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Kids Are Still Kids: Staying Connected to Students Without Technology

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Recently, I was doing a residency in a New England middle school that has one-to-one computing in grades seven and eight. I was going to spend the day in seventh-grade classes modeling teaching strategies in a one-to-one setting and providing some of what I call professional development for kids. I was setting up my projector and speakers in the room I was going to be based in when the announcements came on, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited, and all the students were called to a class meeting by the teacher.

Conducting a School X Ray

I was invited to join the circle of chairs, and, thinking it would be a good chance to get to know the lay of the land, I gladly joined their circle. In one of the games they played, Good Morning, students took turns leaving their chairs and moving in front of a classmate, extending a hand and saying, "Good morning," and then asking, "What's the news?" The person asked would share some news with the class before standing and repeating the process. The game continued until every member of the class had been greeted by name and listened to.

Along with the rest of the class, I waited out a few awkward pauses as some of the thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds struggled to find the right words while appearing to be studying the floor, listened to a lot of fairly silly pieces of news told with self-conscious smiles, and even witnessed a few kids eagerly seizing the stage to strut their verbal stuff. Throughout it all I was aware that these kids, though fortunate to be students in a one-to-one school and to have a wonderful homeroom teacher with a sense of humor and clear control of her classroom's culture as well as her curriculum, were still just kids.

And just tonight I heard children's-book author Beverly Cleary interviewed on the eve of her ninetieth birthday. Near the end of the interview, she was asked whether she thought kids would still be reading about her characters Beezus, Henry, and Ramona in fifty years. "Oh, yes," Cleary replied without hesitation. "You see," she went on, "I don't think children change all that much. It is the world that has changed and will change, not the children. They still want much the same things they wanted when I was young."

If Cleary were to be a teacher in a one-to-one classroom, I bet her class would start the day with a class meeting and every child would speak and would be heard. And then, well connected as a community, they would go about their business of school and have all sorts of learning adventures.

Do you connect with every child every day? And, no, I don't mean as in wireless connection -- I mean through eyes and words! I guess what I mean to say here is that if you are in a well-connected, well-wired classroom, you had better be well connected to your kids, too!

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Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

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Brian Morris's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Our middle school does something similar called meet and greet during a morning period called connections. I agree with the idea of connecting with the students but the key is to be authentic. It is easy to fall into the trap of going through the motions without purpose. I see may students who simply go through the meet and greet process as if it is just another thing they must comply with. At the same time there are students who want and need that morning connection. The point is to remember there are many ways for teachers to connect with students and students to connect with other students and we should not get caught up in the process.

Linda St. Laurent's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great story with a powerful message.

I really believe that (especially with middle school students) you need to keep in mind how important modelling behaviors are for their growth. Teaching is not just about the subject area. It also means helping each student to be well rounded contributing members of their community. Our students have so much to say and share. If we (as educators) take the time to listen, we will find additional ways to steer them in the directions they need to be heading.

Vicki Lubkeman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi. I'm a fourth grade teacher in a DC public school. How fortunate are children who can start their day by talking with each other! They learn to become interested in, concerned about, and CURIOUS about the lives of others. They ask questions that lead to ongoing conversations. This kind of activity teaches our children to shed their self-centeredness... The effects of this kind of activity are endless... and amazingly positive. Our children develop socially and academically. No more bullying... No more name-calling... No more fighting... And IF these issues arise, children deal with them seriously and thoughtfully and, oftentimes, independently of an adult. All this because they talk with each other everyday.

Dawn's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a Literacy teacher for a group of 7 second graders. I only have them for an hour and a half each day, but we start several periods a week (always Monday and often Friday) sharing something about our lives. Each person gets a chance to share something, including me, and I use the opportunity to make connections, introduce new topics, and learn more about my "kiddos". I wouldn't give up this time for anything.

Jim Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

In reading Brian's cautionary note about "getting caught up in the process" rather than being certain that we "authentically" meet the very real needs of all kids, I want to add that the actual "sitting together" at the start of this day was one of the most important parts of the story. Like any social endeavor, the process pieces were critical. In the professional adult world, I routinely wait to start meetings that range from primarily informational to potentially confrontational until all participants are "at the table," or, "all in the circle." In doing so I make sure that there are no "back rows" or "back benches" to the critical conversation and ultimately the decisions that these meetings are going to produce. And in the end, it is the skill of the teacher as facilitator, educator, and co-learner that makes all the difference!

Daisuke's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I thought the idea of the circle of chairs was great. It will help bring a classroom together and students might talk to other students who they may not usually talk to. It may also give a student confidence to talk in front of many people which may lead to students becoming more involved in a classroom. It also gives teachers a chance to know a little bit about each student everyday and understand more about each student.

LillyMarge's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As a Mentor Administrator, I appreciate this article. It is our goal that every child will have at least one person to greet them, to look them in the eyes and listen. Ms. Cleary is right. All children have needed and do need this!

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