The Middle Ground of 1-1

Writing in the Washington Post, a teacher relates the story about what happened when she gave each of her third graders an iPad. And then she wished she could take the back.

Her first disappointment came when her “lively little kids stopped talking and adopted the bent-neck, plugged-in posture of tap, tap, swipe”. Although I’m not sure why that was unexpected. It sounds like the behavior of 8 year olds with a new toy.

Some of the problems she experienced with her class were technological – slow bandwidth, password issues – and should have been anticipated and planned for. But other issues that caused this teacher to regret this 1-1 program are clearly the fault of whoever in her school or district is leading it.

She notes that the staff did do some planning in advance of the distribution.

My colleagues and I had tried to anticipate all sorts of issues before the new tablet initiative rolled into our third-grade classrooms last year. What happens if the children lose them? Break them? Forget their passwords? How will we clean the screens? Charge them all at once? Which lessons lend themselves well to iPads, and which ones don’t? We had meetings, made plans and did our best to embrace the new – both because we had a sense of the potential and because asking questions about the efficacy of one-to-one classrooms (with a computing device for each child), or wondering aloud whether more tech for little kids was supported by research, was not only unwelcome, it was illogical.

Notice that most of those questions involve logistics, not instruction. The fact that they were asking questions about whether the tech would be appropriate for students at that age is wonderful, but they should have had that discussion long before anything was purchased.

Fairfax County, aka the overly-large school district and my former employer, is now working on a 1-1 program for the whole system and, when I left less than four months ago, the planning was almost entirely centered around those logistical issues. There was very little about the important parts: changing curriculum and pedagogy to align with the fact every student has a powerful, connected computing device. I hope that’s changed but I rather doubt it.

The teacher relating her story in the Post spends the last half of the article reflecting on the “screen time” issue, returning to studies from OECD (tech doesn’t improve student learning) and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (concerns about excessive time on devices affecting student development).

At the end, she does appear to begin appreciating the fact that putting technology in the hands of students is not an all or nothing deal.

But jumping from the “sage on the stage” teaching model to a screen for each kid skips over critical territory in between, where children learn from, and build their social skills with, one another. Classrooms run by worksheets won’t be magically transformed with tablets, and classrooms where teachers skillfully engage their students don’t need screens – and the extra baggage they introduce – to get great results.

However, there is a middle ground between those two classroom scenarios. Between screens as simply a replacement for worksheets and no technology “baggage”. It takes a great deal of planning by everyone in the school, a willingness on the part of teachers to learn and to alter their instructional practice, and input from the students themselves, something that’s usually missing from 1-1 plans.

This particular teacher wasn’t prepared for 1-1, and I rather doubt that most of my formerly colleagues in Fairfax will be either when the screens arrive in the their classrooms.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.