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

Teachers' Technology Inservice.

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

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.

11 thoughts on “When it comes to Technology, teachers need as much scaffolding as students

  1. I very much agree it is important for an ICT Mentor to be just that, and help teachers get on top of tech tools in a structured partnership. The best results I get as an ‘IT Mentor’ are when I go into classes with an enthusiastic and willing teacher and we work out projects together.
    Knowledge is to be shared, and teachers made independent users of ICT. That is my overarching philosophy. When I was the Computer Coordinator I always made an effort to teach others how to do things so next time they could do it themselves.
    Same with ICT integration into all classes!

  2. Then again, ICT is always considered to be the ‘tool’…just like pen, but more powerful and up to date to the world around us. We need to facilitate our future citizen to cope with the vast changes around them…

    • Yes it’s a tool but we also teach children over many years how to handwrite in a scaffolded way. Adults can already write so the new form of communication, ICT, needs as much training to develop its proficiency as the pen or pencil did for handwriting.

  3. This is an interesting blog post looking at the issues around how to develop teacher confidence so that ICT integration is across subject areas and is sustainable. While some of the ideas suggested are already happening in some schools, there are sections that still ran true for me. Schools providing voluntary 20 minute techie brekkies as the main form of ICT professional development and expecting this to be enough support for teachers to make changes to their practice are going to be disappointed from my experience. I also agree with not having ICT lessons taken by an ‘expert’ in isolation if you want system wide changes. Finally, I do think that our teacher education institutions need to be working with students to help them be more conversant with the use of technology by the time they start teaching.  Where there any things in here that rang true for you? What things do you think we do well in New Zealand and what things would you agree need more of a focus?

  4. Professional Learning Teams, working in conjunction with an ICT to develop powerful, engaging, relevant lessons – this is a model I wish to work toward.

  5. I completely agree. This can be done, and is being done on many levels across the United States. It comes down to investing in the PD and making sure you have dedicated professionals specifically identified in helping teachers learn these skills.

    Here in Fond du Lac, WI, there is a tech team that has been created to address this as our district moves into a one to one environment. Myself along with three colleagues left our classrooms this year and have been focused on Teacher Professional Development for this entire year. We have developed a class for our teachers in our District LMS (Haiku) and meet with teachers regularly to build confidence in not only their lessons, but also in their personal skills. The Website link provided is our PD site, feel free to peruse.

    The class is just one approach we’ve used, along with coordinating and collaborating with other districts around the country about what they are doing. Building our Professional Learning Networks has been key. Sites like Twitter, Google Groups, Diigo, etc. have made our learning curve less severe, and have helped immeasurably in finding and sharing educational resources, tech and “not-so-tech” as well.

    If anyone would like more information about our program or are working on your own, I’d love to hear from you. sitterd@fonddulac.k12.wi.us

    • Thanks Dan
      Checked out site. fantastic resource. I’m in the process of doing something similar for my school. Would be great to have a district team to hard the load. I’ll be working with our school’s ICT leader and our student ICT leadership team.

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  8. Wow Mark what a great post, it was like you had crawled into my head and wrote what I was thinking. 🙂 I agree we need to scaffold the learning process for educators as well as our students in relation to integrating technology into their practices. Education Queensland has a dedicated team (quite a large one now) called Smart Classroom (http://education.qld.gov.au/smartclassrooms/index.html) which supports all educators, paraprofessionals, leaders & students in their use of digital technology in education. Here what you are talking about exists at an organisational level, but you don’t always see it at a school level. The amount of focus and priority given to digital technology for some inevitability gets pushed aside by the principal to appease the pressure from above to increase literacy and numeracy results. Having said this, even where principals are embracing and prioritising digital pedagogy as a focus in their schools, there are teachers that regardless of how much support and encouragement you give have no desire and sometimes flat out refuse to attempt or consider to use digital technology in their planning and teaching. My question to you is how would you suggest we approach such teachers in our organisations? Surely if they will not keep their minds open to learning new methods and tools, they are no longer the learning leader we require our teachers to be. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.
    Cheers Jodie

    • Thanks for the endorsement and the link, Jodie! It is a big challenge changing a lifetime of teacher experiences. I’m working on a follow up post addressing reluctant teachers and students in response to comments like yours where I’ll address this and hopefully get feedback from others. Stay tuned.

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