By Jasper Fox, Sr.
The word ohana, which means “family” in Hawaiian, makes an appearance in the 2002 Disney hit Lilo and Stitch. In the movie, ohana is used to encompass the idea that family is there for one another and “no one gets left behind.” In our classrooms, we are working daily to implement this to help establish a similar culture of connectedness using methods outside of the realm of whole-class direct instruction (DI).
In a recent post on his blog, Grant Wiggins shares a grim picture of a typical school scene: “High school students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90 percent of their classes.” It is clear that whole-class DI doesn’t work for most students. The firsthand account on Wiggins’ blog points out that all educators would benefit from the reflective exercise of “shadowing” a student for a school day and experiencing school from the student perspective.
So, how do we shift our paradigm to create classes that are more inclusive of all students and learners, much like a family? The first step is to ditch whole-class DI and create a culture of connectedness within your class or school to increase student involvement, creativity, and knowledge sharing. Here are a few strategies can you use to help students connect with you and one another so that all students can take control of their learning and achieve success.
Many classes are connecting with larger audiences on the popular social media site Twitter, where teachers and students can post photos or reflections of students engaged in meaningful work. A great tool developed by John Calvert allows teachers to moderate elementary age students’ tweets before they go into class feeds. Once students are older (Twitter requires users to be at least 13 years of age), they can begin to post things independently. When students have a platform through which to communicate with both their teacher and their peers—using hashtags specified for the class—amazing things happen. Rik Rowe, a math teacher in Boston, Mass., is a big proponent of using Twitter with students and describes an unparalleled culture of learning occurring around hashtags he created for his courses.
Blogging and Commenting
Writing has always been a proven way to have students reflect on and organize their thoughts concisely. Traditionally, the only one to see a student’s work was the teacher. With the advent of blogging, however, students can write, revise, and share their work worldwide. Once the conversation around a post begins, students can also learn about the proper etiquette when it comes to online conversing and can see firsthand how new ideas can be developed through online collaboration.
Communication in the Moment
Being able to text students and their parents is a revolutionary technology that is only just recently being utilized. Using the service Remind, teachers can efficiently extend their communication sphere by sending push notifications to students’ smartphones and can even update assessment data. One way to elevate the use of this tool is for teachers to text short videos or questions to students to be used as quick formative assessments.
Success for All
We must challenge the thought that controlling students through whole class DI is effective. Let’s transition ownership of learning to students and assemble a group of learners engaged in and intent on their personal growth and development. It is in this kind of environment that students will be connected to their school and to a much broader worldwide community. There are many teachers, administrators, and thought leaders who have not accepted DI as the status quo. These trailblazers provide us with examples of how much students can learn and accomplish once the modes of transmission are shifted and classrooms become more connected and student centered.
When students are engaged in meaningful learning that allows them to connect with other students, they all succeed. True to the meaning of ohana, each student flourishes and all are able to experience their own Hollywood endings.
Jasper Fox Sr. teaches science at Copper Beech Middle School in the Lakeland Central School District in Shrub Oak, N.Y. Currently in his twelfth year of teaching, Fox has developed a very successful classroom model focused on student engagement that includes many transformative uses of technology. Connect with Fox through his blog or on Twitter @jasperfoxsr.