Use your reader and ask for the tools of management

by Mr. Sheehy

As my students plug away at their poetry essays, I have a couple thoughts on technology and education that seem worth passing along. One is a reminder about how powerful and useful RSS readers are. As I have said before, I have made a conscious decision this year to pull back my reading of blogs, and this semester I have actually grown so busy that my blog reading has dwindled to none. I am not even reading Heather Armstrong’s blog right now, and I had read her as regularly as I used to read Dave Barry’s column, which was as close to required reading for me as any columnist can get.

In not reading blogs, I got out of the habit of using Google Reader. (If you’re wondering what the reader is and how it works, you might want to glance at the “How to Read Blogs” page linked at the top.) I have been using the reader every day, but only the little widget version in my iGoogle start up page, and only to scan through all the photoblogs I so thoroughly love. Whenever I would read my students’ blogs, I’d fall into heading to the class’s mother blog and clicking through the links, opening each one in a new tab. I did it mindlessly and habitually, thinking it was the best way to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

Then, yesterday, I arrested myself and turned back to the Google Reader. I had been working through a pile of work from my sophomores and needed to move as quickly as possible through an article each of them had written. The reader brought up their articles faster, kept me in the same screen (which keeps the font enlarged, something I do to keep my eyes from becoming completely exhausted before lunch – that’s the control button and the plus sign if you’re a Firefox lover like me), and actually enabled me to get to an individual article faster when I needed to make a comment or drop a tag on it to single it out in the “Notable Articles” feed I run through a widget on the mother blog. I love Learnerblogs, but it does take a while for a page to load; if I use my reader, this is not a problem for me.

The more I have students write on their blogs, the more important it is that I remember such details.

On another note, if a few things don’t change in the way we fund and approach using technology in the classroom, I am not sure how much more I’ll be able to expand my use of computers, or, in an important sense, whether I’ll even continue to use them as much as I have.

Two situations prompt that comment. One is the article I saw in the current issue of Technology and Learning. It reviewed classroom management technology – the goodies that enable you as a teacher to monitor students’ computers, take over their desktops if necessary (ie – freeze them when you’re talking or click to close an IM window), display one screen on the projector if applicable, or even put something from your computer on all their screens. I didn’t look at the cost of such networking programs, because I don’t even know where the funding would come from to get them.

The necessity is there, however. I like to have students read articles online and write their thoughts on their blogs, but for some, as soon as that laptop screen opens, it’s surreptitious time – sneak in an IM chat, visit a stupid roller coaster game, ANYthing but what I assigned (after all, I and my content are not that interesting). During the last couple weeks, I have actually scrapped ideas for web-based content and lessons, including etching some time for my 10th graders to read each others’ blogs. I simply can’t justify the time, because I am not able to keep them on task.

Keep in mind, I am not a poor manager of my classroom. I might not be a candidate for running a classroom management seminar, but I have a handle on what goes on in my room and I have a decent ability to be “with it” – spotting secret cell phone usage and the like. But to monitor students’ work on computers adequately, I would have to sit at the back of the room while they faced forward and stare at them for the majority of the period. No matter what your philosophy of education is, you wouldn’t call that good teaching.

As we holler for more computers, then (and I am definitely willing to holler when I find an influential ear), we have to make sure we holler also for the tools we need to maintain an educational environment. Purchasing such tools might slow the laptop saturation, but without effective tools to conduct good classroom management, teachers will surely decide that saturation is not worth the price.