During a visit to our 1:1 pilot team this week, I stopped into Ms. Strout’s English Language Arts classroom. What I observed left me searching for a phrase to describe it – Ms. Strout can tell me down the road whether the one I’ll use here is grammatically correct, but that comes later.
The room was largely silent, save for the sound tapping keyboards as each student in class worked on writing a narrative story. As I moved in more closely, I could see that the students were writing using Google Docs, the word-processing component of Google Drive that allows for cloud-based storage of documents and other tools. This is the suite of products that allows us to use a device like a Chromebook that has little native storage and a web-based operating system.
But the benefit to student learning went well beyond simple cloud-based storage. By using Drive, Ms. Strout was able to easily create a document for each student (using the amazing Doctopus script) that she could also see and edit. As I looked more closely, I noticed on some students’ screens that comments were appearing in the right-hand column – comments from Ms. Strout offering feedback and suggestions. The feedback was live and came as the students wrote, embedded right into the writing process.
This was incredibly powerful to watch. Normally, a student would have two avenues to receive feedback in the writing process. She could request help by raising a hand or approaching Ms. Strout – and they can still do this when they feel the need. Or, he would have to wait until an entire draft was completed, requiring a feedback cycle of at least an entire day.
Instead, because each student was working on a device that allowed the sharing of work in real time, students received feedback immediately, when it would be of most use. Ms. Strout was able to see places where students could benefit from feedback, even when they may not recognize it themselves. She gained valuable insight into each student as a learner by literally being able to watch each student write, a wonderful actualization of the formative assessment capacity we hoped for in this pilot.
What struck me most about my time in the class, though, was yet to come. When I whispered quietly to Ms. Strout on the way out, she made an important point: This was an instructional activity that she had known for years was high leverage for students and for her as a teacher. Until now, until all her students had 1:1 devices, though, she would have to wait for a cart of laptops to be available in order to make it work. And if she wanted to do this in her classes, her colleagues – and their students – who shared that cart couldn’t also share in this powerful teaching and learning experience.
A concern about 1:1 programs I sometimes hear (and that I once held myself) was that students will always be “plugged in” and connected to a device. What seems to be happening on 6 Lime, though, is not ubiquitous use of devices. Instead, it is ubiquitous opportunity. Each teacher on this team has the option to make the best instructional choices each day, each class period. Each student on this team has opportunity for choice in his or her learning activity, growing awareness and taking greater responsibility.
So what are we learning? Opportunity to learn is an old educational concept. Ubiquitous opportunity for the use of technology may bring us quite a few steps closer to realizing it each and every day.