Monthly Archives: January 2016

TECHNOLOGY AND EDUCATION: FLOW

My foray into yoga has taught me a lot about learning to use technology.  The body is an amazing machine that can maneuver unimaginable tangles and twists to stretch muscles, tissues and one’s limits.  It incorporates weight-bearing activities forcing one’s body to uphold and balance itself.  Each practice is aimed at moving one’s ‘edge’ forward, strengthening bones, core, skeleton, muscles.  After 9 months, most postures are seamless for me.  There is a short distance between hearing my teacher’s direction and performing the movement. But I am still a rookie, a student with much to learn through repeated practice, focused effort, failure and continued trials.

I’ve learned that yoga causes all body parts to act as ‘one’ – or, if you will, acting toward one unifying outcome or idea.  I think about being a principal or a teacher in early stages of learning to meaningfully engage technology for learning and teaching.  Initially, there is lack of understanding how all these parts must purposely come together to transform what we know as education.  It isn’t turnkey.  It isn’t overnight.  Educators are attracted and averted to technologies simultaneously.  Like yoga, this kind of learning takes patience, focus, time, frustration and perseverance.

Yoga is uncomfortable.  Nothing ‘feels’ normal about wrapping oneself into a vine, doing shoulder stands, making the self into a chair and then standing on the ball of one foot. Deep inhales and exhales are crucial to the process so that each movement has intention and purpose.  There are parts of my body I had no idea existed let alone understand their function and imperative to well-being.

Mindfulness (a new favorite buzz word) comes into play both in yoga and in the edtech learners’ classroom.  How can one make this process his/her own?  How can the professional development learning become one’s own?  How can we get at the ‘feelings’ adult learners have as they navigate the discomfort of doing something new, foreign to known practice? Communities of learners are crucial to the mindfulness component.  Talking, listening and supporting peers not only enhances intentional focus but brings solutions and mutual regard and understanding.

A most significant yoga metaphor for me regarding learning and achievement is the notion of ‘practice’.  Each time I come to the mat it is a new day, a new practice. It is personal.  I know my ‘edge’; I know my goals; I know my limits and my strengths.  I set out anew to continue the journey of learning – not the ‘end game’ of having learned.  As perpetual learners, each of us will grow in new ways as our life’s journey continues.  For most educators today, using technologies in transformative ways is still and will always be a journey – not an end place.

Further, there is not a finite way to learn or to use education technologies.  The options and solutions are as wide as the sky.  We used to believe in our ecosystem that there was one way to solve a problem – to demonstrate how we arrived at a supposed correct answer.  We now know that is not the case.  We know, in fact, that considering multi-alternative solutions and pathways for understanding is a high order skills that ever student will need to be successful in the work place.  The same is true for yoga.  There are many, many ways to approach and engage a pose or a movement. It is a personal motivation, force and approach that matters deeply to the learning process.

Practicing yoga, adult and student learning have much in common.  First, consistently ‘showing up’, committing to the practice is essential.  Second, the learning is experiential.  One must be ‘doing’ something not regurgitating someone else’s download. Third, risk taking is the order of the day.  It is personal.  It is challenging.  Success, progress, failure, trial and error go hand in hand.  Lastly, reframing expectations is important.  Each of us learners has unique learning styles, aspirations, pathways, goals.  That uniqueness is to be recognized, celebrated and engaged in the learning process.  Individual needs trump everyone getting to the same place, progressing at the same pace at the same time.

 

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What “Teach for America” Taught Me

I have to admit that I have not been a big fan of Teach for America. Like many educators, it seems logical to me that we should all want highly trained professionals teaching our children, just like we would want an extensively trained and certified doctor, or lawyer, or even accountant. I also don’t think that a revolving door of placing virtually untrained teachers in classrooms for only two years is a model that would improve our education system. I had a recent experience, however, that challenged these beliefs.

Last month I visited several schools in a large urban district. Looking into classroom after classroom I recognized the common practices I have seen in nearly all secondary schools I have ever visited. It is the old direct instruction model, with students sitting in rows, the teacher lecturing – sometimes with the aid of a whiteboard, or an overhead projector. In more recent years I have been visited schools that are adopting technology, so the whiteboard and overhead projector have been replaced by an interactive (“smart”) whiteboard and a document camera, but the pedagogy remains the same.

The most difficult part of these visits for me is witnessing the boredom of the students. Let me give you an example that hits very close to home for me. My daughter, Sophia, has come home from school several times this year and told me, “I fell asleep, again, in science class.” Sophia has science right after lunch. I learned in my first month of teaching that my middle school students were always sleepy after lunch. This shouldn’t be a revelation to teachers. Sophia’s teacher, however, makes things much worse by turning off the lights and lecturing from a PowerPoint presentation for the full class period several times per week. “I have been trying my best to take notes while he is talking, but I just keep falling asleep without even knowing it,” she laments.

You may be asking what this has to do with Teach for America. Well, during my school visits last month I was introduced to a Teach for America teacher. The music wafting from the classroom initially drew me in. Upon entering I noticed the students were sitting in small groups, not in rows. Their assignment was posted online and they were working independently in groups researching some leading questions, and collaborating on the meaning of the information they were finding. I also noticed that student hopes and dreams completely filled one large wall, student outcomes data was posted on another, and student work filling up most of the remaining space. These students are known.

During my time in this class there was a small behavioral problem. The teacher stopped the class, and had a conversation with the students about the infraction. Together they decided what the consequences should be, and then everyone returned to their meaningful work. These students have a voice and have real choices.

I’m not saying that all Teach for America teachers follow these type of practices, or are even good teachers. I’m also not saying that all formally trained secondary teachers are boring their students to death. What I am saying is that the traditional teacher development our profession uses is not leading to higher levels of student engagement, or improved learning in most secondary classrooms. The fact that the Teach for America teacher had no teacher training, and that his class was such a stark and positive contrast to all of the other classrooms in the building has really disrupted my beliefs, and has left me with many questions.

  • Is it possible that some personality types are simply better suited for teaching than others?
  • Is the current multi-year teacher certification process necessary?
  • Is it possible that the teacher certification process is appropriate, but the content used in that process is flawed?
  • Is there a better way to prepare teachers and ensure their quality?
  • Will the new state teacher evaluation systems lead to more engaging instructional practices?
  • Are student voice, student choice, and really knowing and respecting your students the foundational elements needed to effectively engage all learners? Is it really that simple?

There are so many questions that come to mind that I don’t have the space or time to list them all here. This experience has definitely made me question the teacher preparation program evaluation work I did for the State of Michigan a decade ago. The most important thing I learned, however, is that we shouldn’t dismiss an innovation just because it is different, or pushes against our long-held beliefs. On the contrary. When our beliefs are challenges we need to question our beliefs, not fight against the innovation. The challenge, however, as is true in all learning, innovation, transformation, and systemic improvement, is asking the right questions. Are we, as a profession and a nation, asking the questions that will lead to the improved learning that we all seek?

Michael Gielniak, Ph.D.
Chief Operating Officer
One-to-One Institute

Teacher for America Blog

I have to admit that I have not been a big fan of Teach for America. Like many educators, I thought it seemed logical that we should all want highly trained professionals teaching our children, just like we would want an extensively trained and certified doctor, or lawyer, or even accountant. I also didn’t think that a revolving door of placing virtually untrained teachers in classrooms for only two years was a model that would lead to the ongoing improvement of our education system. I had a recent experience, however, that challenged these beliefs.

I recently visited several schools in a large urban district. Looking into classroom after classroom I recognized the common practices I have seen in nearly all secondary schools I have ever visited. Students were sitting in rows, with the teacher providing direct instruction, sometimes with the aid of a whiteboard, or an overhead projector. I recent years I have visited schools that are adopting technology, so the whiteboard and overhead projector have been replaced by an interactive whiteboard and a document camera.

The difficult part of these visits is watching the disengagement of the students. My daughter, Sophia, has come home from school several times this year with a perfect example of this disengagement. “I fell asleep in science class, again, today.” Sophia’s science class is right after lunch. The teacher turns off the lights and lectures from a PowerPoint presentation for the full class period several times per week. “I have been trying my best to take notes while he is talking, but I keep falling asleep without even knowing it,” she laments.

Michael Gielniak, Ph.D.
Chief Operating Officer
One-to-One Institute