All aboard the ed-tech “train”

Technology and education.  Where to even begin?

The teaching profession, like education, has continued to evolve but how much should their futures be intertwined?

  • Should technology be further incorporated into the classroom?
  • Is it doing more harm than good?
  • Are staff well equipped to handle current technological innovations?
  • When will the current generation of ed tech be obsolete?
  • Is it obsolete already?
  • What should we do about cell phones?
  • How do we make sure that schools are on a level playing field when it comes to technology?
  • How is it going to be funded?
  • What policies need to be developed to ensure responsible usage?
  • What about the dangers of screen time?

Even with a large number of questions surrounding tech in the classroom, it’s safe to assume that ed tech is here to stay.  Teachers are going to be expected to incorporate technology into their lessons in order to provide students with the apparent “21st-century skills” that they will need in the future.  This, however, will be difficult to achieve if teachers aren’t properly trained with the very technology that they’re expected to use in class – and that right there represents one of the greatest (and often overlooked) challenges of incorporating tech in the classroom.  Teachers aren’t properly trained or even consulted when it comes to ed-tech and it turns out, this is not a recent phenomenon. The 1986 article “Teachers and Machines” laments that

School boards and superintendents initiated efforts for using the new technology; only later were teachers involved in discussions of how to install it into the classroom.  Reformers had an itch and they got teachers to scratch it for them. This pattern of bringing teachers in at the tail end of the hoopla surrounding an innovation targeted upon altering classroom practice was common in school organizations” (p. 36).

Sounds familiar.

Presently, dwindling PD days (which are often clumped together right at the start of the school year when most teachers would rather spend their time prepping their classes for the year) and budget cuts mean that there has not been the time or resources dedicated to effectively train teachers with the tech that they’re expected to use.

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“Using tech to enhance student learning is a great idea.  You should train yourself and do it!”

The “dramatis personae” in this situation are teachers, administrators (at both the school and board office level), students, parents.

The props? Devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers.  Programs used almost daily such as PowerSchool/Parent Portal, Gradebook, Google Suite, and My BluePrint.  There is also an assortment of assistive technologies such as Google Read/Write and assessment technologies (Kahoot, Socrative) that many teachers don’t even know exist.

The scenes? The classroom, the homes of both teachers and students, and division offices.

The conflict? Finding the time to properly train teachers (and parents/students) with the technology that they’re expected to use on a regular basis while also exposing teachers to new, potentially beneficial technologies.  This, of course, has to be accomplished in a climate of dwindling PD time and teacher prep time that is constantly under threat (used for meetings, data entry, and other tasks as opposed to PREP and marking). Furthermore, teachers have already spent ample time dealing with various initiatives over the years and might be suffering from increased cynicism as a result of “repetitive change syndrome”.  In addition, many parents aren’t familiar with the tech that is being used in the classroom.

What Adam Williams and I are suggesting is a module based program that encourages teachers to take ownership of the technology situation in the school (note: we will be working on our final project together but at the moment, our roadmaps are slightly different).  For now, my preliminary plan is outlined below:

The first module must occur at the start of the school year during one of the five professional development days prior to the arrival of students and will be led by an “expert” on the technology (either from the board office or, more likely by an internal “tech team”).  The focus here needs to be solely on the mandatory programs such as Parent Portal/Power Teacher, Gradebook, and My BluePrint. Time then needs to be alotted either at the school’s open house, or the first parent-teacher conference for staff to go through these essential programs with parents/students in order to ensure that they’re able to access them and provide them with a brief tutorial regarding their use.

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Parent Portal is an integral part of the school system.  Unfortunately, many parents are either unaware of its existence or are unable to log-on.

From there, the modules can focus on Google Suite, Read/Write, and other potentially valuable programs/technologies.  Each of these modules would once again be led by an expert or the internal “tech-team” that trains the staff during a PD session (ideally during a PD day in October/November).  The expectation will then be that the amount of staff comfortable with that technology has increased to the point where certain staff members can be relied upon to go into other classrooms and run a student-centred module.

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Read&Write is a program that helps students with, you guessed it, reading and writing.  The program has several helpful features, many of which are untapped by teachers (and by extension, students).

The final module (for the school year) would take place in the form of a “community of practice”.  During one of the professional development days in the spring, staff members that are comfortable with a particular technology or program will lead a session for others that are interested in learning more about that particular program.  This module is particularly appealing because it will provide staff members with the opportunity to learn about programs that could be of specific value to the classes they teach (for example if there is a program that caters specifically to math teachers or English Language arts, etc.).

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I learned about this language app from a community of practice and have recently incorporated it into my teaching.

Finally, all of this must be done in conjunction with tech workshops.  The expectation here would be that the school provides a tech workshop for parents following each of the modules.  These workshops would take place outside of regular school hours with additional workshops being added if the demand is there (this will likely prove to be a hard sell to teachers whose lives are already extremely busy).  The school’s website also needs to be regularly updated with helpful links to tutorials and videos regarding the various technologies that are used in the school.

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Updating the school’s website to include links and tutorials to the technology that is being used in the school seems like a no-brainer.

This plan is by no means perfect and there are countless other technology related issues (see: introductory paragraph).  That said, with limited resources (both financial and in terms of time) this plan at least provides teachers AND parents with the opportunity to learn about the essential day-to-day programs (Parent Portal, Gradebook, My BluePrint) while also being exposed to other potentially beneficial programs.

Tech is here to say.  As a result, it is paramount that the affected parties be well-versed in its use.

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Leadership Disruption?

This week’s second blog post is going to look at different quotes from 5 different readings regarding disruptive leadership.  For the first reading, I’ve cheated and have chosen three quotes that work together to disrupt my view of consensus.

Reading #1 – Leadership, more or less.

“For example, ingratiating behaviour by followers, in which they exaggerate how much they agree with the opinions of leaders, contributes to exaggerated self-belief, narcissism and the adoption of ultimately destructive forms of leader action” (p.13).

“this casts leaders as the subjects of influence attempts by others, as well as agents who make things happen to other people” (p.13).

“Overt consensus is likely to mark covert dissent, since it is unlikely that followers will ever feel completely free to express the full range of their disagreements with leaders. The illusion of such consensus can therefore be held to denote leadership practices that are insufficiently sensitive to follower feedback, rather than a rational endpoint of healthy information exchange processes (p. 20).”

I alluded to the benefits of consensus in my previous blog post.  While I still believe that democratic and consensus leadership can work depending on the situation, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the consequences.  I mean, come on! A leader that takes everyone’s opinion into consideration and wants everyone to be happy? What’s not to like?!

A lot, actually.  What consensus can do is breed a series of “yes-men/women” that are too afraid to truly speak their minds because they have leadership aspirations of their own and don’t want to upset the proverbial apple cart.  In turn, the leader, seeing that he/she has the unrelenting love and respect of his/her followers continues to operate unchecked. Yeah, it’s easy to see why that’s a problem.

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Armies of yes-men can be an unintended consequence of consensus.

Reading #2 – Critical and alternative approaches to leadership learning and development

“Jackie Ford and colleagues highlight the performative nature of leadership literature and indeed the leadership learning and development discourse. The dominant writing on leadership and the hype around leadership development in contemporary organisations has an influence on how leadership identities are constructed, this being largely masculine, aggressive and controlling self-reliant ‘perfect beings’. Managers are therefore encouraged to ‘become’ leaders and adopt an identity prescribed by the literature and by leadership development programmes. This emerging critical strand of the leadership literature therefore suggests that leadership development and learning should avoid presenting leadership as a fixed identity or role, instead encouraging an awareness of multiple roles (leader, follower and both)” (p.6).

I chose the above quote for a couple of reasons.  The first because the dominant view of leadership has historically been that leaders are “masculine, aggressive/controlling self-reliant perfect beings”.  This is interesting to me because, like Stephen, one of my guilty pleasures is watching sports (note: you can probably take the “guilty” out of it, I spend an inordinate amount of time consuming sports media).  The position of quarterback in football matches this description to a tee. In order to be a successful quarterback, the belief is that, in addition to talent, you need to have the necessary leadership skills required to not only command the respect of a huddle but also the entire locker room.  Without those leadership skills, you’re doomed to fail. Look up any successful quarterback. In addition to their talent, it’s almost guaranteed that their skills as “leaders of men” will be touted.

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The second part of the quote is also interesting because it points out that we should avoid presenting leadership as a fixed identity.   As we discovered in the review of leadership theories, there are many different leadership styles which can all be effective depending on the situation.  Leaders shouldn’t be married to one specific style because doing so neglects the benefits of the others and potentially indicates a lack of situational awareness.  Also, encouraging awareness of multiple roles (leader, follower, and both) is hugely important and is often forgotten by many school administrators. A pet-peeve of mine has always been school administrators that taught for a couple of years, got their required Master’s degree and then almost immediately became a principal (or vice-principal).  How much awareness of the role of “follower” do these people possibly have?

Reading #3 – Avoiding Repetitive Change Syndrome  

“Repetitive change syndrome harms a company’s capacity to make further changes. That is, for every change initiative added, another one slows down or disappears. In extreme cases, older initiatives aren’t completed and are eventually forgotten. Moreover, people begin faking it, acting as if they are cooperating with a new initiative while secretly carrying on business as usual, a subtle form of sabotage” (p.3).

I believe that education, more than any profession, suffers from “repetitive change syndrome”.  I can’t even come close to remembering the various initiatives and buzzwords that have come and gone in my 12 years as a teacher.  Professional learning communities, CELS, differentiated instruction, adaptive dimension, integration of technology, team-teaching, schools without walls, scaffolding, SMART goals, etc. I’m not saying that these things are bad, they’re not.  It just seems like every year there is a new fad for teachers to adopt.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, however.  Change is THE constant in education.

  • When the government changes? Change in priorities and funding.  
  • Cabinet shuffle leading to a different education minister? Again, change in priorities as the new minister seeks to put his/her stamp on the new gig.
  • New director of education? More change.
  • New superintendent? Change.
  • New principal (which seems to happen every 2 years)? Change.

It’s no wonder why education is inundated with constant change and it’s no wonder why new initiatives (regardless of how good their intentions may be) are often greeted with cynicism.

Reading #4: The stupidity paradox: The power and pitfalls of functional stupidity at work

“Today, many schools have fallen victim to image obsession. In the past, teachers had relatively high levels of autonomy. They concentrated their energies on educating students. But as a result of constant educational reforms, schools are now more and more focused on various auditing exercises” (p. 11).

“What the school looks like seems to count for more than the actual education. The people who run schools end up allotting less time and resources to teaching and learning, and more to image-polishing exercises. Schools become machines for persuading others that children are getting a good education, rather than institutions for educating children” (p. 11).

Both of these quotes pair quite nicely with the pitfalls of repetitive change that were discussed in the previous reading.  As a result of constant educational reforms, the responsibilities of the teacher have expanded over the years as we attempt to justify our worth to the public (education, after all, is a public expense).  In addition, an administrator’s responsibilities have also changed. I’m reminded of an article I read for a previous class entitled “The Future of the Principalship”. In this article, several changes to a principals job throughout the years were highlighted:

  1. Increased workload
  2. Increased complexity of the job
  3. Increased focus on instructional leadership
  4. Increased focus on transformational leadership
  5. Development of new skills
  6. Increased focus on external relationships
  7. Changes in leadership approach
  8. Changes in autonomy
  9. Increased levels of stress
  10. Decreased family/personal time

Natrually, all of these changes have had an impact on the quality of meaningful work that principals are able to do within a school.

Reading #5 – Cross-Cultural Understandings of Leadership.

Leaders are responsible for others.  Western leadership accepts this as one of its chargers – to be responsible for followers or fellow workers or subordinates.”

“Trust is one of the factors that has concerned leaders in western leadership.”

“Perhaps one of the precursors to trust is a willingness not to interfere in how others construct their understandings.  Interference implies lack of trust. Non-interference may suggest trust (p.14/15)”.

Now, to quote myself from my previous blog post:

“I also dislike micromanaging and being micromanaged.  If I feel like I’m being micromanaged that gives me the impression that I’m not trusted to do the job.  As long as I’ve been provided with the necessary training and resources to accomplish the job, I’d like to be allowed to do it without having someone constantly looking over my shoulder.  Trust is key.”

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Frequent micromanaging = lack of trust

There is a difference between micromanaging and providing support.  It’s important for leaders to know the difference if they hope to foster a healthy work environment.

Time and Place

Greetings,

The first of this week’s blog prompts asked us to look at our personality and discuss the impact it has had on our leadership style.  

For starters, if you were to ask someone to describe my personality in one word, chances are they would respond with “sarcastic”.  It is true, I am unabashedly sarcastic. There have been times in my life where I’ve flirted with the idea of attempting to be less sarcastic but those moments have been fleeting.  I am sarcastic with my wife, my friends, and at work.  In addition to this, I also self-deprecating and attempt to see the humour in most situations.

Side note: the concept of time & place is something that I’ve learned throughout the years, I am fully capable of being serious and turning off the sarcasm when the situation warrants it.  Or so I’d like to think.

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This poster can be found on my desk at work.

That said, I’d like to think that there is more to my personality than sarcasm. Respecting the opinions of others is something I’ve always valued both at home (something as “simple” as choosing a movie/restaurant) and at work (developing a plan for success for at-risk students, planning events, etc.).  I also dislike micromanaging and being micromanaged. If I feel like I’m being micromanaged that gives me the impression that I’m not trusted to do the job. As long as I’ve been provided with the necessary training and resources to accomplish the job, I’d like to be allowed to do it without having someone constantly looking over my shoulder.  Trust is key.

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Micromanaging.  Not a fan.

I’ve had a few experiences throughout my life that have shaped these traits.  Growing up, I was big into music and this is where my disdain for being micromanaged can be traced to.  While I appreciated the one-on-one nature of private lessons with an instructor, I always preferred to practice at home, in the basement, preferably with no one around.  If I wasn’t sure how to attack a certain passage or what technique I was supposed to use, that’s where the private lessons were beneficial. Otherwise, I preferred to attempt to perfect whatever song on my own.  That same sort of situation often plays out today if I’m thrust into a leadership role. Help provide people with the skills needed to accomplish the task and then trust in their ability to complete said task.

Travelling has also helped shape my leadership philosophy.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled fairly extensively over the years and this is where I learned to value both consensus and the opinions of others.  When travelling with a group (both big/small, often with people whom I’ve never met that come from different countries) it’s important to attempt to take everyone’s opinion into consideration when deciding on things such as meals, transportation, potential activities, etc.  Doing so helps to make for a much more harmonious trip for all involved.  In addition, Forbes identified 10-ways in which travel can benefit leaders.

After reading the first section of this week’s readings, there were a couple of leadership approaches that stood out –  the laissez-faire leadership style and the democratic/participatory style. Based on what I’ve written about thus far, this should not come as a surprise.  Given my disdain for micromanaging, the laissez-faire style stood out. While laissez-faire sort of implies a bit of laziness on the part of the leader, it doesn’t have to be that way.

“They (laissez-faire leaders) provide teams with resources and advice if needed, but otherwise do not get involved. This leadership style can be effective if the leader monitors performance and gives feedback to team members regularly.  Team members tend to have high job satisfaction and are productive because they are more involved”.

That last sentence is key.  This leadership style can work (depending on the situation, of course) if the leader actually pays attention to the performance of others AND provides the necessary assistance when required.  This style will not work if the leader simply washes his/her hands of the situation.

Meanwhile, the democratic/participatory style speaks to the value I place in other’s opinions.  

“Democratic leaders make the final decisions, but include team members in the decision-making process. They encourage creativity, and team members are often highly engaged in projects and decisions.  Team members tend to have high job satisfaction and are productive because they are more involved.”

Once again, that last sentence is key.  By involving others in the decision-making process, quality team building is taking place which in turn will benefit both the project and the long-term relationships of the people involved.

just-because-someones-opinion-is-different-than-your-own-it-does-not-mean-they-are-wrong.

Every leadership style outlined in this week’s readings has strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes a democratic approach isn’t going to work because time is of the essence. Meanwhile, the “laissez-faire’ approach might not work if the skills of the group members aren’t quite up to par. An effective leader makes use of an array of leadership styles and uses them based on the situation.  

Time and place.

Square pegs, round holes

Hey! Welcome to round 2 of my blog! I first started blogging for university purposes last semester in EC&I 833.  Although I was a bit skeptical at first (and frequently got frustrated with WordPress), I eventually grew to enjoy blogging so I am glad that this will once again be my primary method of interaction throughout a course.

For our first blog of the semester, we’ve been asked to look at ways in which we’ve seen schools used as agents for the maintenance of existing unjust power structures in society.  Turns out, the list is long. For starters, one only has to look at the curriculum and its priorities. As Kirsten and Stephen mentioned throughout their lecture, there is an inordinate amount of attention paid to the 4 r’s – readin’, ‘ritin’, ‘rithmetic and regurgitation.  Meanwhile, physical education and the arts often take a backseat. Out of curiosity I went back in time to my days as an elementary school itinerant and checked out my timetable from the 2010/11 school year in order to see how much time was allotted to certain classes. Since I was merely an itinerant, I was assigned non-core classes such as physical education, core French, music, as well as Social Studies.  The time allotted to each is as follows:

Physical Education:  Primary classes (K-5) = 90 minutes/week.  Senior Classes = 120-150.

Core French:  Primary classes = 60 minutes/week.  Senior classes = 90 minutes.

Music:  Primary classes = 60 minutes/week.  Senior classes = 90 minutes.

Social Studies:  Primary classes = 90 minutes/week.  Senior classes = 120 minutes.

It’s not particularly surprising that the time allotted to these classes paled in comparison to literacy, English Language Arts, and math.  While I don’t have those numbers handy (remember, I was a lowly itinerant), I recall time spent on both literacy AND numeracy being at least 60 minutes per day.  Now, keep in mind these numbers are from a timetable from 8 years ago and it has been 5 years since I’ve taught in an elementary school so perhaps things have changed (I’m assuming an elementary teacher can correct me if I’m wrong – Adam Williams, I’m looking at you).  In the high school realm, on first glance, it appears as though the discrepancy between the value placed on courses evens out a little bit (see the list below).

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The above table shows the number of credits one needs in order to graduate in Saskatchewan.  As you can see, English Language Arts is the dominant course.  

When you dig deeper, however, the amount of time spent on ELA (‘readin/’ritin’) is potentially worrisome (note: I say this as a high school ELA teacher).  You’re going to have a real tough time graduating from high school if you struggle to read/write which many of our disadvantaged/at-risk students do (many of whom don’t speak English as their first language).  To make matters worse, the Sask Party’s failure to prioritize education has resulted in increased class sizes, fewer educational assistants (even though Premier Moe attempted to address this recently) and less learning resource time.  Those that are struggling are going to have an even harder time getting the support they require.  Next semester I have 30 students registered in my ELA 9 class and 32 students in my ELA A10 course (which includes two modified students enrolled in ELA 11). It goes without saying that these numbers are far too high and it makes both the teacher’s and student’s job much more difficult.

Next up.  Our Indigenous students.  Years could be spent discussing the litany of ways in which the system has failed them over the years.  The fact that a wide achievement gap continues to exist between Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students is further evidence of this (something that government’s fail to point out when trumpeting the “good work being done to increase graduation rates”).  Unfortunately, recent budget decisions make it unlikely that this gap will shrink anytime soon. The Sask Party’s canceling of the NORTEP program combined other budgetary decisions such as requiring guidance counselors and Indigenous advocates to also teach classes (thus limiting the amount of time they can provide support to students) have further diminished support for our Indigenous students.  This, combined with the aforementioned emphasis on the 4 Rs is proof that the status-quo remains acceptable to those in power. Remember, the second premise highlighted in this week’s lecture was that “power sustains, protects and reproduces itself”.

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The way our education system is currently structured around fails to meet the needs of all of our students.  Instead, we ask our at-risk students (“square pegs” for the purposes of this metaphor) to adapt to a system that is not conducive to their achievement.

While this post has largely been doom and gloom, all hope is not lost.  Even though counselor time has been reduced, there has been an increase in programs available to at-risk students.  Drumming groups, ACT, and GSAs can be found throughout schools in Saskatchewan. Cree is being taught at some community schools in Regina while Regina Public also hosts a feast and round dance each year.  In addition, there has been an increased emphasis placed on Social Justice issues in the ELA curriculum (hopefully the senior Social Sciences curriculums which haven’t been updated since 1994 will follow suit).  Also, this is my 12th year in Regina Public and I’ve had a female principal for 9 of those years. Good work is being done and some progress is legitimately being made.  

All of this having been said, it is obvious that, while our schools are doing good work, more needs to be done (I haven’t even mentioned the digital divide but for the sake of time and space, I’ll save that one for one of my classmates).  The fact that many Canadians believe there to be an “Indian Problem” shows just how far we still have to go and just how much work our education system has to do in an attempt to overturn decades of colonial attitudes. 

People care.  But whether the people that have the power to help make change truly possible care remains to be seen. 

Status-quo.  Rinse and repeat.

Google Read/Write and….?

While I happen to be in my 12th year of teaching, the world of assistive technologies is one that is largely foreign to me.  As a high school humanities teacher, the only piece of assistive technology that I really use is Google Read/Write. At the start of each semester, our school’s LRT comes into my class and does a quick lesson for my students on how to use it.  From there, I do what I can to encourage its use when necessary. As an English Language Arts teacher, it is a helpful tool because I can scan entire novels into Read/Write and then students will be able to use it to read the novel back to them in a variety of different voices or speeds.  With the novel scanned, students can also highlight any word and use the dictionary feature to discover its meaning (extremely helpful for students that don’t speak English as their first language).

From a Social Studies standpoint, Read/Write has tremendous value when it comes to research thanks to the highlight tool. Students have the ability to highlight any section of text in one of four colours.  Once they reach the end of the document that they’re highlighting they can click on the “collect highlights” button and Read/Write will open up a new document complete with all the highlighted material. I’ve even used it for my own personal research and that’s something that I try to stress to students as well in order to encourage its use.  Besides highlighting, there are a few additional features that I also like. As stated above, Read/Write has the ability to read text back to students. In addition, students can also read out loud and the program will type out what was said. This is potentially beneficial for those students that struggle with getting their thoughts down on paper.  The simplify text feature can also be also quite handy because it can “simplify” websites down to the point where just the basics are present – helpful for students that struggle with reading comprehension.

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How to use Read/Write

While Read/Write is an effective tool, it does have some limitations – the biggest one being that it can be a bit buggy.  There have been several instances where the Read/Write tab simply doesn’t show up. Also, I’ve found that the “simplify text” feature works approximately half of the time.  The highlighting feature also suffers from inconsistent reliability (though not nearly to the extent of the simplify text feature).  Sage also highlighted a few limitations of on her blog, mentioning that in order to benefit from Read/Write, you actually require a computer (which aren’t always easy to book especially in schools where there’s limited technology) and that both students and teachers need to know how to use the tool.

Despite its bugs, Read/Write is an effective tool.  Something that really struck a chord with me from this week’s presentation was from the first video where it was mentioned that “the great thing about supportive and assistive technology is that they level the playing field for students – they’re critical for some students but they can be used to help all students learn”.  I feel like that Read/Write is a textbook example of this. Some students absolutely need to use the various features but all students can benefit from some aspect of it.

Beyond Read/Write, there’s not a lot of assistive technology that I’m particularly familiar with.  A few years ago I had a SmartBoard in my room but I rarely used it and haven’t missed it. Perhaps though, the SmartBoard represents a missed opportunity? It’s entirely possible that my students could have benefitted from its use, I just didn’t know how to use it effectively.  This brings us to a limitation of all assistive technology and a great quote from Dr. Sider/Dr. March:

While there is compelling long-term evidence that student achievement can be improved through the appropriate use of technology, it is important to note that the multitude of rapidly evolving assistive technology devices and programs can leave teachers feeling unprepared for supporting their use in the inclusive classroom. To address this issue, school systems need to put in place supports to enhance teachers’ ability to effectively use assistive technology tools.

As I continued to struggle with my lack of familiarity surrounding assistive technologies, I sought guidance from the LRTs at my school fearing that I was missing out on something.  However, both of them mentioned that Read/Write is really the only piece of assistive technology that they use on a regular basis. One of the LRTs did mention that she has a bit of experience working with FM systems in order to help students with auditory processing disorders but beyond that, Read/Write tends to be the go-to.  If we’re looking at “low-tech” assistive technologies, I, like most other humanities teachers make use of graphic organizers on a regular basis to help students organize their thoughts. I also have standing desks and exercise balls available in my classroom for students that don’t like the thought of sitting in a “traditional desk” for 5+hours/day.

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Exercise balls.  More than just a workout tool!

That pretty much wraps up my experiences with assistive technology.  I’m looking forward to reading other blogs and discovering if other’s have similar experiences or if I’m somewhat unique in my lack of familiarity regarding assistive tech.

What a (ka)hoot!

I really wish that this week’s blog prompt would have been done earlier in the semester.  My intern is in the midst of his 3-week block which means that I won’t be teaching for the next little while (I’m not exactly heartbroken). That said, I do have some experience with some of the assessment technologies that were outlined in this week’s presentation.  Also, I’ve recently discovered an assessment technology that I plan on utilizing next semester.

For starters, I can’t talk about assessment technology without bringing up Kahoot. I first discovered Kahoot a couple of years ago thanks to a substitute teacher that took over my class for a week while I was at a conference.  When I returned to work, my students greeted me with:

“Awww, you’re back?”

“We miss the sub, he let us play Kahoot!”

“Can we play Kahoot today? Can we, can we?”

I can’t say that I was thrilled with the reception but I was intrigued by this magical “Kahoot” and immediately gave it a look.  Since then, it has become a staple in each of my classes. One of the reasons why Kahoot is great is that it’s easy to use.  Quizzes are extremely easy to create and if you’re in a rush or just looking for a quick/easy way to end a class, there are plenty of pre-made Kahoots available (though many of them are poorly created and littered with spelling mistakes and irrelevant questions).  On the student’s end, connecting to a Kahoot is as simple as going to kahoot.it, typing in the code, coming up with a school-appropriate username (admittedly, a challenge for some), and then answering the multiple choice questions using their device.

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One of the primary benefits of Kahoot is that it’s user-friendly for both the teacher and the student.

So, why do a Kahoot? Well, it’s an easy way to check for understanding (hello, formative assessment!).  One of this week’s readings, Measuring for Learning, stated that “both teachers and students can use the results from formative assessments to determine what actions to take to help promote further learning”.If your students do really well on a Kahoot, there’s a good chance they’re grasping the concept. If not, it might be time to re-evaluate your next move. Same thing for students. If they struggle on a Kahoot, it might serve as a bit of a wake-up call that they’re not quite grasping the concept(s).

Kahoots also serve as excellent reviews prior to exams (especially final exams).  I often have my classes create their own Kahoots prior to finals that incorporate questions from throughout the semester.  We then play a few of them during the classes leading up to finals. The fact that students actually like playing them (and creating them) is also a benefit. They love the competition and that has led to some pretty intense battles, especially if there are multiple students within 100 points of each other towards the end of a quiz.  

Is Kahoot perfect? Of course not.  While most students (once they hit high school) have access to smartphones, they don’t all of them.  To combat this, I usually have a couple of spare laptops in my room in order to ensure that everyone can play.  Unreliable internet connections also pose a challenge. Many Kahoots have been lost as a result of connection issues.  Keeping every student engaged throughout the entire quiz can be tricky if it’s a long quiz (more than 10 questions).  Students will often check out if they’re far off the lead after 6 or 7 questions.

Overall though, the benefits of a Kahoot far outweigh the drawbacks.  When used in moderation, it can be a great formative assessment tool.

Something I plan on using in the future is “Duolingo”.  I teach one section of core-French per year and while I enjoy teaching it, it is definitely a challenge.  The French language not being a huge strong suit of mine (I describe myself as “fluent-ish”, my Francophone wife occasionally disagrees) combined with having to teach multiple sections of it in one class (9/10/20/30) makes teaching it more difficult for me than my usual ELA/Social Studies classes.  As a result, I’m constantly on the lookout for something that can benefit both myself and my students. I learned about “Duolingo” at a community of practice last month and it looks like it could be a great addition to my French class. What Duolingo attempts to do (according to its own website) is provide students with “fun, game-like lessons in order to keep them motivated and excited about language”.  The self-guided nature of it is especially appealing to me because I have multiple sections in one class. For example, I could set the 10s and 20s up on Duolingo while I teach the 9s (or vice-versa).

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Duolingo Review – The Quick, Easy and Free Way to Learn a Language.

Also, there appears to be a variety of lessons for a wide variety of levels.  Core-French can be a tough subject to teach because there is often a large knowledge gap amongst the students.  Some students come into high school core French having taken French immersion throughout elementary school while others have only taken core-French throughout their schooling and, depending on their teacher, might have only learned basic vocabulary (days/months/colours).  In theory, Duolingo meets one of the key suggestions for assessment outlined by Barber and Hill – accommodating the full range of student abilities.

Since I haven’t actually used it with a class, it’s tough to say exactly how effective Duolingo will prove to be but it appears to have some potential and I’m looking forward to trying it out.