PEDs in the Classroom: the Solution, not the Problem

PEDsBy now, you’re probably all familiar with the image I’ve painted of myself at my Google party. There I am, with all my invitations (sans RSVP) distributed to all my so-called friends, standing slightly off to the side of the window that lets me see the road from the living room of my Google Drive, furtively parting the curtain to see if anyone plans to show up.

And alas, I remain alone.

But I’m all about problem-solving, not self-pity (ok, I’m a little about self-pity), and it has occurred to me that the solution to my problem is simple: PEDs. No, I’m not talking A-Roid; I’m talking Personal Electronic Devices, which, this year, is something every one of my students has, as far as I can tell. So I’ve set a “professional learning goal” about effectively incorporating PEDs into the classroom. What follows is the reflection I wrote for my employer to get to the point of setting that goal.

This past summer, I worked with teachers from social studies and science on developing common core-aligned standards for reading informational/argumentative texts. In addition to developing an “alpha” set of standards, we designed a plan to collect student work, teacher lessons and assignments focused on instruction in and assessment of reading performance related to informational texts.

While my sophomore research essay provides an obvious entry into this kind of instruction and assessment, I want to discover ways to more purposefully integrate informational texts into appropriate units in my sophomore and AP classes, to find organic opportunities to supplement literature instruction rather than replacing literary texts with informational texts.

However, that goal seems more like what I feel I’m supposed to do rather than what I really want to find out. Closer to my everyday practice is the personalization of learning through the use of PEDs. If only I can get A-Rod to visit my classes and talk to the kids about self-improvement…wait, that isn’t it. I mean personal electronic devices, not ‘roids or HGH. For all my classes, I run forums on google docs – I was going to explore Moodle, but as I keep hearing about the amount of time other teachers have to invest to get it up and running and then iron out the kinks, I realize I don’t have the time to invest in a new course platform. Anyway, I run these forums, post assignments and encourage kids to post observations and questions, and they run so unevenly.

It’s frustrating, because there is such an opportunity for personalization and equity in those forums – a place to ask the questions that you don’t think of during class, or to post the questions you do think of while we’re talking about something else; a place to post the quotes that are relevant to our purpose for reading the text, and speculate about their meaning while we’re in the process of reading; a place to store class notes so all kids can dip into our little pool of community knowledge (instead of just those kids who know how to swim – {I always wonder if my metaphors makes sense only to me}). You’d think that this opportunity would be right in the kids’ wheelhouse, that posting online would be almost second nature, but they just don’t get it done, even after the teacher opens class with, “All right, kids, take out your phones.”

Recently, Ms. Cohen, the media specialist, has been doing demonstrations in English classes with the mobile iPad cart, and I’ve been wondering if the purposeful integration of tablets into daily practice – okay, maybe not daily, if they absolutely have to be shared – will help students take advantage of the opportunity to interact with class on an individualized basis. So with the informational/argumentative text idea, I’m focused on common core, which I really couldn’t give a rat’s rear end about (whatever that means), given that so much of common core in English/Language Arts is the rest of the country playing catch-up with things we already do. With the PED goal, I’d at least be focusing on a topic that has been an ongoing source of frustration for me since I started using student forums two years ago.

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