Sara Kajder is a terrific speaker and a dynamite educator. She was kind enough to let me record her session at TRLD so much of this post is her voice. I was able to attend all three of her sessions. They were well worth it. Having it recorded is truly wonderful because when you get the opportunity to hear from incredible educators like Sara and then you can listen again it gives you to oppportunity to truly reflect on her message. She is an Assistant Professor of English Education and Literacy at Virginia Tech. She is also teaching full time in an 11th grade as part of a research project. She is a previous high school and middle school English and Chemistry teacher.

She talked about how what it means to read and write has irrevocably changed outside of school and then challenged us with the question:

“How much of what it means to read and write has changed inside your classroom?

She made reference to the Time magazine article that ran about a year ago on “What it means to be a 21st Century learner?” She said it was further implication of Mark Prensky’s idea that kids are digital natives, and we are digital immigrants. She doesn’t agree with his methaphor because it immediately deposits the kids in the position of OK they already know it, we teachers don’t have to teach it, they are just doing fine on their own, etc., etc., etc. She believes instead that kids might be growing up in a time where they are accustomed to the tools and they can think with the tools in ways that we might not be thinking with the tools but that does not mean they can communicate with the tools. It doesn’t mean that they know how to engage with the tools to do the kind of learning that we want them to be doing in the classroom. Those are 21st century literacies and they change and transform our roles as teachers. Her teaching and her teacher education has changed as a result. Professional development and the buildings she works in havechanged. Get this though, her classroom computer is an Apple Classic IIe. The faculty at Virginia Tech have offered to come and max it but Sara said no, she needs to work within the same conditions as her colleagures. There is a lab in her school building that is outfitted how she’d like to see the classrooms outfitted but the lab is for the business department.

Her first day in class she asked the kids to tell her about their writing in school. The kids wanted two lists – in school and outside of school. In school was pen, paper, pencil, typewriter/computer. Outside school was weblog, iMovie, highlighters, pods, video games, post-it notes, Wikipedia, digital cameras, Wikipedia, and cell phones.

Here what the kids argued was their best writing tool:

Sara didn’t talk about how to do old things with new tools. She wanted to talk a lot about how to do new things with old tools. Our teaching has to change to where kids are. We also have to choose how we assess what modality kids are writing in. It is a lot more complicated than she thought it was going to be.

First, she shared the things her kids wanted to be sure we

  1. If we had an internet connection in the classroom you are no longer, as teacher, the smartest person in the room. They felt about this emphatically because they all had a social studies teacher in 10th grade who teaches the most dynamic class she has seen. At no point in time is this social studies person the lone person in the classroom offering what’s coming. He has a Skype connection each day and has different experts involved each day, usually community of experts who are involved
  2. It is about knowing when and why to podcast or blog or “tweet”, not knowing how.
  3. The teachers they believe who they have been working with spend an awful lot of time teaching how to point and click. It’s about knowing this is the place where it is going to amplify my teaching. Teachers she works with don’t have any schema for what that looks like. (The Front Line special was about 90% on how we all should be afraid of what is online and shut it down.) There are some glimmers of hope.
  4. They don’t come to us not knowing how to work with tools. They are not multi-modal blank slates. They come in knowing how to podcast, video, but we aren’t taking any advantage of that.
  5. As teachers and administrators we don’t know what games our kids play. This is the first generation where we can unequivocally say that as a blanket statement. We haven’t played them. We don’t
    understand the ways in which they work, the literacies that are involved, the skills that they are exercising as they move through them.

Sara said that this was critical and that there is something really important there that we need to think about.

Her two guiding questionsfor the rest of the session were:

1. What are the unique capacities and limits of the tool that we are looking at? What can I do with this thing that I can’t do with anything else?

2. How does this tool allow us to do something better?

She starts with an instructional challenge and says there has to be a question or something about your teaching before the technology even comes into it. Book talks were a problem for her. So she tried movie posters. She asked students to create a poster that represented a synthesis of their reading of the text. She paired this with reflective writing. There had to be something compelling and important agout the way it was presented. She then took this a step further and challenged kids to create a book trailer. They spent time focusing on the genre of a movie trailer. They used a book that no one had checked out of the media center – The Number Devil. They only had 40 minutes to put it all together so Sara required to entry tickets to get in the lab – a storyboard and a script. When assessing this you have to try to look at all the different layers in this kind of writing- they are writing through the composition of a sound track, they are writing through the images, they are writing through the transitions that come between the images, the effects on the images, they are writing through the storyboard, they are writing through the script that they are doing. She pairs this with reflective writing to tell why they made the moves they did. She has now started to allow them to podcast that piece, lets it be an
oral recording – a talk aloud of why they have done what they have done.

Here’s one very key element of what she does:

She does what she asks the students to do—-creates a model
and shares with students.

Sara created a wiki “Promise Into Practice”. Check it out. Now I can’t wait to share what she does with visual or virtual think alouds. That’s another post. This post is getting a little long but it’s not everyday I get to come across educators of the caliber of Sara Kajder. She is making a difference!