First Steps

 Monday, November 26, 2012. 7:00 p.m. High School Media Center.

For the first hour and a half of the meeting, I found myself struggling to make sense of the educational jargon coming thick and fast in the school improvement plan reports for Sibley and Bridgewater Elementary Schools. SMART goals, benchmarking, RtI, screening, progress monitoring, DIBELS, flexible grouping, differentiation, core. As the teachers and principals stood and gave their presentations, and while the current board members nodded thoughtfully and asked informed questions, I began to feel like a struggling student in need of a tier 2 intervention. In other words, I needed extra help.

When I got home, the first thing I did was hit the Internet. I Googled “RtI,” eliminated the three top hits (“RTI—Cooking Oil Disposal and Management” was clearly irrelevant), and clicked on the Wikipedia article for “Response to Intervention,” which provided me with this definition:

In education, response to intervention (commonly abbreviated RTI or RtI) is a method of academic intervention used in the United States to provide early, systematic assistance to children who are having difficulty learning. RTI seeks to prevent academic failure through early intervention, frequent progress measurement, and increasingly intensive research-based instructional interventions for children who continue to have difficulty.

I started to read the rest of the article, but as many people do when reading on the Internet, I found myself doing more skimming and scrolling than actual reading. I wanted to find the salient points and move on.

According to Nicholas Carr, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, “our hyperactive online habits are damaging the mental faculties we need to process and understand lengthy textual information.” As a result, “because of the internet, we have become very good at collecting a wide range of factual titbits, we are also gradually forgetting how to sit back, contemplate, and relate all these facts to each other.”  I should point out that these quotations are actually from an article in The Guardian that I skimmed online. In my initial search for information about RtI, I was a good example of the “shallow” habits of mind that skeptics fear are being cultivated in an online environment.

There is another side to the argument. In Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology (2009), Allan Collins and Richard Halverson argue that technology facilitates what they call “just-in-time learning.” The Internet makes it possible to find out what you need to know “whenever you need to learn something to accomplish a task” (Collins and Halverson 14).  In my case, I needed to learn about RtI so that I could understand school improvement plan reports. A Google search and an article on Wikipedia gave me almost immediate access to relevant information. According to Collins and Halverson, “the idea behind just-in-time learning is to develop the skills that allow learners to find the right information anywhere, not just in classrooms with teachers.” They write:

The skills necessary for just-in-time learning are more skill-based than fact-based. Cultivating the ability to ask good questions (maybe in the form of a Google search!) is more valuable, from the [technology] enthusiasts’ perspective, than learning a lot of basic facts (Collins and Halverson 15).

In this view, the use of technology is a skill that combines with other important skills, such as information literacy and critical thinking, to enable students to teach themselves.

For me, a simple Google search (which involved sifting through and evaluating results and eliminating, for example, cooking oil recycling) was no more than a point of entry into the subject I wanted to learn. My investigation soon took me to an online library catalog, which in turn led me to a printed book on the subject. Next month, I’m planning to observe RtI in action at Bridgewater Elementary School. My path has taken me from online tools for just-in-time learning to a deeper engagement with the subject in a real-world setting.

RtI is one of the subjects I’ll be hearing a lot about after I take my seat on the school board in January. Another hot topic will be technology—specifically, the implementation of a plan to put iPads into the hands of most, if not all, students in the district. In this blog, I’ll be reflecting on these issues, and on my own education as a new school board member. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own, and don’t reflect the position of the school board as a whole.  

Reference. Collins, A. and Halverson, R. Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press, 2009.

One thought on “First Steps

  1. I’m impressed at your ability to dig into this stuff. Yes, the tools are there, but still: contemporary educational culture is not a welcoming place!

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