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Shifting Educational Practice

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Date posted: November 21, 2012

By Belinha De Abreu

Picture of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projectsIn a recent article, Larry Rosen noted that technology was making kids “driven to distraction.” The buzz of an incoming text or the desire to check Facebook was keeping students from extended concentration and deep thinking. In my own practice, I’ve noticed that it’s getting more difficult to get students to think deeply about an idea. From my perspective students are not routinely asked to do much original thinking. For assignments, they are usually given a topic and then told which technology tool to use, and what the expected result should look like. The topic is often not meaningful or related to the students’ lives and their creativity is stunted by having to use a prescribed program or tool within a narrow grading rubric. Is it any wonder that kids are disengaged and not invested in deep thinking?

In part, this results from how educators are asked to teach. An overemphasis on standardized test results has unintentionally created more passive and rote learning than I’ve seen at any time in my career. Not enough schools encourage or even allow teachers to teach using their own creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. Instead, because their schools and their jobs depend on it, they teach to the test. Is this what we want for 21st century teaching and learning?

In part, it is the result of how we view technology. More and more schools are opting for one-to-one tablet programs. iPads and tablets have transformed the conversation about how to use technology. However, in the midst of excited talk about these new gadgets and apps, there also needs to be a serious conversation about what they allow us to do for teaching and learning. Too often, the focus is on the device’s capabilities—the bells and whistles—and not on the learning goals.

As a consequence, we often see schools teaching technology for the sake of technology. While learning a new tool can be good, tablets and other new technologies have the potential to transform the way we do education.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative and the 21st Century Skills movement are beginning—just beginning—to change teaching and learning. The Common Core asks that we move our students forward from basic learning and factual recall to synthesizing information. Finally! The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. Aligned with college and work expectations, they include rigorous content and application of knowledge through using higher-order thinking skills In addition, they are research-based, build upon the strengths of our best state standards, and are informed by top-performing countries. The ultimate goal is that all students are prepared to succeed in a global economy.

For educators who have been in the system for a long time—greater than 10 years—the tenets of Common Core will not be entirely unfamiliar. Good teachers have been doing these things for a long time. But, here is the dilemma: we have a generation of teachers who have been taught and learned to teach to standardized tests. They were doing their jobs, of course, as directed, but now the Common Core is pushing education in a different direction.

When people talk about 21st century skills, they are discussing a more active, less passive education that gives students ample opportunities to use their critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creative skills. Indeed, the venerable Bloom’s Taxonomy has been revised to reflect this active mode of thinking. The responsibility of the educator becomes motivating their students to become self-learners, thereby allowing the student to be the initiator of learning and the teacher to become the guide.

Of course, none of this will happen if passive learning and regurgitation is what is valued in the educational system. And it won’t happen without extensive professional development for educators.

This transformation will happen with the support or in spite of technology. So let’s make sure we do this right. If we use the tablets or interactive white boards for particular learning objectives, to do things we couldn’t do before, to do things in ways we couldn’t do them before, and if we teach kids digital media literacy along the way, then technology can hasten and smooth the change.

Belinha S. De Abreu, Ph.D., is a media literacy educator and the author of “Media Literacy, Social Networking, and the Web 2.0 Environment for the K-12 Educator” (2011). Her research interests include media literacy education, new media, visual and information literacy, global perspectives, critical thinking, teacher training, and the impact of learning as a result of media and technology consumed by K-12 students. Dr. De Abreu’s work has been featured in Cable in the Classroom and The Journal of Media Literacy.

Photo Credit: www.schooltechnology.org Photos of elementary students using iPads at school to do amazing projects. Photo taken by Lexie Flickinger.