Thursday, September 3, 2009

Having Technology Nurture Learning

I‘ve read a lot of research lately about instructional strategies, best practices, and standards. While much of it is interesting and makes you think about how I taught (since I am out of the classroom now), or what I expect from my eTeachers at Credenda as an administrator, there’s a real risk of jumping on a bandwagon with one perspective and not remaining balanced in our approach to learning or learning theories.

Case in point, in Saskatchewan, we have what is called Common Essential Learnings (CEL’S). Great concept. It promotes the idea that teachers always incorporate one of the CEL’s, such as critical and creative thinking, or independent thinking, or technological literacy into the lesson or instruction. There are six of them. However, it’s really tempting to fall into the trap of inserting a CEL concept in the lesson for the sake of the administrator, who may come around and look at the day planner and ask what CEL’s are you using today in your lesson, but really you never really gave it much thought. Does it sound like I am speaking from experience as a teacher? Well, I am.

This is the challenge I have with the 9 Instructional Strategies as presented by Marzano. Once again, it’s a great concept, but there is a risk of using the list to simply suggest that a particular strategy was used in teaching, and never really think about the reason it was implemented. I think that Marzano would agree with me that he wants the list to be guide and not a prescription of how to instruct. Why? Because the list is by no means exhaustive. There are other skill sets that are as equally important to be practiced or used in the classroom. For example, his research shows the instructional strategy of cooperative learning producing a 27% percentile gain, yet some students may respond better and produce higher results due to a particular learning style that fits them better.

Recently, a colleague shared with me that at the beginning of this school year they sat down as a department with the department chair and were told they needed to incorporate the instructional strategy “identifying similarities and differences” into each of the lessons, because as a strategy it produced the highest results in research with a 45% percentile gain. I was shocked to hear this, because I can’t imagine being a student sitting in the classroom having the same instructional strategy thrown at me every day. That is not differentiated instruction. That is one person jumping on the bandwagon and deciding it’s all about best results, not about the students and their needs.

So when it comes to using technology in the classroom to aid in implementing a variety of instructional strategies, it is really important to mix it up. Teachers need to put themselves in the shoes of their students and think about how they might feel sitting there. Just because they may have a preference in how to teach doesn’t mean that the students are learning. The same goes for technology; just because a teacher is using technology doesn’t mean that students are learning either.

But I did find myself chewing over these few facts, this week, about using technology in the classroom from Smith & Throne (2007) as cited in the research from the Center of Applied Research in Educational Technology: Technology improves student performance when the application directly supports the curriculum objectives being assessed; provides opportunities for student collaboration; adjusts the students ability and prior experience, and provides feedback to the student and teacher about student performance or progress with the application; is integrated into the typical instructional day; provides opportunities for students to design and implement projects that extend the curriculum content being assessed by a particular standardized test; when used in an environment where teachers, the school community, and school and district administrators support the use of technology.

I agree that technology is a very good thing to use in the classroom. While it is very good and useful, I don’t want even our virtual high school to be exclusively about technology. In fact, I want it to be more about relationship building. The technology is the servant, the delivery agent; it never replaces the people.

Smith, G. & Throne, S. (2007). Differentiating instruction with technology in K-5 classrooms. Eugene:ISTE.
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