Posts Tagged differentiation

Spotlight on BYOT Teacher – Michele Dugan

A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is in its fifth year of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district.  I have been so impressed with the dedication of our teachers to transform their classrooms with BYOT!  In this series of posts, I am sharing some of their experiences from different grade levels in their own words.

Guest Post by Michele Dugan @FCHSDugan
English Teacher – Forsyth Central High School

BYOT_DuganAs a high school teacher, I used to fight a daily battle against what I called the “Device Distracters” in the hands of my students. Like a well-written multiple choice exam option, this distracter was a strong contender for students to select. Its allure could only be mitigated by one force in the students’ realm, and that force was me. I offered, suggested, and sometimes declared that students “put these items away.” After all, it was time to learn! However, as incorporation of BYOT started to spread across schools, I realized that I was the one who was selecting the wrong answer; technology is and has been a correct and viable “choice” for learning all along.

Location, location, location

Any realtor or marketing agent adheres to a basic key of success: location, location, location. Educators took note of this strategy. We place important notices in the front of our schools where parents will notice them. We post announcements within the teacher work rooms for all to view. Location matters. So, where are our students directing their attention? Where do they gather, communicate, and collaborate? The answer is apparent: online, through their devices. High school students, in particular, have turned their attention to social media, texting, and other forums for communication. If I can introduce curriculum into their most frequented locations, levels of engagement, understanding, and production rise. I find myself surprised to discover that students are using online social connections to extend the conversation outside of the school day. What teacher doesn’t want to hear that her students held a heated debate over symbolism in The Awakening through social media? (Yes, this happened!) Students have demonstrated that they have the abilities to communicate; BYOT enhanced my capabilities to facilitate and encourage these conversations in the classroom and beyond.   Education does not have to end when the bell rings.

A Class Divided United

BYOT_HS1I instruct two different courses and well over one hundred students each day. I teach highly gifted students. I teach special needs students. I teach students who work every day and night after school. I teach students who are Ivy League bound. I teach students whose home lives are far from ideal. But most importantly, I teach children who will grow up to be our neighbors, co-workers, and leaders. It is my role to offer them the tools of college and career readiness, and to encourage their strengths. In this way, BYOT (“B”, for me, can stand for “Bring or Borrow”) is their lifeline to the “real world,” and encourages each student to use his or her strengths.

My opinion on BYOT shifted when I realized how often I use technology as a professional. Sure, I use it for instruction, but what about meetings? I access Infinite Campus to see student grades. During professional development sessions, I can take notes with an application that shares my files with my online cloud. I access my shared Google calendar when planning the next due date. While grading, I use my phone’s calculator (after all, I am an English teacher).  Why shouldn’t I take the opportunity to guide students through using the same tools they will use upon graduation? More often than not, they are teaching me!

Interestingly, BYOT has made differentiation much more personal for my students. Within my classroom, I can use Socrative, PollEverwhere, and JoinMe to connect with students through their technology. Last year, I noted that I had greater student participation when I used these applications or sites. Why? I asked my students. I learned that the “safe” space for communication, including anonymous answers, allows students to answer freely, without fear of judgment. I don’t have to tell you that peer pressure is a source of stress for our learners. Therefore, when students participate in individual work, I offer QR codes on each desk with links to extensions and remediation. Students choose the link that best suits them; this eliminates the fear of asking for help that some students encounter when they simply don’t understand. Suddenly, my quiet students, my special needs students, my highly gifted students, and my nervous students had a voice and a lifeline, and they are united in that they are all learning every day, and in their own ways. Use of BYOT facilitated unity in my classroom, and students’ confidence levels have soared.

Twitter: It’s not just for the birds anymore.

I often wish I had more opportunities to communicate effectively with my students, their parents, and the community. I feel – and studies demonstrate – that this communication is imperative to student success.

BYOT_HS2Outside of my classroom, I use my school Twitter for homework reminders, learning extensions, academic sources, newsletters to parents, and professional development. My professional library of resources is interminably expanding, and – to be completely honest – my teaching has changed completely through suggestions by fellow educators (strangers!) from around the world.

The potential for academic growth is infinite. In fact, author Robert Theobald wrote, “In the future, we shall measure our lives by our own growth and our ability to help others grow.” As a teacher, it is my job – and passion – to facilitate and participate in this growth. The choice to incorporate BYOT into my classroom permits me to learn and extend curriculum with and for my students, and I know I am encouraging a positive opportunity for student success and growth in the process.  Community communication facilitates student success, even in 140 characters or less.

Photo Credits – George Ramirez

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Spotlight on BYOT Teacher – Tracey Abercrombie

A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is in its fifth year of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district.  I have been so impressed with the dedication of our teachers to transform their classrooms with BYOT!  In this series of posts, I am sharing some of their experiences from different grade levels in their own words.

Guest Post by Tracey Abercrombie @TraceyAbercromb
Fifth Grade Teacher – Coal Mountain Elementary School

One Teacher’s Journey

I always wanted to be THAT teacher, the one that actually caused a child to walk away with more than he came in with.  I wanted to do more than just present material and hope for the best.  I like to think. I want my students to enjoy it too.  In my 18 years, I thought I did this well.  Except, from time to time I would notice certain students struggle to pay attention or periodically lose focus.  I always worked to keep those kids engaged.   A.D.D., Special Education, gifted, A.D.H.D, and painfully shy.  Those kids were my challenge-daily.  The million dollar question was, HOW? How could I keep these students engaged at a high level?  Sometimes we would spend entire lessons on a knowledge level activity, like vocabulary. How could I bring lower students up, while making sure I push my gifted students to new heights?

Times are changing.  Now, not only do I still have the same types of learners; that hasn’t changed.  But, the distractions have.  Kids seem to have more distractions than ever.  Social media, smart phones, texting…As teachers, we have two choices. Embrace the distractions or fight them.  Our county decided to embrace the only thing that seemed to be holding ALL kids’ attention.  If these devices could hold the focus of any type of learner, why would we fight it? Why not learn to use this for good?

Project-CreationI was petrified.  A year ago I didn’t know how to use any of these devices.  But, my students did. That’s all that mattered. My students couldn’t wait for the opportunity to use their device in class.  I saw something in their eyes that told me I could do this.  We tried one website together and were amazed at how it joined my computer with theirs, while showing it on the board.  My mind went wild with ways I could begin using just this website to make our content come alive.  Then, we tried another website.  Before long, the kids were telling me about great apps they could use to produce the same things we were already doing.  My classroom had evolved from direct instruction with me leading every angle to a fresh, new student centered place my kids wanted to be. The answer to my never-ending question of “how” to reach every learner was unfolding right before my eyes.   I was changing…one website and one app at a time. I felt like a kid again and began to really enjoy my content.  I watched every single child engage.  The playing field was leveled for every learner.  The A.D.D child, the special education, the gifted, and yes, even the painfully shy was freed to speak, even if only through texting.  I was quickly learning that my job was no longer to be the giver of information, but to help students use the information at their fingertips to discover, to analyze, to create and to problem solve.

Embracing BYOT is helping me to reach ALL learners, where they are, not just the easy students.  It’s a tool.  A tool meant to add to what we are already doing, not to replace it.  I’ve learned to keep the art projects, and allow students the choice of how they create their final product. Yes, some kids still choose markers and poster board, and that’s okay. 🙂  BYOT provides immediate differentiation.  It encourages collaboration, while building community and fostering real growth.  I honestly believe that my journey is helping me to become “THAT” teacher…the one I have always wanted to be.

See more from Tracey on NBC News At One School District, the Motto is BYOT – Bring Your Own Technology.

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Issues of Equity in BYOT

When I discuss the implementation of BYOT in classrooms, I am often questioned about the issue of equity. Is it fair that every student doesn’t have the same device? What do you do about the students who don’t have devices? There is no easy answer to the equity question; however, I have made several observations about equity when BYOT is in practice.

  1. We do have school technology resources in my district – four desktop computers in every classroom and access to laptop computers. The students without their own devices now have even greater access to school-owned technology since students are bringing their own technology devices to school because of our BYOT initiative.  When I walked through classrooms before the implementation of BYOT, the desktop computers were often unused because the teachers directed so much of the one-size-fits-all instruction.  Now, teachers are differentiating instruction, partly because of the different devices.
  2. I can’t predetermine which students will have their own technology tools. Many parents find a way to provide for their children.  If teachers have high expectations for how technology will be used in their classrooms and empower students to use their technology tools as needed, students begin bringing their devices more consistently.  It isn’t equitable to assume that students won’t have devices or to keep students who do have devices from using them.
  3. Another issue related to equity is that some teachers want to qualify the types of devices that the students should bring to school – thereby determining that some devices are “better” or “more effective” than others. I think that the students should bring whatever devices they have and then we will figure out together how to use them for instruction. Having the variety of devices can lead to greater opportunities for differentiation and collaboration as students work together to solve problems and develop new solutions.

Strategies for Achieving Equity

  1. Survey the parents and students to determine what types of technology resources they have available and reassure parents that every child will still have access to the school’s resources.  Parents are also more likely to send devices to school when they understand the transformational goals of BYOT.
  2. Design open-ended lessons that encourage collaboration and open access to school technology resources.  Our main goal of BYOT is to help students to become more productive in school rather than just being consumers of information.  When students are encouraged to utilize their own devices and school technology, they often congregate in “BYOT Huddles” because they are eager to share what they are learning and creating with others.
  3. Re-purpose older technology devices for new uses. We have younger students that receive hand-me-down devices from older brothers and sisters, as they upgrade to new technology.  Some students also bring slightly cracked iPhones to school that no longer have a data plan, but they work great as iPod Touches on our wifi network.
  4. Work with the  community to brainstorm ways to achieve greater equity.  It may be that a business partner can offer access to resources.  One great side effect of our BYOT initiative is the dialogue that has occurred among schools and community members and has caused us to develop a BYOT Equity Task Force to tackle the issue of equity in our district.
  5. Begin your BYOT initiative! How can you even determine what the needs truly are until you begin?  One of the early “A-HA” moments of our BYOT Equity Task Force was when we realized that most of our secondary students do have devices in their pockets, but the real access issue was the device they go home to at the end of the day.  Some students may still only have that device in their pockets, but they don’t have a home computer with broadband access for more complicated assignments.  Now that we have identified that issue, we are developing some plans for addressing it.

Don’t let the issue of equity stop you from implementing BYOT in your districts.  It is usually an excuse to keep from embracing new teaching strategies and transforming instruction.

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