Tricks or Trash?

There’s some interesting thinking about digital learning taking place in the comment section over at Dy/Dan today, sparked by a Jeff Wasserman blog post.  In the comments at Dy/Dan, Jeff wrote:

It’s a mess. That’s why I don’t care anymore. Large schools that generally “do well,” whatever that means, have no incentive to shake things up and try something new.

This part of Jeff’s comment really resonated with me—even though I’m personally left jazzed by the potential of tech tools—-because he’s right.  "Doing well" in today’s schools is actually a whole lot simpler than we make it out to be.  Our kids can be successful by the standardized measures that we use to assess our students without teacher’s ever having to change our instructional practices or uses of technology at all.

And when that is the measure that we’re held accountable by, it’s easy to turn our backs on the incredible amount of time that finding ways to "do new things in new ways" with tech really takes.  What’s the point of teaching kids to create, collaborate and communicate if none of those skills are measured? 

I’ve struggled with this for years—tech and techless.  My classroom used to be a place where Socratic seminars were regular features….and the thinking generated in those seminars was remarkable.  My kids wrestled with issues in ways that I’d never seen them wrestle before.  They were motivated and engaged.

But my test scores were always the lowest on the hall.  My assumption that higher order activities would translate into higher scores for my kids on our end of grade exams was faulty.  Instead, the "drill and killers" were producing better "results," and I was called on the carpet. 

How have things changed?

While I still feel passionate about any activity that engages my kids in higher order thinking and I still believe teachers have an obligation to find ways to use digital tools to enhance their instruction, I also find it incredibly tempting to shy away from such activities now.  Drill and kill has crept its way into my "bag of tricks" (trash?).  We practice multiple choice reading questions EVERY SINGLE DAY. 

< cringe > 

But my scores are up and everyone’s happy. 

Scary, huh?

2 thoughts on “Tricks or Trash?

  1. Al in VaBeach

    Is that the Catch 22 of education? Drill and Kill gets the results we need now- so that is what is important. NCLB is ruining education – if it doesn’t help on the test scores, it shouldn’t be done. I thought we were supposed to prepare kids for tomorrow…

  2. John in NC

    Hey, Bill — Totally on target. If advocates for 21st Century tools and skills and greater student engagement in inquiry-style learning want it to actually HAPPEN on a large scale, they’re going to have to get behind (invest in?) new kinds of tests that assess the skills and knowledge they keep saying is so important.
    I was looking at the recent corp-speak essays in Forbes magazine, where a selection of CEOs, including high-tech CEOs, offer a honey-wagon full of education “solutions.” Not one of them shows any understanding of the role of high-stakes assessment in driving school and teacher behavior. Imagine what would happen if they put their bucks and their lobbyists behind a “Change the Test” movement.
    Here’s that Forbes link, for the masochistic:

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