Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low-Level #edtech Practices

This is going to make darn near everyone angry:  I cringe every time I hear people pitching Kahoot as an #edtech supertool.

Ask any ten teachers who are interested in #edtech and nine are likely to wax poetic for an hour about the sheer beauty of Kahoot.  They will testify about how engaged their students are when they are playing Kahoot in class.  They will passionately argue that Kahoot is the single best tech tool known to man and that Kahoot games are the most popular activities in their classrooms.  I haven’t seen this kind of universal commitment to any digital product since Interactive Whiteboards stormed onto the scene just over a decade ago.

My beef with the popular tool is a simple one:  While Kahoot argues that it is “Making Learning Awesome”, it really IS a tool that is best suited for nothing more than facilitating the review of basic concepts.  It’s a flashy way to get kids to answer MORE fact-driven multiple choice questions.  And while I get the notion that early #edtech integration efforts almost always start by substituting technology for existing practices, I guess I just keep hoping that our vision for the kinds of things that kids can do with technology would move BEYOND preparing them for the next knowledge-based end of grade exam.

What if “Making Learning Awesome” meant something more than coming up with a killer strategy for engaging kids in the study of content that they don’t really care about?  What if making learning awesome meant giving kids chances to do work that matters or to study topics that motivate THEM?  What if making learning awesome meant creating opportunities for kids to ask and answer interesting questions together.  What if making learning awesome meant  getting kids to wrestle with the issues that are defining our world.

Here’s an example:  Right now, one of the largest humanitarian crises in history is taking place right in front of our eyes.  The news is filled with stories detailing the struggles of migrants and refugees who are risking their lives to make it to nations where they have a better chance for a future that’s NOT defined by abject poverty.  People are drowning.  People are starving.  People are WALKING across Europe.  But instead of asking our students to reflect on the root causes of — and possible solutions for — this heart-wrenching human tragedy, we’ve got them sitting in classrooms answering trivia questions.

#missedopportunity

But here’s the thing:  Getting frustrated with folks for embracing #edtech practices that faciliate low level behaviors overlooks the simple truth that most teachers are working in positions that have incredibly high stakes attached to those low level behaviors.  

Our very public attempts to hold teachers and schools accountable have nothing to do with developing higher order thinking skills in kids or creating problem-based classrooms or giving students chances to change the world for the better.  No one is interested in whether or not the kids in our classrooms are prepared to act when faced with challenging situations.  All we continue to care about in this country is producing higher test scores — and producing higher test scores still depends on nothing more than getting kids to review and to memorize and to regurgitate basic information.

Now I know what all y’all idealists are thinking:  If teachers teach higher order skills, students will master the kinds of basic information required for succeeding on standardized tests.  

That’s just NOT true.

How do I know?

Because I refused to give much attention to standardized tests for years when I was teaching language arts.  Instead, I focused on making Socrative Seminars — a practice that encourages higher order thinking through collaborative dialogue — around issues like poverty and racism and hatred a regular part of my instruction.  I was quickly recognized as an expert teacher.  I was observed time and again and was celebrated for the kind of thinking that was happening in my classroom on a regular basis. My students were genuinely engaged in meaningful issues day after day.  I won the teacher of the year award in my county, and was named a finalist for teacher of the year in my state based largely on my commitment to higher order instruction.

And year after year, I had the LOWEST test scores on my hallway.

The skills that the students were mastering in my classroom are exactly the kinds of skills that employers say that they want from graduates, but they just didn’t translate to higher scores when it came time for my students to take the kinds of knowledge-first end of grade exams that we use to identify successful teachers and schools.

The lesson that I learned every time that I was called into the office to review my “results” and to look at my “value-added” numbers was a simple one:  The BEST way to prepare students for low level tests is to grind them through constant review and recitation of “the basics.”  Kahoot — with its fast paced music and updated standings after every question — really IS a great way to get kids to embrace that kind of learning.

And THAT’s why it’s so darn popular.

You see why this is important, right?  The tension we feel about the instructional technology decisions made by clasroom teachers is nothing more than a direct reflection of the disconnect between our stated priorities and our actual practices for evaluating teachers and schools.

WE like to wax poetic about the beauty of critical thinking and problem-based learning and purpose-driven opportunities and self-directed experiences .  Worse yet, we turn our noses up whenever teachers spend their time and professional energy on #edtech tools that do little to advance “a new vision for modern learning spaces.”  But we continue to use the most traditional of metrics — results on multiple choice exams — as a cudgel to influence the actions and behaviors of teachers and schools.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe it’s time we STOP blaming and shaming classroom teachers for struggling to move beyond #edtech integration efforts that facilitate low level behaviors and START blaming and shaming the policymakers who continue to perpetuate high-stakes situations that prioritize schooling over learning.

#trudatchat

#takeTHATchat

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What if Schools Created Cultures of Doing Instead of Cultures of Knowing?