Friday, May 3, 2013

Technology as a motivational tool: May 3 Crumble

The entire month of February I spent talking about motivating our reluctant middle schoolers to take responsibility for their learning.  Intrinsic motivation is not something that instantly appears in a twelve or thirteen-year-old student - it takes years to build this desire for academic success, and most of our strugglers lost that desire years ago when they found themselves failing more than succeeding.  Why try if I'm not going to succeed?  That is an excellent question.

So by middle school, the job of the teacher becomes much more than a deliverer of instruction and nurturer of curiousity.  If you are an educator who is responsible for our struggling middle school students, your job is to somehow re-light that fire that is natural in our young ones and then you can nurture that curiousity and deliver instruction.  You're working with wet wood though.  Wood that has been soaked for years in a downpour of frustration, humiliation, and embarassment and has become a soggy mess of anger, hyperactivity, apathy, and super-social behavior that no longer cares about reading, math, and science.  Pair that up with video games until midnight and Hot Cheetos for breakfast, and you have a pocket full of a hot mess walking your hallways on a daily basis!

These are the kids who make their way into my heart, and it is because of these kiddos that I get up and come to work every morning.  They are the ones that I seek out in the hallway because I want them to know that it isn't too late.  And this is why I continue to dig for answers, motivators, and hooks.  How can I get them to start caring again?  What can we do to motivate them to want to read and write?

Well, one answer that we have found is the use of technology as a learning tool.  I once went to a session where John Orech spoke on the use of technology in lesson development.  In this session, one of his messages was that technology should be our "vehicle to a destination", and we should consider how we are going to get kids places and not "how should I use this technology?"  This message has stuck with me this year because, in my case, technology is one key to getting my kids where they need to be.

Recently, during a collaborative conversation, I spoke with our seventh grade intervention teacher.  She desperately wanted to give these kids one last shot at getting them hooked onto reading.  For three years, now, we have used Neal Shusterman's Unwind at the end of the year as a read-aloud or novel study.  This year, CCSS requires students to be reading at or above grade level before the end of the year, and what better way to continue to support this than by dousing them with a creepy and engaging novel about kids who are just like them.  Most of our kiddos are reading right around the level of the novel or below, and the language of the novel is fun - and so are the ethical discussions!

But the issue with the book always is the kids who flat-out refuse to participate - they sit with their books closed or heads down and they get up for Kleenex or to throw away something every three minutes.  At this point in the game, no number of discipline referrals for behavior like that is going to motivate these kids to open their books and love reading.  Period.

Until we let them crack open the 8-year-old computers we have been "storing" in her room off an on this year . . .

The day that we opened the kidblog site for the class and got the kids logged in, we gave them the anticipation guide and a list of possible prompts for writing. It took about 24 hours for 100% of our kiddos to get engaged in the book! Yesterday we even had one interrupt three times and ask if he could blog!

The first blog topic was written before we even started reading.  It was more of a "let's try this blogging thing out" blog than an actual blog.  The kids did pretty well with it, and they were able to get around the site very easily, so that wasn't a problem at all. 

We knew we had to read and write, and we knew we didn't have much time to get them going, so we gave them the option of using the computers to write down their thoughts in a word document before they wrote their second blog, which was to make a connection with one of the three main characters.  Kids who I have watched drag their feet on the way in the door were thinking and typing about Connor, Risa, and Lev yesterday!  It was reported to me this morning that first period sat silently as they typed and clicked for a half hour on the blog site.  We are actually considering the possibility of opening the classroom during lunch for "beautification" and commenting on the blogs as well.

Now, did we do an amazing job at forseeing the problems we would encounter?  Well, we sent a note home to parents inviting them to join us on the blog site, and we emphasized the idea that if the site is misused in any way (and we gave examples) that the misuser would be permanently removed from the site class.  So in that respect, I think we covered our bases.  But one thing I'm already seeing is the attention that is being paid to the way the blog looks vs. the content.  We have a lot of very pretty blogs.  Now that we have established the idea of the blog and motivated even our most unmotivated student to participate, our next battle will be to up our expectations on the content of the blogs.  I'm a writer, and I love to teach writing, so my expectations are going to get higher and higher for the next fourteen days, and I can't wait to see what these kids can produce! 

So how can you, a content area teacher, use this blog idea to enhance and motivate your kiddos?  Well, first off, edublog and kidblog are two websites that I would consider investigating.  We also have gifted students using edmodo in a "paperless classroom" situation that is truly fascinating!  All of these sites are private and can only be accessed by the members of the group.  They are all set up by the teacher and are accessible from home - some of them even have apps for devices other than computers!  Then establish a use for these fantastic writing tools!  Science logs, social studies journals, music journals, health journals or fitness tracking, favorite recipes, responses to art or music, even extended response questions in math can be adapted to blogging!  Kids can respond to books they're reading - even over the summer - and teachers can still see what they're reading!  You can give students specifications on their writing or have them write freely - just remind them that what they write will be seen by you, their parents, and the entire class!

If you're considering setting up a blog for your kids, let me know if you need help!  Once you get into it and get the hang of it, it is really easy.  And it's such a neat way to get the kids writing without telling them they're writing. 

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