Friday, March 6, 2015

Bridging the Divide

Students watch a clip from "Rivers and Tides" in our
digital textbook prior to discussion.

We have a digital textbook. Adopted last year, teachers at my school have a class set of hardcover books and students have workbooks and digital access to the hardcover book. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Florida Collections updates the traditional English textbook. I am familiar with the work of several of the contributors--Kylene Beers, Carol Jago, Bill McBride, Erik Palmer--and  I appreciate hearing their voices in the book. I'll save a review of the book for another Slice of Life post. Today I want to reflect on what happens when I assign something that can only be accessed through the digital textbook. 

Florida law will require schools to spend at least half of their textbook funds on digital instructional materials beginning with the 2015-16 budget year. Ahead of the curve, Orange County's investment in the Florida Collections textbook for language arts classes and a concomitant Algebra text anticipates the law. I appreciate my forward-thinking district. 

Link to the Law. (I know law's not suppose to be capitalized in this sentence but at school it feels capitalized!)

The digital textbook has challenged us. We've had to find solutions for students (and teachers) who do not have computer access or WiFi connected devices at home. One work-around the students did without direction was to take picture of the textbook with their smart phones. They claimed that at-home WiFi would not support textbook access. They explained that the family streamed television or gaming and the additional device or load to their home system slowed everything down or froze them out of the book. 

It is difficult to know what is (exactly) happening when students come to class and say that they cannot get to the textbook. Pictures have worked as a work-around for static text (as have web searches as many of the materials are found elsewhere online), but this week I decided to use a film clip as the text for our Socratic discussion. The clip is from Thomas Riedelscheimer's award winning documentary, Rivers and Tides. The documentary examines the environmental art of Andy Goldsworthy and can be found in its entirety on YouTube. One of my one-hundred and five tenth graders watched the entire two-hour documentary to prepare for our discussion because she couldn't get to the textbook from her home device. The clip in our textbook is less than four minutes of the film (and I love that she went above and beyond what she needed to prepare for today).
The Green table watching the clip, talking and
updating their journal notes.

I knew students weren't prepared to talk about the literal and figurative meaning in the film clip. I knew many of them had not watched it. I walk the room to check their journal work and in the first class, half the class was not prepared for our discussion.  This week they took a two-hour Florida Standards Assessment writing test. Though only two hours, many students wanted (or needed) to focus on that assessment this week and only that. So, I adjusted.

During independent reading time (I know, gasping that this is what some give up), I had the students who had not seen the clip nor taken notes go to the textbook from our classroom computers . We watched the film and took notes (TPCASTT) on the ideas. Then we convened in our discussion circle and talked about the work.

We had a great discussion today about the literal and figurative meaning of Goldworthy's art and why the cinematographer, Riedelscheimer, chose to capture scenes the way he did. Dr. Weaver, the students' ninth grade English teacher, would be happy to know that many students saw the cycles she taught them last year. They could connect imagery (and music and the artist's statement) to life , death, and rebirth. They tapped into environmental knowledge (thank you, Mrs. Williams) and commented on the pine cone shaped statuary as a seed and thus spreader of life. They wondered if the artist alluded to baptism with the submerged construction and they proposed that the art illustrated the nature of life and how we all must weather change and challenge.

We had rich discussions today. Art is powerful. Visual media matters.

Now to figure out the work-around when it comes to accessing the digital textbook.


  1. My son is studying media in college these days, Lee Ann, and your post reminded me of his excitement when he speaks of his classes - visual media is a powerful medium for teaching, learning, and creating.

  2. My son is studying media in college these days, Lee Ann, and your post reminded me of his excitement when he speaks of his classes - visual media is a powerful medium for teaching, learning, and creating.

  3. I've always admired your ability to try new things, encounter challenges, and learn from them in such a flexible way. You make it look too easy!

  4. Sometimes I wonder how much resistance gets kids to quit trying to figure out the tech tool.

  5. I think we're all struggling with this as we transition to fewer print books and more digital. Thank goodness some of your students are problem solving. Thiis is an important problem that we need to be prepared for.

  6. New problems. Each step forward brings new issues. Your post gave me a lot of food for thought. Not having access to the technology is HUGE. Thanks for sharing