Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dissecting the NETP- Part One, Learning: Engage and Empower

This is part one of a new blog series where I want to take a closer look at the newly released National Education Technology Plan. I outline my plan for this series in this post.

Before I dive in to the first meaty section of the plan, I think it's only appropriate to reveal some biases I carry with me as I begin this process. So here they are:

  • I think standardized testing and standardized anything is harmful to students. Anything that promotes rote learning, filling in worksheets, spitting out simple facts without digging deeper is something I will naturally push back against.
  • I believe teachers are an integral part of the classroom process and should be given the freedom and support to deliver classroom instruction and create their classroom environment how they see fit. Teachers are the foremost experts in the education system because they are firmly grounded in the everyday reality of classroom life.
  • I firmly believe that in the 21st century we need to be pushing our students toward collaborating, creating, and publishing their work online.
  • I have qualms with the idea of "scaling up" reform. In other words- taking something that appears to be working well in one school and stamping it on top of other schools. It rarely works, mainly because the reason the first school was successful is not simply because of the program they were running- it's because of the people running the program. People/educators make the difference, not templates.
  • After reading Diane Ravitch's excellent book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, I have a much more realistic and cynical eye on any type of federal policy.
So with all that being said, now you have an idea for the lens I'll be using when looking at this plan and my own personal standards that I'll be applying. For each section I'll give a brief overview, what I liked, what I didn't like, and some conclusions for what this means moving forward.

Part One: Learning- Engage and Empower

Section Goal: All learners will have engaging and empowering learning experiences both in and out of school that prepare them to be active, creative, knowledgeable, and ethical participants in our globally networked society

This is the first section of the plan and it rightly kicks things off with the learning component. The plan lays out visions for some critically important concepts such as "What Learning Should Look Like", "What People Need to Learn", "How People Learn", "Where and When People Learn", and "Who Needs to Learn." Each of these topics could (and has) filled volumes of literature and careful reflection on their own, so it's interesting to see a plan take them on in a few short pages each. Once each of these aspects are laid out, the plan offers action steps to obtain the goal outlined above.

What I liked:
  • The language rings true. A lot of focus is on expanding the borders of school, blurring the lines between school and life, giving students more choice and freedom, providing relevant contexts for learning, and utilizing technology as a means to help students self-direct their own learning.
  • Digital Portfolios are addressed. "Student-managed electronic learning portfolios can be part of a persistent learning record and help students develop the self-awareness required to set their own learning goals; express their own views of their strengths, weaknesses, and achievements; and take responsibility for them." (p. 12).
  • Leaning on science and research. The plan takes into account what we know about how people learn. There is an emphasis on research-based strategies such as how people are motivated to learn and how that varies from person to person: "We learn and remember what attracts our interest and attention, and what attracts interest and attention can vary by learner."

What I didn't like:
  • Too broad when speaking of deep topics. The topics brought up in this section are enormous. It felt like the plan was glazing over them, saying the right things in broad terms. That is what always worries me about federal documents- the verbiage always sounds great, but the devil is in the actual implementation and execution.
  • The contradiction between the learning model presented here and what Race to the Top seems to be pushing for- ie, more standardization of curricula, more standardized testing. This plan, sponsored by the federal government and with Secretary Duncan's name on it, calls for flexibility, choice, multiple methods of instruction, and pushes for student-directed learning. This plan calls for "transformational change" but Race to the Top is not that at all- more than anything, it seeks to amplify the policies of No Child Left Behind. I'm worried that this plan, even if it seems right on target the rest of the way, will not have teeth in it because of Race to the Top and what it calls for.
  • Something gnaws at me when the plan discusses the idea of layering what it considers to be best practices on top of "what all students should know". This quote makes me think: "A core set of standards-based concepts and competencies form the basis of what all students should learn, but beyond that students and educators have options for engaging in learning: large groups, small groups, and activities tailored to individual goals, needs, and interests." (p. 10). This bothers me and I can't put my finger on exactly why. Maybe I've seen too many students not given opportunities for choice, freedom, and engagement simply because they hadn't learned the "basics" yet- in other words, first we have to drill the basics into you with a hammer, then later we'll let you have fun and be engaged in school. I think that's completely backwards and dangerous. I feel that EVERY student at every level should have access to choice, freedom, creativity, and engagement in their own learning. I don't agree with the idea of "Once you get these basics down, then we can let you have some fun in school" and that's what this plan reminds me of in this section.

I like the wording of this plan so far and I like the direction it wants to move us. My only fear at this point is that while it may be spot on, it may be undercut or replaced by the current administrations' main policy push, Race to the Top. But teachers, don't let that stop you from creating a fun, engaging, tech-driven classroom environment of flexible problem solving and reflection!

Next week, I'll dive into the next section entitled Assessment: Measure What Matters.


Brianne said...

I am motivated by your comments and torn at the same time. I feel like the system is pulling us on each arm. We need to make it more relevant but it is true that it doesn't match up to the system of standardized testing. How do we get the test to be written differently to apply to our 21st century learners.

I also like your comment on it is the people/educatrs that make the difference not the templates.

Also in full agreement that "teachers are the foremost experts in the education system because they are firmly grounded in the everyday reality of classroom life". The teachers' opinions/ideas need to be listened to and respected.

edtechsteve said...

Hey Brianne-

You're right to feel torn. I'm not sure this hasn't always been the case, though. There has been a disconnect between policy and actual classroom realities for a long time. Of course, that's probably because the people making policy have never actually taught...

Thanks for the comment!