Archive for September, 2014

At a recent Edcamp on Long Island we had a very interesting discussion. Sessions at Edcamps are discussions as opposed to actual power-point presentations. The question posed by someone in the session on relevance in education asked, why are so few Long Island educators connected? This set off a discussion leading to the point that the mindset of teachers successful in the present system, is a belief that they need not change because whatever it is that they are doing, seems to be getting the needed results. Therefore, the better the results for teachers based on students’ standardized test scores, the less teachers need to change their approach, methodology, or pedagogy. Of course that would mean that the most “successful teachers” would need to change the least at what they do, and how they do it.

Of course this is all based on the fact that the results that we are looking for in students, and results that “successful teachers” are obviously producing are actually results that are good. Will they benefit students in the life that they will be living in world in which they will live? Here is my question: should we be basing the results of a student’s lifelong endeavors in an education system by a score on standardized test? Is that test really measuring how much a student has learned for what will be required to thrive in the tech-driven world in which he/she will live?

Of course this applies to more teachers in America than just those living on Long Island. In this environment of test mania once any teacher is meeting the needs of students to succeed on a standardized test, what is his/her incentive to going beyond that shortsighted goal for education? If a teacher is unaware of the need for kids to be digitally literate in order to be prepared for the world in which those students will be forced to live, than how will that teacher meet the education needs of his/her students? If the 20th Century methodology is meeting the needs of the 20th century goals what need is there to even talk about 21st Century learning, or 21st Century skills?

There is a very convincing argument to maintain the status quo. It simply requires educator’s jobs be linked to maintaining that status quo by connecting it to student scores. There are less convincing arguments for innovation, or even to have educators strive for digital literacy. We can hardly point to professional development, as we have come to understand it, since it has obviously not worked well over the last century. Most successful digital literacy today is self-directed and on going, done by educators seeking it. Too many districts, for reasons of a lack of money and time to do so, are not supporting proper PD. If districts were required to offer properly supported PD, it would be one more mandate demanding compliance of districts to add to the growing pile of required unfunded mandates plaguing our education system. This reinforces the fact that the best PD must be self-directed, on going and relevant.

It would seem that if educators are to see a need for change from the status quo it will need to come from their connected colleagues. These are educators who are struggling forward to maintain relevance in this tech-driven culture to prepare kids with the skills to do the same. These educators recognize the need to understand collaboration, curation, communication, and creation with tools that have never been available before, and will soon be replaced by other tools with more complicated operations. Technology evolves through change. None of this will ever take hold if we depend on a status quo mindset of many of our educators. Educators, most who are products of 19th and 20th Century methodology and pedagogy that served them well in their time, are often satisfied with providing the same methodology and pedagogy for their students.

During the lifespan of our students we have seen technology take great strides. The mobile device that was a phone became the smart phone. It is a pocket computer with vast capabilities, and yes, it also enables sophisticated phone calls. We have been introduced to the iPad and Tablet. Computers now enable cars to park and make emergency stops without driver intervention. Social Media has exploded changing our views on many things within our culture. If all of this occurred within the lifetimes of our students before they have even completed their education, what lies ahead after they graduate will only be more technology moving at even a faster pace. This is a pattern we know from history. As educators, it is our moral obligation to prepare our students for the world in which they will live, and not the world that we grew up in. That is too comfortable and easy for us, but it will not help our students?

So, why are some educators stepping up and directing their learning to adjust to what kids will need to know moving forward, while many others are content with the status quo. I do not have clue other than maybe some of what I have mentioned here. Each educator will offer his/her own reasons. These are not bad teachers. A good teacher does not need technology to be good, but a good teacher using technology can be better. We need better educators not just good ones. Our comfort zones are not more important than our student’s futures. I always say, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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How much of what we do as educators is done because that’s the way it’s always been done? I imagine that whenever these things, that we do out of a respect for history, were originally executed, there was probably a reason for it. My question is with our society and all of the systems within it changing so rapidly over the past few decades, are those original reasons for doing things a certain way still valid? How would we know unless we re-examined the things that we do in education and see if they stand up in today’s technology-driven culture?

I often use my dentist as an example of obsolete practices in a modern setting. It has nothing to do with teeth, but rather information forms. You may have had the same experience with any medical or dental office. Every year at best patients are required to fill out a form to update all of the doctor’s patient information. The office person hands out blank forms to fill out all of the information that already lies within the computer system. When I asked why do I need to fill out all the information that you already have, I was told that this is the way we have always done it.

Of course the method, obvious to me, would be to print out the needed information that the computer already had, so that I could check if it needed any corrections. That is one of the reasons why we have computers, to do those repetitive tasks that waste our time. Apparently, it never occurred to the dentist or the staff to use the technology at hand to make a dull, time-consuming task for a patient a more productive and less tedious experience. Why? Because that’s the way we have always done it. That leads me to ask, how many policies or practices do we have in our schools that only exist, because that’s the way it has always been done.

In many instances in education there is also a research component that affects everything that we do. At least we hear that as educators all of the time. Does the research support this? That question may not apply to some things however. Research tells us that the teenage brain does not function well in the morning hours. Few schools have changed their AM openings to accommodate the research. The overall positive effects of homework continues to be questioned by research, yet there are still schools mandating homework be given at alarming rates. Research tells us that physical activity enhances cognitive thinking and promotes more lasting learning, yet, as a money-saving effort, playtime, recess time and even Physical education are often the first programs that fall victim to budget cuts. The reason: That’s the way we have always done it.

How many kids have come to hate Fridays because many of their teachers see that as testing day? It is not uncommon for a kid to have three major exams fall on a single day. Is that a valid assessment of any learning in each of those classes? That is a direct result of educators testing on Friday, because that’s the way it has always been done. I could point out that direct instruction and lecture are no longer valued as the most effective methods of teaching, yet they are still the focal point in methodology of too many teachers. Why? Because that’s the way it has always been done.

No, this doesn’t happen in every school with every educator, but it happens more often than it should. We need to have a better understanding of why we do things in education. We can no longer take for granted that just because something has always been done a certain way, that it is good for kids. It is time to apply what we know to what we do. Isn’t that what education is about? It may be time to examine policies and practices to see if they still fit in an ever-changing modern world. The way we do things should always be affected by why we do things. If research, or common sense changes the why, we need to adjust the way. That is progress. If we skip progress, change will come through reform. Reform is never an easy alternative.

There are so many things to look at in education that it is just easy to continue doing things the way they have always been done in the past. We need to look at and consider just where that mindset has brought us. We need to make time to re-examine what we do and why we do it on all levels of education. If administrators don’t want to take it on, than teachers should. As educated people we have the research and the know how to apply methods to maximize learning for students. We need to prioritize that as a goal for education. That is not something that has always been done that way.

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