Being critical

My summer vacation is almost finished. 2 weeks and the school will be full of students, some excited to be here and some wishing they were anywhere else but here. It’s been an odd summer in that I spend most of my time working at a second job – painting – and doing some odd jobs around the house. No major get-away and nothing really exciting. As I pondered the upcoming year through the summer, caught up on some of my reader reading and became connected to my PLN in Plurk again, I noticed a few topics of discussion that caught my attention. So, in no particular order, here are some of the thoughts on these topics.

Tech leery administration

Administrators are the educational leaders of their schools/divisions/districts. Whether they embrace this or not it is something that has been demonstrated in a number of different books and articles about the subject. These people are the leaders of their respective institutions and set the direction and tone of what is going on. It baffles me that there seems to be so many of these people who, for various reasons, are leery of technology use in classrooms. 

Being an administrator, I know that many of these people are dedicated to creating the best possible learning environments that they can for the students. However, it has also been my observation that many of them are very leery of using web2.0 technologies in schools. Many of them, from what I understand, do not fully understand these technologies and don’t appreciate how they might fit into the learning environment. There is a fear of the “What if” that continues to be perpetuated by the media without a broader and more indepth discussion of what is actually happening. 

Administrators also need to begin using these tools themselves. The time when one could ignore advances in technology ended a while back. I’m not sure how an administrator can begin to make decisions regarding technology use and integration without having some working knowledge of the technology in question. I know you don’t have to know all about a car to drive it but it helps to know about how things work so that you can make decisions based on knowledge instead of the colour you like. 

21st Century Teaching

I’m going to take a leap here and go against much of the hype that I’ve been reading. Students are disengaged because they are, well, children and would like to be doing other things instead of being in school and it hasn’t changed. Don’t you think that Socrates had to deal with someone sitting in the class thinking “Man, I’d rather be out doing combat training than listening to all these dumb questions.” Really, to think that these are the first students to be disengaged is, well, absurd. We’re giving way too much power to the tools by discussing student disengagement because their teachers aren’t using these tools. To do so minimizes the great talent it takes to teach, to know content and to make students interested in what is being delivered. Technology is a tool in the same manner as a pen, book and a whiteboard. Yes they text, play video games and communicate via internet and have access to so much more information but it’s still the skill and art of the teacher that bridges the knowledge the student has to what is out there. Creating critical and creative thinkers doesn’t require technology.

The 21st Century Student

Again, I’m going to go against the stream but there seems to be way too much focus on a particular student type. I know that earlier this month there was some discussions about a well known student blogger who also was part of some educators twitter conversations. For me, that is just a no-no. Somewhere along the line there has been a confusion between asking students for their input and worshipping some of these students for their skills. I know that may offend many but as an administrator, I’ve seen it become more and more prevalent in my dealings with students. Somewhere along the way the voice of youth has become the overpowering voice as adults abdicate their responsibilities of teaching and guiding – being adult – in order to be “liked” by youth in the guise of making sure that youth have a voice. 

Unfortunately it seems to be only certain youth with particular skills that burst onto the educational discussion scene. Yes, they need to be heard but not at the expense of adult knowledge, experience and wisdom. And, it’s okay for them to be disappointed or upset or angry when they don’t get their way. It’s important they learn that respecting someone older is important even if they don’t agree with them. Eventually the tables will turn and if they haven’t learnt some of these lessons, they will have a struggle with the outcomes. Of course, the opposite is true and adults need to respect the youth but that’s a whole different discussion. In my experience, many youth confuse respect with getting their own way. To them, respecting them is giving them what they want. And before the dumping begins, I meet with many students during the year. I do have a clue! 

The 21st century student is so much more than technology and being connected globally. In fact, a huge group of youth aren’t. For some reason, the tech savvy adults have grasped onto this without looking around 360 degrees to see all the other students who aren’t, can’t be, don’t want to be or have other interests. These adults are, sorry to say, confusing the developing youth connectiveness and technology use with abilities and skills. Learning is so much more than using technology and, for many youth, needs to be more. Yes we need to teach many different skills but, really, they are just things we have taught but now in a new milieu – online. The one example of the “new 21st century” student doesn’t come close to capturing the variety and differences in students that will come into a classroom and it’s wrong to take that view. If educators are to truly be teaching to all,  to narrow them all down to a particular type of all doesn’t work and things have gone awry somewhere. 

Ageism

What is this? Like really, I’ve read it a few places where it’s tossed around as a way to discount all the experience and wisdom that people have gained through living. There is a huge difference between being 16 and 46 and the experience gained in that time does count and cannot be discarded with a pshah and the utterance of “ageism”. Again, it bothers me when I read educators using this in order to discount what other adults/educators say. When a youth says it to prove a point, it demonstrates the youth’s inexperience and, to some degree, lack of respect. Adults who have achieved a particular position have knowledge and wisdom that youth just don’t have and to say otherwise is to, once again, worship the whole youth culture. I’ve learned to respect the wisdom of elders by listening to what they have to say and then drawing from their wisdom to apply lessons to my own life. But in order to do that, I have had to realize that their stories of up hill both ways through 8 feet of snow aren’t about the hill or the snow but about something much more. Too quickly the phrase “but it’s not like that any more” or some equivalent is tossed out and the wisdom is lost. And, really, some of what I’ve read does sound like whining and wanting something that hasn’t yet been earned. (reflect on the hills and snow!) 

Schools and teachers need technology

Maybe. I’m still not sure that we need all the technology that is being pushed. Too often, technology is seen as a way of “engaging” students so they don’t “disconnect” when they come to school. Having watched several “master” teachers in their classrooms, students don’t need technology to learn. In fact, I’d rather see a teacher master the art of teaching before they start with the technology gadgets. Poor teaching will not be improved with technology. Engaged students are that way because an adult has taken them to a place where engagement is necessary, technology aside. 

I use technology but not as a means of engagement for students. If my students are not engaged before the technology is used, they won’t be no matter what technology I toss at them. It is a tool. It is a tool. It is a tool. Nothing more. Engagement needs to be planned and created before the technology is used by the students. Oh, we can allow them to be engaged by letting them play games but if there is no engagement before that, then it’s just the game. And, again, before I get it from the educational game people, I am a gamer – not to the degree I was – but I’ve been involved in WoW, online games, video games and the sort. There is a great deal of learning that takes place but there needs to be someone to draw out what was learned. 

I’ll stop here. I have a few other things but I figure that, for one day, I’ve brought out a few things that have been crinkling my linen over the summer.

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8 responses

  1. Hi Kelly

    There must be something in the phases of the moon, the tide, or too much MSG for old folks. I just blogged something similar:”So what exactly is 21st century learning.” http://patriciaellencone.blogspot.com/2008/08/sowhat-exactly-is-21st-century-learning.html

    My step-daughter commented on my comments saying that she agreed; rote-learning is a large part of what she does these days…and she’s one of the most tech-savy people I know.

    Thanks for the blog.

  2. […] Original post by Educational Discourse […]

  3. Very well written and thoroughly enjoyed it. Too bad many administrators will never see this because, well, they have enough trouble even checking email.

  4. I always enjoy reading your blog. It is OK to be a salmon, otherwise how would there be more salmon.

    Technology is a tool, and computers have been around and used in education for several decades now. These points are frequently lost in the noise of the discussion of the latest application.

    Granted there were no GUIs and punch cards carried the program’s instructions, but they were there. When I was in junior high school in a town in New Mexico, our class schedules and activity cards were printed on punch cards. That is just ONE example.

    Keep up the good work!

  5. DISAGREE! I do not worship anyone but my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! I do not put students or adults or great speakers on pedestals. I value the intellect thank you very much! And I don’t really care if anyone likes me, in fact I’m sure they don’t. That is okay. I am on this planet for one purpose only = to do His will. If that involves understanding students’ point of view then so be it.
    Using technology IS crucial to their futures and to ignore is a disservice. Our economies in both the USA and Canada are being affected now and it will only get worse. Yes these are tools, but being able to manipulate them creatively is the point. Producing future workers in the economies of our countries who are able to think critically is the point. This cannot be accomplished without the use of the tools. There are many who are concerned about the widening digital divide, or as I like to say the wrinkles.
    When looking around my community, I see 100% connected youth outside of school. I am only seeking to use tools with which these kids are already familiar. I seek to instill a love of learning independently through use of these very tools. Maybe the percentages are different where you live.
    I would agree that poor teaching is not improved by tech gadgets. I would also agree that technology makes engaging students a lot easier. Doing a videoconference with a classroom in another locale before a project engages students in the project. A lot easier to use skype than the old way of audio only landlines….

  6. Thanks for the comments Patricia, Ken, Sheryl and mrsdurff. Mrsdurff, I strongly agree with your beliefs but, unfortunately, they are not the beliefs of all. The culture of youth and consumerism, or whatever you want to call it, is very strong and very powerful. I also connected youth all around me. But being connected doesn’t equal learning and being able to use the tools doesn’t make you a better learner and, if we narrow learning to using tools we are missing out on such a wide breadth of learning opportunities. I coach a multitude of sports. Learning takes place there all the time. We use some tech tools to help with teaching but we also work on teamwork in f2f situations that is very different that those involving technology.
    As for listening to students’ points of view, that is important BUT as an adult you and I have the responsibility to point out misconceptions, errors and problems that we see. As for doing His will, I fully agree with you and believe that He will guide what I do each day. I also believe that His word provides us with the insight we need to make wise decisions. So, it is the responsibility of the adults to raise up the youth, guiding and correcting them.
    As an administrator, I continuously deal with parents and students who do look at things from the perspective of if you don’t agree with the youth, you’re being disrespectful – and I see it more and more. Instead of helping these youth deal with mistakes and consequences, there is denial and blaming that does the youth absolutely no good. Maybe in the past people gave too much credence to the educators but right now I deal with the exact opposite – and not just one or two. In my tenure as an administrator is has not improved.
    I admire that you “seek to instill a love of learning independently through use of these very tools.” However, not all students learn this way – we seem to be forgetting that there are a number of learning styles.
    Using technology is important to their futures but so is learning to deal with situations f2f, learning to see the beauty of the world around, physical activity, spiritual development and a host of other things. From what I’m seeing, they’re doing a fairly good job of learning how to use technology all on their own. Maybe we need to allow them to demonstrate their learning in ways that allow for greater use of technology and guide them on how to be discerning users, using the technology for their, and others’, betterment.
    You’re right, Skype is much better than a landline and web connections allow us to add a different dimension to the learning that maybe wasn’t there for some. In my school, we’ve been doing distance ed with video and sound for over 12 years. The web allows us to do things with less $, but our students have been exposed to connecting with other classes for some time. It’s been part of our realization that, in rural areas, population decrease necessitates us to look for different ways to keep education viable for small schools.
    As for not liking you, I wouldn’t be so harsh. I may not agree with all you say but I know you are a caring and dedicated educator. Having a difference of opinion doesn’t mean that I cannot see your passion for students and your desire to give them the best opportunities you can. I also see this in other teachers who aren’t as tech savvy as you. Helping youth learn and see the message in “up hill both ways in 8 feet of snow” is what I’m after.

  7. Well, we are going to have to agree to disagree on a few things. I think we have to listen to kids….I think we have to listen a LOT. They shouldn’t be totally empowered, but they should be heard. Thinking that the teacher has all the answers is misguided. In fact, some of my best teaching has been a result of asking the right questions and listening.

    Technology is only a tool. A great tool, but only a tool. We will always need great teachers.

    I won’t touch the part about administrators… I have said enough.

  8. […] « Being critical Listening and decisions August 16, 2008 Well, my last post has created some good discussion, I always like discussion. One thing that seemed to generate some […]

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