When Dr. Ruben Puentadura devised the SAMR model as a pathway for teachers to integrate technology into instruction, he justified its existence in the following way: “I see students taking charge of their own education. Those are classrooms where the students say…’I can see a better way of doing that!’ There is a certain excitement [and] a certain ownership of learning.” In other words, he envisioned a world (and classrooms) where the teachers and the technology would work together to create student-centric environments.
I appreciate the simplicity and step-by-step approach of the SAMR model. More importantly, I appreciate the #awesomesauce potential it promises. Truly defining 1:1 in the classroom comes down to this:
These are the goals not only of the SAMR model, but of the redefinition of learning. Today’s classrooms should be teacher-bordered and not teacher-focused. Our learning environments should encourage students to individually find a better way to think, to solve, to learn, and to re-learn.
The 1:1 classroom offers that potential, for sure. But in my travels, I all too frequently see many districts or buildings or classrooms not quite hitting the mark. (I’m not getting all Judge Judy here, I promise!) I think that we all too often get stuck at the substitution level of the SAMR model when it comes to 1:1.
And then we get comfortable staying there.
And the next thing you know, we’re wearing sweats, we’ve abandoned makeup, the hair’s up in a messy ponytail, and we’re hanging out the couch, with pizza and Netflix now a substitute for our date night. In other words, we’ve stopped making an effort.
image courtesy of The Odyssey Online
We weren’t meant to get stuck. A digital worksheet is still just a worksheet, after all.
Being 1:1 isn’t just about the technology--because the technology isn’t going to magically make students empowered and engaged. Just because every kid has a device doesn’t mean that kid is using the technology to his or her advantage. We need to keep this top-of-mind when we introduce technology into our classrooms, schools, districts: “A one to one classroom occurs at the intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology.”
When I assist teacher teams with integrating technology into their classrooms, I lay out for them the things that need to really change--and that’s first and foremost the pedagogy. We can’t continue teaching to 21st century kids as if they’re 20th century ones. With that said, when teachers and administrators ask me how they can get started going 1:1, I always ask the following questions:
Are You Willing to Change the Design of Your Classroom?
A 1:1 classroom requires flexibility for both individual and collaborative work. Are you willing to ditch the desks? Are you accepting of the idea of a space that is stripped down, inviting, and designed for collaboration? Are you willing to give up your teacher desk (or as I call it, “Fort Desk”) in favor of a have-laptop-will-travel mentality to work with students? Are you ready to make your future-ready classroom brain-friendly? Simply put, does your classroom look like your local Starbucks or the Google offices? (Okay, okay...you probably can’t make it look exactly like the Googleplex, but consider the open spaces, collaborative idea sharing areas, and inviting atmosphere.)
Are You Willing to Give Up Control--and to Be Okay with Occasional Chaos?
Are you okay with not feeding students content via lecture notes, graphic organizers, and prepackaged worksheets from Teachers Pay Teachers? Are you okay with asking them questions and then letting them explore like free-range chickens? Are you okay with not having an airtight, rigid lesson plan? Are you okay with abandoning a lesson when an opportunity for exploration presents itself? Are you okay with letting students get it wrong occasionally--make mistakes, fail, and self-correct? Are you okay with not stepping in and taking over--being the guide and not the facilitator? Are you okay with students being out of their seats? Are you okay with non-silent, working students?
Are You Willing to Let Students Create?
Are you familiar with the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy--where creation is now the highest level of learning? Are you happy to let students show what they know instead of having them take and end-of-unit summative? Are you ready to let your students be content creators instead of content consumers? Knowing that whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning, would you be willing to let students teach something to increase their retention of material? Would you even be willing to let them write a textbook or create learning materials for their peers instead of simply recalling? Would you consider allowing students to publish to a global audience via YouTube, blogging, or the creation of a website?
Are You Willing to Give Up the One-Size-Fits All Mentality?
Can you create an assignment or activity that accommodates different types of learners? Will your learners have choice and voice in how they present their learning? (As Chris Lehmann points out, “If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that’s not a project. That’s a recipe.”) Would you consider different instructional delivery methods that might be self-paced? (Think HyperDocs or gamification here.)
And the biggie...
Are You Willing to Become a Flipper?
Can you get comfortable with the idea of assigning homework for classwork and classwork for homework? Can you give up lecturing and instead devise active learning experiences, problem-based learning, or peer instruction? Can you challenge yourself to deliver content outside of class that is engaging? Are you willing to let students use their mobile devices in the classroom to learn and create?
If the answer to the majority of the questions is yes, then we are good to go, to explore, to learn, to transform, If the answer is no, well, that’s neither bad or good--it’s just the way it is and some guided hand-holding and confidence-boosting needs to occur.
These are all uncomfortable questions, and it’s sometimes uncomfortable for me to ask them--and for educators to even consider them. But change doesn’t happen in our comfort zones.
Speaking of getting uncomfortable, let’s revisit that date night analogy again: Remember when things were new? You know, when we actually put forth some effort? When we shaved our legs, applied the eye shadow, curled the hair, and donned the heels? (Guys, not sure what your equivalent of date-night effort is. Don't throw shade at me.) Let's get back to putting forth the effort. It makes everyone happy.
We have to encourage ourselves and our colleagues to make the effort again, too. To not get comfortable. To ask of our current pedagogical practices, What can I do to keep this fresh?
We need to keep making the effort and we can’t stay comfortable.
Because our 21st-century students, after all, deserve our effort.
image courtesy of Pixabay
I overheard the following exchange between two junior-high students yesterday. (I wasn’t actively eavesdropping; simply trying to navigate the hallway between classes..sort of like a salmon swimming upstream.)
Student #1: Dude, I heard we have a sub for English.
Student #2: Awesome. That means we’ll have no work to do.
At that point, I was able to jump my salmon run for the upper river, but the students’ terse yet thought-provoking conversation got me thinking: what is it about a sub situation that prods kiddos to equate a substitute teacher with a free-for-all? There’s still a task to be addressed, work to be completed, and an outcome to be achieved. It’s not like it’s a study hall or a three-ring circus or an ecstasy-infused rave, right? (Okay, I know the kids think it will be, but the amount of work on a teacher’s part that goes into prepping for a substitute is almost more work than taking the personal or professional day. Simply recalling that time I had jury duty causes me to break out into a cold sweat as I write this.)
As I tend to do, I started to overthink it. Was the comment by Student #2 a passing, not-so-serious one? Or did it speak to something greater and more problematic with the whole notion of substitution?
In algebraic terms, substitution refers to simply putting numbers where the letters are. For example, What is x + x/5 when x = 15? If we substitute x for 15 in the equation, we arrive at the following: 15 + 15/3 = 15 + 5 = 20.
The final equation looks different, but it’s essentially the same thing--just dressed in a different costume. (Like a substitute teacher.)
If you’re lactose intolerant, you can opt for rice milk or soy milk as a substitute for dairy. The act of substitution here takes the place of another. In this instance, however--as those of us lucky to not be lactose intolerant know--no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise, there’s really no substitute for from-the-cow milk, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise. I’m not denigrating the lactose-intolerant; I myself am peanut intolerant, and no amount of chocolate-covered, roasted edamame is going to be as salty and satisfying as a Snickers bar--or so I discovered the one time I ingested one. (And by the way, it was so worth it.)
As I also tend to do, I’ve now wandered off my intended path and into the woods (or out of my stream and into a tributary, if I’m still going with the salmon metaphor). Anyway, my point here is that no matter how PC or self-delusional we choose to be, let’s face it: a substitute (whether it’s a teacher, algebra, soy, or roasted edamame) is never really quite as good as the real thing.
Which brings me to the S in SAMR...
If you’re unfamiliar with the acronym, I’m guessing you’ve probably spent the last five years or so trapped under a house (and in that case, you’ve got more pressing concerns than an acronym), or that it’s been on your radar and you haven’t gotten around to exploring it just yet. If that’s the case then, and before you read any further, I strongly encourage you to watch this quick and painless overview of SAMR.
Here’s the thing, though. I see a lot of us stepping onto that first rung of the ladder--the S (or substitution) level--patting ourselves on the back, and setting up camp there. In other words, we take what was once a paper worksheet and transfer it into a Google Doc. Or we exchange Google Forms for our paper quizzes. Or (and I swear I’ve seen this) we use Google Classroom to post our recycled Word Docs from last-year-at-the-same-time’s weekly homework.
There’s nothing wrong with taking that first step on the ladder. But when we stay there, either afraid to or unable to or unwilling to climb higher, then we’ve created an old classroom in a new way.
The psychiatric definition of substitution is the "turning from an obstructed form of behavior to a different and often more primitive expression of the same tendency" [emphasis mine]. Here, the "obstructed form of behavior" is the paper version; the "same tendency" is the idea that making something digital makes it new.
While we may create digital tasks to replace the paper ones, we’re still doing old things. We’re doing them differently, sure, but we’re not doing them in a challenging or engaging manner. A digital worksheet is still just a worksheet.
We need to modify and redefine our tasks instead of substituting them, and we can do that by heeding the call of 21st-century learning: strive for creativity and collaboration. Let’s take a book report, for example. Instead of typing it into a Google Doc (substitution) and having students use Easy Bib or a thesaurus add-on in conjunction with it (augmentation), encourage them to work collaboratively in Google Slides to create a literary walk (modification). Even better: allow them to use a video tool of their choice to create a book trailer (redefinition).
Substitution is a poor imitation of the original. (And just to be clear: I’m not book-ending this post by saying substitute teachers are a poor imitation. I’ve known some pretty amazing substitute teachers, as I’m sure you have.) When it comes to digital task design, however, we need to dump the substitute, because--and I quote--there’s really “no work to do.”
Most substitute teachers, though, aspire to something more--to have their own classrooms. And that’s how we should view the S in SAMR: it’s a good place to start; but let’s not get stuck there.
Let’s aspire to something greater.
Educational consultant + #pedtech coach in Cleveland, Ohio sharing innovative technology ideas for educators.