I can remember clearly being in high school and being disengaged. Milton’s Paradise Lost held my interest for about 2.2 seconds of each class. I found that Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood paperback fit neatly in the crease of the Milton tome and it was several classes before Ms. Mathis got my attention by winging a pen in my general direction.
I also remember writing notes and notes and notes…not intended for study. It was important to stay on top of the latest goings on of the high school A list and pretending to take classroom notes served as a marvelous cover.
Have things changed? Not much. Students still are disengaged and communication with friends is still paramount. It’s only the method of checking out that has changed. Perhaps the laptops have provided a few more methods of distraction but the problem is the same…students will find ways to check out of class unless teachers do something about it.
But what? Many teachers have said that they just don’t know how to manage the laptops in the classroom. The kids are too quick on the Apple/H keyboard shortcuts (hides Safari quickly) for us to see what they are doing. How do we make sure they are on task?
First, take a deep breath. Since the time of the yoyo teachers have been driven to distraction by, well, distractions. They have responded in a variety of ways. Some have outlawed the device altogether. Works well with a yoyo (except for those kids that accept it as a challenge to sneak it in) but not so well with something the school provides as a learning tool.
The smart teacher takes a different tack. Most teachers have a “code of conduct” that they present to students on day one and review regularly until this set of behaviors becomes habit. The laptop needs to be integrated into this set of expectations. Figure out what is acceptable in your classroom with regards to computer use- then set the expectations and require your students to follow the guidelines.
High school teachers have an excellent resource built right into their district- middle school teachers. They have been using laptops for 8 years and have become adept at managing their use. Here are some of their ideas:
1. Set clear expecations and consequences for inappropriate use. Clearly explain what is considered on task and what is not. Remember, our kids are used to IM’ing while writing papers and listening to music…all the time texting on their cell phones. Clearly define the parameters of what is acceptable, and when. Do not be horrified when they mess up. They are kids.
2. Establish a “command” for closing the laptops. It is perfectly reasonable to expect students to be able to listen without their laptops open. “Lids down” means lids down. Not at half mast, not a little bit open. If students say they need them for notetaking while you are talking, (and you are suspicious) ask them to email those notes to you several minutes before the end of class – or ask to see the notes. This will help keep kids honest.
3. Trust your instincts. I’m sure I didn’t fool Ms. Mathis for long with my “book-in-a-book” ploy. (My guess is she was just happy I was quiet!) You know when kids are disengaged. You know how to redirect. Use the skills you already have.
4. Don’t rely exclusively on “spy” programs such as ARD. These are very useful when used well- but when you are in a class, it is often more important for you to have personal contact with students rather than just monitoring them over the network. There is no substitute for eye contact.
5. Develop a system for students to let you know they are struggling when they are using the laptops. Many students get off task because they are unsure about how they are to proceed when they get stuck. Some teachers use a cup system (each desk has a cup that can be overturned as a signal). Be creative and be sure to make students aware of what they should do while they wait.
6. Develop learning activities that encourage engagement. The mere fact that you have used the laptop does not guarantee engagement. Be sure that what you ask them to do has a purpose that is clearly defined. The more structure you can give students in using technology, the better.
7. Encourage students to help each other. There are 25 of them and one of you. Establish “local experts” in your classroom for a variety of tasks. Every student has something to give. Encourage students to use these resources for help if you are unable to get to them right away.
8. Teach good digital citizenry. This is an area where the technology has certainly outpaced the social mores…but the mores are catching up, albeit after the fact. It is important that we explain WHY they need to temper their emailing during classes and use Facebook with a bit of prudence. Employers do not have to give their employees several chances to get with the program.
This list is just the beginning- please add items as you find methods that work for you. I’d love to hear from MS teachers!