Before I started to write this article, I asked two non-techie colleagues for ideas. Both of
them told me, “Write about how 1:1 programs are not improving teaching and learning.”
Technology Amplifies Instruction
Districts have implemented 1:1 laptop programs for several reasons, hoping to teach 21st
century skills, compete with other districts for open enrollees, and improve student
achievement (among other reasons). But we all know that there is no panacea in education.Buying technology, without changing instruction, can be very costly.
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This is one of my favorite sayings, and I feel like I’ve been wearing it out lately. I went back to Robyn Jackson’s book by the same title, and found this great example of what that means. To the right is the graphic from the book on “dividing classroom work” and below that are the important prompts to help put this in focus.
There are many teachers creating beautiful graphic organizers and outlines and notes which they continually share with students and other staff. This is truly a great resource for our students, but there is a time when students need to do the creating themselves. Are we doing work that students should be doing?
When I’m seeing teachers go above and beyond in this way, I go back to thinking about gradual release of responsibility and when I ask about it, the most frequent response is that the students can’t do that on their own. My question back is when will they learn?
Our students need to grapple with constructing/creating their own understanding of what they’re supposed to be learning. Teachers already know how to do this. I hope this urge to create is more about teachers love for what they do than a fear that they need to continue in this fashion out of some unspoken expectation that this is what teaching is really about. These tools can be used for scaffolding, but at some point the scaffolding needs to be taken away to see what really is going on behind it.
Prompts to consider when thinking about dividing classroom work:
- Look at the list above. What work are you currently doing that really belongs to the students and what work you are you asking your students to do that really belongs to you?
- Resist the temptation to give students all the information they need at once or upfront. Let students engage in discovery for themselves and provide them only with the information they need to facilitate that discovery.
- Ask students more open-ended questions and answer fewer questions yourself. Only provide answers to questions that will enable students to answer other, larger questions.
-from Never Work Harder Than Your Students by Robyn Jackson
The topic of student engagement, grit, tenacity, stamina, confidence—you name it—keeps coming up. What makes this such a hot topic is that there are so many aspects to it that it’s hard to figure out how to help students overcome it to become self-directed learners. Although there are many issues we have no control over which are involved in this, we need to maximize what we do have control over, and that’s what goes on in the classroom.
How many times have you had a student come up to you and say, “did I get this right,” or “just tell me what the answer is.” This type of question goes against so much of what our instructional aims focus on: there’s more than one way to get to an answer. We want our students to experiment, take risks, and not be afraid to fail; yet they often seem to be willing to work harder at trying to get us to tell them the answer than they are at trying to find the answer out on their own!
Andrew Miller poses the idea that many times students are experiencing “learned helplessness.” He has a variety of solutions which I’ve summarized here:
- Curate and create learning resources
- Questions “for” not “about” learning
- Stop giving answers
- Allow for failure
Of course, these aren’t going to be the silver bullet that fixes your class the week after you try them, but each of them has merit depending on the students in your class. If you have students displaying “learned helplessness” trying one of these could be a good starting point
The idea of failure keeps coming up over and over and over. We try to model it, but to get the point across to students we need a number of tools in our toolbox to help. Embracing failure as a way to success is something most of us find very hard to do, and we need to hear about it in multiple ways, consistently to try and overcome our bias. The 5 minute film festival called: “Freedom to Fail Forward” is a great addition to your toolbox. There are 8 annotated videos under 5 minutes long which can be used for teachable moments or as the focus of a lesson. There’s also a list of links to more resources for those who want to dive deeper.
The underlying message in all of this is that within our classrooms are a variety of students who all have different needs, are at different places in their learning, and this changes not only with each student but sometimes each student is different from class to class or topic to topic. None of this is new to anyone, but what to do about it is the question we all strive to address every day. Thinking again of our efforts as tools in a toolbox, it’s worth looking at familiar tools again and maybe see them in a different light.
Thanks to Edutopia, @, and @VideoAmy for their posts referenced here.