Brown's class was discussing some of the whaling calculations in Moby Dick. When one student asked a question involving a complex computation, three students quickly pulled out their cell phones and did the math. Brown was surprised to learn that most cell phones have a built-in calculator. She was even more surprised at how literate her students were with the many functions included in their phones. She took a quick poll and found that all her students either had a cell phone or easy access to one. In fact, students became genuinely engaged in a class discussion about phone features. This got Brown thinking about how she might incorporate this technology into learning activities.
Brown noticed that many students used text messaging to communicate, and considered how she might use cell phones in summarizing and analyzing text to help her students better understand Richard III.
- Effective summarizing is one of the most powerful skills students can cultivate. It provides students with tools for identifying the most important aspects of what they are learning, especially when teachers use a frame of reference (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).
- Summarizing helps students identify critical information. Research shows gains in reading comprehension when students learn how to incorporate isummary framesi (series of questions designed to highlight critical passages) as a tool for summarizing (Meyer & Freedle, 1984).
- When students use this strategy, they are better able to understand what they are reading, identify key information, and provide a summary that helps them retain the information (Armbruster, Anderson, & Ostertag, 1987).
To manage the learning project, Brown asked a tech-savvy colleague to help her build a simple weblog. Once it was set up, it took Brown and her students 10 minutes in the school's computer lab to learn how to post entries. The weblog was intentionally basic. The only entries were selected passages from text of Richard III and Brown's six narrative-framing questions. Her questions deliberately focused students' attention on key passages. If students could understand these passages well enough to summarize them, Brown knew that their comprehension of the play would increase.
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Text messaging is a real-world example of summarizing—to communicate information in a few words the user must identify key ideas. Brown saw that she could use a technique students had already mastered, within the context of literature study.
Brown told students to use their phones or e-mail to send text messages to fellow group members of their responses to the first six questions of the narrative frame. Once this was completed, groups met to discuss the seventh question, regarding the resolution for each section of the text. Brown told them to post this group answer on the weblog.
Many conversations around interactivity in formal learning programs rests on the tools. Does WebEx allow polling? Can you have threaded conversations in Second Life? What if you gave keypads to members of an audience? And those are all good questions.
But at the same time, we need to nurture cultures around interactivity that are independent of any technology. We need vocabulary and expectations around interactivity itself.
Here's a suggestion, hopefully useful in practice if not in theory: