Saturday, January 14, 2012

Technology vs Teachers, part 2

(part 2 of 3 in response to the NYT article about Idaho--see Part 1 here)


Students do not learn critical thinking from looking at a website or searching for something on Google. Students do not learn critical thinking from watching a video on YouTube. Students do not automatically become good writers by reading blogs and tweeting. 

All of those tools do not, cannot, should not replace teachers and teaching. They are just that—TOOLS—that good teachers can use to guide students in developing their critical thinking and reading skills. Teachers are what make the difference. Teachers provide essential direction and feedback to students, leading students to making significant connections between the outside world and their own, and helping them read, write, and talk about it in a meaningful manner.

 “Teachers don't just teach the curriculum; they process it, they analyze it knowing their students' skills.  They invest their time in it so that students will want to invest their own.  They make it meaningful, relevant, and they make it fun.  Technology can help with that, but it shouldn't replace.  Teachers do more than just teach; they shape, they mold, they model behavior, and they connect.  Often that connection is worth more than any curriculum.  Worth more than any computer program.” (

Teachers have various kinds of curriculum resources that they must present to their students. But each teacher puts their own spin or emphasis on what they teach. Teachers and students aren’t widgets, or robots, and they aren’t all on the same level—within a class or across grades. There must be some element of customization to take student achievement level into account, let alone student interest level. Certainly, technology can aid in both of those. 

"No technology is good or bad by itself; it's what you do with it," James Gee, an Arizona State University professor who has studied the use of video games in education, said. "Games are turning out just like books. Handing a kid a book doesn't make them better students or more literate. And the same gap can develop with technology." (

There have been good teachers for as long as teachers have existed. Good teachers will continue to do good teaching with or without technology. Surely, all teachers should have the means and capacity to incorporate technology appropriately into their classrooms. Surely, there are still teachers who turn on a video to placate students.

As teachers are asked to do more and more with less time and less money, is it really a good idea to force one kind of resource in schools? Not even a specific curriculum or standard list with actual content, but just technology? Does it become yet another pro-forma part of what teachers must do, like bulletin board displays and micro-managed wording about objectives, aims, teaching points, etc—just use the computer for the computer’s sake? Will there be any allowance for teacher style and comfort, or will they be forced to use it all the time every day? Who will be the judge of a good use of technology vs bad? 

A couple days ago, Dr. John B. King, Jr., the NY Ed Commissioner, sent an email to all teachers, asking everyone to begin using the new Common Core standards and exemplars in their classroom.

“In every ELA classroom (or any classroom where literacy plays a significant role), the Common Core calls for thoughtful learning experiences around rigorous texts – you should conduct close readings of those texts with your students and ask deep and thought-provoking, evidence-based questions about the texts to facilitate evidence-dependent conversations and build students’ ability to marshal arguments about the texts.” 

Notice there’s nothing in there about technology. There’s no suggestion or requirement to use a computer, an interactive game, or smartboard. The Common Core wants students to go in depth, to THINK, and it allows that teachers are the ones responsible for getting the kids there. It’s about talking and writing, on a deep level, which is what leads to critical thinking, not just the blanket use of technology. 

Anyone can pull up a video on the internet. Not just anyone can incorporate that into a meaningful lesson, with thoughtful work from students before and after, as part of a complex curriculum. “… Ms. Rosenbaum [an Idaho teacher] did use a computer and projector to show a YouTube video of the devastation caused by bombing in World War II. She said that while technology had a role to play, her method of teaching was timeless. “I’m teaching them to think deeply, to think. A computer can’t do that.”” (NYTarticle)

I asked @19Pencils (the twitter account for, an educational new/sharing website) for a response to the Idaho article: “High tech doesn't make straight A students. And high tech doesn't replace good teaching. It's a tool. High tech also makes vast assumptions of staff, IT dept, etc. Student gains are only as good as the support.”

Technology is a tool, and an important one, but the critical piece is the teacher.

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