Thursday, November 27, 2014

1:1 isn't enough to level the playing field

We often discuss technology, and specifically 1:1 initiatives, as ways to level the playing field between under-resourced students and their more affluent classmates. Certainly, wealthier students are more likely to have access to connected devices at home. But numerous studies have actually found that providing the devices is not enough to conquer the 'digital divide,' the disparities between the social classes related to technology. Studies have shown that a computer in the hands of a disadvantaged student is often used much differently than computers provided to students of privilege. Poorer students were more likely to play games and seek out entertainment online. Students of greater means spent more time reading and using the devices for homework. An interesting piece summarizing some of these findings is linked at the end of this post.

So what can be concluded from this information? Should we ignore access as an issue of educational opportunity? Absolutely not. Instead, schools should continue to strive to provide greater access to digital devices. But the true difference will happen as a result of how students are taught to use the devices. All students need to have opportunities and practice using technology for learning purposes. Students should create online, develop a positive digital footprint, write for broader audiences, connect globally, and so on. Technology will only level the playing field as students are instructed in using the devices productively.

Educational technology isn't leveling the playing field - The Hechinger Report photo credit: zappowbang via photopin cc

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Is 1:1 really worth the cost?

If your school starts down a path toward 1:1, it's likely you will encounter some negative response. At the very least, there will be lots of questions since a 1:1 program has inherent risks and a number of challenges. Is it worth the cost? Won't the technology be a distraction? Will students have fewer opportunities to develop interpersonal skills? What about student privacy? Is there any evidence 1:1 will increase student achievement?

It's not hard to find reports online of schools that have struggled with their 1:1 implementation. And while the research has conflicting reports, 1:1 is no guarantee that student learning will increase.

But nearly everything worthwhile has it's challenges. If you want to grow or want your school to grow, you have to do hard stuff. All of the possible concerns with 1:1 have been overcome with proper planning and a team effort. It can be done.

We are still in the planning stages in our school and striving to move our project forward. 

Technology is a tool and will not replace the classroom teacher. In fact, for the technology to be successful a quality teacher is required.
The cost is an investment in the future of students and opens up a whole world of possibilities for learning.
Pedagogy will always trump technology. Teachers must design effective learning environments. When that learning environment has technology available it creates a more authentic experience. Technology is an important way work gets done, and should be one way learning gets done.
Instead of fearing that a device may be a distraction, we need to embrace teaching digital citizenship and help students learn to use online tools for learning.
In spite of some of the challenges, I don't know of any schools in our region who have implemented 1:1 and then regretted it. In fact, the messages I've received from my PLN is enthusiastic, "We don't know how we did it before 1:1!"

Monday, November 24, 2014

How does a growth mindset fit with standards based grading?

How can we ensure standards-based grading works together with what we know about growth mindset and the work of Carol Dweck? It seems most SBL/SBG proponents contend that classrooms should measure achievement against uniform standards of learning described in proficiency scales or some rubric that describes levels of performance. To meet the needs of diverse learners, best practice is for teachers to differentiate instruction but hold true to the same standards, or learning targets, for all learners. Regardless of where the learner is in the process, performance against the standard is still the way achievement is reported.

But growth mindset research finds that it's all about the process, that the process of effort, risk taking, accepting challenges, and achieving personal best is how we stay motivated and willing to learn. By focusing on the process, we can increase intelligence and actually grow our brains. It's amazing stuff. And incredibly effective.

But how will students respond if they have little chance of achieving the standard? For those who are below grade level and unlikely to reach the uniform target, the standard may seem unreachable and may reinforce the 'fixed' mindset. Students may view themselves as just not smart, "I'm not good at school." School becomes a constant reminder of my deficiencies. Why should I try? These students hate school and will do everything possible to avoid engaging in the process.

I like to use the example of a PE student in a weight lifting unit. An arbitrary standard might be that every student will be able to bench press the equivalent of his/her body weight and parallel squat twice his/her body weight. This is a reasonable goal for the student who comes into class with background in athletics or weight training. But for many students, this would be unreachable even with months of training and practice. Wouldn't it make more sense to have some type of growth goal that is individualized for each learner based on his/her own background, talents, and skill level?

I had a conversation about these issues with a colleague who has considerable knowledge of SBL/SBG. I explained some of my thoughts about flexible learning targets and how that might seem more congruent with growth mindset. If the teacher and student work together to set a challenging but achievable goal, wouldn't that motivate growth more than consistently scoring at the bottom level of a 4-point SBG scale? How is that really different than a D on the report card, or even an F?

I explained, "In this type of system, most students would be able, with great effort, to meet learning targets and goals and would be reinforced for their effort and progress."

"But who is going to make the decision about lessening the student expectations from the standard?" my colleague replied. I get the point. It can be a slippery slope. We've heard the concerns about the "soft bigotry of low expectations" that can happen in schools.

My ideas about flexible learning targets assume great faith in the judgment of teachers to hold students to appropriately challenging targets. I think we owe it to teachers to respect their professional judgment. Sure, implementation is more convenient when everyone is assessed against uniform standards. But it's even more convenient to grade on a 100-point scale, and we know the pitfalls inherent in this traditional system.

All the way back in 2006, when hearing Rick Stiggins speak on Assessment for Learning, he explained that most students should earn A's or B's if they are given appropriate and individualized learning goals along with timely, descriptive feedback. Since then, many schools have successfully replaced letter grades with performance levels. But have these schools created a system where growth is celebrated and reinforced?

So how do you ensure that students are held to high standards but are also rewarded for their effort and growth mindset?

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