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.