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Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low-Level #edtech Practices

This is going to make darn near everyone angry:  I cringe every time I hear people pitching Kahoot as an #edtech supertool.

Ask any ten teachers who are interested in #edtech and nine are likely to wax poetic for an hour about the sheer beauty of Kahoot.  They will testify about how engaged their students are when they are playing Kahoot in class.  They will passionately argue that Kahoot is the single best tech tool known to man and that Kahoot games are the most popular activities in their classrooms.  I haven’t seen this kind of universal commitment to any digital product since Interactive Whiteboards stormed onto the scene just over a decade ago.

My beef with the popular tool is a simple one:  While Kahoot argues that it is “Making Learning Awesome”, it really IS a tool that is best suited for nothing more than facilitating the review of basic concepts.  It’s a flashy way to get kids to answer MORE fact-driven multiple choice questions.  And while I get the notion that early #edtech integration efforts almost always start by substituting technology for existing practices, I guess I just keep hoping that our vision for the kinds of things that kids can do with technology would move BEYOND preparing them for the next knowledge-based end of grade exam.

What if “Making Learning Awesome” meant something more than coming up with a killer strategy for engaging kids in the study of content that they don’t really care about?  What if making learning awesome meant giving kids chances to do work that matters or to study topics that motivate THEM?  What if making learning awesome meant creating opportunities for kids to ask and answer interesting questions together.  What if making learning awesome meant  getting kids to wrestle with the issues that are defining our world.

Here’s an example:  Right now, one of the largest humanitarian crises in history is taking place right in front of our eyes.  The news is filled with stories detailing the struggles of migrants and refugees who are risking their lives to make it to nations where they have a better chance for a future that’s NOT defined by abject poverty.  People are drowning.  People are starving.  People are WALKING across Europe.  But instead of asking our students to reflect on the root causes of — and possible solutions for — this heart-wrenching human tragedy, we’ve got them sitting in classrooms answering trivia questions.


But here’s the thing:  Getting frustrated with folks for embracing #edtech practices that faciliate low level behaviors overlooks the simple truth that most teachers are working in positions that have incredibly high stakes attached to those low level behaviors.  

Our very public attempts to hold teachers and schools accountable have nothing to do with developing higher order thinking skills in kids or creating problem-based classrooms or giving students chances to change the world for the better.  No one is interested in whether or not the kids in our classrooms are prepared to act when faced with challenging situations.  All we continue to care about in this country is producing higher test scores — and producing higher test scores still depends on nothing more than getting kids to review and to memorize and to regurgitate basic information.

Now I know what all y’all idealists are thinking:  If teachers teach higher order skills, students will master the kinds of basic information required for succeeding on standardized tests.  

That’s just NOT true.

How do I know?

Because I refused to give much attention to standardized tests for years when I was teaching language arts.  Instead, I focused on making Socrative Seminars — a practice that encourages higher order thinking through collaborative dialogue — around issues like poverty and racism and hatred a regular part of my instruction.  I was quickly recognized as an expert teacher.  I was observed time and again and was celebrated for the kind of thinking that was happening in my classroom on a regular basis. My students were genuinely engaged in meaningful issues day after day.  I won the teacher of the year award in my county, and was named a finalist for teacher of the year in my state based largely on my commitment to higher order instruction.

And year after year, I had the LOWEST test scores on my hallway.

The skills that the students were mastering in my classroom are exactly the kinds of skills that employers say that they want from graduates, but they just didn’t translate to higher scores when it came time for my students to take the kinds of knowledge-first end of grade exams that we use to identify successful teachers and schools.

The lesson that I learned every time that I was called into the office to review my “results” and to look at my “value-added” numbers was a simple one:  The BEST way to prepare students for low level tests is to grind them through constant review and recitation of “the basics.”  Kahoot — with its fast paced music and updated standings after every question — really IS a great way to get kids to embrace that kind of learning.

And THAT’s why it’s so darn popular.

You see why this is important, right?  The tension we feel about the instructional technology decisions made by clasroom teachers is nothing more than a direct reflection of the disconnect between our stated priorities and our actual practices for evaluating teachers and schools.

WE like to wax poetic about the beauty of critical thinking and problem-based learning and purpose-driven opportunities and self-directed experiences .  Worse yet, we turn our noses up whenever teachers spend their time and professional energy on #edtech tools that do little to advance “a new vision for modern learning spaces.”  But we continue to use the most traditional of metrics — results on multiple choice exams — as a cudgel to influence the actions and behaviors of teachers and schools.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that maybe it’s time we STOP blaming and shaming classroom teachers for struggling to move beyond #edtech integration efforts that facilitate low level behaviors and START blaming and shaming the policymakers who continue to perpetuate high-stakes situations that prioritize schooling over learning.




Related Radical Reads:

What Kind of Students is YOUR School Producing?

HERE’s What We Have to Stop Pretending

What if Schools Created Cultures of Doing Instead of Cultures of Knowing?

Here’s What We Have to Stop Pretending.

Greg Pearson — the mind behind the Better Together blog — tagged me a few weeks back as a part of Scott McLeod’s We Have to Stop Pretending project.  The thinking behind the project is that it is time to confront the unproductive truths that keep us from making schools different.

Here’s my contribution:

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that “engaging learners” and “empowering learners” are the same thing.

Want the kids in your classroom to be truly invested in the work they are doing at school?  Help them to uncover and investigate their own passions and interests.  Give them opportunities to work together with peers on meaningful issues.  Let purpose stand at the center of your classroom instruction.  Invested learners are learners who recognize that they have power as individuals and as contributors to the world around them.


If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that “knowing” and “learning” are the same thing.  

Sometimes, I’m amazed by the breadth of the curriculum that I’m expected to teach.  Here are just a few of the things that the eleven year olds in my science classroom are supposed to know by the end of the year:

The difference between loamy and sandy soil.

The difference between comets and meteorites.

The difference between the speed of sound in solids and liquids and gasses.

The difference between elements and molecules.

The difference between pistils and stamens and anthers and stigmas and styles.

The difference between the pinna and the cochlea and the cilia.

The difference between stomata and xylem and phloem.

You see the problem, right?  Grinding through my fact-driven curriculum — which John Seely-Brown calls explicit knowledge — leaves little time for me to turn my students into learners.  The brutal truth is that my kids never tap into the power of learning networks or use conversations with peers to challenge their thinking or identify bias or problem solve together because I’m too damn busy trying to get them to memorize facts that they are going to forget by the end of the year.

Will Richardson has been pushing my thinking around all of this lately. His point:  Filling curricula with explicit knowledge is pointless simply because explicit knowledge is growing exponentially.  We can’t possibly keep up.  Our goal should be to develop LEARNERS.  Our schools are good at developing KNOWERS.

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that the best schools have the best test scores.

What worries me the most about using testing as a tool for identifying accomplished teachers and successful schools ISN’T that someone might discover that I’m a crappy teacher or that my school is a crappy school.  What worries me is that our current generation of assessments don’t measure much of anything worth measuring.  Until THAT truth changes, test scores are a useless indicator of just how successful schools are.

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that kids are motivated by technology.

Kids aren’t motivated by technology.  Period.  End Stop.  #nuffsaid

If we are going to make schools different, we have to stop pretending that poverty doesn’t matter.

One of the things that saddens me as a classroom teacher is knowing full well that I have students in my classroom who live lives of almost constant struggle beyond our school.  Whether they are homeless or hungry or going home to unsafe neighborhoods or responsible for babysitting siblings while their moms and dads work three jobs to make ends meet, poverty steals opportunities from kids that I care about.  Yet we do little in America to acknowledge the impact that this struggle has on the learners in our classrooms.  Poverty must become a policy priority if we are truly serious about ensuring student success.

So what five things do YOU think we need to stop pretending if we are going to make schools different?

Whip up a blog post and tag it with #makeschooldifferent .  Or leave me a comment and I’ll post your thoughts in a future Radical post.




Saving the World from Failed Sharing?

Over the past 10 years, I’ve given away more content than I’ve protected.

Check my Flickrstream and you’ll find 117 pretty slick images that you can use in your presentations tomorrow.  Check my presentation collection and you’ll find comprehensive resource pages for 31 different workshops.  And check the Radical Archives and you’ll find over 800 posts that are bound to challenge your thinking.

With few exceptions, that content — lesson plans, professional development activities, images, and ideas — is just about as free as it can be to anyone who stumbles across it.  That’s because I believe that sharing makes everyone stronger.

When I protect my content, I can’t get your feedback on the work that drives me.  Worse yet, when I protect my content, I disrespect the impact that the thinking of others has had on who I am.  Having been shaped by peers who have freely shared with me, I see my efforts to give back as a digital responsibility.  To borrow without sharing is fundamentally selfish, right?

In a lot of ways, that attitude makes me a Creative Commons success story.  After all, cofounder James Boyle DOES argue that the Creative Commons was “designed to save the world from failed sharing.”  By making it easier for content creators to give others permission to use their original works, the Creative Commons has removed traditional barriers associated with Copyright restrictions.  To put it more simply, that means you can use the content that I share under CC licenses without having to track me down and ask me in advance.

But despite the best intentions of the Creative Commons, we’re still surrounded by examples of failed sharing.

Take this image, for example:

It’s the most popular thing that I’ve ever created.  It’s been viewed 26,000 times on Flickr alone and every time it shows up in my Twitterstream — which probably happens 3-5 times a week — it’s retweeted and favorited again and again.

It has also turned up in countless workshops and webinars.  Presenters dig the conversations that the image makes possible and are jazzed to use it to force people to rethink the role that technology should be playing in their schools and districts.  At one popular #edtech conference this year, I had a buddy tell me that the image was used in three of the eight sessions he attended.  He was actually sick of seeing it!

It even showed up in a session that I attended last year — which was a really weird experience for me!  

What made the experience even weirder was that the presenter did nothing to identify the creator of the slide.  Some friends who knew I had made the image were indignant on my behalf.  I think they wanted me to confront the guy to protect my content.  “Getting credit” was something that they believed I deserved — particularly because they knew I was in the session.

My first reaction was to look inward, though.  “Maybe if I’d put my name on the freaking image, I’d get the credit y’all think I deserve!” I said.  

And there’s truth in that reaction.  In a digital world where content can be shared and replicated quickly and easily, we have to do a better job identifying our original work IF getting credit is something that matters to us.  My mistake as a creator was failing to place any kind of identifying information on the image and then sharing it out through Twitter — a place where the originators of ideas are quickly lost in an ever-changing stream of 140 character messages.

But I’ll admit that I was more than a little miffed at the presenter.  

It’s not that I wanted to be publicly celebrated.  In fact, getting credit was the last thing on my mind.  After all, the ideas shared on my slide are nothing more than a tangible expression of the collective intelligence of dozens of influential people who have pushed my thinking around technology over the past ten years.  If anything, THEY deserve the credit for getting ME to the point where I could create that image.

What bothered me was that the presenter did nothing to indicate that HE wasn’t the creator of the slide.  He just presented it, used it to start conversation, argued passionately about how important it was that we focus on the learning opportunities that technology makes possible, and then moved on.

 That’s failed sharing — and it’s something that I think we’re ALL becoming increasingly guilty of.  

Because we live in a world where anytime/anyplace access to content is just a click away, we’ve stopped valuing the contributions of creators.  Stumbling across amazing work — whether it’s a stunning image, a remarkable lesson plan, or a terrific idea expressed eloquently in words — has almost become mundane.  Content that we would have once happily paid for is now just another message in our feeds.

Easy access to double doses of awesome has caused us to forget that the creators of the content that we are using deserve to be valued.  That leaves me worried simply because failing to intentionally and openly value the people who move us will stifle the desire to create and to share and inadvertently cripple the vibrancy of the intellectual spaces that we’ve embraced.

For me, this all means that  I’m going to work to give credit every time, all the time. 

If I can clearly track an idea that I’m wrestling with back to an individual, you are going to know about it.  If an idea that I’m wrestling with has been influenced by a bunch of people, you are going to know about it.  If I have no clue who originated an idea that I’m wrestling with because I lost their name in the Twitterstream, you are going to at least know that my thinking was nudged by someone who willingly shared and that I’m thankful for their contribution to who I am as a learner.

Any of this make sense?

(PS: My buddy Michelle Baldwin was writing about this stuff not long ago.  Check her post out here.)


Related Radical Reads:

Creative Commons Resources for Classroom Teachers

What Do YOU Know About the Creative Commons?

Looking for a New Slide to Share?  Try These.




Random Acts of REVERSE Patriotism (Or Man Up, Americans.)

Dear American Readers:  I have troubling news.

We LOST the Anthem Smackdown bet.


Now I know what you’re thinking:  “We hit the freaking goalpost on an empty net shot” and “Who knew the Bolshoy Ice Dome was hidden in the heart of Saskatchewan” ran straight through my hockey-addled mind and out my Cheese Doodlin’ mouth more than once in the past two days.

And like you, I’ve spent the past few hours racking my brains to figure out how we could lose BOTH the Men’s and Women’s games.  Could it have been the warm conditions on the alpine courses?  (Nope.  That was our skiing excuse).  How about the crappy judges in the Ice Dancing competition?  (Nope. They were on our side).  If ONLY we didn’t wear those Under Armor uniforms.  (We didn’t). Maybe the stray dogs kept our guys and gals up all night?  (Let’s not go there).

The simple truth is that we lost — and we lost bad.

So we have to start singing.  It’s the right thing to do.  And it’s the only way that we can redeem ourselves in the eyes of the ice-breathing lunatics that ARE Canadian hockey fans!

Here’s the plan:

 Either working alone or with partners of your choosing, record a video where you are singing the Canadian National Anthem.

Think about involving your kids — they really ARE cuter than you.  Also, think about putting your own twist on the singing.  Love to rap?  Then rap the anthem.  Classically trained in opera?  Get your Luciano on.  Play the kazoo like a king?  Drop it like it’s hot.  Don’t be afraid to have fun here.  Let’s make people smile.

Need a sample of what’s possible?  Here’s a video I recorded with my daughter today.  Believe me:  It was awesome.

Feel free to sing with each other, too. For example, I might get a Google Hangout together with Paul Cancellieri, Philip Cummings and Brett Clark simply because we are already in an Eddie Money cover band together.

We’re NOT going to try to get all 20 of us together to sing synchronously, though.  While that sounded like a good plan at first, I can’t imagine how hard it will be to find one time where everyone can gather given our schedules and our time zones.

When your video is done — and the deadline is Saturday March 1st — get it posted to YouTube and tagged #anthemsmackdown.  Also, drop the direct link to the video to me here in the comment section or through Twitter.

I will pull all the videos submitted into a YouTube playlist for the viewing pleasure of the crazy Canucks who have been blowing up my Twitterstream today clamoring for our digital blood.  If I can find the time, I’ll also pull several choice clips into one mashed-up bit of Canadian Anthem goodness.

Finally, whether you are Canadian or American, leave me a comment below if you’d be interested in attending a World Premiere Screening of our #anthemsmackdown mashup on Saturday, March 22nd at 3 PM EST in a Google Hangout.

If there are enough people who want to get together to have a bit of fun, I’ll set us up with a Hangout. To be honest, I’d love to spend a few minutes laughing at our anthem renditions, too!  It’s better than crying over the bad hockey.

Lemme know what y’all think,



Related Radical Reads:

Random Acts of Patriotism (or Man Up, Canada).  


Random Acts of Patriotism (or Man Up, Canada!)

Dear American Readers:  I have troubling news.

About a month ago, our fine nation was verbally accosted by Hugh the Teacher, a Canadian 6th grade teacher who I once considered a good man and a friend.  “America’s no good at hockey,” he said.  “We’re going to throttle you in the Olympics.  You guys can barely skate.  The only reason you have good NHL teams is because so many Canadians play for you.”


At that moment, something stirred deep inside of me.  Call it the Ghost of Hockey Past or the Spirit of Eruzione, but I knew — I KNEW — that as a citizen of the single-greatest-hockey-playing nation in the world, I had to respond to Hugh’s unjustified lambasting.  To allow Canadians to parade around bragging about their dominance of the frozen pond without some kind of response would be nothing short of a patriotic failure, right?

So I did what any fine Southern hockey fan would do:  I challenged Hugh to a bet on this year’s Men’s and Women’s Olympic Hockey Tournaments.

Gold medals won by either nation are worth 3 points.  Silver medals won by either nation are worth 2 points and Bronze medals are worth 1 point.  Total points earned determines the winner.  Goal differential will be used in the unlikely event that Canada squeaks out a lucky tie.  Loser (read: Hugh) sings the winner’s (read: Bill) national anthem on YouTube.

Since then, Hugh and his band of BC-based thugs — Diana Williams and Chris Wejr — have been relentless in their abuse.  “Gold medal blah blah blah blah,” they say in Tweet-after-uncalled-for-Tweet.  “Blah blah Gold Medal blah blah.  Blah blah blah blah Gold Medal.”  They seem convinced — CONVINCED — that there’s NO chance they will be singing by the dawn’s early light on YouTube.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in my defense of American greatness.  Brett Clark, Brett Gruetzmacher, Philip Cummings, John Wink , Adam Garry , Patrick Larkin, Tony Sinanis, and Paul Cancellieri have joined me in defending the pride of our nation.  Should the US win in Sochi, we will hold the nefarious Canadians accountable for their treacherous defiling of our nation’s pride, ensuring that they sing God’s favorite anthem for the world to hear.  Should we lose in Sochi, we will sing the most memorable rendition of the Canadian national anthem ever heard, thereby winning anyways.



The question that I have for you — the CHALLENGE that I issue — is a simple one:  Do YOU have what it takes to join our band of Patriot defenders?  Will YOU answer the Minuteman’s call and muster yourselves to action?  Are YOU ready to join our bet — promising to sing the Canadian national anthem on YouTube if the Canadians happen to bribe enough linesmen and officials to win another gold medal or two in Sochi?

Here’s what that commitment involves:

If the Americans win, you literally get bragging rights over every Canadian you know for FOUR years.  #totallyworthit

If the Americans lose, you have to join us in singing the Canadian national anthem on YouTube.  We’ll probably do the world’s largest We Are the World style Google Hangout.

When defending our nation’s hockey playing pride against the evil Canadian horde, you have to add #anthemsmackdown to your Tweets.

Either way, you get to watch the Olympic hockey tournament with a renewed sense of patriotism.  Break out your eagle t-shirts and swaddle yourselves in red, white and blue while eating Cheetos and screaming at the television set at 7:30 in the morning. #murica.

And either way, you get to prove to all of Canada that they AREN’T the world’s greatest hockey fans.  That was our title all along.  #yesIdid

If you are in, leave a comment in the comment section with your name, your city and state, and your Twitter handle so that we can contact you in the odd event that Canada actually wins anything of value this year.

Your brother in hockey lunacy,

Bill Ferriter


PS:  If there’s any Canadians out there who want to sign on to this bet, you can play too.  I’m sure that the THREE — yep, only THREE — Canadians who were brave enough to sign up so far would like a little help.  Just be sure to leave a comment with your name, Twitter handle and province-thingy so we can find you when it’s your time to shine forever on YouTube!

PPS: Many apologies to the Slovenes, Swedes, Russians, Norwegians, Latvians, Swiss and Austrians who want to play, too, but the Canadians made this personal.  We want them and ONLY them.  Besides, we can’t sing in Slovakian.

PPPS:  Here are the folks currently in on the bet as best as I can tell.  If I missed you, Tweet me up.

Americans:  Brett ClarkBrett GruetzmacherPhilip CummingsJohn Wink , Adam Garry , Patrick LarkinTony SinanisPaul Cancellieri, Gerald Augnst, Thomas Murray, Jenna ShawBrianne Koletsos, Meg Helmes, William Chamberlain, Eric Sheninger, Judy Arzt, Dan Agins, Scott Friedman, Erika Daman,  Michael Maher

Canadians:  Diana WilliamsChris Wejr, Hugh the Teacher, Roman Nowak, Dean Shareski, Alec Couros, Darren Kuropatwa, Johnny Bevacqua, Cale Birk, Michelle Baldwin*, Lucy Lenko, Michelle Hiebert, Brenda Giourmetakis, Shawn Davids, Sean Wicker, Liz Davis, Gino Bondi, Tara Copeman, Ron Dorland, Neil Stephenson, @ChezVivian, Karen Lippert, Victoria Olson, Steve MacGregor, Karen LirenmanSean Oliver, Bryn Morgan Williams, Chris McInnis, Stephen Ransom, Emma GordonTom Hierck, Verena Roberts, John Evans, Gallit Zvi, Jeremy Inscho, Cathy Beach, Charlene Daub, Darcy Mullin, Derek Hatch, Tia Henriksen, Malcolm Chrystal,  Antonio Vendramin