By Kathryn Kindrat – Middle School Teacher, Seba Beach School
Throughout my life I have learned so many new things, I continue to learn every day, and I am excited to continue learning… that doesn’t mean it has been easy. I recently read a Twitter post about a poetry project, made by a university student doing her practicum in Calgary. She and her cohort student teacher partner developed an incredible inquiry based poetry unit, the likes I have never seen before. In her words:
Our Grade 6 Humanities classes completed a three step writing method that culminated in a kinetic poem. Each phase required students to delve deeply into their thoughts and wonders, broaden their knowledge of poetry and powerful writing, become familiar with different computer programs and websites, and tap into their creativity.
Students documented their work using the online notebook program Evernote which was synced and shared so we could monitor progress instantaneously. We placed emphasis on the process rather than the product and assessed students by giving them formative feedback on their written reflections completed after each phase. The student’s ability to communicate their understanding and experiences was our evidence that meaningful learning took place.
To bring their poems to life, students used Keynote to create text animation. I was amazed how quickly they mastered the program and how they naturally collaborated to share their knowledge. Watching the finished products proves that richer language was used to communicate deeper messages and this makes these poems worth producing.
– University of Calgary student teacher, Lisa Nguyen http://calgaryscienceschool.blogspot.com/2011/11/poetry-that-moves.html
I must note, I consider myself to be fairly current in both new technologies and teaching practices, still I was blown away. I think you will understand what I mean if you check it out. Here is a blog post that will give you a quick intro and some product examples: Poetry that Moves. And here is the actual class website that outlines the complete process: Poetry Project.
I am ashamed to say, after the initial feeling of awe wore off, my next reaction wasn’t one of excitement; rather, I boarded a roller coaster of emotion and had one heck of a ride. Naturally, as a teacher, I buried any negativity I had, and swore not to speak of it. Then I thought about the, Obvious to You. Amazing to Others., video that we watched in our first session. I reflected on the idea that perhaps my shameful feelings, and the journey that I went on, are things that others could relate to, identify with and perhaps find comfort in, and maybe, I would feel better about the situation if I said something out loud. So here it goes.
Learning and the 7 stages of grief
Shock and Denial
As I looked over the website, the first thing that popped into my head was, yeah this is great, but… there is no way this is the work of a normal grade 6 class, they must be advanced and highly trained in the inquiry process. And I bet the unit took forever! There is no way to actually accomplish what she did while covering the rest of the curriculum objectives… and on and on. Then came the guilt came rushing in.
Pain and Guilt
I felt bad, like I wasn’t being the teacher that my students needed me to be. I had these physical pangs of guilt, thinking about how a university student is utilizing all the newest technology to its fullest potential, at the same time engaging and guiding the kids through the inquiry process. She not only facilitated some incredible learning, she documented the whole thing online, including video reflections made by the kids that actually showed their learning as it happened. UGH! I started beating myself up, thinking of how I needed to do more, be better…
After a little bit of ice cream and Jersey Shore (nothing makes you feel better about yourself than Jersey Shore), I thought about it again. That is when I got mad.
Anger and Bargaining
I thought to myself, of course she is able to do this amazing unit; that is all you have to do in your practicum! I am juggling 3 grades, with twice that in levels and adaptations, I coach, I take care of a home, I am so exhausted from all the work I do already, how can I possibly do MORE?!! I quickly realized that I was pissed off, not because this girl has it easy because that is not true, but because I care A LOT about the work I do and I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility to give my students the best possible education I can. I just want to find a way to reach all of my students, deliver all of the content, create lifelong learners and maintain excellent relationships with every student. Is that too much to ask? Am I just not good enough?
Depression, Reflection and Loneliness
I was upset. I felt sad and alone, because I was sure that no other teacher would have this kind of reaction to witnessing such a powerful learning opportunity. Somewhere between berating my abilities and wallowing in self pity, I started reflecting on my own teaching practices and the things that I can do well, and realized something… I am not doing so bad.
The Upward Turn
I started thinking about some of the new technology and engaging activities that I have introduced/explored with my students, from using Animoto, Edmodo, YouTube, Glogster EDU, edublogs, to performing comedy routines, hosting critical thinking contests, participating in online debates and group poetry; the list goes on. I started thinking about what I could do, instead of the things I couldn’t.
Reconstruction and Working Through
I began brainstorming ways that I could adapt the unit and the process to fit with my kids, the context of the school and the resources available to me. I started getting excited at the possibility of introducing them to something they have never done before, not only in terms of the final product and technology, but also in the process.
Acceptance and Hope
I realized that before I could truly open my eyes and begin learning from my peer, I had to accept that learning can be uncomfortable at first, it can be downright depressing! I started to think about how it might be possible that kids go through similar emotions when tackling a difficult story, or a new math problem. Do they see other kids going through the motions easily and get mad that they are not yet at the same level? Do they feel bad about their own abilities? With support, can I help them get to that “Upward Turn”? Something clicked for me; I am not alone, learning something new, especially those big learning moments, can be hard, it is a journey, for better or for worse. Now I am at the hopeful stage. I am going to give this unit a try, I have no doubt that it will be difficult, especially the first time around, but I know we can do it.
I will leave you with this final thought, you are not alone. Cliché yes, but also true. I encourage others to talk about, not only their successes but also the journey, including all of the hills and valleys that they encountered along the way. If we tell ourselves or others that new learning should be easy, or come naturally, we are bound to give up if it isn’t or doesn’t. As twisted as it sounds, I prefer to think about learning as grieving, I know I will go through some tough moments, but if I give myself time and the benefit of the doubt, I will pull through and be stronger for it.
How does this relate to specifically to being a learning leader in the area of technology? Though the learning curve with technology is steep, being young and involved, I was naïve enough to think that nothing could scare me, but as I am learning, there is always something new – something better. We always have to be ready for that big scary plunge that takes us outside of our comfort zone, and to embrace all of the crazy feelings that are part of the package.