Shifting Teachers' Thinking — Focusing on Learning First

By Megan Power on January 24, 2011

Imagine a school with children who can read and write, but with teachers who cannot, and you have a metaphor of the Information Age in which we live.

—Peter Cochrane

How do you predict the future? People have been trying to do this since the beginning of recorded history. As educators, we are trying to prepare our students for their future  a future that is unknown. It is time for us as educators to shift our thinking and teaching from the way of the past to the way of the present, in order to prepare our students for the way of the future.

 

This year I am part of a large committee that is tasked with writing our district's new technology plan. In this plan we define our goals for learning and teaching with technology for the next five years. I am fortunate to work on this team with a variety of individuals ranging from assistant superintendents down to actual students and parents. All of us have a passion for giving our students the best education we can.

Teachers' Thinking About Technology

We're finding that the biggest barrier to technology integration is teachers' thinking about technology. Many teachers approach technology from a tools-perspective first and then try to make the learning fit the tool.

I get comments from teachers all the time saying that they really want to “start using more technology.” They mention the tools they have and ask what they can do with them. This question, coming from a tools-first perspective, is an extremely difficult one for me to answer.

From experience I have found that this thinking has to be shifted. Technology integration needs to begin by thinking about the learning and teaching, not about the tools. For example, instead of talking about the technology they have and asking how to use it more, teachers should talk about the learning difficulties their students are having. Once this is defined, there are so many ways of using technological tools to work on those difficulties.

Students Speak Out

It is always extremely interesting listening to the students on our committee. They give us a unique insight and represent an important voice. After all, we are all here to educate them and prepare them for their future. In a discussion the other night, for instance, the students showed that they understood many teachers’ difficulties with integrating technology. They voiced a hope that teachers would allow them to assist them with technology. Basically the kids were asking to be a part of their education. They were asking to be able to create and use their world to learn. They want the teacher to take the role of facilitator and let them be more in charge of their learning. These students shared that they use so many tools at home for learning and are not able to use most of them in the classroom setting.

Shifting to a Learning-First Perspective

Why is so much of education still as it was long ago? It used to be that students went to school to open up and learn about their world. Now students have to power down and close off from the world that they are connected to outside of school. Technology has broken down the walls, exposing people to all kinds of unique experiences and connecting people all around the world. Why aren’t we using this more in our classrooms? How can we help teachers shift their thinking to a learning-first perspective? How can we get teachers to be more comfortable with students' taking the lead in their education? What type of support do you need to help with this shift in thinking?

I really would love to hear your responses to these questions as it will assist me in preparing our district’s technology plan. We want to support our teachers while we prepare our students.

Thanks to my good friend Linda Foote for always being willing to have this technology integration conversation and engage in brainstorming sessions with me.


This post is dedicated to my puppy Oreo, who has spend countless hours by my feet supporting and inspiring me as I worked. You are so loved and greatly missed, my baby.

Oreo 

Comments

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It was an amazing experience! I'd love to do it again, however the program I went through was filled with mostly 20 year olds who wanted to party the whole trip! I will check out the Argentina program, but if anyone else has any other programs they recommend please post! additional info read

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Jess, Thanks for asking. My puppy Oreo (who was actually 5 but is still a puppy to me) was battling cronic kidney failure for about 9 months. Last April he just crashed and was rushed to the animal hospital. That is when we found out that he had kidney failure. He was born with this although usually the late stage symptoms show up when they are older. We thought we were going to loose him back in April last year. They had told us he probably had days to live to maybe a few months, but he was such a strong little guy that he fought his way back to a fairly normal lifestyle. We had to give him tons of medicine and an IV each day but he was happy and enjoying his time with us. I had a feeling he was going to try to hold on for Christmas his most favorite holiday. He was such an amazing dog and a huge part of my life. It was like loosing a child. I am so very thankful that I had 9 good months with him to pamper him (although he has been his whole life). It is hard to see my 2 year old asking for him but it also makes me smile. Oreo taught my son so many things including responsibility, empathy, and love. Thank you so much for your thoughts and for asking about this special puppy! Any families going through this or any disease with their pets or loved ones my heart goes out to you. Smiles, Megan

what happend to your puppy?

Andrea, Yay! Excellent reflecting. I really appreciate your comment. I think once teachers do just like you did and think authentic practice and purpose, the technology will come. It is part of our daily life. Great idea about evaluating the apps. They would have learned so much more. At least you found some ones they can use and you ca always evaluate them and find new ones! Thanks again! Smiles, Megan

Great question! Many of my students received iTouches for Christmas. They immediately asked me what apps they should get for school. I search and researched for the best 4th grade appropriate educational apps out there. Truth is: THEY should have done the searching. Instead of me spoonfeeding them names of apps, I should have had them go through the process of finding and evaluating the usefulness of apps.

I was one of those teachers, unable to envision how technology could be used in the classroom. Then I stepped back and considered two things: authentic practice and purpose. Whenever I wanted the students to construct demonstrate understanding in an authentic and purposeful way, it almost ALWAYS came back to technology. I asked myself, "What do I write? How do I research a topic? How do I communicate my thinking?" It's looking at what the students will REALLY use, not just in the next grade, but in life beyond school.

Thanks for opening this discussion.

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