“It is a dangerous game when in the name of innovation we decide that the skills of the past have no place in our future.” by Weston Kieschnick, March 5,2020, NCTIES Keynote 2020
I experienced an amazing speaker at the #NCTIES2020 Conference on March 5 and 6. Our opening keynote was delivered by Weston Kieschnick, author of Bold School: Old School Wisdom + New School Technologies = Blended Learning That Works. He asked us to tag our comments on Twitter during the conference like this: #boldschool. He has a popular podcast, Teaching Keating, to which I will be listening. I was intrigued by a concept of #boldschool so I was all eyes and ears!
One of Weston’s main points in his keynote presentation was for teachers to realize that we shouldn’t get so focused on the new “stuff” and lose sight of what we want to accomplish for children. He displayed a handwritten note written in cursive from Frederick Douglass to Abe Lincoln asking Lincoln to allow African Americans to fight in the Civil War. Even though the room was filled with at least a thousand educators, very few of us could understand the cursive because it is unlike the cursive which most of us learned. His point was not that we should all start teaching cursive again even though many states have put cursive back into our elementary standards, but he made a bold and wise summary:
“It is a dangerous game when in the name of innovation we determine that the skills of the past have no place in our future.”
If we rely on an Artificial Intelligence to read to us Frederick Douglas’ cursive writing, then we are accepting that the interpretation of the words are coming from someone who is not a human. What if by relying on Artificial Intelligence, words were left out which reinterpreted historical documents? It seems that we are losing our ability to read the documents from our past, even the U.S Constitution, and are just letting it happen all while embracing the new technology. We can show our students primary source documents like the Frederick Douglass letter to Mr. Lincoln, but many of them cannot read it. Whew. Tech tools are many and most impressive, but what about the act of reading in cursive?
In other words, when in the educational world, we see the next trend or the exiting of a teaching practice which helps students learn new skills just because the next new thing looks better, we’re not using wisdom. For example. a few years ago, cursive writing was no longer being taught in many schools around America, in an effort to focus on learning to type on a keyboard. Years later, keyboarding appears to be taking a back seat and we’re allowing kids to invent their own keyboarding techniques. Currently, Keyboarding skills are beginning to not seem so important in some schools because students can do “speech to text”.
Weston suggested that we embrace a culture of “And” not “Or’’’. We should not be about old school or new school practices. Elevating a culture of “And” and not “Or” will help us integrate our wisdom into current and future instructional strategies and tech tools. We need to have innovative teachers and schools which are teaching skills that kids need: reading and writing strategies, math, science, social studies AND technology skills which should not still be called 21st Century skills because they are just skills. Great teachers use what has worked in teaching and keep learning about new technology to inform best instructional practices.
The crowd in the room cheered and clapped when Weston declared: “Education is NOT Broken!” He said that the American graduation rate is higher now than it has ever been in our country’s history. (85% Graduation rate in 2017) When America’s kids are compared with kids in Denmark, he said that as of around 6th grade, the Danes place children in tracks that lead to blue collar or white collar jobs. The white collar students go on to receive instruction which is different than that of the blue collar students. Our American children are then compared to the track of white collar kids in Denmark in international comparisons. In this case, we’re comparing apples and oranges. His point was that we should not accept the narrative that all is wrong in American schools. Sure, we seek to improve always and close achievement gaps but with at least an 85% graduation rate of ALL American students at this time, we should be proud of our progress.
Next, he mentioned that items from our past have informed the future technology. For example, the wall phone in the 1970’s with the long tangly cord, brought us later to the iPhone. Our black and white TV’s with three channels and rabbit ears of the 1970’s happened first then transformed into Virtual Reality. The A-Z Encyclopedias led us to the knowledge found in “Wikipedia” (from which even the word “Wikipedia” was created). Passing notes in school or envelopes delivered by the U.S. Mail service became our current texts, tweets and emails.
Weston’s quote here really resonated with me: “Wisdom informs innovation. If you abandon the former in pursuit of the latter, you will capture neither.” There are always going to be new and exciting technologies becoming available, however, the excitement of the new could lead to poor decisions. Just using the technology may not actually teach students the needed skills. Teachers should combine the teaching strategies which have worked with the technologies of today thus allowing students the best of both worlds.
His idea of “Bold School” comes from the combining of old school and blended learning. No masterful teacher, he said, should identify as old school or new school but as “Bold School” where we blend together our best teaching strategies and online learning design. Most of all, he emphasized, “Be intentional about instructional design. What gets planned gets done. Focus on the learning outcome not on what I am going to do with this tech tool then assess for Rigor and Relevance where students are working and thinking not just the teacher working.”
Here are some instructional strategies that Weston encouraged us to use during our lessons:
Here is a You Tube Video of Weston giving a similar speech at a TED Talk in 2019:
Here are some of Weston’s go-to #edtech tools at the moment:
@mentimeter for Feedback
@edpuzzle for Interactive Video
@poppletny for Concept Mapping
@Google for Socratic Seminar
@DeckToys for Goal Setting/Voice/Choice
GimKit – like a marriage of Kahoot and Quizlet
During the rest of NCTIES, I collected Tech Tools that make sense which make teaching strategies more highly effective.
Weston referenced John Hattie’s work near the end of his talk at NCTIES: “The measure of a great teacher is what kids are doing where we have used highly effective instructional strategies.” His keynote presentation really zoomed in on what is important which is to set our priorities on teaching well while using the best tech tool that will allow us to accomplish our desired learning outcomes. His words keep replaying in my mind, especially this one: “Our children can’t succeed in classrooms where there is a tool surplus and a strategy deficit.”