Sunday, January 04, 2009

Pondering New Years Resolutions

New Years Day resolutions are all around us. One of my resolutions is spend more time writing about the educational issues I've been thinking so much about lately – starting with more regular post to Infinite Thinking Machines. But while I'm making my resolution, others are boasting that their resolution is “no resolution” --claiming most resolutions are lofty goals that are never met.

I sat back and asked myself, “what's my stand on resolutions as I enter 2009?”. Am I feeling hopeful or discouraged when I think about “resolutions”? In thinking about this I went back and read my first New Years post on Infinite Thinking Machine (January 2007) and reflected on the progress that came from my resolve. What progress have I made? Do I feel both hopeful and discouraged?

Perhaps the best place to start meeting my resolution to “write more” is with a series of posts that examines my 2007 resolution, why I feel hopeful about, and what I plan to do about the areas I'm discouraged about.

My 2007 resolution focused on digital equity and included 5 areas where I planned to make a difference in making sure “no child was left behind in a digital age”. This week I'm going to reflect on the first of the 5 areas I pledged to focus on in my digital equity resolution, with thoughts on the other 5 areas in upcoming posts.

1. I resolved to update my collection of keyboarding resources and promote keyboarding skills in ALL students.

As I watch the fifth grade teachers bring their students into the computer lab this year, I noticed that many students are writing more freely and quickly filling screens full of text during their visits-- thinking less about finding the “z” and more about the story they're writing. A fifth grade girl called me over to her computer, during her first visit to the computer lab. I thought she needed help; she pointed to a paragraph on the screen and said proudly “I typed this all without looking”. It made me hopeful that my commitment to teaching the 3rd and 4th grade teachers HOW to teach keyboarding was making a difference.

But I also saw students still struggling to find the keys and barely finish a paragraph during that same visit. After a little research I found that many of these students had completed less than half of their “Type to Learn” lessons; I found that many of these students had been pulled out for math or literacy intervention during the keyboarding time. It made me discouraged that we had not provided these students with the same tools for success as their peers. Not only do they lack the skill to complete the “quantity” of work expected for their grade levels (a standard that increases as their peers continue to produce longer and longer writing pieces) but they are deprived the opportunity to focus on improving their writing process by having to focus on finding letters on a keyboard instead of the flow of the writing.

I heard an ed tech leader this year say that we should stop wasting time teaching kids and that this skill will come naturally as we give them increased access. I don't disagree that increased access will help; but Michael Phelps didn't win 8 gold medals by having access to a swimming pool. My old typing mentor use to say “Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect”. I'm going to continue to mentor our new generation of elementary teachers in the technique of teaching keyboarding – so that no child gets left behind in an increasingly digital world because they can't keyboard (especially the kids who are being pulled out for different intervention – they need every advantage they can to close the gap).

Elementary teachers! -- One of the most powerful things you can do is to model and to attribute importance to hands on the keyboard and correct techniques as they use computers in your classroom. Find time for students to practice and build keyboarding skill. Reward proper technique with praise, certificates of completion or other incentives for knowing the alphabet without looking. I try to update this wiki on strategies that work for learning to type including links to free keyboarding software that you can send home with students or to this very effective KeyGuide for learning to type.

As I think of what else I can do to grow in this area in 2009, I resolve to add the ability to effectively use voice recognition technology in 2009 so as to better assist students with special needs.

In the next few post, I'll reflect on the progress and the work still to do in the remaining parts of my 2007 resolution -- “making sure “no child was left behind in a digital age”

#1. I resolved to update my collection of keyboarding resources and promote keyboarding skills in ALL students.

#2. I resolved to know which students lack access to digital tools at home.

#3. I resolve to promote sensitivivity to lack of or slow Internet Access.

#4. I resolve to revive the TechSavy Girls program and create new opportunities for girls to build skills and confidence in their use of technology.

#5. I resolve to make Web-based and Open Source Software available to students to increase home access to digital tool.