Saying “Yes” More Often Than “No”: Empowering Students in the 21st Century Classroom

| By Deborah Kaufman

In June, the DigitalJLearning Network had the pleasure of taking 15 Jewish Day School educators to the 2015 ISTE Conference in Philadelphia, PA. We asked the participants to share what they learned and how the conference inspired them to take action in their schools. Deborah Kaufman, Computer Technologist at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva, shares her thoughts in the 13th installment in this new blog series.


While attending an inspirational conference sponsored by DJLN, I had the opportunity to learn cutting-edge technology from numerous presentations and workshops and to speak with educators from around the country and the world.

I left the conference feeling empowered, enriched, and excited about bringing these innovative technologies and methods to life in our classrooms.

There was so much shared at the ISTE conference, but there are six key concepts that were real eye-openers for me. I feel that the power of these concepts is that they could be implemented in almost any classroom setting:


1) Students need to take ownership of their own educations. If they are empowered to be responsible for their own education, their retention will be greater and it will make a more profound impact on them.  If we say “Yes” to facilitating our students finding their own answers, and “No” to doing it for them, their retention of the information will be greater.

2) Creativity and innovation are the key for our students to be successful 21st century learners. When we use the word “Yes,” more often than the word “No,” we encourage students to explore, try, and even many times fail forward, in order to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills.

3) Don’t be afraid of student failure. When a student wants to try something new, don’t reflexively respond with “No,” even if you think that student’s idea will never work, or it doesn’t fit into the guidelines and parameters you expect. Let them try new ideas – even if their ideas fail, they will learn from their own mistakes. Encourage students to be creative and try new things. Say “Yes” more often than “No.”

4) The process is as important as the result. The process of inquiry that the students have to go through will help them develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. They will learn how to face a challenge, map out their goals, research, implement the process they plan to follow, and work collaboratively with peers to meet challenges. Throughout the stages, the students should reflect on how they are doing and what worked and what didn’t. By allowing students to explore and drive their own learning, you are likely to generate enthusiasm, creativity, and many times the final product will be truly unique. This process is just as important, if not more important, than the final product.

5) Blended learning, where a portion of the traditional face-to-face instruction is replaced by web-based online learning, is a great model for differentiated instruction. By using a blend of technology and face-to-face instruction, teachers have more tools to implement guided learning programs, small group instruction, and collaborative learning.

6) Using a learning management system (LMS) to “flip” your classroom can maximize valuable time. Using teacher-recorded videos or Internet videos to impart the information replaces conventional homework time, which in the past was used to reinforce the classroom lesson, with teaching a new idea or concept. The rationale here is that today’s learners are more comfortable learning independently through digital programs or videos. The presenter cited research that has found that students will watch these videos over and over again to achieve greater mastery of the subject matter. The classroom instruction time can then be used to review, reinforce, enhance and build upon the information from the homework video, using it as a starting point for classroom discussion. This helps to facilitate higher level thinking and a greater degree of understanding for the students. The classroom is “flipped” since the homework becomes the introduction of learning and the classroom is used for reinforcement and enhancement of the lesson.

I have now accepted the position of Computer Technologist in our school. By joining the ISTE conference and talking with so many other educators, I was able to expand my vision of what it is possible to accomplish in the classroom. I hope this experience will allow me to teach the students computers skills in a more authentic learning environment. By working together with the teacher and students in the classroom, we will make learning a collaborative process supported by technology. I am so grateful that I said YES to attending the ISTE conference!


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