Digital Literacy Is What Matters, Not 1 to 1 Computing

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to attend instructional rounds at Prairie View.  We’ve been doing rounds for a couple of years, and by and large, it’s a valuable process.  Each time we do this, before the teams go off to make classroom visits, there is some time devoted to common learning.  At this session we looked at the work of Dr. John Hattie and an excerpt from his book, Visible Learning.  In portion we examined, he listed several effective frames of mind for teaching and learning.  Each of the points were quite good.  But, there was one that stood out to me.  To paraphrase, it said something to the effect that educators spend too much time talking about teaching and not enough thought is given to learning.

His premise is that it’s a lot easier to talk about teaching or instructional moves rather than to look at what effect or impact it has on students actually learn.  Every teacher has been there before, including me.  The instruction is executed with precision and fidelity according to best practice, but the kids don’t get it or can’t demonstrate deep understanding.  It’s reminiscent of the old medical joke, “the operation was a success, but the patient died.”  We can prefect and tune teacher behaviors, but this “perfection” doesn’t necessarily translate to significant learning for kids.  So, the “effect” side of the equation trumps the “cause” type behaviors.

Elmore would take this further with his idea that “task predicts performance.”  In other words, what we as teachers actually ask kids to do will be the best indicator of the depth of their understandings.  So, the long and short of it is that by focusing on what students will actually produce is the best way to ensure a rigorous and thorough understanding of concepts.   So, what does this line of thought have to do with digital literacy?

In my mind, this is the high leverage attribute of technology in education.   What ISTE calls “computational thinking.”  Critical thinking embedded in a rigorous task will result in deep, meaningful understanding and learning.  For me, this is the main reason to make this incredible investment and get each student a computer.  I really believe this will empower both teachers and students.    With these devices, teachers will have a myriad of ways to further personalize learn for students.  And, Kids will have greater incentive and opportunity to seize control and truly own their learning.

Is it possible to personalize learning and teach critical thought without technology?  Absolutely!  However, as I wrote in an earlier post, nuances do matter.  The student device in and of itself will not change instructional practices of teachers or increase learning for students.  The computer just makes it so much easier and more practical to make these changes.  Technology is a key ingredient.  But, learning for both students and staff is the most crucial element. This is the main reason that we are calling this endeavor a digital literacy initiative and not a 1 to 1 laptop project.

I know what I’m suggesting is no small task and will not happen by itself.  Professional learning for staff will be essential.  I’m excited by the plans we have lined up for next year’s PL for all staff on digital literacy.  The change process will be iterative as well.  Just like everything that’s truly meaningful and worthwhile, it will take us all several attempts to become fully competent.  But, I really believe that with laptop in every 9th through 12th graders’ hands, we have a wonderful opportunity to significantly impact student learning in a very positive way.  As always, I welcome your comments and questions about this exciting process.

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