Sunday, May 8, 2016

Education Matters: A year-long conversation about education with the leading teachers in San Diego

Today the San Diego Union Tribune launches a new section called Education Matters. Over forty top educators from all over San Diego county have been invited to contribute answers to pressing questions in education. The conversation starts today.
Visit Education Matters to learn more.

The first topic is: The top three things that would help teachers most
This was my answer.

I believe the most common answer we will get for this question about the top three things teachers need, is time. I need more time to plan, more time to assess student work, more time with my students who are struggling with skills and content material, more time to collaborate with my colleagues, more time to attend school events, more time to reflect, and more time to take care of myself after doing all of the above.
Time, though is the one thing we can’t make more of. I’m a high school English teacher. I see over a hundred students a day. I assess 800-1000 examples of student work each year, and much of that is student writing pieces. I plan and implement 180 distinct days of instruction. I meet with my team of colleagues over seventy times during the year to look at student work, collaborate on our unit goals and materials, create assessments, and discuss what our students need most. I won’t even list all of the parent meetings, staff meetings, district meetings, surveys, phone calls, emails, and other paperwork that add up so quickly.
The solution to my workload though, isn’t more time, it’s better data. I need to know which of my students have learned a given skill and which need more support. I need to know which of my instructional strategies is most effective and which is not worth the time it takes to plan and implement. I need to know if students are acting on my feedback or not. I need to know who needs intervention most. I need to know how my students feel about their learning process and when they need a break. And I need all of this information sorted and packaged in a way that makes it easy for me to take action.
I won’t be greedy. I don’t need three things. I’ll take one very smart virtual assistant that can digest my students’ data, tell me what is and isn’t working in our classroom, point out which of my 100+ students need me the most, and give me time for creative lesson design, collaboration with my colleagues, small group instruction, and personal connections.
Knowing about our students strengths and needs is the art of teaching. But to make more time for the things that only a teacher can do best, we should leverage the talents of our digital tools. Some people will be appalled if I suggest that a machine can take over any of the work that thoughtful teachers do. But managing data is what computers do best, better than humans most of the time. If I had a really well designed classroom assessment system that also helped me evaluate the data, and made actionable suggestions, then I could be a better teacher. This is not the computer beating the chess champion. This is the computer playing alongside the chess champion and making suggestions. In the case of chess, a computer assist can make average players into amazing players. What could that do for teaching and learning?