Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Red Pencils > Technology

So much for expensive technology to improve teaching and learning...

My students are currently writing five paragraph essays about European exploration and the arguments presented in Guns, Germs and Steel.  They aren't writing using google docs, they aren't blogging about their thoughts and they aren't adding their paper to a class wiki.  We are focusing on the writing process, the structure of the essay, writing a clear thesis statement and supporting the argument throughout the paper.

When the students arrived in my class today, I handed everyone a red colored pencil.  They took out their notes, writing assignment and their rough drafts.  Then, I had everyone draw a red line under the last sentence that they completed on their rough drafts.  In the margin, the wrote the time (11:50).  I told everyone that we would stop again in 15 minutes to check their progress, draw another red line and note the time (12:05).

I'm sure this technique has been used before by an extremely creative and intelligent English teacher, but I haven't used the technique before.  To my surprise, the volume level was extremely low, students were only talking to each other about the assignment, and the amount of down time was extremely low.

At 12:05 another red line was drawn, the next mark would come at 12:20...the next 15 minutes flew by and I was amazed as I watched students write, and write, and write.  12:20 came, another red line was drawn and students knew that at 12:35 the last red line would be drawn for the day.

At the end of class I took an informal poll to see what my students thought about the new technique and if it allowed, challenged or motivated them to write more in class.  Everyone raised their hand.

I do my best to use technology in my classroom, but it was just, if not more rewarding to watch students write more than I have ever seen in a class period.

Red colored pencils are quite a tool.

Extra Note: The 15 minute choice wasn't arbitrary.  In a school wide PD a few years back about brain based teaching and learning, we were exposed to the idea that the teenage brain can only focus on one particular task for as many minutes as said teenager is old.  Therefore, my 9th graders being 14-15 years old should (hypothetically & according to Marcia Tate) be able to focus for about 15 minutes at a time.

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