Monday, August 12, 2013

What teachers do best?

"The idea is to free up teachers for what they do best, not replace them, advocates insist, though many people are skeptical." That sentence came from an article titled "In higher education, the Great Recession's unlikely impact: an innovation revolution."

At first I felt a moment of warmth and fuzziness. Then I started to wonder what exactly teachers do best, realizing the context is higher education but wondering, too, if that thinking might start to roll down towards K-12. And that forced me to return to the text and re-read what preceded that sentence:
What does this wave of educational innovation entail? To be sure, it includes the MOOCs and all sorts of “adaptive learning” software that promises to teach and measure some things better and more cheaply than a human teacher.
Adaptive learning. Is that like differentiated instruction? Or maybe it's more like project-based learning. How would software measure student learning better than a teacher, especially as we think about the performance tasks that are dominating educators' psyches as they contemplate Common Core? And how would software measure student learning in a project-based learning environment, which may be the most adaptive sort of learning? Even in higher education, would software truly be able to differentiate nuances of learning, styles of learning, styles of responses and approaches to articulating learning? I'd surmise the answer is "no" as there is much subjectivity in the world, and the work place.

Read on a bit further and you will encounter "We’ve been here before. Every new technology promises to transform education."

People. I'll say this again: technology does not teach; technology does not transform education. It is a tool and the transformative experience is because of the way a teacher or a student or both choose to use that technology in the classroom.

That exercise bike or treadmill or fancy elliptical machine in your house doesn't transform your workout. Nope, you've got to get on the thing and use it for any sort of transformation to occur. Otherwise it's just another place to hang stuff. Same thing is true with technology in schools and classrooms, whether smartphones, student response systems, interactive white boards, tablets, or web-based resources.
The consumer, after five years on a tablet and five years on an iPhone, is just sick of being told ‘You can’t do that,” says Brandon Dobell, a partner at William Blair & Co., an investment bank and research firm based in Chicago. “I can do everything else on my phone, my tablet. Why can’t I learn as well?
 You can learn, Mr. Dobell. There's no doubt that online learners do most of the work themselves to learn. Some observations: 1) most online learners self-select and tend to be good time managers and are self-motivated to do what needs to be done; 2) all online learning experiences are not the same; 3) not all teachers are good online teachers; 4) to date, MOOCs don't have great completion rates among their students; and 5) adults approach learning differently.

So what to teachers do best? Good teachers design excellent lessons so students can discover learning in unexpected ways. Good teachers recognize capabilities and find ways--sometimes conventional and sometimes not--to motivate, encourage, and challenge students to go beyond their own expectations and comfort zones. Good teachers pay attention to a catalog of non-verbal cues to determine how to direct, redirect, coach, question, challenge, and more. Good teachers do that dozens of time each class period and with each student, and every day. Good teachers, especially K-12 teachers, know they are helping their students develop learning skills that will prove useful beyond the K-12 classroom. They are helping students find, develop, and strengthen their learning legs.

Good teachers use technology and other resources in this exploration and adventure in learning, but they never forget their students are human beings.

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