Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Guest Post - Look at the Camera and say "Think"

I think back on my own days in elementary and even high school and am disappointed by how little I actually remember, despite the fact i probably spent 75% of my time there from ages 5-18.  How could I have spent so much time in a place that I really did enjoy and feel successful but still have relatively little memory? Now, one of my top goals as a teacher is to make what happens in the classroom everyday a memorable learning experience.

No denying, drill and kill will most likely embed a skill into someones’ brain. It's how I learned most of my elementary math and spelling skills, for sure. My daughter, who really has the natural desire to get better at basketball, will shoot baskets outside for an hour everyday and I see her improving. The more we review what we want to learn, the more permanent it becomes in our brain and the more likely we are to find an opportunity to connect it to some other fact we know.  That is when the fact becomes part of our working knowledge.  “Drill and kill” really means reflecting, repeating and meta cognition.

Ok, great. I really want all that in my classroom but how do I get that without drill and kill?!  Here's my secret, I trick my students into reflecting.  

My students get excited to see and hear themselves, so I've made my camera my most essential piece of technology in my room. We take lots of pictures and video in class but I don't put it away for just an "end of year" wrap up. I use it daily and, suddenly, my students are eagerly wanting to examine these images, individually and as a class. They watch their own student produced videos for homework. They proudly watch it with their parents, maybe even siblings or grandparents. They start talking about what they’ve made and watched in their social interactions. (I’ve overheard the conversations!) Without even realizing, they've revisited their learning multiple times!

I use tools like Voicethread, fotobabble or Qwips to have the students do their own narration and captions, describing their thinking captured in the picture. Homework has changed from "answer the reflection questions 1-5, on pg 54" to "Narrate what was happening and what you were thinking about in these 5 pictures of you in class today."

I give opportunities with photoblogs made on Posterous to pose questions and comment on what's happening in the pictures of their peers. Class discussion goes deeper and the participation level skyrockets. The students who hesitate to raise their hand now have the opportunity to contribute.

It is almost too easy to use iMovie to create green screen movies.  They're honestly magical productions that let my students observe themselves being transported out of their everyday classroom  into ANY of the environments they're studying, without actually leaving the classroom.  It's like that great book series, The Magic Schoolbus, actually taking place within our four walls.

If you want to trick your students into reflecting too, you need a camera. Keep it on your desk. Never put it away. Teach your students how to use it, if they don't already know. Take pictures. Let the students take pictures. Take video. Carry it around as you collaborate with student groups. Document their learning. Make it personal. Capture their expression, their mood, their interactions. Then post it, create slide shows, albums, , montages, collages, scrapbooks, newsletters, YouTube channels, a website- whatever it takes! These are the annals of our learning, what ever form they take. All these images  we compile turn into "texts" that are so much more meaningful and memorable than the same old textbooks we pass out at the start of the year and then collect at the end to put back on the shelf, and wait, unchanged, for next years' class.

If a classroom is a place where it doesn't seem like a lot of pictures should be taken , then it makes me think memories are not being made. As a society, we treasure our photos of our most valued memories. We capture the important moments like birthdays, weddings, vacations, etc. gather them together to tell the story, keep them somewhere safe, and go back again and again to remind ourselves of that time. We owe it to our students to make their time in the classroom an event they want to capture, remember and revisit over and over again.

About the Guest Blogger
Alison Anderson is a proud Marquette University graduate and spent her teacher training years in the public and private schools of Milwaukee, WI. Since moving to Portland, OR to start her family, she has experienced different schools and  philosophies of education, like Reggie Emilia and Montessori as well as being involved in the more traditional forms. 

Someone once asked me who “Ted Rosececi” is, but, really, my twitter handle is @tedrosececi because my most important job is mothering 3 not-so-small children, Ted (14), Rose (12) and Cecilia -aka Ceci (9). After doing that full time for quite awhile, I have fought my way back to the teaching realm where I spend my day with the coolest bunch of 5th graders I've ever met. Together, we are bringing tech into the classroom and are each others' biggest supporters.

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