Tech as window to students’ passions

In any class of 20 or so 7th or 8th graders, there are always some students – boys, usually, I have to say at the risk of being prejudiced – who for whatever reason (hormones, sugar intake, boredom, etc.) don’t quite fit into the cookie-cutter mold of a “good student” in terms of in-class habits.

Maybe one will have a speaking voice like a Brazilian soccer commentator with no volume knob. Maybe one will be unable to stop himself from leaning back in his chair until he falls over. Maybe one will constantly want to stand up and rush around the room. Maybe one will never speak at all or get any work done in class (although capable of doing homework in great detail).

As a teacher, my interactions within the classroom (combined with the work they hand in, of course) would normally be all the evidence I would have to go on in terms of forming my opinions of these young people and their potential. And those interactions are limited both in terms of time and space, and they are not always authentic or positive. No matter how good my intentions it’s hard to think of someone as a future genius if he’s fallen over in his chair four times in an hour.

In other words I think the setting in which I see my students, the classroom, practically predisposes me to form negative opinions about those who have the most energy, or who are most idiosyncratic or boisterous or socially inept.

But lately I’ve been noticing that some of my students who seem the least comfortable with acting like normal human beings within the walls of the classroom are precisely the ones who have astonishing levels of passion and productivity in other areas of life. How am I noticing this? Technology.

My students have YouTube accounts where they post videos they make. They have personal blogs. They have posted music they’ve composed, films they’ve edited, songs they’ve sung, applications they’ve programmed, video games they’ve designed. And whenever I get to see these things, I know more about my students as people, and can reevaluate any negative impressions I’ve built up within the confines of the classroom simply because that’s not where they shine.

Normally I suppose you could get a glimpse of your students’ hobbies by going to their recitals or sporting events – for example I’ve been brought almost to tears by seeing amazing dance performances by students who struggle academically – but those are discrete events which must be attended at certain times. Unless maybe you coach sports teams, which I don’t, it can be hard to say that during any one school year you’ll see students doing what they love outside the classroom walls. It’s one reason why I really enjoy our school’s Field Studies week.

However, thanks to technology I can more often and more easily get exactly that sort of glimpse into the extracurricular interests or enthusiasms of my students, and also thanks to technology it’s easier to find ways to incorporate those interests in the classroom. I think this window into their passions definitely helps me be a better teacher to all of my students.

Of course there’s still a need for everyone to work on face-to-face skills of behavior and social propriety within the classroom, and of course I still need to base most of my assessments on what happens in and around that classroom…. But there’s also a chance that that boy who keeps falling over in his chair might indeed turn out to be a genius, and I don’t want to shortchange him.

In short I think technology is increasingly giving me the power as an educator to get a more well-rounded and less crabbed view of students, more quickly, than ever before, and I welcome it.

One thought on “Tech as window to students’ passions

  1. Thanks for this post. I wondered for the hosted that don’t fit the traditional mode how well they would do with online independent learning. While I see your point, I can easily imagine some of them struggling to sit down and self-manage an online learning assignment. as you know, we have just started to experiment with online learning at school and the students engage at vastly different levels. My main point here being that I still think there is a role for supervision in the classroom and overseeing learning but that there needs to be more flexibility, as you have noted, in what classroom learning entails.

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