Friday, March 11, 2011

Guest Blog: Kelly Dabinett: Technology in the English Classroom

Kelly Dabinett

Guest Blog: Kelly Dabinett

This is Kelly's twelfth year teaching English at Morristown High School in Morristown, NJ.  She received a B.A. degree in English and a Master’s degree in the Art of Teaching.  At the high school, she is a mentor in the student support mentoring program and is involved with the Academic Decathlon team as the essay and interview coach.  She has previously served as a tutor in the academic enrichment tutoring program and has also been involved with the high school softball team as the junior varsity coach and with the middle school field hockey team as the assistant coach.

I love how Kelly incorporates students' voices in her discussion of technology in the high school English classroom.

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Using Technology In The Classroom
By Kelly Dabinett

The incorporation of technology within the classroom has proved to be a vital, motivational and advantageous element that is an integral part of the educational foundation of students today.  Its effect has been profound ~ intrigue, inspiration and indisputable success have stemmed from the vast expanse of the technological world and the educational opportunities it offers. 

Within my classroom, the integration of Moodle has proved to be a dynamic and engaging element of our learning environment.  It has, in essence, been an extension of our classroom. Specifically, the use of forums has proved to be a valuable resource.  I have utilized the forums largely for the development of collaborative, student-driven outlets in which students are empowered to develop meaningful work that is based upon both core concepts and independent readings.  With the use of these forums, students have extensive opportunities to reflect upon thoughts, analysis and concepts that were produced and developed during class time.  The forums offer them the experience of enlightening one another by means of engaging in extended conversations through the creation of threads that vary in detail, depth and analysis. 

Students have extended their thinking well beyond the walls of the classroom as they facilitate discussions, make connections and draw conclusions.  They intellectually challenge one another to find meaning in a student-centered environment that abounds with interest and intrigue.  Through the analysis of our core texts, students have reflected upon themes and concepts and, in so doing, have found a personal relevance to what is taking place in the texts and discussions. As one student wrote, “Reading this book has made me realize that mental and spiritual strength are more important than physical strength alone.”  The students begin to make personal connections that they find applicable to their own lives,  “Reading the novel…has mostly shown me to always prepare myself for life to come.  In essence…the novel has embedded the reoccurring ‘what if?’ scenario in my mind.  And with it, I can better understand exactly how prepared I am for what is to come.” 
 Students spark reactions based on their commentary and analysis of text. One student wrote, “I completely agree.  The idea of survival seems so far out there that most people like you and I could not fathom as to what we would do exactly.  It makes us think – but the catch is, we most likely would not stay true to our initial thought.  Exactly like you said, we would be put to the test and change our philosophy in life because of the given situation.  Personally, I think that is life.  It takes you places for a reason and the choices you make in the journey determine who you are, and what you will do to stay alive.”  Higher-order thinking skills are evident as authentic, student-driven discussions are generated and thus, evoke a demonstration of a skill-set that has an opportunity to flourish through collaboration, reflection and exploration.

Posts and replies that have been generated from independent reading works have incorporated topics that have roots in a variety of disciplines and have spanned various genres.  One student decided to read some selected poems by T.S. Eliot and writes, “The poem was amazing and I am still reading it over again.  Poems aren’t understood right after you read it.  You have to dive in and immerse yourself in it to truly understand it.”  In response to a post about The Autobiography of Malcolm X, one student replies with, “The story of Malcolm X is an incredible one and you will discover more and more of what he had to go through.  It shows a lot about his character and how strongly he felt about civil rights.  It’s a great book and helps people better understand the struggles of the civil rights movement.”  While engaging in a discussion about a non-fiction text, a student writes, “This is a kind of book that makes you think about the rewards the protagonist receives.  He doesn’t necessarily get a prize at the end, or something material, what he really gets is something he will never forget.  He got to live his dream of traveling and gaining new knowledge.”  Finally, after reading the autobiography The Measure of a Man, by Sidney Poitier, a student writes, “I think all we need to do is believe in ourselves because we as humans have an infinite amount of potential…I really have enjoyed reading the thoughts of another person in such depth and detail.  I personally think this book was enlightening because it showed me a completely different perspective on life which has broadened my view on the world.  It has made me reconsider previous thoughts and beliefs and has solidified others.  I highly recommend this book to someone who is curious about what others think of the world and the ways people go about living their lives.” 
Students have also portrayed a distinct capacity to inspire one another, as various students collaborated on the development of thematically-based analytical essays derived from this text after being intrigued by this particular classmate’s Moodle posts.   Ultimately, these forums afford students the opportunity to utilize their posts and replies, in conjunction with additional written work and verbal discussions to produce a valuable product that coincides with themes that are embedded into the course, along with global skills and ideas that are expansive in nature. 
The student posts and replies generated reveal keen insight, tremendous growth and the capability of thought processes that may not always be demonstrated within the allotted instructional time.  This environment affords them the opportunity to continue their learning and has been an additional venue for them to generate discussions that elicit insight, reflection and analytical abilities.  Outgoing and more reserved students alike benefit from this modality, as it proves to be a vehicle through which they have opportunities to navigate their own thoughts, express themselves and assume responsibility in creating meaningful dialogue.  I often call upon students to elaborate upon the information they posted, as well as replies they have posted to others, and, after having had that additional time to form, reflect upon and organize their thoughts, they are generally more inclined to confidently contribute their beliefs to generate a powerful class discussion.  The discussion, then, is one of excitement filled with learners who are passionate about their beliefs ~ beliefs that are diverse, creative and reflective.  

In addition to the use of forums, Moodle has afforded me the opportunity to incorporate resources, such as links to websites, based on the content being studied.  While various resources can be added and activities implemented via Moodle, the end result has proved to be the same: students have the opportunity to express themselves in the digital realm and have insightful, educational interactions with a wide variety individuals from their class, thus gaining real world experience and intellectual maturity. 

The use of a sympodium has proved to be powerful tool to enhance the topic at hand, as it offers an opportunity to produce presentations that are interactive.  I have incorporated the use of the sympodium to display elements such as PowerPoint, videos and interviews, and to simply construct word documents.  While displaying these images, this technological source offers the capability to write on the screen in digital ink as the work is projected onto a large screen.  This method of presentation can be dynamic in nature, as each display can be personalized by both the teacher and the students to generate a meaningful product. 

Netbooks have been accessible, via COWs, which have been instrumental in the integration of technology within the classroom.  When utilizing these devices, I often provide students the opportunity to work in pairs or small groups to enhance their learning experience, as different perspectives can be discussed and examined prior to an entire class dialogue.  With these Internet ready devices, I have had students access Moodle and research topics to strengthen their learning.

I have also incorporated the use of iPods.  I have largely integrated these devices for students to utilize while reading and they have played a vital role in helping students retain focus and build reading stamina.  Additionally, the use of both the iPod Touch and the smart phone has been advantageous for real-time research.

I have had the absolute pleasure of working with Kara Douma, an instructional leader at the high school, and in so doing have come to incorporate the use of Flip cameras and iPads within the classroom.  The Flip cameras were integrated within the instructional environment as the students were assigned an exam that extended beyond the traditional exam time block.  Throughout a duration of a few weeks, students were assigned to analyze a text by partaking in a process that included research, generating artifacts, designing a mode of expression and ultimately recording and presenting their chosen mode via the use of Flip cameras.  Students were assessed by means of various targeted proficiencies and were able to demonstrate key analytical abilities. 

Through the utilization of iPads as a technological resource, the students have been enthusiastically reading and listening to text, exploring various apps such as Google Earth and utilizing the Notes app to assess and reflect upon their use of the iPad apps.  Students have been reading and/or listening to the digital version of text through the iBooks app.  Through this app students are also utilizing the dictionary and annotation functions to assist and guide their thinking, analysis and comprehension.  Additionally, the iPads have been incorporated as a device for students to generate personalized responses to current events.  Through an interdisciplinary activity, students were able to merge concepts from History and English as they viewed images and captions from worldly events and responded to them from the perspective of a character from literature.

We ultimately plan to introduce and utilize new apps to aid in determining and enhancing student learning styles. As we guide the students while they make their way through the various apps and encounter an array of successes and struggles, our hope is that eventually the students will develop the capacity to determine their strengths and weaknesses as learners.  After engaging in the implementation of various apps and referring to their personal assessment and reflection of iPad apps, students will begin to take ownership of their learning styles and develop an awareness of the educational format that is most beneficial for them.  Ultimately, through various meaningful and insightful lessons and activities, the students will develop the skills to take part in individualizing their education through the integration of technology.

The use of technology within the classroom has proved to be an experience in which opportunities for instruction simply abound.  I have been inspired by those around me and I know we will continue to guide one another in our development of meaningful instruction that empowers learners to be productive and successful individuals.

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