Unit 5 – Talking the Talk

After reading through this unit’s documents, it was clear that there is a disconnect between the Ministry’s pronouncements and the current realities within our schools (something that isn’t particularly surprising).  The ministry has targets that it wants schools to achieve. However, as is often the case, they have failed to provide the necessary supports in order to achieve those targets. I’m reminded of a previous Master’s class where we spent a great deal of time analyzing the targets outlined in the ESSP.  By 2020, the province wishes to improve reading levels, increase graduation rates, shrink the achievement gap between FNMI/non-FNMI students along with a variety of other goals. Admittedly, these goals largely make sense. The problem? These goals have not been taken into account in recent budgetary decisions.  It’s hard to shrink the achievement gap between FNMI/non-FNMI students for example if supports for FNMI students are going to be reduced. A classic example of talking the talk but failing to walk the walk.

But I digress.  

Focusing now on ed tech. It would appear as the same issue outlined above (talking the talk, not walking the walk) is present here, albeit on a smaller scale.  Looking at the government’s “technology in education framework”, the ministry expects:

“Saskatchewan’s educational system will foster the comprehensive and systematic development of knowledge, skills, dispositions, and judgments essential for digital fluency in educators and students. The ministry and school divisions will work together to improve the digital fluency of all educators and students” and that “educators will develop the expertise required to effectively use appropriate technologies to assist students in achieving curricular outcomes”.  

One of the strategies used to develop digital fluency includes “Influencing new and revising existing K-12 curricular outcomes and indicators to require the development of digitally fluent learners”

The two curriculums that I’m most familiar with – English Language Arts and Social Studies have yet to be updated to include the development of digitally fluent learners.  The high school ELA curriculums were last updated in 2012 and while that’s relatively recent, a lot has happened from a technological standpoint throughout the last 7 years.  Social Studies, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. The bulk of the secondary social sciences have not been updated since 1994. How are we supposed to develop digitally fluent learners if curriculums haven’t been renewed since before the internet became mainstream? This is especially troubling when you consider the lack of choice students tend to have regarding course selection.  The space for electives is limited due to the value placed on ‘readin, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmitic meaning that those subjects (the humanities in particular) are going to be relied upon to develop “digital fluency”. Yet, as I mentioned, those curriculums haven’t been updated in years (or in some cases, decades). It is worth noting however that the Social Studies curriculums are in the process of being renewed and it will be interesting to see where the ministry’s apparent desire for digital fluency fits in.

Another strategy that the ministry apparently has in place in order to achieve digital fluency is to “support the growth of educators’ digital fluency through professional learning”.  Something I’ve discussed multiple times throughout this semester (and will continue to do so since it is the basis of my major project) is the lack of ed-tech training that many teachers have.  The ministry expects teachers to be digitally fluent. That’s great and I would agree! Unfortunately, they haven’t really done much to back that up. As I mentioned in a previous post, what limited PD time teachers have is shoved together at the start of the school year.  From there, only a handful of PD days exist. Given the lack of PD days combined with funding cuts, when is the “professional learning” going to take place? Now, this isn’t to say the responsibility for developing these skills falls entirely on the government – teachers and schools share this responsibility as well.  However, the ministry mentioned in its own framework that they have the role/responsibility to:

  • Support delivery of professional learning opportunities related to provincial infrastructure initiatives  
  • Facilitate and supports professional learning opportunities delivered using the provincial infrastructure  
  • Facilitate the coordination of professional learning options into a provincial strategy.

That hasn’t happened on a wide scale so it’s safe to say that they’re not living up to their end of the bargain.

Like they did with the ESSP, the government has set some lofty expectations in their “Technology in Education Framework”.  Unfortunately, just like the ESSP, the funding no longer matches those targets. It will be interesting to see whether digital fluency is infused in the upcoming Social Studies curriculums (plus any other curriculums) and how much if any, further dollars will be restored to education so that some can be allocated to PD. For now, however, this framework looks like a classic example of talking the talk and failing to walk the walk.

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Author: scottgardiner12

Husband/dad, teacher, sports-geek, traveller, and cantankerous grad student. Oh, and an avid fan of both puns and sarcasm.

3 thoughts on “Unit 5 – Talking the Talk”

  1. Great insights Scott, I felt very similar when reading the Ministry’s Framework in Technology document. They make many statements and promises and goals without any real substance or actions to realize them. No online courses, not enough money for Teacher PD, tech updates in schools and a generally archaic curriculum for many subject areas. Students spend more time and attention to media and apps and than they do on school most days, we are losing the battle for the attention of our learners despite the fancy paperwork and policies that would make some believe otherwise. Your project about modernizing teacher training sounds like a very useful concept that would put some actual results to many of the ideals the provincial government is hoping for!

    It reminds me of when I was in school (Grade 10 maybe?) and the typewriter lab was replaced with a computer lab. The poor instructor that apparently knew about or was forced to teach computers did his best to teach us MS DOS, typing, spreadsheets, word processing and basic programming. The problem was most of us students had been using computers at home for years and knew more than the instructor from day one. He gave us a booklet to complete for the semester and 1 week later, 4 of us were done (as we knew shortcuts for many of the processes and could type 40 words a minute!) We spent the next 3 months bored, programming computers at our leisure, playing games and causing grief in the lab. His best efforts to teach us the curriculum based on what he knew about computers were laughable, at no fault of his own (he did make a good effort at being a good teacher). He quit teaching that summer. I never really understood the whole situation very well until recently, he was not supported by the division or province by being given the knowledge to succeed based on what he was supposed to teach.

    Dylan

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Scott. Thanks for more thoughtful! musings! Your experience with ESSP and now with the TEFD from the government show the same thing: the Ministry is good at talking points, and weak at providing the necessary substantive support to make their talking points come true one day. Thus it falls to people like you and your classmates to take the lead in providing the learning supports needed to bring digital fluency into reality.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Scott! I chose your post this week as I just realized you teach my daughter in grade 9. I can totally resonate with your curriculum concerns. I am a Business Education major and we have always been concerned about our curriculum and the ability to keep up with technology. Just take a look at the curriculum dates for 3 of our major curriculum:
    Information Processing – 2003
    Entrepreneurship – 2004
    Accounting – 2003
    The pace of technology is outpacing curriculum development in Saskatchewan. In Business Education, this has always been an issue as much of our teachings are work related and the tools often are obsolete by time students enter the work force. The Accounting course was a huge frustration for me when I was a teacher. Why were we still using workbooks when we could use Simply Accounting on the computer? It was clear that Accounting programs were not going to get the software support and hardware support for scheduling their classes. Further, income tax preparation was another frustration. Instead of teaching from long government forms, I wanted to teach an online income tax program like TurboTax, again this required hardware and software support. While I do believe understanding the fundamentals is important, drivers of cars don’t always understand how the engine works and would have liked to move to computer software early in their programs! Students are more likely to get into the real world and use software systems for work processes and learning these in school is very advantageous.
    I can say that if you are passionate about teaching and doing what is right, with a great deal of effort you can usually achieve what you are trying to do! The school I taught at in Prince Albert was a great learning opportunity for myself and a couple others. We attended all meetings where budgets were being developed, we figured out how to get grants and special funding, we figured out how to align curriculum objectives for resource allocations very diligently. In short, we made sure we knew what we wanted and continually advocated for resources. Now, I was young and this was before we had a family of our own, however, getting what you need is possible, it’s unfortunate it’s not built in to the system and requires constant advocacy and teacher time!
    Thank you for teaching Trista, I’m glad she has contentious teachers like yourself! Watch out, my second daughter is coming in the Fall!! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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