In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this regular column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners, moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.
In today’s transient world, our classrooms have more diversity than ever before. We have students from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs. Our students have needs across the learning continuum: Some are performing above grade-level standards and some are below grade-level standards, some have exceptional needs and some are English learners. How do we meet the needs of our diverse population while keeping students focused and motivated with a thirst to learn more?
Not every child will have the highest GPA or be the star basketball player. But every student in our class is growing and improving. As a teacher of middle-level learners, one of the keys to promoting each student’s growth is truly getting to know each of them. Some students, regardless of our good intentions, shy away from public praise or encouragement. They do not want to be singled out in front of peers and opened up for (potential) embarrassment. Other students seem to thrive on the validation of their growth and hard work.
The answer I have found is to tap into some of the tech tools we are already using as a way for students to share their successes, big or small. Sometimes in their learning, our students are missing the forest for the trees. Validation goes a long way toward pointing out the amount of growth a student is making; growth that student would have missed had we not taken a moment to point it out, publicly or privately. Validation goes a long way toward keeping students moving forward and not giving up on their quest to improve.
One way my students share success is through the class’s participation on Twitter, which has become an integral part of our classroom learning. In addition to connecting and learning with their global peers and writing mentors, students can share their successes, no matter how small. Mindful of the 140-character limit, my English learners and exceptional education students search for the right words and thoughts they want to post. Because posting on Twitter is a regular classroom routine, those students who do not want to be singled out with praise feel comfortable posting their successes. That simple act of sharing with the world validates sometimes hard-fought success. Other times, it opens up a discussion among students in other parts of the world, enriching the learning of all.
Likewise, much of our class time is spent in small-group or one-on-one conferring. To document students’ needs and for students to set their personal growth, we use the app Confer. With Confer, one has the ability to e-mail a contact when data are collected. Confer is also a vital part of our learning practice. My students and I collect data, discuss the data, and then set a small, actionable goal, making their learning transparent. They know the target and have outlined a plan to reach that goal. Students often refer to Confer as they are working and occasionally request to send an e-mail to a parent, previous teacher, or administrator to show how much they have grown in a short period of time.
I am also a huge proponent of student blogging. Through encouragement and guidance, my students become reflective on their learning. They learn to share their goals, their plans, and their successes along the way. Although creating this supportive community takes practice, by sharing, students become supportive of one another. They cheer one another on, give encouragement, demonstrate empathy, and provide that “been-there-done-that” or “you-can-do-it-too” support. As the teacher, this is priceless to observe.
These are some of the ways my students celebrate their successes. I’m sure when you look at your classroom routines, you may see other celebration possibilities to meet your students’ needs. The point is, we are taking the time to validate and celebrate each success.
Julie D. Ramsay is a National Board Certified Teacher and the author of “Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?”: Collaborating in Class and Online, Grades 3–8. She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog, eduflections.