Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Watching training - Meaning or Mechanics?

I'm sitting here watching people struggle to understand the meaning of the Instructional Practices of Marzano. The presenter is trying to incorporate the use of technology in his instruction. We are logged into a wiki and into a McRel blog - at least some of us are. There is a fair amount of frustration in the room. Part of this is due to the adults general frustration with technology. We often think that we are supposed to understand things the first time. If the technology doesn't work the first time we try it, we are annoyed and look for someone or something to blame. The thing with tech is that it is very experimental by it's very nature. There are few times, if any, that it works out of the box especially with a large group of people. In our case we have 50 people in the room, on a wireless connection, logging into accounts that were just created, using tools that are novel to most. This is a formula for stress and frustration.

It is difficult to control for some of these factors. It would be great if we could do a pretest of people's knowledge and ability with the tools beforehand. It would be a good idea to host the workshop in a setting that is well equipped for bandwidth and power. It would be a good to avoid first time login issues. Advice to self: If you are going to create accounts for people in a new app, you should probably send them their credentials ahead of time and invite them to let you know if it doesn't work.

We are just about to break for lunch and we have just begun to get into the content of the workshop - the Practices. The presenter has assigned a table of people to take notes (trying to keep people from breaking the lock).

Afternoon - Everyone has a username and password and can sign on to the blog and the wiki. That's not a bad turnaround on the account solution problem. While the presenter has described the difference between a blog and a wiki, I'm not sure that people understand the distinction or more importantly understand how it would fit into their instructional work flow. And this is the challenge. On the one hand we have technology. On the other we have instructional practice. If I were a teacher I think I would need a time to practice with each and each together. Despite the frustration, I think we are on the right track in this workshop. The question is whether people understand the instructional practices that are being illustrated with the technology. Also, will the get enough exposure in this session or in the ones to follow to benefit from the use of technology? There needs to be some amount of exposure to the tools with a easy reference to them for later use. Along with this, teachers need to have a deep understanding of the Instructional Practices.

I have assumed that the second ingredient, the Instructional Practices, were second nature to teachers. After speaking with some of the participants I realize that they are familiar with them but not enough to be able to train other teachers - and that is the point of this training. We are trying to encourage teachers in new practice - sometimes even breaking old bad habits. This group of teachers and administrators are supposed to be our ministers for best Instructional Practice. They are frustrated that this - the backbone of the workshop - is being sacrificed for the technology. I'm not saying that I have made this judgement, but it seems to be the prevailing theme.

At the end of this workshop I had stuff to clean up - I'm the AV guy :-) This gave me an opportunity to reflect on this question of balance with the presenter and the participants. Quite a bit of frustration was expressed by the participants. They felt there wasn't enough exposure to the practices. The presenter seemed a little puzzled at the frustration. He thought it was important for people to learn about the different free and low cost tools available to deliver the different aspects of instruction. He thought that technology was a useful tool for examining and illustrating the practices.

Participants thought there were some great tools and resources shared but felt that the technology overshadowed and delayed the presentation of the Instructional Practices. The time taken to get the wiki and blog working was a fairly large portion of the morning. The tech examples that were presented with each practice took quite a bit of time as well. Some of this time was spent in understanding the mechanics of the tool rather than the meaning of it for the practices

In order to frame the frustration of this workshop, it is important to understand the backdrop of people's frustration. Our district is under high pressure to decrease the achievement gap between our high achievers and low. Our teachers and administrators take this task very seriously. They want to help kids be successful. They want to fix the problem now. While most if not all of the teachers think we should be doing more with technology, they don't think that technology is the issue in this gap. There is a concern that, if we dwell on technology, we will fail to fully understand the Instructional Practices that are key to instruction.

As with all issues, everyone has their own perspective based on the role they play and their background. While I am hungry for integrating technology into the classroom, I realize that timing and meaning are essential to it's adoption. If people are overwhelmed with it OR with the other demands on them, their adoption will suffer. On the other hand I have to wonder when will the time be right to help people understand the meaning and the mechanics of integrating it. There is wisdom in exposure - immersion even. As people struggled to get logged into the wiki and blog I was concerned about the meaning being lost on them, but if not now - when will people begin to use the technology we have been talking about.

I understand and support the idea that these instructional practices are the meaning behind the practice of teaching. We need to help teachers understand and implement them with precision. If technology has to wait, so be it. But if we can find ways to interject technology into these practices we need to take these opportunities. We can take the time to document tech tools that bring the practices to light, to use these tools as examples and be willing to explore them even when they are a bit messy.