04 January 2012

Changing Gears 2012: its not about 1:1

(1) ending required sameness     (2) rejecting the flipped classroom     (3) re-thinking rigor     (5) start to dream again    (6) learning to be a society (again)     (7) re-thinking what "literature" means       (8) maths are creative, maths are not arithmetic     (9) changing rooms     (10) undoing academic time     (11) social networks beyond Zuckerbergism     (12) knowing less about students, seeing more     (13) why we fight

When 1:1 keeps school looking like school has 'always' looked. (Vermont)
One-to-One is not a new concept. In the early 1840s William Alcott pressed for adoption of 1:1 slates for students in Common Schools, even the poor, rural farm kids who attended summer school. (There is vast mis-information regarding the root of our American school calendar, but we'll leave that for another time...) Alcott thought 1:1 slates far more important than 1:1 books, which was an idea which came to most public schools much later. But 1:1 books were thought to have great advantages as well.In 1883 Britain adjusted its educational code so that it, "stipulated that schools should have ‘sets’ of readers – a ‘set’ denoting that there should be enough so that each child could have access to the text." (Yeandle) Though Noah Webster introduced the first widely used textbook into America during the early decades of the republic ("The Blue-Backed Speller"), adoption of 1:1 textbooks was very slow. Until World War II it was common - certainly in urban schools - for there to be one textbook per desk, with desks shared by two students. Teachers often arranged seating to match-up reading speeds (related by many former New York City Public School students). Even in 2004 Oakes and Saunders were troubled that in California, "shortages and poor quality of textbooks and instructional materials often exist," shortages, meaning that students could not take textbooks home, and sometimes had to share textbooks in class.

Complete books under student control were seen as especially valuable "universal design" tools, "Previous to January 1, 1898, the students received their textbooks in the form of paper covered pamphlets, averaging about 50 pages each, and these were sent only one at a time to each student as he progressed with his studies. The result was that if a student failed to complete his course, he had on hand not more than two instruction papers in advance of the last one he had studied. This tended to create a dissatisfaction, and, to overcome it, we reprinted the entire text of the course, and sent to every student, at the time of his enrollment, a set of what we term bound volumes. These volumes contained everything that the student would receive in connection with his course of instruction, and if he failed to complete the course he had his bound volumes at any rate, and could continue studying by himself if he so desired."

Game-changing? not necessarily... (Hawaii)
There were problems, of course. Tyack (1974) talks about huge textbook graft scandals between 1890 and 1910 as schools tried to acquire masses of these volumes (p. 95). Another issue was funding this new technology rather than teachers. Textbooks assumed "primacy" in the classroom, Tyack (1974, p. 47) and many others note, because the teachers being hired, usually minimally educated women, lacked the knowledge to teach subjects themselves.

Or...this kind of looks like turning an iPad into a worksheet... (Scotland)
So, 1:1 is basically designed around two things which are, interestingly, contradictory. First, they allow "everyone," all students, to do the same thing at the same time. But second, they also allow control to flow from the room instructor to others - either a remote "teacher" such as a textbook author or publisher, from McGuffey to Pearson, or to the students themselves.

On this anniversary of one of the great 1:1 efforts of all
The King James Bible, we pause to consider
the purposes...
To really understand, let's move back one step further, to the real origins of 1:1. The book in every hand comes from Calvinism and Lutheranism. The use of 1:1 in the Reformation was for the very same contradictory reasons above. The distribution of printed Bibles, and then, in the Anglican Communion, the Book of Common Prayer, allowed "control" of the message to shift from a local priesthood - stories shared orally as in the Catholic Church - to a "remote teacher," be he John Calvin, Martin Luther, Henry VIII, or whomever created the translation.

However the flip side, again, was a new level of individual control in time and space. Though the Reformation introduced the idea of "fixed text"1 for the first time (previously every copy of a book had been individually created, and so was different from all previous versions in both fact and in understanding), people who now owned a Bible, or simply had access to the book themselves if they were quiet about it in the back of the church, might - on their own, flip between pages. Our schools, created in both the United States and the British Empire along the model of the dominant church experience, replicated this system. Unlike Catholic Cathedrals focus in the room is singular. Unlike the Catholic Mass, everyone holds a book. Yet, at the same time, it is expected that all in the room are on the same page.

Both of these missions, the "remote control" and the personal control, offer opportunities and create problems. So the question is, step four in Changing Gears 2012 - as we approach "the next 1:1" - how do we do something different?

"It is true we should not allow the pupils to have slates in their hands the whole time. Though it should be our aim to give them constant employment, yet their employment should be varied. Even the slate, if it were at their command continually, would become tiresome." (Alcott, 1841, p. 11) Basic fact, 170 years ago and today, one tool is tiresome, whatever it is. So is one chair, one kind of desk, one kind of light, one kind of book, one noise level. Kids need choice, variety, challenge, and that is what is too often in short supply in classrooms.

No matter how engaging that slate was - and Alcott was a strong believer that kids needed significant free play time with the device if they were going to use it well - no matter how engaging that tablet from your favorite "cool" manufacturer is, one type of device in a 1:1 environment, in any environment, is a huge mistake.

Alternatives to 1:1: Wall newspapers, read by communities.
We have proof of this. Our 1:1 with textbooks clearly has failed. Our 1:1 with the dreaded Middle School Organizer is a nightmare. Our 1:1 with all-the-same classroom furniture, lights, noise has left teachers spending the bulk of their time on discipline.

If 1:1, that is, all-the-same 1:1, has failed "us," or, at the very least has limited the population which can succeed (in that very Calvinist notion of a limited number of places in heaven), then, where do we look for other ideas? And what are the consequences of moving away from "one to one"?

One step is to move backwards conceptually as we move forward technologically. I am not one who really sees "the Gutenberg era" as a real bit of progress, but as an aberration in human communication and tool use created by technological progress.2 Before Gutenberg text was highly flexible, highly personalized, and usually created for a particular community. Tools were, in that pre-industrial era, much the same.

Not 1:1: Brooklyn streetcorner class in English
That system, which we may indeed see if we enter a large urban Catholic Cathedral in most parts of the world, functions in a different way. Everyone is not seated. Everyone is not using the same tools. Multiple representations - and interpretations - of "the stories" are everywhere, in stained glass windows, in sculptures, in candles, in incense, in music. People come to Mass at one time, or they come at another, or they choose to pray by themselves, or in small groups, or they just come to think.

We can also see it wherever people gather "naturally." In city squares, in front of schools, on the lawns of university campuses. I always begin thinking about great learning spaces with my vision of The Long Meadow in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. On a warm day there, in Frederick Law Olmstead's greatest creation, you will see people learning in every way with every conceivable device. Many read print books, many work on their phones, many learn kinesthetically - on one walk I watched three Jamaican guys teaching two Orthodox Jewish guys how to play Cricket. Truly, we can see it anywhere adults gather to work, devices are different, are used differently, people choose different chairs, they work together or alone.

How do we then, in a school, offer "remote teaching" but not insist on it, offer individual control but make collaboration the more normal "norm," allow for choice, for preferences, for differences?

Watch this video again, choice of tools, choice to collaborate, choice of where
and how to work, and choice of time for completion as well.

My argument is for a mix of "BYOD" and the "Tool Crib" within a context of open scheduling, open spaces, and hybrid opportunities within the school itself. With "BYOD" [Bring Your Own Device] meaning we use open networks and allow kids to bring their own tools if they have them, "Tool Crib" meaning we have a range of devices, different types, brands, sizes, for kids to choose to support their learning, "Open Scheduling" meaning we no longer insist that kids stop learning because a bell rings, "Open Spaces" meaning we don't trap kids in places they cannot be comfortable, and "Hybrid Opportunities" means that while on-line learning is great, it is our job as educators and as adults to actually see our students, to hear them, to watch their body language, to be able to intervene - in other words, on-line learning should not mean leaving children "home alone."

Learning via choice and comfort. A high school library on a Friday morning.

If I want to write on the floor of the corridor and you want to write on an iPad and Jimmy over there wants to dictate into the TabletPC, that's all cool... learning intelligent, effective tool use is task number one for humans. If Jenny wants to listen to the teacher explain this equation and I want to use my phone to go on-line and find something else, that's cool... knowing how one learns best is probably task number two for humans. If Kristin wants to sit in the classroom in a chair, and Willy wants to sit in the classroom on the floor, and I want to participate but via Skype from the corner down the hall because I don't want to be around people today, that's cool as well... its the 21st Century, we live and work everywhere.

In the end, I'm asking you to resist to lure of 1:1, which all too often in practice looks exactly like school has "always" looked - a whole bunch of kids, facing one way, doing the same things at the same time. Outfit tool cribs for your students, a whole range of devices which all offer different capabilities, different affordances, and cater to differing preferences and capabilities. Offer tool cribs from the start, so kids learn the power of choice, and encourage kids to choose to work alone or together.

If I hadn't offered kids real choices I would not have heard middle schoolers dismiss iPads as "granny phones," I wouldn't have learned how great Dragon Light on the iPad - iTouch - iPhone is, I wouldn't have learned all you can do editing video on an Android Phone, I wouldn't have seen kids love tablets for sharing and hate them if they had to carry them. But more importantly, the kids would not have learned, not for themselves, and not from each other.

- Ira Socol
next: start to dream again

1. The "fixed text" applies to concepts of interpretation and Calvinist notions of "free will." The Calvinist notion of humans as "so depraved" as to lack even the ability to choose "grace," suggests that authorial intent is in control, as far from "reader response theory" as possible. We can see the impact of this half a  millennium later. Catholic Bibles are traditionally footnoted with references which offer paths to other places of knowledge. This is almost never true of Protestant Bibles.
2. Thanks to Bill Sterrett for including this video (from the 2010 CESI Conference) in his new book, Insights into Action: Successful School Leaders Share What Works. (bit of self promotion)

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