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How technology will close the achievement gap

Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Minnesota has among  the nation's largest achievement gaps. Our white kids tend to test very well and our other than white children to test poorly. And despite our best efforts, that doesn't seem to have changed much over the past 15 years.

Our district, like many, has turned to technology to raise the reading and math skills of our underperforming students. Or their test scores anyway. This has primarily been by having students complete tutorials and practice drills using commercial programs. One is described as a "blended learning intervention solution." 

Given the nagging gap in performance after continued use of this product, I wonder if we are using technology in the most effective way?

In my observations of classrooms using these canned "interventions", the kids seem to be just going through the motions. There is no excitement. There is no interaction. There is no "I can't wait to get started" or "Darn, the class is over already." In fact one common complaint from teachers is that kids often have a second tab open in their browsers to a site that actually involves them and they are often looking at it instead of the intervention program. (Much like I hid a comic book behind my textbook when I was in school.)

We have long had a term for these activities: drill and kill. Does digitizing them make the more effective? More engaging? Studies conducted by the publishers of such programs say yes; independent studies say no. Imagine that.

These program seem the antithesis of what most technology proponents envision good student use looks like in schools. The 4 C's (Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking) have become shorthand for activities that give kids choices, give learning relevance, and give meaningful uses to technology. These activities empower kids asking for them to produce, not simply to follow directions and absorb.

And kids get very excited about this kind of learning - especially those, it seems, for whom traditional teach methods don't really work. Maybe the same kids who are not doing well on our tests.

So here is my bold prediction: until we start understanding that using technology in activities that teach the 4 Cs, that are relevant, that are culturally proficient, we will not close the achievement gap. 

All kids deserve an education that empowers them.

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Reader Comments (3)

Amen Doug! I've had to go back and read your articles from the past month and this one got an enthusiastic YES from me! (The kiddos in the media center are use to my loud voice and kept doing whatever they were doing...)
This is the second year that we have implemented 1:1 Chromebooks in our county to try to bridge the achievement gap. You would think kids would love this...NOT! I cannot tell you how many students will not bring theirs to school on a consistent basis. Teachers are told to use technology, but if the 4'C are not incorporated into the lesson, they will lose their attention within 3 minutes.
On a side note, as a media specialist in a high school, Chromebooks have diminished our numbers in the media center for research. We are having to re-create our role, but really don't know where to begin. Ideas/suggestions? We do subscribe to a few databases at the school level and are creating video tutorials on how to use those and other useful aspects of Google. We send out surveys for feedback, but our teachers are swamped with the demands of the curriculum and tell us they don't have time to come in for instruction. Any media center websites I could look at to get ideas? Sorry to piggy-back on your article to ask for advice! Any help is greatly appreciated!

November 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Bowie

Hi Sandy,

Your comment did not include your email so I don't have a way of contacting you directly. If you read this, one place you might start in answering your questions about librarians in 1:1 school is this article Jennifer LaGarde and wrote:

Good luck!


November 1, 2017 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thank you so much Doug!!

November 2, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSandy Bowie

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