ASCD 2012 | Conference Coverage

Technology Moving Teachers from Front to Center of the Classroom

Real-time data allows for differentiating instruction based upon student needs, presenters say

As approximately 8,000 educators came together for the 67th ASCD Annual Conference & Exhibit in Philadelphia this weekend, the topic of the transition to the Common Core State Standards initiative took center stage. Under these new standards, educators across the country will work under the same guidelines for what students need to know and are expected to do.

But not far behind in attendee interest was the impact of technology on K-12 education. Speakers focused on the potential for technology to allow educators to get to know their students better, differentiate their instruction, and create digital learning materials together.

The pace of change over the last decade has forever altered the relationship between teachers and students by providing for instant access to information and immediate feedback, said Debra Hill, president-elect of ASCD and an associate professor at Argosy University in Washington, DC. “If you don’t believe me, just check your Facebook page and Twitter feed. These dramatic changes are causing us as individual professionals to rethink the way we learn, teach and lead,” she said.

That rethinking can cause some anxiety on the part of teachers. Indeed, one of the most interesting sessions was called “Why You Could Be Replaced by a Computer--And Why You Won't Be.”

Bruce Taylor, the former director of education and community programs at the Washington National Opera, told attendees that they would have to adapt to increasingly intelligent systems and virtual instructors, with students having answers to complex questions at their fingertips.

“Look at the amount of technology on the exhibit floor,” he said. “Education software is in its primitive state. Think of where it’s going to go in 10 years. It will be IBM’s Watson and Apple’s Siri and the iPad combined.”

But Taylor sought to convince teachers in the audience that the Common Core assessments would ask students to reason, integrate, and demonstrate knowledge. “This will allow you to focus on things that make them human and not flesh-and-blood hard drives,” he said. “There will be less dependence on rote answers and more emphasis on the application of content and a greater focus on interpretation and analysis.”

The ASCD conference exhibitor hall had a strong tech flavor, with an emphasis on curriculum mapping, online professional development and systems that can provide educators with real-time data to improve student performance.

In one presentation, two middle school teachers from Fleetwood, PA, described how last year they began using math and reading benchmark assessments to identify and address areas of need with fifth-grade students. One of the teachers, Patti Herman, said the five classroom teachers turned to the benchmarking function of Web-based software from Study Island to assess the students’ strengths and areas for improvement to help assign specific topics the students would focus on. Teacher Candace Hall said the teaching team set up a six-day cycle of “Target Time” for focused Study Island usage in math and reading. (The software is state-specific, so the students were working on material developed with the Pennsylvania Assessment Anchors in mind.)

Although the state benchmark is that 76 percent of the students should be advanced or proficient, the Fleetwood team was encouraged enough by the progress they were making with students that they gradually upped the ante to 90 percent, Hall said.

By differentiating instruction based upon student needs and using the benchmark tests to direct instruction, the school was able to jump from 59 percent proficient at the beginning of the school year to 91 percent advanced and proficient in May 2011, they said. “This gives me real-time data I need as a classroom teacher,” Herman said, “so that I know what to focus on with each student. I know so much more about them.”

Hall added that administrators and teachers shouldn't have students sit in front of a computer all day. “Technology does not equal a teacher,” she said. “You have to take the time to learn the technology, but you have to maintain your role as an expert on the subject matter and tools.”

About the Author

David Raths is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer focused on information technology. He writes regularly for several IT publications, including Healthcare Innovation and Government Technology.