Monday, March 12, 2007

the piece on the table

A wireless cell-phone provider has been running ads warning us of the perils of a dropped call during a conversation.

When his girlfriend's line drops, the bewildered boyfriend questions her commitment.

When his would-be father-in-law loses connectivity, the young suitor regrets taking on a familial tone.

When her PowerPoint presentation is complete, the high school student becomes utterly confused about how to integrate it into her presentation.

I'll concede that the latter of the three examples is not part of the current ad campaign, but the girl staring at her PowerPoint is no less uncertain about her status than the other characters mentioned above.

I have modeled, informed, rubric-ed, and even, GASP!, engaged in direct instruction to shift the thinking of students from the organizational to the metacognitive. I have provided ample time for, HOORAY!, collaboration, sharing, communication, and feedback.

But Sue stares at two pieces of what must look like the world's most complex jigsaw puzzle with her content on one side of the table and her PowerPoint on the other. Twist and turn those pieces as often as she can, they never seem to fit together. This is a frustrating task for a college-bound senior who has been trained, Pavlovian-style, to believe that doing the work assigned is the track toward academic success.

Unfortunately, there is a third piece to Sue's puzzle. It is integral. It must be used. And while it sits right between the other two pieces, it is often over-looked and never used.

It's Sue.

I've scaffolded enough assignments to erect a skyscraper, but all the scaffolding in the world won't give Sue the inherent, intrinsic, and operational functionality to engage in self-directed synthesis of content.

The content and the PowerPoint go together. Sue knows this but she continually tries to wrestle them together without thinking about how to put them together.

How do you scaffold that skill?

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

A Cart Pusher, Always & Forever?

David grunted when he heard me articulate the plan today for the class. The ha-rumpf came when I announced that the last half hour would be time to work on the production of their Lord of the Flies PowerPoint presentations.

"Excerpt" of teacher - student grunt:

Mr. Rodoff: Why the grunt? Would you rather not have time to produce in class?

David: It's not that. I just don't want to do this.

Mr. Rodoff: You don't have to do it, but this is an opportunity.

David: For what?

Mr. Rodoff: To think. To consider. To refine your communication skills.

David: May I go to the bathroom?

In that last half hour, every student worked on their presentations, askings questions, sharing progress, and considering the purpose of their presentation design.

David managed to download a free font.

Later in the day, I saw David in the hallway rolling the mobile computer lab from one class to another. He was all smiles and determination.

Mr. Rodoff: You seem to be enjoying pushing that cart.

David: Totally.

Mr. Rodoff: Why?

David: It's a lot more rewarding to me than anything else that goes on here.

Mr. Rodoff: I'm going to the bathroom, okay?


I love the aforementioned words. They are the core of this new era of educational reform and they serve as a constant reminder that I am an agent of change.


I enjoy the simplicity of the above word. It reminds me that I can leave a room with ease. However, it also serves as a glaring reminder that there are Sisyphus-like students. They navigate a landscape no less absurd than those written about by Camus and are willing to exist by pushing something from point A to B.

Eight hours a day.
Forty hours a week.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

A Higher Purpose

Time for some clarity...

My previous post garnered some comments (thank you...both of you!).

Let me use this post to expand upon my previous post and, more specifically, the assignment given to my students. The homework came with an intentionally vague instruction: "come prepared to do something with that knowledge".

I knew the students were going to present to my colleagues, but what I was interested in, as a means of assessing my students, was how they process, syntehsize, and then...get this, KNOW the information (but not in that order).

Students were asked when they came to class to synthesize, collaborate, and contextualize. While they needed to hold a pretend session at a fake conference, they were sharing their information in an authentic way to a REAL group of educators who were interested in learning more about wikis (Note: Joyce Valenza sat in on the presentations and she is no wiki-rookie).

The wikipiphany I had during the class period had everything to do with how students present information, regardless of the topic.

I was shocked that not one of them could, on their own, talk about the content without first making a PowerPoint. While this program may help them organzie information, I'd argue that is not the real purpose of PowerPoint (or Keynote). Furthermore, it is disconcerting that they would turn around and use their organizer as the visual tool for their presentation.

Students were far more concerned about having a tool to help them deliver content, while they never once considered:
1. How they work to know information
2. How they communicate to an audience and,
3. How they choose to share their information in a meaningful, releveant, and powerful way that will resonate with their audience.

The lesson was no longer about wikis. In fact, the homework could have been, "Here are five facts about ferrets" along with the aforementioned vague instruction and I'm certain the "teachable moment" still would have emerged.

They can wiki. They can blog. They can moodle, odeo, and podcast, but if our students are unable to articulate or demonstrate how they take knowledge in, they are in some serious trouble. And any attempt on our part to get them to "share information" pales in comparison to the heart-sickening thought that on their own, they are unable to make sense of new content and lack the communication skills to deliver it.

I'll end with an anecdote. My two year old son went to a birthday party and the kids were all given Playdoh. They molded, shaped, smushed, and stretched the 'dough of play'. After a few minutes, a group of the kids gathered together and put all their Playdoh in one big mound. It was phenomenal collaboration, but they made a big ball of nothing out of little mounds of nothing. They had no idea what they were doing with the Playdoh, but the adults marveled over their ability to come together to make something.

Great for a two year old, but a nightmare for our students.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

In the midst of a wikipiphany

The homework for my college-bound senior English class last Friday directed students to visit TeachersFirst Wiki Walk Through.

Instructions for Monday were simple and direct: read three pages and come to class prepared, confidently, to share your knowledge about wikis. Prior to this homework assignment, only one student of my nineteen knew of wikis and no one had ever used one.

When they arrived to class on Monday, I welcomed them to a totally bogus conference where they were the presenters. They were given 45 minutes to prepare a presentation for a group of teachers attending their session entitled, "Wikis: 5 W's & the H".

They giggled...until I informed them moments later that half a dozen teachers were going to attend their session later in the period.

And then, a strange migration occured. All of the students moved to the back of the class, to the six computers, and began to craft PowerPoint Presentations.

Fast-forward to the next day: I began class with this question:

1.Why did you go straight to the computers yesterday?

Here are their answers, recorded by a student during this discussion:

I.To use PowerPoint
II.Because it's easier and quicker.
III.Because we can collaborate with our group easier.

I followed up with this question:

2.What is PowerPoint for and what was your intended purpose in using it?

Here are their answers, recorded by a student:

I.PowerPoint helps the presenter remember information.
II.PowerPoint are visuals to help the presenter know what to say
III.It's an easy thing to make in a short amount of time.
IV.It helps the presenter organize information.
V. It's a tool presenters use to help them feel comfortable.

Any thoughts???