Over the past year I have reflected back on how I’ve used technology in my classroom and I have decided to make some changes. I have been blessed to be a part of an amazing group of educators in the ADE (Apple Distinguished Educators) program. There was nothing wrong with my goal of trying to transform education, but how I was trying to do it was the problem.
I started reading this book Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job. The book focuses on how we have always looked at ed tech in the wrong way. Technology won’t replace teachers, but technology can do some things better than teachers. It can provide a richer and deeper learning experience. A lot of the focus around getting technology in schools is this belief that it will raise test scores. If that’s our goal then we are headed in the wrong direction. There was a study done by Harvard University and Brown University that looked at crystallized intelligence and fluid intelligence. Crystallized intelligence is the kind of intelligence that can be measured by standardized test in school. Fluid intelligence is how we understand abstract problems and logical thinking. The study found that that increased test scores didn’t mean higher fluid intelligence. In a world that needs a lot of creative solutions right now I’m more concerned with our students ability in fluid intelligence. Knowing facts and information won’t help you as much as being creative and thinking critical.
I want my students to see that effort is rewarded not right answers. By focusing on improving test scores we are ignoring students that are giving their best effort but just don’t grasp that concept yet. They will get there eventually but they just weren’t ready. This year I’m working on letting my students self regulate their learning. I’m giving them more autonomy over their learning, because after all it is their learning. I told my students this year that I’m not here to teach them. I told them that they are here to learn I’m here to help that happen.
I realized that testing and testing instruction was taking up to much time. We spend time teaching strategies so they can get the right answers on the test. We spend time testing them over and over again so that we get data and then we spend countless hours analyzing that. Real education doesn’t come through strategies. It comes through experience. With technologies, such as the iPads, I can offer my students so many opportunities that will greatly improve their real world experiences. Isn’t that the ultimate goal? Isn’t the goal to prepare them for a future in the real world? We have no idea what the future will be like in 10 years. What we can predict is that jobs that can be automated by technology will be. That means finding a good jobs is going to take creativity. It’s going to require skills that will only develop in children if they have good experiences. I didn’t learn how to be an effective adult through strategies. I learned through the opportunities that life threw at me. One of the other studies from this book was done by the American Federation of Teachers. They examined school testing calendars and found that if testing was abandoned schools could add 20-40 minutes of learning each day. The cost of the testing amounted to about $600 per student. I think you get the idea about what we could do with that instead.
One of the side effects of such high stakes testing is that you push good teachers to teach to the test. I’ll admit that I was one of them. I didn’t want my students to have the lowest scores on the test so I put pressure on myself and I put pressure on my students. The main result from that was that we were all miserable. Learning should be an enjoyable experience. The environment that I have set up this year is designed to focus on the skill students need to learn and not the test. My students spend a lot of time engaged in activities around the room where they have freedom to explore various math concepts. When given free choice they often choose an activity that is a little challenging for them and I can come alongside them and help. When my students are learning I want it to resemble the real world where people are allowed to wrestle with ideas and they have support through collaboration with people and technology.
High quality education is a right for every child and not just the ones who can afford to go to great schools. I can’t teach to the test because it kills my spirit and my love for education. Public education is a service for the people and it needs to meet the needs of the people. I have to be the voice for my students because if I’m not I know I will regret it. I don’t want to look back on my educational career and say that I improved test scores. I want to look back on my educational career and say that I improved students lives.