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.

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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?

Learn to be Bored

In today’s society, technology is normally described as only one of two things: a great improvement to our lives or our biggest nightmare. For the first ten weeks of this class, we have examined the truly awesome things we can do with technology and how we can incorporate it into the classroom. This week, all of the sources we explored discussed why technology is bad for us. Well which is it? The answer to this, like many other things, is balance. Technology was created for the advancement of society, and society certainly has advanced. With the help of computers and the internet, education alone is vastly different than ever before. On the other hand, that’s not what it’s used for most of the time. Why are we all so attached to our mobile devices? It can’t possibly be because it makes us happy. Like Rebecca Hiscott said, “The longer you’re on Facebook, the worse you feel.” I downloaded the Moment app, which keeps track of how often your phone is used, and it has opened my eyes to how much time I waste during the day. My first day using the app, I was on my phone about three hours. Granted, I watched Netflix  for an hour and a half of those hours, so I wasn’t on social media for that whole time. But I still wasn’t being productive. What would happen if I took back those hours?

Since my first day on Moment, I have spent less than an hour on my phone each day, but imagine how much time would be wasted spending three hours on my iPhone every day. In other words, that’s twenty-one hours per week, over eighty-four hours per month, and one thousand and ninety-five hours per year, totaling forty-five days of the year… If I consistently spent three hours on my phone every day for an entire year, I would lose forty-five whole days of that year.

Something that many people mentioned when lessening their time on the internet was boredom, and I can’t remember the last time I was truly bored. When I feel boredom even coming on, I scroll through my Instagram feed or watch my current show on Netflix. While technology cannot be avoided and has proven to be very beneficial in many situations, it also has detrimental effects. Personally, I need to learn to separate the good from the bad aspects of society and learn to be bored every once in a while.

Let’s Get Active

Before this week’s module, I had never heard of the term “digital activism.” This shouldn’t come as a surprise because, as I have stated many times, I’m not great with technology. However, after learning the basics of it, I did wonder if it had the same effect as non-digital or physical activism. While some nickname the phenomenon “slacktivism”, it is a great way for kids to find issues they are passionate about and get involved. Digital activism isn’t just posting your opinions. It is signing e-petitions, donating, reaching out to those in need, being a positive influence to your followers, etc. What is social media if not a place to share ideas?

I have never participated in digital activism, but as a teacher, I find the significance in it. Many have discussed the value of teaching kindness, and this is a great way to do so. Digital activism is also much safer than more traditional forms of activism. Students wouldn’t put themselves in any type of physical danger, and they can also post their opinions anonymously.

After researching some active teens, I was especially interested in Gabby Frost’s Buddy Project. A major problem in today’s teenage society is mental health. Many social media accounts have been created to encourage kindness and positivity, but Gabby Frost takes it a step further. With her Buddy Project, she pairs people with similar interests and of similar age. She is also working on creating an app to make the whole experience more convenient for herself and those who use the Buddy Project. The program also acts as a charity and sells t shirts and other merchandise to give profits to mental health organizations.  What a great influence for my students! Gabby, online sixteen, has already helped so many people feel loved and helped them make a friend as well as making money for the cause she is passionate about. Not to mention, she does the majority of the work all on her own with just a little help from close family. While Gabby’s has been very successful, I do not expect my students to all create substantial organizations like she has. Many of them may not know what issues might interest them, and many of them won’t have time to be as involved, but Gabby is a great role model for them to learn from.

My only concern, similar to digital citizenship, is how I can fit digital activism into my lesson plans. After teaching my students the content of my lesson while incorporating digital literacy, how will I find the time to teach my students about digital activism?

Being a Good Citizen

For most of the semester, we have been exploring what it means to be digitally literate and what that means as a teacher. In today’s society, technology is old news, so it’s important for technology to be integrated into the classroom as well, but what happens after we (teachers) and students are digitally literate? Should we only teach them how to master technology? It shouldn’t stop there.If we teach digital literacy to our students, we must also teach them digital citizenship.

Whether we like it or not, students use technology way more outside of the classroom than inside. They are checking a plethora of social media accounts before school, at lunch, in between classes, when their teacher aren’t paying attention, after school, etc. They tweet, share, favorite, like, post way more than their teachers and they realize. With this constant obsession with social media comes negative aspects as well. Teenagers in today’s society are prone to a type of bullying different than any other that came before: cyberbullying. Before the rise of technology, bullies had to vocally insult and their victims. Today, it is much easier to be cruel using social media. These websites also gives people an easy opportunity to witness unkind behavior and take no action.

What does this mean for my classroom? Well, I think if we are integrating technology and social media into the classroom, we should also teach students how to act while they are using it. This can begin as early as students start school, but at this age, students probably aren’t active on social media. By the time they get into my class (middle school or high school), they will most likely be active on multiple social media websites, which makes their knowledge of digital citizenship even more important. It takes little effort to learn almost everything about a person through their social media accounts, and what is posted is almost always permanent. Juan Enriquez talked about the long-lasting nature of social media posts by comparing them to tattoos. Tattoos give a representation of who you are, and social media activity does too. Would students like the electronic tattoos they have given themselves? Do they even realize they have done so?

This brings me to the question: should teachers be friends with their students on Facebook or follow their students on Instagram or Twitter? Katherine Sokolowski, a seventh grade teacher, allows her students to follow her on Instagram, so she can be a positive influence in their lives. I think that is a great idea. There is a lot of negative aspects and dangers in technology and especially social media, and students could use a positive role model on their feed reminding them how to portray themselves on social media.

Finding New Ways to be Creative

Ds106… Did even the name sound intimidating to anyone else? Personally, it sounded out of my technological league. However, after putting some time into researching the topic, ds106 really sparked my interest. First, I learned that it stands for digital storytelling. According to one website, digital storytelling “is the practice of using computer-based tools to tell stories.”

Digital storytelling can take many forms. For this class, we will respond to thirty consecutive daily creative challenges. Although this task seemed quite intimidating at first, the challenges shouldn’t take more than twenty minutes to create, and they all seem really fun! Yesterday’s Daily Create Challenge was to put music behind a James Bond scene. At first, it seemed a little past my technological knowledge level; however, the website provides a link to another page, so everyone can do it, and all of the videos are in the same format.

Today (February 23) I took the leap joined the challenge. Today’s Daily Create Challenge is all about mixing quotes. The directions are to “Find an image of a well-known figure, add to it a famous quote by someone related in some way to the figure in the image and then attribute the quote to a third, related figure.” I made my challenge about poets and chose a picture of Edgar Allen Poe, quoted a poem by Emily Dickinson, and attributed it to Walt Whitman.

What I especially appreciate about digital storytelling is that it puts a whole new spin on being creative. While I was in primary and secondary school, the only two outlets students had to be creative was in art class or occasionally in English class. I stopped taking art class after elementary school, and I didn’t start enjoying writing until late in my high school career. For a student like me, trying to access my creative side was a rare occurrence, but I think students should be constantly using creativity in school!

Digital storytelling would be a fantastic tool to use in my classroom. Where is a better place to tell a story if not in an English classroom? I think students would find it less intimidating than the more conventional approaches of being creative and appreciate that some methods require minimal time as well. Technology also gives students more options for being creative. For example, if students are focusing on poetry, they could first write a poem, then record themselves performing a poetry reading of their piece, and finally put (appropriate, applicable) music behind it. This assignment would mix conventional poetry writing with technology and another subject (music) as well. While this is the first assignment I could think of, there is endless technological opportunities to allow students to foster their creativity digitally.

Why Making Students Teach Themselves isn’t Always a Bad Thing (Inquiry-Based Learning)

John Dewey said, “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.” Too often, students are bored from eight to four, and the information they “learn” is often only retained until they are tested on it. Inquiry-based learning changes this. The basic principle of inquiry-based learning is to base students’ learning upon their own interests. Inquiry-based learning is flipping the conventional classroom setting around. Instead of teachers feeding students information, this method is more focused on answering questions that students have already. These questions can be answered by the teacher throughout their lessons or through student research.

An inquiry-based classroom would give students much time to research their chosen topic. Then, students would present the information they learned to the class orally, online, etc. This method really gives students the opportunity to explore their own interests and passions. One disadvantage to this method, however, is its outward appearance to some parents. This practice may give the impression that teachers only give students the freedom to pursue their own interests to alleviate the workload from themselves. Although it may appear this way to some, inquiry-based learning has proven to be very beneficial, and lower-achieving students have especially seen improvement.

One of the reasons I chose this pedagogical method was because I have experienced it this semester. ENG 331, Theory and Practice of Teaching Writing is a prime example of inquiry-based learning.  Throughout the semester, we have had time to research, posted about our research online in the form of weekly blogs, and discussed our topics in class.  Prior to this class, inquiry-based learning was completely new to me. I am used to more black-and-white assignments, so the layout of the class took some getting used to. One of our first assignments was to study one aspect about the history of rhetoric and teaching writing and compose our findings to the class blog. Considering I didn’t even know writing had much of a history (and I had to look up what rhetoric even meant), I was a bit overwhelmed. However, after putting time into research, I found it to be an extremely interesting subject. Our most recent assignment was to write a letter to modern writers from a historical figure, anyone we would like, while taking on this person’s “persona.” This has been my favorite so far. The connection between just these two projects was that students got to choose something WE were interested in. My professor did not say, “Research so-and-so and write a report on him.” How fun would that have been? I especially enjoyed the second assignment I mentioned. For another class, I am studying Walt Whitman and have found him to be an extremely interesting character. I loved getting to step outside of myself and explore his personality even more.

The best part about inquiry-based learning is that it requires much more student participation in their learning. They no longer have to just memorize whatever is “taught” to them; they actually have to put effort into learning something they are interested in. This method also gives students the opportunity to learn from each other. Something we have talked about throughout this semester is teaching students to be learners not just obedient, and inquiry-based learning does just that.

Here are some useful websites and articles I found on inquiry-based learning.

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/what-heck-inquiry-based-learning-heather-wolpert-gawron

http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/inquiry/

http://www.teach-nology.com/litined/inquiry/

Here are some accounts that mentioned inquiry-based learning in some of their posts. The last account is focused on inquiry-based learning in a math class, but I still found it helpful!

https://twitter.com/smokeylit       @smokeylit

https://twitter.com/joannebabalis       @joannebalis

https://twitter.com/IBLMath          @IBLMath

Here is link to my letter from Walt Whitman if anyone is curious about it! Also, if you click on “Teaching the Writerly Life” at the top of the page, you can see the other topics my class has been learning/teaching each other about!

https://teachingthewriterlylife.wordpress.com/2017/02/13/to-modern-writers/