Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections on Week 1

The first week of workshops is finished. When we arrived home, I went for a walk on the beach and looked back on the week. Here are a few reflections on things that I have learned from these wonderful South African Educators.

1. Slow down and take it easy. I realized this week that it has been a long time since I have worked with teachers who are beginner and novice computer users. The teachers I work with at home have regular access to computers. Even those who are most timid can check their email, type in Word, save, etc. They may not be speed demons or display much confidence, but they know how to navigate around their machines and find what they need. This means that introducing something new is less foreign.

It took me a few days to connect the dots. I was thinking of the learners in our workshop like the timid technology users at home. I was speaking in simple terms, but ones which teachers at home would understand. I need to remember how to slow down even more, do fewer steps at once. I was out of touch with learners who were excited just to get some hands on experience with computers. I am glad to have finally made that connection.

2. Prolong the conversation. Walking around the lab, I popped in on various people as they worked or when they asked for help. I found that I often gave an expeditious answer and turned away quite quickly to help someone else. As I did so, the person I had helped often grabbed my hand and drew me back. They had more to ask or discuss. I had some wonderful exchanges during those moments when I turned back to the conversation that I had considered complete. It makes me wonder if I move on too quickly when circulating in my own class as well. What exchanges am I missing by moving on instead of lingering and perhaps asking another question?

3. Taking risks is hard. The first time is easier when someone is there to hold your hand. Some of the things we asked of the learners this week were a little scary for them. Those who were not familiar with anything we were doing really had to stretch themselves. Sometimes they just needed someone there with them to reassure them that they were on the right path. Just like taking a big jump off a rock is easier when you hold hands and jump together, any stretching of self is easier when you are not alone. The next time, jumping alone seems more achievable. Sometimes, I think that we forget this step when we are trying to teach students to be independent, confident learners. I hope that the Ning will help these educators to hold each other’s hands as they explore their developing ICT skills.

4. No matter how great the stuff you want to share, your message will not get through if there is too much of it. We had a great many things that we felt were important at the beginning of this week, and we could not envision leaving any of them out. We cut each session shorter to fit more sessions in. The problem was that there was just too much for the educators to take in. They could not longer appreciate what we were working on because we moved from one topic to the next too quickly. There was little time to consolidate skills. They were on information overload. When we went back to longer sessions and focussed on fewer topics, the educators seemed to take much more from the workshop. I wonder how often I throw too much information at my students (like when we need to get through a certain section of the math textbook)? The “I hope some of it sticks,” is not was I want to be using in my class. Less information with time to absorb it is clearly the way to go.
5. Call them what they are: Learners. I love that these teachers call their students learners. The business of students is to study. The business of learners is to learn. I want learners in my classroom.

So, there are some thoughts on the first week. When I picture the faces of the learners from this week, it makes me smile. I have felt honoured to sit shoulder-to-shoulder and learn along with them.

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