Teaching is Persuasion

In the small–decidedly geeky–circle in which I interact, the recent piece on NPR about persuasion has been a big topic of discussion.  In the online “print” version of the radio story, writer Shankar Vadantum briefly explains the major techniques that skilled individuals have used for centuries to coax others into doing what they want.

How does this relate to teaching?  Well, the obvious answer is that our students need to learn to be persuasive.  Bill Ferriter spent an entire chapter of his recent book “Teaching the iGeneration: 5 Easy Ways to Introduce Essential Skills With Web 2.0 Tools” on an activity for students to practice their powers of influence.  It seems clear that being able to make your point of view heard and encourage others to agree is a 21st century skill if ever there was one.  But, there’s something more here.

As any practicing educator will attest, more than 50% of our time in class is often spent on classroom management.  Engagement is the first step in teaching: those who excel at creating inviting lessons spend much less time managing behavior in their teaching spaces.  It’s not enough to be a “fun” teacher or allow your students more freedom than other teachers, you need to convince them that learning what you are teaching is exactly what they want to do.

If that’s not persuasion, I don’t know what is.

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Engagement through Digital Conversations

I’ve started using edmodo again this year.  I had played with it years ago when it was little more than a discussion platform for students.  I gave up on it when my district made it clear that social networking was evil inappropriate for educational purposes.  Soon after, the folks at edmodo decided to change the look and make it much more Facebook-like, and then began to add more features at an amazing rate.  It has become much more of an instructional tool than ever before.

This year, in a strange twist, my district decided to purchase a district license for edmodo. The social networking policy hasn’t changed, but edmodo is now a de facto exception.  As I began to use it and train others in its use, it was clear that this would become an integral part of my classroom this year.  In fact, you can expect a future post about the assessment tools and their usefulness for classroom teachers.

As the year began and I introduced my students to edmodo, I knew that they would find it engaging (although we require that all discussions be “school related”) for its social interactions and the taboo of 11-year-olds using their own “Facebook”.  What I didn’t expect is the level of self-motivation that this medium would provide.

I posted on edmodo several items to help my students prepare for an upcoming quiz, including Quizlet flashcards and reminders of the date of the assessment.  One evening last week, just prior to the quiz day, I noticed that one of my students had posted a study guide for the quiz.  He had created his own outline of the content and a fill-in-the-blank practice quiz, and then posted it online for all of his peers to use!

In my wildest imagination, I had not expected that I would have students volunteering to do extra work and share it freely without any reward in the first month of using this tool.

Obviously, my experiences might be unique.  Your students may not take to it as mine have.  You might need to use the “badge” feature as a sort of intangible reward system, offering badges to students who show citizenship, leadership, effort, etc.  But, this is definitely a tool with lots of potential, and a great example of how digital conversations can be powerful ways to engage your students.

How do you engage your students using online tools?

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