The Art of Transformation by Bringing Students Into the Conversation
Some may argue that technology has taken away the personal connection between members in society—most importantly in the youngest generation, which seems bound to all things digital. Yet, there are educators like Erica Cho, a sixth grade English teacher at Tenakill Middle School in Closter, New Jersey, who pose an alternative theory—that technology not only enhances communication, but allows for growth to happen and revelations to occur.
To Erica, the true meaning of transformation lies in one simple statement: "Interact with the world and one will learn the secrets of acceptance and accomplishment." By incorporating technological into the classroom, such as Schoology, Erica believes the increased interactive collaboration can make learning meaningful, where "ideas are not only heard, but ultimately integrated in their own way into everyone’s experience."
Creating Honest, Open Dialogues for Learning
Besides the conventional uses for Schoology, Erica sees the program as a conductor for honest, open dialogue with and between students about the actual subjects. Most of the comments posted in the blogs or discussions require that students respond to each other’s ideas—some pose questions or even connections.
As Erica explains, "The type and level of conversations naturally deepen, and over time the students (become) impressed with the transformation or maturity of their exchanges."
The forums have now become a safe haven for honest opinions because Erica promotes honesty in the discussions. She explains, "I have come to appreciate the moderator options for the discussion and blog posts to curb harassment or negative judgment. Bloggers feel safe and confident that their ideas are taken seriously."
This open dialogue not only allows the students to transform and mature, but also Erica herself. "My ideas regarding the assignment also change as I read my students’ comments,” she explains, “and there is a deep satisfaction when I come across a perspective that even I had not considered."
Erica's Tips for Hosting Great Discussions and Encouraging Student Engagement
When asked if she has any tips for the community on enhancing discussions and igniting student engagement, Erica had this to say:
"While it may seem daunting to familiarize yourself with all of the features within Schoology, maintaining a clear mindset as well as a focused teaching objective will help keep your online planning life simple. Think of all the essential questions that correspond with the units you plan and simply add them onto a discussion board for student to respond to. The more open-ended these questions are, the more varied the responses will be.
"Take this a step further by having students ask their peers to comment, add on, or even challenge the initial response. This type of dialogue may resemble a silent, online Socratic Seminar in which students react and connect to ideas rather than restate and summarize them."
"The visual features Schoology offers are definitely appealing and cool to use. I highly suggest inserting images, podcasts, and video into the tests you create. Students find the material that is being assessed engaging, practical, and fun. Personally, I love karaoke and will always try to find music videos that contain a specific learning point and add them to a question."
"Polls are also an awesome way to guide your teaching. Although Google Forms do offer a survey feature, the poll feature on Schoology is more direct and requires half the time to create and answer. When contemplating the direction of a teaching unit, I quickly create a poll for the students to answer and allow their responses to steer what I will teach next. My students appreciate that their ideas shape the landscape of their learning experiences and they become more active participants in class."
Tapping Into Her Inner Artist
The creativity doesn't stop there. Erica states that generating material and assessments through Schoology allows her to "tap into (her) inner artist" by allowing her to insert videos, multiple texts, and images into her assignments or tests.
“The ability to create the tests in a way that aligns with the standardized tests has really prepared my students to be comfortable and confident with them,” she explains. “It has revolutionized the manner in which we prepare for these exams.”
Furthermore, providing immediate and vital feedback gives students the responsibility to improve their own learning, transforming them into active learners.
"Schoology has given us the forum in which we are active participants rather than simple spectators, and my hope for (my students) is that they continue to live life in this manner." For Erica Cho, gradual transformation that yields opportunities for new perspectives is what learning is all about.
Sixth Grade Language Arts Teacher
Tenakill Middle School
Closter, New Jersey
Educator of the Year Finalist
Written by Cyndi Amaya
The Art of Schoology: Tell Us Your Story
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