Thursday, October 27, 2011

11 Things I Think I Know About 1 to 1 Classroom Management

Photo by @matylda
1:1 computing is one way to open a lot of playground doors for kids. Obviously, though,  we want our playgrounds to be safe and enriching, not scary and dangerous. The key to nurturing the former over the latter is management.

Because our school corporation has gone to 1:1 classroom computing for the high schools and middle schools (12,000 netbooks distributed, 24/7 access). I am often asked about how to manage a 1:1 classroom. In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't ever had the joy or the challenge of running my own 1:1 classroom, but I have worked for the past 3 years to support teachers who are in the thick of it. Through that process I've formed a few ideas about how successful 1:1 teachers thrive.

1. Relationships
The single most important key to successful management in any classroom is a positive personal relationship with your students. The better you get to know your students' needs, interests, struggles and styles, the better you are able to speak with them as a co-learner. Additionally, your students are more likely to work with you if they feel they know who you are as a person. A relationship built on trust, kindness, and mutual admiration will yield a respectful and productive working relationship. If students look forward to spending time with you, they will be less likely to jeopardize that opportunity through bad behavior.

2. Meaningful Work
Kids who have work to do that is personally relevant, authentic, and challenging are more likely to be engaged. The promise of a 1:1 environment isn't that you can now do your worksheets or read your textbooks online. It is that you don't have to rely on worksheets and textbooks as your learning tools. Project-based and challenge-based learning, creating work for authentic purposes and audiences, and allowing students the autonomy to select how they will learn and how they will demonstrate mastery are all methods for competing with the lure of online games and instant messaging.

3. (Digital) Citizenship
Take the time to teach kids good habits of mind, ethical behaviors, and proper social behaviors. Don't assume that kids know how to act. But also don't assume that they don't want to do what is right. Taking the time and care to provide on-going citizenship feedback, modeling good citizenship yourself, and challenging kids to think of themselves as good citizens will help them to make good digital choices both inside and outside of your classroom.

4. Clear (and Positive) Expectations
It often surprises me that teachers get frustrated with digital behaviors, but they don't make the effort to clearly outline their expectations in the digital environment the way they might in the physical environment. Students often base their digital behavior on the digital environments they populate outside of school. Until they have a clear understanding of your digital environment, they will work from what they know. If you have a blog, post your expectations for interaction on the blog for everyone to see. Post clear interaction procedures on your wikis and collaborative documents. Provide ongoing feedback to students throughout digital discussions.

Along with that, I encourage teachers to state their expectations in the positive. "Conduct yourself as a scholar" instead of "Don't act like a fool." Students who have a clear model of what is valued behavior are more likely to align themselves with that vision.

5. Patience and Understanding
Sometimes I think that teacher expectations for compliance are out of line with the world in which we live and work. The knee-jerk reaction that all technology is a danger, that all off-task digital behaviors are a threat to classroom order, or that heightened student connectivity and collaboration means that students learning will be jeopardized is unrealistic and harmful to the goal of making 1:1 learning meaningful. Teaching in a 1:1 classroom means helping students master a work environment that is full of distractions, but also full of opportunities to learn. That also means that sometimes it might be okay for a kid to send a text, respond to an email, or look something up that intrigues him. Becoming the Google Chat police at every infraction distracts from the learning, sets up an adversarial relationship, and runs counter to human nature which gravitates to autonomy, social interaction, and active learning. Don't believe me? Monitor your own behavior at your next faculty meeting.

6. Flexibility and Preparedness
The more we rely on technology for our work, the more we need to be prepared to adjust to changing conditions on the ground. Sometimes the wireless goes out. Sometimes a website is blocked. Sometimes the video format that a kid created his project in is incompatible with the device he planned to share it on. Plans go awry all the time. Successful 1:1 teachers have a Plan B and are prepared to execute it. The online assessment is mysteriously unavailable? We'll be taking the assessment on paper, or orally, or we'll take it tomorrow. Today we are going to preview the next challenge. Students respond poorly to stressed-out teachers and to unsupported change. If you are prepared to be flexible, your students will shift gears more easily.

7. Active Learning
The students should be doing the work in your classroom. If you ask them to sit idly by and absorb your performance, they will find something else to do. Don't ask kids to sit and get content that they could easily look up themselves. Save your lectures for demonstrations of expertise. If kids need you to tell them how to do something, then shine on with your brilliant self (for no more than 20 minutes). In all other cases, let them do the work. Engagement begins with participation.

8. Collaborative Learning
We are social creatures by nature. Our social tendencies can lead us off-task, admittedly, but they can also drive our learning more quickly. When we have a shared task, we have a shared responsibility to the task. That means that social pressures can help keep work moving forward. It also means that our personal learning is challenged, which causes us to reflect and more deeply engage in the topic at hand. Work to create a collaborative environment that challenges students to develop learning networks that they can continue to rely on beyond your class.

9. Informal Learning
Some of the best learning we do is not tied to a lesson plan. When students grasp onto an opportunity for impromptu learning, support that. Let them show off their talents as a learner generally. The more you build a culture of learning that allows for exploration, sharing and celebration, the more your students will bring to your table. As a master-learner, they will come to you for affirmation, guidance and opportunity. Shut that door at your own peril.

10. The Courage to Click (and Fail)
Don't be afraid of the tools. You are college educated. To be an effective 1:1 teacher, you need to be willing to learn technology in front of your kids. You do not have to be a "techie" teacher with all of the newest gadgets and tools. You do need to be open to learning new tools that can make learning more enriching and exciting. An engaging and meaningful unit of study has very little to do with the tools you use. In fact, it can be done without the computer, but amazing content combined with well-utilized technology can change a kid's world. The goal is to make the technology invisible. It's never about the tools; it's about the task. But if you are lucky enough to have modern tools, have the courage to learn how to use them to their full potential. In the meantime, expect not everything will work. The courage to click includes the courage to fail. Teaching kids to deal with failure and frustration is as important as anything we teach, and technology gives us lots of opportunities to model this.

11. Technology in Perspective
Along with becoming comfortable with technology, it is important to understand that when management challenges arise in a 1:1 classroom, it isn't actually the tool that is to blame. It is the behavior. Blocking or shutting down technology to address poor digital behavior fails to correct the behavior, removes a potentially useful tool for learning, and creates an adversarial relationship between the student and the teacher. Successful 1:1 teachers recognize that when students have poor digital behavior, the solution comes from addressing the behavior and reflecting on the management choices that supported that behavior, rather than blaming the tool the student used to facilitate the behavior.

Those are my thoughts. It occurs to me that most of this advice is just good teaching advice generally. I would love it if you would share other observations, thoughts and criticisms.

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