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More Cartoons on Using Technology

Yeah, I know I have been showing lots of cartoons about using technology. But I cannot help myself since I do laugh at how technologies have penetrated our (I include myself) lives. Taking a step back to laugh at ourselves as immoderate users of new technologies is, I believe, healthy. So enjoy this batch of cartoons.











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Teachers Practice MicroPolitics*

Besides managing a classroom of 20 to 30 or more students, besides teaching lessons every day, teachers also practice politics.

Arguing that superintendents and principals, in addition to their managerial and instructional roles, are political in leading districts and schools is credible because of all the stakeholders involved in districts and schools. Those stakeholders have to be mobilized, massaged, and influenced—given the value conflicts over which goals to pursue, how much money to spend, how to teach, what students should learn, and how much testing to do–all of which naturally divide voters and parents. But putting politics and teaching together? That’s a bit too much. I know this is going to be a hard sell but bear with me.

In previous posts on principals and their political role I pointed out that at the end of the 19th century big-city Republican and Democratic political machines handed out teacher, principal, and janitorial jobs to supporters. Textbook publishers bribed school board members to buy their products. School board members put their nieces on the payroll. Teachers often paid district officials to get a post in the district. They were hired year-to-year and fired if the superintendent’s in-law needed a job. Corruption was the norm.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Progressive reformers divorced party politics from the conduct of schooling. Governance reforms led school boards to dump party hacks from their ranks and recruit business leaders and civic-minded professionals to serve. Civil service regulations ended the buying and selling of school jobs.

Not only because of the Progressive movement a century ago but also because separating politics and schools became embedded in professional training of teachers, the power of that norm remains strong today. It should come as no surprise, then, that few, if any, teachers take public stands on educational reforms except through their unions and professional organizations. When they do speak out, it is as private citizens. Individual teachers are expected to implement policies that school boards, governors, state legislatures, and Congress–authorize. They are NOT expected to campaign publicly as teachers in the district to get particular policies adopted.

Now, here is the rub. None of the above means that teachers do not engage in politics. They do–inside the school–because teachers influence what students do in their classrooms, what other teachers teach, and what parents consider important. None of these micropolitics, however, crosses the line of partisanship.

Teachers, of course, do not like to talk about being “political.” Euphemisms like “working with parents,” “kissing up to superiors,” “Gathering support for the new program”—as I have heard them over the years–are favored phrases.

But it is politicking, whatever you call it. Consider that many teachers in a school faced with adopting “personalized learning” or a mandated math program, or the state’s new standardized test will enlist other teachers to support or oppose the venture. Non-political euphemisms avoid the obvious conflicts in power, influence, and values that permeate teaching and being a teacher in a school and district.

And when it comes to classrooms, teachers—expected to keep classroom order, cover curriculum, use new technologies, differentiate instruction, get students ready for tests, wipe noses and give students a shoulder to cry on–allocate their time and energy while nervously glancing at the wall clock. Potential conflicts hover over classrooms. Teachers are authorized by the state to teach content, skills, attitudes and values to reach particular outcomes. They are expected to both control and support learning. They figure out which students will be helpful and which might hinder reaching their goals. This is a political analysis that seeks to avoid conflicts.

But conflicts occur anyway. To reach their goals, teachers use their formal and informal powers to reduce tensions. So teachers work out conflicts, for example, by negotiating compromises with students over behavior and achievement. They bargain with other teachers, parents, and school administrators for more resources to help their students. In short, they do politics (see here and here)

Determining who gets what, when, and under what circumstances to achieve desired objectives is the classic formula for political behavior. And that is what teachers do everyday in managing lessons, practicing the craft of teaching, and finessing conflicts.

Remember those films that celebrate heroic teachers such as “Stand and Deliver,” “Dangerous Minds,” and “Freedom Writers.” They show these teachers acting politically time and again. These bigger-than-life teachers mobilize their students, bargain–even fight–with school principals, and negotiate with outside organizations to acquire money and help. These film heroes know that exerting political influence inside the classroom and outside the school is crucial to their success in pushing and helping students to do their best.

Non-film teachers, however, who labor day in and day out may not use the vocabulary of politicking and may even detest the words but they also practice micropolitics every day (micropolitics and leadership). Few, however, get on the silver screen or brag about it.

So what? Why is it important to establish that teachers act politically in their lessons, classrooms, and schools?

Here is the hard sell: Micropolitics in classroom and school are essential not distasteful tasks that teachers perform. To reach the goals they want to achieve—literacy, civic engagement, job preparation, moral development–every teacher  in different ways and in different proportions, performs three basic roles: They instruct, manage, and politick. The simple recognition of political behavior as a natural part of working in places called schools would help both professionals and lay people to understand the real world that teachers inhabit every single day.


*This post is a revision of an earlier one written in 2010.


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Have Silicon Valley Teachers Using Technology Daily Altered Their Classroom Practice? (Part 2)

Of the 37 teachers who replied to my questions, 24 (65 percent) said yes.

Nine (24 percent) said “no.” I sorted  the “no” answers into two bins. Six teachers who said “no” explained that using digital tools had not changed their ways of teaching because they had been using high-tech devices since they entered the profession or labeled themselves as “digital natives” even before they began teaching. The other three teachers who said “no” gave different answers.


Lyuda Shemyakina, a biology teacher at Mountain View High School in the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, has been a teacher for six years, two of which were in Chicago. Her response was:

Technology facilitates the gathering and disseminating of information in my classroom, but I wouldn’t say it has fundamentally changed how I teach. 

For example, designing, scaffolding, and handing out homework and classwork are integral parts of my teaching practice. Whereas in another country or another decade I might have made paper copies or made students write these down, many/most things now are electronic. Students can see all my presentations (directions for class); students can e-mail me with questions, and students have fewer excuses for not knowing the homework. I literally post it in five different places from with the white board in my room to a public on-line space. I also post links to helpful videos, worksheets, etc. to help both struggling and advanced students….[i]

Ultimately, though, a teacher is still an intellectual who must design or select instruction and instructional materials, including assessments. If I don’t have the skills to appropriately design and assess activities, no amount of technology can help me. For instance, during the class you saw, I chose to have students design and share analogies. These were very telling as a measure of their understanding of basic genetics. If I had asked the wrong question, like “do you get genetics?” it wouldn’t have mattered what technology I used.  

David Campbell, a teacher of Spanish and a National Board Certified Teacher. He has taught 16 years, the last eight at Mountain View High School.

Technology has changed how I teach a little, but not that much. Ultimately it is the personality of the class and their engagement that allows a teacher to do what they need to do. If they don’t feel engaged with the material, or invested in the class, nothing you do will matter. Children are smart enough to know when their teacher cares and knows the material, putting up flashy things and bells and whistles isn’t going to automatically engage them.ii]

The rest of the teachers had said “no” because they had been using high-tech devices for years before I observed them. For example, here is Stephen Hine who is in his third year teaching physics at Los Altos High School.

To answer your question about if technology has changed my teaching, I would say not really from a typical ‘change’ perspective. I was trained into the technology focuses educational environment so I have been integrating tech into my classroom since my student teaching days. I have definitely developed my lessons to more smoothly utilize the various instructional tools so you could say my teaching has changed in that way. I am always open to learning about new tools as well. An example is halfway through last year I began to use “Actively Learn” which is an online reading assignment tool that allows for built in questions that students have to answer before continuing through the assignment. I now use it for all of my class reading homework.[iii]

Part 3 takes up responses from four teachers who said that integrating technologies into their daily lessons has both changed and not changed the ways they teach.


[i] Lyuda Shemyakina’s email received October 13, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of the lesson I observed is at:

[ii] David Campbell’s email received September 30, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of his lesson can be found at:

[iii] Stephen Hine’s email received September 20, 2016. In author’s possession. My observation of Hine’s physics lesson is at:







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Have Silicon Valley Teachers Using Technology Daily Altered Their Classroom Practice? (Part 1)

In 2016, after I observed and interviewed 41 Silicon Valley teachers in various schools and districts identified by policymakers and principals as exemplary in integrating technologies into their daily lessons, I asked these teachers three questions: Has your teaching changed since you have begun regular use of laptops, tablets, interactive whiteboards, etc. in your lessons? If yes, in what ways? If no, why not?[i]

Of the 41, I had answers to the question from 37 teachers (90 percent) spread across all levels and academic subjects. Four teachers did not respond to my follow-up email requests. Of the 37 who responded in interviews and emails to the questions I asked, 65 percent (N=24) said that their teaching had definitely changed in how they managed and taught lessons.

Here are typical “yes” responses.

Brendan Dilloughery is a veteran teacher of nearly a decade in international schools in Ecuador, Switzerland, and elsewhere. He is in his second year at Mountain View High School teaching geometry and computer science.

The integration of technology into the classroom has definitely affected my teaching. The most notable changes are: distribution of and access to course resources, interactive activities that give immediate feedback and facilitating collaboration.

Students can access their digital textbook as well as worked out solutions to every homework problem on their cell phone from anywhere in the world. They can easily access class notes and homework assignments when they are absent from class.

Websites such as Khan Academy and IXL have been a game changer in my classroom. In the past I struggled greatly to have students critically evaluate their homework problems…. I seemingly tried everything—giving access to worked out solutions to every problem, shortening homework assignments, having them start in class, work in pairs…. No matter what I tried, at least half of my students were just ‘completing’ their homework without using it asa time to really practice and hone their skills. Enter Khan Academy and IXL. [Here] if a student correctly complete their current problem, they move on to a more difficult question. If the problem is incorrect, they are shown a colorful, in-depth explanation of how to complete the problem. This immediate feedback has greatly increased my students’ level of comprehension while working on assignments….[ii]

When beginning with Khan Academy and IXL, I had students work individually. Through collaboration with peers … I now have students working pairs on a single whiteboard with a single laptop. I am constantly amazed at how much quality discourse happens amongst my constantly changing partnerships in class. The most unlikely pairs can be heard explaining the reasons behind steps of proofs or how they solved an equation when their partner doesn’t understand. Students who would never raise their hand to ask a question will ask a partner how they got to a certain answer….[iii]

Edwin Avarca has been teaching for six years. A graduate of a Bay area teacher education program that awards a masters and teaching credential after 14 months, Avarca’s first job was at a charter school in downtown San Jose. After two years there he joined Summit Rainier charter school and has been teaching the Advanced Placement U.S. history course since.

My teaching has dramatically changed since I’ve had more access to tech. For example, in my previous school if we wanted access to the projector we had to sign-up for it beforehand; also we had to sign-up for a laptop cart in advance in order for students to have access to one-to-one computers during class. Having a projector has made teaching more efficient. I can spontaneously pull up a website, video, or other resource that students can benefit from in some way. For example, if a question came up about the economic costs of WWII, I could quickly look for the answer and show students. Prior to smart boards/projectors I used an overhead projector and the logistics of it could be frustrating.

One-to-one computers have revolutionized my classroom. Students have so much access to resources and this gives them the opportunity to utilize the resources while we’re in class. Thus, I can coach students through a research project much easier since I can model for them and walk them through the process as well.

Classroom management has also changed, I need to be very thoughtful about how students should be held accountable while they are on their computers. I also have to monitor the room more since students can easily be distracted by YouTube or other sites if they do not have specific structures to hold them accountable to the work they need to complete.[iv]

A native of New Zealand, Sue Pound is in her 18th year of teaching science at Jordan Middle School in Palo Alto. She and a colleague team-teach 8th graders in a large room furnished with a wet lab and many long tables for students to sit when not doing lab work.

My teaching has definitely changed since computers and iPads became available in our school. In the most basic terms, I am not copying many handouts and I am able to share so much more electronically with students. I have been able to be more adventurous and creative with activities, labs, and projects, and support their learning in different and I think better ways. Students have more choice in the products they generate. We are also not tied to one resource for our information (the textbook) and that supports the different needs students have for learning. It is much easier to do wider-reaching group work and individual work, and have me do less old-style teaching. While I would like to get to the place of doing much more differentiated teaching where students are truly learning at their own pace and learning is tailor-made for each one, I also know there is so much value in collaboration in the classroom.[v]

The next post will describe other teachers’ ambivalent and “no” responses to the questions I asked.


[i] The levels and subjects taught by the 41 teachers I observed were as follows:

Elementary: 10

Middle school: 6

High school: 25

Academic subjects in secondary schools: English 4; math 4; science 7; social studies 8; foreign language 2.

[ii] IXL is a subscription-based program offering games and customized lessons. See:

Khan Academy offers teachers free online math lessons. For information, see:*

[iii] Brendan Dilloughery email received October 7, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of Dilloughery’s geometry class can be found at:

[iv] Edwin Avarca email received May 4, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of Avarca’s Advanced Placement U.S. history class can be found at:

[v] Sue Pound’s email received October 19, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of Pound’s science class can be found at:


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The Innovation Infatuation (Chester Finn)

Over the past three decades I have admired the clarity of Checker Finn’s writing, the wry sense of humor he injects into his prose, and the willingness to challenge whatever is the mainstream wisdom of the moment. Although I have differed with Finn on key education policies (e.g., vouchers, standards and testing), he is a thoughtful, reflective writer who knows well the history of school reform. And that in of itself is a boon. Although I do not agree with all that he says here, it is, in my opinion, worth reading.

Chester Finn is a Distinguished Senior Fellow and President Emeritus of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

This commentary appeared December 16, 2016 on Flypaper .

Every once in a while, American K–12 education is overwhelmed by the conviction that its basic design is obsolete and that it needs somehow to reinvent schooling. One hears statements such as “If Rip Van Winkle were to awaken today from a century-long slumber, the only institutions he’d recognize would be schools and cemeteries.” We hear of education being stuck in an “industrial model.” And we observe educators, policymakers, and philanthropists scurrying to replace the schools of their childhoods with something different for their children and grandchildren to attend. We always seem to be, in the memorable phrase of Larry Cuban and the late David Tyack, “Tinkering Toward Utopia”—although those engaged in what generally ends up resembling tinkering actually fancy themselves to be bold revolutionaries.

We went through a phase of this a century ago when educators and policymakers sought to apply Frederick Taylor’s principles of “scientific management” to our disorderly collection of locally devised schools.

We went through a further round in the 1920s and ‘30s as notions of child-centered education and “social efficiency” permeated the schools.

We went through another round in the 1960s and 70s as “open classrooms” proliferated, schools were desegregated and detracked, and sundry curricular innovations (e.g., “whole language” reading and “new” math) kicked in.

We went through another round in the early 90s with “New American Schools”—a purposeful effort by Bush 41, Secretary Lamar Alexander, and former Xerox head David Kearns to “reinvent” the school—and a parallel effort led by Chris Whittle in the private sector (the “Edison Project”).

And we’re going through another round today, with initiatives such as “Reimagining Learning,” led by Stacey Childress and her team at the NewSchools Venture Fund; the Emerson Collective’s XQ SuperSchool project; Marc Zuckerberg’s efforts to “personalize learning”; and any number of technology-centric undertakings like Summit Public Schools, Carpe Diem charter schools, and K12-operated virtual schools.

Unlike more traditional societies, Americans have always been fascinated by “the new,” and that’s why, historically, a lot of inventing, discovering, and innovating has happened on U.S. shores. (That’s why, for example, so many Nobel Prizes have been conferred on Americans—including people who immigrated to this country because it was more hospitable and generous with research and discovery.) Every sector of our lives shows the after-effects of repeated cycles of innovation, many—but not all—of which have improved our lives. Some have been transformative. Some have simply been transitory, even frivolous.

In K–12 education, every reinvention effort gained some traction for a while and left a legacy behind. Indeed, one way to depict U.S. public schools circa 2016 is a vast archeological dig with layers of earlier civilizations visible as we excavate and with the pottery shards and tools that each used now heaped messily all over the place.

One may fairly ask whether the cumulative effect of all this innovating and reinventing has been profound and positive or superficial and confusing. How much good has it really done? To what extent are today’s schools truly different from those my parents attended ninety years back? And how much does that really matter? If they’re not palpably better—more effective, more impactful—we may have wasted a great deal of time, effort, and money while attempting to make them over.

Each cycle of reinvention fancies that it’s the “disruptive innovation” (in Clayton Christensen’s term) that will squeeze out the old model and replace it with something different, something more efficient, effective, and appealing. In the end, however, the net effect seems more like “tinkering” with the old model. The schools just aren’t all that different. Yes, they have whiteboards and tablets. They have different furniture, lighting, heating, and (sometimes) cooling. They have smaller classes and more ancillary staff. Many have added pre-K and afterschool programs. But fundamentally different? I think not.

Occurring in rough parallel have been all manner of external policy changes—standards, accountability, choice, teacher evaluation, funding shifts, categorical programs, etc.—that may have advanced, retarded, or simply ignored the innovators. Some were coordinated, such as the federal “e-rate” program intended to get schools online and thus make modern communications and IT tools functional within their walls. Mostly, though, I’m struck by how few fundamentals have been altered by a century of reinventing and innovating with the model itself. The school day and year aren’t much different in many places, in most of which the educational sequence is still divided into twelve grades. The essential “technology” of instruction is still a solo teacher in a four-walled classroom with fifteen to thirty kids. The curricular core remains quite similar to what it was when I—and my parents—went to school. And school governance, administration, and professional preparation still resemble the arrangements devised by progressive-era reformers and “cult of efficiency” managers.

From where I sit, the biggest changes in U.S. K–12 education have been those forced by policy shifts outside the schoolhouse: the right of millions of families to choose their school rather than being told where to go; the emergence of statewide standards and accountability regimes; and the appearance of more non-district public schools—charters mainly—even as the traditional private sector has shrunk. Yet the majority of those new schools, once you walk inside, are awfully similar to the schools to which they are alternatives.

Will the NewSchools Venture fund catalyze a different outcome, a truly and fundamentally different sort of learning environment for children? Will the Gates or Walton Foundations? The Emerson super-school? Chan Zuckerberg’s efforts at personalization? They’ll surely introduce more technology, and more classrooms will be “blended” and perhaps also “flipped.” They will strive to customize and individualize the learning experience and to help more students “own” their own learning experiences. All such efforts will, however, collide with the hoary structures, habits, and patterns that have led us to organize schools the way we have for so many decades. Real personalizing of education, for example, would disrupt just about everything: from school architecture to teacher preparation, from state academic standards and grade-level class assignments to the scheduling of the period, the day, the week, and the year. I think it makes sense to move in this direction, but I can’t see it happening at more than a snail’s pace. In the end, I suspect, it will end up looking awfully much like more tinkering. Utopia will remain the goal.

I’m all for it, for all the experimenting, innovating, and reinventing that anyone has the imagination and money to undertake. But let’s do it in an experimental mode, evaluate the bejesus out of it, and not put all our eggs in any one utopian basket. Let’s recognize that some of the most appealing (to me, at least) and high-performing new schools in the land are innovating in a “back to the future” sense, places like Great Hearts Academy with its focus on character and classics, the Latin-centric schools that have arisen in Washington and Brooklyn, the Reno- (and now Internet-) based Davidson Academy for highly gifted youngsters, and career-tech programs that integrate the classroom with the world of modern work. Much of what’s good about today’s policy regimen of common standards but independently-operated schools of choice is the enhanced capability of school innovators to strike out in potentially promising directions that may work well for different kids. I don’t want my grandchildren to go to schools that resemble the ones I attended, but neither do I want any given innovator, zillionaire funder, or snake-oil vendor to think he or she knows what’s best for them. Let’s encourage plenty of education flowers to bloom and welcome school diversity, loosely united by common standards and metrics. But let us not bow before the trendy, the fashionable, the politically correct, or the assumption that different is always better.


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Why Are There So Few Films and TV Programs That Capture the Daily Work and Life of Teachers In and Out of School? (Part 3)

Hollywood and network television have filmed cop shows, lawyer series, and doctor programs again and again over the past half-century. From “Law and Order” and “Dirty Harry” to “The Good Wife” and “The Firm” to “ER” and “Patch Adams,” viewers have gotten a sense of how detectives do stakeouts and grill suspects, lawyers do briefs and argue in court, and doctors deal with patients and emergencies. And in the past decade, computers appear regularly in the filmed work these professionals do. These network, Hollywood, and cable procedurals  have been (and are) weekly fare for tens of millions of viewers.

Procedurals show how professionals do their work daily–allowing for the ever-present conflicts and resolution within 48 minutes for a network TV program or 90 minutes for a film. They reveal how cops, lawyers, and doctors not only follow step-by-step procedures, often using cell phones and computers in doing their job, but also that their work mixes with family life and friends creating dilemmas that spill over to their private lives. These are staples for U.S. viewers.

The accuracy of these TV programs and films is secondary to their entertainment value. Nonetheless, they do capture key activities of each professional’s craft.

What about teachers and teaching? In the previous post, I pointed out that new technologies have yet to “disrupt” public/private organization, governance, and instruction in K-12 schools–as they already have in print journalism. Moreover, there are distinctions that can be made between technologies that help students acquire content and skills (e.g., playlists, software games, personalized platforms) and the actual craft of teaching that requires much face-to-face contact through hour long lessons with varied activities, different groupings of students, and screen time to reach a teacher’s content and skill objectives.

But where are the procedurals that capture six hours in schools with children and youth and how being a teacher has its own dramatic moments and dilemmas that spill over families and friends just like cops, lawyers, and doctors?

I ransacked my memory of films and TV shows about teachers and teaching (yes, I used to watch network TV’s “Our Miss Brooks in the 1950s,” “Room 222” in the 1970s and saw the Hollywood film “Blackboard Jungle in 1955 a few months before I began teaching in Cleveland, Ohio).

Then, I looked up lists of popular TV shows and Hollywood films on teachers such as   “Top Twelve Must See Movies.” The same names showed up repeatedly on these lists (e.g., “Dead Poets Society,” “Lean on Me,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Dangerous Minds”).

The film genre is heavy on teachers as heroes (“Freedom Writers,” “Akeelah and the Bee,” “To Sir with Love”), satire (e.g.,  “Chalk,” “Bad Teacher”), and violence (e.g., “The Substitute,” “187”).

Except for occasional documentaries such as Frederick Wiseman’s “High School” (1968), “American Teacher” (2011) and David Guggenheim’s “TEACH” (2013), few films and TV programs ever show the complexities and difficulties of the craft, the long hours spent preparing lessons, reading students’ work, the tedium, and interactions with students while lessons unfold. How come?

One obvious answer is the nature of film and TV which is an entertainment medium. Conflict, life-and-death decisions, making difficult choices, wreaking or avoiding violence, flawed but lovable protagonists–appeal to audiences. The film, for example, of an engaging elementary school teacher in Harlem who garners the interest of his class but is a cocaine addict (“Half Nelson”) is just what the screen demands of this genre.

Audiences would fall asleep if they were to watch how a teacher plans a lesson on the Declaration of Independence or one on polynomials, or a unit on evolution. The hours teachers spend facing a computer screen at home finding sources for students to read and watch on their screens does not make for engaging drama.

Were a TV episode devoted to a teacher managing a class reasonably well, asking stimulating questions,  and grading tests, count on audiences snoring. Orchestrating a class’s whole-group discussions, small-group work on questions to answer, and independent work on a project hardly captures viewers’ emotions. All of that, or even a portion, would leave viewers rolling their eyes , that is, if they were still open. Then at the end of the school day, the teacher leaves school to be alone in an apartment or home with family and friends leaving time set aside to plan the next  day’s lesson and grade homework.

That kind of TV  or Hollywood script, pitched to a producer in a one-minute elevator ride would be laughed at by the producer, much less make it past an editor’s eye for audience appeal. Yet such a film or TV program would be describing the daily tasks and activities that teachers and students engage in.

Another answer that may account for the low incidence of quasi-accurate teacher procedurals on screens is that every script writer has been in K-12 schools and knows teachers and the act of teaching well, they believe, because they sat a few feet away from them day in and day out for well over a decade. They think they know the topography of classrooms. Like driving a car gives the person behind the steering wheel no special knowledge of what’s under the hood or how driving has become increasingly computerized, being a student for years misses all that goes on before the teacher enters the classroom and the craft of teaching as a lesson unfolds over an hour.

The above reasons for the lack of teacher procedurals is speculation. Viewers might offer other explanations.

A few writers, however, have been teachers and their classroom savvy shows up from time to time. In HBO’s fourth year of “The Wire,” a former cop becomes a middle school math teacher in a drug-infested Baltimore neighborhood where he had been a member of a police unit working to catch drug dealers. Script writer Ed Burns was a Baltimore cop for 20 years, retired and became a school teacher in the city. He drew from both experiences to write episodes that were fictitious but conveyed a real-life classroom where a teacher was struggling to teach math to students he wanted to connect with and help; he slowly developed his craft through trial and error–to reach some but hardly all of this 8th grade students.

There are very few Ed Burns writing scripts for cable and network programs or Hollywood about the fundamentals of teaching students. I guess that is another reason why there are so few procedurals about teaching.


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Technology “Disrupting” Teaching (Part 2)

In the previous post, I argued that the onset of digital technologies since the 1990s had “disrupted” the print media beholden to a business model anchored in advertising revenues. Newspapers closed; reporters let go. Digital media spread swiftly and most Americans now get their news from screens, not newsprint.

Organizations that had not existed two decades ago such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter dispense news to their followers. New technologies had surely changed the institutional terrain of the newspaper world. But had these new technologies also irreversibly altered the practice of news gathering, writing, and publishing particularly investigative journalism?

I argued that core practices have remained constant in the midst of institutional meltdown. The practice of investigative journalism (as shown in procedural films, TV shows, and books such as “All the President’s Men,” “Lou Grant,” and “Spotlight”) not only still existed in the now smaller world of print media but also had mushroomed in cyberspace. Even with the proliferation of computer devices and software and their daily use in gathering and publishing news stories, reporters hewed to well-honed practices at  the heart of the craft called investigative journalism.

Have the new technologies that “disrupted” print media as a business done the same in public education? Have the new technologies used by schools and in classrooms altered the practice of teaching and learning? These questions I take up in this post.

Have the new technologies “disrupted” education?

The answer is no. The screeching rhetoric of new technologies “revolutionizing”  schooling in the U.S. and that  by 2020 online instruction at home and in the community will be how most children and youth learn (see here, here, here, and here)  is, well, talk. That rose-tinted future has yet to emerge from behind the curtain.

Surely, new technologies have spilled over public schools since the early 1980s and especially in the past decade. As student access to new devices and software has increased, so has teacher use in daily lessons. Laptops and tablets have become the new pen and paper in classrooms across the U.S. While for- and non-profit cyber schools have grown and online instruction has expanded in public schools,  bricks-and-mortar, age-graded public and private schools still remain the established institution they have been since the early 19th century. No “disruption” as predicted has occurred (see here and here).

Have the new technologies used by schools and in classrooms altered the practice of teaching and learning?

Depends on what “altered” means? Yes, teachers have said often in surveys and interviews that they now use new technologies to expand the resources students use in lessons, deepen the content they teach, and save time and energy in running down sources for their students while more efficiently recording grades and taking attendance. Using digital tools more frequently than  before, teachers have, indeed, changed how they access information, broaden the sources students use, and assess student understanding immediately. Teachers see these as important gains for them in planning and interacting with their students during lessons.

Digging deeper, however, has use of the new technologies altered core practices in teaching?  In age-graded schools in which children and youth are compelled to attend, elementary and secondary school teachers bring to their work strongly held beliefs in how students learn best and expertise in using techniques that best convey knowledge and skills. One of those beliefs is the importance of developing relationships with a class and individual students based on trust and affection for one another. Without this basic relationship between students and teacher, learning is hampered.

From these beliefs, elementary and secondary school teachers come up with goals and objectives for a lesson. They plan the content and skills that both kindergarten and Advanced Placement students will get to know and do in the time they will be together. They locate the sources and materials students will use for the lesson. They organize varied activities, depending on the lesson objectives, such as whole-group sessions, small-group work, and students working independently. Moreover, teachers plan and execute a beginning, middle and end of a lesson that is defined by the wall-mounted clock. These are the fundamentals of teaching to which teachers apply low- and high-tech tools.

Before there were classroom films, radio, television, and computers, these core practices characterized the teaching of lessons in age-graded schools. To be sure,  teachers then used paper, pencil, textbooks, etc. Now with digital tools available, they can enhance (or hinder) these core practices. But these core practices are constants that didn’t disappear when laptops appeared in classrooms.

In 2016, I observed over 40 teachers who had been identified as exemplars of integrating technology into their lessons. I asked the teachers whether using the new technologies had changed how they taught. One of the teachers answered “yes” and “no.” Her answer, I believe is instructive for those who fail to make the distinction between using new technologies to  save time and energy while enhancing a lesson and the deeply-embedded basic practices that teachers perform daily in getting students to learn. The former cannot erase or replace the latter.

Here is Nicole Lenz-Martin teaches in the San Mateo Union High School District at Aragon High School making that distinction. An 11-year veteran of teaching, she teaches Spanish level 3 through level 6 (including Advanced Placement). Elenz-Martin is also an instructional coach in the district and an instructor in the Stanford World Language Project.

My teaching — in terms of pedagogical strategy and philosophical beliefs about World Language instruction — has not changed because of my regular use of technology; however, the regular use of Chromebooks in my classroom has dramatically changed my access to student learning, monitoring of their proficiency development, and my ability to cover more material over the course of a school year.  

Why yes [that my teaching has changed]:

  • My students are required to be much more engaged and participatory in their learning because of their interaction with my lessons through technology.  When covering material in class, every student can interact with the presentation on my SmartBoard to share answers, respond to polls, or ask questions (Peardeck, Nearpod, Google Forms, etc.)  This has informed my instruction immensely and has allowed me to change my lesson “on-the-fly” to ensure understanding before moving on.
  • Students practice new vocabulary and/or comprehension questions with Quizlet, for example, and I can see their results and areas of challenge in real time.  It allows me to change my path of instruction if necessary, as stated above, and it also allows me to personalize the learning for each student’s level and need.  
  • Students have built classroom community and have strengthened camaraderie with review games (Quizlet Live, Socrative Space Race, and Kahoot!).  Not only has light ‘gaming’ sparked excitement and interest for the students in learning the material, but it has allowed me to formatively assess each students’ understanding and learning on a daily basis.  The comfort level and “fun” among classmates has allowed them to be better risk-takers and communicators with one another, and this is critical for a language class where students really need to feel confident and safe around their classmates.    
  • Students have had individual access to more authentic materials from around the world, which is of course extremely important for culture and language learning.  Their interaction with videos, texts, and audio can be documented in EdPuzzle, GoFormative, and Google Classroom.  I can see their engagement with the material in a way that I was never able to assess before, and I can respond to students both individually and as a group much more efficiently and effectively.  I can see what they are learning about a culture and I can motivate them to respond more critically to what they are seeing and comparing to their own culture….

Why [my teaching has not changed]

Certain parts of teaching can never be replaced, enhanced, or changed by technology.  The very most critical aspect of my teaching is the relationship that I create with each and every one of my students.  Without having a strong, trusting, solid, and respectful relationship with each student, he or she is lost in my classroom and will be unable to learn from my teaching.  Because I speak almost exclusively in Spanish, the oral communication in my classroom and the relationships with my students are the very cornerstones of my teaching.  Therefore: 

  • Technology has not replaced the way I speak or communicate with my students, and since I am a Spanish teacher, they are still listening and responding to me and to each other through oral communication much more than with the technology.  The amount that I expect them to speak with me and communicate with one another is the same as it has always been, even before technology access. 

Complex Instruction and Groupworthy tasks:  I passionately believe in the importance of “student talk” and participation for learning, especially when it comes to working with partners and small groups on a communicative and/or complex task.  Technology is almost non-existent in my classroom when students are working on an assignment that involves learning through talking with one another.  Without going into too much detail — technology hardly has changed the way I engage students in partnering and groupwork….

Lenz-Martin’s “yes” and “no” answer nicely captures how, like investigative journalism, the core procedures and practices of the craft continue regardless of the high-tech devices available. Also Lenz-Martin captures the complexity of teaching high schoolers, the procedures she follows in daily contact with her students. Much of what she describes is  seldom seen in Hollywood films and television screens past and present.

Which brings me to the next post. With all of the film and TV shows describing how detectives, doctors, and journalists perform their craft and live their lives in and out of their workplaces, why are there so few dramatizations that capture the daily work and life of teachers in and out of their classrooms?


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