conferences, letter to Jeremy, technology

Are We Setting Students up for Failure?

This letter is part of a series of letters taking place between  Jeremy Macdonald @MrMacnology, a 5th grade teacher in Oregon, and Pernille Ripp @4thgrdteacher, 4th grade teacher in Wisconsin; two educators who for the first time are attempting a no grades classroom, as well as limited homework.  We share our thoughts and struggles with creating the best learning environment for our students so that others may learn something as well.  To see the other letters, please visit us here or here.
Hi Jeremy,
I am so glad to hear that conferences went well. There we both were, sweating over every single detail and once again our fears got the better of us.  My parents loved it.  No one asked any questions as to what grade their child should be getting but instead asked pointed questions to their children about their learning.  As you may have realized, I have gotten hooked on student-led conferences as well in the process.  So maybe this shows us too that we have done our job well as well.  We have prepared our parents as much as we prepare our students.  We let them know from the beginning what type of environment we envision and then we follow our own guidelines.  No surprises means no anger.  I do wonder how you ended up doing your report cards in that you say some students were surprised?   Had you not shown them to them beforehand or discussed it with them?  I am liberally borrowing the idea from Joe Bower in setting grades with the kids, that way there won’t be any surprises or confusion.  I agree, we continue this path and we adjust and continue, knowing that it is the right way to go.
I too am tech-obsessed.  I like to blame it on my parents who had one of the only original apple computers in town.  My students know that I have this obsession and they love it.  And yet, like you, I ponder whether my obsession is a healthy one and whether it is educationally relevant to the students?  So every time I choose to introduce a new tool for the students I have to know why.  Is it just for playing or is it an integral part of the learning process.  My students blog because we are learning to connect with an audience and to cater our writing to specific purposes.  Blogging also has the added excitement of responses from other people rather than just plain old me.  And yet, we write by hand every day as well.  One teacher told me that they thought students needed to learn how to write before they moved on to typing.  She therefore did not want students doing technology “stuff.”  I was hurt and confused by her comment, knowing that she was directing it at me and the approach I have taken and I didn’t get what she meant as I see the two as one in the same.  I can just as easily write a story by pencil as by typing.  To me that seems to be an excuse to keep students away from technology.
There have been times though where I have had to stop myself, though.  I know that my students get much more excited when they get to use technology but some times learning has to come from books and from discussion.  Not from a movie, or a voicethread, or some other computer related activity.  How do we set up our students for excitement about that type of learning?  Is there a way to combine the two?  Or will the technology always win because it is a gadget.  Are we, in truth, by being techy teachers, doing our students a disservice by setting them up for perpetual disappointment when they move on to teachers that do not embrace it as fully as we do?  Are we instead of helping shape 21st century students, shaping kids that will more quickly become disillusioned in a classroom because their teacher does not embrace technology?  Should teachers even be allowed to not incorporate technology into their lessons?
We will always be advocates for learning, that is the nature of our job, but what we must deliberate on every day is whether a tool will enhance learning or merely dress it up to become easier to digest?  I take an unpopular stance when I say that I feel interactive whiteboards are not all that they are hailed to be for learning purposes, although I agree that they catch children’s’ attention very well.   And that’s it, isn’t it?  Do we use technology to get the attention of our students or do we use it properly to teach them something?  
I fear I left you with more questions than answers.  Yet they are important ones that I struggle with on a daily basis.  And I wish I could say that I had typed this on my Ipad, however Santa has yet to decide whether I have been good enough to deserve one of those for Christmas or not.  I swear I have…

3 thoughts on “Are We Setting Students up for Failure?”

  1. I've felt the typing vs. handwriting thing this week as well. It bothers me to see students bring final drafts into the Computer Lab to type them…. just for the sake of publishing them. What value did that add to the student experience? What did they learn? How was that helpful to the 5 students who wisely typed their final draft at home….. and were told to just retype it?

  2. Julie, a lot of our teachers only require the first draft to be hand written because we don't have laptops or enough desktops in every classroom. Once students have that first draft handwritten, they can then type it and save it. Each subsequent draft is then simply modified on the computer. I don't see any need to rewrite draft after draft. It makes writing tedious and less enjoyable for many students. The computer doesn't facilitate any special learning, but it does make the process easier, and thus encourages more students to write (and possibly put more effort into that writing).

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