Debra Turchetti-Ramm, 2015 Johnston District Teacher of the Year
S.D. Barnes Elementary School
Grade 4 NBCT
24 years experience in education
Educators read lots of books...emphasis on lots! There is always something new or renewed in the field of education and as busy educators, with limited opportunity for professional development, we rely upon books and conferences to make sense of the ever-changing landscape in education.
Of all of the books I’ve read in recent years, two in particular have become my go-to resources: Carol Dweck’s Mindset and Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker’s Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools. Both texts have significantly changed my approach to teaching and learning.
Dweck’s book explains growth mindset, its language and its ideologies. These concepts (basically the idea that intelligence and abilities are malleable and can be built like a muscle, not fixed like height) have permeated the walls of my classroom and the learners who thrive within them. The positivity that exudes as each student meets daily challenges, reviews work, and revises goals, is riveting!
For the last several years, I’ve been exploring technology integration, more importantly, the leveraging of technology in very purposeful, engaging, and individualized ways for students in our blended learning classroom. Teachers have always known that each student is different and comes to us with a different set of skills; a different way to learn as he or she processes, recalls, and utilizes information; and a different level of motivation and interest in the content. We have been grappling with this forever, and differentiated instruction is only a small part of meeting the needs of each of our learners.
Michael B. Horn, Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, has forever changed the landscape of my classroom. The blended learning environment that has been transforming my classroom is truly engaging for my students, allowing them to explore independently, with a partner, or in small groups through appropriately and individually selected resources and technology tools. Blended learning provided quality face-to-face time and purposeful technology support. Students work through their “playlists”, which are a series of tasks such as videos to watch, problem sets to tackle, websites to explore, and articles to read. As they progress at their own pace, I work with individuals or small groups of students to reteach or enrich at their level.
To have the ability to work one-on-one with a student while others are meaningfully engaged in their own tasks has made the biggest difference. Students love the individualized attention, and it provides me time to touch base with them about things that are important in their world. The personalization is not only academic, but also social and emotional, as they look forward to their “time at the table” with me throughout the course of the day.
This all sounds surreal, I know. Had someone told me that I could carve out time for each of my students to meet their individual needs on a daily basis, I would have thought they had stepped out of another dimension. But it’s true, and my class size is on the larger end with 26 students filling every desk.
So, how can this happen...through the purposeful leveraging of devices and digital content. What began as a 30 minute “station rotation”, has now become an integral component of our work throughout the course of our day. While we do have a schedule, the flexible flow from one part of the day to another is guided by mini-lessons followed by intensive practice, reteaching, and enrichment sessions. Students explore concepts through our class web-site, and rotate through “tech-time tasks” for reading/writing, math, and science. These concepts often culminate in a “creation station” opportunity where students “tech it out” using various apps and platforms such as Green Screen, My Create Digital Storytelling, S’more Digital Posters, Aurasma (augmented reality), Screencasting, and more. There is not a time when students have nothing to do! The work that they are doing is personally challenging. There is no time for busy-work in a place where my learners are working toward self-selected goals, core-specific endeavors, and interest based technology applications.
I can comfortably observe this well-orchestrated dance of learners by this point in our year, though this was certainly not the case at the beginning of the year. Teaching students how to be respectful digital citizens, how to troubleshoot technology issues, and how to follow the sequence of tasks takes a serious investment of time. You have to go slow to go fast, as it’s been said! Our environment now includes information walls: one for troubleshooting, another for tasks, and one that provides expert support. Our expert wall has served many purposes and has had endless benefits. Students offer their services to support their peers on the platform, tech tool, or app that they feel they know extremely well. This allows me to continue working with students as others work to problem solve, think critically, and communicate together. The students using the tool learn from the expert, the expert sharing information beams with confidence, and the learners at my table continue their uninterrupted table time with me. Win-win!
This magical world that has become our learning environment is powerful! My students begin their work eagerly, often leaning in and over desks with interest, and (surprisingly!) moan at announcements for lunch time or dismissal.
This transformation did not happen overnight. It did not happen magically. As an “early adopter” of technology integration, it was important for me to learn everything I could. The ever-changing nature of technology is that there will never be “an end” to its learning. Just like my students, I am recognizing that my learning is never “done”. I’m looking forward to diving into Horn’s previous book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. It is with books like this and PLC’s like EdUnderground, FuseRI, and social media, that I continue to explore, reflect, and challenge myself.