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Heather Wolpert-Gawron: Using Technology to Model Lifelong Learning Beyond the Bell

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January 11, 2012 07:10 pm


We hear a lot of talk about adding more days to the school year and more hours to the school day.  And I’ll ‘fess up: I don’t disagree.  After all, if we are talking about making school correspond more to the “real world,” then we can’t end our teaching at 3:00 P.M. any more than we would want our students to end their learning at 3:00 P.M.

Recent educational movements toward blended learning, the combination of face-to-face and online strategies, extend learning beyond the bell and support lifelong learning.

Learning strategies for blended learning may cause some growing pains, but I assure you, it will result in a curriculum that can stand straight and tall under the scrutiny of college and career readiness. When you think about it, functioning online is a real world skill, and blended learning is about modeling that skill.

However, we must be both brave and targeted in our use of technology.  For those of you who have not begun using online teaching strategies, I thought I’d give you a few possibilities to mull over.  Some you can insert into your teaching Monday, and some I urge you to think about “Someday.”   In the spirit of Digital Learning Day, try one…or two.

1. Be straightforward with your expectations and your reasons for using digital strategies.  My first letter home to families states the following:

“8th grade is about preparing a student for his or her future, and the use of technology and being literate online is a huge part of this goal.  This means that a student must have access to a computer.  There are multiple ways a student can accomplish any computer-dependent assignment:

    • Use a computer at home.
    • Utilize a computer at the local public library.
    • Use a computer at a family or friend’s house.
    • Make an appointment to come in after school and use a classroom computer.
    • Ask to come in during any lunchtime, M-Thurs.

I promise the student will know the technology-dependent assignments ahead of time and will be given plenty of time to make arrangements.”

In other words, make it unconditional that students participate in digital learning.  There are no excuses for lack of access when the world outside our classroom walls is so connected.

2. Establish an online location for students to use for class information and to correspond with you.  I have a Weebly site just for students to link to for agenda information, basic norms, and weekly prompts.  Posting prompts for my students’ response is a foundational way to introduce online communication.  You cover a topic, say, “Show, Not Tell.”  Post a picture and ask the students, in 3-5 sentences, to describe the picture in the comment field using the strategy covered in class. It’s public, transparent, and accountable.  Get them used to learning and being assessed in an online fishbowl.

3. Take a step toward a virtual classroom.  I use Blackboard Collaborate.  I pay for an account that permits me to have 25 students online at any given time, but there are other services that are similar. This approach allows me to make appointments with small groups of students during evening “office hours.”  During these times, I can review a topic, answer questions, conduct test prep, or just continue the discussion cut off by the bell.  Let’s face it; with 30-40 kids per class, feedback in face-to-face time is limited.

4.  Set up a simple email contact list for each class.  Send out alerts, museum openings, book signings, and prompts to think about.  Model emailing as an academic writing give-and-take.  You’ll find that the more you email with the level of quality you expect, the more you’ll get in return with that quality.

There are those who argue that we need to wait for equity before we make blended learning the standard for all students.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  After all, we never waited for every home to have books before we taught reading.  We never waited for every home to have a pen before we taught writing.  We are again facing a movement where the schools and teachers must step up and provide for everyone what not every student may possess.  We must provide some level of online learning to all if we are to accomplish our mission of preparing students for their futures.  We must also model 24/7 lifelong learning beyond the school bell.  The technology of today can help create the enthusiastic, life-long learners of tomorrow.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a teacher at Jefferson Middle School in the San Gabriel Unified School District of California. She regularly blogs for the Huffington Post and Edutopia. Additionally, Heather is a teacher consultant for the UCI Writing Project and has been named UC Irvine San Gabriel Valley Outstanding Computer Using Educator. Visit her website here.

Digital Learning Series, Gear: Teaching & Professional Learning

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