What Happens in the EdTech Classroom

While sifting through my Get Pocket articles, I ran across one from Forbes (8/19/19) that had an intriguing headline.
Three Reasons Classroom Practice Conflicts With Evidence On How Kids Learn

Teaching PD has Little Basis in Science

In this article, Natalie Wexler points out that:
Once on the job, teachers continue to get training, or “professional development,” that has little basis in science. And their supervisors and instructional materials often assume the validity of non-evidence-based practices.
That's a remarkable claim, but given my own experience, especially the shock I experienced and the stats on reading, math, etc. on reviewing John Hattie (I have one person to thank for that rude awakening), I'm going to agree with it. In fact, when I discussed it with a much older teacher dear to my heart, my wife affirmed it.
"Teachers coming into the profession now lack the training I went through [on Hunter] and it really shows up when they are expected to teach kids how to read."

Strategies That Work

Wexler says that "few teachers" incorporate strategies that cognitive scientists say work. Those strategies which focus on information retention?
  • spaced practice (distributing learning over a period of time rather than cramming), 
  • interleaving (switching between different topics), and 
  • retrieval practice (trying to recall information that has been partially forgotten). 

Wexler goes on to cite research that says, when students don’t know much about a topic, it’s best to provide information explicitly. This isn't such a stretch from John Hattie's research about direct instruction. Ok, where did I hide that image? Here it is...

Per Hattie, direct instruction enjoys an effect size of .59. He refers to it in this way:
Direct instruction refers to instructional approaches that are structured, sequenced, and led by teachers. Direct instruction requires teachers to: have clear learning intentions and success criteria, building a commitment and engagement among the students in the learning task; use modeling and checking for understanding in their teaching; and engage in guided practice so that every student can demonstrate his or her grasp of new learning by working through an activity or exercise under the teacher’s direct supervision.
Of course, you get all that following the image instructions or simply revisit "A Model for Classroom Instruction" blog entry.

So, Wexler's article doesn't stop there. Here's where it gets even more interesting.


Let's revisit this old friend of mine. I have fond memories of cuddling up with The Case for the Constructivist Classroom in far East Texas, trying to figure out how to revamp my classroom experiences for students. It was a LOT of fun with the tools I had (The Graph Club, HyperStudio, Clarisworks, Kid Pix Studio) at the time and the four Mac LC II computers.
Constructivism as a paradigm or worldview posits that learning is an active, constructive process. The learner is an information constructor. People actively construct or create their own subjective representations of objective reality.  New information is linked to to prior knowledge, thus mental representations are subjective (Source)
Now, why have I brought up ancient history? Wexler pushes back on constructivism...she writes the following:
But the prevailing theory in the education world has long been that it’s better for even novice learners to “discover” or “construct” knowledge for themselves, often in largely self-directed groups. 
Consistent with that theory, teacher-training programs encourage educators to value imparting skills over information—including supposed skills in reading comprehension and critical thinking.
This is pretty amazing stuff. Of course, I wasn't a pure constructivist classroom practitioner. I did plenty of direct instruction. Over time, though, I know edtech folks have moved a bit more down the continuum away from direct instruction. Mini-lessons, which classify as direct instruction, are a key part of learning in the edtech-powered classroom. That's important.
The more information students have on a topic, the better able they are to understand a text about it and think about it critically. And while it’s true students need to participate in constructing or discovering their own knowledge, it’s unrealistic to expect them to discover information for themselves, especially about topics in history or science that they know little about.
Wexler makes some amazing assertions. After seeing how poorly students are doing in public schools in learning how to read, write and think, I'm afraid I must agree with her.

Here are some quick takeaways from her reasoning, and I encourage you to read the entire article:

  • "Intellectual: The most basic problem is that many educators simply don’t know about these findings, largely because they were never told about them during their training."
  • "Emotional: Some teachers who understand the need for evidence-based techniques at an intellectual level are nevertheless held back by feelings."
  • "Behavioral: Even if teachers understand the need for methods rooted in cognitive science—and genuinely want to adopt them—it’s often hard just to remember to use them. Teaching is an incredibly complex activity. "
Read the rest of the article online. It is well worth your time if you want to make a difference with edtech in your classroom.

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


William Shaw said…
Great article. Your blog is very resourceful.
I will guide students present at my online talent optimization platform.

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