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

_________________

Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Students is YOUR School Producing?

HERE’s What We Have to Stop Pretending

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

  • LIz

    American History

     You made such wondeful points in the blog. I struggle with creating powerful PBL projects where such great learning occurs-but all the facts they need for the end of year test- and more traditional lessons where the concepts they need to know for the test are pounded in. I agree with you- blame the legislature- they are the ones who can change this!

  • Ann Michaelsen

    bThis is a good blog post and

    bThis is a good blog post and I agree with you. Teachers struggle finding good ways to use technology in class and  substituting technology with existing practices is not getting us anywhere. In Norway our curriculum goals give more opportunities to teach like you did and my hope is that more teacher do that. My students are working on the refugee crises in Europe next week. Perhaps students in the USA would like to join in the conversation? Annmichaelsen.com

    by the way, Kahoot is a Norwegian initiative and can be used in many ways like when students make a Kahoot for the rest of the class after studying a topic to show that they master the content. 

     

  • TriciaEbner

    Yes. This.

    Gosh, where to even begin. My husband works in the nonprofit sector, and he has told me for years that he can’t find employees, especially younger ones (20s and 30s) who are the critical thinkers and problem-solvers he needs.

    The disconnect is key.

    Maybe we need to find a way to connect lawmakers and policy makers with those in business, industry, and yes, even nonprofit, so they can see first-hand what employers are looking for. Maybe then more will understand why the current system isn’t fostering what we want and need for our students. 

     

    • billferriter

      Here’s what’s crazy, though,

      Here’s what’s crazy, though, Tricia:  Those connections between policymakers and people in the private sector are already happening.  In our state, there is a Business Advisory Council that meets with the Governor’s staff on a regular basis.  I was on a panel discussion with them about education last year and it was frightening because the businesses were saying, “We want higher order thinking” and I was saying, “Nothing holds schools accountable for that” for hours on end.  

      Nothing changed.  The businesses didn’t see the tangible connection between the actions of legislators and the outcomes of schools.  They just thought schools sucked because schools suck and kids suck and families suck.  No matter what I said, I couldn’t get the notion through to them that schools are well tailored for meeting the expectations that govern them — and that legislators are responsible for those expectations.  

      I left the meeting feeling pretty darn hopeless.

      #sheeshchat

      Bill

       

       

      • TriciaEbner

        You’re right . . . that’s is crazy . . .

        and I can completely, totally, 100% believe it. In fact, I suspect some of that is what’s happening in my own state, too. 

        So the disconnect exists in both the business community and the lesiglators/governmental leadership. This leads me to my next dilemmas:

        1. How do we get the business community to truly understand what and how and WHY we do what we do in our classrooms? How do I get the local attorney, banker, manager, etc. to understand that because of pressures from “the powers that be,” schools and teachers aren’t rewarded for those kinds of skills on the accountability measures in place?

        2. How do we get legislators to see the same thing?

        I’m finding myself sitting here, shrugging my shoulders, with the big ?????? running through my head. 

        Definitely needs more thinking. 

    • billferriter

      Here’s what’s crazy, though,

      Here’s what’s crazy, though, Tricia:  Those connections between policymakers and people in the private sector are already happening.  In our state, there is a Business Advisory Council that meets with the Governor’s staff on a regular basis.  I was on a panel discussion with them about education last year and it was frightening because the businesses were saying, “We want higher order thinking” and I was saying, “Nothing holds schools accountable for that” for hours on end.  

      Nothing changed.  The businesses didn’t see the tangible connection between the actions of legislators and the outcomes of schools.  They just thought schools sucked because schools suck and kids suck and families suck.  No matter what I said, I couldn’t get the notion through to them that schools are well tailored for meeting the expectations that govern them — and that legislators are responsible for those expectations.  

      I left the meeting feeling pretty darn hopeless.

      #sheeshchat

      Bill

       

       

    • billferriter

      Here’s what’s crazy, though,

      Here’s what’s crazy, though, Tricia:  Those connections between policymakers and people in the private sector are already happening.  In our state, there is a Business Advisory Council that meets with the Governor’s staff on a regular basis.  I was on a panel discussion with them about education last year and it was frightening because the businesses were saying, “We want higher order thinking” and I was saying, “Nothing holds schools accountable for that” for hours on end.  

      Nothing changed.  The businesses didn’t see the tangible connection between the actions of legislators and the outcomes of schools.  They just thought schools sucked because schools suck and kids suck and families suck.  No matter what I said, I couldn’t get the notion through to them that schools are well tailored for meeting the expectations that govern them — and that legislators are responsible for those expectations.  

      I left the meeting feeling pretty darn hopeless.

      #sheeshchat

      Bill

       

  • John Wink

    Kahoot is the beginning not the end all

    Bill,

    I agree on most of what you say, but I must say that see the real value that Kahoot possesses. Kahoot is a low level substitution for traditional teaching, but it serves a purpose. For those that aren't tech-savvy, Kahoot serves as a great entry level method to accelerate instruction with edtech. I see it as a gateway tech tool. Teachers can use it as a bell ringer or formative assessment and it engages kids with the content.  It does promote higher engagement but it will never empower kids to own their learning or their world. Kahoot will not work by itself. 

    Kahoot in SAMR terms is a good substitution, nothing more. Teachers and leaders must understand that once comfort with Kahoot is there, we must push ourselves to move beyond substitution to augmentation and then modification and redefinition. Now that can't occur unless we create instruction that also moves from generating the right answer to asking the right question and from regurgitation to real purpose. That will be hard as long as the national focus is on ridiculous tests that yield little more than ammunition against public education. Until that day comes, teachers will have no choice but to balance test preparation with real-world learning.  Kahoot helps teachers with the test prep side, but we must help create a culture where teachers are empowered to leverage other tools for the real-world learning. 

     

     

  • Joan McGettigan

    Balance

    I understand your argument against "low level tech" but I feel that the you throw a bit too much shade. There is a place for @Kahoot -it is fun and engaging. The key is balance – if I am teaching AP US History, I do need students to know cold certain events and vocabulary so Kahoot is a fun way to get there. However, I also need them to develop critical thinking skills and the ability to employ all those factoids and vocabulary terms in an articulate well-written essay. Balance is a great thing-I see nothing wrong with using simulations and game based learning. It's knowing when to use a tool and strategy that is key. I would applaud anyone who hits that sweet spot but I would not shame anyone-whatever end they find themselves. I would rather be a Sherpa. 🙂

     

  • Julie

    Lang Arts, Soc St
    Frustration realized: the disconnect between school and learning. We are currently rebuilding our SS curriculum. We are having such a difficult time to say the least. So much (all) materials we find are content driven with very little on skills.Anyone have a model middle school social studies?

  • Tommy Catetts

    Is game-based edutech changing the scene?

    Thanks for an enlightening read about the issues associated with critical thinking and problem solving skill development with our children Bill.  I would agree that most technologies in the classroom are simply being used because they are "cool", "engaging" and "fun", and are very much so filling a child’s head with simple facts. 

    I congratulate you're achievements for the recognition of changing the way in which high-order thinking skills are taught to children, and I agree repetition and review of content is the only way to learn facts to get high-performing grades – or is it?  I have always believed that technology is only effective as a tool for learning if a teacher knows what they are trying to achieve out of its use. If a teacher has the right training and attitude to change their pedagogical strategy to include technology, you will see them plan a ubiquitous curriculum that demonstrates a child is achieving clear learning outcomes.

    I would argue Socrative is as closely related to Kahoot when used in the classroom, and can also be used to drive the repetition of retaining content when used over and over again. However, Kahoot's competitive difference is that its use by children is stelfing the boring experiences of learning, by promoting interactions where children are able to talk with peers about the content they are presented with.  Kahoot also has the ability to provide a teacher with a teaching strategy to change learning behaviours, which when used in the right way could drive higher-order critical thinking and problem solving skills.

    To your point about policymakers, I see two concurrent problems that prioritise schooling over learning:

    – The break down in education politics led by political representatives, who are completely disconnected from the classroom and 21st century technology,

    – The amount of curriculum content educational political representatives say children should be learning, due to a lack of understanding surrounding the scalability of content since the revolution of the Internet.

    This I feel is the result of the digital revolution we are currently in.

    What I see in the #edutech rat race, such as technology tools like Kahoot, are the attempts of providing strategies for teachers to re-motivate childrens attitudes towards learning, because the political education system teachers and citizens pay for have failed them.   By improving learning motivation through a game element, it enhances and engages the child into learning content. What you also see based on this recipe in Kahoot is the injection of 'play', which when planned correctly in a classroom has the potential of further encouraging children to spend more time learning. Furthermore, the 'play' aspects of Kahoot have begun to open the 'interactivity' between children, where we now see non-resistant behaviour to actively participate in learning activities. Perhaps there is opprtunity to explore the current content of migrants and refugees struggling across Europe in a comparison with both Kahoot and Socrative and measure the difference in knowledge through a formative exploration piece from children?

    Although Edutech technologies with multiple-choice solutions aren't quite there yet in the ubiquitous sense, if the teacher has the right strategy and the correct quality level of content they will be able to set appropriate challenges where the 'scaffolding of a child’s learning' can occur. Teachers can only achieve this when policymakers recognise that the quality of training is addressed, where they are able to create an effective blended learning curriculum-using technologies such as Socrative and Kahoot.

    However, the #edutech space has formed a bubble, and what is still not apparent is the ability to demonstrate any form of long term between-group quasi-experimental evidence where learning outcomes are being achieved – especially when concerning critical thinking and problem solving skills. Perhaps this is something investors should be beginning to think about before making future investments, just before and when the #edutech bubble bursts! Annecdocal social media community posts are not justifiable enough to prove this either, they just show an excited user base!

    Whilst I applaud the challenge mechanisms you have put in place Bill with regards to the impact you mention it has had on childrens lives, if what you state is true when concerning employers, I take this with a pinch of salt.  Further educational research evidence involving employers would be necessary in order to determine if the strategies you used with Socrative, do infact improve a child's chances of getting employed over another child who does not use Socrative.

    In the current space of game-based student response systems, non-game-based student response systems and #edutech learning is clearly happening somewhere. However, the question still remains – What is really being measured in the classroom to demonstrate learning outcomes are achieved when flashy learning technology is used? One thing is clear, the annedocal coummunity posts and free merchanise from edutech companies isn't a scientific measure of learning outcome success, which is what everyone will eventually be judged on!

    • Susie Highley

      Kahoot

      I believe BIll was referring to Socratic Seminars, not the app Socrative. Socratic seminars are great examples of higher-level skills, and even basic speaking and listening.

      And thanks to Bill for questioning the euphoria over Kahoot, but still putting it in perspective.

  • Meg Ormiston

    We loved this post!

    Bill,

    I am in Sakatoon, Saskatchewan with @NicoleVagel and @TomSchimmer and we loved your post. I "modeled" the wrong way to use Kahoot during my session today and then followed up with your key points. Thanks to your post people really understood the message of low level questions, and what I called being seduced by a technology tool. I LOVE Kahoot used correctly, but your post is spot on for Kahoot abuse! Thanks as always for sticking your neck out making us think!