Over the course of Thursday and Friday, I am working with a group of 75 teachers, 9 at a time, to evaluate the first year of our tablet PC pilot program for our high school. We asked them to sign up for some time slots to discuss how the tablet has helped them instructionally this year. On several levels, it’s teaching me quite a few things.
Firstly, the teachers were not eager to come together, especially this close to finals, to discuss how they use the tablet instructionally. That initially gave me pause, but then I thought about it from their perspective: these sessions are evaluative, and regardless of how we try to spin it, they feel like they are being evaluated. Over the course of this year, this group has received over ten hours of professional development directed at using the tablet instructionally and on creating a 24/7 learning environment, and in the session before these, they generated a list of characteristics that they would expect to see from teachers who use the tablet effectively to create “on-demand” learning environments for their students. So, at least they were responsible for planning the evaluation criteria, and that went a long way towards easing their trepidation.
Secondly, I am discovering that if we don’t have these types of share sessions more, we are doing a major disservice to our teachers and ultimately our students. On many different occasions within the sessions today, teachers who had always wanted to try something with their students heard from teachers who had done it. We heard about pitfalls and successes, ideas for next year, and modifications to ideas on the fly. In some cases, presentations turned into group thinkalouds for the presenter. Yes, there were pats on the back, but also some serious questions about practice and application. What I love most about some of the presenters was that they gave us great feedback about the viability of using tablets instead of laptops. We asked for unfiltered feedback, and we got it.
Perhaps the thing that has most stood out, and we are only halfway through the presentations, is one given by a high school English teacher in which she elaborated on all of the things she did this year, including blogging and digital storytelling, that did not work for her or her students. She finished her presentation with a demonstration of how Google Groups fit her needs exactly and how her students became so much more prolific in discussing novels when they were responding to each other on the group page. For me, she exemplifies the type of teacher and students we need to see more of: those that try and fail, try again and fail again, and continue to try until they find the solution that works for their problem. I made a point of telling her as she left how amazed I was at her willingness to take risks and that she should be proud of giving that model to her students.
Image Credit: “G. Traditional Assessment” from teachandlearn’s photostream