Many teachers begin a new school year sitting in a crowded room staring at a Powerpoint presentation as an administrator drones on about dress code, tardy passes, and discipline referrals. While this information is important to beginning a new school year with a successful sweep of learning and minimal interruptions, the majority of teachers are unaware of technology that is available FOR FREE to savvy technology users.
At my site-based committee meeting last month, the principle asked if we had suggestions for possible teacher trainings for the start of the 2007-2008 school year. At the time, I had no suggestions to be made, but I recently came up with some interesting ideas. While planning lessons to try to make Shakespeare more interesting and memorable for my ESL students who were about to hear his name for the first time, I thought of various ways to include computers, the internet, and technology into my lessons. What I came up with is a new idea for a new generation.
Most students at my school learn how to do research projects the old fashioned way - reading dusty old books and citing one or two sentences on tiny note cards, all for the sake of learning a process so antiquated that anybody in the business world caught dead using it would fall flat on their face the next time a promotion came around. Most business connoisseurs never use paper and pencil when researching, preferring a notebook computer. Also, most business associates rarely look up facts and details in a book; instead they check the proper database or internet site that holds the correct information. If a boss wants a detailed report on the effectiveness of cutting the rubber in a product sold in North Dakota, an employee doesn't have time to constantly search through books for information that is more readily available on the internet.
The problem with all of this is most English teachers are not teaching research in the 21st century; instead they are teaching research from the 1950's. This includes experienced teachers as well as fresh-out-of-college teachers. I propose using one of our days at the beginning of the year to introduce research for tomorrow's society, on the internet.
I searched for a webquest for Shakespeare in order to introduce research to my students in a more relevant way. When I googled "Shakespeare Webquest," my search was answered in more sites that I could ever want. My students not only wrote their first research paper, but they learned how to scout the internet for valuable information to their preformulated questions, create an outline in Microsoft Word, and then turn their outline into a MLA-styled research paper, complete with a works cited page and relevant quotes. (All of these ideas could be covered in several staff trainings on new ways to teach research.) While some of my students are well acquainted with computers, the majority of my students live in households where computers claim no importance, or are simply unaffordable. I believe it is my job as their English teacher to help them overcome this illiteracy of their most important tool of communication. To try to jump this hurdle, I wouldn't allow my students to have paper and pen by the computers, forcing them to use the keyboard more often, thus helping them become more comfortable in front of the computer.
If this type of lesson idea would become more readily introduced into English classrooms across the state, our students in minority groups and homes of low socio economic status would become more computer literate and feel more comfortable working with computers, in hopes of being able to translate these skills into the workforce and out of the low-paying, dead-end jobs that most of my school's population end up in. By using the English teachers to promote this idea, students would see more of a use for computers than just playing games and gaining their computer credit. They could see a real, relevant use for computers for business, instead of pleasure.