It is common knowledge that students learn best when we build a schema around learning, make real-world connections, and explicitly make learning relevant to their lives. This brain-based teaching extends to the use of technology in the classroom, requiring teachers to create authentic learning opportunities. Technology should be leveraged as a tool for learning, a method for researching, learning, and communicating in a way that feels real and makes a difference to kids and their greater world.
A significant challenge to technology integration in K-12 public education is arming teachers with knowledge, experience, and support for making the shift from print to blended or digital learning environments. I am acutely aware of this challenge and deeply involved in developing teacher support systems for making the aforementioned shift. In Pasadena ISD, we committed to transforming ourselves into a blended learning institution. Being one of the largest twenty five school districts in the state of Texas, it was a huge risk to step out in front as a trail blazer without many models to follow. As the instructional specialist for secondary English, Language Arts, and Reading (ELAR) at central office, my role is to develop curriculum, professional development, and assessments for high school English. Professional development is no longer just about the content of ELAR, but also modeling and supporting the design and delivery of blended learning through instructional technology.
In my career in education, I have become very familiar with the concept of differentiating instruction so the needs of different learners can be addressed in one classroom through content, process, or product. The next level is personalizing learning so the needs of EVERY learner are addressed in one classroom. This can only be accomplished by either having a teacher for every student, or by designing instruction that self-levels for each student in content, process, pacing, and/or product. We have an opportunity (and need!) to leverage technology to make personalized learning a reality in the K-12 classroom.
In order to accomplish this personalized learning task, the role of teacher must shift from lecturer to designer, monitor, and coach. A teacher works on the front end to develop instruction that will self-adjust to the needs of the student- their ability level, speed, and interests. As students progress, the teacher locates opportunities for grouping, peer interaction, individual conferences, and public presentations. This flexible model makes for a very busy teacher, with new roles apart from those of a traditional classroom teacher.
As the roles of teachers change, so must curriculum, assessment, and other constructs in education. Innovation is key here, as new challenges arise every day. In Pasadena ISD, we have faced (and continue to face) many challenges on our journey to a blended model of instruction. A traditional, fixed scope and sequence curriculum does not easily translate to the flexible pace of blended learning. A redesign of curriculum and pedagogy is required. Additionally, learning management systems are not yet designed perfectly for a blended model. We have been using Schoology as a platform for learning, which has been a good launching-off point, but unless they can provide some critical updates, we will outgrow their learning management system soon. Setting the urgency and providing the funding for such innovation falls on the upper management in a school district.
Ultimately, we strive to teach students the habits of mind required to succeed in a world we can’t yet imagine. The rote memorization of facts, literature, and formulas is a thing of the past. Our students need to be able to form questions, evaluate and synthesize information, and communicate to accomplish their dreams.