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Making Students Feel Famous for Learning

By Caroline Petrow
 | Jul 26, 2016

Real Reading VideoAs an elementary teacher for 10 years, I dabbled in technology as a learning tool but always looked at it from the outside in. I used the Smartboard to present lessons and show my students fun math games. Technology was an insertion to my lesson, not a means to deeper learning.

Recently, I turned technology inside out and started to see it as a vehicle to move the content or unit of study to a deeper level. I asked myself: How can technology enhance the learning of my students and the learning process? How can technology support learning through collaboration, communication, and creation of information?

So my first graders and I embarked on a four-week journey into the unknown world of producing an iMovie together. I asked them: “What makes real reading?” To answer that question, we viewed videos of students demonstrating reading strategies. We evaluated these “texts” as an audience to see what worked and didn't work. These young learners identified that students who talked directly to the camera were easier to learn from than those who read from a script. They noticed showing examples of reading strategies was more informative than singing a catchy song. They thought deeply about the way others communicate through video.

After they had some schema of the film they would create, we stepped away from technology. Making the movie was our tool and motivation to communicate, and the goal was to share our learning and understanding of real reading.

During one work session I said to the reading specialist, “This video is going to be a mess! It is taking too much time out of our reading instruction.” Her response was clear: The students were internalizing learning and doing meaningful work. Having a supportive colleague who recognized the important work our students were doing allowed me to forge ahead. It validated the time and energy the class spent on the project.

Students wrestled with questions like What does visualization really mean? and How can I communicate what “looking for chunks” to decode really is? Through the process I did not give students answers but guided them and pushed them to be clear and articulate. It became a sort of formative assessment, where some partnerships moved independently and others needed recurring support and scaffolding. I didn’t know how the process was going to unfold and it didn’t matter. Learning existed in each moment. For every time I doubted the process, I was inspired by students’ thinking and processing.

Of course I’ve used an iPad before to record video, but never have I handed it over to 7-year-olds to do the real work. The morning I pulled the microphone out of the box and assembled the tripod, there was a buzz in the classroom as recording day finally arrived. The children rehearsed and revised on the spot, knowing their reading strategies and examples inside out. They asked to rerecord until they had it right—and would have kept going for perfection had I not cut them short. They saw the vulnerability in trying something for the first time and if they weren’t successful, they worked at finding a solution.

After editing, we shared our first film on Twitter and YouTube.

Even though I was convinced by this point that developing collaboration and communication skills through a digital medium was paramount to the product, the debut of our video was priceless. Parents thanked me for the “gift,” our school leader mistook us for third graders, and gurus in the literacy world retweeted us. The children had a real audience and received authentic feedback to solidify their learning. They recognized that people beyond our classroom walls know and use the same reading strategies. They felt famous for talking about reading.

Technology cannot be an add-on to the curriculum or an afterthought to boost motivation. It adds to learning and engages students in new ways, but becoming digitally literate is more than being able to manipulate the latest program. Technology changes in an instant, and we cannot equip our students for the tools and programs of tomorrow. This journey showed me I can endow my students with experiences that promote original thinking and creativity. I can create situations where they rely on one another to develop ideas and communicate. I moved from reading teacher to a facilitator of multiliterate learning. I led the way and set the vision, but the children did the real work.

CarolinePetrowCaroline Petrow is a first-grade teacher at Durham Academy in North Carolina.  She has 11 years teaching experience and a MEd Reading Education.  Follow Caroline and her students on Twitter. ​



Leave a comment
  1. C. Ronco | Mar 30, 2017
    True understanding comes with sharing one's learning, so this is a creative and effective project for these young readers. Way to go, Penguins and Mrs. Petrow!
  2. ALI | Feb 10, 2017

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