One of my favorite blogs to read is Brian Crosby’s Learning is Messy. Brian teaches in a school with a 90% free/reduced lunch rate. Over half of his students have parents who did not graduate from elementary school. Many of his students are English Language Learners. And yet, this class of 6th graders is well-versed in Skyping with learners around the world, blogging about their learning, and creating videos about their classroom. The rich learning experiences and critical thinking in which these students are engaged rival classrooms with exponentially more resources and funds.
Many researchers and educators, including Haberman, Waxman, Songer and others, have written about the “pedagogy of poverty;” that is, the tendency of classrooms in high-poverty areas to focus on teacher-directed instruction with drill-and-practice being the primary activity of the learners. This learner-passive environment all too often leads to student disinterest, high drop-out rates, and teacher burn-out.
According to Waxman et al. (1995), three instructional approaches have been found to be successful with students at risk of failure: 1) cognitively-guided instruction, 2) critical or responsive teaching, and 3) technology-enriched instruction. However, studies show that, even when technology is integrated into traditional, teacher-led classrooms, it is most often used for practice and review activities rather than with opportunities that require higher-order thinking and problem solving (Songer et al, 2002).
For schools and districts struggling with these issues, Web 2.0 tools offer the means for dynamic, collaborative learning experiences, provided that the teacher has been given sufficient professional development in using these tools. Unlike skills-based software and games that simply provide opportunities for students to practice getting the “right answer,” tools such as wikis, blogs, video conferencing, and social networking sites can be used to foster deep conversations, cooperative learning projects, and a higher understanding of concepts beyond the memorization level. McREL’s workshop on Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works can be one option to get teachers started in using the read/write Web to create higher-order learning experiences with their students.
For those of you who use technology in your classrooms or schools, how do you see it being used beyond “skill and practice” mode? How is it used to foster creative conversations and deep understanding?