Students and Blogging
By: Ryan Norman
Article submitted to Learning and Leading with Technology (ISTE)
In this article, I used the ISTE Classroom Observation Tool (ICOT) to observe a teacher in the school in which I currently teach. The teacher is a fellow English teacher who prides herself in using technology in the classroom, and the other teachers look up to her as the technology guru in the building. Mrs. Smith has been teaching for three years, but her use of technology in the classroom aides in engaging her students in reading selections that they would not have chosen on their own. This article offers a 90 minute glimpse into her class as they were using Schoology and their experience with reading Romeo and Juliet. Schoology is a classroom tool that is almost identical to Facebook where students are able to write blogs, comment on peer blogs, and write status updates as they are reading or working on class work. Mrs. Smith has used this site since the beginning of the year, so the students are comfortable and excited about using the site.
The school in which Mrs. Smith and I teach has limited technology resources; however, the teachers are encouraged to use technology in the classroom. The school has three instructional computer labs that teachers can use on a first come basis. Some teachers argue that they do not get time in the computer labs because the same teachers “hog” the time lab time. The media center has nine projectors and lab taps to share among the 100 member faculty, and many of the math teachers have interactive white boards in their classrooms. With that said, many teachers have a difficult time with implementing technology because it is not at their finger tips on a daily basis. Therefore, they plan without it and use it at a minimum. The administration at the school encourages the use of technology, but they know that the resources are not always available.
Classroom Observed Background
Mrs. Smith has been teaching for three years, and is a force to be reckoned with. Her students excel on all state mandated tests, she has few discipline problems, and from minutes of observing the classroom, I could tell that she had amazing rapport with her students. The classroom is a Title I classroom so there are enough computers in the classroom for each student. In fact, Mrs. Smith told me that the principal had just purchased iPads for each student in her class. The class is a yearlong class on the 4x4 block. Therefore, Mrs. Smith has had her students double the amount of time that other teachers have had their students. The class consists of four females and 10 males. At the beginning of the year, each student was at least two grade levels behind in reading, and many of them had low skills in writing and mechanics. At the time of my observation, the students had not been assessed with their current reading score, but Mrs. Smith assured me that each of the students had improved in reading and writing. She laughed and said that their listening skills was the only standard that she was struggling to have them
Because Mrs. Smith has enough computers in her classroom for each student, she is able to integrate technology in her classroom on a daily basis. In professional development classes, teachers are encouraged to use technology in the classroom, and few teachers are able to use technology the way they would like because they do not have access to the resources that are needed to fully integrate technology as they would like to see. To fight the lack of resources, some teachers claim that a video and a discussion or the use of the projector is ample proof that technology is being used in the classroom when an evaluator conducts a formal evaluation. There is no absolute on what is the effective use of technology in a building. An observer may go to one school and be shocked at the technology that is being used. That same observer may be disheartened at the lack of technology used in the classrooms at a neighboring school. Each school is different in how it uses technology based on its resources. However, I would argue that teachers should use all available resources to ensure that students are able to use technology in the classroom when it is available.
The ICOT ensures that teachers are using technology in a student-centered environment. The ICOT was created in 1998 by consultants and educators to offer an assessment tool that would encourage student participation. The tool is easy enough for any observer to complete while its findings are complex and rich. The instrument offers the observation of the use of the most basic forms of technology as the calculator up to the interactive white board. Therefore, teachers would not have to have tons of resources available, but they do have to have students using what they do have.
Classroom Observations Using ICOT
Before the observation, I was complaining to Mrs. Smith over lunch in the teacher’s lounge about the lack of motivation in students. I jokingly told her that I wish I could have class over Facebook so the students would pay attention. I had tried to create a class Facebook in the past, but only a few of my students had computers at home, and we could not use the school computers because Facebook was blocked. I was determined to engage my students, but I could not find a tool that was similar to what they use on a daily basis. In one of my doctoral classes a student bragged about the use of Schoology, but I had never heard it used in any classrooms at my school. I began to explore the site and noticed that it was an academic twin to Facebook. I was determined as Zawilinski (2009) that teachers are responsible to teach students in a way that incorporates Web 2.0 tools, curriculum, and standards. When I was discussing this site at lunch, Mrs. Smith laughed because she had used the site from the beginning of the year. I was frustrated that she had not shared this information in the past as if it were some secret teacher tool. However, she did not think that other teachers would be interested. She invited me into her classroom to see the magic.
Mrs. Smith has her room divided into two areas. The first area is for students to read and work on more traditional types of work. This area has a few tables that will each fit four students. The second area is the computer area with tables that make a horseshoe shape with enough computers for each student. There is an interactive white board that students can see no matter what area of the room they are in. When I entered the room, the students were in the computer section of the classroom working on blogs for Romeo and Juliet.
Mrs. Smith said that she likes for her class to be an open discussion. She argued that the norm would be to hand out reading comprehension questions and a copy of the play, but she would rather have the students talking and making the text relevant for the students. She and I both agree that Shakespeare is relevant, but we also agree that making him seem relevant is one of the most difficult tasks. This is where Mrs. Smith believes that Schoology becomes essential in creating an environment where students can discuss, use Shakespeare, and a site that duplicates the most relevant site to the students.
The students were currently reading the selection of the play where the Friar says, “Young men's love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” Many of the students could not believe that Romeo and Juliet had fallen in love so quickly especially after Romeo was in love with Rosaline a few scenes before this. Mrs. Smith had the students create a blog entry on Schoology in reference to this quote. Students had to write whether or not they agreed if boys saw love with their eyes or with their hearts. The students also had to respond to two peers in the class and write a final blog on their final views. Therefore, the students were participating in a discussion without talking and with tons of writing.
From the second I walked into the classroom, the students were engaged at the computers and interacting with each other using the school social media site. Mrs. Smith was illustrating Zawilinski’s (2009) argument that students should learn how to appropriately interact on social media sites. At first, I thought students would use the site to argue or cause class disagreements, but they were actually interacting with the texts and each other. I asked one student what he thought about the site, and he replied, “I feel like I am talking to friends on Facebook about school. It’s cool.”
Most teachers do not know what to do with technology. In a recent meeting, a department chair encouraged the use of technology, and a teacher suggested that the teacher’s computer be hooked up to the TV so that PowerPoint could be displayed on the TV screen. For some teachers, this is a large step to using technology. However, many teachers want to use technology appropriately and to benefit the student-centered environment. Mrs. Smith is one of those teachers. She has the capability and the resources to use technology, and she uses it to focus on student engagement and learning. The ICOT supported what most teachers already knew about Mrs. Smith—she uses technology for the students. Other teachers may simply use a projector or a few computers, but Mrs. Smith’s students are all actively involved in a fully integrated classroom.
ISTE Classroom Observational Tool. (2008). Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/icot
Zawilinski, L. (2009). Hot blogging: A framework for blogging to promote higher orderthinking. The Reading Teacher, 62(8), 650-661.