DigCit in Elementary Classroom

When kindergarten students are given a book, teachers patiently guide children though picture walk and read-aloud activities to scaffold knowledge and skills necessary for becoming independent readers. When the time comes for kids to start driving, parents send them to driving schools to build new knowledge and skills with an expert. Throughout their childhood, kids develop life-long skills with support of an expert adult, and their mastery level often determines how successful their future may be. Demands of the 21 century flooded education with thousands of interactive web tools, online resources, global e-communities, opportunities for instant publishing, and diverse technology gadgets that kids bring to school. When Katrina Schwartz wrote in her blog: “It’s becoming less and less effective to block students from websites,” I thought of all don’t-s and not-s we list for our students when teaching them about digital citizenship and the Internet safety. How effective are we with such strategies? Is it better to focus on do-s and how-s instead?

Every educator and parent would agree that teaching how to use the Internet safely and effectively is a necessary topic that needs to be addressed in schools. Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013, a Common Sense Media research study, is a certain confirmation of how imperative it truly is. Teachers cannot afford to ignore technologies in a classroom with an excuse of keeping students safe on the Internet. Instead, it is an emergency skill that needs to be introduced to students at an early age. The most difficult task for teachers and parents is to balance the safety of students with the benefits and learning opportunities that come with the Internet use (Richardson, 2010).

As an elementary school teacher, I think planning and testing is one strategy teachers should use to keep students safe online. Teachers should preset online resources for students to utilize in researching activities. Videos and all comments for them should be previewed before shown in front of students. Teachers should seek and learn information about kid-friendly search engines and digital media resources, explore different safety settings and modes, terms of use, and model appropriate behaviors to students. In my opinion, Common Sense Media is an outstanding resource to learn such information and participate in self-directed professional learning.

Another powerful strategy for teaching the Internet safety is integrating it into everyday curriculum. Teachers should use reading passages and writing prompts that address the topic of online safety. Such integration will increase student understanding of the issues. Edutopia (specifically the blog section of it) is full of lesson resources, tips, and specific strategies on how digital citizenship may become a content base for teaching the core curriculum. NetSmartzKids is a student-centered resource that can be easily implemented in daily instruction and allow children to explore the Internet safety topics and practice skills for appropriate online behavior.

The Internet safety is more than not publishing students’ names and pictures online. It is about responsibilities, expectations, and trust (Richardson, 2010).  Building a classroom community where these characteristics are embedded into everything students and teachers do is one more strategy that can help kids stay safe when using the Internet. An open and consistent communication with students and parents is crucial in developing an environment like that. In addition to kid-friendly curriculum ideas for elementary classrooms, iKeepSafe is a powerful resource teachers may utilize in educating parents about the Internet safety through classroom newsletters or after school workshops.

There are many great websites that can help us educate students about safety online and digital citizenship, but, in my opinion, the best online resource for this topic is the #digcit on Twitter. I encourage every teacher to participate in their biweekly chats at least once to experience the power of social professional learning.

References

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, wikis podcasts, and other powerful web tools for classrooms. California: Corwin A SAGE Company.

Present Pedagogical Ecosystem

Social networking is not a bubble filled with colleagues we know. It’s precisely the opposite – an enormous, continuously changing environment in which we choose to collaborate and learn from people we may not know personally. It’s a new pedagogical ecosystem that takes down classroom walls and makes our teaching transparent. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to appreciate the power of social networking in education. Unfortunately, many teachers are afraid to take that risk today.

Edmodo is a great example of a dynamic online environment that helps build a learning community in which every member is given a voice and empowered to influence another. I’ve used Edmodo for two years, and I find it to be a perfect platform for teaching digital literacy and writing. Either it’s a brainstorming activity or feedback on a rough draft, Edmodo offers features to do it effectively and efficiently. There is something special about being able to post a question, sit back, and watch kids think and communicate online. I know who my students truly are because Edmodo conversations let the students run the learning show while I am offstage, assessing their skills and academic performance. I love the annotating tool within assignments, too. This feature allows me to comment on student work submitted in any format (documents, Power Point presentations, images, and etc.), converse with a student about mistakes, and continue a one-on-one writing conference in this manner. One click, and students are able to see my notes, start revisions, or ask questions. As each draft improves, Edmodo keeps track of all submitted versions which enables me to see how well students analyze feedback and are able to improve own work. In addition, a few Edmodo apps that support writing instruction in a classroom are available for purchase. Teachers can join Language Art or Writing communities to collaborate with other professionals on specific topics, strategies, or lesson ideas.

To me, Google Docs are a well-packaged collaborative platform, and its possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination. I know many of us create documents and presentations to share with others, but we often forget the purpose of this tool: creating something together, revising, and perfecting it. I imagine Google Docs being an engine for writing instruction. For example, a document can be a place for groups to brainstorm ideas, categorize them, and develop a plan in the pre-writing stage. While writing rough drafts, students can evaluate each other’s work using requirements of a rubric and provide specific feedback to improve it. Writing itself can be collaborative: students may work in pairs to develop a story. Teachers would not need to carry thirty composition books home to read and comment on student writing. Instead, they can dive into it with Google Docs, comment on strength, and define weaknesses upon which students can act immediately.

I also imagine teachers writing together with Google Docs. Why not to set up a document that would serve as a lesson plan template? Teachers can divide and conquer multiple subjects or units at the same time. While one is developing lessons for math, another teacher finishes language arts activities. With no emails or hard copies, both have access to the ready-to-go  lesson plans. Google Docs can help us teach kids how to plan, execute, and evaluate work that is accomplished collaboratively. The same approach can be implemented when developing teaching or professional learning resources. Collaboratively created presentations and documents can then be implemented in classrooms and/or become a part of the school resource library. Below is an example of a short presentation that offers some suggestions on how technology can be implemented in writing instruction.

Honestly, I do not even remember what I did to gather and record information before I learned about Google Forms. Did I take notes on every response and then manually combined them into a data sheet? That’s a scary thought…Today, I use Google Form almost everyday. For example, I fill one out every time I observe teachers and provide feedback on their technology integration strategies. I have developed a simple form and set it up so the feedback is automatically emailed to teachers as soon as I click the submit button. The feedback is immediate, and I have a summary report for every observation I conduct. Then I analyze the combined data, represent it in numbers and graphs, and share it with the staff. I have implemented other forms for the kindergarten registration process, app suggestion surveysthe end-of-the-year technology check list, and many more. Just like social networking tools, Google Docs are a convenient way to support creativity, communication, and collaboration among teachers, students, and parents.

Buildung a Classroom Community: Culturally Responsive Learning

The fact that I grew up in the “white” country of Belarus and taught kids with pretty much the same backgrounds and cultural principles might have shaped me as one-sided educator in the culturally responsive pedagogy aspect.  Coming to the USA in 2000 turned my career upside-down.  I challenge you to imagine a Russian teacher, who barely speaks English, teaching twelve Mexican, four Asian, and 6 African-American kindergarten students in a Title I school!  I can tell you that it was the most challenging culturally responsive pedagogical task I have ever encountered in my career.  In my heart, I had no negative thoughts or assumptions about any of the cultures simply because I did not experience different races or ethnicity in my home city.  Therefore, I loved all those children equally and was ready to give my all to be the best teacher for them.  However, I knew there was that huge wall between me and the students.  Just like Alex, I had to figure out what that wall was made of and break through (DeGennaro & Brown, 2008, p. 12).  Thirteen years later, I can certainly say that building relationships and learning about personal lives and perspectives of our students guarantee successful learning experiences.  Culturally responsive pedagogy consists of two dimensions that can be very easily influenced by every teacher:  personal and instructional (Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2007, p.64).

I think the culturally responsive indicator is not a stand-alone sign of an engaging activity.  It seamlessly weaves through so many others.  In Cultural and Linguistic Differences: What Teachers Should Know, the list of activities that support linguistic differences states that cooperative learning and explorations are effective strategies to meet students’ needs (The IRIS Center, Star Legacy Modules: Communication, p.6).  Such activities are reflected in the sixteen indicators of engaging learning: student-directed, explore (Student Role), collaborative interactions, and performance-based assessments.  In addition, teachers become facilitators and guides of learning and create opportunities to listen to what students have to say.  Technology is just a steroid that can make all of these indicators accessible and connect students and learning to people and communities outside of the classroom.

I believe every authentic activity will reach the real, meaningful “inner me” of every student.  An authentic learning task will simultaneously require students to surface their cultural experiences and backgrounds.  Open- ended questions that provoke higher order thinking, research, and personal evaluation and reflection will allow students of all backgrounds to shine and learn from and about each other.  I agree that textbooks are not culturally responsive (The IRIS Center, Star Legacy Modules: Culturally Responsive Institution, p.3).  I would even say that usually, they respond to only one, the predominant culture of the community and leaves the rest behind.  Teachers must allow students to be actively engaged in their learning, set goals, and evaluate own performance (Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2007, p.67).  In other words, students must own and think about their learning and know exactly what their weaknesses and strengths are.  Such pedagogy can only be implemented in a challenging, student-centered classroom with a teacher who is ready to investigate and solve problems with the students.

As I mentioned before, technology brings down classroom walls and allows students to connect and experience the world and its cultures in new and cheap ways.  We do not need to pay for a field trip to a Native American village or learn about life styles of Australian Aboriginal tribes.  Websites, video conferences, keypals, online collaborative projects, and online publishing opportunities are unlimited today and make the world a much smaller place than it used to be.  Therefore, I think it is a professional negligence when teachers prefer to leave students ignorant about cultural differences and beautiful aspects of each (Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2007, p.66).  If we want to decrease the probability of conflicts in schools, then we need to teach kids about each other and help them develop respect, kindness, patience, and cooperativeness towards each other.  “Students must be taught if the world is to be a better place where everyone is treated fairly, then they have to work to make it so” (Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2007, p.67).  We know it is possible to provide such education.  As Dr. Davidson stated in his neuroscience presentation, we are not born with those qualities, they are teachable at any age (Borovoy, 2007).  If so, why don’t we spend some time building a classroom community in which every member feels safe to speak up, ask questions, learn, and enjoy learning process?