Monday, November 25, 2013

Connecting with Tech

A sea of eager faces stare back at me, pens poised in anticipation. Then, from the back of the room a hand shoots up and a call echoes forth, "Will I need to include this in my paper?" As a tenth grade English teacher in a large suburban school, I struggle with encouraging my students to write authentically, to bring their connections, their voice into their written work. But when students write for real audiences, they begin to see themselves as writers. Writing for a real audience gives students a sense of purpose for their writing. By ensuring that our students have opportunities to have their writing read by real readers, we can grow student writing skills and their engagement in the writing process.
"Readers make writing deliciously worthwhile," states author and teacher Mem Fox. When students have an authentic audience and purpose for their writing endeavors, they grow as thinkers and as writers. Technology can help emerging student writers publish beyond the walls of our classrooms.
Last Tuesday, students in my tenth grade English classes used Skype to connect with a variety of experts in the publishing field. My tenth grade English classes have been working on bringing a writing piece from our Writer’s Notebook to publishable quality which we then submitted to a variety of places for publication late last week. But before submitting for publication, students in my second block course Skyped with the co-creator and Senior Editor at Teen Ink, Ms. Stephanie Meyer, who shared with students how pieces are selected for publication on both Teen Ink’s online site as well as in their monthly print magazine. Then, students in my third block Skyped with the Production Manager of the Jenkins Publishing Group, Ms. Leah Nicholson, in order to learn more about how books reach publication.  And at the close of the day, my fourth block class used Skype to connect with Ms. Christine Weiser, the Executive Director of Philadelphia Stories who shared fantastic advice for revising both short stories and poetry, as well as details about what her editorial board looks for in the pieces that are submitted. Students had the opportunity to hear from and ask questions of someone in the publishing field before submitting their own work for publication this week. What fantastic real world writing connections!

Later in the week, we again had an opportunity to connect with those outside of our classroom using Skype. I am not an expert on psychology, but I know a few people who are. So when my tenth grade honors students started to learn about psychoanalytic literary criticism, I decided to invite those experts into my classroom.  And through the use of technology, I was bring those real world connections into our classroom virtually.  Last Thursday my students had an opportunity to Skype with local psychoanalyst, Dr. Robin Ward, who spoke with students about Freud’s theory of the divided self and shared a case example of repression to illustrate some of Freud’s concepts.  Students will be using this literary approach, among others, as they begin their student of Khaled Hoessini’s The Kite Runner in the coming days.

And this is why I am such a firm believer in using technology in the classroom.  When used well, technology allows us to open up our classroom doors to the world outside, to explore real world learning, and to in turn, learn from experts in the field.  Learning becomes purposefully, contextualized, and meaningful. Technology helps us connect our students with their world.
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