Monthly Archives: October 2013

Perseverance Through Tech? Possible?

Today I sat in a 7th grade team meeting where we briefly discussed teaching our students the theme of “perseverance.” I admit that I had been spending most of the meeting unable to stop ruminating about my totally-not-finished COETAIL project that is due this weekend. I had half a dozen tabs open on my computer from the night before— a blog entry from Ross, one of the other teachers at my school, that linked to an article about some of the major downsides of teaching with technology in math education. This article discusses almost exclusively “software” type programs to teach math, and I realize that those programs are not what we are learning in COETAIL to be transformative or meaningful integrations of technology. That said, I think the article makes a lot of really valid points. Konstantin Kakaes writes that “The proper job of a teacher is not to make it easy, but to guide students through the difficulty by getting them to practice and persevere.” In this regard, math and foreign language have a lot in common.

My students are spending a lot of time right now practicing, practicing, practicing. And they need so much more practice. Speaking French isn’t a lot of fun when you have to pause for 10 seconds to rack your brain for how to say “I have.” Of course, we can gain practice through technology as well, but I worry about the message that technology can make learning generally “easier”— as if my students do my one VoiceThread activity, and they will have mastered the irregular verb avoir. I think what technology is best for is making us more connected, and giving us new ways of expressing what we know and think. It gives us access to a wider knowledge base in many disciplines. It is great for exploring ideas. But what about the factual knowledge or skills that come only from practice? Right now my students need that practice. They need practice to build fluency with the words that are already in their French vocabulary, but that don’t yet come to their tongues easily. And I’m coming up short in ways that I can use technology in a transformative way to help them get an adequate amount of practice. I am able to see ways to use technology to showcase their skills after they have acquired the skill, but not really to help them much along the way.

When my team was discussing “perseverance” as a theme for the 7th grade advisories, I remembered another tab was open on my browser to an article about the Nobel Prize winner for medicine. He says his bassoon teacher was his most influential teacher. Not exactly the teacher I’d expect someone to name after winning the Nobel Prize in medicine! He credits that teacher with teaching him perseverance: “Herbert Tauscher, who taught me that the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours.”

I want to integrate technology. But I also believe in the benefit that comes from practicing and listening, sometimes for hours.

Balancing what we gain and what we give up

This week I read a great blog post on Remote Access that talked about the struggles involved in pushing students outside of their comfort zones with technology. I agree it is worth the struggle to make these hard choices about what to include or not include, and what tools we use or don’t use to reach our goals.

I have been thinking this week about what we gain and what we give up when we integrate more technology into our teaching.

Even in a classroom where the teacher is a tech genius (the opposite of my own classroom!), there are drawbacks to using technology. For every ten minutes spent using technology, ten minutes of a different type of learning activity is lost. I don’t ache for the loss of time to do worksheets, but I still find value in doing a skit in French in front of the class. Live. Without the chance to film it over. To watch peers smile at the silly portions of the plot as they act them out. I still find value in students listening to conversations in the classroom, and having to make split-second decisions about how to reply. If my students are using technology, they are having less of those other traditional interactions with me and with their peers in the classroom. And that may be perfectly ok. But it is only ok if what I have them do with technology is more valuable than the activities they won’t have time to do.

I believe that good teachers show students new ways of thinking, and new ways of interacting with information and ideas. I wonder if face-to-face interaction pushes the comfort level and the thinking of some students more than technology does. There are students who live in such a technology-saturated world that unplugging for a while might benefit them. Doing a low-tech project pushes those students to be creative and engaged in different ways. Slowly writing down their French dialogue ideas with a pencil on a sheet of paper is not necessarily a bad thing. Standing up in front of their peers and having live feed-back isn’t a bad thing either. Just because the same thing might have been done in a language classroom 20 years ago does not automatically make it a terrible thing to do. As much as I don’t want to do something “because it is how things have always been done,” I think it is equally dangerous to refuse to do something for the same reason.

I think it is all about finding balance. I need more technology in my classroom at this point, not less. That is for sure. But as I go forward and integrate more technology in my classes, I want to remain aware of what my students are NOT doing when they are using technology instead. I want to use technology to enrich my students’ learning, and not just because it is the newest website or app. If I am purposeful in my instructional choices regarding technology, the opportunity costs will be well worth it because of what my students will gain instead. I just have a long way to go before I feel confident that I have the right tools and the correct balance in using those tools appropriately.