Educational Gurus and “One Size Fits All” Advice

This weekend, I ended up in a Twitter battle, of sorts, with a “major” educational guru.  Educational gurus often post “one size fits all” solutions on the Internet (including social media)…and often respond to alternative replies by doing the equivalent of killing a fly by smashing it with a Buick.

In this case, the guru stated, “When you show kids how to click on stuff…what percent of the class could have figured it out without you?

I have taught three full years (in my fourth) of teaching in a 1:1 iPad school, and I have pushed boundaries with the use of technology in music education.  I have learned a lot in these last few years, and I can tell you this: If you don’t show students what to do and how to do it, they don’t know how to do it, and will not figure it out on their own.  Even when you do show them what to do, there is a percentage that still will not “get” it.

True, 10%-20% of your class can do it without you.  That is all wonderful and good.  But what I have found out is that those kids don’t really want to help their peers–these are the kids who have been burned by their peers in a number of settings, and they are quite content to let the others live in bewilderment.  They do help kids that have special needs…but they let the other percentage of the population that just doesn’t follow directions just hang out on a limb.

If you want to make good use of classroom time, you have to show kids how to sign up for a service, how to start an account, and then show them the basic tools to use that account. If you do not do so, 60% will have no idea what to do, and the other 20% will not have even signed up for an account.  At that point, you might as well not even use the technology.

Even if you provide written directions, or even a video, there has been a good chance that 60% of my students will not complete a task or project.  I have to go step by step to get 80% of them with me.

I had my 8th Grade students sign up for the S-Cubed component of MusicProdigy this last Friday.  When you create an account, there is a little link to create an account in the log-in page.  I walked my classes through the process, and I still had 20% of the students fail to follow the process and find themselves in the normal “log in” process versus creating an account.  It takes time to go back and walk those students back through the process they didn’t follow in the first place.  I would not be able to keep up with the 1:1 process if I just said, “Go to Music Prodigy and create an account.”

Incidentally, you know the same is true with the staff in your building every time you introduce a new technology tool.

It doesn’t help that when I introduce things, I am doing so with groups of 35-60 six to eighth grade students in a subject they do not feel is as important as their “core” classes.  The term “encore” is applied to music, art, business education, language, and physical education.  There is a different mindset towards our classes…and admittedly, our classroom set-up is significantly different.

When I expressed that I didn’t think the guru’s idea of “self-exploration” was realistic, I was reprimanded: “Of course they can get it.  Change the culture of your class, break the learned helplessness.  I will believe in your students and you will think they can’t.”

As I have grown older, have earned advanced degrees, have taught for more than 20 years, and am now a parent, I am no longer the self-inflated egotistical person I was following my undergraduate degree.  I think it is good that we graduate from undergraduate college thinking we alone can change the world by sheer willpower alone. Life has tempered that mindset in me.  I avoid absolute statements in my role with technology integration, and I try not to insult anyone.  I don’t want to close doors with anyone–I want to build them up and help them along their path.

I do have strong beliefs, and there only a few things I believe strongly enough to be flippant about them.  For example: Always have a backup plan in case technology doesn’t work OR make sure your personality can deal with a very sudden change in plans.  

Beyond that, I make suggestions, and frequently say that it is up to you whether you take my advice or not.

As for the original topic, I think you are inviting disaster if you don’t lead your students through things step-by-step.  Sure, you will have kids that instantly “get” it.  You always will.  And you don’t have to show every feature of a program (advanced users can figure those out on their own).  But you DO need to show them and walk them through what you expect as a minimum, or you won’t even get your minimum expectations from a majority of students.

This all goes back to the myth of the digital native.  I don’t believe in the digital native.  I believe that we can all learn basic digital skills, but the task of using technology and integrating it into our learning (and teaching) is something that requires intention, purpose, and planning.  Students need to be taught how to use technology in their learning.  


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