During my student teaching in a remote village, I sent videotapes of selected lessons to my university evaluator. I recall that prior to my first taping, in fear that I would appear inept, I advised my students to not pay attention to the camera on the tripod at the back of the room. At the end of the lesson, I felt that things had gone pretty well. But when I reviewed the tape, I was surprised to see that I was only engaging about half of the class. Some of the students were paying attention, while others were not. One boy was bold enough to place his face against the camera while my back was turned. Despite my best intentions to teach the whole class, my review of the tape made it clear that I was not making adjustments to my instruction in response to some of the students not being engaged. In reflection, I was more concerned with teaching for the videotape than I was with the students learning the presented concepts. Since then, I have observed this same scenario in plenty of our classrooms with teachers dutifully following lesson plans but failing to make adjustments when things are not going well.
There are numerous strategies for how to engage all students through effective classroom management. As a young teacher I mistakenly assumed that the stand and deliver approach to attentive, albeit passive students, was the best way to go. I was convinced that I was the keeper of the knowledge and that I had to pass it on to the class. And while there is nothing wrong with a full group lecture, maintaining student engagement for very long during this type of instruction is difficult. Because our students are seamlessly moving in and out of a digital world, my encouragement to teachers is that they take advantage of what the digital learning environment offers. I am convinced that much of the basics and more mundane side of teaching can be left to a digital format while the personal interaction of the teacher with students should be for higher order thinking and a close checking for understanding. This blended approach helps to facilitate small group instruction and more importantly, helps train students to manage themselves during the learning activity. Teachers need to give students tools to learn in a variety of ways. Videotaping my classroom discussion on Call of the Wild was revealing; it helped me recognize that it is about the students’ learning and not my teaching. It’s a good thing we were not discussing a Tolstoy story.