“…legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice–that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another.”
The above quote was already highlighted in my Kindle when I got to it, so I knew that it would be important. Upon reading it, I had one of those timewarp reading experiences. I retreated back into memory, flitting through instances and images of my teaching practice. I saw myself through my students’ eyes for a fleeting moment, and I asked myself an honest question. “Am I “legit”?”
Confirmation bias inevitably draws me back to the stack of notes from students who were thankful, the graduates who still stay in touch and try to schedule coffee, and I conclude, “Yeah, I’m legit.” But when I honestly consider the content of Gladwell’s quote, and consider my limitations, every teacher’s limitations, in the classroom that demands so much, I feel less than encouraged.
You see it is really hard to be legit when 170 students pass in and out of my life every day. Do 170 of my students “feel like the have a voice”? I hope so, but I know that several might feel voiceless. Some get cut off by the bell, each other, dynamics I’m not aware of, or by my own goals.
Have I always been predictable? I hope so, but there have been times, to be sure, when I lack clarity in communicating learning goals and expectations. Time and haste have prevented me from being as clear as I ought to be. Most of all, it is hard to be aware of student misunderstanding, especially when trying to blitz through the curriculum.
Am I fair? There’s the rub.
What should fairness look like in the classroom? Certainly fairness looks like student having access to the same content, materials and grading standards. But those are just structures that support learning in the classroom. To use a metaphor I once heard, those things are the trellis, but the people are the vine. It is in student engagement, vine work, where, in the past, I’ve not been fair. Inevitably I’ve favored some students over others. I’ve been inequitable in my focus and my attention.
Who can blame me? So much operates at the subconscious level. The desire to have a student get the right answer might drive me to favor the student who is more likely to deliver it. The desire not to embarrass or cause shame might lead me to neglect the student who avoids eye contact, yet it is virtually impossible to have this level of awareness if simply left to my own instincts.
Still, if Gladwell is right, and I assume he is, credibility, and specifically, teacher credibility, is an invaluable component to learning.
In fact, according to Visible Learning ,
“Teacher credibility is vital to learning, and students are very perceptive about knowing which teachers can make a difference. There are four key factors of credibility: trust, competence, dynamism and immediacy. In an interview Hattie puts it like that: “If a teacher is not perceived as credible, the students just turn off.”
Hattie’s four key factors compliment Gladwells nicely. I want to consider how an Oncore enabled teacher facilitates these:
Oncore’s participation algorithm ensures that all students will receive teacher interaction. I describe the algorithm as “modified random.” Oncore knows the students who the teacher hasn’t interacted with and puts them at the top of the cue. From there it selects a random student. But this is just one aspect of equity in the classroom. The seating chart displays basic student data, and the participation mode shows student past performance in a easy to interpret color hierarchy. True equity in the classroom demands that the teacher articulate questions based on student past performance. A skillful teacher will know to modify language or instructional technique for a struggling student, giving them a chance to participate meaningfully.
When a teacher uses Oncore the iPad becomes a powerful symbol for students. The teacher assumes a strong role as assessor of learning. This alone establishes the teacher as an expert, someone who weaves feedback and evaluation into her instruction, seamlessly, daily. Moreover, the students know that their past performance, the content standards, and all sorts of formative assessment data is at the teacher’s fingertips. When teachers use the color rubric poster in their classroom, explaining the criteria for success, students then see the teacher as someone with clarity and awareness of student learning as well. Lastly, when teachers assess classwork or homework, giving immediate, personal feedback while learning is taking place, students accept the correction as from an expert.
In integrating Oncore into my own classroom, I never expected that my class would become as dynamic as it has been. I’ve always had a penchant for the dramatic and charismatic, but this has often lent itself to an teacher-centered classroom. I was performing and students were in many cases a patient, amused audience. Oncore has changed this. Now, my classroom is a bit of a dance. I might have an extended sponge activity, what I call “The Oncore Challenge” while I’m assessing homework or practice. Students then will pair-share their answers. I’ll use the participation mode to assess student understanding, often tied to a standard. There will then be some instruction of a new concept, followed by an Oncore group activity, during which I’ll check the rest of student homework assignments, again giving feedback. In short, I’m not stuck behind a lectern. Instead, I’m with my students, up and down the rows, in the groups, mostly due to the power of mobile technology. Very little is static in an Oncore classroom.
As stated earlier, I am more present when using Oncore. I give more feedback, take into consideration student feedback, and can respond on the fly, correcting, clarifying praising as we go along. Using the color rubric, I can clarify thinking skills articulated to what students are doing in the next part of class, and I can assess that learning in a fair, meaningful and predictable way. I’m sitting at my desk less, and I’m with the students, where they are more. I’m there and so are they.
Being “legit” is hard in any case, and Oncore, as powerful as it is, is not a panacea. I still have to work hard, think hard, be relational and balance all the variables that happen in a teacher’s day. Still, this journey of creating and using Oncore to its fullest potential has, in my eyes, increased my credibility. But it is not just me: last year as I was reading through the end of the year teacher evals, the pattern jumped off of the page. The questions regarding the “favorite thing about class” and “anything else you’d like to say…” screamed the praises of Oncore. Students loved it and hated it for all the right reasons. The class was fair, predictable, accountable, and I was competent, dynamic and immediate in ways I had never been. And again, reading through those responses, my best year of teaching sparked one of those fleeting moments when I had the presence of mind and the power of imagination to see myself through my students’ eyes, and I concluded, “This year, anyway, I was legit.”
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