2 July 2013

Escaping the Echo Effect?

I remember how in my youth, boredom was a danger I did not always ignore. Today, I confess that boredom still leads me astray. What bores me? 

Lack of engagement. Lack of being able to take control of my own learning progress and interests, whether that be as an educator or student. When I think of my students, their assumptions and aspirations, I wonder how they deal with boredom, the endless classroom hopping and the week after week of pretty much the same routine. When I think of educators, I think of the echo tunnel I live in - I participate in social media where I learn and share with like-minded professionals,  I interact with others who embrace educational transformation with courage and joy,  applying change in classrooms just as I do.  But...what lies outside the tunnel?

For students, it is not merely "the same routine", for their hours are filled with constant new demands and bytes of learning and social  opportunities. 

For educators, there are many who tentatively, hesitantly, introduce new approaches in their classrooms and staffrooms. Change, as we all know too well, takes time to trickle down to mainstream practices. Participating off-line with those who hesitate is essential; showing how simple it can be,  in 3 clicks to dream, create, and produce a learning outcome is necessary. Learning with others involves sharing. 

Yet that echo effect still persists in looking at me.  How many Keynote presentations can students possibly be excited about?  No matter how much emphasis I give to storytelling, how many stories must a person tell? How many apps does one really need? 

It is with those and other questions filling my summer days that I have decided that breaking the mould to routine is essential. That itself is nothing new - however, not all educational contexts offer the facility of day trips to students nor extra-curriculum activities. Bringing these into the classroom, is a way of changing routine and expectations. 

Seriously Amazing , by the Smithsonian, brings all kinds of questions forward. From the arts to the sciences, from history to science, one wanders through a wealth of questions. 

Why not give learners time to explore, choose their own questions, check and compare their own answers? Even if there are questions which tend to be geographically and historically localized, they can be adapted to the local context. It's the challenge of the question, the challenge of what a question may bring that triggers curiosity.

Students can work on their own or with a partner, then towards the end of the lesson, a Padlet can be made, where every student shares their chosen question and what made them choose that particular question. Let them create their own game for teams or even develop a poster with the most intriguing questions and answers. 

Who knows what further questions may arise as they compare questions, issues and answers. Learning opportunities arise from learners' own interests - not always from a set syllabus. 

Another variation for a lesson focuses on reading. So often students quietly show me the most boring books they find, just because they must write a short book review!

LitPick reviews books but with a twist - the reader requests a book and within 4 to 6 weeks must submit a book review. 

In other words, LitPick offers books which learners may want to read and offers reviews written by them for other readers. 

Again, writing need not only be for the teacher but a broader audience, a "more real" audience who shares similar interests and ... books. 

Language students in particular, will strive to write better knowing that their thoughts will be read by others, while at the same time, the practice will help them learn more about how to develop their digital footprint. 

Tunnels of echoes risk turning into boredom. 

How do you deal with boring, long semesters of set teaching and testing?

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