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Sunday
Jan092011

BFTP: What gets tested, gets taught

A weekend Blue Skunk "feature" will be a revision of an old post. I'm calling this BFTP: Blast from the Past. Original post January 10, 2006. This post was also turned into a column of the same name. The separate vs integrated controversy continues and IT/IL skills still are not given the importance in education they deserve. But then, it's only been 30 years or so ...

Does teaching technology skills as a separate curriculum mean they can't be integrated into the content areas as well? I've addressed this question before regarding information literacy skills in a column called Owning Our Curriculum. I'll try to make the same points about technology literacy here that I did about information literacy in the column. (I have a tough time separating info and tech literacy anymore anyway).

  1. Info/tech literacy is a basic skill every student should master. It should be treated with the same importance as the other recognized basic skills  of reading, writing and math.
  2. Teaching basic skills as a separate, non-integrated subject is viewed as good educational practice. We have reading, writing and math curricula, teaching materials, courses, teachers and tests.
  3. Basic skills should be "integrated" (or perhaps a better word is applied) across the curriculum. We want social studies and science teachers to "teach" writing skills and practice writing, yes?
  4. Integrating skills does not eliminate the need for basic skills curricula, teaching materials, courses, teachers and tests.
  5. The public expects schools to be accountable for teaching basic skills. The current way of being accountable is through testing. (See more on this below in my response to David Warlick.)
  6. What gets tested, gets taught.

I don't see that integration and viewing information/technology as a separate set of skills to be taught are exclusive. If such skills are only integrated, nobody has responsibility for student acquistion of such skills and everybody has the opportunity to pass the responsibility on to someone else.

David Warlick defends the messiness of authentic assessment in More Loose Change on his 2 Cents Worth blog (and in a reply to the Blue Skunk post Loose Change - follow-up):

...although performance/production based assessment is messy, messy is what teachers do. Certainly multiple-choice/true-false assessments have always been a convenient crutch to many teachers. But project-based/product-based teaching, learning, and assessment were much easier to implement before high-stakes testing. The critical change is that communities have lost confidence in their teachers (for no good reason), and education has begun to lose confidence in itself. I think that we need to empower teachers and then turn education back over to them, the experts.

I don't disagree with David, but I would also say there is a place and need for testing* as well as assessment when it comes to I/T skills if they are to me taken seriously by educators. I am huge fan of Rick Stiggins and his Assessment for Learning work. Hell, I offer workshops on authentic assessment of I/T skills myself. Good, messy assessments using well-designed tools are critical to the teaching and learning process. They are good for kids, promoting growth, not simply categorization.

The problem is that we live in a society that believes in testing. And quite honestly, a degree of accountability shown through testing is not all bad. (See Exposing Shameful Little Secrets.) Our problem is that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of testing and the results being used punatively. This is a problem with test expectations and result use, not testing in itself.  And hey, you want something taken seriously by teachers just put it on the next high-stakes test. That is the reality as much as we may not like it.

* I will admit that I have yet to see a very good "objective" test on basic IT skills.

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Reader Comments (6)

Doug - I especially like your point that when skills are "integrated" then nobody takes responsibility for them. As an English teacher, I know that my kids get practice reading and writing across the curriculum. But they learn to read and write more proficiently in my classroom.

Since I also teach tech, I'll weigh in here. At least in my school, some teachers don't have strong tech skills, or use much tech in their classrooms, so tech across the curriculum is a future dream. On the other hand, every year, I find students come to school with more basic tech skills and understandings than the year before. Despite this, there are huge gaps in their skills - evaluating websites being just one.

I, too, haven't found an adequate objectives test of technology skills. But technology learning isn't demonstrated by answering multiple choice questions; it's shown by choosing and using tools competently.

January 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFran Lo

Hi Fran,

Thanks for the comments. We seem to have had similar experiences.

The "objective test" quandary is with any applied skill - math, writing, etc. It just is a really fast way to do an evaluation. Too bad it really doesn't measure much.

Doug

January 12, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

"If such skills are only integrated, nobody has responsibility for student acquistion of such skills and everybody has the opportunity to pass the responsibility on to someone else."
I've found this to be true. But I've also found that the tech classes don't help much either if the subject area teachers don't integrate the skills in student work.
Someone once said to me that we won't have effective integration of technology/information skills until we write "technology dependent objectives" into our curriculum. Interesting. Now all we have to do is get those who are involved in writing curriculum to accept that these are skills that teachers need to know and include them in the objectives.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary Ann Guidos

I too have struggled a lot with whether information literacy skills should be taught separately or be integrated within the curriculum content areas. Having worked with a couple of standards revision committees, trying to integrate these skills is no easy task, yet to have the skills be authentically mastered, shouldn't they be part of the content areas? When students go to postsecondary education or into the work force they are going to be expected to have these skills and use them as part of academic mastery or accomplishing the tasks required of them by their employer.

And, you are absolutely right - teachers have to focus on what they will assess as part of their teaching.

At this point, I would argue for a separate curriculum, preferably to be taught be a licensed school library media specialist. Here's why:

1. Information literacy is not being effectively taught to students in the content areas now. Yes, there are some teachers who have embraced the need for these skills and work very hard to build them into their instruction, but this is not a widespread practice.

2. Classroom teachers in other content areas have enough trouble getting through the curriculum assigned to them to teach and meet all the standards. It is really difficult for them to build time in to master information/technology literacy in along with everything else.

3. Classroom teachers aren't always confident in their own technology skills nor have they been provided the training to teach these skills themselves. A school librarian should have had the training necessary to do this.

4. The school librarian is supporting all the content areas so he or she may be better positioned to design content-based learning activities within their own curriculum that build the information literacy skills the students need throughout their school day. The school librarian is hopefully clued into the curriculum to do this.

5. Most classrooms still do not have enough technology to make information literacy a regular part of the learning day. At least in most schools there is a lab or some other type of set-up that provides the students with some access to technology in the media center or somewhere else in the building where the librarian can access it.

Of course, we have the problem that we are losing our school librarians to budget cuts, retirements, and other catastrophes - but if administrators were really cognizant about the types of 21st century skills students need to succeed in higher education and today's workforce, and if they really understood the role of a school library media specialist, they would be either hiring highly qualified school library media specialists or insisting that those still employed in their schools be building these skills for their students.

January 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary

Hi Mary Ann,

Writing tech skills into content curriculum is what we have done at both the state and local level. I am afraid they will be mostly ignored unless there is some accountability.

Doug

January 13, 2011 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

What gets tested, gets taught, or in my case what get's requested, gets taught.

My grade math students have to write a provincial wide math test later this month and keep asking me to teach them what is on the test. You need to understand that usually most of my math students would be quite happy not to have me teach them much math at all. They are always asking me if I can show them a movie. I keep telling them, this is a math class. What math movies could I show. I do show l short video clips such as the math involved in making skateboards, but obviously that's not enough passivity for them. Getting back to the point I want to make, having to write this provincial math test has motivated my reluctant students to ask me to teach them topics such as plane geometry. I guess there's always a silver lining.

January 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElona Hartjes

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