Ok class here's what we are going to do. Now go do it.Typical classroom behavior: go do this thing for the next 45 minutes and I will be here when the bell rings right? Familiar. Expected. Easy. Appropriate. And appreciated. Students love knowing just what they have to do to get a grade, an affirmation or a point.
But what happens when it isn't 45 minutes, not for points and not even monitored? What happens when the the assignment the teacher sets up is designed to be introspective, to prove ability not to the teacher but to a greater audience; an assignment designed to have students experience something similar to real life and intuitively find their way to prove mastery. Educational theorists are frothing at the mouth. I was too until I tried it for the first time and failed miserably.
I can tell you what happens when our best, most cutting-edge, most engaging, most idealistic theories are tested; it's not what you might expect. Nothing happens. That is correct, nothing has happened yet in my blended learning class. NOTHING! When a parent says to his/her student: "What did you do in history today?" The students are being dead serious when they answer "Nothing." They didn't do anything meaningful - we had some great conversations about leadership and contextualized a historical movie, we discussed the elements that makeup a good historical story, we watched good story telling, we researched, but when asked to recreate: to go do this task of telling a historical story - my students do nothing. Nothing different that is from any other face to face history class.
On the other hand, I think I am doing a lot - I think I am finding students resources that they can use for research projects. I am reading hours worth of student journal responses, discussion board posts, web based essays. On some evenings, I am an email-answering machine. I theorize about what my students should be doing while I run in place on the treadmill, stopped waiting impatiently at the stop light, daydream in line for coffee. I feel consumed by this task as though I am literally running in place, stopped waiting, daydreaming.
I think what I'm experiencing is the result of a serious culture shift that we thought students were ready for but have proven not to be. I thought I was ready for this shift. I certainly prepared to chop down the traditional education model, but perhaps I'm not ready either. It is difficult to admit that. At this point it doesn't matter. Thirty five kids show up in my classroom in ten hours. So it's back to the drawing board I go.
Here I am at the drawing board: decompressing from the amazing possibilities I was exposed to at the Virtual Schools Symposium and returning to students who, like me, don't know what they don't know. But I am here and ready to focus on telling a historical story and deciding the best way to teach historical story telling. I don't think I have ever identified with my students more: I am not quite sure what to do. I am sitting at the computer in the middle of a hurricane overwhelmed by the silence of my audience, the weight of my own word choice, the absence of interruption, the sound of the keyboard's white noise suspending the notion that I need a solution.
All I know to do nine hours away from the arrival of students is to provide an example. All I know to do comes from a little more than a decade of face to face teaching and a lifetime of traditional learning. I am a teacher, but right now I am exactly like my students: in transition.
The stark reality is that I do need a solution: the long term sort. I don't have time for transition. I'd like to deliver the solution Monday morning promptly at 7:30 to a class who stare back at me thinking maybe this is the week she pulls it together. But instead, I just continue to create this example that may or may not meet students at their personal crossroad between desire to do well and need for information.
Ok class here's what we are going to do... Now go do it... Typical classroom behavior...go do this thing for the next 45 minutes and I will be here when the bell rings...right? Familiar .. Expected? Easy? Appropriate.
Doesn't exactly cut it. Falls way short of expectation. But it's what I do. It's what I do with the time I have.
My students and I both know we need to figure out this blended model. We both know we must approach this task differently, but at the very center of this storm, we also know that assigning a name to this truth is the most unnerving task we will face.