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What a Teacher Wants

February 24, 2012



By Jennie Dougherty | English Teacher | edUpgrade’s Director of Teacher Innovation


A lesson is more than a plan

Exhausted by the task of scanning and tagging thousands of pages of curriculum, I was overwhelmed and vulnerable to the kind of pictures Evernote was posting online.

With a super cute pic like this, why would I have any reason to doubt that Evernote could meet my needs. The artists and marketers who drew this knew what a teacher wanted. But it wasn’t just about looks, we also had a lot in common. Here I was trying to get rid of my binder system and there it was offering me digital notebooks for all my content.

I used the Evernote clipper tool to grab websites and add them to my digital notebooks, which helped me overcome the disappointment I felt when I realized the actual program was less attractive than I’d anticipated.

Things began to fall apart the second I got seriously involved. Uploads took too long and there wasn’t enough storage capacity, so I had to wait an entire month to get more space before I could continue transferring my curriculum from paper to PDFs. It was making me doubt my decision to leave my old binder system.

It wasn’t like Evernote was the only curriculum management system I’ve been using since school began. I’ve tried Learn BoostBetter Lesson and InstaGrok. Heck I even gave Pinterest a shot! I will be the first to admit that unlike the first three champion programs listed, Pinterest was completely void of substantive features. So why was it that I wished the other programs were more like it? I found my answer in in last week’s New York Time’s Magazine cover story written by Charles Duhigg. And no, its not because I’m pregnant.

While this article was primarily focused on how corporations use shoppers’ data to target consumers, it contained a paragraph that made me realize what it was that I was looking for in a curriculum management program and why it mattered so much.

Duhigg’s description of habits made me confident knowing I wasn’t destined to drive around a trunk full of binders for the rest of my life. According to Duhigg, “[h]abits aren’t destiny — they can be ignored, changed or replaced.” A teacher can escape the fate of driving around with a trunk full of binders for the rest of my life.  Eager educators should be cautioned that the author also acknowledges the difficulty of resisting old habits. “Unless you deliberately fight a habit — unless you find new cues and rewards — the old pattern will unfold automatically.” So, unless we find the new experience of lesson planning more rewarding than the old one, we may want to start thinking about investing in a trailer hitch.

Further explanation of my struggle to transfer my curriculum creation and organization to a digital medium was found in Duhigg’s concise explanation of habit formation. “The process within our brains that creates habits is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use.” For me, this is every Sunday night, when my anxiety level peaks and prevents me from avoiding the reality that the coming week’s lesson plans are due in less than 12 hours. “Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional.” Lesson planning is obviously a mental routine, and anyone who read the sentence about my anxiety can figure its probably an emotional one as well, but for those who are not educators let me tell you that pulling all-nighters once a week 36 weeks a year-as I did my first year teaching-is excruciatingly physical.

“Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.” Putting the all nighters, overwhelming anxiety, and mental strain aside, what I remember most about lesson planning is that clean white binder in which each item is carefully selected, organized, articulated, in a standards based, objective driven lesson plan-complete with daily agendas, objectives and assessments. For those who read last Sunday’s article, flipping through the pages of that binder, and placing it neatly in my LLBean tote is my “Febreze moment”. It is the reward I enjoy at the end of an established lesson planning routine. “Over time, this loop — cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward — becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become neurologically intertwined until a sense of craving emerges.” So its not that I crave the binders. Nor is it that the programs that I used were unable to fulfill the needs of my established lesson planning routine. The problem lay in the fact that creating curriculum online was not providing a reward equal to that I experienced when I used Pinterest or my old binder system.

So what was it that I was looking for in these programs? It wasn’t a specific feature, it was a feeling of reward. The reason I liked Pinterest more than those other programs is that it gave me a huge reward for gathering the materials I would use in my lesson. I was able to instantly see when others repined my  resources and what they grouped them with. Not only that, having all of my materials gathered in one place gave me a calming perspective and let me to recognize and admire the work I had accomplished as I began organizing each of the materials that I had gathered. Unfortunately Pinterest is all looks, and does not, I repeat DOES NOT, provide a platform suitable for anything more than the most superficial lesson planning. So what was a teacher to do? Where would I find a program that would support a digitally enhanced curriculum and provide the reward I was seeking? Turns out, I’d already found the alpha I was looking for all along. Check out Review of Teacher Approved Technology of Class Connect to learn more about this rewarding program.



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