by: Rob Grimshaw, CEO, TES Global
Over the last decade, policymakers ushered in an era of accountability that stimulated broad adoption of education technology. EdTech entrepreneurs have, in turn, been able to access unprecedented levels of investment from venture capitalists and major foundations.
In many ways, teachers are leading the charge. A recent survey showed that 96% of teachers believe technology plays a significant role in the classroom. We’re seeing the rise of the “teacher-entrepreneur,” and experts from other fields collaborating with educators to solve problems in new and unconventional ways.
As it turns out, the flood of non-educators into the field can also be maddening for teachers. Too often, so-called disruptors think they “know” education and fail to solicit input from classroom teachers. We hear from teachers everyday who tell us that entrepreneurs often don’t understand—or take time to learn about—the fine grain of what happens in the classroom. As a result, their products sometimes miss the mark.
Over the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know many educators – and spent time with some of the brightest investors and technologists in the space. There is, at times, a massive gap in understanding. Here are a few key terms and concepts that may be missing from your education vocabulary—but are critical to grasp if you are a thoughtful non-educator, hoping to make an impact:
Curriculum vs. Standards
It’s amazing how many otherwise smart people get it wrong or conflate these terms. “Curriculum” refers to lessons, unit plans and academic content taught in a school or in a specific course or program. A “standard” is a level of proficiency a student is expected to meet in a given subject. Curriculum isn’t static. Great teachers make instructional decisions and content choices that make up the curriculum, every day, to help students meet the standards for that particular grade level and subject.
IDEA, 504, IEPs
Special educators are fighting a different fight in their classrooms. Teachers use IDEA, the acronym for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, as shorthand for the basket of requirements that ensure that special needs students receive a “free and appropriate public education.” Special educators are the educational lynch pin for students with ADHD, autism, and learning disabilities. Their work includes early identification and collaboration in the development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs). Section 504 of the law gives teachers flexibility to support students with extra time or separate locations for testing. Special education isn’t an anomaly—it’s a daily focus for most teachers and one that is frequently overlooked by the ed tech community.
Dual Language, Bilingual, ESL and ELL
English Language Learners (ELL students) could be part of any classroom in a school. Many of them have no detectable accent. In fact, 9.1 percent of students are ELLs in the United States. Teachers must account for these learners in their daily lessons. Dual Language refers to classrooms where teachers conduct half of the entire course in English and the other half in a foreign language. In a bilingual class, all students speak same native language. ESL typically refers to pullout classes where students receive instruction in English. Understanding not just the mega trends, but how shifting demographics impact classroom practice is the key to unlocking the potential of technology to help teachers serve this fast growing student population.
Project Based Learning. Would school be more effective if it was more like real life? That’s the thinking behind Project Based Learning where students spend more time exploring real world problems and challenges to acquire a deeper knowledge. Technology can play a powerful role here, but while this isn’t really a new concept – Socrates looked at how to learn through questioning, inquiry, and critical thinking – off-the-shelf tools and interventions rarely get it right. They need to take into account the need for the sort of sustained inquiry and reflection that great teachers use to foster deeper learning.
Remember those little stars your teacher used to put next to your name on the blackboard when you did something well? That’s part of classroom management. It’s rarely talked about, but classroom management is the set of activities that make the classroom run smoothly. From rewarding good answers to maintaining order, these management techniques make up a big part of a teacher’s day. Ignoring classroom management is missing the big picture. Its how great teachers provide the structure to help kids achieve their goals (and dreams).
These are, of course, just a few of the concepts and terms that I’ve picked-up from my travels with educators. They are only a starting point. Want to make a difference through edtech? Visit schools often. Spend time with great teachers. Observe their craft. Terminology is just a start.
I believe in the transformative role of technology in education. But we will move farther, faster, when more ‘outsiders’ take the time to grasp the language used and challenges faced by educators. Having a common language will help entrepreneurs and educators communicate more effectively so that we can make education in the classroom for engaging and effective for all students.
About the Author
Rob Grimshaw is the CEO of TES Global, one of the world’s largest collaborative network of teachers.
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