#DitchSummit Day 1: @K_Shelton on Digital Equity

The first story Ken Shelton tells in his DitchSummit Day 1 video really resonated with me. He describes the common classroom scenario where students are asked to raise their hands as part of a class discussion, and students who do not raise their hands are (often in report card comments) labeled as poor communicators. This has always bugged me, as many of these ‘poor communicators’ are, in my experience, very good at communicating; they are just not comfortable putting up their hand in a class full of their peers to answer a low level factual recall question, where they may or may not be made to feel bad about themselves if they get the answer wrong. The odd thing is, however, that these “poor communicators” will put their hands up in the occasional class where they feel safe and they have a good relationship with their teacher. So the question really is not how to get these kids to put their hands up more, but what can more teachers do to build safe classroom environments where kids feel empowered to contribute?

Throughout the conversation he goes on to give some great examples of ways that technology can be leveraged to give students a voice and to ensure digital equity. The conversation was not really one about technology at all, but rather it was all about relationships. I thought this was great as relationships often comes up as one of the biggest factors that contribute to student success in schools, but are also not one I hear people talking about very much. It is easier to discuss grading, assessment, lesson design etc than to address how we as teachers might be making students “feel”.

One example that I loved was the Google Form check in. This is very different from the Google Form reflections that I thought he was going to talk about, it is a conscious effort to find out how the students are doing as people, not just how they feel about the work they are doing. The check in happens at the start of class with couple questions in a Google Form:

  1. How are you feeling today?
  2. What can I do to help support you?

This is so simple and powerful. It quickly gives me as a teacher data on things I may not know about which are impacting my students’ learning and it tells them that I care about them and want to know more about them. The important part, however, comes next: during the class he will either email or personally check in with the students who are struggling. This was my second takeaway from the discussion, that as teachers we need to respond to student contributions in a way that lets them know we value their input. I think that some experienced teachers already do this in class discussions, building on student ideas to shape the conversation into something that reflects everyone’s contributions, but this is hard to do. Also, with digital contributions it is all too easy to ask students to write something and pat yourself on the back for giving them all a platform to contribute, without then giving them any indication they have been heard. I know I have been guilty of this.

We can create the conditions within the content for students to be active problem solvers.

I love the vision of teaching and learning that was shared in the second half of the conversation, which started with a description of how Ken would invite students to negotiate their learning at the end of term based on evidence in their portfolios. I really like the word ‘negotiate’; I do something similar but I usually say ‘discuss’ which is actually a very different word that says to the kids that we will have a conversation and I may or may not choose to take on board what you say. Negotiate infers that we are entering the conversation on an equal footing and is much more empowering language. I will definitely try to negotiate with my students next term.

Finally, to bring this post back around to education technology, Ken finished by giving some examples of ways that teachers have managed to bridge the content they are studying with the problems they have invited their students to try and solve. These are the amazing examples that usually just make me feel like an inferior teacher, but they are the kinds of school experiences we really do need to be providing more of and technology can be used to help:

  1. Amplify student voice
  2. Mobilise others
  3. Present ideas and disseminate information

Another quote that I really liked was

Kids should know that they can make a difference. We should be doing so much more than delivering content.

But this can only happen if we allow students to struggle with real solutions to real problems. Big problems that are forced into the confines of our single curriculums and unit timelines often end up being simplified and our students only have a chance to touch the surface, rather than try to understand them deeply. And to solve real problems our students need to practice empathy, which Ken equates to listening to learn, not listening to respond. Something I think teachers need to work on as much as students.  Which led to the final insight and message from this conversation that I am mulling over:

Understanding does not equal agreement.

Wow. If we could teach one thing in schools these days I think this just might be it.

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