In his front page “innovation” story for the most recent Alabama State Dept. of Education newsletter, State Superintendent Tommy Bice is dazzled by a student’s use of technology and praises his potential to be college and career-ready in such an environment. In doing so, Bice overlooks the more important consideration–learning progress. While it is great that Sam can use a tablet, this is not nearly as important as the fact that he has learned to read and write or solve math problems. If we place too much emphasis on how many technology devices we have in the classroom or our students’ ability to use those devices, we are missing the more important measure of learning–how our children process and synthesize the data and whether our children are learning the basic building blocks of knowledge which make their use of technology meaningful and productive. My concern is whether our students’ data assessments are showing true learning progress. To me, this is more important than whether they can use an application on a tablet. Monkeys can be trained to use tablets.
I am equally concerned about another front-page article by our teacher-of-the-year that praises our schools’ becoming less teacher-centric and more student-centric. (Does anyone else think it is ironic that a teacher-of-the-year would be happy that teachers are becoming less important in the classroom?) I don’t want my child’s teacher to become less important in the classroom. I don’t want other children teaching my child or my child teaching someone else’s child or my child teaching himself. If we go too far with the belief that, if you give children some blocks, they will be able to build an Eiffel Tower–without previous, detailed instruction–it will damage our students’ ability to compete in the world. While a little bit of constructivist teaching (focusing on independent or group student work) can be beneficial, this should not be the main focus or “center” of the classroom and we should be careful how these are applied. Independent projects should reinforce teaching–giving my child the opportunity to demonstrate what he has already learned–and not become the principal method of teaching. If you throw my child in the ocean before teaching him to swim, he might drown. Every activity in the classroom should extend a real, demonstrable learning benefit to the student; making paper airplanes without discussing the physics of what makes the airplane fly is not a beneficial learning activity.
Judging from the two front-page articles in the Alabama State Department of Education newsletter, we should be happy our children can use tablets like trained animals and are being encouraged to mainly learn independently. We should all be concerned about this shift in thinking.