What educator doesn’t want to prepare students for the future by creating schools of tomorrow now? Most teachers will tell you there’s so much more they want to teach than the standards compel them to. It’s certainly no easy task because the future is somewhat unpredictable, so we do the best that we can to equip our students with the knowledge and skills they need.
What and how we teach has changed significantly over the last two decades, but there are two constants in preparing for the future. First, academic rigor — setting high standards, providing instructional support, and measuring achievement — will ready our students for a life beyond school. Second, the way to support this rigor is with technology.
It can be difficult to keep up with changing times and student needs. Schools already face a growing list of challenges: overpopulated classrooms, poverty, student apathy, lean budgets, and unfunded state/federal mandates. In spite of these burdens, it’s not enough to create a school just for today. We must focus on the future.
Our preparation for tomorrow begins with educational rigor in the curriculum (what we teach), instruction (how we teach it), and assessment (measuring effectiveness). Imagine content, delivery, and testing as three separate lenses. Each one by itself provides a limited view of the educational process. It’s only when we lay the lenses one over the other that we can bring education into clear view so we can prepare students for the future.
Teachers focused on the future already have the tools they need for this work. Future-ready schools incorporate technology into their curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
Using technology as the tool
Technology alone is no silver bullet for creating schools of tomorrow. It requires skillful integration into education at each of the three critical areas aimed at improving academics.
Extensive research collected by Learning Sciences International indicates that academic rigor is critical to the planning, teaching, and assessing continuum. Their results reveal that many teachers:
- Spend nearly two-thirds of their time teaching new concepts rather than providing opportunities for deeper learning and comprehension
- Deliver less than 5% of instruction using strategies that promote complex thinking skills
- Present as much as 94% of lessons that lack in complexity and rigor
Embedding technology in the curriculum forces some educators to experience a paradigm shift. Lessons become less teacher centered and more student led. High-speed networks, wireless capabilities, and modern tech devices invite collaborative learning. However, real collaboration takes place at the design stage when teachers and technology specialists develop curriculum and learning outcomes together.
There’s no denying that students must learn how to use technology, but tech skills should not be taught for their own sake. Teachers instruct students in the use of technology for the same reason that they teach children how to hold a pencil or use a protractor. Like writing instruments and measurement devices, technology is a tool that assists with learning.
Educators who incorporate technology in the classroom can improve the rigor of their curriculum. As a learning tool, technology can assist the classroom teacher in many ways:
- Forcing students to think through multi-step problems, especially in simulations that demand the use of higher-order thinking skills like analysis, evaluation, and synthesis
- Providing additional instructional support for students who may need more scaffolding than others
- Maintaining high expectations for every student, regardless of their learning difficulty or giftedness. Technology allows for customization and flexibility in lessons and assignments
Education leaders and teachers must ask, “To what extent do our curriculum, instruction, and assessments exemplify what we value in our students’ learning experiences?” As the third lens in the learning process, assessment drives decision-making. Results determine curriculum and instruction decisions. What we teach and how we teach it depends on what we discover from our testing and evaluation — if something doesn’t work, then it clearly needs to go.
Technology not only allows for formative and summative data collection but also makes it possible to create better assessments of how well our students are learning.
Teachers can evaluate students who produce project-based blogs and vlogs on their writing and verbal communication skills, in addition to checking for content mastery. Online assessments can provide just-in-time feedback on learning, and digital portfolios showcase student strengths.
With a platform like Classcraft, for example, teachers get access to insights on how their students are progressing through the material; this allows them to iterate their lessons and identify areas for improvement.
The role of technology in future-ready schools
Technology is the tool that brings academic rigor into focus. Future Ready Schools has observed that in the most advanced schools:
- Curricula are closely aligned with rigorous standards
- Instruction focuses on comprehension, not coverage
- Research-based instruction is customized to address student needs
- Students collaborate not only with each other but also with others beyond the classroom walls
- Teachers and their students have the technology tools they need
- Assessments are flexible, digital, and based on performance
Ultimately, technology unites curriculum, instruction, and assessment to assure student success at every step in the learning continuum.
Factors that make up a future-focused school
Can all schools become future ready? The answer is, of course, yes.
But some schools are more ready than others. The planning, preparation, and timeline for future-readiness depend on each school and district. Many considerations can delay or accelerate the process. The size of the community, the focus on digital citizenship, and goals like “anywhere, anytime” learning can all have a significant impact on how future-focused a school may be.
Creating a future-ready school takes more than a shallow approach to technology design. Schools that truly value the future must thoroughly analyze their current situation and thoughtfully consider where they want to be for their students in five or ten years and beyond. Then, they select the technologies that will realize that future.
Bringing it all together
So how do you bring this all together in a unified vision for curriculum, instruction, and assessment?
Begin by deciding what you want your students to do. Then, ask yourself four simple questions:
- What will you teach?
- How will you teach it?
- How will you measure your effectiveness?
- Where does technology fit into your big picture?
Although helpful, reducing class size, eliminating apathy, overcoming poverty, and increasing school budgets and funding mandates isn’t the panacea for creating future-ready schools. Future-focused schools are the result of thoughtfully aligned curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
Technology brings rigorous academic learning into focus and creates future-ready schools. It’s a tool and nothing more — but when used effectively in the classroom, it can have incredible results.
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