Sunday, November 22, 2009

Let’s Stop Making Students Power Down at School

Unlike parents or teachers at their age, 21st century students are fortunate to have what Marco Torres refers to as "the global stage" which describes the worldwide publishing potential now offered by the Internet. Yet, for the most part students are performing on this stage completely devoid of teacher or adult influence. It is unfortunate that outside of school students operate in a world where they are interacting, publishing, and producing for thousands, yet as they enter the school building, they have to power down and produce work usually for an audience of one.

The self-proclaimed, almighty teacher.

I remember a story Alan November shared with me about a student he met who struggled with this. She felt her teacher was always wasting her time with unimportant writing assignments and reports that she cared nothing about. Her teacher never even bothered to learn what she actually did care about. The student was much more interested in the writing she was doing on FanFiction where she had discovered the world's largest archive and forum where fanfic writers and readers around the globe gather to share their passion. This student literally had thousands of fans around the world reading and responding to her stories. She had no interest and didn't care to make time to prepare work for the teacher who didn’t have interest or seem to care to take the time to learn to allow her students to express themselves in areas of passion and interest.

When school started this Fall, I was impressed with 9-year old Sarah’s two-minute recorded response to President Obama’s speech, posted to YouTube. She had 187,632 views, 1600 comments, and a 4 star rating. Talk about authentic assessment, authentic audience, and real learning.

Today there was another video I saw a little closer to home that I was extremely impressed with. It is this video which my boyfriend’s daughter created.

It has received more than 15,000 hits in a day! His 13-year old was excited to discover that her voice was heard and her message was shared with thousands of others who rated her work an impressive 4 stars and left relevant and meaningful comments. She also was excited to read the comments from other educators about the video that I posted on my Facebook wall which included:
  • Wow that's pretty amazing! She's got mad iMovie skillz yo! What grade is she in?
  • Your daughter is a great teacher for both teachers and students. Rather than taking classes, you should see if she could teach a class at her high school. All the teachers can be her students.
  • The immediacy of technology displayed in its best form.
  • Wow! Outstanding work! I've shared her work with our media club students - her work is sure to inspire our members! Thanks.
  • I'm impressed too! She did a great job in capturing not only the events of the day but the sentiment also. Great storyline and organization. OMG thank goodness I wasn't at the mall that day!

Barry (the video producer's dad) BBMed me saying, his daughter was smiling ear to ear and wanted to know, “What’s so good about my video?” Huh, would you look at that! A student requesting authentic assessment feedback from the educators that were impressed by her. There should be more conversations like these in schools for sure. When I asked her dad how often his daughter has these opportunities at school, he said, “as far as I know she doesn’t have such opportunities.” To answer her question here are a few things that are so good about the video. I’m sure I and others will come up with more.

-She learned how to use the software on her own. She didn’t need to take a movie making class. She just needed a subject that inspired her to learn how to make a movie.
-She is exploring a topic she is passionate about and her interest shines through.
-She teaches her peers through her comments how to employ movie making techniques.
-She tells a clear and focused story with a message.
-She employs mart and appropriate use of graphics and subtitles.
-She has a great eye for capturing engaging video and photography.
-She incorporates a range of important story elements from real-time tweets, to audience reaction, to appropriate background music and commentary.
-She provides smart on target transitions.
-She lays out a clear sequence, flow, and story line.
-She is an on the street journalist with a story to tell and thousands of people who want to watch that story.

As an educator of innovative educators, I urge you to remember these students, their voices, their passions and don’t force students to power down when they come to school. Encourage and embrace their excitement, their passions, their enthusiasm, their need for socializing and authenticity. Help make school a place your students want to be, discover, grow, learn and share.


  1. Lisa, would it be possible for Alli (or is it Emily?) to Skype with our media club after school sometime? I'd love to have her explain how she taught herself iMovie and describe the process of making the movie. It's fantastic! Please let me know! -kj-

  2. Kevin, that would be great. I'm inviting her and her dad to comment on this post in general and to you in particular. I know other educators like Susan Ettenheim who might also want to Skype with her. Is it possible to capture a the Skype session to share with others?

  3. Do you believe the Web equals school, or is it better understood as a subcomponent of school? Is everything we want a k-12 student to learn available on the web? It seems to me we are in a time of flux, where no one really knows how much web integration is too much or too little. Certainly there are classes when the computer may never be powered up, and times during other classes that it should be powered down. Personally, I think what's more important than allowing students to use computers more often, is teaching students to use them more effectively.

  4. To clarify, I never mentioned the web in my post. I believe the web is an important medium to share and disseminate information. The point is not about the medium it is about helping students work be worthwhile and meaningful. Papers and worksheets handed to a teacher does not seem worthwhile, engaging, inspiring, or meaningful to most students. You ask is everything we want a student to learn available on the web? The web is just a medium for students to learn, connect, publish, and connect in ways never before possible. The web is a fantastic learning and publishing tool and plays a part in much learning, but learning takes place in a variety of ways. I would never ask the question how much integration is too much or too little. That’s like saying how much reading or writing is too much or too little. Outside of school technology is ubiquitous. I think the world inside school should match it. Allowing students to use technology allows them to communicate, create, produce, and connect in ways not possible without it. I don’t think the emphasis should be on teaching effective computer use any more than I think we should spend a lot of time on effective use of paper, pen, or page turning in a book. In this post you’ll notice that Alli (The 13-year-old video producer) never needed a teacher to teach her effective computer use. She had a message and figured out how to deliver it. The emphasis should be on teaching students to find their passion and authentic, meaningful, and appropriate ways to share, publish, connect, and discuss that about which they are passionate.

  5. to bring this a little closer to home, how can we plan to utilize sharing tools such as youtube, twitter, facebook, and various other social medias when they are blocked on the instructional DOE LANs? can i teach my kids to use these tools in school, in real time, without having to make a video of myself using social media at home, then tell them to try from the public library or home?

  6. @apple, thank you for your feedback. You ask great questions. In response to your question about blocked sites, I have a few ideas. My first idea is that there are progressive teachers, principals, superintendents, and systems that allow unblocking. They exist. The best schools and systems are those that give the power to block/unblock. Teachers and leaders may not be aware that there are ways to get websites unblocked and they should do their best to find out how to do this in their district. If a principal or superintendent wants a site unblocked they should be empowered to do so. I write about how to do this at the NYC DOE in two posts: and In districts where unblocking is not possible, I reflect upon a school where this was the case. At this school the principals and teachers worked at school to create and produce student work. The students were able to find ways to publish their work outside school. While this may not be ideal, outside school walls students are free to produce and publish and they usually won’t have a difficult time figuring out how to do so. Sadly, innovative educators, if necessary, can figure out ways to support students in doing the work at school even if they can’t publish or view it while they are there.

  7. While I respect your work and your views, you assume that all students come to technology with the same set of skills, interest and equal access. If I was a betting person, I would say your boyfriend's child is literate, self motivated, and does not struggle with academics or academic writing. In addition, she clearly has access to technology. In many of our schools, this is the not the case because students cannot read or write well and they certainly do not have access to technology outside of the school setting.

    In your most recent visit did the teachers involved have students thinking critically? Was technology used to foster critical-thinking? I also wonder whether or not the students work was published but the site that hosted it now costs money which the school does not have. There is also a presumption that all of the consent forms to publish student work were received. I know for my students I would love to publish their work. However, no permission slips, equals no publishing.

    What exactly do you mean by publishing if not on the web? Alan November suggested burning dvd's for families to watch student's work together. I would submit that this is a form of publishing. Do you know whether or not any of the students in your most recent school visit have copies of their output? If they do, isn't that publishing?

    I am aware, that in one of your other recent visits students were observed cutting and pasting text from articles into a PowerPoint presentation. Ironically you hold that school in high regard. I don't think that this use of technology fosters critical-thinking. The student's work may be published but is it really authentic?

    Finally, if you really are interested in helping the staff of the school you most recently visited in taking the next steps, I would highly suggest meeting face-to-face with them and offer specific feedback. The fact of the matter still remains if students do not make the grade on standardized exams, earn at least a ten credits a year, and make academic progress, the school will not remain open very long. Whether you like or not, educator's positions rely heavily on the data.

    I applaud your efforts in helping educators learn how to prepare students for the 21st Century and the global workforce.

  8. @Anonymous, as a Vegas girl, I can tell you some of your assumptions are not accurate. Like many, expression through video comes to her more easily than does written or spoken word. She is as self-motivated as any adolescent might be about a teen idol. Not so much when it comes to school work. Tech is a powerful tool for many of those for whom other forms of expression are more difficult. In fact a professional author I admire suffers from dyslexia. Technology is a powerful tool that enables her to make a living as an author despite this. I am aware of the access issue as well. I am based in Harlem. As I take the subways and busses around the neighborhood I am amazed at the number of people who have their Smartphones and laptops out and are talking about what he said/she said on Facebook. Technology iS more ubiquitous. School libraries have become internet cafes after hours. Some schools are connecting with businesses to provide opportunities for kids, and others are connecting with organizations like Computers for Youth to provide home access. When kids are exposed to, and find topics they are passionate about, they find ways to powerfully express themselves. Marco Torres speaks eloquently on this topic. He has students who find hot spots in East L.A. where they bring laptops they get permission to borrow so they can do work and tell stories about which they are passionate.

    You bring up many questions about money and costs of hosting content. What our digital native students know and I am trying to help educators understand is that most meaningful publishing is free. The #1 place for video publishing is free YouTube. TeacherTube is also free. Vimeo also provides powerful free capabilities. For writing, blogs are free too, as are web hosting sites. In fact I recently shared on my Facebook page free ways to publish online. One of the top publishing sites for kids, Fanfiction, is free as well.

    You mention consent forms. A message I’m hoping to convey is that kids aren’t waiting around for educators. They are producing, publishing and existing in these worlds with or without us. In the meantime, it would make sense to send home a permission slip. All schools and districts have them. An alternative that we teach is to support students in developing screen names and avatars so their identity is not revealed.

    You state that I hold a school in high regard for cutting and pasting text from articles into a PowerPoint. I’m not clear on what you are referring to, but I assure you that whichever school you are speaking of, it was something else they were doing that I held in high regard. You also recommend that if I am interested in helping the staff of the school I most recently visited in taking the next steps, I should meet face-to-face with them and offer specific feedback. I didn’t write about a visit to a school in this post, but in the schools in which I am involved, we have experienced and professional staff developers and partners who do just that.

    You ask what I mean by publishing if not on the web. I mean that when talking of publishing the focus isn’t the web. The web is a medium for reading, writing, audio, video, phone, etc. etc. Publishing can happen in a number of ways. Publishing a book on Lulu or Blurb makes work available digitally or as a printed book. A podcast is another form of publishing. So is a video. I define publishing in part as producing for an identified audience and thinking about who that audience might be beyond the small microcosm of school or family, but rather others with like interests and passions from which students can connect and learn.

    Regarding your comment about data being important, I agree. However, we need to remember why we are collecting that data. I love what Will Richardson says when he shares what he hopes for in the schools his kids attend. Like him, I hope educators believe that we are collecting the data to support students in “identifying what they love, what their strengths are, and then help them create their own paths to mastery of their passions.”


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