Friday, March 9, 2012

Random thoughts on Student Learning

There are days I forget how truly involved I am in technology and education among other things. 

  • I oversee my department, schedule professional development workshops, facilitate those workshops, and also handle several vendor contracts.
  • Twice a week I am in one particular district as their Tech Coach. 
  • I facilitate several local online courses through our Moodle platform. 
  • I am the co-chair of our Technology Committee
  • I am our Title III (ESL) Grant Coordinator
  • I am our Senior Enrichment Coordinator
  • I host two separate blogs, including this one. 
  • I try to keep up with my Twitter profile. 
And let's not forget about my family commitments as a father of three very young children and a husband to a very patient wife. 

Therefore, I don't always feel much sympathy for those who complain that they don't have enough time to learn about technology and/or incorporate it into their classrooms. I do everything that I have listed plus whatever else I am called upon to do AND I still find time to research, review, and practice. 

Now that I have that out of the way, I can get on with my original plans for this post....

As the final assignment in my Internet Safety course, I pose the following questions

This course has addressed various topics regarding the integation of technology in education. These key factors are all pieces of a much larger goal which is ultimately student learning.
  1. Of all the topics, articles, and videos discussed what is the most important thing(s) that stood out to you?
  2. How do you plan on incorporating this information into teaching?
  3. Where do we go from here?
There was and always is very good dialogue that goes along with this assignment. Many teachers share their "Ah Ha" moments as they begin to reassess their philosophy on education going forward. 

One teach in particular, raised a number of interesting points which spurred further conversation among the group. Here is that teacher's original response: 

(Teacher 1)
1. The most important thing that stood out to me was the video with Kevin Honeycutt [side note: this video was from the 2011 NYSCATE Conference where Kevin Honeycutt was one of the keynote speakers]. This video discussed the importance of inspiring passion to learn in students. He reinforced how critical it is to provide the tools for these students and teach them how to utilize them to enhance their love of learning. It stresses how teachers need to change their classrooms into dynamic environments where students enter and want to expand their horizons. We need to start having students recognize their innate powers that they are born with rather than mold them to fit into what we feel is the ideal language learner. When we start to create an environment where students feel important and where they see that we believe in them will we create a generation of learners that believe in themselves and challenge themselves to be "great". 

2. It is very important to incorporate this information into teaching. At my level and subject (Spanish) the use of new technology is not a luxury but a necessity. Alot of language acquisition is based on modeling and our society does not have enough models for my students. However, all of the new technology opens up the world for my students and gives them the models that they need. I plan on connecting my students to others in other countries a lot more now .

3. In terms of where we go from here I think that the challenge becomes attempting to utilizing these new tools in environments where financial strains somewhat limit what we can have. It is important to stress the importance of opening up their world through new technology and how, financially, this is essential to our future economy. We need to enhance education and refocus how we view education in our society. We cannot look at technology as supplemental but as a tool we have to open up our educational world and keep up as a society with the incredibly rapidly changing world. Only when our schools change can we become part of a global economy and compete in such an environment.

(Teacher 2 | In Response) 
I too think we need to "light the fire" of learning in our students.  I am still having difficulty helping my reluctant learners to realize that they do have the power, despite the use of various technologies.  I continue to plug away in the hopes that I will find the magic bullet that will wake up those students who haven't yet found the value in challenging themselves.

My Response (and the foundation of this post!)
It's difficult to light that fire, when we are so focused on testing and data collection. 

The system is literally killing the desire to learn among our students and our teachers as well. A recently New York Times article stated that teacher morale is at a all time low with a third of teachers seeking to leave education in the next five years. 

The system doesn't encourage our students to learn. it encourages them to takes tests and a lot of tests. It encourages them to take tests that have no implications; they don't receive a real grade. They aren't held accountable for that grade. We bring them in, sit them down, test them, test them again, and test them a third time. Somewhere in between we try to instill content on them and teach them to be good students. We never ask them what they want to learn or how they want to learn. 

Our system needs to focus on student learning, portfolio development, and career exploration. Why not incorporate the necessary skills in a student engaged environment that allows the students to choose from a variety of options?

Both individuals raised several very good points. (1) For many technology is a necessity. It's not a game that we've introduced to our students. It's not a toy that we play with on Friday afternoons. It's the gateway to learning; it's key to unlocking new opportunities and experiences that would not have been possible otherwise. (2) Technology a large component of 21st century learning and education as a whole. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we can continue to prepare our students to be "college and career ready" while ignoring and/or underestimating technology. Society has steadily adapted to the influx of technology and social media. The private sector has acknowledged this and embraced this. However, a large number of  educational institutions continue to stick their heads in the sand or downplay the potential of technology. Others will try to throw out one excuse or another. If we had more money and our budgets weren't being cut blah blah blah - Not every student in my district has technology; there is a discrepancy among students, therefore we are putting them at a disadvantage when we use technology - etc. etc. etc. (3) The system has killed the desire to learn. The system is so focus on student assessments, student growth, and quantifying the qualitative nature of learning that we've killed the passion for learning along the way. We aren't willing to admit it, but we know our teachers are teaching to the test. Our students are onto us. They know these tests have little to no impact on their grades nor graduation. 

So how do we reverse the process? How can we reinvigorate learning among our students? We need to change the system and we as TEACHERS need to change the system. Yes - I know. That statement is easier said then done. Nevertheless, we need to take back education; we need to take back the ability to educate, to assess, and to teach, we need to our state and federal governments to support education rather than dictate education, and we need to establish a process that holds students accountable for their successes and properly prepares them for "career and college readiness." 

Otherwise, we will be stuck here treading water waiting for the imminent failure of the latest alphabet soup of programs that have been handed down by our government "leaders."

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