Thursday, September 26, 2013

Doing More With Less

Usually in education, when we talk about doing more with less, we are talking about money or resources. This time, I'm talking about less content. What if instead of covering all the material in our curriculum, we covered less?

I've been paying a lot of attention recently to the impact of feedback on our students. Turns out, we don't often do a very good job of providing timely, specific feedback. More importantly, even when we do, we don't provide time for students to respond to that feedback. Think about it. How often do you give students feedback on a project or learning target and then provide them time to relearn or rework it so that the feedback is meaningful and impactful? For me, the answer is easy... not often enough.

What if we spent more time on each concept or product? Yes, we would have to make some tough decisions about what we don't have time to teach, but we would be providing such amazing learning opportunities for our kids. I have used this example before, but my son's experience in Destination Imagination has been very eye opening for me. The kids are given a challenge in November and they have to come up with a solution by April. During that time, they try ideas out. Some fail, some succeed but need to be built upon. The lesson for those kids is that ideas need to be reworked. They need to be fleshed out.

Another key lesson in this design is that learning is hard. It requires hard work and stamina. Easy answers don't build stamina. They eat away at it. Our students expect answers to come easily. If they don't know, they give up. Feedback should provide the carrot to help them want to keep working at it.

Here is a great video that demonstrates the impact that specific feedback can have:

How much Technology is Too Much Technology?

Just about everyday, I hear from someone that there is too much technology and things change too quickly. They may have a point. After all, here are just a few changes that welcomed our teachers back to school this year:

  1. New computers with an updated operating system.
  2. Updated software for our student response devices.
  3. Student iPads and all the new apps that go with it.
  4. Updated software for our SmartBoards.
Add to that all the good old stuff that is still around, from MOODLE to Google and everything in between. It seems like each year, there is more to master. As the guy, or one of a small team of people, who are responsible for supporting teachers in their work to effectively use these tools in their classrooms, I sometimes feel like I need to apologize to them for all the opportunities that are out there. So is there such a thing as too much?

Perhaps the issue is not how much is out there, but how we perceive our role in using these things. We never complain that there are too many books to read or too many curriculum resources at our disposal. We never wish that we had fewer pencils, scissors, or crayons. I think this is because we don't set out to try to use ALL the pencils or ALL the books. We pick the ones that serve our purposes. I always carefully selected the books I wanted to read aloud in class or have students read during lit circles. I only ever used the resources that I needed. So it should be with technology.

We provide lots of options because teaching is about having the right tools at the right times. Sometimes, using Google Drive to work collaboratively or share a document is the perfect tool. Sometimes, using clickers to quickly assess where students are at makes formative assessment easier and better. We may not use them all, but as we add to our tool belt, we are better able to meet the needs of our students. 

So by starting with one or two tools and then adding new tools as we feel ready, we build the capacity to use technology effectively. It's not about what should you be doing? It's about where do you want to start? 

Sometimes we feel paralyzed because we worry about ALL the tools. Pick your first tool. Start. Learn. Take Risks. Fail. Grow. Have fun!!! The rest will come in time.