The Colored Chalk Learning Revolution

ComputerMenThe challenge of incorporating technology in the classroom has always been finding ways to utilize it effectively. It’s tempting to begin planning around what the technology can DO, building the lesson from that rather than the reverse. 

Got a screen that responds to touch? Let’s make lessons that involve kids running up and smacking the big expensive screen we don’t have a repair budget for! Look at them whacking at that screen! How very interactive! And this thing over here has a camera? OMG – no more writing! When we cover Populism and bimetallism, instead of explanations I’ll assign a PHOTO ESSAY! No words, just… truth of the soul.

The opposite error is far more common, however – that of merely taking existing lessons and activities and throwing them onto some high-dollar tech in hopes they are now modern.

1Kid at Smartboard980: Hey kids! It used to be Jeopardy w/ pockets of index cards – but now it’s on the Overhead Projector!

1990: Hey kids! It used to be Jeopardy on the Overhead Projector – but now it’s on the Dry Erase Board!

2000: Hey kids! It used to be Jeopardy on the Dry Erase Board – but now it’s on the Smart Board!

2010: Hey kids! Handheld personal interactive devices! Instead of SAYING your answers, you poke the tiny expensive screen we don’t have a repair budget for and your answers appear on the big screen! TECHNOLOGY! INTER-F***ING-ACTIVE!

At least in these efforts, though, teachers are trying to be creative, to connect, to find ways to keep kids engaged. They avoid our deepest institutional loathing.The serious scorn is reserved for those of the Section Review – the users of Ancillaries, the givers of Worksheets, the dark perpetuators of… (please pardon my language):

BOOK WORK.

Hide Your Kids Hide Your WifeHide your kids, hide your wife, they’re mimeographin’ everybody up in here.

There is no greater sin against pedagogical piety than sit-down, shut-up, paper-pushing. Follow any edu-spiring Twitter account or attend any PD of the past, oh… 200 years, and your cup will overflow with the essential role of student collaboration, interaction, teachers who build relationships, the individuality and quirks of each and every little darling. How dare you limit and categorize them with due dates! Grades! Assignments! Stop ruining the future, you maladaptive crony!

WorksheetFacing such venom, the façade of technological revolution has had to settle for second place – runner-up status in the ranking of all things shameful.

Until now.

Introducing “Virtual Learning” – it’s misused technology AND worksheet learning!

Before you get your EduTech Panties in a wad, I realize there are teachers using technology in wonderful ways out there. For that matter, there’s a time and place for a little book work. But let’s be honest about what we’re doing the rest of the time, and why.

e2020“Virtual Learning” is a flashy new euphemism for “book work and worksheets,” but online.

Students who for whatever reason fall short on credits, or can’t handle the rigors of participating in a regular class, are plopped in front of a computer and allowed to scan through some direct instruction, click some A B C or Ds, type out a few short answers for a real person to look over, and to keep clicking as often as necessary until they get enough correct to proceed to the next ‘module’ – what we used to call a ‘chapter’.

There’s no real interaction with the teacher, none at all with other students. There’s no discussion, participation, or any of the things the rest of us have been told we’re stupid (and quite likely dangerous) if we think students can learn without.

Puppet TeacherIt’s everything teachers have been badgered and mocked for, in pop culture and required PD, minus the human interaction. While teachers are gathered in one part of the building being told for the hundredth time that “students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” and that any lesson built around teacher-selected content or students working individually is outdated, ineffective, and grounds for dismissal, students are gathered in another part of the building (or on laptops at home in their sweats with Teen Mom blaring three feet away) working individually on teacher-selected content without a clue what their teacher even looks like, let alone “how much they care.”

This is known as “working at their own pace” through “adaptive software.” In other words, if you click too many wrong letters the first eight times, you get to click them again. If you haven’t clicked enough by the end of May, you fail. Hey, we gotta draw a line somewhere, kid.

Fallout: New Marzano this is not.

Don’t misunderstand me. There’s a place for this kind of thing if we’d just be a bit more honest with ourselves. The State in its wisdom has set forth requirements for garnering a diploma, and we know the statistics for kids who can’t or won’t meet them. Given the choice between holding fast to the importance of World History and English II for future cosmetologists and mechanics, or finding some way to check the box on the paperwork so the kid can get on with their lives employed and happy, I’ll check the box and ship them forward without guilt or regret. Besides, the State has required that we offer this option as part of their drive for, um... "higher standards."

Now That's What I Call Technology(In other news, irony is dead.)

It’s unfortunate we can’t have two flavors of high school diploma – one saying you made it through in some form and met minimum requirements, another to say that as best we can tell you’re as ready for college or other post-secondary pursuits as anyone can be at 18.

But we don’t.

So I get it – we need options for kids who are going to fail otherwise. Failing them helps no one – not them, not us, not the community, the economy, the world, no one. So we find ways to check the box and move them on.

I just wish we could do it without the rhetoric and euphemisms. I wish we could call it what it is – a safety net for kids who can’t or won’t join the class discussions, collaborate effectively with their peers, or inquire-base their own learning. It’s worksheets online – a few passages and questions from the Florida version of Wikipedia, a little extra work by some classroom teacher who’s never met this kid, and some flexibility regarding whether they fill in the blanks for an hour a day or simply cram it all in one weekend during the Simpsons marathon.

Mark Harmon Summer SchoolWhile we’re at it, maybe we could ease up a bit on the teachers doing similar things in class, just trying to get their kids through. Yes, they’ve photocopied a crossword puzzle for review. No, they won’t be winning any awards for creativity. But instead of condemning them, maybe we could notice the way they’re impacting their kids in other ways – taking those random one-on-one opportunities or dragging the whole group kicking and screaming into the light of basic knowledge.

Doing the things that 2007 Dell can’t, whatever its other impressive features.

Let’s keep all of our options open, but let’s call things what they are. It’s easier to make the best decisions with the tools at our disposal if we do.

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