Sunday, January 07, 2007

Our Classroom "Scripts" -How Does Technology Change Them?

I picked up a copy of The Teaching Gap by James. W. Stigler and James Hiebert this weekend and began reading through it. Part of the point of the book is in describing patterns of teaching.

Chapter 6 – Teaching is a Cultural Activity – is really sparking some thought tonight although I’m not quite done with it yet…just needed to stop for a minute and process through a few things.

The authors talk about the cultural scripts that we develop and describe these scripts as “generalized knowledge about an event that resides in the heads of participants.” We develop this knowledge through observation and participation in whatever activity it is. In terms of the classroom, we have all been students at some point and therefore, we all have scripts in our heads about how classrooms operate or should operate. It is also pointed out that cultural scripts are learned implicitly not by deliberate study. In other words, if we look at the classroom as a cultural activity we just know how to “do classroom” because we’ve always participated in it in certain ways and the activity is composed of particular features and customary ways of doing things.

To carry this thought over into using technology in the classroom, I’m thinking about where we began with computers. Most of us have probably experienced the use of computers in our classrooms or in our instruction in some form for at least 10 years. Our teaching as a cultural script 10 years ago was still much the same as it had been even 50 years ago. So, the addition of a computer or computers to the classroom had to be integrated into that cultural script. The way it was integrated into that script was to make the computer a place to practice skills or a place for students to go when the other work, that according to the “script” was meant to be done first. 10 years later we haven’t changed the script much have we?

For some teachers, it’s been difficult even to learn to use the computer themselves because it was not already a cultural activity for them. In other words, they hadn’t observed its use nor participated in its use as part of the classroom “script.” We’re still struggling to make technology part of our teaching script because it’s not something that we experienced when we were students ourselves. We’re still operating from the role models who taught us, who taught them and who taught generations before us. In the meantime, our world has changed, the technology has changed, and what our students do outside the classroom with technology has changed. The nature of our technology tools is vastly different than it was 10 years or even 5 years. But the “script” isn’t changing to adapt to what’s happening in the rest of the world.

The authors tell us, “One of the reasons classrooms run as smoothly as they do is that students and teachers have the same script in their heads.” As I think about this quote, the intent of the book and the copyright date, it occurs to me that our students and teachers don’t share the same script any longer. After all, that script hasn’t changed very much over the past 50 or so years has it? If the teacher’s script hasn’t changed but the student’s script has, what impact does that have on our classrooms? Maybe that question isn’t even worth asking because we’re already seeing that the impact is students who are disengaged from their learning, who have access to information and resources in their pockets that they’re banned from using because it doesn’t really fit the “script” that we as teachers are still operating with. Our students are developing their own script about learning through their connections to technology, through their interactions and participation in online communities or maybe we should say online cultures. As these cultures continue to develop, it seems reasonable to expect that the cultural activities will develop as well. We need to catch up!

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