Let’s Stop Talking Tools

I often joke with my vice principal, Kristi Keery-Bishop, that we tend to publish similar blog posts at just about the same time. It’s because we often converse about various topics, and these conversations inspire the posts. So it definitely made me laugh out loud on Wednesday night, after just facilitating a full day at Minds on Media, when I received this tweet from Kristi:


Even though I was beyond exhausted at the time, I had to read the post, and I’m so glad that I did.

Kristi’s message actually resonated with me throughout the rest of the ECOO Conference, and entered into various conversations I had with different educators, including Kim Gill and Gillian Madeley. The bottom line is that I love using technology in our classroom because it helps students learn. It often helps narrow the gap for students that have difficulty accessing information or sharing their learning in different ways. I know that someone else has said this before, and I apologize now for borrowing the words and not knowing whom to credit, but, “Technology does not change lives. People change lives.”

This is my plea to all of you now that the ECOO Conference is over: if we haven’t already, let’s start changing our dialogue at school. Instead of asking for more computers, iPads, or SMART Boards, let’s start our discussions addressing these questions instead:

  • How are we going to ensure that all students can read?
  • How are we going to ensure that all students can write?
  • How are we going to ensure that all students can answer math problems and explain their thinking when doing so?
  • How are we going to support inquiry in the classroom?
  • How are we best going to meet the needs of our struggling students?
  • What supports do we need in place to help narrow the achievement gap and ensure success for all?
  • How are we going to use those tools to best support those students that need them?

Now our conversations are moving away from the tools, and moving on to how to use these devices to support our kids. If, when we introduce new tools in the classroom, we can also start with the learning goals and curriculum expectations, and then show students how these tools can help us achieve these goals, we’re changing the focus in our classrooms as well. I think that this is a good focus to change!

As someone that is getting evaluated this year, I’d love for my principal to mention my use of technology in the classroom, but not because I use computers, iPads, a SMART Board, and a Livescribe Pen, but because I use them to help students learn. It’s the second part here that matters. When I chose workshops to attend at #ecoo13, I did not choose ones that just discussed the devices, I chose ones that discussed the pedagogy.

How do we discuss the pedagogy more at the school level? How do we move beyond the glitz and glamour of the devices and onto the why behind these devices? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!


21 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Talking Tools

  1. Hi Aviva,

    Great post! I think it is important for us all to remember to focus on pedagogy first and the tool second. It seems to be a subtle shift that is beginning but one that will gain more momentum as people start to think critically about the tools they use and the why.

    Thanks for getting me thinking on a Sunday morning!


  2. Thanks for the comment, Mary! I agree that this shift is beginning, but we definitely need to keep pushing for it. I think this is an important change to make. How do we continue to get others to see this too?

    Thanks for adding to the conversation!

  3. Hi Aviva,
    I LOVE this post! It is so important to focus on the end goal and where we envision our students. More importantly, students should have a vision for themselves and set goals that move them forward. Our K team has learning goals posted around the room and this helps us focus on what we are trying to achieve with our young learners. Just as we encourage higher order questioning from our students, we need to ask ourselves more of those “why” and “how” questions. Our school has been using more iPads this year and it’s a slow shift in thinking initially … But we’re now having more conversations about pedagogy than the tool. The tool is just that.. A great way to incorporate more inquiry and give students more ownership over their learning. Tools will come and go but students will continue learning. It’s our job to figure out how to facilitate that… and that changes all the time! Thanks for pushing my thinking this weekend.

    • Your comment makes me so happy, Mubina! Maybe it’s this support and sharing amongst teachers at the school that helps bring about change. We need to continue to have these important conversations, so that students and teachers alike can envision where to go next.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Hi Aviva,
    As usual, you have given a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I think the questions you offer should be the starting point of planning we do. I will say, though, on reflecting on my own post from last week, I don’t want teachers to shy away from using a new tool just because they can’t go straight to high-return, higher order thinking type “stuff” right away. Using a tool takes practice, experimentation and time. How do we encourage people to try new things and new tools, encourage them to use them in a way that meaningfully supports student learning, but also give them time to learn how to use the tool too? I’m not sure I have an answer for this, but I know you are always thinking! Thanks.

    • Thanks for the comment, Kristi! As always, your thoughts make me pause. I agree with you that we need time to play with these tools to see how they can be used to develop higher order skills. Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

      1) What about giving this playtime initially during a staff meeting or PD session? Give people time to just explore the tools, and then have us brainstorm a list of ways that we could use these tools to support our students. Maybe sharing ideas will help! Then people also get the chance to play with these lower-level ways, but use the tools for more in the classroom itself.

      2) What about creating a learning team in the school where teachers can share ideas of how they’re using technology in the classroom? We can opt into this option, but with the idea, that we’re open to sharing and open to feedback. Then we can support each other as we try new things with our students.

      3) What about adding a Sharing Section to the Week-At-A-Glance? Teachers can share ways with you that they’re using technology to help meet student needs, and you can pick a few ideas to profile each week. Teachers can share anonymously or with their name attached. This is a way to promote the good things that are happening in the school, but also help share the ideas with the other staff members to try.

      What do you think? Would these ideas work?

      • Aviva,
        I can speak to your first two ideas as we have used them ( and continue to). Our admin is extremely supportive of the fact that we need the time to explore these tools in order to understand how they complement our programming. We have set aside time at staff meetings, PD days and during school hours to explore and learn about iPads. We will continue sharing ideas during monthly staff meetings so people get a range of ideas and perspectives. I like adding the ideas to the week at a glance and think that little added bit of accountability encourages people to think more along the lines of pedagogy and student achievement.

        • Thanks Mubina! I’m glad to hear that those other ideas worked, and I’m curious to hear how this last one does. I think that this accountability option might help people focus more on pedagogy. It could be worth trying … right?

          Thanks again for sharing your experiences and adding to the conversation!

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  6. Thanks for making me think, Aviva. I am struggling with this one… I would like to believe that every teacher in the building is grappling with some of the core questions that you listed … I don’t think the request for more technology is a disconnect from that thinking (about how to provide the best learning environment to ensure reading, writing and thinking) but a response to some of those questions. I would be concerned if the requests for technology were simply to provide “free time” or lower level activities, but I see most teachers using the technology in effective ways to engage kids, and get the most out of their students. As we keep our focus clearly connected to the curriculum and we build capacity around inquiry learning and “student voice and choice”, I think more teachers will begin to see the value of the tools (which you have been telling us for years – ha ha!). I think that is why we are getting the request for more tools. Maybe it’s just my positive/delusional attitude shining through again 🙂

    • Paul, I understand where you’re coming from here, and I always appreciate your positive attitude (and I’m going to keep it as “positive” and not “delusional” :)). I also think that most teachers are really grappling with these same questions and asking for more technology as a response to these questions. That being said, our conversations tend to often be about “needing more technology” and not about “why we need it.” I wonder if starting the discussion with the why would ensure that this is at the forefront when we do use the iPads, iPods, computers, or SMART Boards. It’s a subtle shift, but I do think it’s an important one.

      Sometimes there’s also a reluctance to use technology because there are not enough tools for everyone. I think that our school focus on “student voice and choice” will help with this a lot, and maybe it will make all of us (myself included) really think about the reasons we make the choices that we do. I’d like to think that all teachers want what’s best for students. In my opinion, asking these questions helps us create these “best” environments.


      • Just wondering ( since this came up more than once at meetings), what are your thoughts on teachers who’d rather not use the technology? As professionals, is everyone allowed to decide how best to meet their student needs? Is there a subtle emphasis ( or sometimes not so subtle) on using a particular tool? Is it okay for teachers to answer the questions you asked without using technological tools? Or are these tools being pushed as ‘the best ones’ to promote such and such and there’s judgment if they’re not bring used?

        • Wow Mubina! These are great questions. What’s the reason that people don’t want to use technology? Are they meeting these student needs without the use of technology? Would technology allow them to better meet these needs? I don’t think that technology is the answer to everything, but for some students with special needs, the assistive technology options are some of the best ones I’ve seen to allow students to meet expectations and achieve the highest level of academic success possible. If there are other equivalent options, I’d love to hear about them, but at this point, I haven’t seen them. When it comes to “student choice and student voice,” we need to look at all tools — technology and paper options — to close the achievement gap and offer the best choices to ALL students. What do you think?


  7. I have a section on our library website’s Ed-Tech page entitled Philosophy, and it reads:

    As ed-tech tools are increasing at an incomprehensible pace, it is important to always remember that technology should be used to support learning. Of course our students need experience using tech tools in order to create “tool belts” for future use, however the purpose should always come before the tool. Metaphorically, you wouldn’t teach someone how to use a screwdriver unless they needed to tighten or loosen a screw. Technology tools should enhance and/or simplify the task at hand.

    Will this tool create an effective way for students to collaborate?
    Will this tool add a meaningful way to express learning?
    Will this tool assist in effectively reaching a chosen audience?
    Will this tool support connections and sharing with others outside of our school walls?
    Will this tool support creative thinking?
    Will this tool assist students in making deeper connections?
    Will this tool support problem solving?
    Will this tool assist in evaluating and analyzing information?

    Students should be encouraged to think similarly, “Which tool will assist me in meeting my needs?”
    When introducing a new technology tool with students, it’s also helpful to discuss ideas on how else they may use this tool both in their academic and non-academic lives. They just may surprise you by what they come up with!

    I wholeheartedly agree with your post. The why needs to come before the what and the how in order to keep it all in perspective!

    • Deb, I can’t tell you how much I loved what you shared here. What important questions to ask too! I also like your focus on the students: it’s great for us to ask them these important questions to have them thinking more about the “why” and more about the choices that they make.

      Thanks for continuing to have me think, and thanks for joining in on this conversation!

  8. Okay, so I wrote a long post on my phone earlier but it got erased… technology! In response to your question as to why some people don’t want to use technology, here is some of what was discussed at our school: How are we measuring the success of students using a particular technological tool? How do we define student achievement in our school and is technology use contributing to its increase? Are we defining student achievement differently now because the tool is pushing our pedagogy in a different direction? What role do standardized assessments have in all this? I think one of the drawbacks for some teachers is the unfamiliarity and time factor of incorporating new technologies. In this data driven society, people want to see documented evidence of how new tools lead to increased student achievement. Do our perceptions of increased engagement (every time, because students today are drawn to technology) translate into realities when it comes to assessment? With regard to students with special needs, I don’t think anyone can argue that multiple, amazing doors are opened with technology. These are just a few of our discussions.. you’re right in that there are more questions than answers.

    • Thanks for re-writing your comment, Mubina, and sharing these many questions! I think that the hard thing when it comes to technology is it’s difficult to separate the tool from the teacher using the tool. In my opinion, how it’s used matters so much. Some of my best lessons/activities have been done using technology and some have not. More than technology or no technology, I think that we need to focus on student voice, student choice, and differentiated instruction (our school focus areas for this year). Providing these choices to help all students succeed is so important! Looking at ways that we can get students to question more, think deeper, and inquire more are also so important. There are many ways that we can do so with technology and many ways without. Maybe by looking at pedagogy first (and the “why” behind these tools) we’ll move the discussion beyond technology and get deeper as we look at tech versus no tech. Just my initial thoughts … I’m curious to hear what others have to say!

      Thanks for pushing my thinking too!

  9. Aviva
    As usual, you have stimulated our thinking.
    One of the comments above raises the question about why some professionals do not want to use technology in their classroom. I can see some link to something that has been bothering me for a while now. My personal life brings me into contact with my own family and friends where there are many younger parents with pre-school and school age children. I am amazed to find myself in many conversations with them regarding their fear of the role that technology plays in both the personal and educational life of their children. They are reluctant to see why it needs to be a part of the classroom. When I ask them ‘why?’ they say that they believe that the technology takes away from the human element of learning and interacting. When I push them to think longer and harder about their fears, they have no real basis apart from the fact that they struggle to come to terms with technology in their own lives (outside of basic level Smartphone use and Facebook etc). These younger parents come from a diverse range of demographics and academic background.
    I think that as technology savvy educators you need to keep in mind that there is a gap between the type of questions that you have shared above that prompt educators to stop thinking ‘tools’ and start thinking ‘knowledge acquisition and learning process’ and the sorts of interactions educators are not having with the broader community.
    Your post is about getting educators to move away from thinking ‘tools’ but it is a broader area of concern.
    If the educators cannot articulate what they do and why they do it in terms of the pedagogy, they are going to be breeding the distrust of educational technology in the broader community.
    Just puzzling.

    • Carmel, thank you so much for your comment! Wow! Did you ever get me thinking today. This reminds me that we really need to be communicating with parents about what we do and why we do it. As Aaron Puley would say, we also need to encourage parents to ask us these deep questions, and enter into a real dialogue behind the choices we make. These choices should be shared ones too. Maybe technology isn’t always the best option, and maybe by discussing the options, we’re really thinking about not just what we do, but what’s the best way to do what we do for all students.

      A very interesting point …

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