then why, when the lesson is over and projects are proudly displayed in the hallway, don’t students even remember what they’ve learned? Was it just a glittery illusion and there was no more “substance” to think about?

What does a classroom look like if we stop throwing glitter in the air?  

  1. Teachers seem to be invisible. We don’t see them lecturing in front of the class. They are in the midst of group conversations – coaching, listening, checking for understanding, challenging young minds, and providing support. 
  2. Kids own their learning. They understand (not just recite) learning goals, know what must be done to achieve them, and are able to self-assess personal progress towards these targets. Students view the teacher as a source of guidance and support on their journey to success, not as a direction and grade-giver.
  3. Children become producers of knowledge. Their work has purpose and real audience. It makes them contributors in the world of information. They are not passive “sponges” anymore who absorb every word in their teacher’s lectures. Students develop their own voice.
  4. Students are involved in constant conversations with each other. Practicing isolated thinking and answering multiple-choice questions are not effective strategies. Instead, children are expected (not just allowed) to talk, bounce ideas off each other, revise their own thinking, and come to consensus. They learn to be effective listeners and persuasive speakers and understand the power of collaboration. Students realize that powerful ideas and new knowledge can be born only in a conversation.
  5. Authentic learning is the classroom atmosphere. Teachers never know what student products will look like. One thing they are sure of is that none will look the same! No more template-based, cookie-cutter like projects! Different tools, formats, and ways to express thoughts allow students to be authentic. However, essential questions and learning targets of the lesson maintain student focus on the same learning objectives.
  6. Learning expands beyond classroom walls. As soon as students own their learning and have a choice of how to demonstrate their understanding, they never stop working. Kids choose to spend more time engaged in learning at home, which rarely happens with worksheets sent home. With no directive from the teacher, students revise and edit their work at home, on the way to a ball park, or at grandma’s house. Learning never stops! With BYOT and online tools, students are able to do so at anytime. I’ve witnessed many purposeful conversations happening among students outside of the classroom – in Edmodo, Wixie, Wikispaces, Voice Thread, etc. Kids learn from each other!

Day in and day out, I challenge teachers to stop throwing glitter in the air and revise their instruction. They must increase rigor and encourage creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. Only then will the glitter become precious gems, full of priceless “substance” of kids’ unique creations!