1:1 Does It Raise Test Scores? Ummm … That Might Not Be The Point? It Just Might Need To Happen Anyhow

I’m in my 27th year of teaching – the first half of those years were split between private Catholic schools and high income public schools – and for the last half at low income schools, also known as Title 1 or “At Risk” schools. I’ve almost always had some level of technology in my classroom, and since my 3rd year of teaching I’ve always had at least one computer in my class.

There has been discussion of late about the value of technology integration in schools, especially 1:1 laptop initiatives. Since I have had laptops in my classroom for the last 7 years, and the last year my students have each had a laptop at their disposal all day (but not to take home), I thought I’d weigh-in with my take-aways.

Having taught upper elementary at a “Title” school all through the implementation of NCLB (you know that would come up here) one of the downsides of math and literacy instruction only, pretty much at the expense of art, science, social studies … you know the list … has been that the schema students bring to upper elementary has gotten worse not better. If you think schema is not that important an element of reading try it! Read a technical or scientific journal on a subject you have limited background and schema in and see how long you can stay awake – much less stay with the meaning.

One of the benefits of having the internet available is the speed at which you can find pictures, video and other information about a topic to help build the schema students are missing so that reading is more comprehensible and interesting. Last year when I had a projector mounted in the ceiling of my classroom, attached to an internet connected computer I found out just how big a benefit it is.

“How many of you have seen a kangaroo hop or jump? …. Uh 2? (4th graders) well while you are reading the introduction to the story let me see what I can find.” In 1 minute I found 3 online videos showing kangaroos hopping around – one was shot from a helicopter showing a large kangaroo at full speed covering ground in huge chunks. I didn’t have to wait until the next day and then spend time looking – I found it immediately. The result? My students couldn’t wait to read the story to find out how the kangaroo got its legs. They were more focused – noted more of the vocabulary and what it meant – they were interested in reading. Just from having the access at MY fingertips.

Based from that experience, and a few others, we started using the net on their laptops to prepare them for reading more often. I would spend 10 to 20 minutes looking for web pages that would build their schema for reading and put them on our class wiki page, and then give them 10 to 20 minutes of class time to read and watch and learn and build at least some schema … and it paid off. Students would raise their hands and ask if they could read the story now (before time was up) … they were more focused during reading, and their answers to comprehension questions improved. More importantly, they enjoyed reading more, and when we went to the library they wanted books on those topics. Did that raise their test scores? I can’t say. I didn’t have a control group – but test scores or not they have improved.

Research on computer use and its impact on student writing goes back 20 years or more. Early on it was noted that when students word process their writing using a computer they write more, write more thoughtfully and spend more time editing. Students that are in my current class that were also in my class last year (I rolled my class from 4th to 5th) have word processed about 10 blog posts, several stories of 4 pages or more – journals, and other daily classwork. They still are more focused and thoughtful about their writing … it isn’t just the newness of using the laptops … they’ve been doing this for over a year (which is forever to a 9 year old).

So why does technology continue to engage them? Can’t say for sure. But from my experience – their work is more organized, harder to lose. Handwriting is taken out of the equation – students with poor handwriting love word processing – now their work is as neat as anyone’s. They get feedback from spell check quickly, so they can interact with the work without having to wait for the teacher or someone else to look at it. Editing is quicker, neater – their work looks better and better through the editing process instead of messier and messier. They can work at their own pace more easily. If you are slower you still saw and learned about kangaroos in the 10 minutes, if you are quicker you just saw more. Any other ideas you’ve experienced?

Blogging all by itself would be just about worth going 1:1. I remember 20 years ago IBM had ads on TV about a program they had called something like “Writing to Read.” Someone had noticed there was a direct connection about what you learned about language from writing and what you learned about language from learning to read – vocabulary, the “nut and bolts” of language, how sentences are put together and the reasons for punctuation become more obvious when you are writing them yourself and that carries into learning about reading.

Well that becomes so obvious when students are writing consistently and publishing that writing constantly like they do when you can blog easily. Because we have our laptops and no one has to wait until someone else finishes or we go to the school computer lab on Friday – we write all the time. There seems to be a huge payoff to that. When students get work done early and you tell them if they want they can work on their writing piece and they say, “all right!” something is happening that we should take note of.

So why do they have to blog? Why not just write all the time in some other way? A blog is published worldwide and you get comments about your writing. Think about how much kids like to IM and text message each other and you’ll get a clue. Most of the comments my students get are from each other … and they can’t wait to get and give those – but sometimes they get comments from students or parents or teachers they don’t even know, sometimes from other countries and continents. They can’t wait to write their next piece (is that good?).

There is so much I haven’t gone into yet about 1:1, but this post is too long already so I’ll end with this point. Technology is another area where the have nots are getting left behind. My wife is contemplating blogging with her students later this year. She has no laptops … but her students ALL have access at home. She can have them blog from home and they have parents that can help with any tech issues the students may have. Not my students. If we didn’t have EASY access through our laptops the consistency and constancy would be gone … it would happen occasionally and kids that were absent on “lab day” would be a problem and then it would be a struggle and probably get dropped.

“At Risk” students have as much a right to have access to and learn from and about these tools as anyone. Having them use these tools is imperative even if it doesn’t raise test scores. As Mark Ahlness said on his blog recently:
“These tools can’t be used as add ons. They have to replace existing practices.”

9 thoughts on “1:1 Does It Raise Test Scores? Ummm … That Might Not Be The Point? It Just Might Need To Happen Anyhow

  1. Pingback: Learning Is Messy - Blog » Blog Archive » Post about 1:1 At "In Practice”

  2. Brian,

    You raise a number of good points for me to keep in mind for my “experiment” next year.

    I wonder, though, if having access to technology is more “imperative” than having access to an engaging curriculum that encourages critical thinking and learning by doing (which might not use technology)? Of course, it’s also not necessarily a question of “either/or.”

    I just continue to have questions about focusing on “these tools” as a major thrust of pursuing educational reform. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I clearly see the benefit of using technology consistently as enrichment for English Language Learners and for Special Education students. And I can clearly see that in your classroom you use technology in an engaging way with your students.

    I’m just not convinced yet that an engaging curriculum using technology consistently provides more benefit than an engaging one that does not. I certainly see the importance of writing for an authentic audience, as your students do in their blogs. There are also many ways to have students do the same without a computer. I’m not sure in my own mind if there’s a substantial difference in learning between the two.

    I’m still open to changing my mind, and look forward to learning more from teachers like you; from studies like what came out of Maine last week about their laptop initiative; and from my own teacher-research next school-year.


  3. Brian, nice post. I am so with you there on the test scores…

    Larry, I understand your doubts. If you have not experienced first hand some of this transformation in the classroom, it probably is pretty hard to believe.

    Like Brian, I’m in my 27th year of teaching.

    In all those years I have never found anything to be a more powerful motivator for student writing – than the blog. Nothing else even comes close.

    When you see a tool like that right in front of you, go for it, that’s what I say. – Mark

  4. Alice I agree – because of that I can’t wait to see how his experience unfolds.

    Larry – I think both – we need an engaging curriculum (and I would agree technology is not magically going to overcome not having an engaging curriculum or teaching techniques) and we need to integrate technology, especially in Title 1 schools.

    If we put money into technology and do the same old stuff with it, then yes, waste of time and money. If we engage students by having them write more, communicate and share information and ideas with blogs, Skype, Wikis, digital photos and video as well as PE, science, the arts, … then I believe we begin to engage them with tools they want to use anyhow. My students don’t have computers and the like at home, but they have cell phones and know how to use them – they already have a sense of how to communicate with those tools – lets use that to engage them in school.

    What percentage of the population uses chalk or dry erase markers much after they leave school? Not many. What percentage use technology after they leave school? At some level – Most. We put our students at a disadvantage if they don’t have a basic understanding of tools they will use later in life.
    You say, “I’m just not convinced yet that an engaging curriculum using technology consistently provides more benefit than an engaging one that does not.” And “There are also many ways to have students do the same without a computer.”

    Could you give examples? How do you have students publish to the world and share work with the world without technology? Will jobs of the future use less or more technology? Why do affluent schools have labs and 1:1 computing models and their parents make sure their kids have access to these tools? What advantage does that experience give them in high school and college?

    If you use the tools I listed above consistently, I believe it is difficult to NOT have a more engaging curriculum than what you have now.
    Does there need to be a lot of training and discussion and planning that goes along with this … yes. But that discussion needs to be about learning, and teaching students to be learners AND teaching teachers to be learners with the quill pens, bark, slates of the 21st century. If we stopped buying textbooks and programs that have a history of not working very well – I think the money is mostly there already too.
    Thanks Larry – look forward to your upcoming experience and hearing all about it.

  5. Several things came to mind as I read this.

    Schema, yes. But it doesn’t have to come from the internet. Studying Science and Social Studies is worthwhile for more than supporting reading comprehension. Not to say that increased reading ability isn’t a good reason to learn more things. Schema can also be constructed from teacher storytelling. And how often have we known kids to form erroneous conclusions from limited exposure to a new idea? Lots of reasons to go “all tangential” and read widely. Computers can help, but other stuff is just as good, or better.

    Computers may be useful for some kids with writing, but I’m not convinced that they’ll do that for everyone. Keyboarding is as big a problem as handwriting for some kids. And in either case, if it isn’t automatic, it inhibits the flow of ideas. I think there may be a lot of people who are reluctant to go public with their writing, and we should pay attention to that. I’ve got a split, maybe you could call it a chasm, in my class this year between subsets of kids who do and don’t want to write – ever, at all. Not sure what to do about that, but it doesn’t seem like putting their stuff online is really the way to go.

    I do think that it would be nice to have full time access to a set of computers. But we’ve got a cart load in our room for long periods. Other stuff – like science and math, though – they aren’t so useful for. Getting any serious work done, when they’re here today and gone tomorrow is tough. And only a couple of my students will do anything at home, voluntarily, for school.

    The “engaging curriculum” vs “access to technology” problem that Larry mentioned is a false dichotomy, I think. And it crops up all the time in discussions like this. Taking it kid by kid, teacher by teacher, it’s hard to say what would be best for everyone. Why do we have to chose? We don’t. Both are compatible, and necessary.

    I’d like to detail my experience this year more thoroughly here, soon, in a full-blown post. This is my fourth group of kids who’ve had the chance to publish to the web – my first group of sixth graders. It’s really different this time ’round. It’s strange, because I worked with several of my students two years ago when they were in fourth grade. But they aren’t the ones having trouble. We aren’t really running with all our wheels on the ground right now, and I’m thinking that I might need to make some adjustments to the way I “usually” do things. That’s what makes the job interesting, eh?

    Thanks for the stimulating post, Brian. I seem to be the person who’s always got his eye on the exceptions. They drive me nuts.

  6. I continue to appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments — and gentle encouragement. All food for thought as I make plans for next year.

    As I mentioned, I’m sure writing for an authentic audience through a blog or online journal is a postive and helpful experience for students. In fact, I have my mainstream students do it for our class while they’re in their computer applications classes.

    I, though, in my experience have found the most powerful motivator for student writing be when they have to write and present their writing to people face-to-face. I’ve had students prepare units to teach to our classes and to other groups of students. They’ve prepared analyses of job training programs that they’ve presented to decision-makers. They’ve prepared health information and then distributed the brochures to their neighborhoods.

    Again, despite my self-proclaimed moniker, I’m not trying to be a Luddite or a “devil’s advocate.” I guess, though, as Alice put it, I am a “classic hard sell.”


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  8. First, they really need to figure out a way to save people’s comments when they forget the spam word. I hate re-writing things. Anyway, here’s attempt #2 as best as I can remember. I said the first time:

    First, congratulations on your nomination.
    Second, I work in a 1:1 district. We are a public school system that has Dells for High School and Apples for Middle School.

    I agree with the comments above about engaged lessons and imparting technology skills in our students, but I wanted to add one comment about problems I’ve seen that I didn’t read about here, and 1 benefit I’ve seen that I didn’t read about here.

    The major problem we have is with students treating their computers correctly. They just don’t seem to care about them, thus, the cost in repairing them is astronomical. Another problem is being able to get teachers trained in technology uses. There just isn’t enough time to train everyone properly, and many teachers just keep saying, “I don’t get technology” and give up.

    One benefit I didn’t see mentioned, so I hope I didn’t overlook it, is the 24/7 learning environment that is created with laptops. I think this is very helpful for honors students who often want to extend their learning, but have a hard time doing it in a Monday- Friday, 8-3pm environment.

    I taught an online summer class fo the last two years, and the students appreciated very much the ability to turn in work at 10pm, chat with their teacher online, and even interact with other students from across the county.

    OK, now I copied my comments, pasted them into Word, and will try to submit again . . . here goes . . .

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