Monday, September 23, 2013

Help Wanted: CCSS Tech Coordinator

When presenting to teachers and administrators, I often talk about two building-level positions that don't get nearly the attention they should in the Common Core era: Technology Coordinators and Library/Media Specialists.  I'll address the first of these today and the other in tomorrow's blog.

Let's consider the typical mandate of a K-8 Technology Coordinator.  He/she might be teaching a couple of classes focused on keyboarding, Internet research, digital art, music or video tools, or the array of features or applications used in Word, Excel or Powerpoint.  In good schools, the Technology Coordinator is also spending lots of time working collaboratively with teachers to identify ways to utilize technology to expand and support various aspects of the curriculum.  My colleague at Core2Class, Deb Gardner, who spent more than 10 years as a Technology Coordinator will be the first to tell you how important and overwhelming it is to have to balance the demands of your own classroom together with the outreach required to help others with their own curricula.

Since the adoption of Common Core, the job of the Technology Coordinator has seemingly gotten more complex as teachers intensely seek out ways to infuse technology into their Common Core lessons.  One teacher recently told me that her school's recent adoption of a "Common Core-aligned" textbook has she and her colleagues running ragged to keep up with all of the technology integrations it includes.  The way many folks are talking, it's almost as if effective teaching demands the constant integration of technology.  As proof, I would point to the countless articles and PD sessions, including one last Fall here in Indianapolis by curriculum guru Heidi Hayes Jacobs who argued that the Common Core Standards require schools to upgrade their curriculum in ways that rely heavily on technology.  "My friends," she said, "paper is dead."

It scares me when I hear folks associate the effective teaching of CCSS with lots of instructional technology.  I say this not because I'm stuck in the Stone Age or because I fear change.  It's because I worry that the emphasis on technology is distracting us from what's at the heart of Common Core.  As I see it, the K-8 CCSS ELA underscores two fundamental expectations: (1) SWBAT (Students will be able to) closely read, analyze and discuss complex texts by finding and using textual evidence; and (2) SWBAT draft text-derived written responses--to high quality prompts--that summarize, synthesize and compare ideas from one or multiple sources.  Yes, CCSS ELA also expects students to demonstrate the ability to use technology (see RI/RL.7, W.6 and SL.5), but these expectations are not ends in themselves, but means to get students reading, writing and speaking more thoughtfully, analytically and collaboratively.

Just the other day, I read this article that offered some whiteboard and tablet-based activities designed to meet CCSS Anchor Standards RL.2 and RL.4.  The author says, "Both of these anchor standards lend themselves well to integrating technology into instruction. Teachers can take a traditional English language arts tool--the graphic organizer--to the next level (emphasis added) by using interactive whiteboards and mobile devices."  How does the use of an interactive whiteboard alone do anything to ratchet up the level of rigor or expectation?  How much time will using these mobile devices take to plan, set up and execute?  Could the same goals be met more efficiently without the use of technology?  Does the technology help drive the lesson and unit forward or is it more of a fun distraction?

Don't misunderstand me: I'm all for the use of technology in the classroom.  But toward what purpose?  And how much classroom time is it going to take?  Back in February Char Shryock gave a presentation at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference where she discussed moving one's classroom from a "substitutive" use of a technology to a "transformative" use of technology.  This makes sense to me.  Instead of simply advising the incorporation of technology "just because" let's be clear about how certain types of technology are uniquely poised to meet the fundamental goals of CCSS.  Digital tools such as Project Gutenberg and Lit2Go can help support teachers' efforts to find companion texts on which to base culminating comparison and synthesis prompts.  Already have hard copies of the texts for your upcoming unit?  Great.  Then don't use these digital tools for the unit.  Resources such as Prezi or Piktochart could be helpful to students preparing for a class presentation.  But maybe teaching these resources is taking too much time away from other more important endeavors.  No problem.  Have students use something more familiar to them that can equally serve the purpose of the presentation.  Designing a snazzy Prezi is not, in itself, a worthy endeavor.

Technology Coordinators now have a new mandate with Common Core.  It's not to integrate or help teachers integrate the latest iPad app or Smartboard feature, necessarily, but to work with teachers to figure out which technology integrations can transform classrooms into laboratories that reflect the essence of Common Core.

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