As a classroom teacher, I would like to provide assistance for the teachers in my school and help them to better utilize the resources they have available in their classrooms. We have a great deal of technology available in our school, but I feel it is being underutilized due to lack of training in how to use it effectively in the classroom. Most of the teachers are younger and able to navigate and physically use the materials, but many do not have the time to implement these tools into their lessons. I am familiar with a number of webinars that can help teachers learn to more efficiently use their resources as well as ideas on how to incorporate them into their lessons. Some additions questions I might pose include:
1. Which tools do you feel like you underutilize in your classroom? (Mimio, computers, LCD projector, Techbook, etc…)
2. How do you currently have your lessons organized?
3. Is there a way to swap out time consuming/inefficient parts of your lessons to include the provided resources?
As a teacher, I can safely say that I have had my fair share of successes and failures. My most glaring failure came early in my teaching career. The school at which I taught expected Basil readers to be taught, I obliged, but failed miserably. I was miserable, the students didn't learn, and no one had any fun. I gave it all I had, but I learned through this failure that scripted materials do not work for me, it is just not my style. I ended up finding ways to use the text differently and in a way that was more logical for me as well as my students. The results led to a happier teacher and more successful students.
After only working at my school for three short years, it has become abundantly clear that a large portion of the students in my school struggle with basic math skills. Students entering my third grade classroom struggle with basic skills, including adding and subtracting single digits (without counting it out on their fingers) as well as skip counting, skills which are necessary to teach third grade skills that include multiplication. My in-class observations about math are backed up by the results of the MAP test (Measures of Academic Progress). While most students make growth between tests, many score below grade level. Because of this, it is often necessary to spend extra time working on basic skills before moving onto grade level material. Reteaching the basics also causes problems as there are always a few students who have mastered the basics and are ready to move on to the grade level material.
One part of the solution to the math problem is to find a tool that will allow students to work on skills that are appropriate to their level of need. One such program is called “First in Math” by Suntex, the makers of the 24 Game. The program is an online based set of games and activities that teach skills ranging from basic number skills to advanced algebraic equations. As students complete activities and master skill, they earn “stickers” for themselves, and in turn their team (class). The students can view their stickers and class’ stickers compared to students and classes from around the country. In addition, each class has a “Player of the Day”, “Player of the Week”, and “Player of the Month”. There is also a “Team of the Week” award for the class earning the most stickers per student. With all of the opportunities for recognition, many of the students are motivated to play. In addition to the awards, the games are genuinely fun, making learning math more enjoyable.
One issue to consider with implementing an online based program is the availability of internet access at students’ homes. Before starting this program however, a survey was sent home to determine the level of access that the students had. Surprisingly, only one of the students in my class of 29 did not have access to the internet at any point after school. It was also important to consider the level to which other teachers would support use of the program. With all of the things a teacher is expected to do in a day, would this be too overwhelming? It turns out, no! The program requires very little action from the teacher. Other than checking to see who the Player of the Day is, there is very little extra work required from the teacher. Teachers can put more time into it if it is something they would like to focus on, but the program can be successful with only minimal teacher motivation and/or time. To make the program the most effective, teachers can view reports showing the skills that students have struggled on, those they have mastered, and those on which they are working.
To: St. Francis de Sales School Board
CC: Kitty Lovell (Principal)
From: Edith Erickson
Re: Accelerated Reader Program
The Accelerated Reader (AR) program deserves some reconsideration as an element of our school’s overall reading program. The Accelerated Reader parent company, Renaissance Learning, claims that the program is “fully supported by scientifically based research” and that “AR is effective in improving students’ reading achievement.” (Renaissance Learning, 2012) However, opponents of the program claim that the program does little to improve student reading achievement because it does not use “theoretically sound instructional practices.” (Biggers, 2001)
Based on observations of my students who have used the program, I do not think that AR is effective in improving reading achievement and does not promote a long term desire to read. AR was sold as a program that helps to differentiate instruction. The problem is that it does not provide instruction; it is an assessment program, so differentiation of instruction is not possible. (Biggers, 2001) In addition, research shows that independent reading, as promoted by the AR program, is most successful and beneficial when paired with “direct instruction in reading strategies and with reading extension activities”, both of which are not elements of AR. (Elley & Mangubhai, 1983) In addition, the questions presented on the quizzes are shallow and do not require critical thinking. Since the program relies heavily on rewards, students will lose interest in reading if the motivation to read does not become intrinsic. In fact, in a study conducted about the topic of reading for enjoyment, it was found that middle school students who took part in AR in elementary school read less than their middle school peers who had not been exposed to the program. (Pavonetti, Brimmer, & Cipielewski, 2002) Instead of looking at a book and evaluating it for interest, the students are simply concerned with how many points it is worth, leaving them without the skills needed for making independent book choices.
To solve the problem of reading achievement in our school, we should consider adopting a new reading program that focuses upon teaching reading strategies and offers greater choice for students in their independent reading choices. In addition, we need to either scale back the focus on AR or completely discontinue its use altogether. Before jumping to rash decisions, as policy makers for our school, I suggest that we explore a variety of options and learn how to best develop not only fluent readers, but readers who will be life long, self-motivated readers. I suggest all board members read, Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It by Kelly Gallagher. In the book, Gallagher addresses many of the practices used in schools that discourage lifelong reading, one of which is the idea of overvaluing the creation of test takers over that of lifelong readers.
In order to make a positive change in the direction of our reading program, we need to establish a vision for reading in our school. What should our students be capable of in terms of reading when they leave our school? What attitude should they have towards reading? We also need to develop the skills of the reading teachers in our school. There are online professional development opportunities available that could be taken advantage of in order to help our teachers grow. Improving student achievement needs to start with improving how we support our teachers’ professional growth. Another important element is the inclusion of incentives. Rather than providing incentives for earning points as in AR, is there another way we can provide incentives for students that would lead to an intrinsic motivation to read for enjoyment? We need to examine the resources in our building to be sure we have the materials to successfully implement any changes we decide to make to our program. Finally, we need to establish a plan for action, taking into account our building’s resources, up to date reading research, and proven best practices. If we can do these things, I have no doubt that we can provide our students with a quality reading education and instill a lifelong love of reading in our students.
Biggers, D. (2001). The Argument Against Accelerated Reader. In Journal of Adolescent
& Adult Literacy(Vol. 45, pp.
72-75). Retrieved from http://dianedalenberg.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/argument-against-ar.pdf.
Elley, W., & Mangubhai, F. (1983). The Impact of Reading on Second Language Learning. Reading Research Quarterly, 19, 53-67. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/747337.
Gallagher, K. (2009). Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Pavonetti, L., Brimmer, K., & Cipielewski, J. (2002). Accelerated reader: What
are the lasting effects on the reading habits of middle school students exposed
to accelerated reader in elementary grades? Annual Meeting of the National Reading Conference, Scottsdale, AZ.
Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED456423.pdf.
Renaissance Learning (2012). 171 research studies support the effectiveness of accelerated reader. Retrieved from http://www.renlearn.com/ar/research.aspx.
Problem of Practice
Over the past few years, our school has experienced a decline in student success in science and in expository reading as assessed through the MAP test as well as classroom assessments and observations. Informal observations show that students are reluctant to think deeply about more difficult concepts, yet struggle even with questions or problems that have answers found directly in a text, video, or other resource that has been provided to them.
Our school recently purchased the Discovery Education Science Techbook for grades K-8 to help remedy this problem. The Techbook provides quality text, accommodations for a variety of learners, videos, interactive elements, and is tied to the Michigan GLCEs, potentially making the process of planning more simple and focused. Instead of solving the problem, however, this has caused more problems for some teachers due to inadequate resources in some classrooms and especially due to the fact that we lack professional development time for the teachers to become familiar with the Techbook.
In deciding upon a problem of practice within the school in which I work, I initially had a hard time deciding, but finally settled on science and expository text since I teach both science and language arts. I chose these areas because I feel that they are connected, but are often ignored in favor of focusing on general reading skills.
When choosing the instrumental and missional questions, I actually drew a little inspiration from TE 846 (Accommodating Differences in Literacy Learners), which I am also taking this semester. This week's reading (from chapter 7 of Best Practices in Literacy Instruction by Lesley Mandel Morrow and Linda B. Gambrell) talked about student motivations to learn, which I think tie into the idea of instrumental and missional thinking pretty perfectly. With instrumental thinking, the motivators provided to our students are external. We are seeking to appeal to the children (or in the case of my school, their parents) externally with the best, newest, or trendiest tools. With missional thinking, on the other hand, the motivation to learn is more internal. As teachers and leaders who think missionally, we are seeking to appeal to students internally by eliciting curiosity and interest in the subject matter and use appropriate technologies as a tool rather than a focus.
By discussing the instrumental questions with my staff, the focus of our discussion would likely focus on the hardware and software needs of more effectively using the science Techbook. We would probably discuss ways to fund the additional technology as well as the viability of implementing a “Bring Your Own Device” program. The end result would likely be more tech tools that many of the teachers would still not use since there is unfortunately little emphasis placed on professional development in my school.
In discussing the missional questions, I feel the outcome of our meeting would provide better results for both teachers and students in terms of both the areas of science and expository text. One possible outcome would be improved student motivation to problem solve and think deeply. By discussing the these ideas, we could work together as a staff to figure out effective strategies for improving student thinking skills. Another possible outcome might be increased attention in the area of expository reading. This would not only improve science performance, but would likely improve other content areas, such as social studies, where expository text is prevalent. Finally, by looking at the Techbook, we would be able to decide whether it provides resources and experiences engaging enough to shift student attitudes towards science. If it were found to be deficient, we could devise a plan of action for swaying student attitudes in a more positive direction.
Thoughts on Cuban
What do you make of Cuban’s definition of useful educational technology?
Historically, I feel that Cuban's definition of educational technology is spot on. From the early foundations of education, teachers have made creative use of the resources available to them in order to provide a more meaningful education for their pupils. Before formal schooling, students were taught trades at home or through apprenticeships. You can be sure that the education was not done strictly by lecturing. In order to teach someone to farm, they would be taken out in the fields and shown the tools and methods to be a successful farmer. Early scholars relied heavily on memorization. While memorization was a key tool in learning through much of human history, teachers and pupils eventually learned that using the written word to record information was also valuable in learning, leading to the advent of scrolls and books recording what was known about the world.
Cuban's definition would also fit the current views towards educational technology, specificially when you focus on the keys words "efficient" and "stimulating". Pencil and paper are rarely the most efficient and stimulating ways to teach students in the 21st century classroom. We as educators now need to focus on finding the tools to engage students who are used to instant gratification and an entertainment centered culture. In addition, they may not be as motivated to learn as previous generations. Anything they want to know is at their fingertips in the form of smartphones and the internet, so the idea of memorizing and interalizing information may seem illogical to many students. In order to reach these students, we need to be engaging and challenge the students intellectually, a task made easier by the effective use of technology in our classes. For example, my 4th graders started blogging this year. In their blogs, they reflect upon the ideas learned in our science class that week. In previous years, this would have taken place in their science notebooks. By simply changing the method through which the students presented their ideas, I was able to elicit more thoughtful responses and allow for students to go above and beyond the normal requirements. Normally, the students would write their response and be done. Now, with the blogs, students are searching out pictures and videos to add to their posts, spend more time editting since they will be reading and commenting on each other's posts, and are genuinely more invested in the activity than when the response was written in a notebook.