I was working on my assignment for my Masters class this week and referenced a talk by Kevin Honeycutt. He discussed how his home situation affected his education, which worked well because my assignment deal with poverty and education. I decided to rewatch the talk and became a bit distracted. It reminded me of one the biggest reasons why I was so excited for the 1:1 initiative. Just like our students do not come from the same situation when they come to school, they do not all learn in the same way. Yet, in so many classrooms there is only one way to do things and only one type of assignment to turn in or one single test for everyone to take.
Differentiation is a word that has been used a lot lately when talking about what we need to do in classrooms. Since our students are all different, shouldn’t their education be different too. Not just the assignments but also the assessments. Unfortunately many laptops are being used in classes to type what was written, digitize what was already being done and everyone is still all doing the same thing. I see the laptops, and any device, as a way to open up differentiation for many. Instead of focusing on a single textbook as the main resource, curate digital resources that the students can choose which to use. Give them the option to use the tools that fit them the best. They do not need to have an understanding of learning styles, they already know what they like and what they do not like. By forcing students to only use the textbook, you are turning off so many students to learning. I do not learn best by using a textbook and I have many examples from my own education to show this. Today when I want to learn something, I do not go to a library and check out a book. I want something interactive and something that I can watch or listen to. When I need to learn or review a Google script or function in Google Spreadsheets, I go to YouTube.
We should not try to limit and control the learning of students. If a student asks if instead of a powerpoint presentation, can they produce something else, who are we to say no. We should be allowing students to use whatever tools they feel comfortable with to show their learning. This may be uneasy for the teacher but the focus has to be on the student and not on what is easiest for the teacher. We need to be open to taking chances and allowing things to happen even if we are not sure they will succeed 100% or not. Failure is part of the learning process and you can not control learning. You can help guide it and create a effective learning environment but true learning is not the same for everyone.
Passion and engagement can easily be increased by giving students more options when it comes to exploring their learning and then showing what they learned. A student may be way more engaged creating a tour in Google Earth as it relates to the topic instead of a poster or a powerpoint. Instead of a cardboard diorama, a student could use Google Sketchup to create a 3D representation of what they are learning about. Instead of a poster or flyer, a student could create a video or website or ebook about the topic. Give students the chance to express their learning the way that they want and their engagement will increase drastically. A student who is engaged is a student who is more likely to not just learn, but retain that learning for the long haul.