Monday, March 26, 2012

Think Collaboratively: Mix and Match Your Ink! leads the way in supporting collaborative writing and critical thinking. Students not only write original content, they also practice how to edit, comment and rate their peers' writing. Students evaluate each classmates' content and synthesize the best ideas, mixing and matching different versions to ultimately create one best piece representing the collective voice of the class. Every student's voice is heard because identifies key words and phrases giving each original author credit for his/her contributions. As students mix and match their words with those of their peers, they receive real time examples of other classmates who have used the same language. These real time suggestions encourage students to elaborate, and expand on the ideas of their peers. Every student is accountable to write and contribute his/her thoughts. Throughout this collaborative writing process, students rate each text anonymously practicing the art of constructive criticism and evaluation. Students' ratings determine the best contributions. Teachers can easily assess writing strengths and weaknesses as students engage in the collaborative writing process.


It's All Fun and Games Until Someone Makes You Think!

I've realized that although we consider students digital natives, students still resist using tech tools in purposeful ways. We somehow expect that digital natives have the instinct to want to use tech tools to have insightful discussions, write collaboratively or to produce a thought-provoking, original piece of content. However, we fail to realize that creating original content requires a lot of time, effort, perseverance, trial and error, and above all, lots and lots of critical thinking. 

Lately, or perhaps it's always been that way, students don't want to work that hard. It's easier for a student to function in a teacher-centered classroom than it is in a learner-centered one. Some teachers or should I say, the system, have trained our "millennials" how to be straight A students with minimal effort in a pseudo critical thinking learning environment, and when we shift the paradigm, not only do the teachers resist, but so do the students and their parents.   

Teaching students to use tech tools in a purposeful way may cause some tension because kids want the fun games; many parents want the least amount of work for their kids, and teachers either don't have the time to design critical thinking lessons using tech, or they simply don't know how. The tech tool cannot stand alone, and is not going to make students think critically. It's how we use the tech tool that will teach students to think. The problem is that some kids have a lot of unlearning to do. By the fourth grade, students who have had ineffective teachers learn exactly how to manipulate the system so they are perfectly comfortable filling the blank and bubbling in a circle. Students will resist when we make them write a script using their imagination, or add their thoughts to a wiki, write a script for a video, or collaborate with peers directing their own video.  Using tech tools effectively is not all fun and games; at first glance, tech tools appear to be flashy, but there's nothing flashy about them. Used effectively tech tools require lots of hard work, and it's hard work to think!  So students, teachers and parents have a lot of bad habits to unlearn. Sometimes parents enable a lot of the "I can't" attitudes too. We assume that because kids love using tech that somehow they are going to want to use it to think critically. Thinking requires effort, perseverance, even sacrifice.

It's hard to believe the statistics of students underperforming on standardized tests while attending schools with cutting edge technology. We must constantly evaluate how tech tools in the classroom impact student achievement.  All educational stakeholders are responsible for constantly evaluating what we expect students to do with technology, and how tech will impact student achievement. Without this constant accountability, educational tech tools lose their effectiveness.

Educational tech tools cannot be all fun and games; otherwise, it's the students who hurt in the long run.

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