Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Collaboration…Blocked by a Firewall Near You

By on July 2, 2008

You know, sometimes I wonder if I’m not a huge pain in the ass to present for, especially if I love what’s going on.  I’m one of those audience members who has to verbally digest and implement what I am learning as it’s happening.  I have to barble and pop as my Eureka moments are going on, and while it’s amazingly exciting for me, it must be hugely annoying to my presenter.  I was in rare form this morning at the UCI Writers Project, for Doug Fisher, co-author of such works as Language Learners in the English Classroom, was in the house.

He was speaking my language, so to speak: the language of Think Alouds, the language of Teacher Modeling, the language of giving the power of teaching over to the students, of giving them ownership and success.  

He spoke about his model of Teacher Responsibility vs. Student Responsibility and of how, in many classrooms, the balance of these elements is out of whack.  The classroom ought to be a combination of Teacher instructed lessons, of Guided instruction, Collaboration, and Independent work.  



Yet, this model got me reflecting about technology’s role in classroom collaboration: by blocking many of the online sites for collaboration from our schools, we as educators have censored the very tools of collaboration that this generation of students speaks. By blocking blogging sites, wiki sites, YouTube, etc…we are also blocking our students from the tools of their future.     

In addition, we, the educators mind you, have allowed ourselves to become the TLL students, the Tech Language Learners, simply by not forcing ourselves to learn the language of our students.  We allowed a learning gap to widen between us and them, thus creating us to be more tentative in our tech adoption.

We speak about the achievement gap between different cultures in our schools and, meanwhile, we’ve created one that lies between those who work with the inevitability of technology and those who still refute its place.  

And it isn’t just generational.  We have a job as teachers to lessen the gap of knowledge between those who have access to tech and those who do not.  

And it’s scary.  There are many reasons not to pursue technology as a more common and frequent tool in education.  

Reasons NOT to use technology (and my refutations):

1. The legal issues are scary: what if a student writes inappropriate content online?  Um, have you ever seen the desktop at the back of the classroom?  It covers vocab no teacher dares to mention.

2. The teacher education and support necessary to train teachers is scary.  Do it anyway.  Teachers need to be on the forefront of curriculum, not in its wake.

3. Adding more to a teacher’s plate is scary.  Of course it is, but take something off rather than put more on.  Have an administrator cover yard duty so that you can actually focus on teaching instruction and practice for your next class.

4. Kids knowing more than the teachers is scary (to some teachers).  Or it can be a very powerful tool.  Regardless of your philosophies, the gap ever widens as we ignore its existence.

5. Some students don’t have access to technology at home so how can we expect them to do it?  Well, many homes don’t have libraries either so it’s a school’s job to step up and provide.  Even though some students may not have access to a computer at home, the school needs to see its role in equalizing the differences between those who have it and those who do not.  

Technology is the great information equalizer.

Going back to Doug Fisher.  One of the glories of his presentation, however, was that it wasn’t all about technology.  Wait, Heather, didn’t you just go on and on about tech and it’s place in education and blah-blah-blah?  Yes, but bear with me here.  

Many times you get a presenter who preaches strategies from one philosophy or another.  Fisher was impressively balanced in a multi-modal approach.  He spoke about collaboration in the form of kinesthetic note-taking and blogs.  He spoke about collaboration in the form of grouping strategies and wikis.  He celebrated both the old and new school, never once displacing one over the other.  

Many presenters could take a tip from Doug Fisher.  If you want to use technology, you can’t just preach about the equipment but about its implementation.  And, conversely, if you want to talk about collaboration, you can’t forbid the use of technology. 








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  1. David Cohen
    July 3, 2008

    I just received a copy of the latest Fisher and Frey book on this topic, so thanks for the preview. They also have a great book on how to make a whole school more “literacy-rich” for adolescents – a truly outstanding, practical, and concise book for anyone examining school-wide practices around literacy. He’s a great presenter, too – glad you had a chance to see him.

  2. Mathew
    July 4, 2008

    Thank you for blogging about this session. The graphic alone makes it worth it.

  3. Mathew
    July 4, 2008

    As a literacy coach, I must say it’s the same with teaching something like reading strategies. Often the teacher models the strategies but then keeps them all to themselves. The idea, of course, is to provide a gradual release to hand over whatever the tools are to the students.

  4. tweenteacher
    July 5, 2008

    You also find that trend when new teachers are birthed onto the teaching scene. They’ve learned so many strategies and techniques in the ed programs (assuming it’s a decent program – but don’t get me started on that), but then don’t see how to apply them when logistically faced with 36 students. Then in teaching there’s this theory that there needs to be “hidden techniques” vs. “real class techniques”. I think allowing collaboration, handing-off levels of teaching to the students is a scary prospect for many teachers, yet in fact, it aides in engagement (which helps classroom management) and improves student achievement through the D-word (differentiation) while giving texture to teaching techniques. It’s a no-brainer, especially in this world when social networking is making our world smaller by the click (except in education, that is). I believe you are familiar with a certain viral video? 😉
    For those who aren’t, who may be reading this comment, check out Mr. Winkle Wakes on YouTube. – Heather

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