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Graduating from teacher to facilitator in the technology-rich classroom
Carol Webb talks about how constructivism and technology changed her role from teacher to facilitator in her seventh-grade classroom.
By Carol M. Webb
Pinch me! I think I'm hallucinating! I told the teacher in the next classroom. My seventh grade English language arts students had just refused free time. Instead of celebrating the publication of our twice-monthly school magazine, they rushed to their computers to begin articles for the next issue. Reminding myself to remember this "Kodak Moment," I began circulating, questioning, encouraging, facilitating. The new issue germinated in a classroom of eager voices and rushing bodies. Chaos? Far from it! This was what I had planned for, worked for, hoped for. Using technology, my students were charging ahead, planning their own projects, asking their own questions, and checking with me for validation. Over time, my role in the classroom has evolved. Constructivism and technology have changed my role from expert to facilitator.
Carol Webb
Carol Webb, English language arts teacher
How did this graduation from teacher to facilitator happen? How did I become comfortable in a classroom full of talking, physically active students making their own decisions about what to research, what to write, how and when to use technology? Nancie Atwell's In the Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning with Adolescents (1987) started my journey. Gradually, my colleagues and I followed Atwell's suggestion that teachers "come out from behind their own big desks to write with, observe, and learn from young writers." In my adaptation of the reading/writing workshop model, I became comfortable with my role as guide while my students chose their own writing topics and genre, selected their own reading material, and did individualized research.
Without even knowing the term, I was becoming a constructivist. This philosophy of learning rests on the premise that "by reflecting on our experiences, we construct our own understanding of the world we live in" (Constructivism, 1998). Learning, seen as a search for meaning, must begin with student-centered issues. The learning process focuses on primary concepts, allowing the learner to comprehend the whole rather than just memorizing isolated parts/facts. Educators must understand how students use mental models to perceive the world and also how students make assumptions that support those models. Assessment, to provide students with information about their progress, must become part of the learning process (Constructivism, 1998). With these principles embedded in my curriculum, I helped students move toward the goal of becoming independent readers and writers.
"I do not teach technology as a separate subject but use it as a tool to solve problems and create products (Dede and Sprague, 1999)."
My transition from teacher to facilitator advanced when I added technology to my classroom. I no longer have to be in control all the time, but have given some of the control to the students and technology (Dede and Sprague, 1999). Since the medium for my curriculum is an authentic, student-centered activity, publication of the school magazine, students decide what articles they would like to write and what format their information will take. I facilitate this process by balancing the overall content of the magazine and suggesting resources, but selecting topics of interest to our readers is definitely a job for the students. Brooks and Brooks, in their publication In search of Understanding: The Case for Constructivist Classrooms (as cited in Chiu, 1995), state that constructivist teachers allow student responses to drive lessons, shift instructional strategies, and alter content. For example, recently I helped my students discover how to make articles more readable and visually appealing by using their word processing computers to break large masses of print into spaced paragraphs. I do not teach technology as a separate subject but use it as a tool to solve problems and create products (Dede and Sprague, 1999).

As a constructivist facilitator, how am I helping my students construct their own meaning? Caine and Caine state in their publication Making connections: Teaching and the human brain (as cited in Benning, 1992) that the search for meaning is innate. Meaning is personal, unique, and based on each learner's individual experiences. Students learn by "fitting new information together with what they already know" (Benning, 1992). I am helping my students construct new meaning about writing by getting them actively involved in authentic publication. When a student with the "personal model" that writing is a boring English assignment sees the whole school read his or her magazine article, he or she fits this new experience into the old model and constructs the new meaning that writing is a powerful form of communication.
"After the experience of composing on a computer, students construct the new meaning that writing and revising can be done quickly and efficiently on a computer."
Likewise, my students are constructing new meaning about technology. As a facilitator, I provide a classroom filled with computers, no desks, and a large, carpeted open space. Most students had the previous model that writing is done at a desk with paper and pen. After the experience of composing on a computer, students construct the new meaning that writing and revising can be done quickly and efficiently on a computer. Many of them also form the first-time "model" that technology is a useful tool.
     As a circulating computer lab facilitator, I have built feedback loops directly into the learning process. This ongoing and cumulative assessment of the word processing/writing process provides students with frequent and accurate feedback and structures learning experiences around their individual needs (Instructional Technology, 1998). I have also facilitated the larger feedback loop of students' articles being read by the student body. This authentic assessment supplies students with real-world challenges which require them to apply their skills and knowledge (Authentic Assessment, 1998).
Years ago when I was a new teacher, my students sat in orderly rows, seldom moved, and listened to me from the first bell until the last. How did they stand it? Those students would never have refused free time. Luckily, after implementing technological tools and the theories of constructivism, I have graduated from a lecturing expert to an encouraging facilitator guiding students to create their own new meanings.
     View references.
Read Carol's Online Research Diary

Link to Teacher testimony and to comments and suggestions for Carol M. Webb is a seventh grade English language arts teacher at Memorial Middle School in Kingsville, Texas.

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