“It’s the skills, stupid!”

skillsEven if you don’t particularly favor James Carville’s politics, he has a way of zeroing in on the most important points.  And that’s what I’m going to try to do myself within this blog post.

In recent weeks, I’ve had to think a lot about professional development for the coming school year, particularly as that professional development dovetails with technology and curriculum issues.  In any school, teachers and staff members will interact with technology in various ways.  There are the few innovators, those who are constantly pushing ahead with technology, testing out the latest things and refining what they already do.  There are a greater number of users, those who use the technology once they are introduced to it but do not always seek out the latest things themselves.  Finally, there are some non-users, those who continue to resist the technology for various reasons and remain firmly wedded to the former way of doing things.

For me, however, these different categories of technology-users aren’t going away and aren’t actually the most important thing anyway.  The most important thing isn’t the technology, it’s the skills, stupid.  And I don’t mean technology skills.  I mean the basic skills and not-so-basic skills that we want our students to know to be successful in school, college, and beyond.

Try this.  Take a moment or two and list all the skills that your students are currently lacking or showing room for improvement.  Not technology skills, mind you. Just skills in general.  Things like reading comprehension, summarizing, annotating a document, etc.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait…

Got your list?  Great.  I imagine that list is pretty long.  It’s easy for teachers to see where students need improvement.  But we aren’t done yet.  Now, knowing that the laptop or iPad or whatever it is, isn’t going away, I want you to consider how that technology could be used to help you and your students work on all those skills you just listed.  What would you as the teacher need to learn how to do with the technology to help your students with the skills that you bemoan they do not have?  This is trickier, and you may have no idea what you would need to know or how you could use the technology.  I promise there are ways to do this, however.  If you are floundering with this bit of the exercise, it’s a sign that you need to talk to the technology experts and innovators at your school to help you begin to address this issue.

You see, whether you are an innovator, user, or non-user, this is a useful exercise. For innovators, by focusing back on the skills that students need, it can help them make sure they aren’t adopting some new technology just for the technology’s sake. For users, it can help them make sure that they are using the technology thoughtfully and in ways that improve student learning, not just to check off that they are using the technology to appease their principal.  And for the non-users, it takes away some of the excuses.  Besides just being unsure of how to use the technology, non-users tend to argue that the technology gets in the way of teaching the basic skills, and therefore, they can choose not to use the technology and still feel like they are doing the best for their students, still teaching them the skills they need.  This is often said without actually examining the veracity of the claim, however.  There may indeed be ways that the technology could improve student learning, but non-users will often not know this because they willfully choose to ignore the technology altogether.

This week, I’m going to be posting about my own experiences with the reflective exercise I’ve described above.  I am currently going through this process myself because I know there are ways that I could be using the technology more effectively and efficiently.  So the next post on this issue will be a list of the skills I see lacking in my students along with a way to prioritize that list according to importance.

If you decide to do this little exercise with me, I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment.



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