Cheryl Oakes‘ post, “When was the last time you watched someone teach a digital learner?” tells the story of my 9 year old at the ACTEM conference two weeks ago in Maine, as she learned how to use the program Animation-ish. The program is described as:

…an easy-to-use animation software program that inspires creativity and enables children to “show what they know.”

Wow I love that product description! How can you go wrong with a software tool which meets those two critical learning objectives?

In reflecting on what she observed as Sarah learned to use Animation-ish, Cheryl wrote:

Watching Sarah, I was reminded of looking at this moment through the eyes of a digital learner. How shall we teach differently for our different learners?

Sarah watched while Deb demonstrated. There were no words exchanged as Sarah drank this all in with her eyes. I watched as she observed for a few minutes while Deb modeled, then I saw her use her skills and create her own story. Lori picked out a couple of the important transitions and demonstrated them to Sarah. Sarah instantly transformed the the software and the experience into her own creation. She did not need the steps laid out for her, she did not need a worksheet to follow along, she viewed a model, created an attempt, erased, started again, and within 15 minutes she created her own story. There was no tentativeness, only trial and error, an attempt at an idea, an assessment, another attempt and then a brief reflection and satisfaction.

It is great to hear about this experience not only through Sarah’s eyes, since she told me a little about this experience after it happened, but also through Cheryl’s eyes after she observed this learning interaction. You can’t tell in this 21 second video that Sarah was excited to show off her work, can you?!

If we’re truly looking for ways to support creativity in our schools, I think there are a few things we can learn from Sarah, Deb, and Cheryl and their experiences at ACTEM.

Kids need digital tools which support creative expression.

Kids need encouragement and space to make choices in expressing themselves creatively.

Kids need opportunities to learn how to make their own creative products by observing other learners creating and sharing. A step-by-step manual and lesson plan may not be needed at all. Time to observe, listen, and be mentored is what’s essential.

Kids need opportunities to share and celebrate their creations with others.

Thanks to Deb Barrows for taking the time to teach Sarah about Animation-ish at ACTEM, and to Cheryl for engaging as a reflective observer as well as participant in this process as well. 🙂

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5 Responses to Reflections after watching an engaged digital learner

  1. Just a great example of how we can use technology to ENHANCE instruction. I often get concerned when technology is used for technology’s sake, instead of for legitimate high-quality, higher-order thinking teaching and learning. Powerful authoring tools that develop student voice and allow them to be creative producers are so critical. I often think that the educational enterprise as a whole stifles creativity. What we really need are opportunities for students to make choices that allow that creativity to manifest and develop in each one of them. It doesn’t matter if it be with a technology tool or some non-technology-based learning technique – developing the creative potential in our children is critical to making them productive, innovative members of society. See my philosophy on this at:

  2. Mrs. Gannon says:

    This is an idea that has really changed my practice over the last few years. Back in the dark ages when I first started teaching I would initially make up step by step instructions with screen captures and take time “learning” the software because this is how I had taught adults. After awhile I realized I was getting in my students way and annoying them in the process. Now I model, and give them a short assignment to “play” with the software, and then sit back as they make it their own and use it.

  3. Russ Goerend says:

    Where do you see the engagement, Wesley? I’m still trying to figure out how you define “engagement,” so if you point it out in this piece, it would help. I’m interested because it just seems odd to me that a few days ago you railed against IWBs and engagement, now here we are with an IWB and engagement. So what makes this different?

  4. Wesley Fryer says:

    Russ: Good questions, and I may not be able to do them justice in a short comment, but I’ll give it a try and work on writing more in a later post.

    Engagement, to me, has to do with learning tasks. Often, engagement involves the creative act. I think the 2001 revision of Bloom’s taxonomy which places “creating” at the top is an important frame when discussing engagement. In this video specifically, I say Sarah is “engaged” because she was involved in creating something. Granted, what she created here was not tied to the formal curriculum and did not reflect deep learning, synthesis and evaluation of different ideas, etc. She was simply learning how to create a message using an interactive, animated tool. Her engagement could have been much deeper (as could her thinking) if the questions she chose or was asked to address were different: if her learning task changed.

    The act of creating is essential to engagement, I think. I’ve written on the topic of how we often see people confuse “enthralling” learners with “engaging” learners. I created a video in 2007 titled, “Strive to Engage Not Enthrall,” for which I prepared a script and posted as an audio-only podcast, as a video podcast, on TeacherTube and on YouTube. All those links are available here.

    When I “rail” against IWBs, as you mentioned, I am usually making the point that if we just use IWBs as overhead projectors to replicate traditional teacher-directed instruction, then we are not leveraging the interactive potential of these tools and we’re probably wasting our money as taxpayers. I try to couch these criticisms, however, with the acknowledgement that getting an LCD projector with an IWB in a classroom which has previously NOT had a good way to display digital content for students can definitely be a big step forward for the teacher’s capability to integrate technology and digital curriculum into the learning experience for students. Brian Crosby’s recent post, “To IWB, Or Not IWB? That Is The Question,” highlights these issues quite well. I’m of the view that in grades 3 and above, we should be investing in netbooks for students and not IWBs. We need to make learning engaging by providing opportunities for learning which are authentically interactive. This does not mean we won’t lecture at times, of course there is a time and a place for that, but when possible it makes sense to share lectures via video and with media rather than in face-to-face, non-interactive settings.

    Do these answers help? Thanks for challenging my thinking.

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