Posts Tagged Khan

Rationalizing (a lot of) computer lab time

Audrey Waters wrote what she calls “an explainer” piece this summer on her Hack Education blog in which she pulls together some of the arguments against Khan Academy brewing in the education world. It’s very interesting, and right here.

Aside from the distrust of Bill Gates’s corporate involvement, the pedagogical argument identifies Khan’s videos as merely a different form of an old-fashioned lecture. And that’s not so innovative or interesting. That makes sense.

But the backlash against the entire idea of “flipping the classroom” seems like it might be creating a false dichotomy between Khan and Dianne Ravitch-esque progressive educators. I think we all agree that teachers shouldn’t be lecturing at the front of the classroom for an entire period. We decided on that a long time ago, didn’t we?

Here’s why I’m thinking about this tonight (besides the fact that I just read that post on Hack Education). After school today I checked my agenda for tomorrow’s senior classes and noticed that my plans were a little thin. I realized I only had about half a class period’s worth of activities (that’s 49.5 minutes at my school, by the way).

My seniors are working on a personal narrative essay, so I checked the computer lab calendar, noticed it was miraculously free during both 1st and 4th period, and signed up to take my kids down for the second half of each class.

On my drive home (stuck in traffic on the interstate that passes a noxious dog food factory) I thought, “Well that is some lazy lesson planning, Mr. Fine. You didn’t have enough instruction planned so you’re just going to plop them in front of computers?”

Now I do have somewhat of a point there, but I (the other me) may also be standing on some sound pedagogical footing. Math and science teachers, in Khan’s model – and, not so differently, in a Constructivist model – should be guiding students as they discover the content knowledge. In an English or writing class, that discovery happens through…writing, of course. So I need to let them write. And since I’m sick of seeing kids scribble on a sheet of binder paper and then shove it to the bottom of their backpacks never to be seen again, they should be typing.

My summer experience corroborates this.

I taught summer school this year, and I was blessed with a class of only seven wonderful kids. And there weren’t even any non-wonderful kids – there were only seven kids in the class.

This is obviously a complete Utopia for me, and it shouldn’t be surprising to any teacher (or former student) that we were able to get a lot of learning done and that we actually enjoyed each other’s company in the process (as much as possible, I would think, given that it was summer school).

In short, it ended up exactly like this:

I’m sorry. No, it didn’t. But what was interesting for me as an English teacher was how valuable my students found having large chunks of time in the computer lab to write their essays.

Again, maybe it’s not that surprising. Most of these students were quite bright but chose not to do homework (or not to go to class – more on that some other time…it was fascinating). So if I had sent them home to write an essay, as most English teachers are wont to do, they just wouldn’t do it. Ever.

The computer lab at the summer school site was not heavily used, so, on consecutive days, I was able to give my students 2-3 hour chunks of time to write. Since there were only seven of them (I’m sorry, I know), I was able to sit down with each of them for 15-20 mintes at a time and go over what they had written so far to steer them back on track when necessary. To me, it felt like the most effective writing instruction I’ve ever done as a teacher.

My students responded to it, too. There were days when I had reserved the lab for the morning (8-10 a.m.) so they could write, and they all practically begged to be allowed to come back for the second “period” (10:20-12:20) and continue writing. And they were working the whole time (trust me, I was there). They said things like, “I’ve never worked this hard on an essay before” and “This is the best essay I’ve ever written by far.” And it was on Oedipus Rex!

So was this the English class’s version of Sal Khan’s flipped classroom? Not exactly, since I was not assigning any homework in this case. But the huge blocks of class time allowed for some whole-class instruction followed by hours of valuable “guide on the side” time.

And, most importantly, this all makes me feel better about my brilliant lesson plan for tomorrow – which had absolutely nothing to do with my being underprepared.

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