“The Only Thing Worse Than Being Bored Is Teaching The Bored” – Michael Fullan

At ISTE 2012 in San Diego this year, I had the pleasure of hearing Michael Fullan speak to his book Stratosphere: Integrating technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge. This is the first time that I have heard Fullan mention technology at all in relation to effecting change for student engagement and achievement and to pedagogy in general. Early in his talk, Fullan mentioned that “the only thing worse than being bored is teaching the bored.” As a person that has devoted a large part of his career to engaging students to best meet their own individual needs, strengths and interests this particular quote resonated with me and continues to do so. Any teacher that has ever been in front of a group of students can easily identify a student that is bored, disengaged, and otherwise unenthralled with a lesson, activity, or topic. That’s the easy part…identifying the bored. The harder and more interesting question is how to relieve the boredom, how to reengage the disengaged, and how to resurrect that love of learning that all young children in JK/SK-Grade 2 have. Better yet, rather than having to resurrect the love for learning, how to we sustain early so that disengagement in learning never occurs?

In this regard, Fullan spoke to a graph which showed a solid and continued declinement in enthusiasm to learn from 95% in kindergarten to 76% in Grade 3. That’s a 20% declinement in engagement in just two years. It gets worse. The data Fullan shared indicated that this # dropped even further to approx. 58% by grade 5 and a whopping 37% by Grade 9. I must say that I noticed a strong lack of engagement in students very early in my teaching career. After all, the novels they were reading were the same I had read 20 years prior and the assignments weren’t much different either. At that time, I made a pact with myself that I would not teach students the same that their parents were and would make their learning as relevant, as exciting, and as contextual as possible. After all…why would I subject them to the same boring lessons that bored me?

For me, the integration of technology into the teaching and learning process was essential. I blended learning for my students before I had even heard the term and I provided students with a medium and outlet to utilize the technology and gadgets they were accustomed to in their daily life. For the past few years I my role as a consultant I continue to support teachers with the fluid and seamless integration of technology into their teaching and learning cycles as both a means to engage students, increase student achievement, and engage the children’s parents in the same.

Overall, Fullan mentions that technology has dramatically affected virtually every sector in society that you can think of except education. I have seen this. I have encountered many a teacher and principal that has told me that “technology gets in the way”, that it “distracts”, that it “confuses”. I have even had some tell me that they “…don’t have time to learn new things.” If Fullan’s numbers are accurate and the steady drop in student enthusiasm is as extreme as he says then the moral imperative demands that we make time to learn new things, that we work as hard as we can to understand each and every student as an individual and, yes, use technology in whatever way possible to enhance the learning experience, to provide opportunities for success, and to make all aspects of learning transparent for all stakeholders involved.

Fullan talks about “Intrinsic Motivation” and asks “What strategies cause or motivate people to put in the energy to get the desired results?” This is a vital question. For to add to the decline in student enthusiasm, Fullan describes a gap in teacher engagement as well. A survey Fullan mentioned in his talk at ISTE 2012 indicated that teachers considering leaving the teaching profession were 1 in 4 and that 55% of new teachers leave the profession by year 5 (In Washington by year 2). Without a steady workforce it is very difficult to maintain focus and stability in either a school or a district. He went on to say that “…more teachers in this country (the US I’m presuming here as we we in the States at the time) have the highest years of experience as year 1. It must be a made a priority that we maintain a steady workforce so that these new teachers feel they have opportunities to learn and to grow and provide them with materials and resources to streamline their practice, support them in the continued understanding of their students, and tools through which to personalize learning for each student and respond appropriately. Increased use and support of technology is the tool that will support the movement of teachers into their new role as coach, guide, and facilitator. To act as change agents to maintain early engagement in learning and to sustain that engagement throughout the entire continuum of learning. By harnessing the power of the technology that sits in the backpack of every student (cellphone, smart phone, tablet, iPad, Android, Kindle, laptop, etc.) and blending those tools with school or board provisioned tools (computer labs, Smart Boards, iPod Touches, iPads, etc) teachers can make learning “Irresistibly engaging for both [themselves] and [their] students.”

The key here, however, is that students are not engaged by the sheer virtue of a devices existence. “Technology must be based in good pedagogy.” Their must be a solid purpose and goal for the use of any tool in the teaching and learning process and technology is no exception. For you see, it is the teacher that engages the student, not the technology. We must also remember that just because students can be engaged through the use of technology, it doesn’t mean they are learning anything. As with anything, the integration of technology into learning must come with the appropriate professional development to support the teacher in both the technical use of the equipment and the pedagogical use of the equipment. Technology changes practice – and practice must change with it.

[jbox title=”Technology can enhance and support:”]

Collaboration & Networking: Real time, expansive, and authentic connection both local and remote (i.e. Twitter / blog / text chats with peers from the school, the community, the broader district and around the world)

Virtual Simulations: Field trips and scavenger hunts with Google Earth, biodiversity study with apps like leaf snap and Butterfly HD and Plants HD

Differentiation: Story boarding and storytelling with ToonTube, iMovie Trailers, podcasting / screen casting for oral reflection and explanation versus traditional pen and paper tasks (Show Me, Screen Chomps, My Story), virtual posters (Glogster) versus Bristol board, .epub creations in iBooks versus paper printouts

Assessment as, for, of learning: The are so many different ways to capture the learning of students in an ongoing basis with tools such as the Livescribe pen (capture descriptive feedback during individual and group conferencing and share back to the student to support their learning and growth), individual and group commentary on a reading, news article or photo with VoiceThread, capture reflective practice with a blog and have students continue those reflections in response to their peers, etc. Use poll everywhere, smart response, Socratic, etc for diagnostic and ongoing assessments to both gauge / activate prior learning, determine how lessons need to be tweaked and where corrective instruction may be necessary, where like-ability peers could be grouped to move on and those that need more support can receive it.[/jbox]

All of these pedagogical strategies to support learning are made easier and more efficient with technology. And, further, all of the strategies I’ve listed about can be easily shared on a website, blog, email. Or text with parents so that the learning of their children can be made visible and they have an opportunity to engage in that learning with understanding and context. Technology truly shatters the brick and mortar wall and turns them into glass. I can’t think of any parent that wouldn’t appreciate that.

To conclude my reflection on this topic, Fullan discussed that Innovative teaching practices occurred when:

  • Teachers collaborated
  • Teachers engaged in PD
  • School leadership supported innovative instruction and technology
  • System provided focus and support

Like anyone learning new things it is important to know that you are not alone and at you are supported. Opportuntieis to collaborate, connect, and learn are key. Only then will change for the benefit of students occur.

To be a change agent:

  • Remember to be focused with specificity on why you are using any particular device, what the intended outcomes are, and what needs to happen to make it a reality
  • Focus on innovation with empathy – Give the other party respect before they’ve earned it – greater chance of breaking the cycle
  • Build Capacity – high social capital is the dominant strategy
  • Focus on Positive Contagion – strategies that make it easy to find out how other people are doing things – not going to research first – going to practical first and then the research
  • Be Transparent With Your Learning – co-learn with your colleagues and staff
  • Eliminate of non-essentials
  • Leadership is Key – teachers, administrators, and senior administrators as change agents
  • Strong practice of non-judgementalism – judgementalism is de-motivating

Change will become more enjoyable when it proffers experiences that are engaging precise and specific: higher order and collaborative

2 Comments

  1. Dear Aaron,

    Thank you for this beautifully-written, thoughtful piece on a subject that has perplexed me as I try to excite my college-level students. If, as Fullan sugggests, the decline reaches 39% by grade 9, how much farther does it drop by college.

    Even though I require my students to bring laptops to every class and work hard to spark them each class, I still kid them that they must all be constipated!to show such slight enthusiasm on their faces.

    In any case, keep up your great work.

    Dave Lambert

  2. I’m sorry I missed Fullan’s lecture in San Diego. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him twice in London. Thank you for writing about the essential points. I look forward to reading the book. Waiting for the Kindle addition!

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