When it comes to Technology, teachers need as much scaffolding as students

Teachers' Technology Inservice.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/manoregejimas/6891585051/

As teachers, we have come to learn over the years that we should never expect our students to fully understand a new idea without some form of structured support framework, or scaffolding as the current buzzword defines it. If we want them to solve a problem, we tend to provide them with a range of strategies and tools to assist them. Before writing a persuasive text, teachers present a text framework and spend time developing the language structures and features required. It’s common sense thinking that we need to help learners when exposing them to new experiences.

The same, of course, should be the case in supporting learning for our fellow teachers. From Literacy Co-ordinators to Mathematics Leaders, Education consultants to teacher mentors, it is accepted practice to take a methodical, measured approach to develop teacher capacity in any given curriculum area. With one glaring exception. For reasons that have no grounding in common sense or educational practicality, Technology is just thrown at us and expected to magically stick to us and develop. What actually happens is that it slides right off, repelled by the totally justified and expected reluctance of older teachers who trained as teachers before computers evolved beyond command lines or inexperienced teachers who are still getting their heads around making their challenging students stay in their seats. The lack of a systematic framework for developing teacher capacity and competency in teaching with technology is a massive black hole in Education today. We bandy around the term 21st Century learners every day at school but where is the plan for ensuring 21st century teaching and learning is taking place?

At the moment , I am reading the book, “Leading for Instructional Improvement – How Successful Leaders Develop Teaching and Learning Expertise” by Stephen Fink and Anneke Markholt. Chapter Eight begins by focusing on the idea of Reciprocal Accountability.

“Reciprocal Accountability simply means that if we are going to hold you accountable for something, we have an equal and commensurate responsibility to ensure you know how to do what we are expecting you to do (Elmore’ 2000; Resnick and Glennan, 2002). Practically speaking, this important concept means that accountability must go hand in hand with organizational capacity building with a specific focus on ensuring that teachers and leaders have the expertise necessary to ensure high achievement for all students. ” ( pg 221-2). It goes on to say that “teachers must know deeply each of their students as individual learners, differentiating their instruction accordingly so that each student meets the expected standard regardless of the student’s starting place……..the concept of reciprocal accountability provides the same useful lens to examine the relationship between teachers and principals…..Although principals don’t take the relationship between teachers and students for granted, they often fail to recognize the similar reciprocal nature of their roles with their own teachers.” ( pg 222)

This is particularly true when it comes to developing teacher skills in using and teaching with Technology. We can’t just hand over thousands of dollars of equipment and expect teachers to be accountable for the effective use of it if they don’t know how. So what do we do about it?

For me it comes down to these points.

  1. PLTs dedicated to Technology integration into our teaching practices
  2. A constant focus on Technology throughout lesson and unit planning
  3. A restructuring of the role of ICT Leaders/teachers in schools
  4. A greater focus on Technology in Teacher Training programs
  5. A commitment to Technology Professional Development courses on an equal footing with Literacy and Numeracy Projects.

Professional Learning Team Meetings (PLTs)

Justifiably so, many of a school’s PLT Meeting times are dedicated to Literacy and Numeracy. In the current educational climate, we have to ensure we are doing everything in our power to improve student outcomes in these areas. However, if the system is going to make genuine improvements in the use of Technology in our classrooms, school and department level leadership needs to commit to PLTs for this area of Teaching and Learning. Teachers need time to learn about new trends in Web 2.0 tools, read and discuss articles about educational technology, investigate how current and future technologies can enhance the learning in their classrooms. It’s one thing to run 20 minute “”Techie Brekkies”  before or after school or teacher organised TeachMeets on weekends  to introduce an app or a web tool to an interested group of teachers but for real educational change there has to be a place for “All in” meetings. These PLTs would challenge teachers to delve deeper into their thinking about how, why, when, how often and who with  Technology can be used in their lessons. Staff meetings alone only brush the surface as 30-40 adults add a single thought to the conversation. PLTs allow for the in depth scaffolding of what is needed.

Technology Focus in Planning

Technology will never be properly integrated into our daily classroom practice effectively without strategically planning for its application in our weekly learning experiences. I’m not talking about teachers booking in “computer time” for students to publish their work or planning for research on the internet. That’s been the default behaviour since computers came into our classroom. It’s not even about planning specific workshops involving tech tools. I’m talking about the systematic weekly planning  for tech integration in all subject areas – where applicable of course ( I’m not advocating blanket 24/7 inclusion of technology; that would be counter productive). This would be a natural follow up from earlier PLTs but it would also involve a school wide schema that would highlight areas to consider when planning.

For example,

  • How can we use collaboration in this task – so what ICT can support this?
  • How can we collect information from students for this activity – can I use online polls, a shared noticeboard, online forum?
  • What virtual manipulatives websites are available to support my Maths lesson?

Literacy and Numeracy Planning proformas would be almost universally expected in schools to assist planning. It’s time ICT had a planning structure as well.

The role of the ICT Leader/teacher

Pedagogically, the most important change that needs to take place if we are ever to truly embrace Technology systemically across education systems is the role of the ICT leader/teacher. While this is in no way the case in all schools, there is too much responsibility placed on the shoulders of the designated ICT teacher to teach the students how to use computers. In my experience, and again I’m not suggesting this happens everywhere, this has only led to a generation of students doing computer related projects in the ICT Lab and not making a link between the tools they used in there to their general work with the classroom teacher or at home. It made sense when computers first came into schools in the 80s and early 90s. The ICT teachers were often the only staff members who knew what to do and most schools only had the funds for a small number of computers to share. But its been 15-20 years since then and we still have Computer lessons once a week in some schools, despite the ubiquity of 1:1 computer/student ratios in many instances.

In my opinion, ICT leaders/teachers should serve the same role as Literacy and Numeracy Leaders. Instead of being release teachers showing students how to make a Powerpoint presentation while their teachers are planning with the Literacy Leader, the ICT Leader should be at planning as well, guiding the integration of Technology in the Literacy Lessons. The ICT Leader should be working with the teachers during lessons supporting the teachers and students, not working for them.

Teacher Training and Technology

When I started my teacher training back in the mid 1980s, we were still inserting floppies into Hard Drives to turn them on and the sum total of our computer experience was commanding a pixelated turtle to move around a black and white screen. Computer technology has certainly grown exponentially since then but sadly, teacher training in its use has not. As an experienced teacher with a well rounded knowledge of both the technology and the pedagogical knowledge to go with it, I want to see a change in the level of knowledge and awareness of ICT tools in the new teachers coming into schools. This is in no way a criticism of the teachers themselves. Indeed many do come with their own self taught knowledge of Technology, just as I have relied on my own initiative to become the “tech guru” I am today. It is a critique of Teacher Training Programs at universities. Now again, I fully understand that we need to ensure teachers are prepared to improve students’ literacy and numeracy skills. That has been my main aim for 25 years. However, just like we can’t expect our students to truly learn the true power of technology through weekly ICT Lab lessons, nor can we expect graduate teachers to be any more TechEd-savvy if all they get is one semester of ICT 101. To improve the ICT in schools now, we need young teachers leading the change, supporting the more experienced teachers who missed out on the ICT training in their early days.

We talk about being Life Long Learners every day of the year in the Educational Community. Maybe our Professors and Lecturers who lack the requisite skills in ICT need to commit some of their vast experience, knowledge and skill to learning how they can integrate Technology Education into their own courses so that student teachers can develop an understanding and awareness of how ICT can be used across all curriculum areas. This is a huge challenge. It may be too late for our current crop of elder statesmen at University but at some stage if we are going to get serious about 21st Century Learning, this shift needs to take place.

Technology Professional Development Programs

Without blowing my own trumpet, I consider myself to be an expert teacher in all areas of the curriculum and have been for many years. And yet, it has been deemed necessary for me to be sent off to numerous PD Programs in Literacy, Numeracy, Religious Education, Inquiry and Health and PE, as have many of my colleagues. Don’t get me wrong, I have very much appreciated the investment and opportunities. There is no doubt  my fellow teachers and I have greatly expanded our repertoire of teaching skills as a result of these experiences. Again though, missing from these experiences was Technology PD. Not a problem for me as I have been able to educate myself in this area. Clearly this has not been the case for a large number of other teachers in the Educational Community.

Georgia Educational Technology Conference 2008
http://www.flickr.com/photos/judybaxter/3013619840/

Governments have poured massive amounts of tax payer funded cash into schools and education system in general to build up access to ICT equipment. The lack of planning, though. has left out the far more important area of funding Professional Development. I see no purpose in handing $3 million over to a school to purchase equipment but spending no money on training the teachers how to use it. It goes back to my earlier quote about Reciprocal Accountability. Systems have funded 2 year PD courses for entire schools in Numeracy and Literacy, including visits to their schools by experts to support their improvement. All we get in ICT PD is an invitation to a 3 Day Conference run by a Technology company that the school has to pay for itself – and they’re not cheap. Now I was lucky to attend a day at one of these Conferences last year with a donated ticket. It was one of the most inspiring experiences of my teaching career and resulted in a massive shift in my thinking about ICT. I learned about Web tools I had never heard of that are now indispensable in my teaching. I’m writing this blog as a result of the conference. That’s not good enough for schools overall, though. As I’ve already discussed, gaining access to teachers to share my experiences through PLTs, planning or Staff Meetings is a big ask when school already have commitments to Literacy, Numeracy, Religious Education, and so on. We need more whole staff PD in Technology so everyone can develop, not just the chosen few.

Final thought

It’s not going to happen overnight. Real change doesn’t. But it has to happen soon. In the 90s I attended a conference on 21st Century Learning as we looked to the future of Education. We’re now into the second decade of that century and the system wide change hasn’t happened. If we don’t reassess our current practice, we’ll arrive in the 22nd Century still talking about it. I dont pretend it will be easy or I have all the answers. I want Literacy to improve and we need time for that. I want Numeracy to improve and we need even more time for that. Somehow, we need these two very important areas to improve alongside Technology so that we can work on all of them at the same time. We can’t expect the kids to get it without us. Sure they probably know how to use all this Web Stuff and apps better than us already but they still need us to show them how to use it to learn. Teachers need to know how to provide that support and we have to plan for it.

There’s no doubt I have overgeneralised in some of my criticisms and overstated some problems but it is how I feel. What do you think? Is your experience different? Better? What ideas for improving Technology do you have? What’s happened at your school or district or even country level? Would love to hear from you.

Planning for a new year in ICT – Can growth and change happen?

"It's about the teaching, not the technology" link http://bitstrips.com/r/2004P

I love this comic. It sums up so succinctly the general state of technology in schools today. Over my 25 year teaching career, I have seen millions poured into resourcing schools with banks of computers, glittering new computer labs, trolleys of laptops, digital cameras, color laser printers, iPods and iPads, after hours presentations by technology companies, cupboards full of CD-ROMS and subscriptions /licenses for every imaginable whizz bang software solution.

The result of all this money can sometimes be a printed sheet of paper with Word Art heading and a colourful clip art image at the bottom – the 1990s version of a handwritten story with a stencil guided title and drawing from the 1950s. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve also seen wonderfully innovative teachers use these tools to develop real 21st Century skills in schools. Creative videos, 3D models, interactive slideshows, collaborative online forums, stop motion animations – they’ve all been done and done brilliantly. But they’ve been one offs, part of a technology unit or the result of the ICT or classroom teacher’s enthusiasm for the latest tool from a PD day she attended. Too often when the dust settles, and the student’s excitement levels wane, we all slip back into the routine of typing stories and making yet another PowerPoint presentation with those annoying transitions and text effects. And yes, I’ve been guilty of it as much as anyone in the past so don’t stress.

These reflections have come about as I begin the 2012 year as a newly ordained member of the Leadership Team. At our first meeting we were asked to go away and plan for what we wanted to achieve in our specific area of expertise which we will then present to our team by the end of the term. I’ll be working with out ICT leader on our hopes and dreams for Technology in school. We share the same concerns with the pace of integration and adoption of ICT in education today . We share the same vision of how Technology can impact on Contemporary Teaching and Learning. So in preparation for the upcoming meetings, I give you my hopes and dreams for ICT in schools ( in no particular order of priority or level of reality!)

Collaborative, ‘always on’ staff communication
I dream of a time when;

  • All staff can equally share their ideas for others to read, reflect and comment on at any time, before, during, after and between meetings
  • All staff have access to a shared calendar so that we can keep up to date on what is happening in our school community and plan events without fear of timetable clashes without waiting for the next memo to be emailed/printed or school website update
  • All staff have an opportunity to share newly discovered research, websites, Web tools, information and so on through an easily accessible, always up to date, collaborative environment.

In short, I dream of school system wide adoption of Edmodo, GoogleDocs, Dropbox and Diigo.

Diigo V5: Collect and Highlight, Then Remember! from diigobuzz on Vimeo.

We have the hardware, let’s ALL use it
I dream of a time when;

  • Every classroom has students standing in front of the interactive whiteboards and teachers sitting in front of them
  • Students have control of the use and creation of content on the whiteboard, not the teachers ( and not just when they are presenting their projects)
  • We have to rip the iPads, iPods and laptops out of the hands of teachers and students when we collect them for updates/upgrades because they are always being used.
  • The AV Resource cupboard is ALWAYS empty and ALL teachers AND leadership are waiting to use what is no longer available.
  • The computer lab is NEVER vacant
  • All staff meetings involve using ICT tools ( not just for presentations to watch and listen to ) and this is seen as an opportunity for ICT PD, not just the content of the meeting.
  • Leadership and teachers are seen utilizing ICT tools in as many ways as the students are.
  • All teachers are seeking advice on how to skill up in ICT long after the initial introductory PD

In short, PD has to be regular, consistent, continuous, collaborative, hands on and purposeful (linked to teaching and learning practice)

Student-led ICT development and  improvement
I dream of a time when;

  • Students are free to explore web tools, PC/Mac software, iOS apps and ICT hardware, evaluate its usefulness and present their findings to students and staff
  • Students run workshops in using these tools for interested staff and students
  • Students become the source of information about and for our school and communities beyond through the use of blogs, podcasts and videos
  • Students have a voice in discussions about appropriate use policies at school and are held as equally responsible for how students use and abuse ICT as teachers and parents are

In short, establish an energising, active and supportive Student ICT Leadership team dedicated to the ongoing adoption and growth of ICT in our school

These are my hopes and dreams. Many are way beyond reality for 2012. But without hopes and dreams, nothing is accomplished. Hopefully, this year can start to make some real change around the world in Technology and Education Integration. If we don’t, the above cartoon, redrawn in 2061, will just be a teacher in an even shorter dress going Blah Blah in front of a holographic image being ignored by kids wearing Virtual Reality helmets!

What are your hopes and dreams? Are they getting closer to reality? If so, how did you make it happen? Join the conversation.

 

Getting teachers on board the iPad Express

Technology has been with us since I’ve been a teacher. I started my career succumbing to the alluring aroma of the Gestetner (Ditto/Banda/spirit duplicator) machine and its purple stained sheet. Then the photocopier arrived and we didn’t think it could get any better than making copies of a page for every child. The reality is that many teachers still rely heavily on the immediacy and simplicity of the photocopied black line master provided by someone else. It is far less confusing that all that technical mum jumbo introduced with the computer in the 90s.

The challenge then with the iPad is like anything else computer related. Can we get the teachers on board? Regardless of Apple’s PR machine telling us how magical and simple it is, despite the fact a toddler can pick one up and play games without batting their cute little eyelids, the fact remains there are still many teachers who haven’t embraced laptops after 15 years of exposure let alone a completely different system present in the iPad. Already inundated with training in new Maths and Literacy methods, weighed down by the pressures of Personalising learning and continuous assessment, asking the reluctant techno phobe to spend time learning the tricks of the wonder tablet can be a big ask.

So how do we do it? For successful integration of iPads in classrooms to happen, you have to convince the classroom teacher that it’s worth the effort. In no particular order, these are my suggestions (with a little help from my blogging friends).

Get Leadership on board.
Sometimes it’s easy for leaders to see or hear about something and want it to happen. They then pass it on to the next level with the specific expertise in the area to make it happen. Nothing wrong with that.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/5131417568/

That’s distributive leadership and in theory it works effectively. The problem arises when there are so many initiatives within a school there is a battle for ‘airtime’ to get your ‘baby’ in the spotlight at staff meetings, planning days, and so on. So, for me, it becomes really important that if the iPad is to become reality at the school, the leadership of the school have to live with it as well. Staff have to see the leaders of the school embrace the iPad at the school. The leaders have to initiate conversation about it. They have to be seen using it and talking about how they can see it being used in their area of expertise. Everyone expects the ICT leaders to do it. They’re experts – it’s easy for them. But if the previously reluctant literacy or numeracy co-ordinator presents a staff meeting using the iPad as a tool, if the principal shares a reflection made using an iPad, maybe, just maybe, the unsure members of the staff may have a go at trying out this new device.

Early testers
You can’t expect everyone to jump on board just because you’re excited. Everyone has their own stuff to do and won’t take the time to try something new just because you want them to. From my experience, compliance doesn’t work. Teachers go through the motions in public or give it a go for the required time, then go back to their preferred way of being when no one’s watching. Hey, I’ve done it, so let’s not kid ourselves.

A far more practical way is to get the Willing involved. Get a small group of early adopters together, preferably one from each level if you can, and build their capacity for using the iPad. Give them the chance to discover new ways of teaching with it. Provide opportunities for them to share their ideas with their colleagues. Some team teaching/collaboration could show the reluctant how the iPad can work with their students. Of course it won’t be all plain sailing. They’ll get distracted by the gimmicky. They’ll misunderstand what some apps can do. They’ll be unsure of all the possibilities. However, over time, with support, I think it will work.

Professional Development
Obviously not the typical “everyone sit in front of an interactive whiteboard and watch how great this is” style of PD. The introduction of ICT tools need better than that. I’m talking about continuous, regular, “hands on” collaboration. One of my favorite bloggers, Henrietta Miller, introduced me to the idea of Techie Brekkies.

The stark reality in schools is that staff meetings are almost fully booked before the year begins. In competition with Literacy, Numeracy, Inquiry, Administrative matters, and all the other stuff that just has to happen, ICT would be lucky to get a couple of meetings a year. So you have to be smart and creative. Techie Brekkies are a way of getting teachers together informally to learn, share, collaborate in small doses on a single topic voluntarily. (more detailed info here courtesy of Henrietta). We started late last year. We had some good ones. We had some bad ones. This year I hope to be more organized and offer a more structured program in collaboration with what teachers want. we have to get the timing right as well so more will commit. But I see it as vital.

Finally, the real experts – the kids!
Teachers want the best for their students. There’s no doubt about that. If, and to be honest it’s still a big if, the iPads could make a big difference to their learning, teachers will want them in their rooms. So what better way to get teachers on board than to get their class to convince them.

20120128-104308.jpgDon’t let the teachers hang onto the iPads too long. Get them in the hands of those we are supposed to be buying them for. As I mentioned in my “no web 2.0 = iPad fail” post, web 2.0 tools exploded in Grade 6 last year because the kids were already using them at home and introduced them to classes through their presentations. Children find this whole technology thing a lot more natural than most of us adults. While we are muddling around trying to work out whether to pinch, swipe or double tap, they have probably already half finished their animation or movie on the iPad. left alone, children experiment instead of panic. They try instead of give up. So give the iPads to them. Either way it will work out. If they love them and embrace them, then teacher will want them in their room. On the other hand, if we discover they are not as excited about them as we thought they would be, then we will quickly find out we don’t need to blow $30000 on equipment we don’t need.

As an aside, I hope to work with our school’s newly elected student ICT leadership team along with our ICT Leader to develop capacity in using ICT in all classrooms. If it gets off the ground ( and we haven’t had the discussion yet as a school so it may not), I can see this as an opportunity for these students to be a great support in testing iPad apps out and sharing with the school. We may even get them to start a blog like me to help out the school community. Just a thought but you have to dream.

It’s all fantastic for school leaders and individuals alike to have great ideas. However, without the teachers being on board with the idea, it never works. So, if you’re planning on implementing some kind of iPad program in the future, consider these issues carefully.

To be honest, I’ve only lived through a fraction of what I have discussed here. The majority of it is hope and theory. I’d love to hear from other schools who have actually gone “whole hog” with iPads or just started smaller programs as well. How did you do it? Am I making sense or well off the mark? Leave a comment and join the conversation.