Elephants in the Classroom

One of this week’s reading is entitled “9 Elephants in the (Class)Room That Should “Unsettle” Us.” An elephant in an ordinary room is “an obvious problem or difficult situation that people do not want to talk about.”  Every single “elephant” mentioned throughout this article rang with astounding truth. There are too many issues that teachers and administrators are aware of yet won’t make appropriate changes. The two that stood out to me the most were that students almost always forget what they “learn” and grades, not learning is what teachers, parents, and students are focused on.

What students are taught often stays in between their ears only long enough for them to get tested on it. I know this with certainty because whenever I asked my parents for help with homework in high school, they were rarely able to offer any assistance. Even though I am only a sophomore in college, I don’t remember basic science terms or math equations I learned in high school. The only specific aspects I remember about my high school education is the books I read in my English class and some of the projects we did. For students who liked math or science more than English, I’m sure their memories are the exact opposite. I didn’t enjoy these subjects, but I did enough work to get A’s. This brings me to my next point.

In my opinion, caring only about grades is the equivalent to caring only about appearance. The letters A through F are meant to represent a student’s content knowledge, but they mean so much more than that. Most high school students have heard, “Get good grades so you can get into college” at least once in their lives. Grades is how people measure their intelligence and therefore their importance in the world. Low grades tell students that they are not even a little intelligent or important.

This semester, I am enrolled in two classes that don’t give grades until the end of the semester. At first, I was really frustrated by this because I have gotten into the habit of checking my grades regularly. I thought not having any access to my grade might kill me. Fortunately, I’ve had a completely opposite experience, and I’m still standing to tell you about it. I originally assumed not knowing my grade would mean not getting any feedback; however, I was very much mistaken, and not knowing my grades all semester turned out to be a good thing. I became more focused on fulfilling my learning to a standard that satisfied me, not a grading scale.

Although grades may do more damage than good in many cases, they are here to stay. What we as teachers can do, however, is give our students constant, constructive, positive feedback and do our best to instill the mentality that learning matters more than grades do.

Why is Unlearning Harder than Learning?

When I think of the word innovator, I think of inventor. Maybe it’s just because they sound similar, but I associate them both with creating something new. By definition, to innovate means “to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.” This word isn’t one I would normally use to describe myself. However, I think it’s what we’ve been preparing to do in the classroom this entire semester. In education, I think innovation is question common practices and always putting the needs of students first.

One key component to being innovative is unlearning unbeneficial methods. Something I have unlearned this semester is that learning isn’t just a classroom activity. Being a learner isn’t being a high school or college student. Being a learner is a way of life. The best thing about this is that anyone can be a learner, and all children naturally are. It is our job as teachers not to crush this natural curiosity but nurture it. I think this revelation will lead me to being a more innovative teacher. George Couras’s innovative mindset included, “I believe that my abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed, leading to the creation of new and better ideas.” The best teachers are also lifelong learners.

Fair warning, I’m about to climb up on my soapbox. I’m just saying, you were warned. Something I and most people still need to unlearn is grades do not equal learning. As I was reading “My Generation Essay: Redefining education” today, I was appalled at how grades can truly limit a person’s education. Students should be more focused on their learning than the letter they have to show for it. As I was walking back to my room from the library, with a million thoughts about the topic bouncing around in my head, I checked my grades on my phone. In one of my classes that I previously had an A in, I received a low B on a big writing assignment, and my grade was brought down to a B. I immediately started panicking. I’m in eighteen credits this semester and am expecting one or two (at the most) B’s which isn’t something I’m happy about but something I’ve come to terms with. If I don’t get my grade up in that class, I could possibly get three. I felt overwhelming anger and disappointment. Then, about a half an hour later, I realized that this breakdown was completely going against my previous thoughts.

When I was in high school, my class had a very tight race for valedictorian and salutatorian. Not only was it important for me to get straight A’s, but A+’s. I remember one of my classmates in tears because she was only getting A-‘s and therefor wouldn’t have a chance at valedictorian. I graduated with seventeen competitive people, and grades were another form of competition for us. At the time, I don’t remember thinking much of this, but now it saddens me. When students are only worried about their letter grade, they aren’t concerned about what they are learning, and it isn’t their fault. We have all been trained to think the only way to have a successful life is to follow the rules and get “good” grades. Most of the time, we do the least amount of work we can to get what we consider “good” grades. When I think of my future students, I don’t want their focus to be on what letter of the alphabet I designate to represent their intelligence. I want them to develop or foster a passion for reading or be excited to get home from school so they can start working on a piece of creative writing for my class. If all we are teaching students is to be concerned about a grade, are we really teaching them anything at all?

What I need to unlearn (as a student) is that grades aren’t the most important part of my education and remember that learning is what’s most important. It seems so obvious to me now, but so many people have forgotten that or haven’t even realized it in the first place.

Wrapping up a Semester of Spanish

Well, it’s time to wrap up a semester of my Independent Learning Project. This semester has flown by at record speed, and it seems like just yesterday I was attempting to set up a Twitter and WordPress account for this class. I remember feeling a lot of excitement to begin learning Spanish and working out all of the times Eli and I could meet throughout the week.

At the beginning of this experience, I was eager to learn. I loved meeting with Eli even to practice the alphabet, and I would practice wherever I went. As the semester went on, my motivation slowly declined. This, by no means, was Eli’s fault. He was an amazing teacher this semester, but I became so much busier with other aspects of my life (a new class after midterms, more volleyball practices, etc.) that I began losing motivation for my ILP. It seemed like we were doing the same thing every time we met, which was necessary to memorize letters and phonetics, but I began losing interest and focusing on other things. There was one week we didn’t meet at all. I practiced on my own, but it was even harder to keep motivation doing that.

At the beginning of the semester, I envisioned myself as a fluent Spanish speaker by the end of this process. Realistically, I knew this wasn’t a possibility, but thinking that made me more excited about the experience. Although, I wasn’t even close to reaching this goal, I’m still happy with the progress I did make.

I think the best part of this project is what I learned about Eli, who learned English after Spanish, and what I learned about myself as a student. Although there is no way to tell English is Eli’s second language, he didn’t learn it until he was in elementary school, and it was really interesting for me as a future teacher to hear about his experiences.

What I have learned about myself as a learner will make me a better teacher. At the beginning, I was excited about learning a new skill, and that’s not unusual. I think students and people in general are naturally curious and want to learn. We want to know more about those around us and the world around us. Typically, classrooms squash this curiosity. In order to foster my students’ curiosity, I need to keep them on their toes. Routines are necessary, but I can’t let myself or my students get stuck in them.

Attempting Canva

After looking reading classmates’ experiences on Twitter, I figured Canva would be the  better choice for me. Still I looked around on both Canva and Piktochart, but Canva seemed much more in my league for digital creativity. When I began the assignment, I was instantly overwhelmed with all of the different templates Canva had to offer. Popular design types include social media, presentation, poster, Facebook post, A4, and card. Others are email headers, events, ads, and many more. As you can see, there is A LOT of options. You can also create a “team” within the website ad share designs and folder with them.

Honestly, the one of most difficult parts for me was saving it… I know that sounds pathetic, but hear me out. At first I saved it in the wrong format and couldn’t upload it to my blog. After meddling around in the website for a while, I was finally able to fix my mistake. This just shows my lacking technological knowledge, but I think it’s slowly getting better!

My Canva creation is very simple. It is a picture of Eli (who is teaching me Spanish) and I with the words “Learning a new language is a great way to learn about a friend”  over it and “DigLit Class Spring 2017” below. I included this rather than other parts of our lessons because it is what I will remember most after this semester. Eli has been my friend since my first semester at Chadron State College (fall 2015), but we’ve grown much closer this semester. Other than just forcing him to spend time with me for my Independent Learning Project, I’ve also learned about his culture and experiences speaking Spanish and learning English. I think hearing about his experiences will help me teach ELL students as well.

One aspect of Canva I thought was especially cool was the ability to create book covers. This would be such an awesome assignment in an English classroom! When I was in junior high, we had to draw book covers, but I hated it because I’m not very artistic. I think creating book covers digitally would give students (like me) a wider range of creativity. Students could also create a fake flyer for an event in a book they read. If I included blogging in my classroom, students could create headers for their blog too. Now I’m just getting ahead of myself, but Canva is definitely a beneficial tool that I can see myself using in the classroom!

Podcasts and Digital Stories

I’m not going to lie; before this module, I hadn’t ever listened to a podcast, and I never really had the desire to. I also wasn’t 100% sure what they were. I’ve always been an avid reader, and I’m a visual learner, so I’ve never listened to a book on tape or anything of that nature either. This lesson, however, has opened my eyes to a great tool to use in the classroom.

I think the greatest benefit to podcasts/digital stories is that they appeal to auditory learners. In an English classroom, students will mostly read and write, appealing to visual and kinesthetic learners. Utilizing podcasts/digital stories will appeal to students who learn by listening as well as great way to mix thing up in the classroom. When teachers always follow the same routine, students have a tendency to get bored, and adding fun activities like listening to podcasts or digital stories is a great way to keep students on their toes. Also, for a generation of students who rely on technology, I think podcasts and digital learning will be very effective by connecting their daily lives to the classroom.

They also have an educational value. According to Linda Flanagan in “What Teens are Learning From ‘Serial” and Other Podcasts”, students can listen up to three grades higher than they can read. Listening to English also helps students who may be newer to the language.

One possible disadvantage is students being able to pay attention to an entire podcast or digital story. The podcast I listened to was about twenty minutes long, and in the middle of it, I tried doing other homework and ended up having to listen to it twice. Many students (like me) will assume they can do other activities while listening to a podcast when it should really get their full attention.

I think it would be fun for students to make podcasts/digital stories of their own. It could give them practice writing creatively, and they could read it however they see fit. They could also talk about their own lives. In “Meaningful Stories: How Teens Connect with StoryCorps and Podcasts”, Linda Flanagan discusses how students spend a lot of time together, but sometimes they don’t really get to know each other. I think podcasts and digital stories can be great mediums to do so.

Just like reading and writing, the possibilities for podcasts and digital stories are endless. They give students the opportunity to express themselves, and what is my goal as an English teacher if not that?

My (Lack of) Attention Journal

This week, I figured I would give you all a break from hearing about my Spanish-speaking endeavors and blog about keeping an attention journal. I kept track of sessions from Monday to Friday this week. I first noticed that my sessions were much longer than the required fifteen minutes because (1) I had much more than fifteen minutes worth of homework and (2) I was constantly distracted.

The first day of my attention journal, my session was (mostly) school-related.  After practice, I went to the basement computer lab in the library. While I was there, I completed forum responses, explored some of the resources for this week’s modules, and began reading for another class. I would occasionally take breaks to text a friend or scroll through social media. Although I had to remind myself to stay on task, I would consider Monday’s session a success.

My second session was much less productive. I did do homework on Tuesday, but I recorded a time when I didn’t. In between classes, work, and practice, I watched Netflix in my room while scrolling through social media. Although I appreciated the break from the rest of my day, I felt guilty for not doing my homework and slight panic that I wouldn’t have enough time to finish it later. For any of you who read my other blog post, this was the day I spent about three hours on my phone. In other words, I could have spent my time a lot better on Tuesday.

These two sessions were the most extreme of my five recorded days; the other three fell somewhere in between on the scale of productivity. I did find that my bed is a much less productive place for homework than any desk is. When working in bed, I have a tendency to get distracted and tired. One thing I did notice was that my multi-tasking or break-taking wasn’t as effective as I had hoped. In my head, I planned to take a five minute break after finishing each assignment; however, what actually happened is I would randomly grab my phone in the middle of finishing an assignment and scroll through Snapchat, Facebook, and/or Instagram for (sometimes) over fifteen minutes.

My biggest lesson from this week is that technology, especially my phone, is a much larger part of my life than I had realized, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Social media especially has so seamlessly integrated itself into our lives, and many people, myself included, don’t realize how much time it is stealing. Although it is necessary for me to integrate technology into my future classroom, I think it is also my duty to warn students of its harmful effects and encourage them to take a break from it every once in a while.