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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Death to Web 2.0, Interactive Whiteboards, and the Newly Required Technology Course for Pre-Service Undergraduate Teachers

Well, I gave in to “Carla, qkhava ginda?!” too late in the evening again—so here I am lying in my bed and staring at the clock on my mobile phone as today turns to tomorrow; in other words, I’m suffering from major insomnia and caffeine overload in Georgia. As I toss and turn in my sheets I’m thinking about a lot of things, but I’m mostly thinking about school and the rockstar lesson I’ve created for my 4th graders tomorrow using only five 8x10 sheets of blank white paper and a black magic marker. I’m starting to think that I think too much about planning lessons for school, and then I also think what a shame it was that I didn’t even think as much about planning for student teaching as I think about planning now—because it’s harder now. It was easy to throw together whole unit plans when I had everything and anything I wanted at my fingertips—and they were damn good unit plans, too! What makes a good lesson plan, anyway? And is planning necessary? I spent most of my undergrad listening to my professors emphasize the importance of preparation, so David Victor would certainly be disappointed if I couldn’t argue in favor of the tedious endeavor. So what are the necessary components?

Well, roughly, my lessons plans would go as follows:
1. Alignment with 1-3 Standards set by the State
2. Lesson Objectives
3. Concepts to be Learned
4. Springboard Motivator
5. Instructional Method/Procedure
6. Technologies Used
7. Evaluation and Follow-Up
8. Reflection

It’s really a great template, and I’ll still argue in favor of it…sans #6. I can (now regrettably) say that I completed student teaching having implemented some sort of technology every single day. In fact, not only did I become such a master at incorporating technology into my daily lessons, but I became so infatuated with using technology in the classroom that the idea became a vital argument in my philosophy of education and subsequent interview tangents. And here is where I will, for the first time in my life, hold Elmhurst College (and all current educational reforms which link the use of technology to good teaching) negatively accountable for struggling so much to teach English as a Foreign/Second Language in a developing country: Thanks for brainwashing me into a completely technologically dependent iTeacher (…and please note that I mean that in the most loving way possible, as I’m extremely grateful to my university and professors for molding me into quite a capable, knowledgeable, and gifted teaching professional).

I mean, what makes someone a good teacher? What do school superintendents and principals and department chairs and classroom teachers want to hear in an interview? That you’re good with technology? That you know how to create Podcasts? That your grammar lessons, which utilize the school’s interactive whiteboard, encourage student involvement and participation? Because I too think these abilities are important, but no longer find them essential. Has teaching become so much of a science that becoming technologically savvy trumps the learned ability to captivate an audience of learners using creative rhetoric? I fear that American education has become so information-overloaded and obsessed with technology that a serious system reboot is in order. Between politics and socioeconomics and geography and language and resources (or lack thereof) and a plethora of other possibly endless factors, it’s obvious that education is not universal. But the art of teaching should be, and ‘art’ is exactly what it is. Let me tell you something: teaching is not a science. One cannot read a manual on “How to Become a Good Teacher” and subsequently follow said steps to then become a good teacher. Likewise, being an expert at utilizing technology in the classroom does not equal proficient teaching. I’m not saying that technology doesn’t enhance learning, because it does—and that’s what it should be used for. But let’s face it, that’s not what pre-service teacher programs are preaching these days. What these programs are breeding are techno-experts, not expert teachers with the ability to enhance learning with technology. Because what happens when there is no technology? I mean sure, pre-service teachers are required to spend sufficient time observing and teaching in “diverse” settings, but even in the most “diverse” and “poverty-stricken” schools I spent time at in America, my biggest complaint was that the facilities maybe only had one interactive whiteboard in the whole school or that the textbooks were outdated.

Interactive whiteboards? Please. How about teaching in schools where children stash pieces of chalk the size of a thumb nail in their pockets like treasure because it’s so hard to come by? How about teaching in classrooms where the most technology to be found is sometimes the light bulb that dangles from a thin cord from the ceiling and only turns on every third day? I’m serious. I teach in this school. It’s November and I can see my own breath in each of my classrooms because it’s iceberg cold and I too stash miniscule pieces of chalk in my pockets.

I realize now that my audience has become multicultural and that I now have friends, family, Americans, and Georgians following my blog. I’ll preface here for my Georgian audience that I’m not being at all slanderous of Georgian education by pointing out the obviously ill equipped classrooms and complete lack of resources. Quite the opposite, actually. Teaching in Georgia has forced me to challenge my own beliefs regarding sound pedagogy versus the technological imperative. For example, two teachers are dropped into a mysterious classroom in some unknown place in the world and one classroom is fully equipped with all the innovative technologies and the other contains nothing but 30 desks arranged in rows and a shitty blackboard at the front of the room. The students fill up the room and the teacher is told to “teach” using only what has been provided. Who might you suspect will create the better lesson? Which set of students will be most engaged? While the answer might seem obvious, I’m going to boldly claim that after teaching for awhile in Georgia, I would claim the latter—and rightly so. If you are panicking and wondering how in the world it would be possible to create an impromptu lesson out of absolutely nothing, you’re not alone. I was quite embarrassed when I came to Georgia having recently been certified in teacher education and literally not knowing how to teach without any technology or available supplementary aides—well, because I was taught that good lessons should include ample technologies, supplementary material, visual aides, et cetera. I had to pause for a moment (and by ‘for a moment,’ I mean for a good week) to think about exactly what constitutes as good teaching and what exactly it is going to take to make this year a success for myself and the students before me each day. I panicked at first and even felt a bit helpless not being able to use technology as my crutch. Then I stopped complaining, if you can believe it, and started to become mindfully creative in my planning. What’s a better investment, anyway? Teacher A who has become a professional consumer of all things technology? Or Teacher B, who can be dropped into any school in any country with any group of pupils and be able to create magic from nothing but 30 desks arranged in rows and a shitty blackboard at the front of the room? You decide.

The idea of technological reliance as quite possibly the greatest detriment in 21st century education is a topic that deserves much more dialogue, and you can begin the conversation by reading this recent article at Slate.com:

Here’s to being mindfully creative,

Girl-Trying-to-Make-a-Real-Difference-Teaching-in-a-Developing-Nation ;)

P.S. If you’re looking for ways to purposefully engage and motivate students without simply filling up class time, I plan to jot down creative ways to do this without the use of technology and without having to dish out mass amounts of money to purchase additional supplies for each lesson. Check back for tips, tricks, and techniques for becoming cleverly resourceful in a realm with no resources!