“We don’t have any time for reflective practice,” explained my brother-in-law, a junior high school science teacher. He went on to say that he and his colleagues were just barely keeping their heads about water with their teaching loads so they rarely had time to thoughtfully consider changes to their methods or curriculum.
This was in response to my telling him that I had just finished teaching for the semester and was in the phase of considering what had gone well and what I’d like to change for the next time around, and was amending my syllabus accordingly. I hadn’t considered before that this was a luxury, to have time for reflection at the end of the term. But I suppose it is–I only teach one class at a time because the rest of my day is spent on administrative duties. So that one class garners the lion’s share of my mental attention and I consider each of my successes and frustrations in the classroom fairly closely.
This was on my mind as I read AHA President Ken Pomeranz’ article “Some Habits of Mind Historians Keep Hidden” in the recent issue of Perspectives. Like my research practices, most of my teaching practices tend to be “hidden habits” rather than techniques that I discuss often with colleagues or friends. And I plan to change that, because I’ve had some rather remarkable experiences in the classroom during my time at Chapman, and I’d like to discuss some of what I’ve learned–in the hopes that it will not only be of interest to my readers, but also to help me to improve my own teaching as I reflect on what has worked best for my students’ learning.
This semester I’m teaching a class with a strong technology component. So far my students have used flickr, wordpress, SIMILE timelines, Wordle, Wikipedia, GDocs, Blackboard, and Prezi. On my midterm evaluations several of them commented that they had technology-fatigue after learning so many different tools. As a result, I decided it was high time to get old-school.
So, last week I brought in my Royal typewriter to class for the students to use for a short in-class assignment, where they would write a twitter-length summary of the day’s reading. I learned that not one of them had used a manual typewriter before–most of them couldn’t even figure out how to load in a sheet of paper and no idea what the ding of a carriage return meant (much less how to pull on the lever to move the carriage back to the other side of the page). Only one of them had the finger strength to consistently hit the keys hard enough to make an ink impression on the paper. Afterwards I wondered if perhaps they were scared of breaking the machine–despite my encouraging them to pound on the keys.
Bringing a typewriter was a bit of a stunt, but I think it also underscored how useful technology can be in the classroom. In their reflective writing after the exercise, most praised academic technology (although they still have a strong distaste for Prezi). None of them want to have to type out an assignment manually again, although one of them said that if she could “choose” to use a typewriter on a school assignment that it might be fun.
As an instructor I’m doing all I can to not only teach the students the ins-and-outs of technology, but to foster an environment where the students are constantly working at the edge of their knowledge–to keep them actively involved in what we’re learning together. Because of that, I expect them to feel frustrated with and even tired of technology. I expect them to fail sometimes when they try something new (or in this case, when they try to use a tool so old that they might not have ever encountered one in real life before). More than showing off mastery of a technological tools, I expect the students to be curious and experimental. I want them to play with and explore the use of tools in ways that are unique to them and aren’t a carbon copy of the way that I use them.