Stages of Technology Integration in Classrooms (Part 3)

Technology integration is not a binary choice: you either do it or you don’t. Anyone who has taught, observed classrooms and thought about what it means to include electronic devices and software into daily lessons knows that technology integration, like raising a child, learning to drive or cultivating a garden, is a process–not an either/or outcome. One goes through various stages in learning how to raise a child, drive a car, grow a garden. In each instance, a “good” child, driving well, a fruitful garden is the desired but not predictable outcome.

A host of researchers and enthusiasts have written extensively about the different phases a teacher, school, and district goes through in integrating technology into their daily operations. Most of the literature seldom mentions that such movement through increasingly complicated stages is really phases of putting a new idea or practice into action. The labels for the levels of classroom practice vary–novice to expert, traditional to innovative, entry-level to transformational.

Writers and professional associations have described how individuals and organization stumble or glide from one phase to another before smoothly using electronic devices to reach larger ends. And it is the ends (e.g., content, skills, attitudes) that have to be kept in sight for those who want teachers to arrive at the top (or last) stage. Buried in that final implementation stage is a view of “good” technology integration and, implicitly, “good” teaching. Often obscured but still there, these notions of what are “good” teaching and learning are embedded in that last stage. Figuring out those ends and what values are concealed within them is difficult but revealing in the biases that model-builders and users have.

As with arriving at a definition (see last post), I have examined many such conceptual frameworks that lay out a series of steps going from a beginner to an expert (across frameworks the names for each step vary). Most often mentioned are the Apple Classroom of Tomorrow (ACOT) and the SAMR models. Many implementation frameworks in use are variations of these two.

The ACOT model.

The earliest stage model came from the demonstration project Apple launched in the mid-1980s when the company placed in five elementary and secondary classrooms across the country, a desktop computer for each student and teachers—the earliest 1:1 classrooms. Moreover, each classroom had a printer, laser disc, videotape player, modem, CD-ROM drivers and software packages. The project grew over the years to 32 teachers in ACOT schools in four states. [i]

One of the longer initiatives ever undertaken in creating technology-rich classrooms—ACOT lasted nearly a decade—researchers drew from observations and interviews with teachers and students a host of findings one of which was the process that teachers went through in integrating technology into daily lessons.

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That five-stage process that ACOT teachers traversed went from Entry where teachers coped with classroom discipline problems, managed software, technical breakdowns and physical re-arrangement of rooms to Adoption where beginners’ issues were resolved. The next stage of implementing technology in the classroom, Adaptation, occurred when teachers figured out ways to use the devices and software to their advantage in teaching—finding new ways of monitoring student work, grading tests, creating new materials, and tailoring content and skills to individual students. At this stage, teachers had fully integrated the technology into traditional classroom practice.

The Appropriation phase comes next when teachers have shifted in their attitudes toward using technology in the classroom. At this point, the teacher uses the technology seamlessly in doing lessons. New classroom habits and ways of thinking about devices and software occur. The authors of Teaching with Technology say: “Appropriation is the turning point for teachers…. It leads to the next stage, invention, where new teaching approaches promote the basics yet open the possibility of a new set of student competencies.” [ii]

In the Invention stage, teachers try out new ways of teaching (e.g., project-based learning, team teaching, individualized lessons) and new ways of connecting to students and other teachers (e.g., students providing technical assistance to other students and teachers, collaboration among students). As the authors summed up: “Reaching the invention stage … was a slow and arduous process for most teachers.” In short, at this stage of implementing technology, ACOT researchers believed that teachers would replace their traditional teacher-centered practices. The majority of teachers, however, never made it to this stage. [iii]

The SAMR model.

Developed by Ruben Puentedura, SAMR stands for: Subsitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition. The four rungs of the implementation ladder go from the lowest, replacing an existing tool (e.g., overhead projector) with an electronic device (e.g., interactive whiteboard) but displaying no change in the pedagogy or lesson content to the next rung where the lesson is modified through use of new technology (e.g., study the concept of the speed of light by using a computer simulation). The third rung of the ladder of putting technology into practice is where the teacher modifies the lesson and “allows for significant task redesign” (e.g., students show their understanding of content in class by recording audio and then saving it as a sound file) and, finally, to the top of the ladder, redefinition, where the technology “allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable.” Examples here would be students creating a movie or podcast and putting it on the Internet to get comments or students writing posts for a class blog on the web about the history of the Great Depression. At this final stage of technology integration, student engagement is highest. The SAMR model assumes that high student engagement leads to gains in student academic achievement. Thus, the SAMR model implicitly promises improved student achievement.

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More popular with practitioners and consultants marketing professional development in the U.S. and abroad than among researchers, this implementation model is context-free, hierarchical, and unanchored in the research literature on integrating technology. While some researchers have criticized it extensively, it remains popular among teachers and technology coordinators. [iv]

Both ACOT and SAMR involve what teachers know of subject-matter content, insights into their own teaching, and what they know about using technology. This interplay between content, pedagogy, and technology has led to another popular model among technology coordinators, practitioners, and researchers in the field.

Not a stage model of implementation, these domains of “Content Knowledge, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, and Technological Knowledge”, like intersecting circles in a Venn, overlap. The resulting clumsy acronym is TPACK for Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. TPACK slides easily into SAMR adding to what teachers are expected to know and do in moving from one stage to another. Like the other models, TPACK also has come in for extensive criticism.[v]

TPACK-new

These models—and there are others as well—seek to move teacher use of technology in daily lessons from the primitive to the sophisticated, from exchanging pencil-and-paper for word processing, from redesigning classroom activities through available software to engaging students in learning. The top stages of these implementation models reject traditional modes of teaching and implicitly lean toward a preferred manner of instruction—student-centered. [vi]

Too often, however, the top rung of the ladder—where putting technology integration into creating active learning tasks for students–becomes a proxy for success. Either “Invention” in the ACOT model or “Redefinition” in SAMR becomes surrogates for judging teacher success in not only effectively integrating their use of technology but also in improving student outcomes. And that is unfortunate.

The next and final post explains why I say “unfortunate.”

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[i] Judith Sandholtz, Cathy Ringstaff, and David Dwyer, Teaching with Technology : Creating Student-Centered Classrooms (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997). See p. 187 for number of ACOT teachers, schools, and states.

[ii] Ibid., p. 43.

[iii] Ibid., p. 47.

[iv] For a description of SAMR, see Ruben Puentadura’s presentation at: http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/06/29/LearningTechnologySAMRModel.pdf

For a short video on SAMR, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBce25r8vto

Critics include Erica Hamilton, et. al., “The Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) Model: a Critical Review and Suggestions for its Use,” Tech Trends, 2016, 60(5), pp. 433-441; Jonas Linderoth, “Open Letter to Dr. Ruben Puentadura, October 17, 2013 at

http://spelvetenskap.blogspot.com/2013/10/open-letter-to-dr-ruben-puentedura.html

I did a Google search for “SAMR model” and got 245,000 hits; “ACOT model” received just over 63,000 entries. September 4, 2016.
[v] Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler, “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge,” Teachers College Record, 2006, 108(6), pp. 1017-1054. For criticism of TPACK, see Leanna Archambault and Joshua Barnett, “Revisiting Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: Exploring the TPACK Framework,” Computers & Education, 2010, 55, pp. 1656-1662; Scott Bulfin, et. al., “Stepping Back from TPACK,” Learning with New Media, March 19, 2013 at: http://newmediaresearch.educ.monash.edu.au/lnm/stepping-back-from-tpack/

A Google search for “TPACK model” on September 4, 2016 produced just under 90, 000 hits.

[vi] The summary of ACOT research and practice is in: Judith Sandholtz, Cathy Ringstaff, and David Dwyer, Teaching with Technology : Creating Student-Centered Classrooms (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997). The sub-title captures the intent of the model. The SAMR model highlights increasing student engagement at each rung of the ladder. Among advocates of student-centered classrooms, engagement is a synonym for “active learning,” a principle undergirding student-centeredness in teaching. While increasing active student involvement at each stage beyond Substitution, Ruben Puentadura has not stated directly his preference for student-centeredness as a goal. I have found no direct statements on his seeking student-centered instruction. Those curriculum specialists, teachers, technology coordinators and independent consultants who have picked up and ran with SAMR, however, have indeed seen the model as a strategy for teachers to alter their classroom practices—with qualifications and amendments–and embrace student-centered instruction.

See, for example, Cathy Grochowski, “Interactive Technology: What’s SAMR Got To Do With It?” June 1, 2016 at: http://edblog.smarttech.com/2016/06/11471/

Jennifer Roberts, “Turning SAMR into TECH: What Models Are Good For,” November 30, 2013 at: http://www.litandtech.com/2013/11/turning-samr-into-tech-what-models-are.html

Kathy Schrock, “SAMR and Bloom’s,” (no date) at: http://www.schrockguide.net/samr.html

 

 

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Defining Technology Integration (Part 2)

Current definitions of technology integration are a conceptual swamp. Some definitions focus on the technology itself and student access to the devices and software. Some concentrate on the technologies as tools to help teachers and students reach curricular and instructional goals. Some mix a definition with what constitutes success or effective use of devices and software. Some include the various stages of technology integration from simple to complex. And some include in their definitions a one-best-way of integrating technology to advance an instructional method such as student-centered learning. Thus, a conceptual swamp sucks in unknowing enthusiasts and fervent true believers into endless arguing over exactly what is technology integration. [i]

To avoid such a swamp and get into semantic arguments in identifying teachers and schools where a high degree integrated devices in daily practices had occurred, I relied upon informal definitions frequently used by practitioners.

From what practitioners identified as “best cases” of technology integration, I learned that varied indicators came into play when I asked for exemplars. These indicators helped create a grounded definition of technology integration in identifying districts, schools and teachers:

* District had provided wide access to devices and established infrastructure for use . System administrators and cadre of teachers had fought insistently for student access to hardware (e.g., tablets, laptops, interactive whiteboards) and software (e.g., the latest programs in language arts, math, history, and science) either through 1:1 programs for the entire schools, mobile carts, etc.

*District established structures for how schools can improve learning and reach desired outcomes through technology. District administrators and groups of teachers had established formal ways for monitoring academic student progress, created teacher-initiated professional development, launched on-site coaching of teachers and daily mentoring of students, and provided easily accessible assistance when glitches in devices or technological infrastructure occurred. They sought to use technology to achieve content and skill goals.

* Particular schools and teacher leaders had requested repeatedly personal devices and classroom computers for their students. Small teacher-initiated projects–homegrown, so to speak–flowered and gained support of district administrators. Evidence came from sign-up lists for computer carts, volunteering to have pilot 1:1 computer projects in their classrooms and purchase orders from specific teachers and departments.

* Certain teachers and principals came regularly to professional development workshops on computer use in lessons. Voluntary attendance at one or more of these sessions indicated motivation and growing expertise.

* Students had used devices frequently in lessons. Evidence of use came from teacher self-reports, principal observations, student comments to teachers and administrators and word-of-mouth among teachers and administrators in schools.

Note that in all of these conversations, no district administrator, principal, or teacher ever asked me what I meant by “technology integration.” Some or all of the above indicators repeatedly came up in our discussions. I leaned heavily upon the above signs of use and less upon a formal definition (see above) in identifying candidates to study.

I wanted a definition that would fit what I had gleaned from administrators and teachers about how they informally concluded what schools and which teachers were exemplars of technology integration. I wanted a definition that got past the issue of access to glittering new machines and Gee Whiz applications. I wanted a definition that focused on classroom and school use aimed toward achieving teacher and district curricular and instructional goals. I wanted a definition that put hardware and software in the background, not the foreground. I wanted a definition grounded in what I heard and saw in classrooms, schools, and districts.

Of the scores of formal definitions in the literature I have sorted through, I looked for one that would be clear and make sense to experts, professionals, parents, and taxpayers. Only a few met that standard. [ii]

I did fashion one that avoided the conceptual morass of defining technology integration and matched the “best cases” that superintendents, technology coordinators, and teachers had selected for me to observe.[iii]

“Technology integration is the routine and transparent use in learning, teaching, and assessment of computers, smartphones and tablets, digital cameras, social media platforms, networks, software applications and the Internet aimed at helping students reach the district’s and teacher’s curricular and instructional goals.”*

If this definition succeeds in putting technology in the background, not the foreground, then the next step in my research is to elaborate how such a process unfolds in classrooms, schools, and districts by examining the various stages teachers go through in integrating technology before moving to assessments of how successful (or not) the technology integration works.

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*Thanks to reader Seb Schmoller for adding to this definition

[i] Examples of the different definitions mentioned in text can be found at:

http://www.definitions.net/definition/Technology%20integration

 

https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2003/tech_schools/chapter7.asp

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_integration

 

http://www.education4site.org/blog/2011/what-do-we-really-mean-by-technology-integration/

 

http://members.tripod.com/sjbrooks_young/techint.pdf

 

http://fcit.usf.edu/matrix/matrix.php

 

http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~coesyl-p/principle3-article2.pdf

[ii] Rodney Earle, “The Integration of Instructional Technology into Public Education: Promises and Challenges,” Education Technology Magazine, 2002, 42(1), pp. 5-13. His definition of integration concentrates on the teaching, not hardware or software:

“Computer technology is merely one possibility in the selection of media and the delivery mode—part of the instructional design process —not the end but merely one of several means to the end.”

Khe Foon Hew and Thomas Brush, “Integrating Technology into K-12 Teaching and Learning,” Education Tech Research Development, 2007, 55, pp. 223-252. Their definition is:

“[T]echnology integration is thus viewed as the use of computing devices such as desktop computers, laptops, handheld computers, software, or Internet in K-12 schools for instructional purposes.

[iii] I took a definition originally in Edutopia and revised it to make clear that the integration of technology in daily lessons is harnessed to achieving curricular and instructional goals of the teacher, school, and district. The devices and software are not front-and-center but routinely used in lessons.  I then stripped away language that connected usage of technologies to “success” or preferred ways of teaching. (No author) “What is Successful Technology Integration, “ Edutopia, November 5, 2007 at: http://www.edutopia.org/technology-integration-guide-description

 

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How I Am Researching Technology Integration in Classrooms and Schools (Part 1)

Beginning last spring, I began publishing posts of classrooms  in which I observed lessons (see here and here). These posts were one part of a larger  research project on technology integration (see here). 

Two questions have guided the case study design of the project:

  1. How have classroom, school, and district exemplars of technology integration been fully implemented and put into classroom practice?
  2. Have these exemplars made a difference in teaching practice?

 In this and subsequent posts I will detail the methodology I use, what I mean by technology integration and describe models commonly used to determine its extent in schools.

The following posts are drafts that will be revised since I will be visiting more teachers and schools this fall.  I welcome comments from readers who wish to take issue, suggest revisions, and recommend changes.

How I Got Started

In fall 2015, I wrote to district superintendents and heads of charter management organizations explaining why I was writing about instances of technology integration in their schools. At no point did these administrators ask me to define “technology integration” or even ask about the phrase; all seemed to know what I meant. In nearly all instances, the superintendent, school site administrator, technology coordinator, and CMO head invited me into the district. Administrators supplied me with lists of principals and teachers to contact. Again, neither my contacts nor I defined the phrase “technology integration” in conversations. They already had a sense of what the phrase meant.

I contacted individual teachers explaining how I got their names, what I was doing, and asked for their participation. More than half agreed. Because of health issues, I did not start the project until January 2016. For four months I visited schools and classrooms, observed lessons and interviewed staff. I resumed observations this fall and hope to complete all observations by December 2016.

In visiting classrooms, I interviewed teachers before and after the lessons I observed in their classrooms. During the observation, I took notes every few minutes about what both teacher and students were doing. I used a protocol to describe class activities while commenting separately about what both teacher and students were doing. I had used this observation protocol in previous studies. The point of the description and commentary was to capture what happened in the classroom, not determine the degree of teacher effectiveness. I avoided evaluative judgments about the worth of the lesson or teacher activities.

The major advantage of this approach is being in the room and picking up non-verbal and verbal asides of what is going on every few minutes as well as noting classroom conditions that often go unnoticed.  I, as an experienced teacher familiar with schooling historically and the common moves that occur in lessons, can also assess the relationship between the teacher and students that other observers using different protocols or videos may miss or exclude. Teachers know that I will not judge their performance.

The major disadvantage of this way of observing lessons is the subjectivity and biases I bring to documenting lessons. So I work hard at separating what I see from what I interpret. I document classroom conditions from student and teacher desk arrangements through what is on bulletin boards, photos and pictures on walls, and whiteboards and which, if any, electronic devices are available in the room. I describe, without judging, teacher and student activities and behaviors. But biases, as in other approaches researching classroom life, remain.

After observing classes, I sit down and have half-hour to 45-minute interviews at times convenient to teachers. After jotting down their history in the district, the school, and other experiences, I turned to the lessons and asked questions about what teachers’ goals were and whether they believed those goals were reached. Then, I asked about the different activities I observed during the lesson. One key question was whether the lesson I observed was representative or not of how the teacher usually teaches.

In answering these questions, teachers gave me reasons they did (or did not do) something in lessons.  In most instances, individual teachers told me why they did what they did, thus, communicating a map of their beliefs and assumptions about teaching, learning, and the content they teach. In all of the give-and-take of these discussions with teachers I made no judgment about the success or failure of different activities or the lesson itself.

I then drafted a description of the lesson and sent it to the teacher to correct any factual errors I made in describing the lesson. The teacher returned the draft with corrections.[i]

To provide context for the classrooms I observed, I collected documents and used school and teacher websites to describe what occurred within each school and district in integrating devices and software into teachers’ daily lessons.

All of these sources intersected and overlapped permitting me to assess the degree to which technology integration occurred. Defining what the concept of “technology integration,” however, was elusive and required much work. Even though when I used the phrase it triggered nods from teachers and administrators as if we all shared the same meaning of the phrase.  I still had to come up with a working definition of the concept that would permit me to capture more precisely what I saw in classrooms, schools, and districts.

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[i] The protocol is straightforward and subjective. I write out in longhand or type on my laptop what teachers and students do during the lesson. Each sheet of paper or laptop screen is divided into a wide column and a narrow column. In the wide column I record every few minutes what the teacher is doing, what students are doing, and teacher-directed segues from one activity to another. In the narrow column, I comment on what I see.

 

Subsequent posts will deal with defining technology integration, common models describing its stages, and determining success of technology integration.

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“Truthful Hyperbole”

*My history teacher is so old, she lived through the Civil War.

*My dog is so ugly, he saw himself in a mirror and ran away.

*My teacher is so mean, she eats first graders for lunch.

*My sister uses so much makeup, she needs a paintbrush to put it on with (see here)

Yes, these statements are hyperbole. They are exaggerations. Stand-up comics use hyperbole often in the one-liners they deliver and the shaggy dog stories they tell. It is also a rhetorical move seeking to make a point through overstating. Awareness of exaggerated statements has risen dramatically in the 2016 campaign for the U.S. presidency. Republican nominee Donald Trump acknowledges that he exaggerates to make a point. In Art of the Deal (1987), Trump said:

I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

Journalist Tony Schwartz ghost-wrote Art of the Deal and reveals how the phrase “truthful hyperbole” originated with Trump thirty years ago in developing New York City real estate projects.

So the phrase “truthful hyperbole” has entered the presidential campaign leaving most of us unclear on what is fact and what is fiction. Of course, in previous presidential campaigns, other candidates have made exaggerated claims but now journalists and pundits have enjoyed a Trumpian cornucopia.

To be direct, “truthful hyperbole” is as oxymoronic as “accurate exaggeration.” While in the next two months campaign talks, presidential debates, and TV ads will surely add to the list of examples of “truthful hyperbole,” such exaggeration surrounding school technologies contains many examples (I was going to write a “gazillion” but did not want to add to the list).

“Truthful Hyperbole” in Computers in Schools 

Remember MOOCs?

Massive Open Online Courses beginning in 2012 were going to “revolutionize” universities making degrees accessible to anyone with an Internet connection (see here and here). Well, the obituaries have already appeared less than five years later (see here and here). Surely, MOOCs still exist–the truthful part–although the hyperbole has been cremated.

Remember the introduction of iPads?

As one headline put it in 2012: How the iPad is Transforming the Classroom.

Or an online newspaper article from the San Jose Mercury News:

As teachers, administrators, parents and students continue to argue about how best to incorporate digital technology into the classroom, Apple (AAPL) strode into the center of the debate Thursday with a promise to transform the classroom the same way it changed music with iTunes and the iPod.

Then there is the commonly used word “transformation” to describe what will happen with the onslaught of technologies in classrooms.   It is “truthful hyperbole” in action.

For computer technologies:  Among ourselves, we educators and policymakers discuss the transformation of schools, recognizing how great the changes in these institutions need to be.  Unfortunately the public does not like the term “transformation,” probably for the same reason many people dislike the idea of transforming the health care system.  The public fears that something familiar and important will be lost as institutions are transformed.  In fact, we know that the United States faces greater risks if our schools fail to improve fast enough than if they change too slowly.

Computers, the Internet, online courses, smart phones, cameras, interactive whiteboards, and other digital tools play an important role in improving and, yes, transforming schools.  The role of technology in schools will increase, and as we use these new tools wisely, they help make schools more effective and engaging. (2012)

For online learning: What does stand to happen in K-12 education is a transformation, where the schools of tomorrow look radically different from schools of today as a result of disruptive changes in subsystems beneath them, i.e. classes, after-school services, etc. Schools may become community hubs where students come to collaborate, work online, get mentoring, tutoring, and individualized help – a stark contrast from the whole group instructional model of today where whiteboards and desks reign supreme. (2016)

For adaptive or “personalized” learning: How Computer Technology Will Transform Schools of the Future (2014)

And on and on. The hyperbole attached to the use of technologies in classrooms are exaggerations anchored in magical thinking, not fact. When it comes to hyperbole, the “truthful” part is a casualty of rhetorical overkill.

 

 

 

 

 

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Reforms That Stick: How Schools Change

There is a strongly-held myth many academics, policymakers, and reformers repeat weekly: schools hardly ever change. Those who believe in this myth often cite the large literature demonstrating failed innova­tions in schools or point at calcified bureaucracies and stubborn teachers and principals who block reform after reform (see here and here). Like all myths, this one has a factual basis. There have been many failures to transform schooling in the U.S.  From open-space schools to vouchers, there have indeed been vain attempts to alter the course of schooling.

Such a myth is useful for those who beat the drums that U.S. schools are broken. After all, they seek changes that meet their view of what constitutes a “good” education. “Troubled” schools is the basis for the profound pessimism that presently exists over the capacity of public schools to improve. So it is a politically useful myth, but it is inherently mistaken nonetheless.

The fact is that over the last century there have been many organizational, governance, curricular, and even instructional changes in public schools. Such changes have been adopted, adapted, implemented, and institutionalized. In most instances, these changes departed from what reformers in past generations wanted but they were changes nonetheless. Many of these changes have been incremental, that is, additions to existing structures and processes of schooling. However, a few of these changes have been fundamental, altering substantially public schools. Consider the following changes in U.S. schools over the past half-century:

  • Creation of small high schools;
  • Increased qualifications for teachers and administrators;
  • Decreased teacher/student classroom ratios;
  • Increased choices of schools, curricula, and programs available to parents;
  • New subjects in curriculum (environmental studies, advanced placement courses biology, calculus, history, etc.);
  • Use of small-group and individual approaches to classroom organization and instruction;
  • Public school desegregation of black children since 1954;
  • Increased access of children with disabilities to public school classrooms since the early 1970s.

Why has such a myth about the incapacity of schools to change become mainstream wisdom?

The basis for this myth about public schools seldom changing is due, in part, to reform-driven observers and participants failing to get what they wanted, ignoring past reforms,  overlooking how schools absorb innovations and transform them into stable routines, and failing to distinguish between the core of schooling and the periphery.  Amnesia, myopia, and sour grapes are congenital defects afflicting reformers. I will argue that there are clear lessons that can be both learned and applied by reform-minded policymakers, researchers and practitioners in understanding how changes get converted into institutional routines. And how some changes are at the center of the existing U.S. system of schooling and some migrate to the periphery but still exist.

How Fundamental Changes Become Incorporated as Incremental Ones

The kindergarten, junior high school, open-space architecture, and the use of computers, for example, are instances of actual and attempted fundamental changes in the school and classroom since the turn of the century that were widely adopted, incorporated into many schools, and then, over time, were marginalized into incremental changes.

How did this occur?

A familiar example is the curricular reform of the 1950s and 1960s, guided, in large part, by reform-inspired academic specialists and funded by the federal government. Aimed at revolutionizing teaching and learning in math, science, and social studies (spurred in part by a popular perception that Soviet education was superior to American schools, as evidenced by Sputnik), millions of dollars went to producing textbooks, developing classroom materials, and training teachers. Using the best instructional materials that scholars could produce, teachers taught students to understand how scientists thought and experienced the pleasures of discovery, how mathematicians solved math problems and how historians used primary sources to understand the past. Published materials ended up in the hands of teachers who, for the most part, had had little time to understand what was demanded by the novel materials or, for that matter, how to use them in lessons.

By the end of the 1970s, education researchers were reporting that instead of student involvement in critical thinking, problem solving, or experiencing how scientists worked, they had found the familiar teacher-centered instruction aimed at imparting knowledge from a text. There was, however, a distinct curricular residue of these federally funded efforts left in the textbooks published in the 1970s. The attempt to revolutionize teaching and learning evolved, in time, into new textbook content (see here, here, and here). Reformers were sorely disappointed at the small returns from major efforts.

Another way that fundamental changes get transformed into incremental ones is organizationally shunting them from the core of schooling to the periphery of the  system. For example, innovative programs that reduce class size (e.g., dropout prevention), integrate subject matter from diverse disciplines (e.g., gifted and talented programs), and structure activities that involve students in their learning (e.g., vocational programs) often begin as classroom experiments, but, over time, migrate to the periphery of the system. The schools have indeed adopted and implemented programs fundamentally different from what mainstream students receive. Yet it is the outsiders—students labeled as potential dropouts, vocational students, pregnant teenagers,those identified as gifted, at-risk, and disabled—who participate in the innovative programs initially. Thus, some basic changes get encapsulated, like a grain of sand in an oyster; they exist within the system but are often separated from core programs (see here and here).

Such conversions of fundamental changes into incremental ones occur as a result of deep-seated impulses within the organization to appear modern and to convince those who politically and financially support the schools that what happens in schools is up-to-date, responsive to the wishes of its patrons, but yet no different from what used to happen in the “real schools” that taxpayers remember from their youth—schools containing homework rows of desks in classrooms, and teachers who maintain order. Thus, pervasive and potent processes within the institution of schooling preserve its independence to act even in the face of powerful outside political forces intent upon altering what happens in schools and classrooms (see here, here, and here). Reformers seeking to “transform” schooling see such adaptations as failure; less self-interested observers see this as how organizations adapt politically to their environment.

So, to sum up what I have asserted thus far:

  1. Schools have changed a great deal.
  2. These changes have been in virtually all areas of governance, organization, curriculum, and classroom instruction.
  1. Most of these changes have been incremental; only a few have been fundamental.
  1. Many of these changes were adopted, implemented, and then became institutionalized. Some fundamental changes were incorporated into the core of the mainstream school system as incremental innovations, but many others became permanently lodged at the periphery of the system.
  1. Over time, many changes in schools preserve the overall stability of schooling.

With all of these changes that I have detailed, why is there this myth that schools are so resistant to change?

The answer, I believe, is located in cultural attitudes that Americans have toward the idea of change. Most Americans see change as a good thing. Annual changes in car styles and clothes are matched to a political system of annual, biennial, and quadrennial elections and a passion for moving from one place to another cherish the new and different. These attitudes are strong, abiding, and fed continually by a consumer culture that stresses new products, rotating name brands, and the search for different experiences.

Because the dominant belief is that change is good, planned change is viewed as even better. Anchored in evolutionary ideas that can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and wedded to historic values of the American culture, the idea of progress has been honed to sharpness by generations of theorists, policymakers, and publicists. Planned change in schools (i.e., reforms) spill over public schools again and again because schooling is seen as a public good that also benefits individuals climbing the ladder to success. High expectations for what diplomas and degrees can do to one’s life chances drive Americans.  But U.S. schools are vulnerable to socioeconomic pressures coming from outside schools. After all, tax-supported public schools are political institutions. When changes occur and differ from what that generation of reformers sought, the label of failure gets glued to public schools.

With the rhetoric of failed U.S. schools driving the past 30 years of reform–recall A Nation at Risk–high expectations for schooling to bolster the economy over the past 30 years, reforms have flowed over U.S. schools. Many have stuck as incremental changes. Other changes have morphed into programs lodged at the periphery of schooling. Schools have indeed changed. Only disappointed, myopic and amnesiac reformers hang onto the myth of unchanging schools.

 

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Cartoons about Silicon Valley and Technology

For this month, I have found a dozen or so cartoons that poke fun at the culture of Silicon Valley and life with technology. Enjoy !

SV_Hierarchy_pptx

 

drew-dernavich-i-ll-do-what-everybody-does-sell-this-startup-just-before-we-have-to-hir-new-yorker-cartoon

 

drew-dernavich-internet-epitaphs-digibuy-new-yorker-cartoon

 

cartoon

 

everyone-has-spent-a-day-doing-nothing-but-watching-netflix

 

LopezA20130626A_low

 

tumblr_oa47hspVXt1ua6q59o1_1280

 

all-the-memes-go-through-reddit-at-some-point

 

tumblr_o9g0qsz8Sp1ua6q59o1_1280

 

LopezA20140806_low

 

theyre-probably-pre-revenue-too

 

screen-shot-2015-08-07-at-55500-pm

 

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A Math Teacher Remembers Her Students (Education Realist)

 

This abridged post comes from the blog Education Realist. The teacher who writes this blog prefers to remain anonymous. I have observed this teacher teach math and social studies lessons; we have also met and had lunch discussing many issues in public schools.

In the fall of 2012, I began my first year at this school. I met a group of 29 freshmen in their first high school math class: geometry.  From the beginning, we all clicked. A new school didn’t seem quite so intimidating because every day of that first semester started with camaraderie and good times–and some learning, too.

Of the 26 who stayed the whole year, all but one passed. Nearly half Asians (from every part of the continent), over half the rest Hispanic, and seven whites, and one African American. Ten athletes, including two who turned their ability into scholarships. The eventual senior prom queen. All those who passed made it through trigonometry, at least. Most made it to pre-calculus. Only a few made it to Calculus or Advancement Placement Statistics.  They reflected the school’s population writ large: diverse, athletic, not overly focused on academics, but smart enough to get it done.

A few others were never in one of my classes again, but I saw them frequently; they’d always shout a greeting across the quad, identifying themselves because they know I never wear my glasses.

The remaining saw me in at least one subsequent math class. None seemed to mind.

When we talked, as we did often, we’d regularly refer to “that first geometry class”.  Our touchstone memory, kept alive through four years of their education.

One of my “three-timers”, a sweet, tentative young man who never had another math teacher until pre-calc, stopped by with his yearbook. As we thumbed through the senior pages, calling out familiar faces, he suddenly said, “Man, I bet you’ve taught most of the seniors at least once.”

We counted it together—of the 93 rows of four students each, I’d taught 288 of them, or roughly 75%. Many more than once.

In the face of that percentage, I decided it was time to work around my dislike of crowds, speeches, and heat in order to represent on their big night. So at 4:30, I showed up at the stadium to help assemble them for the procession.

At first, the seniors were gathered in informal groups outside the staging area, taking pictures, talking, dancing about impatiently. Many called me over or waved, shouting out their names.

As they moved into the cafeteria for the staging, I wandered around, touching base, asking about plans, saying goodbye. As I’d expected, they needed teachers to organize the alphabetized lines for the procession, so I took a list of twenty. Rounded them up, hollered them into line, while the fourteen students I’d taught before joked that in less than three hours they’d never have to listen to me again. “And that’s why you became a teacher!” a bunch of them chorused.

Finally, the graduation manager gave the sign for zero hour. Suddenly well-behaved and serious, they streamed out in order, paused for a few minutes at some inevitable delay, and then the music started. I stood about 15 feet away from them, put on my prescription glasses, even in the sun, the better not to miss any face.

Waved and cheered at brand new adults who waved and cheered back, glad I was there, happy to see me, happy that I was wearing my glasses and could see them.  And when the last student–one of mine–turned for one final smile, I decided that the graduation itself, the heat, the speeches, the names, would dull the joy I felt in this moment. Time to go.

As I walked back to where I’d parked my car, latecomers were hustling to the stadium, many holding signs and pictures. I saw pictures I knew, stopped to congratulate the parents and send them on their way.

And suddenly:

“Hey, it’s my geometry teacher!”

I smiled at the pretty, lively young woman holding a…toddler? infant? gurgling happily walking towards me, waving.  But I’ve only taught three geometry classes in those four years, and was coming up blank.

“You don’t remember me? I’m Annie!” and I gasped.

“Oh, my God. Annie! I thought…I haven’t run into you for so long…you didn’t go back to live with your mom? I don’t think I’ve seen you in..three years? I didn’t recognize you. You’re all grown up! ”

Annie was the only one in the geometry class that didn’t pass.

“How’s your dad? You look fantastic. And how’s this little guy? How old is he, fifteen months?”

“Nope, just nine months.”

“He’s gorgeous. How are you? Come to see the grad…well, duh, yes.”

She laughed, and hitched the baby to her other hip. “It’s great you came! I still think about that geometry class. It was so fun!”

“I wish I’d run into you more. Go, get going, you don’t want to be late. Take care of this adorable one. I’m happy to see you.”

“Me, too. Take care. Bye!” and off she went, striding confidently into her future.

I watched her, thinking of all the questions I wanted to ask: did she graduate? Go to our excellent alternative high school? Is the baby’s dad in the picture? What are your plans? and being so very glad I didn’t ask.

I resist presenting Annie as a tragedy. I didn’t feel guilt.  But I did feel…awareness, maybe? I’m good with unmotivated underachieving boys. Am I as good with girls?

Could I reach out more? Give them reasons to try, to play along?

I then remembered a saying from my ed school professor

“You should never be satisfied. You can always do better.”

I told him that the two sentiments don’t follow. I am satisfied. I can try to do better.

Goodbye, class of 2016.

Goodbye, geometry class. I’ll miss you.

 

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Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach