On March 9, 2011, Education Secretary Arne Duncan estimated that 82 percent of America’s schools would not meet annual yearly progress (AYP). Eighty-two percent is an incredible number, and fortunately, it is a number which is not supported by data. However, schools nationwide– desperate to show good results on statewide tests– sometimes budget instructional monies on any sort of technology that has data to show how it could improve student performance. If we could step back and look at what is really needed, it might be something as simple as having students spend more time with a teacher or providing the right resources to better prepare our teachers.
Technology provides a path for learning, but is only one of several available to a well-prepared teacher. Most teachers know there is nothing more important than small group instruction when it comes to meeting the needs of more students. Computers can help teachers create time for small group instruction while allowing students to practice skills, but the most important thing in any classroom is still the teacher. Great teachers are everywhere, and they don’t always have access to the Internet.
I watched a first grade teacher in an urban school district use almost no technology in her classroom, but her teaching skills were incredible. She motivated her students, had them involved in challenging activities, taught them how to set and meet learning goals for themselves, and work in co-operative groups with responsibilities that were understood and carried out by each group member. This is not easy with older children so this classroom always impressed me. The teacher actually moved her two computers OUT of her classroom so students would have more space to set up science experiments and a reading area.
When this teacher wanted more time in her day to be able to focus on individualized and differentiated reading instruction, she looked at her own habits to see what could be changed. She implemented new morning procedures that allowed her to gain 15 minutes more teaching time each day. That might not sound like much, but it equaled nine extra days of learning for her students!
She didn’t stop there. She challenged her students in every subject and those students knew she believed they could rise to any challenge. Before she ended any lesson she presented one more problem for them to think about and you could see the determination on their faces as each one of them tried to work it out. Somebody always came up with the answer and they begged for more.
At the end of the school year, just over 75 percent of her first grade students had reading and math skills at the third grade level or higher. Each year, parents go to the principal and request this teacher who uses almost no technology in her classroom. She does use an online gradebook, e mail and a calculator, but don’t let her students know about the calculator!
-Ohioan Hester Bixler has been an online Mentor for the Marygrove Master in the Art of Teaching (MAT) program for 12 years.
If you would like to make the most of your time in the classroom, download our free guide on Extensions of the Classroom. It features some unexpected and under-utilized low-tech ideas that teachers can use to get the most out of their students, every day!