All posts in 'Thoughts'

26 Feb

Decisions, Decisions: Making the Best Technology Choices For Your Classroom

I hold the belief that educators must create a culture of continuous instructional improvement for our students. It is a sentiment that has permeated the way I approach classroom instruction, and for the many others who agree with that belief, these improvements can and should be achieved through various solutions. However, it seems as though educators and education magazines already chose their “favored solution” to achieve these improvements: new classroom technologies — and rightfully so. Over the past 10 years, the educational technology world has expanded exponentially, and everyday educators are informed of new technologies they can use to improve instruction. For those who are receptive to these tools, the desire to use all of these technologies in every step of instruction can be overwhelming and can unfortunately lead educators to not choose the best tool, or lose site of the purpose or effectiveness of the lesson. So here lies our dilemma. How can we ensure that we are improving instruction, while experimenting with, and searching for the best technologies for our classrooms?

Writer and teacher, Paul Barnwell recently published an article in Education Week Teacher, in which he addresses his complicated relationship with these numerous technologies. In his article “The Time-Tested Dos and Don’ts of Using Classroom Technology,” Barnwell states that finding the right classroom technology is “a messy process.” His nine years of technology experimentation, and “eager” attitude to try it all, has resulted in a compact list of tips for classroom technology use. You can read the article here.

The thing I mostly took away from Barnwell’s article, aside from a lot of really great tips, is that finding the right educational technology tools is a difficult process that requires a lot of trial and error. We all want to create the most innovative and interesting environments for our students to learn, however we cannot allow our desire to use these tools make us lose site of our lesson objectives. Our technology choices cannot be haphazard, but instead be choices that achieve desired learning results in our students. To decide which technologies you should use, keep in mind the following:

  • The technology should act as an assistant. As Barnwell points out, we cannot “rely so heavily on the technology tools that speaking and listening skills go by the wayside.” Although he is referring to the students, this idea must be applied to teachers as well. The teacher’s direction and guidance are the greatest learning assets to our schools, and the technologies should be used to highlight those assets, not replace them.
  • The tools must support the Common Core Learning Standards. Essentially, the common core concept is that for every inch you move forward, you must dig a mile deep. These CCL standards encourage ideas to be fully flushed out through in-depth research and numerous resources. Effective classroom technologies allow teachers and students to go beyond traditional learning environments and explore and interact with various media, promoting the research necessary to fully achieve these high learning standards.
  • The technologies should benefit the students and the teacher. Tools like SMART Response, allow students to have an interactive learning experience, while giving the instructor data they can use to assess the student’s learning and lesson effectiveness.

And most importantly,

  • Technologies to support data-driven instructional decision making hold great promise for increasing the efficiency by enhancing the effectiveness of teaching and learning activities, accelerating student achievement, and improving administrative, programmatic, and organizational performance. They have the potential to engage students and capitalize on learning styles (Dieterle, Dede, & Schier, 2007). Educators need embedded blended professional learning opportunities to build their capacity to use data and access to technologies to support instructional decision-making.
  • The use of technology can be used to inform instruction, access online assessment systems with progress monitoring tools, and use emerging mobile technologies to personalize students’ learning needs. Instead of teaching to the “average” student, teachers need to be able to use data systems aligned to standards and emerging technologies to develop personalized learning for all students.
  • Interactive and adaptive assessment technologies and systems have the capacity to support the measurements of complex performances that cannot be assessed with conventional testing formats. Technological innovations, such as mobile technologies, social networking, and virtual learning environments, are desirable because they are highly engaging. They provide immediate performance feedback so that students always know how they are doing.

As educators, we must find a balance between what is currently trendy in education, and what we think will most effectively educate our students and better our instruction. We should not focus on what technology is used in the lesson, but focus more so on what benefits result from the technology. Post your opinions and comments on our comments page and let us know how you determine which technologies to use in your daily instruction. Do you agree with Barnwell’s tips? Which “Do’s and Don’t’s” do you suggest when choosing or using classroom technology?

13 Feb

Data Usage that Goes Beyond Teachers

So often, when we hear about data-driven solutions, we automatically think of teachers monitoring student learning to help alter and personalize classroom instruction. Certainly it is a wonderful way to use data, but it isn’t the only way.

In the February 6th edition of Education Week, writer Sarah Sparks addressed the issues with the lack of data concerning school principals nationwide. According to Sparks, the absence of information surrounding the number of licenses awarded each year, the post-training employment rate of licensed principals, and most importantly principal preparedness, is an issue that is plaguing almost all of the 50 states. School improvement is highly unlikely to occur with out a strong principal with a “can-do” attitude and essential supports that take root in schools.

As stated in the Sparks article, much of the talk concerning the issues with our education system has been focused solely on teacher “effectiveness and preparedness.” But we forget that it is the principal’s job as an effective school leader to recruit, select, support, and assess teachers, while using data-driven solutions to develop a positive school culture, according to the Data-Quality Campaign (as outlined by Sparks). Without strong school leaders, these tasks are not properly accomplished, leaving teachers without a focused school vision.

So how can we ensure that principals are equipped with the necessary tools to properly lead our schools? First, we must utilize the effective use of data to gain a better understanding of what makes an effective leader.

Principals must have a clear vision for how to make data part of an ongoing cycle of instructional improvement. Principals need to be equipped with the necessary instructional leadership competency skills to help teachers adopt a systematic process for using data in order to bring evidence to bear on their instructional decisions and improve their ability students’ learning needs by

  1. Collecting and preparing a variety of data about student learning.
  2. Interpreting data and developing hypotheses about how to improve student learning.
  3. Modifying instruction to test hypotheses and increase students’ learning achievement.

Principals should understand how teachers should provide students with explicit instruction on using achievement data regularly to monitor their own performance and establish their goals for personalizing learning by

  1. Explaining expectations and assessment criteria.
  2. Providing feedback to student that is timely, specific, well formatted, and constructive.
  3. Providing tools that help student learning from feedback.
  4. Teachers should use students’ data analyses to guide instructional changes.

Principals must establish a clear vision for school-wide data use ensure that data-based decisions are made frequently, consistently, and appropriately by

  1. Establishing a school-wide data team that sets the tone for ongoing data use.
  2. Define critical teaching and learning concepts related to education and data use in particular.
  3. Develop a written plan that articulates activities, roles, and responsibilities.
  4. Providing ongoing data leadership to provide guidance on using data to support the school’s vision.

Principals should provide supports that foster a data-driven culture within schools that include

  1. Designating a school-based facilitator who meets with teacher teams to discuss data use.
  2. Dedicating structured time for staff collaboration.
  3. Providing ongoing blended embedded professional development tailored to individual classroom teachers instructional needs by considering the personalized needs of their students.

Finally, principals need to prioritize financial, human, technology, and resources to develop safeguards to ensure data are timely, relevant, and useful to educators by

  1. Involving a variety of stakeholders in selecting data-systems, technologies, and resources.
  2. Clearly articulate systems, technologies and resources relative to user needs.

A compilation of multiple measurable factors such as student learning outcomes and growth, attendance rates, drop out rates, high school graduation rates, principal training, and collaborative professional blended learning experiences will help us narrow down what professional competencies a needed for more successful school leaders. Next, we must use that data to assess where our school principals currently stand. Comparing this data against our current school principals will highlight where they soar, and where they can improve. Once that is understood, only then will we be able to raise the bar and give our principals high, but tangible goals. With these goals in place, rising principal “preparedness and effectiveness” will lead to more effective teacher instruction and accelerate student learning outcome achievement.
To attract and keep the best school leaders states and districts should draw on the following underutilized approaches to preparing them for the job and creating the right incentives and conditions to support their success:

  • Provide more selective competency-based training for principals to include a system with multiple measures data and feedback loops to determine the effectiveness in preparing transformative leaders whose goal is to significantly improve teaching and learning as well as turning around failing schools.
  • Be aware of state policies that can affect principal training.
  • Encourage school districts to better execute their own “consumer” power to influence the training of school leaders they will eventually hire.
  • Provide more and improved blended mentoring opportunities for new principals once they’re hired.
  • Provide and/or enhance peer and district support for both novice and veteran principals.

The need for data when evaluating our nation’s school leaders is essential and long overdue. Data provides us with crucial information that helps us make the most effective decisions for our schools and students. If we have the resources, why not use data to better understand what we need from our principals, because without the best possible leaders, how are our students supposed to be prepared with the college and career readiness skills to successful in a global knowledge economy. In order to prepare and develop effective school leaders we must make the necessary intensive, consistent investments in data-driven teachers and school leader blended embedded professional development.

Read the article here, and post your opinion on our comments page. Do you think there is a need for data concerning our school principals? If so, what kinds of information should we be focusing on? Share your thoughts and opinions!

25 Jan

Bursting the “Tech Bubble”

Last week’s Education Week published an article that questioned if education technology was facing a “tech bubble,” similar to the “dot-com crash of the late 1990’s.” Writer Michelle R. Davis stated that analysts fear the mass number of ed-tech products and eager investors, along with with the lack of substantial ideas and slow rate of school adaptation is setting up a market that cannot support its own hype. Davis also stated that if the ed-tech market takes a nose-dive, the desire for innovative learning tools will diminish, schools will be left with empty investments, and the few surviving ed-tech companies will monopolize the market, leaving schools with few options for improvement.

A crash of the ed-tech market would be devastating to the progress of our education system. Today’s best classroom technology allows teachers to work together, track student progress, increase productivity, and engage students in all grades and disciplines. With innovative classroom technology gaining the support of school leaders, schools are finally beginning to adapt to the world outside the traditional classroom, better preparing students for their futures. A crash of this market would diminish this progress, preventing our students from getting the best possible education.

So is this “tech bubble” avoidable? Absolutely. Technology evolves at an incredibly fast pace and unlike the way we can easily update our iPhones or personal computers, schools do not have the funding or ability to completely replace or overhaul their classroom technology on a whim. With that in mind, if school leaders choose products that offer a wide range of benefits to teachers and students, and can be added on to and updated throughout the years, schools will be more interested in continuing to invest in these technologies. School leaders must choose to invest in multi-functional products, such as interactive whiteboards and assessment tools, which keep students engaged and participating, while providing teachers with data to inform student outcomes and support effective practices. These interactive tools should also be able to be updated year after year, allowing schools to get the most bang for their buck.

If school leaders and investors choose to support these types of multi-functional technologies, the best products will thrive, the products without substantial classroom usage will fade away, and the bar for new ed-tech products will be raised. By making smart investment choices, school districts will be able to stop worrying about losing money should the “tech bubble” burst, and get back to focusing on bettering our schools.

You can read the article here, and post your opinion on our comments page. Do you think there is a need to worry? Is this similar to the dot-com boom? How do you think a crash could be prevented? Share your opinion with us!