The other day, I worked at the kickoff event for this year’s Ohio eTech ARRA Grant recipients. There were 16 schools represented by teams of teachers, tech coaches and facilitators, and administrators. The purpose was to introduce participants to some of the issues of tech-rich classrooms, and especially to start the conversations that will be the biggest part of their ongoing professional development.
I especially enjoyed a panel session seating team members from past grant recipient schools. The panel discussion was held twice with two different moderators, so each session was quite different. Here are some items I noted and my two cents worth.
The first question asked was, “What has surprised you?” An administrator said that the level of parent resistance was a huge surprise. I would agree that we should have every reason to expect parents to want the most up-to-date and innovative learning experience for their children. But the sad fact is that by the nature of schooling and the number of years that parents spent in their schools, there is a fairly irrepressible vision of what education should look like and textbooks are a pivotal part of that vision. The principal later said that they had not done a good enough job of communicating and when they finally held a thoroughly thought-out orientation, attitudes improved.
Another surprise, that was nodded enthusiastically to, was the “Quality of work students could accomplish — especially those who were reluctant workers before.”. We all know stories of underachieving learners who take off when empowered with digital and network tools. This, alone, is probably the most compelling reason to me why nearly every aspect of formal learning should reflect today’s prevailing information landscape — networked, digital and abundant. We simply can’t afford to continue wasting the broader talents of our children.
What surprised me was when one of the tech facilitators expressed surprise at the ease of transition exhibited by her teachers. It’s worth noting that the teachers involved in the grant project are all volunteers. Still, moving from stand and deliver high school teaching to learner driven education is a huge leap for anyone. A principal echoed these sentiments when he expressed surprise and pride in the professional growth in his teachers, especially in their enthusiasm for continued learning and the cohesiveness of the team.
Another commented on how naturally many of the students took on various roles in the classroom and in team projects. Skills emerged that had not been apparent before. This is another story that I hear frequently. “We had no ideal that she had those communication skills, or that ability to lead.”
The “E” word came up often, engagement. One teacher said that “..even (her) lowest students, wanting to come back to the social studies classroom throughout the day.” I continue to struggle with what exactly this means, or what it looks like. Is simply wanting students to want to attend our classrooms the goal, or is it something deeper. If it’s deeper, then how do we describe that and accomplish it.
When asked how the project had changed their teaching practices, one teacher said that the textbook had completely disappeared. Several described ways that reading assignments had morphed into richer and more interactive learning experiences. One teach said that her daily question had changed from, “How do I get this across, to how do I get students to learn this?” another teacher tagged onto that, “Productive conversations.”
A principal said that when he use to see pockets of unsupervised students, he’d thing, “Trouble,” and ask where their teacher was. Now, he’s accustomed to seeing students working together, unsupervised, and rather than reacting with alarm, he reacts with curiosity, “What are they learning right now?”
Another commented that technology “leveled the playing field.” This is worthy of much more exploration. I want to ask, “Why?” I wonder, out loud, if modern information and communication technologies address and respond to a much broader range of literacy skills than paper-printed content.
One of the most intriguing comments made in these sessions was when a teacher said that they, “Wanted to get students to disassociate their learning work from grades.” I’ll have to spend some more time unpacking this in my mind, but it goes along with concerns expressed several times for students who had been highly successful before the grant, but were not responding positively their new learning environment. “Can’t you just give us some notes? Do we have to think creatively today?”
How assessment had changed came up quite frequently within other conversations. But one principal said to, “…look at the questions you’re asking in assessment. If your students can google the answer, then you’re asking the wrong questions.”
Another teacher said that her students were getting to know each other in new ways, Students get to know each other in a new way. “They actually know each other, because they’ve worked together.”. This strikes me as interesting, that students go to class to get to know each other. Quite the antithesis of the schooling that was done to me.