Student-Directed, Funding, Curriculum-Driven

My interviewee was a senior teacher who has taught with the same school board for the past 19 years in Ontario. She currently teaches middle school Math, Language, Physical Education and Social Studies. She has a very busy schedule and so our best option for an interview was to send her my questions on Google Docs and she filled out a question here and there when she had time (over the past week). There were three main focuses of the conversation and those were student-directed learning, funding and a discussion around how curriculum drives the technology and not vice-versa.

Student-Directed Learning

Much of the interview focused on this teacher’s pedagogy that she specified is strongly based around “inquiry based learning with the inclusion of technology on a daily basis for sharing of ideas to further collaboration between all learners.” She mentioned that one of the advantages to incorporating technology into her teaching practices is greater student collaboration. Having actually been in her class many times before, I can attest to the fact that her class is very student-directed. The students are essentially working at their own pace of items of their own interest, with connections to the curriculum. As the teacher interviewed in Case 5 (from last week’s activity) also demonstrated, the class is very noisy yet accomplishes many tasks with this open philosophy of learning.

Funding

When asked about any concerns or disadvantages she has recognized with respect to the inclusion of technology, the chief theme that prevailed was the lack of funding. “Money and funding sometimes does not take care of ‘Equality vs. Equity’”. One of the downfalls to having this interview conducted via Google Docs was the inability to ask follow-up questions. There are multiple ways to interpret this quote but as I have been in her class multiple times, I can only assume that she is referring to the diversification of her students in terms of what they personally have access to. Much of the work that is assigned is given to students as homework if not completed during class time. Many of the students do not have access to tablets at home nor does the school permit the classroom tablets/iPads to go home with the student unless that student has an IEP. That being said, many of the students cannot complete the homework at home and are left with only class time. Another factor that plays into this is the chaotic and loud work environment of the classroom, what comes along naturally with an Inquiry-Based Learning model, and how this is not ideal for all students to complete work.

“Curriculum Drives the Technology”

The majority of the interview was spent revealing the teacher’s pedagogy- “to involve technology when it is a tool to move the students forward not hinder the learning. Therefore it is my philosophy that curriculum drives the technology not the technology that drives the curriculum.” This teacher is the head of the technology department at this school and obviously has a large interest in the inclusion of technology into classrooms. She stated that, “we were beginning to see that technology is not a resource on its own but the means to enrich and deepen learning when embedded into a learning framework.” It was clear after hearing her responses that technology had to be implemented in a meaningful way and not just for the sake of it being there. She continued to stress that any technology she used in the classroom was “to deepen learning tasks in all subjects”. She cited her own professional development when she researched several authors such as Michael Fullen and “his vision of new pedagogy with digital tools and resources”. She illuminated how Fullen believes “it is not the use of technology that improves student achievement, but it is how well it is used to support learning. In fact, he suggests that LRT support and effective descriptive feedback made a greater impact.”

 

All in all, the interview highlights both important advantages and concerns regarding the inclusion of technology into the classroom. It is clear that the main goal of including technology into one’s classroom is for the students benefit. The take home from this interview was for technology to solely be used as a support to the curriculum and not tailored the other way around.

6 comments

  1. Great post, I was wondering with student directed learning how does she drive students who struggle with a more self directed approach. I try and allow for all my students to move in a direction that interests them but I always have students even when they are presented with projects that I believe are engaging and multimodal still have trouble focusing on developing a goal. I have been developing websites to guide all my students in a direction that will give them the tools they need but allow them to move away from this semi directed learning to more independent pursuits. I think this helps those unmotivated students have a structured start while slowly moving towards independence, but it does not always work and I often have to provide support. I would be interested to know what techniques does she use to drive these reluctant learners forward when they are struggling? Thanks for any insight!

    1. I agree that returning control to learners is difficult when students have become accustomed to being passive recipients rather than active inquirers. I think of the many times my students feel utterly lost when asked to design their own labs to investigate scientific phenomena. Technology is certainly one resource to interest learners with their own learning, but I find having a balance between teacher-directed is still necessary as students often don’t know what they don’t know.

      Andrew

      1. Hi Andrew,

        Thanks for your comments. You are not alone in the fact that students feel lost when asked to design something on their own. The key is for some great scaffolding to occur. Similarly to how I teach my literacy block, a lot of guidance is needed and eventually, a gradual release of responsibility will allow the students to feel comfortable doing something on their own. However, ensuring that the students are aware of where they can go for assistance, (ie. teacher, success criteria, peers, etc). will help them feel confident.

    2. Hi Nathan,

      You asked a great question. I find that this type of teaching really caters to independent students but for the students that need help staying on track, it can prove to be quite a difficult method for them. I know that the teacher checks in with the students often but many of the students are left behind. I know this because at the beginning of the school year, this classroom was mine (I was covering for the teacher on an LTO). When I went in months later to check up on them and say hi, I noticed that many of the lower learners were really struggling with this open-ended framework. I believe the goal here is to take the time that you, as an educator have gained, and spend the time with the students that need re-focusing. Working one-on-one or in small groups will help keep the students on task and help them to meet their goals.

  2. In regards to funding, I think this is an issue many school are facing. Even if the school has technology, we can’t assume that students have devices outside of the classroom. Working in an inner-city school, I am more concerned if my students have shoes that fit, then if they have technology at home. We can’t expect students to complete homework at home if they don’t have the technological resources to complete it. I don’t think this is inclusive of all of our leaners. One school I know introduced a coffee and tea morning on Friday’s where parents were invited into the computer lab or classroom with a cart of laptops and they were able to access their child’s ePortfolio with their child. I thought this was an amazing way to support the community and invite the parents into the learning.
    I have also been surprised at the surplus or lack of technology at different schools within the same district. Many schools have 3D printers, robotics kits, 1:1 iPads, and other schools are struggling to meet their learners and teachers needs, with classes that still have chalkboards. A lot of it comes down to how administration budgets and whether or not their school PAC is supporting technology integration. I was at a school that had a wealthy community and many families donated extra money to support technology and inquiry. Sometimes I feel that it may be better if we could “share the wealth” across the district so that our students are all benefiting.

    1. Hi Danielle,

      You’ve definitely hit the nail on the head when talking about the hierarchy of basic needs being met and the addition of technology. I love the idea of a morning meeting for parents. So many parents would love to know more about what their children are doing and providing them the opportunity to see it first hand is a great idea. Thanks for sharing!

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