Friday, February 26, 2010

The Drill and The Hole

Last year on Twitter, one of the members of my network, @plind, tweeted the following:

At the time, a lot of the staff development I was doing centered around instructional technology and I thought it fit in perfectly with the notion that it's not about the tool, it's about the task. I think about the quote every once in awhile, but lately, it's really been resonating in the work I'm doing. The last few weeks have been filled with instructional coaching opportunities that have largely boiled down to differentiated instruction and choices for students. Specifically, I've been talking a lot about strategies and Web 2.0 Tools, but not necessarily describing the tools so much as divining the purposes of the tools for a particular task.

At this point, it's come down to how the purpose for learning is related to the methodology. It's always going to continue to be about the content, and not the resource. The tools are meant to be a value-added feature of instruction, but not intended to replace the content. What I mean by that is yes, I need the drill to make the hole, though the drill isn't the only way to make the hole, but I still need the hole whether the drill is around or not.

I also don't necessarily need to be proficient with the drill to use it effectively. This is important. I still need to meet my objective, which is to create a hole, but I can do that without knowing everything there is to know about the drill, beyond plugging it in and making sure I have a steady hand. There are loads of attachments and methods and strategies, I'm sure, but I don't need to know everything in order to drill the hole I need. Likewise, there are so many web tools available for use now that it would be virtually impossible for a teacher to learn them all at a proficient level before using them with their students. They should certainly investigate them, but they shouldn't feel like they have to know every tweak and nuance. Many of the students will figure those out themselves. This allows the teacher to offer several choices for tools to be used, without feeling like they have to master each and every one.

All this to say, it's not the tool you use, it's the evidence of learning that occurs. If the tool enables that, great. But it's still about that hole.

Also, I'd like to note that metaphorically, "the hole" comparison to learning sounds not so great to me. I don't want to give the impression that I think we should just fill kids' heads up with knowledge, like we'd bulldoze dirt into a sinkhole. I just like the quote, and it made me think.

Additionally, since I'm on the subject of drills as a tool, I think it's important to recognize that the drill goes into my toolbox. I chose it specifically for a task--drilling a hole. I didn't pick up the drill and walk around the house with it wondering what I could apply it to. My toolbox is full of tools that are appropriate for different tasks, and I have all those tools so that I can make the right choice. That toolbox is a great metaphor. The more tools we offer to the students, the more choices they have when it comes time to select the appropriate methodology for showing evidence of learning.

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