Cutting Ineffective Instructional Strategies #edtech

Every problem passes through three stages on the way to acceptance: First, it appears laughable; second, it is fought against; third, it is considered self-evident.
Source: 1913, Title: Allgemeine Verkehrsgeographie, Author: Kurt Hassert (Professor der Geographie an der Handels-Hochschule Köln), Quote Page 121, Publisher: G. J. Göschen, Berlin und Leipzig. (HathiTrust Full View) link

Sharing one's thoughts, even half-baked, can garner attention that may spark some ridicule. A few colleagues have challenged my thinking after reading my last few blog posts.

"Miguel, don't blame the gadgets! It's not the technology's fault that teachers have not been able to systematically implement it in ways that impact student achievement." If an instructional strategy doesn't work, then it should be dumped, removed, excised from the classroom. That is what we've been building to ever since No Child Left Behind. For that time period, from then until now, I have been an ardent edtech supporter.

Race for Results
A colleague said to me recently, "After reading your blog entries about Banning Technology (where I don't actually recommend we ban technology), I was quite angry." The reason for the anger is understandable. Have our last 20 years been a boondoggle?

In truth, we may have learned a bit more than what didn't work. That's true for MORE than technology, as you will see in James' comments in tomorrow morning's blog entry.

The Future WAS Bright, And It Can Be Even Better

When I read Will Richardson's March, 2013 article, it seemed the future was never brighter. We were on the cusp of tremendous change:
As Larry Cuban and others have pointed out, we've spent billions of dollars on technology that by almost every measure has had little or no widespread effect. No doubt, we've spent millions of dollars on iPads and interactive whiteboards in schools that do little more than deliver digitized worksheets or teacher-directed content to students. 
But it's not about the tools. It's not about layering expensive technology on top of the traditional curriculum. Instead, it's about addressing the new needs of modern learners in entirely new ways. (Source: ASCD)
The traditional curriculum. Is that the same guaranteed and viable curriculum (GVC) Robert Marzano talks about?
To determine whether a school has a GVC, we must first describe it. A “guaranteed” curriculum is often defined as a mechanism through which all students have an equal opportunity (time and access) to learn rigorous content. This requires a school-wide (or district-wide) agreement and common understanding of the essential content that all students need to know, understand, and be able to do. 
The word “all” needs emphasis; a guaranteed curriculum promotes equity, giving all children equal opportunity to learn essential content, and to provide this opportunity, curricular materials and instructional approaches must be grounded in research, implemented with fidelity, and must include vertical as well as horizontal alignment. 
Curriculum development is often regarded as a district function. However, schools (through teachers) implement the curriculum, and, if implementation varies significantly from teacher to teacher, then student outcomes will also likely vary significantly from classroom to classroom. 
These days, teachers have access to a variety of curriculum resources, such as open educational resources, playlists, digital textbooks, and teacher-developed curriculum. Having access to options is a good thing, but having many choices does not ensure all choices are well aligned to the school’s GVC
(Source: MCREL)
Wow, I can think of no other time in our lives that teachers and students have so many choices to learn. Are we better off for it?
Research shows that if you’re surrounded by an abundance of options, you typically end up less satisfied with your final decision than if you’d been given fewer options in the first place. Source: Psychology Today
 I'm not saying choice isn't important, only that we need to take care in schools today. Do we really need access to MS Office 365, G Suite EDU, Apple Classroom, Chromebooks, iPads and Surface Books? If your answer is NO, then be aware many school districts have them and the result is anomie.

The Needs of Students

We've spent a lot of time talking about what the NEEDS of students are. Will Richardson said, way back in 2013, that the world has changed. He writes in that same article:
Learning is now truly participatory in real-world contexts. The transformation occurs in that participation, that connection with other learners outside school walls with whom we can converse, create, and publish authentic, meaningful, beautiful work. 
That's why so many edtech pundits talk endlessly about social media and its power to connect us. The funny thing is, "Yay, it worked." Our kids are connected in amazing ways NOW. They are able to publish authentic, meaningful work (and do) ALL the time if they have a device and access. Plant that flag.

The power of technology is easy. It suggests that our facility with getting connected has addressed the fundamental needs of our students. What are those needs you ask? Before we list those, let's take a quick look (AGAIN) at the  World Economic Forum's five trends. Of those, one of them is THE MOST important trend:
Embrace lifelong learning, or else. Each of those replaced will need at least 101 days of retraining and “upskilling.” If you plan to be working between now and 2022, you have some learning to do. (Source: Embrace Lifelong Learning, or Else)
The need for reading (both text and audio reading), writing, thinking about that has never been more important. And, our local education agencies aren't getting the job done.

As that paragon of research, MCREL, points out,  "having many choices does not ensure all choices are well aligned to the school’s guaranteed and viable curriculum." Mike Schmoker makes a powerful's time to focus, to strive for simplicity in schools.

A tech-rich environment hasn't gotten us there. Yes, yes, no doubt, edtech apologists will utter the same words that C.S. Lewis cited in Mere Christianity:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” - G.K. Chesterton
How long will we strive for the edtech ideal, captured by that shining example on the hill of instructional technology, before we look around and see how many children have grown up without critical reading/writing, thinking skills? media has created a highly efficient way for false stories to reach millions in a hurry. Some fake news ends up trending on Twitter and Facebook. And millennials may play a critical role in this process, as both victims and unwitting accomplices.
According to a recent study by MindEdge, a Waltham, MA-based learning company founded in 1998 by Harvard and MIT educators, many millennials lack critical thinking skills.
Source: Goodcall 

The End is Nigh

As I explained, in my experience with edtech, the majority of the work I was engaged in made little mention of John Hattie's work. This meant that many of the positive effects attributed to technology lacked an effect size that resulted in significant growth for students. That is, growth greater than .40.

As a result of new information, I've taken to re-evaluating my entire approach to teaching and learning.  It's made me question my edtech roots:
  • Is saturating classrooms with technology, advocating for the use of PBL, continuing the parade of technology into classrooms at great that really what we see as working? 
  • Shouldn't the results of all this technology be obvious after so many years? 
  • Or do we continue to speak of mythical islands of accelerated student achievement that lack research to validate the claims?
Carl Hooker, for example, writes in this tweet:
Not that I was intending to call you out here, but...I feel like your post comes across pretty negative and you seem to be an antigonist just for the sake of being one. I’m hoping we can have more positive conversations and solutions around the problems I posed.
My goal is to is to challenge my own thinking and push back on the edtech hype that abounds today. The edtech hype that I have played a key role in speaking on behalf of.

Cut What Does NOT Work or Die

We must work to transform our schools, our organizations, and revisit what works, then do that. Cut loose those ineffective instructional strategies, even those precious darlings that we've held dear. As a writer, Samuel Johnson's advice comes to mind.

The problems that *I* have posed center around the simple idea that edtech must change. The unsubstantiated claims must stop. We have to blend technology into effective instructional strategies, and if technology is unnecessary to that effectiveness, remove them from the equation. The same goes for all others things we do in classrooms today (including paper) that are ineffective.

What is ineffective? What is effective? Hattie's list is a start. Consider research-based learning models.

A Final Quote

I loved this quote colleague Maggie Ojeda shared via Twitter. What if Schmoker's brilliance is that of simplifying classrooms to focus on what works, not what we wished worked?
“Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.” Albert Einstein
What we need in classrooms is learned minimalism.  Isn't it time we did right by our children, assisting them learn what they need rather than what is easy for us to teach (ineffective instructional strategies) and provide (e.g. gadgets)?

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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