September 18, 2009

The Great Divide



One benefit that linking into Two Writing Teachers provides is a window into elementary education and blogs and sites that address their concerns and issues. One such is the Infinite Thinking Machine, and his latest post, about the reaction to his daughter's commentary on Obama's speech, was a fascinating look into our "attention economy." Although that term implies a monetary system, in reading further I think it also could be applied to an "attention society," or as he put it, a society where everyone just wants to be recognized. The use of YouTube and the multiple discussions about Web 2.0 in the classroom leaves me feeling slightly queasy (see The Natives are Getting Restless, a series of notes on Wesley Fryer's blog).

I teach in a classroom that has too many student desks for the room size, dirty floors, two whiteboards (one has a row of student desks in front of it), a series of pull-down charts (one titled Muslum Leaders up to 1100; that spelling is theirs) but no pull-down projection screen. I also have two overhead projectors on moveable carts that are positioned at the front corners of the room; only one works and that was on the higher cart that blocked views of the students, so I switched them out. I wheel them carefully between backpacks, student desks to project, then return them to the front. There is no Smartboard, no computer, no digital projector, nothing that would indicate that this classroom exists, not in 1972 when it was built, but rather in this century.

So what will happen when a student, who has had access to a classroom at the elementary and/or secondary level with its digital bells and whistles, comes into mine? While I try to change up activities, engage them in discussion, there is no way I can match the level of interactivity and awareness that they've experienced in their fully-funded classrooms in their prior educational venues. Do the teachers at those level wonder how they fare when they finally leave the halls of high school and move on?

I'm in the middle of grading their first essays. The error rate ranges from 1 error to 39 (the most so far) in a three-page paper. I wonder what happened in their earlier curriculum that they think turning in such an error-laden essay is appropriate, and this after they had a peer-review with a rough draft. Many cannot read at a college level (our text is not dense, but rather a "friendly," conversational-style text, fairly free of political issues). About five of those well-schooled in the "attention economy" carry most class discussions, and even allowing for natural shyness or reticence of some students, I have to assume the rest have not even cracked the book.

I feel like I'm my grandmother, teaching in a one-room schoolhouse, addressing the basics of a good education: reading, writing, disucssion and most of these students are unprepared. I know several of them are skilled video bloggers, all of them have cellphones and are proficient in texting (it shows in their emails to me) so I can't say they aren't fully in the web mesh of this day and age.

While I appreciate that the cutting edge of web technology is changing our classrooms, our children's approach to gathering information, and our teaching, when they hit a classroom without Web 2.0, can they still function?

Is it too much to ask of them?

September 15, 2009

Welcome Back to My Real Life

I returned to the classroom yesterday after our second international trip (this time to Munich). I was feeling pretty jetlagged, but ready to go again. We had Peer Review on their first essay, which is a section of class where they bring in their essays, trade with a classmate and then evaluate each other's essay. Not only does it 1) give them an earlier due date so I don't have to read first drafts, it also 2) gives them a chance to have someone else take a look at their essay and 3) improve their editing skills.

See? I've thought it all out.

Except what do you do Student A brings in the SECOND essay to be reviewed? The essay that I'm going to assign tomorrow with a spiffy assignment packet, a presentation and all sorts of tips and strategies?

I met with Student A, a highly decorated (tattoo-wise) military veteran who is in his late twenties, and gently asked him why he chose to do the second essay.

He unfolds a note from his orthopedic doctor explaining that he's going to have surgery soon and he'll have to get up and move around, may not be able to sit. I said that's no problem, just please take a seat on the very back row so you don't disturb others if you have to move. And it's okay to get up and walk around OUTSIDE. As a teacher, can I just say things aren't looking real great?

So I herded him back to the subject at hand.
--Why did he do the second essay?
--Because I want to get ahead.
--But you can't really do that one yet because we haven't finished the first one. Besides, I haven't given out the assignment sheet yet.
--I looked in the Course Calendar and read what you said and went off of that. (He pulls out his notebook, stuffed with papers every which way.) See? Here's all my research for my paper on Tattoos.

Note to self: add "tattoos" to the list of banned topics. And I'm wondering if while in the service, that not only did he enjoy the local tat parlor but also the local drug dealer? *Focus, focus.*

I start him on brainstorming some topics to write about. He reassures me that it's no problem to write an essay about the first time he served in combat--It will be a wonderful essay, he says. Really wonderful.

Wonderful.