Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We're Lucky To Have Tech, But Are We Any Wiser?

In the age before tech tools, a.k.a. the analog world, teachers had to find creative ways to engage students with difficult texts or concepts, and help them transition to more challenging reads and ideas, but it wasn’t always easy or even achievable in 180 days! And, naturally some teachers were better at it than others. Now that we’re lucky enough to have tech in schools, are we any wiser? What’s changed in terms of how we use our resources? How are we using tech tools effectively to motivate reluctant learners and help them make the necessary transitions to become literate, educated adults? 

If students reach the fourth grade without strong math or reading skills, how many of these students overcome their deficiencies in middle school, high school or even adulthood? How are we truly using tech tools as interventions to stop the cycle of illiteracy and aliteracy?  

Today’s tech tools proclaim to boost critical thinking and combat all types of illiteracy, and I believe they can...someday in the near future, not just yet! I visited a Title I school recently where thousands of dollars had been spent on lap top carts, yet no one had bought the software for the lap tops. How effective was that decision to buy the hardware without the software? How long will the lap top carts sit in a closet before students and teachers can take advantage of them? Like this school, not all of our nation’s schools have caught up and established the infrastructure needed to support complete tech integration, and in those schools that have, we need to ask if the tech is being used wisely to teach critical thinking. 

With good reason, there’s been a lot of buzz about the September 3rd, 2011 New York Times article revealing the stagnant test scores of the Kyrene School district of Arizona. Many pro tech educators, including me, claim these statistics don’t tell the full story. However, what is the real story? I am a firm believer that learning how to critically think, without ever teaching to a test, increases a student’s chances of scoring high on standardized tests. Of course, for some students, it’s just not that simple; there will be other factors that affect their test performance. But, on the whole, if there is an entire school who has been using tech wisely and meaningfully for several years, statistically wouldn’t the scores tend to be higher? So, the questions remain: With tech tools as support, what critical thinking skills do students need to learn from year to year, and how are all subject area teachers across grade levels working in vertical teams to achieve “digital” continuity from kindergarten to high school? How are teachers building on the tech and critical thinking skills students mastered in previous years? We need to reflect on our curriculum goals that integrate tech and identify exactly how these goals help students develop critical thinking, study habits, and mastery of concepts to progress to more rigorous thinking levels. 
However, if schools have struggled to achieve this continuity and consistency to build vertical teams and meet benchmarks when we first began to use pen, paper and books, what are we going to do differently now that we have tech?  Have we grown wiser? These are questions  I think we must continually ask:
  • How are we using specific tech tools to effectively address illiteracy and aliteracy?
  • How does my school or my district’s vertical team create continuity, consistency and increase rigor year to year? What conditions create successful tech integration?
  • How are we using specific tech tools to effectively teach critical thinking year to year?
  • How are we using tech tools to engage and build autonomy?
  • How are we using tech tools to help reluctant learners transition from less challenging work to more rigorous academic levels?
  • How has tech integration lead to increased academic achievement? 
  • What specific tasks and roles are we assigning reluctant readers and writers when we use tech tools in the classroom? How we are we using tech tools to help build these students’ skills so that they can have an active role in our classrooms, and become independent learners?  
Tech in education remains undiscovered country for many schools, and our students exist as digital natives held back by an analog world. Many of our nation’s teachers remain afraid to abandon the analog world. The sooner we begin to coordinate our efforts, the wiser and luckier we will be.   

Please check my webdoc and share your thoughts! Thanks for reading!

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