Digital Learning Day? What does it all mean?

Anyone who knows me knows about my fascination and commitment to revisit my practice. They know about my desire to understand the affordances of technology and media-making in literacy instruction. They know about my dedication to helping my learners become global citizens.

Global Issues Summit
Now, make no mistake, I understand “I turned out completely fine” with a more traditional education, but then again, that’s all we really had. And, I was fortunate to love school and have engaging educational experiences throughout my entire life.

As I continue to teach, however, my awareness of the ever-evolving literacy landscape is constantly raised. My eyes are opened to this new world my high school learners are trying so hard to make sense of, and complexity is added when we realize that it’s changing at a mind-boggling pace.

It’s one thing to say, “When I was your age, I had to walk to and from school uphill both ways in the snow and rain and heat and whatever other extreme weather condition that may prove my point.” It’s quite another to say, “When I was your age, we didn’t have the internet.” To my learners, and perhaps even to myself, the second remark seems to be much more of a hardship.

“What?” “How can that be?” “What was that like?” Just some of the inquiries emoting the disbelief of my students.

And truthfully, there are parts of me that cannot remember because I have chosen to examine what these types of changes mean to not only to my students but also to myself. This reflection has put the spotlight on trying to be responsive instead of doing what I know or what’s familiar. I’ve had to distance myself somewhat from that more traditional context. It’s tough to recall bits and pieces of teaching before I had the tools but more importantly, the courage to enter an arena where I am more of a visitor than someone truly at home.

At times, it’s scary. I don’t know how to do half the things I ask my learners to try. And when I begin to learn a program, there’s another skill set to try to sink my teeth into because our learners today like variety. They are bombarded with onslaughts of information, some more useful than others, some more reliable than others, but still, they have a deluge of information presented in various media genres.

But if I don’t help them understand why a piece of media and its content is or is not effective and purposeful, my learners might never understand how such media can manipulate for good or for bad. Furthermore, they may not understand how to design such media to further the causes and purposes they call their own.

Learner-Created Marketing Piece for Romeo and Juliet

Digital Learning Day, March 13, 2015 is fast approaching. Each year, I take time to ask my learners what sense they can make of how technology impacts education, how consumption and creation of media both influences and reflects learning. Unfortunately, this year, Digital Learning Day falls during spring break. I feel like I’ve tried to compensate by asking learners to create more digital artifacts.

Wanted Poster Condemning Friar Lawrence

Wanted Poster Condemning Friar Lawrence

Recently, I’ve asked my students to design marketing pieces where they decide to position Romeo and Juliet either as a “Timeless Love Story” or as a “Cautionary Tale”. They’ve also produced digital Wanted Posters and Sainthood Petitions communicating whether or not they felt Friar Lawrence was a sinner or a saint. Each product required text analysis and evidence from the play. Each piece forced them to wrestle with over simplified decisions, and yes, they were frustrated. Many of them have voiced the desire to create something that reflected both sides, and I see this as a byproduct of other learning we have experienced this year.

All year, my learners participate in KQED Do Now discussions. (Yes, I do understand this is nothing new to those of you who have read previous posts. Indulge me.) KQED’s EdSpace poses civic questions every week with articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that informs on that particular topic. Learners learn about the topic and post on the blog and Tweet their responses to provocative questions. Some recent topics include Vaccinations, Ebola, Ferguson, etc. The challenge for my learners is not only to articulate their informed positions on the topics but to also engage in discourse with other people from all over the country (world). I am constantly asking them, “How can you continue the discussion to deepen understanding— not just try to prove your point?”

I strongly believe in the essential skill of being able to approach tough potentially polarizing concepts in such a way where all opinions are able to be heard, where participants are able to have their own informed opinions but also the understanding that others, too, have the right to their own. Without such discourse, tough discussions do not happen. Topics are avoided. Difficult, seemingly unanswerable questions are not explored. And even more disheartening, if such discourse isn’t taking place, possible necessary and plausible compromises are not being made that could help reform unjust, inhumane practices around the world.

When my learners ask me if they can create products that express both sides of the problem, products that express a third or fourth perspective, I believe it is a result of months of grappling with messy topics such as those offered in KQED’s EdSpace Do Now.

This is the type of analysis and understanding my learners have gained from practices that include participating in civic discourse using social media, deconstructing and producing media, and critically researching online. But we don’t get that from doing this once. We don’t get there from observing Digital Learning Day a single day in a year.

No, this learning must happen every day because this is where our learners are at home. They are awakened by devices. They are informed by feeds they can customize. They are influenced by media that either arrives via their chosen outlets or on demand.

I will say this. What Digital Learning achieves, not only on this day with its powerful reminder but on any other, is the invitation to educators on all levels to question their practice. Digital Learning Day calls upon us to reexamine how we do things and why we might want to try something different.

So what does it all mean? Digital Learning means different things to so many different people, learners and educators alike. But, this day, this day gives us pause to reflect. It is a moment to deliberate on what works, what is needed, what can be transformed, what our learners really need, how we can relinquish some of what is known through careful design to gain a step closer to understanding. Understanding that this process should occur every day, after each interaction with our learners. Digital Learning Day is a chance to learn from other educators’ work. It is a time to revisit some of our biggest disasters in our classroom, taking comfort in the thought that at least, we tried.

Digital Learning DaySo take time. Recognize what it means to teach literacy in today’s world. Question. Always question. And ask a learner, what worked and what didn’t. That’s what Digital Learning Day means to me.

Digital Learning Day: A Call to Action

Sitting at a district meeting yesterday, I heard more of an all too widespread and alarming discussion. “Our students aren’t interested in learning like we were.” “The kids today are distracted by gadgets. They would rather text than talk.” “Our kids don’t have a long attention span.”

All of these rumblings have a common thread. Yes, our students for the most part, are quite different than us, their educators. They are interested in technology. They do like to communicate digitally. They do multitask.

I felt so uncomfortable hearing our district leaders finding so many shortcomings in our students—especially since what these teachers were critical of can be such assets. What people were complaining about are very important skills in the 21st century.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, have been frustrated by a student slyly texting a friend to socialize instead of completing the class project. I, too, have wondered why I constantly have to switch gears in a single class to engage students. I, too, have wondered how someone can spend hours and hours playing a game and not ten minutes on a journal assignment.

But, after years of wondering and researching and collaborating and analyzing and experimenting, I know one thing. I have more questions. I also know that our students have a cultural wealth that demands our attention and respect. Their knowledge of building and sustaining community, creating and collaborating on multimedia projects, their hunger for information. All of this makes them candidates for being exceptional students.

Then, what’s the problem? Why is the United States lagging behind other countries in education? Why are some schools now being named “drop-out factories”? Why do some teachers perceive our students as being deficient learners rather than remarkable ones?

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It’s not the fault of the teachers. It’s not the fault of the students. It’s not the parents. It’s not the media. It’s not the technology companies. It’s not the video games.

It’s the educational system in the United States. We operate in an antiquated context far removed from the realities of today’s society, its demands and its challenges. We want our students to fit into some educational paradigm that was conceived eons ago.

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, so much has happened to transform our landscape. Technology has developed. There are now so many digital advances making once impossible things everyday common occurrences. Every day, there is something new, something that ups the stakes, something that creates another challenge to our obsolete educational system. One thing, however, that is not changing, not transforming, not responding—fast enough anyway—is education.

Today’s learners are different. They learn differently from most of their teachers. All true. I get it.

When, then, do we respond to these differences? When do we take into account these inconsistencies and make systemic changes that embrace our learners and all their skills? When do we create an inclusive environment to fit their needs instead of forcing them into an educational box where they must abandon so much that is part of their culture? When will we demand an education that our students deserve, one where instead of failing, they will thrive?

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Technology is not the enemy. It is not gadgets OR lessons. It is not cell phones OR learning. It is not social networks OR accountable talk.

On the contrary, we have the opportunity to use these powerful tools and many more to truly reform our classrooms. We have a chance to show our students how much we do respect and admire their skills by stepping out of our comfort zones to learn from them.

So for today, our first National Digital Learning Day, I ask what you can do to help these changes happen and happen sooner rather than later? Each day we do not advocate for our learners, each day we do not rally around this type of reform is another day where technology leaves education further behind.

Digital. Learning. Digital + Learning. Digital Learning. 

 

No Literacy Left Behind: Why use digital tools in literacy instruction?

It’s common sense. We have to meet our students where they are. We have to know our students and the cultural wealth they bring to our schools. Using what they already know as a method of mediating new learning is just good teaching. So why not meet our students in a mileu that they already know?

Using digital tools, thus, capitalizing upon a student’s digital literacy, will facilitate literacy instruction.

How do we do this? How can we make this a campus-wide practice? How do we sustain it?

A Whole New World: Addressing the Literacy Needs of the On Demand Generation

“That’s how I was taught, and I turned out okay.” 

Who hasn’t heard that before in schools across the country? Well, that’s not going to work. Or more truthfully, it might work for some, but teachers will lose multitudes of teachable moments with that type of mantra.

Instead, we would better serve today’s students by really considering their cultural wealth. What differences and simiarities do they bring with them to the classroom that can be supported by learning? What types of practices do they have in other areas of their lives that may need addressing and mediating for meaninful learning to take place? What role does identity play in literacy instruction?

 

 

Creating a Community of Readers and Writers

Digital Learning Day is February 1, 2012. Although I will also be exploring the best way to get my students to write/read digitally for that day, it dawned on me that we, as educators, need to continue to learn in the digital milieu. In response, I have decided to take a step back and blog about what literacy instruction means to me in hopes that these posts serve as resources for other classroom practitioners. 

This activity has also enabled me to revisit what I believe in as an educator. I have been able to reflect what pieces contribute to the whole of my teaching. In doing so, I am able to become reacquainted with some of the principles that keep me motivated. I’m able to articulate what I do, not only to refocus my practice but to also share it with a wider audience. At the very least, this may invite others to revisit what shapes their teaching.

Enjoy!