In recent months I have been made aware of how we will tout the use of new technology in class. In practice what we are really doing is tarting up the old pedagogy, overlaying some technology and calling it “new”. I am ashamed to admit that I too have done this, thinking I was doing something wonderful. I caught myself out the other day when I realised that I got it wrong and it took someone else to demonstrate how it could be done.
I was in a relief lesson, the regular teacher was out on a school excursion and I slotted into her class. Students had been given an assignment on the causes and outbreak of WW1. They were booked into the school resource centre, and some of the students had borrowed iPads for this assignment. I was thinking that they would research and produce an essay, but no, they were actually making videos using iMovie and Garage Band. As I am generally a ST&M teacher, I am not familiar with this technique for History, but the results for the work in progress of those I saw were unbelievable.
Here were a bunch of students who are considered “barely literate”, in one case a dismal failure on the national bechmarks I have since found out, but were doing some very good research and presentation work. These are not BBC researchers, they are high school students, and they were achieving at an unexpected level. This has led me to a particular line of thinking. Like many others I shake my head at a lot of students inability to even hold a pen properly. I sometimes come close to crying when a student answers a question and they have been so incapable of adequately expressing themselves that their answer just does not make any sense. Yet these are the same kids using iMovie and Garage Band to more than adequately respond to an assignment about the causes and outbreak of WW1.
So here is my thinking – we regard reading and writing and evidence thereof as being “literacy”. We talk about a whole range of “literacies” in conferences and staff meetings and such, but in the end, what students write is still the prime evidence, the pinnacle of “literacy”. Why? Why are we so ready to talk about “literacies”, but then expect the written format as being the only evidence of literacy? That is my mistake, and in talking to other people in the staff room, they too are making the same mistake. Every year, students face the NAPLAN in Australia, and what is that? It is a literacy and numeracy guide, a standardized test that all students take every two years from Years (or Grades) 1 to 9. How is it taken? With pencils and paper. See the mistaken assumptions? Exactly the same as my own.
If we were serious about “literacies” we would be tossing out the pencils, paper, and just have laptops, or notebooks, or iPads, or tablets as the preferred learning device. We got rid of slates and chalk in favour of paper and pencils – but we do not seem to be moving on from there. Why can we not shift to an electronic solution?
My next thought is just how do I use the same technology in Science and Maths? Instead of a written essay on genetics how about a short video on the role of mitochondria? Or how about Making our Solar System as an animation. Do a Comic Life on Pythagoras. Explain Quadratics on WolframAlpha using a slide show. Essentially, how can I encourage them to demonstrate their learning in new ways? More importantly, how can I test them to reveal what they do know, not explore what they do not?
The short answer is “dunno!” But I am going to find out – maybe even get a positive result.