By: Jessica Reid
A grudge match is unfolding at the intersection of instruction and technology. It’s the Educators vs. the Entrepreneurs and everyone has to pick a side.
But, as I might say to my first graders, that is just silly. I’ve been a teacher dedicated to educational excellence and equity all of my adult life. And I’ve recently added a new designation – tech entrepreneur. So, as someone with loyalties on both sides, I’d like to share a few of my thoughts.
To those who find the juxtaposition of educator and commercial innovator jarring, all I can say is, take a deeper look at what drives – and stymies – teachers. From the beginning of my career, I’ve been teaching literacy in urban classrooms filled with students already struggling under the impact of poverty. The classroom is where they go to gain exposure to ideas and practice the skills – mathematical, scientific, literary – that can create a different life for them.
But too often, those classrooms don’t have materials that inspire students – particularly truly great books and time to read them. As a former teacher, school leader and instructional coach, I can also say that teachers don’t have access to the sort of data that would allow them to provide each student with the timely, tailored support they need.
These are deficits that the digital world can easily address. With the rise of e-books, students can access the books they need when they need them. Additionally, thanks to decades of work in computational linguistics, we now have simple assessments that measure students’ comprehension – assessments that can be embedded in digital texts so that teachers get a real-time view of their students’ growing skills.
Of course solutions like these don’t happen on their own. People outside of education may not even know how desperately they are needed.
I left my work as a literacy specialist with The Urban Assembly, a network of secondary New York City Department of Education schools, to design a solution that combined digital books and embedded assessment. In order to achieve this I had to convince publishers that they could make an enormous difference in student literacy by making their books easily available. Hearing a former teacher talk about student struggles is different than listening to your run-of-the-mill tech entrepreneur and we have found the publishing world to be entirely supportive. They care about the future of reading – and readers – in this country.
Technology can do even more for students and teachers. Now students’ reading notes can be recorded online rather that in notebooks or on Post-its and shared instantly with the teacher. Students’ writing can be compiled in a digital portfolio accessible with a single tap by the teacher or the student. And all of a class’s literacy learning practices can be documented for fast evaluation. Teachers who are having trouble adopting best practices can receive coaching before student growth is affected.
We are at an extraordinary moment, with affordable digital tools that can support proven practices. In schools, e-books can actually provide a cost savings, and the tablets they run on can be amortized across years of use. It is critical that we harness innovation to address the real, pressing needs of our students and teachers.
The best way to do that is to join forces. Educators and entrepreneurs alike should keep these words of classroom wisdom handy: We Succeed Together.
Jessica Reid is Chief Academic Officer at LightSail Education.