Thursday, February 28, 2008

Depth vs. Breadth: English and Technology

Lately, I've had two thought experiments running in my mind, and now they seem to have converged into one theme: depth vs. breadth. First, my life as a technology resource teacher has changed dramatically since the beginning of the second semester. The backstory is that this is our high school's first year with a 1:1 program for freshman, next year sophomore, and so on.

So first semester, there wasn't a lot of action for me, just a few classroom visits to set up blog accounts or help an early-adopter with an innovative project. Besides that, with my reduced teaching load, I had at least a couple hours a day to read and comment on blogs, explore their links and ideas, employ them in my own class, and keep up with my own blog. I felt like I was really in the pocket of the educational technology wave.

Now, my department is off and running, leading the school in the ways they're employing technology: blogs, wikis, moodle, Ning, Diigo, And my calendar no longer allows for that exploration time I described above. This is a really good thing! However, I find myself rushing around a lot, trying to fit it all in: exploration and implementation. And in my own class, I find myself less willing to give myself permission for new ideas to be messy and maybe even fail. Although just identifying this has allowed me to get back to being real with myself.

That's all just about the situation that has allowed me to extend my thinking to the question of breadth and depth in implementing technology in a school. What I mean is I could really get behind a schoolwide blogging initiative, and I could focus all my attention on figuring out how blogs can be educationally transformative in all kinds of ways. Or, is it good to keep pushing and pushing forward. Blogs are great in school, but there must be a bunch of other tools that are just as good and better.

It's easy to see that the answer is both. So I guess the question becomes how do you know when you've struck on something that you should keep around and build on?
Just needed to write it to think about it. I'm happy to surf it.

The second line of thinking is similar but has to do with text selection in freshman English. The first comparison is that every new thing for the past few year at least seems to have made sense to put into the freshman curriculum. Now, there's too much, and it's too disconnected. Each of us teachers pick from the menu something different, and leave out the rest. Or else, in the name of being a good soldier, we try to cram it all in. There's talk about a project-based common experience. And there's talk about the value of common reading. And there's talk about whether there are particular texts that freshman need to read. And again, all of it is really good, and it all should be included. So how do you pick the best of what's really great? In the end, I feel lucky that I'm in a place where I get to spend time considering such important questions.


Laura Davis said...

What a great post! I'm glad to read of your internal dilemma because so many teachers share it too. Nice reminder that it is ok to try something new and fail...that is so easy to forget sometimes.

Lindsea said...

Just yesterday, after assembly, I was talking to a freshman about a paper he has to do on the Catcher in the Rye. "What?" I said, "I did Catcher in Sophomore year!"

And then I quizzed him on what other books he did. The Odyssey. Check. Woman Warrior. Check. Midsummer. Check. and now introducing Catcher?? It just seems like way to many. I read the Odyssey first semester of freshman year, and then Woman Warrior and Midsummer's Night Dream the following semester. That seemed like a solid balance for a tiny freshman. I started English courses slow, and gradually worked my way up. Now taking Ideas in Western Literature, American Literature Year, and American Literature Honors, I'm reading Hemingway's short stories, Huck Fin, Notes from the Underground, and Waiting for Godot simultaneously. And it's not that bad. I wasn't burnt out too early.

It just seems like the natural progression to ease the freshies into Punahou English.

C. Watson said...

@lindsea I agree, the amount of literature makes it hard to do anything else with sustained effort. I always feel like I'm rushing. But I'm happy to say that for next year, the book list looks a lot different, both in amount and flavor: Catcher, Midsummer, Persepolis, Free-choice/short stories, essays, poems. We'll have some space to make our way towards learning networks, sustained blogging, and project-based experiences.
I really appreciate the students perspective. Thanks.