We all know that technology advances quickly. In terms of education, it’s so exciting to see all the new tools that are constantly coming out to enhance a student’s educational experience. There is so much potential to address all the different learning styles and potential difficulties that students have. That being said, with all of these opportunities and tools, it’s definitely possible to make poor use of them.
I am currently doing observations in an 8th grade algebra class and what I’m seeing is pretty alarming to me. I try to be very realistic as a grad student. I know a lot of techniques and theories I’m learning may not translate to the real world. I know that right now I am susceptible to having an idealistic view of education and what I want to achieve (and how to get there). I also know that I have no idea how much time and effort is required to put all of these strategies into place and sometimes you just don’t have time to do things the way you want. With all of that in mind, I still think there is so much more that could be done in this particular classroom.
The thing about technology is that you have to learn how to teach with it, not rely on it. Right now this class is “preparing” for the CSTs (California Standards Tests) by using a program called Learning Upgrade. Learning Upgrade is kind of like a math “game” and each level is a lesson. Every student has a laptop in this class and they spend all period working on problems and trying to progress through the levels. The teacher says that this is great because it allows each student to work at their own personal ability level. She said something about how once they got the computers, she all of a sudden had all these students performing at advanced levels because before they were only getting lessons below their instructional level. I definitely think it’s awesome and very important for each student to work at their own level.
The problem I’m seeing is that there is absolutely no instruction going on outside of what’s being offered through Learning Upgrade. The teacher spends the entire class period focused on classroom management and addressing disruptive/off task behaviors and occasionally answering questions when students ask for help. When they get a question wrong on Learning Upgrade, the program simply replays an explanation that it had already gone through before. Students get frustrated when they cannot pass a level because they are not receiving any new explanation or information when they need help.
I have more gripes about the Learning Upgrade system (when used in this manner), but I won’t get into them because my overall point here is that the teacher is not teaching in conjunction with this teaching tool, she is depending on it to teach for her. Some students are excelling with the program and that’s great, but the program should not be used to replace instruction. Not everybody thinks and learns the same way. I think the students could benefit from at least some mini-lessons geared towards helping them understand specific concepts they are having trouble with.
To be fair, there are things about how this classroom is run that I like, so I don’t want anyone to think that this is a terrible classroom or that the teacher is a horrible person. That’s definitely not the case at all. It’s just that as an observer, I’d love to see some instruction taking place. I’m willing to bet that the the students would too.