In the last episode, we raised concerns about the limitations of traditional teaching methods and unexplained high graduation rates with low-test scores. Most importantly, it could indicate the possible unintentional consequences where students are led to trap themselves with large amounts of college debt, and therefore, financially and socially oppressed students for the rest of their life, especially for at-risk students like African Americans, Foster-Youths, and students with special needs.
Sadly, it seems like a hopeless situation for educators and high-risk students. Most of the factors that affect students’ outcomes seem to be uncontrollable. We cannot keep students in schools forever. It’s not financially and morally possible.
When we look at those problems, the heart of the problems is not about graduation rates or standardized test scores. Instead, the leading cause of the problem is the dangerous limitations of traditional teaching methods. The limitations cause both teachers and students to take shortcuts. The learning outcomes from traditional methods are measured by passing grades and points. There is little evidence to support the accountability of both students and teachers.
Therefore, to end the education oppression, we have to redefine how we teach fundamentally:
How we deliver instruction
How we grade and provide feedback
How we support each student
How we support teachers to collaborate and invest in each other.
After my first semester as a full-time science teacher at a low-income and Title one public high school, I quickly admitted the reality of the traditional teaching approach and my limitations as a human being. Since then, I have been on a journey to redefine my teaching to overcome those challenges. I mentored two teachers in my family. Three of us went to UC Riverside, and we pursued teaching with a passion for making a difference in students and changing their lives. I was the first one of the three to become a teacher.
It has been more than a decade since we started our teaching careers. The journey to reinventing our teaching has been faced with many challenges.
-Gaining access to essential technologies, learning how to use them, and implementing them in our classes.
-Creating activities and measure the outcomes of strategies and activities
-Paying for the technology that includes software and hardware.
-Investing in hundreds, if not thousands, of hours to create activities, videos, and thousands of questions.
Ironically, the most difficult challenge that we had to overcome is neither one of the above; instead, it most challenging obstacles is being misunderstood by other teachers and administrators. I was fortunate to work with excellent teachers and supporting administrators who trusted me. Two of the most critical administrators were Ms. Mattox and Mr. Brough, both of them trusted me and provided me the freedom to explore and implement the strategies. Another important school leader came to my class one day and said something about “brick and click.” I had no idea what she was talking about at the time. However, I later learned that some teachers are using technology in very different ways. Instead of using it to empower students and provide learning equity, they are just substituting and digitizing their worksheets and activities. Likewise, some teachers are relying on third-parties websites to do their teaching. For example, teachers rely on third parties’ videos and practices to replace their teaching, and their students are so confused because third parties taught them differently than their teachers. Worst, the tasks are to keep students busy rather than teaching students the actual content.
Ms. Brown’s “brick and click” reminded me that technology is just a tool to empower teachers to provide learning equity. However, if we’re misusing it, it could cause unintentional consequences. More importantly, she reminded me that it is my responsibility to demonstrate how I used technology to provide learning equity. Or else, people will only judge my teaching based on what they see on the surface, which is students are frequently working on the computers. However, they would never stop to see evidence of our positive outcomes. They would never take the time to witness how we use technology to redefine our teaching by streamlining teachers’ administrative tasks to allow students to learn at their pace and provide instant feedback. They would not see the students are actively thinking critically, self-reflecting on understanding, and genuinely collaborating with others. They would not see how instant feedback and real-time data allow each student to work at their own pace while allowing teachers to facilitate and support students one-on-one.
Demonstrating our teaching’s effectiveness is not a simple task, but it is vital to the success of our implementation. It does not matter how successful our strategies are. It is meaningless if our colleagues and administrators do not see it. This was very clear to us when we observed what happened to Amy at her school.
During the same years, Amy was also teaching chemistry and using the same lessons at another high school in the same district. The students at her high school were more affluent, and implementing the strategies has more positive outcomes. Her class’s averages are above 80% for most of the time. Some of her students were retaking chemistry, and some even had chemistry for the third time. After her first semester at the school, many students wrote thank letters and gave her gifts to show appreciation. Some students advised their friends to transfer to Amy’s classes. During the second semester, her classes were full.
It was not because her class is easier, or the content was dumbed down. Instead, our teaching strategies are based on evidence, accountability, and a multi-tiered system of support. Our lessons and strategies are based on each student’s individual needs and their prior knowledge. For example,
-We record high- quality videos to teach students chemistry concepts, and we embed questions throughout the video to check for understanding. When students answer the questions, students are provided with immediate and meaningful feedback.
-We structure seating arrangements so students can collaborate and support each other while learning essential communication and critical thinking skills. It was a genuine process of collaborations and authentic learning.
-We use a learning management system website to redefine our activities interactive and adaptive practices that allow students to have a variety of answers and get immediate feedback. Our students are learning college-level chemistry concepts, and they are enjoying and doing well.
-All students’ attempts and responses recorded and organized in a comprehensive gradebook that allow students to evaluate their own progress and make up any missing work or re-attempt the practices for higher grades, at the students’ convenience.
-We have redefined our roles to be facilitators of learners, and the students are actively learning the content.
Amy was able to implement our strategies and had students do many hands-on lab activities while having to rove between two different classes throughout the day.
On the downside, it was clear for students that it is impossible to cheat and pass our classes because there were unlimited versions for every practice and assessment. More importantly, all students’ answers, attempts, and responses are recorded in a comprehensive gradebook. Unlike other classes, students cannot search for answers online or copy answers from other students. The few students who were off-task were struggling in her class.
For Amy, the data of students’ effort and progress make it very easy for Amy to explain to students’ parents. Likewise, it was even easier to provide students support and intervention. The only thing left is students learning from their mistakes and making up any missing work.
However, Amy’s success in her class is as fragile as a thin sheet of ice