Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PA1.F.6: Letting Them Fly

Do you have any idea what PA1.F.6 is?  Even when I tell you that it is a specific part of the district teacher evaluation form, you probably still have no idea what it evaluates.  

One of the biggest mysteries in education in my opinion is how we have managed to remain stagnant for so long in a rapidly changing world.  Do you know of any other major institution that is still talking about moving into this century after more than 13 years of it have passed?  Schools pretty much do things the same way they have since the days before the information revolution, and we are in the business of information.  Think about that for a moment. 

If humans suddenly had the ability to fly, would you still buy expensive airline tickets, wait in lines at the airport, check your baggage and hope that it arrives at the same place and time as you do, get bumped and cancelled and transferred, all before sitting uncomfortably close to a stranger with a bad cough and hope you don't have to use a bathroom the size of a mop closet?  Of course not.  

Essentially, that's what we do every day in classrooms. We act as if this new power doesn't exist.  Before the Internet was so ubiquitous, your access to knowledge consisted of what you could find at the library, who you could talk to, and how good of a source they might be.  If you couldn't find a person or a book with the answers you needed, you were out of luck.  

Today, nearly everyone in our schools has access to almost every piece of human knowledge.  And what do we do with that power in places of learning?  In the very places where information, learning, and knowledge are most revered, we ask everyone to shut off their access to the entire world of knowledge that is nearly instantly available at their fingertips.  

In these places where we prepare students for the world, we pretend it hasn't changed.  

In the places where we prepare students for the future, we continue doing what we did in our pasts.  

PA1.F.6 says:  "Integrates technology to maximize learning opportunities."  What does that even mean?  A digital worksheet?  Using a board that works with a pen?  Using a projector?  

It is buried dead last among a list of six criteria for the sixth section of "Productive Teaching Techniques".  Also in section F are providing remedial and enriched activities for various learners, differentiating instruction, implementing IEPs (which is required by law anyway), organizing students into groups, and effective pacing.  Only one score is given for this extremely wide swath of essential teacher behaviors.  One score.  For all of that.  

What gets measured gets improved.  I'm not sure we are really measuring what matters.  How is it possible for an administrator to properly evaluate a teacher on those 6 criteria with one single score?  Each is important enough for its own section on the form.  

By burying such an important part of what it takes to be a lifelong learner in an evaluation, we diminish its importance.  We bury the information itself away from our students.  We tie their hands before asking them to jump into the ocean and swim for themselves.  We are sending them into a maze blindfolded.  We are crippling them.  

It's time to stop crippling students with our own lack of technology use. It's time to give them wings.  It's time to let them use their ability to fly.  

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