Saturday, April 22, 2006

Approaches to Learning: Managing School Work over the Spring Break

Is Spring Break a "break" from the norm? One father put his 12-year old son on a flight to Munich, another parent packed bags and took her daughter on a car-trip to North Carolina, and another family, after two nights of Passover dinners, caught a flight to Montreal. We teachers gave all of our students various assignments, some small, some large. What do the children (and their families) make of this time? How is it managed? What do we know? As educators, we are trying to keep the momentum of what we started in class going over a long period of time. Families have varying agendas, some cherish having the extended time with their children and plan trips, some have religious obligations and others carry on as they normally do by going to work and need to leave their children home. How do all these different agendas work out? How are we managing? Teachers? Students? Parents?

The day before spring break I met with a small group of 7th graders for our daily 37.5 minute tutoring session. My goal was for the students to develop a plan for managing their homework over the extended 11-day vacation and as a consequence to take ownership of their work and time.

When they entered, each routinely took out his/her agenda books (hate to tell you how long it took for that to become routine). We went over the assignments and each compared notes on what was expected from each teacher. I proceeded to draw a table on the board that represented the two-week period that the vacation spanned. On the table the students found colored markers, rulers, and 11" x 17" paper for making their own time-management planners. I instructed them to first plug in all the family obligations they knew about and then to map out when they would be working on their school assignment. I recommended using pencil because they might have to make modifications as the week progressed.

I observed as K.P. as he made a calendar in the center of his paper, quickly filled in family obligations and trips, then plugged in his various assignments. He finished the work so quickly I wasn’t sure how much thought he gave to his choices. When I asked him about how he would do a project when he was traveling, he explained that it would be no problem because he scheduled his Spanish project work for when he was with one of his relatives who is fluent in Spanish. Observing F.L., I was less then enthralled at first. She was making this task an arts 'n crafts project. While K.P. completed his calendar she was meticulously filling in the lettering for the title of her calendar and headings for her columns using alternately purple and lime green markers. Ultimately, she completed here calendar with consideration of all her assignments. The puzzler was T.K. She had made a table for her calendar and stared at it for a long while before adding a big block letter, one for each day startng with Sunday and ending on Saturday: M-Y-S-P-A-C-E. When I asked here about any family plans, she was uncertain about what was coming up. Clearly, she saw the upcoming break as time for hanging out in the ever popular myspace.com. Is this all my students know of Web 2.0 technologies?

What do I make of this? I wonder about my students and Web 2.0 technologies. I worry about what they are up to in myspace. I wonder about how Web 2.0 technologies will change my teaching, change my students, change my workload. I wonder how my colleagues are taking to the shift in the use of the Internet.

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