Blended Learning: The Importance of Technology in the Literacy Classroom
Author, blogger, and innovator
Release Date: February 27, 2020
Carl Hooker has been part of a strong educational shift with technology integration since entering the classroom. From his start as a teacher to advancing to district technology leadership, he has had one common belief: Students need to drive their own learning. He realizes the challenges in our current public educational institutions and meets them head on. Hooker’s unique blend of educational background, technical expertise, and humor make him a successful driving force for this change.
Hooker is the “Godfather” of The Learning Festival, or “LearnFestATX” (formerly iPadpalooza), which has grown into a global phenomenon. The event has impacted schools and districts from around the world, even inspiring spin-off events in other states, as well as Australia.
Hooker recently authored a six-part book series, “Mobile Learning Mindset,” which focuses on a different stakeholder and the role each plays in a successful mobile learning initiative. Aside from his work as an author and district leader, Hooker also works as a keynote speaker and consultant through his company HookerTech, as well as an adviser for multiple ed-tech start-up companies. He was named Tech & Learning Magazine’s 2014 Leader of the Year and is a member of the Apple Distinguished Educator class of 2013.
In recent years, many school districts have implemented a blended-learning model of literacy instruction that incorporates teacher-taught curriculum with student-driven technology. This shift creates a more flexible classroom for the educator, and also offers more opportunities to tailor instruction to individual student needs, especially students who are struggling. In this podcast, Hooker discusses the future of blended learning, why it is so important in the classroom, and how it can help create new learning opportunities for students who are struggling. If you currently use a blended-literacy program in your classroom, or are considering using one, this podcast is for you.
- What’s next in the future of blended learning?
- Why is a blended-learning model important?
- How does a blended-learning environment compare to a teacher-only model?
- How can a blended-learning classroom aid in literacy instruction?
- How does a blended-learning environment prepare a student for success?
Carl Hooker is not affiliated with Voyager Sopris Learning, nor does he endorse or make any representations or warranties regarding products associated with Voyager Sopris Learning.
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Narrator: Welcome to EDVIEW360.
Carl Hooker: For me, blended learning is a proper mix of digital and analog kind of mashed up together in a way that really allows students to have flexibility and personalization. I've seen a lot of gratuitous tech where people put out platforms or apps that are just kind of mindless, tapping on screens. Blended isn't just, “I'm going to stick the kid online and then see what happens.” The blended means that there's also a face-to-face component. It's that combination of creating the experience, but also the combination of having something like artificial intelligence help you with the backend learning analytics. So, as a teacher, you can make adjustments quicker, better for each of your students. So, you don't have to teach to the middle anymore. I think you could teach to every single kid.
Narrator: You just heard educator, innovator, and technology expert, Carl Hooker. Mr. Hooker is our guest today on EDVIEW360. Here's your host, Pam Austin.
Pam Austin: This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW360 podcast series. We are so excited to have you back with us. I'm conducting today's podcast from Dallas, TX, the heart of Voyager Sopris Learning®. Today, we are honored to have with us Carl Hooker, author, blogger, and innovator. Welcome, Carl. Thank you for joining us today from Austin, TX. We are so pleased to have you with us.
CH: Well, thank you so much, Pam. I'm happy to be on the podcast.
PA: Well, you know what, can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you become an educator?
CH: Yeah, like many people that I know of in education, my mom was an educator. I've had family members that were in education. I started out actually as an engineer. I went to school at University of Texas here in Austin to become an engineer, found quickly that it was not my niche. I felt like it was way too black and white. I needed some creative expression. So, I changed to the most opposite career I could think of and I actually changed to drama for about a year but it turns out I have a face that's made for radio. So, I wasn't going to get very far as an actor.
But what's funny is those skills have come in handy as an educator. So, I changed into education, became an elementary educator, first grade teacher, computer lab teacher. Then, kind of worked my way up, worked in the tech department for a couple of years just to kind of understand what that world's like. And, then, ended my formal education career as a director of innovation for a school district here in Austin for the last nine years, so 21 total years in. And, now, I'm a full-time consultant. So, I get to go all over the world and work with schools and speak to schools and events everywhere. So, it's been really a neat transformation but I've loved every minute of it and I love working with kids and adults. So, this job definitely allows that.
PA: Yes. What a wayward path from engineer to drama to education and then branching out into the tech world. You are an innovator, I can see. So, as you mentioned, you are heavily into the world of technology, right? We can probably even say that tech is the center of your world. I want you to tell me how did technology become that focus? You kind of let us a little bit into the fact that you worked with technology. How did that become the center of what you do?
CH: I think when I started out as a teacher I realized, mind you this is the turn of the century so this is 2000, 2001, and back then technology was you had three of these giant compact computers kind of in the back of your classroom that you would use for different projects and things like that. And it was basically just a little technology rotation station. We played games like Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? At first, I thought that's neat, kids can go back there and play a game for 15 minutes and that's it. But as I started to kind of see the usage of it and see where kids could really use it to express a lot of their own learning I thought this is not going away anytime soon.
And I had an opportunity early in my career at about five years into teaching where I had a principal that wanted to take me with her to a different school to kind of help turn it around and she said, "What do you want to do? Do you want to teach first grade?" And I said, "You know what, if I could do anything, I would love to like implement some sort of instructional technology program where we use technology to help kids with reading, with math, a little bit of everything. Kind of early blended learning, if you will." And, she allowed it. She actually created a lab space for me. I was able to bring kids in from ages 4 to 12, and I actually even did after-school classes for adults in the community that spoke Spanish. They taught me Spanish. I taught them computer language, essentially. And it was a great little trade off. I loved it, every minute of it.
PA: All right, I loved your story. Tell me a little bit more why you think that educational shift toward technology was so important, not only for you but for your students as well.
CH: I think for me and for the students, it was a chance for them to really express their voice. And, in a traditional classroom, if it's teacher led, it's awfully hard to kind of get to every single student's interest. I like to say that I knew the interest of all 22 of my students and I did fairly well. But to actually give them an opportunity to express it, it's hard to do that in a setting that's in what I would say quote/unquote traditional teaching where I am the teacher. The fountain of all knowledge. You are the student. You're going to do the little worksheets or little assignments I give you. And it's funny because about five years ago, a group of students posted a Facebook picture of me as their teacher and they started commenting on it, and they are 20 year olds by now.
So, this is 14, 15 years after I've taught them and I got kind of nervous. I thought: “What are they going to say?” And you know what they didn't say? They didn't say like, “Oh, you remember that great worksheet we got?” Or, “Do you remember that amazing spelling test we took?” No, they were all about the experiences. How we used technology in the classroom. How we changed the classroom into a jungle and talked about habitat, and they got to dress up. And it was really about the experiences and I felt like technology was just at that point, was just right on the edge of it. We had these old iBooks, which were like these white Mac computers that barely worked. But, man, those things lived in my classroom as much as I could grab them. And the kids, we just tried lots of different things with that. I said, “This is new. Let's try it. Let's see what happens. Maybe we'll fail. Maybe it’ll work.” And I think the kids really embraced that part of it. That we were trying to kind of learning altogether.
PA: All right, well, tell us a little bit more about your work. How you started the LearnFestATX, originally known as the iPadpalooza. I love that name, it's a wonderful name. And you have authored a six-part book series called, “Mobile Learning Mindset.” I'll say it again, “Mobile Learning Mindset.” I just love that name as well. Tell us all about it.
CH: Sure, sure. I'll start with the conference. So, when we started in 2011, we were rolling out one-to-one computing devices. They were iPads at the time and we thought, let's hold a little conference. We'll call it an ‘i’ conference or something. And, me, and my group we were all kind of thinking like, “You know what, the conference just sounds boring. We want it to be exciting and we want it to be a festival, the festival of learning. So, let's take all the things that we don't like about a traditional conference and get rid of those and let's mix in things that we do like the connection, the collaboration, the problem solving. All the things we're trying to teach our students.”
“And let's make an event centered around that.” And so we did. The first event was called iPadpalooza. We ran that event for about seven years and I'll go ahead and admit that the reason why it kind of took off was the second year I got an opportunity to talk to Sir Ken Robinson who's, of course, got the No. 1 rated, I think, Ted Talk. The No. 1 most-watched Ted Talk on the web and I got to talk to his people and they said... I said, "Hey, Sir Ken, can you come and do a keynote for this event."
His people said, "We've never heard of it." And I said, "Oh, it's amazing. It's a global event. It's got thousands of people." Which it didn't at the time. “People come from all over the world.” Which it didn't at the time. And, then, his people were like, “All right, well, he'll do it.” And, then, sure enough when he showed up, so did a thousand people from all over the world. I kind of guessed there a little bit that it would happen and then it just took off after that. And I think he kind of gave it some legitimacy and then we just continued to bring in outside-the-box thinkers, people you don't normally see at educational conferences. And, then, now when I go to educational conferences, I see that a lot of other people, not because of just us, I would say.
But I think that is a trend to say, “Let's bring someone with an outside voice of education.” Just to kind of spark the thinking of those in the room. Because if we just hear from ourselves, it's too much of an echo chamber. And, then, that kind of led to LearnFestATX, which is more of a wider event because we didn't want it to be just about the iPad. It was more about learning. So, we said, “Let's keep that festival approach,” and we did. We had live music. We had food trailers. It was like going to a rock concert, I would say pretty much every day. You would see people in costume. It was really kind of a crazy mashup of things. So, when I left the district, that kind of left with me. But I still kind of keep that at my heart and I'm hoping to bring it. Actually, I have an idea to bring it back but I can't reveal on the air. But it's going to be out there. Just trust me.
PA: All right, we're looking forward to hearing that.
CH: And, then, the book series. I would say there was a couple of reasons behind that. I've been talking for years with friends of mine about writing books and the idea of: What are like the best practices we need to have in place as a teacher? And I didn't want it to be centered on again, a specific device. I wanted it to be more around the mindset. So, the term “Mobile Learning Mindset” was kind of born out of that. Like, let's say in 10 years, I want someone to able to put this book off the shelf and say, “You know what, totally different devices now than he was using. But the concepts and the skills could still be useful today as a classroom teacher.”
So, for me, originally it was going to be a one-book series and then I kind of started thinking there used to be really six different people that this is geared toward a district administrator; a campus administrator, like a principal; a teacher; an instructional coach; the parents; and, then, IT. All those six departments needed to kind of be involved as a community of learners to make sure it really happened. So, I wrote each book kind of geared toward that audience with the idea of knowing that there are other people involved to make this process a winning process. So, that's how I ended up doing six books in about 18 months, which was a crazy kind of way to blackmail myself to try to do something that I'd never done and stretch myself. And luckily it turned out OK. It worked. I was able to get them all done.
PA: Well, it all sounds exciting. A festival, a concert, igniting a spark, that's all important. Now, for those of us who did not know, I want you to tell our audience exactly what is blended learning? How did you become so excited about the concept of blended learning?
CH: I could give you the actual definition. I'll give you mine, my feeling of was to what it is and you could probably look up the official one. But, for me, blended learning is a proper mix of both face to face but also online. So, digital and analog kind of mashed up together in a way that really allows students to have flexibility and personalization and those are, I know, buzzy words. But, for me, I think when I was teaching, we started rolling out our one-to-one program. One of the first things we noticed was, wow, this is an amazing way to have every student with an opportunity to engage with not only people in their classroom or in the school but also outside of the community and around the world that we couldn't have done if we didn't have some sort of technology device in their hands.
So, while I think it would be amazing to have one-to-one teachers, that's not very cost effective. And I think also you're still limiting for what the kids can learn. So, for me, a blended-learning classroom, the perfect mix is again that mix of kids have access to information and digital can be able to create digital content and practice digital content in a way that's efficient for learning in the classroom for their time with the teacher. And, then, the teacher still plays a huge role in that they are still the person that creates the experience for the students. They're still the one that's driving the students toward their goals and helping them with that, kind of a project manager. I do think the role of a teacher changes in a blended-learning classroom. It's not just, “I'm going to stand up in front of the room and tell you what to do.”
It's more about inspiring the kids to kind of go out and seek their passions and then be able to come back and demonstrate they understand what they're talking about using, again, a wide variety of tools. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel like they need to be on computer screens the entire school day. I think it's a mix of what's smart and best use practices when it comes to those digital screens and it comes to creating content and then also, again, having the time to interact with each other which I think is just very powerful and I think that comes with the right model and the right blend, if you will, pun intended. I would say you got to make sure you have a little bit of both of that. So, a very long answer to your question. I'm sure the online version is a lot shorter than what I just said.
PA: No, I love your version. You actually jumped into answering my next question for why that blended model is so important. I understand from what you told me, you were a first grade teacher in Texas and as an educator, when you think about the blended-learning classroom, again, and you compare that environment to the teacher-only model, what can you say to all teachers who are very comfortable in the teacher-only model? What can we do to give them support and inspire them to move in the direction of applying those skills and creating that classroom of personalization and inspiration?
CH: I think it comes down to…It's definitely a mindset again, not to use that phrase, I've already used it with a book title but the idea that as a teacher you have to realize that these buildings exist for the kids, not for the adults. Right? We are here to make sure that we are raising adults not just kids. And, so, how do we as teachers take ourselves, kind of step back a little bit, and say like how much agency can I give to students? How much ownership can I give them when it comes to their own learning? And, then, what are some skills and tools that I have available to me to allow that to happen? And, I'll tell you, there's this whole idea of an implementation curve of anything. So, when you start out with anything that's new, whether it be a blended-learning model or a one-to-one or a new reading program, the idea is there's going to be a group of teachers 28 or 30 percent that may take it on and say, “We're going to do this right off the bat, no problem.”
Then, there's this really big group, it's probably about 60 to 80 percent that'll sit there and go, “Is this going to help me? Is it going to help my students? What is it doing to actually help with learning? Is it going to save me some time in my day?” Lots of different reasons and motivations for that. And, then, there's a small group of 10 percent or 5 percent that are, kind of the laggards, quote/unquote, they would kind of be the ones that were are going to hold on and say, “Well, let's see if this really passes or if this is anything.” They have to almost be convinced. I wouldn't focus on them. As a leader in a school district, I always focus on that big center group, that group in the middle, the 80 percent that are going, “What does this do for us?” And, then, when it comes to trying to motivate them to do it, I would say, pick one or two things that you see that are valuable to you, for your students, that are fairly easy to implement. That you already have kind of space in your schedule or time in your schedule during the day to say, “You know what, I'm doing these reading stations and I'm doing these rotations. And, maybe instead of that, I'll do a small reading group over here. But instead of them doing a worksheet over in another table, maybe we pull up some Chromebooks or some iPads and we have the kids go onto our blended-learning platform that I can then see how are they doing. Is it extending them? Is it helping them with intervention?” And just start with something simple that's just a replacement before you start to grow it out to kind of the crazier project-based (model,) which can be very intimidating for teachers to say, you're going to change almost all your curriculum to project-based which is I think, a great model.
But, again, we were talking about those, those hesitant or those reluctant teachers. I always say you've got to start with a couple of small wins and that maybe that's maybe again that's just one little program replacing something that they do existing and then you're showing them. First of all, you're saving time. You're not at the copy machine all the time making copies of things. You need a program that can actually give you feedback that's quick and instant vs. back in my day when I have to take home a giant cart full of worksheets and I would sit there and watch Survivor and grade papers at the same time. Now, the feedback is fairly instant. So, things like that that can save you time. I think that's a big win as a teacher too because we are people teaching people. So, we have to remember our time is valuable too and I think that's important.
So, again, one or two small wins. Little things to replace it, and then kind of let that fire grow. And, then, hopefully teachers will continue, with support and time, to expand it into really a full-fledged personalized blended model.
PA: I just love the idea of success breeding success, is what I take from your commentary just now. How would you think about using the blended-learning approach, let's say in teaching reading? What would that look like?
CH: Yeah, I think there's some real benefits to it and I'll start with a personal story. First of all, my middle child is severely dyslexic and she struggled mightily from the beginning when it comes to just the idea of reading in a quote/unquote traditional setting. So, here's a book, read it. Here's a worksheet, read it. Respond to what you see.
For her, I feel like what really was a tipping point. It happened in the last year is that she was given a program that allowed her to read books but they would also read back to her and she could kind of follow along and the words would kind of actually be highlighted as she read, almost like training her brain and her mind on how to read. So, just those little accommodations and kind of programmatic shifts, if you will, were enough to kind of help her, kind of spur her onto the next level. And, now, she still uses some of the programs but I've seen her reading a lot more or what I would say is traditional reading with that assist. And I don't think it would have been possible, personally, if she didn't have that program. So, I think seeing that impact as a teacher and the teacher that actually gave her the program saw it too and said, “You know what? This is, by far, this is what we need.”
“We need this kind of program with teacher guidance and support because it wasn't just, ‘Here's the program I'll see you in an hour.’ No, here's what I think you need to be working on and we're going to continue to adjust and tweak based on your feedback of the program itself.” I thought that was just amazing. And, so again, a personal story but to see that kind of at a larger scale it's so powerful.
PA: Right, those accessibility features that help personalize instruction for individual students. When we think about that blended model, besides an example such as the story you just shared, what are some ways that we can help other struggling readers? Maybe other students with dyslexia? Maybe they have some other issues. Maybe they need to strengthen those phonics skills. What are some ideas that you have in mind in regard to how to support those students using that blended-learning approach?
CH: I would start small. I would find a program that works best for you and your students when it comes to something that has that ability to have that phonics-based approach, especially for the younger ones. When I taught first grade, I would have, and at the time in 2001, 2002, there wasn't a lot out there in terms of phonics-based programs. So, I was pretty limited in what I could do. I had to do a lot of it old school, like taking the little phonic readers and sending those home, the little paper readers and sending them home with the kids. But I would say if I'd be teaching today, what I would be doing is thinking, “All right, I've got kind of the ability now to rate and see how are all my kids doing, what level are they at?”
“And I know that not all of my students are going to be at the exact same level. So, now, how do I use blended-learning models and programs that can help with that and say, All right, I've got a smaller group. I've got a group over here that's maybe at a level eight, DRA level eight. And then I've got a group that's kind of at a higher level that I know needs kind of to continue to be pushed. Do I have a program that allows me to do both of those things to not only intervene but also to extend?” And I think when I'm looking at blended-learning programs, the better ones out there that I've been looking at and critiquing kind of over my years as an administrator, they allow some of that customization, the flexibility as a teacher to go in and look at the program and say, “You know what? This is not just a student tapping on a screen.”
“It's actually sitting there giving them feedback. It's helping them learn and assist with their learning.” And, then, as a teacher it's giving me the feedback and the information I need to see to assess how are they doing and are they making improvements and then also kind of adjust with the face to face because again, blended isn't just I'm going to stick the kid online and then see what happens. The blended means that there's also a face-to-face component. So, now, that can better inform my instructions when I pull my small groups, I can have small-group reading circles that are really customized based on specific things that they're working on. Maybe it's a certain phonemic structure that they're trying to struggle with.
Certain kids are struggling with letter sound recognition those types of things and I could pull those kids in and kind of do some small-group rotations with them because I have the feedback from a program now. Again, in the olden days, that was me assessing each kid individually, one at a time, while the other kids kind of worked on projects and I just kind of hoped they didn't tear the room apart. But, now, to have that program, it actually does save me time and it allows for, again, the customization that I could have never had before. So, you don't have to teach to the middle anymore. I think you could teach to every single kid.
PA: Right, scaling a teacher. I'm going back to that phrase because just listening to you and how using blended learning can actually make teachers more effective. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on that. Not long ago, we started a new year. Tell us what you think is in the near future for 2020, in the realm of blended learning in classrooms and how you will support and go forth and continue the work that you've been doing.
CH: I think if I really stretch out there, I mean if I go, not just this year, I do see some things on the horizon this year that could really help with it. And the two that I would probably think of the most, one would be virtual reality. And what role will it play in blended learning in terms of allowing kids to have experiences that they couldn't have before? I was just in a school, I was working with a school in Kansas this past week and I was talking to a group of students who were talking, one of the students was like, "Oh, I really love architecture and I want to learn about the skyscrapers and tall buildings." And I looked outside his window and there's nothing but flat farm land. And, I go, "How are you looking at?" And, he's like, "I need to figure out a way to do that."
So, the teacher was telling me that she was taking them on virtual field trips to like these places, these cities that he could never see before. To really just hook him and inspire him to think all right, that'll motivate him, that'll kind of increase his passion. And she said what was interesting about it was is that it actually started to help his writing because he was really struggling to find like a topic to write on or anything like that. And it just kind of gets his motivation, his imagination kind of motivated, if you will, to say, “OK, now I've seen the Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. Now, what do I think about that? What can I imagine about building it? What would it be like to be on the 153rd floor of that?” And he doesn't have to imagine necessarily cause he can just put on the virtual goggles and go there.
I do think that's going to have a place, I'm not sure yet. I think it's still very early to be honest. This happens a lot in the tech world where you get something out there and it's just kind of “gratuitous tech,” I call it, where it's just a neat, fun little tech tool that doesn't have an actual learning impact. I do see virtual reality as having that in the future and then when it comes to blended learning and when it comes to literacy, even like I said, inspiring kids to write just by taking them to places that they probably couldn't have gone before. And, then, the other side of it, I think that's probably in a year, it's probably still a couple of years out but I know that some companies are dabbling in it and that's artificial intelligence and learning analytics.
In terms of how do we take, and this will be a perfect example of blended-learning literacy program, like the one I was talking about earlier where you could actually have the AI help you kind of create playlists for kids, customize things for kids and adjust on the fly. Things that we do as teachers every day. But having artificial intelligence kind of help that on a smaller scale, which again would inform you as a teacher on how to help create those experiences for students. I say all this to say like, I know some teachers will freak out and go, "Oh no, robots are going to replace me." And it's never going to happen. In fact, there's actually a website called willrobotstakemyjob.com. It's a real website that you can look it up and it actually gives you a predicted model of whether or not you think your job will be replaced by a robot in the next 20 years.
And, so, I typed in educator and it was like less than 1 percent chance. So, I tell teachers we're not going to be replaced by robots. I mean I know that kids can go out to Google and YouTube and learn from them but it's still about the experience and what drives that experience, which is why I think we started this conversation earlier about blended learning. I think that's the sweet spot. I think it's a combination of creating the experience, but also the combination of having something like artificial intelligence help you with the backend learning analytics. So, as a teacher you can make adjustments quicker, better for each of your students on the fly. So, VR and AI, again, more initials that's what we need in education acronyms. But those two are my kind of things I'm most excited about in 2020 and beyond.
PA: I was very surprised to hear you say the virtual reality, but upon listening to the way you detailed the experiences of this teacher and the students here, and how you're building background. I was going to ask the question, what do we see 10 years in the future? So, if we're thinking in 2020 virtual reality and AI, I'm wondering what's going to happen 10 years down the line, 20 you've got any idea to project that future, Carl?
CH: Well, I do think that we have to kind of take the look of back as a whole, where are we going as a society? So, I do think that we become more and more connected. That's there's pros and cons to everything, of course. And we see it nowadays with social media and everything too. I think there's a lot of benefits of it. There's also a lot of negatives. We have to make sure that we're kind of careful along that road and what that means for students. I do see the future with transportation. It's going to be extremely impactful in our schools because there's a lot of back here in Texas. This week, we just started the first. It was a self-driving tractor trailer. So, think about a semi going down the freeway with no one driving it. Which is exciting and scary at the same time. So, with transportation becoming quicker, faster, autonomous, that means that we're going to have the opportunity to go places that we couldn't have gone before. One of the other things I was discussing with a group of teachers and futurists was this idea of the Hyperloop system, which is where you can get inside a little Hyperloop, but like a vacuum tube. And I could go from Austin to Dallas and be up there with you guys in 18 minutes. And thinking about like, “Oh, what does that mean for field trips?” So, we can take virtual field trips. But now I could actually say, "Oh, kids, we're going to go up to Dallas and check out the JFK Memorial, and see what that's like and we'll be back before lunchtime." And, now, as an educator that means that kids could be coming from all over to come to my school too.
It doesn't mean you have to live just in the neighborhood. So, this means as kids and as adults we need to be ready and prepare our kids for what that cultural diversity will look like. How do we accept others? How do we accept differences when it comes to beliefs, practices, politics, everything. And I think that's just going to have to continue to grow. So, that's a little way out there, but I do see as our world shrinks, there's going to be some uncomfortable conversations that need to happen but they need to happen for our kids. I think it's important and, I think to be honest, the more diverse a group of kids are, the more creative we can become. So, we don't just need to be an echo chamber. So, I look forward to that part. That's kind of ever-shrinking world, if you will.
PA: Right, give us the opportunity to connect with people we may not have ever met before in our lives, right?
PA: So, let's shift away from the future and go ahead and take a look back at maybe beginning the role of developing a blended instruction here. If I were looking for a technology platform that's going to help me incorporate a blended-instruction classroom, what exactly am I looking for? What's the most important factor in the blending learning, let's say literacy program?
CH: I think there's multiple factors. I'll start with…Of course, if you know so far, I haven't answered one single question just with one answer. It's always multiple answers.
PA: I like it that way.
CH: That's the way we work. I'll say for me, as a person who was on both sides of the fence, meaning the tech side but also the instructional and curriculum side, I want to look at: Is there is a research behind the program? Is it something that has been tried, has been vetted? Does it have an educator mind to the back of it?
I will say that as I mentioned before, I've seen a lot of gratuitous tech where people put out platforms or apps that are just kind of mindless tapping on screens but the ones that I've seen, that are most powerful have a research back to them where it's like, “We've seen this. This is what we've done. This is how we researched it. This is how we've studied it and these are the outcomes you could have if used correctly.” That kind of stuff I love. So, once I see that, I know OK, that's good. And, then, of course being the tech person, I'm thinking all right, “How easy is it for the students and teachers to access?” That's kind of my No. 2. Can teachers as quickly get into the program, does it interface with what they're doing already? Maybe it's with a grade-book platform that they have or a way for them, the students, and the teachers to login quickly and easily.
Because I've known from my years of experience that if it's hard for students to get onto the platform then teachers are going to quickly abandon it because that means chaos in your classroom and a lot of ways. And is that really worth it? So, that's kind of my No. 2. You have to have that kind of “why” is it research based and then the kind of “how” of how easy is it to access? And, then, my third one is more of the “what” and that is: What's happening with the data? Is it being utilized by the teacher? Being a paranoid tech guy, too, I'm always worried like is the student's data being used for other things? So, kind of, I always check with the company on that. It's like, “What are you doing with our data?” Then, can we use it in a way that's going to continue to help the kids learn and grow or is it just being kind of run in the background and not really useful to us?
So, those are my three. My “why,” “how,” and “what” of what I look at a program. And if it kind of checks the boxes and I have, of course, multiple people vet it, I don't want it to just to be me. Lots of different teachers interface with it. Students interface with it. And, if it's kind of gone through the…I guess met the sniff test, so to speak when it comes to a tech tool. Then, I'm ready to try it out and pilot it. And that's generally what we do next is we would pilot it for a period of three to six months and get feedback. Is it working? Is it working well in your classroom? Are there adjustments that need to be made? And if it's working well, how do we expand the pilot? How do we do it thoughtfully to where every student can benefit from a useful program like that?
PA: Oh, thank you, Carl. I just love, love your insights here. Now, I'm asking you to put on an administrator hat, the principal hat. Let's say you're out there to roll out a brand new blended-learning program. You are excited. You've got those various levels of teachers you talked about before. How do you help them overcome the resistance? And, then, you gave us some insight, as well, and you talked about the ones in the middle and getting them excited. What if we have those who are still at that edge of, “You know what? I'm looking at what you are doing, and it might look good, but that's not my cup of tea.” How do we help those teachers lead them and guide them into using the technology that's there that can be such a wonderful resource for themselves, their students in their classrooms?
CH: I think, for me, you have to find not only the teacher. So, there's always going to be that like I mentioned earlier, there's going to be a group of innovators that are willing to grab a hold of any program and run with it. However, for the vast majority of teachers, they see those teachers and go, “That's great for them. They're the teacher that always wants to try new things but not for me necessarily.” I've found it's best if you find a couple, not necessarily the naysayers but let's just say a teacher that's got a pretty loud voice in the campus that may not be the most tech -savvy teacher and kind of work with them on, “Let's talk about a small win. Let's start small, just pick out one little program that will work in your classroom and see how do we replace that.” And, then, give them the time and support to actually do it.
So, don't come in and say, “We're going to do a one-hour training on how to use this program. And then next week I expect you to use it.” Instead say, “Hey, we're going to look at this program kind of at first. So, what does it do for us? How does it help our kids?” Kind of help them with that “why” a little bit. And, then, say, "By the way, here's how we're going to support you." We're going to have, maybe it's an instructional coach. Maybe it's a librarian. Maybe it's someone that comes in, an assistant principal or even the principal, come in and say, "We're going to come in and just kind of see how it's going and see what kind of road bumps you're going up against and how we can help you with those." So, it's the teacher at that point feels like, “OK, I understand a little bit of the ‘why’ and, now, I'm hearing that I'm going to get some support for this.”
So, I'm starting to run out of excuses as to why I can't use it. And, then, ultimately at the end, of course it comes down to learning. So, for an administrator, I always feel like it's important. Evaluation is a big part of everything when it comes to tech integration. And I do think that some schools tend to drift toward what I call a proficiency-based model, where they say if you're a teacher that uses technology, you check a box. You use technology and that's it. So, I touched my Smart Board today, therefore, I used technology. I think instead it needs to be more of a growth based. So, you challenge your teacher and say, “I want you to pick one or two things that you want to grow in and then we're going to support you with that growth.”
Whether it be professional development. Whether it's getting the tools in there, so pick one or two things. And it doesn't have to be just you as an individual. Maybe it's your grade-level team. Maybe it's all the second grade teachers get together and say, “We want to really try to do this blended-learning literacy program.” And, then, as an administrator you have to make sure you follow through on it and say, “OK. You’ve picked this. You've identified this. You're motivated to try it. Now, I'm going to go in and give you the support you need. I'm going to give you a half-day sub to spend time just really figuring out the program. How you want it to work. What your schedule is going to look like with the program. That way you guys have time to actually implement it.”
Because I do find a lot of times teachers telling me like, “Yeah, that sounds great, Carl, but I don't have time to even use it. To play with it. To see how it's going to work.” As an administrator, you have to both make it part of their evaluation but also say, “Here's some time for you,” to also make it happen and support. So, again, with all of those kinds of structures in place, you'll still possibly have the one teacher that's still going to hold out strong. But you've given them…You pretty much used up all their excuses when it comes to why they don't want to do it. You want to give them reasons why they should do it.
PA: Right, I love that positive mindset there. And what you've done just now, you've answered some questions I had in my mind. Carl, are you reading my mind is that why you're answering them? You gave some wonderful tips for teachers to get them started. So, what about pitfalls? Are there any pitfalls besides having technology that's just gratuitous? What are some other pitfalls that we need to consider? To give advice to teachers for what to avoid.
CH: I think for me, one of things I've seen that some teachers kind of fall prey to is the idea that whatever the program is, it's just going to be almost a digital babysitter and I think that's a dangerous thing. You can't say, “OK, guys, for an hour, you go over there and play that game and I'm never actually going to actually look and see what you've been doing on it.” So, they aren't looking at the data. They aren’t making adjustments. All the things we talked about earlier. And, then, it's almost seen as free fun time or a game time for the kids. And, so, the message that comes across when you say that to kids is this isn't very meaningful to me. Don't get me wrong, I love having fun in the classroom and I think it's important.
I think gaming in the classroom is also important but it's all in how you message it. I've seen some teachers fall prey to that where they say, “All right, so it’s your fun free time. Go play such-and-such math game or such-and-such literacy game in the background. And I'm never actually going to look at it as a teacher so I don't even care what you do. You can just be over there playing the game.” I don't think a lot of teachers do that but I have, unfortunately, during my tenure as an administrator, I've seen a couple of classrooms where teachers have said, “You know, we've got 10 more minutes. Just go goof around.” Or you know, it just comes across. It doesn't, it doesn't show that the instruction is very important to them. It doesn't show that the learning is as important.
Again, I don't want you to take away from that that I don't think fun and games are fine because I do think it's important to have fun in your classroom. So, I would just say as a pitfall, that's one thing I've seen. And, man, it'll derail it quick because once moms or mom and dad are at a soccer game talking to another mom and dad, they're like, "Oh, we hear all the kids do is play on those computers all day or play on those iPads." And, next thing you know, that's the narrative and you've just derailed your entire program. Even if it's a really powerful one just because it's how you message it to the kids. So, I would say words are powerful. We know this. So, be careful how you use them.
PA: Right? Definitely. So, getting students to understand their purpose. Well, Carl, we've been having a great time talking, but, finally, I want to ask you this question: If you could wave a magic wand and change the world of education, what would you change and why?
CH: Oh, this is my, this is my wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-in-a-cold-sweat question. It's, again, not a simple answer. I would say we need to figure out a way to break from 19th and 20th century norms when it comes to our classrooms and that means a couple of different things. It means we've got to kind of break from what's there like Sir Ken Robinson used to always say it was the factory-based model of when you're born, that's the grade level you're magically with. I think if there's a way to restructure it. So, again, going back to my daughter who was struggling with reading, but she's a whiz at math. She could be doing fifth grade math, but she's in second grade. So, how does she have an opportunity to stretch herself in certain areas but while still getting supports in others? So, that would be one thing.
The other would be the school schedule in general. And I know it's still based on kind of the agricultural model and we have summers off. I've seen so many kids especially, again, we're talking a lot about literacy here. It's that kind of nosedive that happens over the summer when they leave kind of on a high in May and June and then they come back in September and they've lost a lot of the momentum they've gotten when it comes to that, the literacy of what they picked up, what they've learned along the way. So, if there's a way and I know some schools do year-round schooling but it's still not a norm especially in public schools. So, if I could figure out a way to kind of break the grade-level model and also change that school schedule, I think I would do that if I could wave a magic wand and then see kind of the impact of what that would have with all the momentum that we've gained in classrooms in schools across the country.
PA: Right. So, a more personalized format?
PA: For both teachers and students. I love it. Love it. Well, I have to tell you, Carl, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us today. Can you please tell our listeners how they can learn more about you and your work and how they can follow you on social media?
CH: You bet. So, you can find all my work at carlhooker.com, C-A-R-L-H-O-O-K-E-R dot com. There, I have information about workshops, my blog, everything that's kind of on there. Feel free to bring me into your school or district anytime. Love to do this work with schools across the country. And, then, social media you can follow me on Twitter @mrHooker, M-R-H-O-O-K-E-R and then on Instagram @hookertech, H-O-O-K-E-R-T-E-C-H. So, yeah, join, follow, and let's continue the conversation online.
PA: Oh, thank you so much for spending time with us.
CH: Thanks, Pam.
PA: This is Pam Austin, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.
Narrator: This has been an EDVIEW360 podcast produced by Voyager Sopris Learning. For additional thought-provoking discussions, sign up for our blog, webinar, and podcast series at voyagersopris.com/podcast. If you enjoyed the show, we'd love a five-star review wherever you listen to podcasts to help other people like you find our show. Thank you.
*Carl Hooker is not affiliated with Voyager Sopris Learning. Nor does he endorse or make any representations or warranties regarding products associated with Voyager Sopris Learning.