Can we do better?
I remember reading somewhere that tech had failed education because something new is always coming out and people want that next thing without knowing what to use it for or even mastering the previous item. The companies keep putting things out as the “greatest thing to happen to education,” or “finally we have solved this problem in education.” Really all that has done is put tech in classrooms where it collects dust and is not used or worse yet, it is used constantly on tasks that are not better than digital worksheets. I think iPads are cool and have done a lot for integration but it is still just a tool.
Change the culture
It is interesting to see these trends come and go but without really looking at what is hurting in a school or classroom and then attacking that issue. Let’s take Reading for example. Let’s say Newberry Elementary is consistently below grade – level in reading and has decided to make a concerted effort to change that over the next year and beyond. They can try to find software to diagnose kids’ reading and help with deficiencies, which is not a terrible idea, or they can try to change the behavior and perception of students through simple things that can truly change the culture of the school.
- What data do they have to inform their purchase decision?
- Why aren’t the kids reading more?
- Are the books in the library current?
- Do the kids have language challenges, actual skill deficits or are they just not interested?
- Do the teachers want this and will they use it in their daily practice?
There are so many questions to answer to see if that piece of hardware or software is really going to work or even be mildly effective. Don’t teach to the tech!
Tech as a supplement
So let’s say Newberry decides to change the culture of reading in the school and gather data. They start by having set reading time throughout the day to encourage reading for pleasure and they increase trips to the school library. They implement a reading incentive program to push reading in general. They assign reading for homework with emphasis more on the habit rather than testing for answers. They have family reading night events and reading celebrations of Dr. Seuss’s birthday or Scholastic’s day of reading. If, after all that, they find there is a hole somewhere in their development of reading as a skill then maybe technology can come in to supplement. But all too often the tool has been selected before they figure out exactly what the problem is. I have seen it many a time with great products like Leappads and Read 180 or reading apps and online catalogs. These tools are bought and used for a bit, but abandoned because the problem is not solved.
What are we really after?
The introduction of the tablet into education has been a great tool but also a great sales machine. Teachers search endless blogs and lists to find the perfect apps to solve the problems of their classroom. No one faults their quest, but when it comes down to it what is it that we are really after? Have we considered exactly what it is that is missing and if the “right” tool is found, have we exhausted every piece of it before moving on to the next one or abandoning the process? If we can consider this and develop ways of assessing what is there or not then maybe we can go on the quest to find the perfect tool.
Let’s flip that on its head and ask what is it that we are doing now? Are we doing that at least proficiently? What kinds of tasks do we assign our students and in what format is the product? You would be surprised how often the same things comes up and how little variety is there. Chances are the kids write things and research things and watch things. Basically you need a browser and a word processor and that’s it.
Put the content first
One school in Madison, Wisconsin decided that it only needed a handful of things to get the job done and they would continually assess what that meant. Using 7 apps for a whole school seems like nothing but sometimes the simplest solution works. If an entire school only uses a few tools, it would be easy for students and teachers to become masters of them. They will get more in depth with those tools and then be more confident in what they are doing. Don’t teach to the tech. Get the tech out of the focus and put the content first.
Don’t blame the tools
Whether it’s a technology tool or any other tool, it needs to fit the problem. If I am building a house and I am only going to use a screwdriver then it will be a painful process. I might be able to finish, but at the cost of time and quality. If I have the right tools, I can be more successful but that doesn’t mean that I need to chase down the perfect tool or tactic. I am not going to build a house because I got a sweet new hammer; I will build the house because I need shelter. We don’t need to blame the tools.
Make a plan
If more time could be spent in assessing the school’s big picture, deciphering the reasons for the problems, making a plan and then getting professional development to help facilitate the plan, we would be getting a lot more out of our classrooms, our teachers and our students. Wouldn’t be nice to actually spend some time solving a problem during a faculty meeting? Start by thinking about your students in your class. Where are their gaps? What are they having trouble with? How can we really get to deep understanding of whatever the problem is?
Choose one thing your class is really needing help in and come up with a few ways you can actually address it this week. Get out of your regular lesson plan and focus on this one item for even just one part of a regular class period. Come back and share the results.
Tell me about your class’ biggest challenge. Leave a comment below.