One of my responsibilities as the instructional technology specialist this year is to observe classrooms and provide specific feedback on the effectiveness of BYOT and technology integration in classrooms. We have talented professionals in our building, but I still see lessons in which teachers chew down every bit of information and then monitor their students’ digestive process during “busy-work” activities. Then again, there are some lessons that are plainly too difficult for students to explore independently, and as a result they disengage, give up, and never succeed. Such lessons always remind me of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and make me think how little instruction has changed since 1986!
One may skip this post after seeing the word rigor in it, knowing how overused and often misunderstood this term is today. From parents to administrators, everyone demands that teachers turn their classrooms in rigorous learning environments. What does this mean? What does rigor look like in a classroom?
R is for relevant and I is for integration. Research from International Center for Leadership in Education shows that higher relevance and integration of subjects leads to deeper understanding of a topic. Complex problems of the real world can be solved only by developing new knowledge built on analytical explorations of existing evidence. Therefore, we need to stop teaching a higher-level real world application one discipline and one worksheet at a time. Common Core Standards demand higher-order thinking and deeper understanding of objectives and connections between them, too. Winnie the Pooh is a great character, but we need to move away from just describing him to finding connection with today’s world, friendship in our lives, and traits that can be useful in our future. We need to move from “covering” curriculum to “uncovering” its depth, and it cannot be done one subject at a time! We must revise our teaching and move towards PBL (project-based learning), stacking standards, and making every activity relevant. BYOT is a perfect tool that fits right in PBL environment.
G is for geographical change. Rigorous, project-based instruction forces geographical changes in a classroom. Get rid of rows of desks facing the white board – they are simply not effective. Instead, think of a mobile set up: easily movable furniture and sitting areas for group work and collaboration. Ideally, put in two active boards for presentations and constant back-channeling. Turn walls and static bulletin boards into dry-erase surfaces on which students can brainstorm ideas, take notes, plan, and work collaboratively. Unleash BYOT – it is a perfect platform for collaboration and communication. Providing endless opportunities to learn about diverse cultures, perspectives, and relevant topics, technology brings down classroom walls and makes the world a smaller place for students to explore. The geography of learning today is limited only by teachers.
O is for ownership. We should stop planning and micromanaging every step in student learning and set clear expectations for their work instead. Our expectation should be extremely high! No teacher should ever dumb down the curriculum just because she/he has “one of those classes this year.” We must focus on students’ progress, not their grades! We must become coaches, cheerleaders, and critical friends to our students. Students must become producers of knowledge and be allowed to choose how to show their learning. They need opportunities to think critically about evidence they read, hear, or see, participate in collaborative discussions, and express themselves in a variety of ways. BYOT offers unlimited possibilities and infinite tools for teachers and students to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and demonstrate their own learning in creative ways.
R is for reflective learning. Common Core Standards require much more than teaching basic reading and writing skills. Students must become constant, independent, and flexible learners. They need to know how to learn, unlearn, and relearn things. They need to clearly express themselves, learn from each other, listen and evaluate different points of view, and adjust their own thinking based on evidence. Our job is to make students aware of their learning targets and individual gaps and to map out the next step to progress their learning. BYOT brings necessary flexibility and support for collaboration and communication. It changes the spirit and focus of classroom culture and turns it into a student-centered and student-driven environment. BYOT makes it possible to flip instruction and reserve class time for discussions, “uncovering” the curriculum, and students’ reflection on their own learning.
Many teachers still believe that BYOT is a magic wand that will create a rigorous atmosphere in a classroom. It is not true! Rigor is all about quality of instruction and high expectations. BYOT is just a steroid that makes it stronger and everlasting, even when it is Ferris Bueller’s day off.