"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Student-Teacher Relations Are Central to Authentic Education

March 3, 2018

Today I share a guest post from an elementary school teacher in Maine, a state in the vanguard of Ed Reform 2.0 implementation. Unless changes are made, this year’s freshmen are expected to graduate under the state’s new proficiency-based diploma requirements. In recent months, push-back against this new educational paradigm has grown substantially. Parents, teachers and students are finding standards-based education, a model that emphasizes technology-based education delivery, highly problematic. Here is one teacher’s perspective:

“I love technology. I love it so much that I got my Masters in educational technology through Boise State University in Idaho. Through this program I learned to teach online, gamify my curriculum, personalize learning, use countless technology tools, and promote digital literacy in the classroom.

When I switched to a school district that had one to one technology for my students, I was over the moon! That was until I actually saw it implemented on a large scale. What I saw was not more engaged students, but students clicking through activities without a moment’s notice or even thought. What I found were kids wanting tablets, but not wanting to learn on them; they just wanted to play on the devices.

So I tried to implement activities that would get them really thinking and creating. We made PowToons for our learning. We used educreations to show our thinking. We used Google docs to share writing. Most of what we tried did not enhance learning one bit. Sure, it looked cool and professional, but my students could present a wonderful powerpoint and not even be able to answer questions about what they presented.

In addition, I had to sift through hundreds of different websites, tech tools, and resources to see what would be the best to use in my classroom. I found very little that was better than what I had been using in the classroom before technology. I was disheartened to discover that this was not the silver bullet I thought it was for education. The funny thing is that I thought technology would save me so much time. It really hasn’t, except for a few instances where I don’t have to grade spelling tests; and the apps that I use for spelling do not promote better spellers.

Unless you think I am now anti-technology, I am not. I use technology every day both personally and professionally. I appreciate how it connects me with some of my family far away. I love how I can create products only imagined before, like an iMovie. I love the ease of a word processor and platforms to collaborate and share my writing with others. I also love having my students use the technology for many of the things listed above, but now I know they need so much more than a flashy program for learning. They need me. They need my instruction. They need to discuss face to face with myself and their peers. They need to struggle through problems, with me encouraging them to press on and knowing when to come alongside them and help, but not enable. They need human accountability.

There is a movement in our country to transition students into more digital learning. I could go on about why this is all happening, but others have done that work for me (see Save Maine Schools and Wrench in the Gears). In the end, it will boil down to fewer teachers and more screen time for even our youngest learners. Kids will adapt and learn to click through the system like Pavlovian subjects. We will probably have “experts” claiming increased performance on their very narrow metrics.

What I see in my own school district is not better learning but more behavior. As we push kids beyond what they are capable of understanding, and think that “personalized learning” through technology will be the answer, we are sorely misinformed. Technology has its place in the classroom, but it should never replace what has made education great for hundreds of years-teachers.”

Signed, An Elementary School Teacher in Maine

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