Got this on Twitter this morning–Revolution Tools–and chuckled at the image…but then acknowledged in my mind how Twitter has indeed revolutionized my professional sharing and growing, and I began thinking of the revolution tools I now use in my classroom.
My learning space has changed dramatically since last year. I still have tables and chairs, but have added two futons, 6 beanbags, area rugs and scads of pillows (pillows which the kids, for the most part, don’t use, by the way.) What happens because of that change is not so different in my room–they’ve always worked together. My kids understand that learning is a social activity and I expect them to talk and work together most of the time. In fact, they also know that if they have a question, they should ask each other rather than me because they’ll get a different explanation and it might be a better one than I did for the class. But, this year, I’ve watched as the beanbags are the first seating choice they go for as they come in the door, and the groupings change regularly because of the kinds of seating available–so I see less clique-ishness and more openness to sitting with others.
Several years ago my classroom got iPods–and I love seeing kids use them as “Google in their pocket.” When I use some phrase or word that is uncommon, I always see three or four pull them from their pocket and immediately “google it.” I love hearing how they use them for homework. (Yes, my fifth graders take them home.) “Last night, I asked my Mom how to find the LCM and she said she didn’t remember and to wait til Dad got home–but I just googled it and then I could work the problem.” I’m still struggling with why they’re not an integral part of our classroom, as the kids still gravitate to the computers for both creation and word processing and I wonder if it’s because our iPods are 1st generation, without mics and cameras. (We just got mics for them and I’m curious to see how that will change the use.)
My kids’ use of wikis has evolved to some incredible sharing and working together outside of school on both wiki pages and wikimail. Their blogging is growing and showing the great writing skills they are developing, and they are growing their world awareness through activities like quad blogging and “buddy blogging.” The way we discuss books during literacy–using a fishbowl technique combined with Today’s Meet–engages all kids. They are able to multitask, listening to the featured conversation in the fishbowl while they use the backchannel for their questions and comments and I am able to see contributions from all kids–and know what they are thinking in class conversations. Their weekly book recommendations on our class literacy wiki is causing book conversations outside of class–and more shared reading and talking about the books.
While my instructional beliefs have not significantly changed, I have made a more conscious effort to make them more visible and to talk with them with my kids and parents. My own blogging and finding my voice has pushed me to do that! My kids can talk intelligently about what they like about learning in my classroom over others. And, the tools I have at my disposal have changed my practices somewhat.
I’ve always had kids read great books and talk about them face to face–but the backchannel, the wiki mail and the blogging and wikipages have allowed my students to do it without me and continue those conversations beyond the school day. I’ve always encouraged kids, if they don’t remember something we did in class, to try to figure things out as they do their homework–but using research skills and skillfully googling it is a life skill they are developing.
The many opportunities my kids have to write online for a real audience are helping them find their voice and realize they do have one that is heard. Read what India and Noa say about changing the world, or, read their letters to the Board of Supervisors about building a new library in their small town. (India’s letter) (Noa’s letter)
These are only two examples of my kids finding –and using–their voices to try to make a difference. They have found a confidence in their ideas and their thinking and they have trust they will be heard. The proof is in their clustrmaps and comments on their blogs and wikis. They competently express themselves for fifth graders, and do so quite eloquently often.
I remember when I was in the National Writing Project (in the summer of 1987, so it was almost 25 years ago) that I never really felt like I found my own voice in writing. I had a voice that I used in school board meetings, in our teacher’s association, in our early childhood conversations and in my school–but that was all face to face. It truly wasn’t until I began blogging and had people responding to my thinking that I realized my voice was important–that, as TELLIO said, “There is only one voice like yours with your history and your experience and your place in time.” That’s true for all of us–whether we be a child or adult.
Voice is a revolution in the waiting–it’s a revolution in the wings. Today’s tools give us ways to help our students find their voice. Providing ways for them to develop competence and confidence in their voice is crucial to them using that voice for change. It is our job as teachers to provide those opportunities and help encourage the next Thomas Jefferson or Patrick Henry or Ghandi.
Competence and confidence in one’s voice ARE tools of a revolution.