Most recently, I've begun reading Authentic Learning in the Digital Age; Engaging Students Through Inquiry by Larissa Pahamov.
That the first chapter already deals authentically with some of the hurdles typically faced by classroom teachers -- many of us whom are digital immigrants struggling in a complex and rapidly evolving culture -- is a testament to the fact that this book was written by a woman who is herself a classroom teacher. She begins to describe her journey: "The first year I worked at [school name], I made my students print our their essays so that I could comment on them by hand. The second year, I did the same thing. The third year, I finally realised there were a dozen ways I could facilitate that process online, and I haven't looked back". (page 9)
She also notes that systemic supports must be provided in order for this new model of teaching/learning to truly succeed, and she recognizes that not all teachers work in ideal conditions for this to happen.
Pahamov begins by highlighting the "embrace/reject" dichotomy that all too often marks our foray into digitizing our classrooms: Teachers tend to either "hop on the bandwagon with each new shiny tool, or they proclaim technology a 'distraction', and ban it from their classrooms entirely." (pg. 3)
Pahamove discusses in some detail the transformative effects of technology: Shifting the emphasis from content to skills, allowing for constant engagement (which really redefines what "school" could look like!), democratising learning (the teacher is no longer the gatekeeper of all relevant "knowledge"), connecting to the real world, both within one's community and well beyond, and of course, simplifying the back-end work (why are we still producing and selling paper agendas to students??!!) She then describes her school's adopted framework for learning.
Five Core Values of Digital Inquiry
Recognizing the possibility for surveillance of studentsand other misuses of digital technology, Pahamov points to the importance of working together with students to set the learning climate. She also outlines five core values her school has adopted: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation and Reflection.
The remainder of the book is organized into each of these five core values, with each chapter focusing in more depth on one of them, and including practical classroom and school-wide suggestions, as well as "workarounds". The chapters embrace both teacher and student voice.
Adaptations for Middle School
Although this book is written about digital inquiry in a secondary school context, the authenticity with which the information is shared makes me want to keep reading. I am looking forward to the next five chapters, and to thinking about how I can adapt the work of Larissa Pahamov and her colleagues into the middle school setting where I currently work.