At a district Technology Committee meeting we were divided into partner groups to brainstorm about what ‘best practices’ we might look for in using technology in the classroom. My colleague Doug and I had been struggling with trying to identify just what good technology teaching looks like and how to best accomplish the learning goals we might have for our students.
As often happens in discussions like this we played around with ideas and listened to our colleagues and then discussed some more amongst our own assigned group. And it was in the middle of the discussion where we were almost coming to the ‘big idea’ that we were after and had been going around and around when Doug said: “it’s like the Amish doll. The Amish doll has no face and is plain and it is meant to be that way.”
When a child is handed an Amish doll, he/she gets to decide what the doll’s face looks like, is he smiling today? Does she have blue eyes like me or brown eyes like you? One day they are blue, and the next day they’re brown but maybe they turn blue after she eats blueberries. That doll can be whatever the child wants it to be – mother, father, teacher, doctor – at any given moment as the play progresses.
The Amish doll. A perfect metaphor for learning. – if we give our students the tools, the outlines, the forms, the basic shapes; then they can fill in the ‘faces’. In terms of technology: teaching with technology; not “teaching technology” is the goal. It. Is. So. Simple.
We were tasked one time to visit classrooms and ‘drop in’ to see what role technology was playing in any given day. It was sort of a ‘snapshot’ of a day. The group fanned out to different school sites, different classrooms and reported back after a few hours of observation. The task: observe technology in use. It was during our reporting out to the group that our Amish Doll metaphor took shape. Our favorite lesson used no technology at all at the point we observed the class. Students in the 4th grade were in groups and were reporting to each other about books they had read. Each was assigned a role and each had a job to fulfill within their roles related to the book talking. We saw engaged students on task working together. Upon our return we thought about why that lesson was so compelling – it had given each student the ‘outline’ for what needed to be accomplished and then let them use their creativity, their prior knowledge, their content [derived from their reading] and their skills to bring it all together in a formal discussion. The “Amish doll” approach gave them the form but not the steps.
While we might think that the very term “Amish doll” is the antithesis of “technology” it actually has more to do with how we design our lessons rather than whether we’re using technology. That same book-talking lesson could have been accomplished using blogs, wikis or google docs. The students could have used Voice Thread and images they created to post their book discussions or Animoto or any of the hundreds of 2.0 tools.
It’s about the simplicity of lesson creation – giving students the form, the parameters and the content they need to learn… and then letting them invent their own path to accomplish that learning.
Connie Williams is a high school librarian and an advocate for school libraries.You can contact her via email, or leave a comment below.