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What a Difference a (Digital Learning) Year Makes

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January 16, 2014 07:36 am


This guest post is from Ken Halla, social studies chair at Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, Virginia.

Last year in my Digital Learning Day post for the Alliance for Excellent Education I said that

“One day all of our students will have interactive lessons where the teacher will walk around the room connecting information, helping pupils do their work and making sure that the necessary learning is being done correctly and where appropriate, collaboratively. Classes will be self-paced and conclude with interactive assessments that measure students’ ability to find and use online resources to answer probing questions.”

Interesting what a year brings. This spring I have a book coming out from Corwin Books talking about just what is printed above (something I had no idea about when I wrote the post). I also am co-teaching, for the first time in my career, and doing it with an World History I/ESOL class. Fully half of the kids have been in the class have been in the US fewer than two years and all but a few of the students are either immigrants or ones who do not speak English at home.

To that end we have flipped every single lecture (nothing profound, but all less than ten minutes each as you can see here) and have our students working at different paces. One parent told me her daughter was looking at videos and webpages and wondered why she hadn’t been reading more of the book more. I told we were were using multiple modalities and the e-book was only one of the resources. But that child has only been speaking English a few years and finds it helpful to go over each video several times.

We also proved a valuable point to the students. We told them that on the most recent lesson that no one would be allowed to take the test until the study guide was completely done. Between our two classes twelve students tested us. We pulled each one into the hall individually and called home, asking that their child stay after school to take the test and then had them sit down to work on the study guide. Guess what? The ESOL students tied the test scores of the mainstream ones and all our students were EIGHT percentage points over the school average for the test!

Why did that happen? Rather than waste student time on lecture-based teaching we spent the entire unit (and by now my cooperating teacher and I have adjusted quite well to each other) walking around and working one on one with each students. Furthermore, we probably call up 1/3rd of the students on a given day to look at grades and even to have student-parent-teacher conferences in the hall to work out issues. We also have added in several formative quizzes each unit and the students can take them as many times as they want to raise their grades.

Additionally, since our class is paperless, our students (9th graders) have picked up computer skills way beyond what a traditional class might have. Know that many of them started the year with very limited digital skills – one even asked me what a cursor was!

Does this mean our year will be a success? Who knows at this point? We still have students who don’t want to do work at home and a few that are not doing well in several of their classes. But we have seen many glimmers of hope that using technology to self-pace our students is helping improve learning.

Ken Halla is in his 23rd year of teaching, most of which has been in Fairfax County, Virginia, where he is a high school social studies department chair. He teaches other educators how to integrate technology into the classroom, helped bring e-books to his county, teaches online classes, and has three nationally recognized blogs (US History Teachers’ Blog, US Government Teachers’ Blog and World History Teachers’ Blog). Halla has a PhD in Political Science and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

Digital Learning Day

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