Shadowing Las Montanas Students (Part 2)

As part of my study of a 1:1 laptop school, I shadowed Diane, a Las Montanas high school ninth grader, from class to class for one day. Diane had been issued a laptop by the school that she could use in class and at home. In the previous post, I described her first period biology class. This post describes two other academic classes that I attended.

  • English. Ms. Demeter sits at her desk in the front of the room as the 27 students file in before the tardy buzzer sounds. Desks are arranged in clusters of three facing the teacher and whiteboards.

Ms. Demeter’s laptop sits next to the LCD projector. According to media center records, she often brings her class there to work on projects with their laptops or 25-plus iMacs in the center.

After the buzzer sounds, Ms. Demeter settles students down. I count 19 laptops on desks. She asks the class to begin fifteen minutes of Sustained Silent Reading (SSR) and to write a reflection on what they have read. Students take out their reading materials. After about ten minutes, some students begin typing away in the laptops. Chimes sound to end SSR and student close the lids of their laptops.

Teacher reviews the week’s assignments listed on the whiteboard. She then turns to the structure of the haiku that they began yesterday. She goes over the 17-syllable haiku by pointing to the one on the whiteboard that she wrote:

“Ms D’s wild class room (5)

stares at the computer screen (7)

eyes going glassy” (5)

She then asks each student to create two haikus in the next 15 minutes. Because desks are clustered in trios, there is a great deal of talk among students both on- and off-task.

Ms Demeter walks to each cluster of desks to check on student-written haikus, to quiet students, and to answer questions. She asks three students to put away their make-up kits. Some students who have finished are walking around talking with other students. She asks two students to write their haikus on white board. As the noise rises, Ms. D cautions them with “Ladies and gentlemen, pleaseeeeee.”  Noise lessens.

After 20 minutes and review of student-written haikus on whiteboard, teacher says: “Let’s turn to p. 422, and iambic pentameter in poems.”

Ms. Demeter diagrams iambic pentameter on the whiteboard. She uses a line from a Robert Frost poem on p.422. She then stamps her foot to beat out the rhythm of the line. Many students stamp along with her. They try another line together and practice the rhythm.

It is about four minutes before the period ends and some students have put their laptops and textbooks in their backpack as they get ready for the buzzer. Noise level rises until buzzer sounds.

Modern World History. Mr. Meister’s room has rows of desks arranged in a horseshoe with him in the center. His laptop rests next to the LCD projector. The 28 students are in the middle of a week-long simulation on fascism, communism, and authoritarian regimes that places each student in the role of an aristocrat, worker, peasant. Today is a break from the simulation.

Periodically, Mr. Meister asks students to bring their laptops to class for specific tasks. Today is not one of those days.

Immediately after the buzzer, the teacher launches into the topic of Nazi propaganda in Germany under Hitler. Using a PowerPoint presentation, he tells students to take out their notebooks and copy the bullet points on each slide. As he lectures, he constantly moves among students at their desks.

In illustrating propaganda, he asks students to believe only what he says and to forget what other history teachers or textbooks have said. He then explores with them the concept of believing only him—with Hitler in mind. They begin to ask questions. To illustrate how Hitler and the Nazi party took over the economy, he uses examples of the U.S. owning “Blockbusters” and “Wendys.”

Mr. Meister lectures right up to the buzzer that ends the period. Students are still taking notes.


What to make of these three academic classes that I watched in shadowing Diane?

Can I make generalizations about how teachers teach at Las Montanas? Can I determine to what degree Las Montanas teachers use laptops in lessons from these three teachers?

While there may be clues suggesting answers in these descriptions—remember I am the one selecting from the mass of notes I have taken to create these vignettes—the answer to each question is “no.”

For the answer to go from “no” to “yes,” I need to analyze the data I have collected from teacher interviews with over half of the Las Montanas teachers, notes taken in other classroom observations of nearly two-thirds of the teachers, administrator observations of classrooms, surveys of the entire faculty, surveys of 80 percent of students, and data in the media center of teacher use of mobile carts and iMacs. In sifting through that mountain of data, I look for patterns to emerge in teaching and technology use. If patterns do become visible, I return to these three teachers and see whether and how they fit into these patterns. If they don’t, then I reanalyze the data to look for other patterns or reexamine my assumptions about teaching and technology use. I have a lot of work ahead of me.



Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

4 responses to “Shadowing Las Montanas Students (Part 2)

  1. Bob Calder

    To analyze computer use as a knowledge storage device, you could compare use against how often a good teacher used to take her class to the library. To analyze how a computer is used as a writing device, you could compare use against how often a student uses it for extended writing compared to extended writing without computers.

    When you break it down like this, it makes a bit of sense. For instance, the kind of extended writing a computer you use a computer for is term papers, not grocery lists.

  2. This type of research, shadowing students for a day, sounds like a very good idea. Is it a new idea? It certainly shouldn’t be. It should have been done in Dewey’s time and ever since. It is not contrived experimentation, and that is good. Contrived experimentation (set up a treatment group and a control group, count something, do stats) is an important part of most sciences, and probably what most of us think as educational research, but certainly not the only way to study something. Without a foundation in simple description and analysis, contrived experiments are unlikely to be productive. So I applaud you.

    That said, I’ve still got to be a bit of a grinch about a few things.

    Are you studying education, or education reform? I hope you are studying education. I realize that in analyzing your short write up I cannot get an accurate picture of what you are doing and what your goals are. I admit that I am analyzing based on my suspicions as much as on what you say.

    Why are laptops mentioned in this article, again and again? That reinforces my suspicion that you’re more interested in education reform than in education. Here’s an experiment. Take this article and replace the word laptop each time it occurs with the word “textbook”. Is the article now any more or less valuable for analyzing teaching and learning?

    I suppose you are studying technology applied to education. Isn’t that important, you ask? Well, no, I don’t really think so, not in comparison to the importance of understanding teaching and learning. Sure, technology is wonderful, but primarily wonderful for efficiency, for saving time and effort, for doing what we already do at much lower cost. Hence I am typing on my computer right now. I am not writing in longhand. But the computer really has nothing to do with the quality of my thoughts.

    Consider this hypothetical parallel. A garage advertises they use the latest and most sophisticated diagnostic equipment. However after letting them work on my car I am less than impressed. I have to bring my car back a time or two. They don’t seem to really know what they’re doing. They know how to hook up their fancy diagnostic machine and print out error codes. But they don’t know how to fix my car because they don’t have the in-depth thorough understanding of auto mechanics that they need. To continue this hypothetical scenario the mechanic then suggests an expensive procedure, replace the fuel injectors, but by this time I don’t have much confidence that he knows what he’s doing. So I am resistant.

    I am suggesting that that is the case in education. We don’t need to study reform. We don’t even need reform. What we need is a genuine in depth thorough understanding of how teaching and learning take place in everyday real world situations. If we ever attain that, we won’t have to wonder why teachers are resistant to reform.

    I would argue that most of the learning we do in school fits into a basic three part model. First information must be presented in some way to students. Secondly some provision must be made for students to interact with this information, to practice, to make connections and build structures of knowledge, to relate the different parts of the structure of knowledge to each other. Third there must be some provision for feedback to and from students so that needed corrections are made and the learning can be assessed in some useful way. Your shadowing technique provides a basis in which teaching and learning can be analyzed in these terms.

    Perhaps you have thought in these terms as you shadowed your students. I would be interested in your thoughts.

    Also, of course, one may analyze education above this level. Why are these teachers teaching the topics they are? And what accounts for the overall setting described here, and what alternatives are there. Again these questions are important, and again do not lend themselves to the method of contrived experimentation. Some of these questions are a matter of policy, which I am not so much interested in though I recognize they are important in their own right. But again if we have a basis of accurate description and analysis then we are better prepared to deal with these issues.

    So again I very much approve of your shadowing idea, though I would probably have quite a different focus than you do on what to do with the observations you come away with.

    Have you shadowed teachers, and have you followed up the shadowing with a careful investigation of the teacher’s perspective on why she is doing what she is doing, and how does that perspective square with the perspective of the students who are on the receiving end of instruction?

    I think there’s a lot of potential in this sort of thing. I’ll keep watching your blog.

  3. I don’t think I can generalize much from these accounts but you got a good snapshot. I wonder how typical this is for Las Montanas. In the next few weeks my school district will participate in a technology audit of our own. We have requested this audit:

    “In an effort to maximize the adoption, implementation and integration of technology, The Roaring Fork School District is requesting the audit of technology. We are seeking an outside organization to provide us with an objective view of our technology use, including our adoption, integration into curriculum, maintenance and support mechanisms. The recommendations of this report will help us improve adoption and the allocation of funds to strategic purpose.”

    Reading Mr. Cuban’s narratives and his investigations makes me wonder how district’s can fully understand the role of technology and it’s benefit for students. How can we make it a positive investment in time and money? How should teachers and students spend time? Is technology for accountability and testing? How can it be integrated into daily practice? How can we address the nuts and bolts of support, training and implementation so that the investment is sustainable?

    Shadowing students could start a great discussion for a district. I look forward to hearing more about your observations of this school.

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