A Student Not Engaged…

Walden University provides a “course shell” in eCollege to serve as a resource for all students who have the same faculty Mentor. One of the few requirements of participating in this forum is a monthly discussion. This month the prompt provided was the following:

How can we apply technology to better implement an effective response to intervention (RTI) in the classroom?

Not being familiar with the term, I looked it up on Wikipedia and Google. I then let some time pass before returning to the topic… and found myself writing the following, which I think turned out to be worth sharing here:

After coming back to this topic, I realize that RTI doesn’t seem as if it would be an approach that would resonate with me, and now that I’ve owned up to that reaction it can inform my response.About a year and a half ago I heard a particularly effective director of educational technology say to his lead teachers, “a student not engaged is a student not learning.” This was in a California district stuck in Program Improvement due to low test scores (which were primarily a function of their large population of English Learners). Unfortunately, the additional assessment burdens the teachers were under would do nothing to solve the fundamental problem of engaging their students. This pioneering director urged the teachers to use technology creatively to engage their students – rather than set their technology aside to spend more time on assessment and intervention focused on “the base program.”

He also firmly believed that “a teacher with access to technology who is not using it, is not teaching ‘the base program’ as well as he or she can.”

These two ideas form the basis of my response to this prompt. I believe technologies that engage and motivate students by offering opportunities for self-direction, inquiry, discovery, and creativity are the best way to meet the needs of all students. One of the most significant things I’ve heard said about 1:1 laptop programs is that when you walk into the classroom, you can’t tell who the Special Ed students are or who the GATE students are… because everyone is fully engaged and working at their own level.

Some technologies that might be readily available to most teachers and which might help provide this sort of individualized engagement include commercial off the shelf videogames with educational value (such as the Sims series, the Tycoon series, or the “Age of…” series of games), read/write web tools (such as blogs, wikis, and podcasts), and multimedia creation programs (for editing images, audio, and video). These things are nearly free and ubiquitous and ought to be used creatively in support of the base program.

I wonder how some of you might react to this prompt or this response… and I particularly wonder if any RTI experts might take me to task over the approach I took. In any case, I look forward to any feedback you all might offer.

UPDATE: Scott Smith of Visalia Unified School District is the director in the story above. He is also the current board president of Computer Using Educators.