The Six-Week Personal Essay Challenge: Week Three - Refining the Outline

Hi everyone, Nhung here! Last week, Matt assigned me the task of creating an outline for my essay. By mid-week, I was quite daunted by the blank page in front of me, so I asked for some guidance. Matt emailed me three questions, the answers to which led to the outline below.

Here are Matt’s three questions:

  1. For the purpose of this essay, what is your primary concern as a teacher?

  2. If you don't know how to address that concern yet, it’s probably because you don't know something that you feel you need to know. What is it? What’s your open question?

  3. What are your preliminary answers to that question? How do they address/fail to address your concern?

After reflecting on these questions, (and doing a lot of free-writing) I came up with some answers. Here’s my outline.

Intro Paragraph

Anecdote: in my flipped classroom, students don’t respond to my homemade videos as enthusiastically as they do to their favorite YouTube channels. I can’t compete! More generally, the flipped model frequently fails to motivate students.

Main question for the essay: as a teacher and curriculum designer, how do I use technology to engage students whose native language is the Internet?

Foreshadow my answer: I don’t have a full answer to this question, but I believe that a successful classroom experience starts with cultivating relationships.

Body Paragraph 1

Describe a great student-teacher relationship; suggest that these relationships are essential for successful learning (perhaps especially for motivating students to push further). Draw examples from the classroom and beyond: mentors-mentees, coaches-athletes, and supervisors-interns.

Body Paragraph 2

In my experience, learning usually occurs in a sequence.

Step 1: Student reflects on his/her learning style, dreams, hopes, strengths, and weaknesses.

Step 2: Teacher introduces knowledge.

Step 3: Student applies learning to increasingly complex, real-life problems.

Body Paragraph 3

Technology can clearly assist with Step 2. (Examples of helpful technology: flashcard and quiz-maker apps.)

Steps 1 and 3 pose unique challenges for ed tech design:

Can ed tech assist teacher-student relationships in Step 1?

And how does ed tech help with Step 3, the practice of which is necessary for students to move toward self-study and lifelong learning? (Example of unhelpful tech: when students feel a false sense of mastery after passively reviewing video course materials.)

Conclusion

My preliminary answer to the above questions is that technology will continue to play a larger role in both classroom and lifelong learning opportunities. Open questions that I hope to address in my master’s program: How can tech assist teachers to build nurturing relationships with their students? Can ed tech play other roles in the classroom?

Matt’s Comments

Wonderful work, Nhung! You’ve addressed all three of the questions that I asked, and your outline now reflects a fairly clear sequence of ideas. Let me ask a few more questions and push for even more clarity.

  1. How do Body Paragraph 1 and Body Paragraph 2 relate? I agree with your claim in BP 1 - that student-teacher relationships are central to learning - but I’m not sure I see a direct connection between that idea and the learning sequence you lay out in BP 2.

  2. A suggestion. In BP 2, Step 1 of your learning sequence involves students expressing their needs as learners and people. For that to happen, though, students typically need to have some trust in their teachers. Perhaps that’s the connection: great relationships (BP 1) are the foundation upon which successful learning (BP 2) is built.

  3. Issues with the conclusion. In your final paragraph, you write:

My preliminary answer to the above questions is that technology will continue to play a larger role in both classroom and lifelong learning opportunities. Open questions that I hope to address in my master’s program: How can tech assist teachers to build nurturing relationships with their students? Can ed tech play other roles in the classroom?

Your original question was: “How do I use technology to engage students whose native language is the Internet?” I agree that tech will continue to be important, but that doesn’t answer your question. How can technology help you connect with students more effectively?

One way to push further here would be to consider what other teachers/schools have done. Are there tech tools/platforms that educators have used to try to connect with students (Step 1) or allow students to apply themselves to real-world challenges (Step 3)? You don’t have to have a well-developed opinion about the value of these technologies, but it’s important to acknowledge that they’re out there. (After all, you’re applying to a master’s program, and the admissions folks typically want to see “demonstrated interest” in your field. You can show them how serious you are by describing the ways you’ve already begun to pursue your questions.)

What do you think?

If you agree with these suggestions, please integrate them into your outline. When you’ve done so, share it with me - and then we can move toward your first draft.