Sunday, December 27, 2015

A powerful model of teacher risk-taking

My Diigo list of unread education articles called to me this morning and as I skimmed some of the titles that I bookmarked for later reading, this Huffington Post article, "Social Media and Social Justice in the Classroom," by Dena Lagomarsino stuck out.

The story details how Birmingham, Alabama social studies teacher Beth Sanders created a class-specific hashtag- #SandersTHS - for her students and how much of their classwork was conducted in public spaces online. The article makes it clear that students were challenged to do more than send a few tweets.:
As they engaged with social media in a supportive environment, students began to realize that they can "be the change they wish to see in the world," as Gandhi advised. For example, rather than simply discussing or reading about the essential question of what "being a citizen" looks like nationally, globally, and digitally, Sanders' class engaged in a collaborative effort with college freshmen to create public service announcements in various media. 
 As I read, I was motivated by the agency students developed as a result of engaging online with other classes and civic-minded organizations. Surely the class had things like rubrics and grades, but there was clearly so much in this class to drive and engage students above and beyond traditional top-down, teacher-centered feedback.  I was also motivated by what wasn't in the article- all the little logistical things that this teacher had to work out in order to pull off this type of learning environment for her students.

1. She clearly had to educate parents about social media and its purpose in this class.

2. She had to connect and collaborate with another teacher outside of her school in order to give her high school students the collaborative opportunity to work with college freshmen.

3. She had to take a leap of faith and bet on herself and her students to respond positively to the public platform she created. 

This is just a short list off the top of my head but these are some of the exciting risks that teachers take today which are powered by digital tools in order to foster student voice and interest-driven learning.

Connected Learning

In the book, Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, author Mimi Ito says that the connected learning reform movement asks for inspirational models like the one I tripped over in my morning reading:
We’re arguing against the vision of education as a competitive race in a winner-take-all career market. Instead, we ask what learning can look like if it’s about contributing to shared endeavors and building relationships, and not primarily about competing with your peers.
Certainly the work of Sanders and her class gives us a window into what participatory, networked learning can look like. I'm thankful for the inspiration this type of instructional approach gives me, as well as the digital footprint it leaves which becomes an invaluable resource for ambitious teachers who want to connect students meaningfully to their communities.

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