Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Telephone Game

Scott Love sentLink me to a Larry Magid column called "It's time to turn technology loose in the classroom" (here). Magid talks about cellphones in the classroom, briefly and without ideas, but it is always good to find voices protesting the banning of technologies that might actually help students learn. I can think of some ways to use phones in my class:
  1. Text or voicecast into blog spaces - reflections on nature or reading, on a daily theme, a problem to solve, simply what you see,feel,hear,smell,touch (that is language practice)
  2. Ditto, but do this individually before, during, and after a problem-solving challenge
  3. Summarize what you have learned that day, ask a question - leave it as a voice message to your teacher
  4. Connect with an expert or mentor or author during the day
  5. Sick? Call in or have another student call you - shoot a movie, take some pictures
  6. Read a poem or a paragraph to your best friend - get a comment back on your reading
  7. Rehearse your lines
  8. Read a book (an amazing number of texts can be read on the iPhone - others will follow)
There are tons of other ideas "out there" - none of the above is new. But cellphones are not allowed out of the pocket at our school. We can actually accomplish all 8 of the learning tasks above with our Apple laptops. New this year will be the built-in camera and new podcasting apps. Our kids already know about Skype and various ways to voice record. But we can't take the laptops outside or sit in the halls and work with them on our laps. If you have been in a small space with 16 kids trying simultaneously to voice record, you will appreciate the weakness of the laptop as a solution for the above. Most of the online options for uploading or sharing are filtered anyway. So phones sound like a good idea to me.

Magid also takes on chat. I loved his metacognition about the value of chatting when active listening might be more worthwhile.

The irony is this: teachers who actually use "back chat" or any chat in the classroom are NOT talking at the same time. Magid had a fake experience of a fake experience. I have written before about the value of chat and digital discussion in the classroom - it must be open, but
it must not be loose.

Conference and workshop attendees who learn by being spoken to are not getting a real taste of technology used for education; what they are getting is a taste, as Magid points out, of technology truly loose in the classroom. In a classroom where a teacher is talking while students make free use of any technology, both the teacher and the student are losers. Obviously not the point.

Letting technology loose is really about teachers opening up and getting into the discussion with the students - and letting the students take the lead. Presenters who don't acknowledge that this is (1) possible (2) desirable and (3) risky (it's a RISC notion) are perhaps damaging the changes they hope to support. That change is not going to happen until teachers stop talking, and students start.

Actually, we don't need technology to make that happen. My next post will be about how I am restructuring my teaching next year to make more talk happen. Again the ideas are already out there - it is just a matter or taking the time to attend to best of them.

But do we really want to turn talking loose? Remember the old telephone game? I start by saying "Shirley is wearing a hilarious chapeau" and at the end of a long chain of ear-to-lips whispers we hear that "She is swearing at Hillary's chapped lips." We make as much nonsense as sense in an unstructured discussion, especially now that kids chat and text with about as much sense of attention as they used to whisper. The educational fun of the telephone game is about how misinformation is created and spread. Turning this on end to make fun learning out of digital communication is hard work.

Take this game seriously, teachers, not loosely. It is hard work to make learning happen, and in this format, most of the work is like "back chat" - it happens behind the scenes while the kids are doing the talking.

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