Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Edtech's Pedagogical Problem with Poor Kids | #30DBB - Day 3

This is day 3 of "The 30 Day Blog Binge." Learn more

When a lazy or unethical teacher knows that the poor student sitting in front of them doesn't have a lawyer, doctor, or even native English-speaker as a parent, they can use edtech to take advantage of this lack of accountability. In this passive abuse of underprivileged students, these teachers substitute the pursuit of real-life concerns with the passive reception of information, often in the thinly veiled form of digital worksheets designed to keep students busy and compliant.

This is edtech's pedagogy of poverty.

"The Pedagogy of Poverty..."

Originally published in 1991, Professor Martin Haberman's article "The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching" identified fourteen characteristics of what he called "urban instruction" which, if they weren't happening in a low-income school, the teacher would be considered to not be teaching. Those fourteen "teaching acts" are:
  1. giving information
  2. asking questions
  3. giving directions
  4. making assignments
  5. monitoring seatwork
  6. reviewing assignments
  7. giving tests
  8. reviewing tests
  9. assigning homework
  10. reviewing homework
  11. settling disputes
  12. punishing noncompliance
  13. marking papers
  14. giving grades
Haberman points out that, separately, "there may be nothing wrong with these activities." His emphasis, however, is that when these become the exclusive characteristics of our pedagogical practice, we have bought into the systemic inequity of the "pedagogy of poverty."

In this form of pedagogy, students don't achieve "minimum life skills" or even "what they are capable of learning." It's essentially a ritual of control that students concede to in sometimes resentful, sometimes willing, compliance. And this problem is only made worse when a teacher's competence is linked to how compliant his/her students are. The system often incentivizes a controlled, sterile classroom over a passionate, messy one.

So what does this have to do with edtech?

I'm learning that in our rush to close the digital divide between "haves" and "have-nots," the question of "Do we have enough devices in the classroom?" is really the final question we need to ask. The first question should be "Into what pedagogical system are we inserting these devices that we have purchased?"

The fourteen factors listed above all have digital equivalents: "giving information" as a lecturer translates to "watching online video with no accountability" on a computer. Assignments, tests, grades: none of this changes when a Chromebook, iPad or laptop is put in a student's hands.

Teachers are far too often willing to accept the ability of technology to elicit compliance instead of using it to let students explore real issues, connect the classroom to what goes on outside the four walls, and possibly even get a little bit chaotic as students work on what's important to them. Technology may even make the teacher "lose control" (gasp!), which is the very opposite of the in-rows compliance expected by some building administrators.

"...versus Good Teaching"

How do we escape this? What does Haberman see as the opposite of diluted and damaging pedagogical practice? Here are his findings:

"It is likely that good teaching is going on whenever students are...
  1. ...involved with issues they regard as vital concerns.
  2. ...involved with explanations of human differences.
  3. ...being helped to see major concepts, big ideas, and general principles and are no merely engaged in the pursuit of isolated facts.
  4. ...involved in planning what they will be doing.
  5. ...involved with applying ideals such as fairness, equity, or justice to their world.
  6. ...actively involved.
  7. ...directly involved with life-experience.
  8. ...actively involved in heterogeneous groups.
  9. ...asked to think about an idea in a way that questions common sense or a widely accepted assumption.
  10. ...involved in redoing, polishing, or perfecting their own work.
  11. ...involved with the technology of information access.
  12. ...involved in reflecting on their own lives and how they have come to believe and feel as they do."
Good teaching is possible without technology. But if we are to be responsible to our students' future selves, we have a responsibility to find a way to marry good teaching and technology. And this cannot be at the individual teacher level only.

To have pervasive change, we must have a systems shift in how we view teacher competence and ability: will we continue to evaluate teachers well who hold students in a silent stupor and get them through an irrelevant assignment and then release them back into the world as they were before?

Or will we start viewing teachers as competent when they engage students in the second list of twelve practices, and intentionally use technology in the process?

Until we resolve to move from a "pedagogy of poverty" and shift quality technology integration and education away from "a matter of 'importance' to a matter of 'life and death,'" we've only shoved a wedge in the digital divide, prying it open a little bit more every time a student sits down at a computer without a fundamental change in the teacher's instructional practice.



  1. Simply outstanding!

    I am taking an online course on Coaching Digital Learning and I would like to share this with them. I expect you'll be getting a few replies!

    1. Thanks, John, I look forward to it!

    2. Found while it was shared from another in the course. Very interesting slant to it all. I don't disagree, I have said much of the same in different ways. As long as high stakes testing are the measure of a school system, it won't change. I am not one that says all testing is bad, we have to have accountability, but that accountability measure has to be much broader to allow for what you describe here to be a welcomed change among educators. I can also make the statement that if educators would embrace these ideas, the test would take care of itself, but the fear factor in changing what is "working" will be slower than molasses. The "working" part is the problem, yes your students will all pass the test eventually with what you are doing, but might that pass the first time or understand even more, if you try alternative. Very difficult conversations.

    3. John,
      I agree wholeheartedly with your connection to standardized testing. As digital coaches, we must facilitate the teachers coming to the conclusion (on their own) that taking technology risks is essential in growing 21st century learners. The pressure of the tests is evident in both high and low achieving classrooms and in poverty and affluent demographics. Teachers of honors students feel pressure to keep the status quo. Don't take the risk since the outcome could have a negative impact. Teachers of low achieving students feel the pressure to meet the scores in the traditional manners, because the risk of integrating technology could (in their minds) cost them valuable instructional time. And, why would any teacher take risks, learn new technology, and effectively integrate it, if they too are held accountable for whether students fail tests or not? Standardized tests create a broken system and discourage true 21st century learning. This is why coaches must model a seamless integration that does not come at the cost of valuable instruction time. Only then will teachers buy in. Excellent article.

  2. Bingo!
    "we've only shoved a wedge in the digital divide, prying it open a little bit more every time a student sits down at a computer without a fundamental change in the teacher's instructional practice."
    This quote alone nails it on the head. I see this far too often. Change has been slow and often only for compliance. Unless a district embraces change as a whole, getting individual stakeholders on the bus is like pulling teeth. It's invigorating to see the light bulb come on with teachers I've worked with to transform their instructions, but I wish it happened more often. Working with students of poverty for the last 15 years has made it abundantly clear that the gap keeps getting further and further as pedagogical practices slowly change. So often I hear "more tech doesn't mean better teaching", and I agree. If we aren't willing to change/update our practice then tech integration only amplifies poor quality instruction, or as pegged "the pedagogy of poverty".
    I really enjoyed the read, and I'll be sharing it with my team of Technology Coaches!

  3. Spreading the word... so many of us in technology integration have been saying this repeatedly. Love your approach. Thank you!