I remember when I began teaching (back in 1995) reading an article by John Taylor Gatto , a former New York State Teacher of the Year, on the “six hidden rules of classrooms.” The article struck me at the time as an attempt to demonize learning in public education, rather than live up to its intention, which was to initiate change. Interestingly, here I am sixteen years later in what must be considered a “critical period” in education, where how and what children learn is becoming increasingly differentiated and integrated with technology. 21st century learning is all the rage and with it, educators are beginning to tear down the traditional classroom walls, replacing them with connectivity and problem centered tasks that demand collaboration and critical thinking. What a wonderful time to be an educator.
As someone who blogs only on matters in education I am increasingly vocal about the concept of responsibility in education. A friend of mine on the Board of Education once spoke to the entire district prior to the school year with a simple message to do your job. “If everyone does their job, then this will be a great year in a great school.” The resonance of this charge is extremely relevant to the impending (and in some cases, current) adoption of technology in education. It is essential for school districts to decide the apparatus and the context by which children integrate technology into their lives. Interestingly, if all stake holders (teachers, parents, community) are engaged in the acculturation of children; and mobile/information/digital technology is an obvious component of that culture, then the answer is pretty clear. WE ALL ARE.
The social scientist in me identifies the tech integration question as more about people than about the technology. This is a progress issue, not a technology issue. It is simply unrealistic to design and implement curriculum and assessments with a 20th century mindset. The progressive changes must be institutional and drive a “culture of do” rather than a “culture of know.” Nearly every teacher I know has done the activity “What makes a GREAT student?” and the answers are inevitably focused on doing, not knowing. This might not be so progressive after all. Real learning is engaging and authentic. It requires students to be responsible and appreciate accomplishment; they build self-conscientious attitudes and self-control, two core habits of mind that drive success in all endeavors. Progressive curriculums that foster these habits may or may not utilize technology. However, more often than not, technology compliments the needs of learner by offering tools to transfer, process, and re-package knowledge in frames that are useful and progressive.
Flexibility, Relevance, and Personal Growth
Teachers spend a majority of their time and energy modeling behaviors to students that are required for success at the next level. Teachers that incorporate meaningful use of technology are undoubtedly challenging students to have greater flexibility in their approach to learning by providing opportunities to plan their own learning and how to demonstrate their understanding. Already, connectivity has transformed learning outside the classroom. I feel that education should embrace this huge transformation and bring relevance to the learning moment. Teachers can model ways their subject areas can be connected to relevant ideas and situations found outside of the classroom. I am quite confident that authentic experiences, dialogue, and proper reflection will exacerbate personal growth. After all, this should be what all teachers would want for their students.