By Adria Tate, Program Manager, AVID Center Western Division
According to Tony Wagner, in The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – And What We Can Do About It, Linda Stone, former Microsoft Executive, once shared with him that, in order to understand how young people relate to the world, we need to understand what it means to pay continuous partial attention. “Continuous partial attention describes how many of us use our attention today…To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention – CONTINUOUSLY. Another way of saying this is that we want to connect and be connected. We want to effectively scan for opportunity and optimize for the best opportunities, activities, and contacts, in any given moment. To be busy, to be connected, is to be alive, to be recognized, and to matter” (p. 175).
I had not always understood this sense of connectedness as being of the utmost importance to education. As a high school social studies teacher, I thought that the most important exchange was what I had to offer my students, not how my students would receive it. I have been away from the front of the classroom for seven years, and what I now know to be true is that the manner in which students receive, access, process, and use information has changed dramatically. As educators, we have a responsibility to recognize that change and to more effectively use the resources we have to address it.
My “a-ha” moment came after I presented a short professional learning workshop on collaboration to the entire staff of a local AVID high school. After the training, the district’s technology coordinator said to me, “You know, the strategies that you presented are mostly ‘pen and paper’ strategies, and we are a 21st century school, going ‘one to one’.” I stood there, dumbfounded. I had presented material from The Student Success Path and Critical Reading: Deep Reading Strategies for Expository Texts with an intentional focus on Robert Marzano’s high-yield strategies. How did I not align with their instructional needs? I became incredibly reflective and immediately asked myself, “If I am not providing the appropriate professional learning opportunities that my clients need, then eventually, my clients won’t need me. What sort of professional learning do I need in order to stay current with my schools?”
In reflecting back on that exchange with the technology coordinator, I now realize that he was only referring to the use of information, media and technology as 21st century skills, and, more specifically, the absence of those skills from my training. What he didn’t distinguish is that 21st century skills also include critical thinking and problem solving, written and oral communication, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, accessing and analyzing information, and curiosity and imagination, all of which are deeply embedded in AVID’s WICOR instructional strategies.
As a result of that exchange, I immediately began to research what it meant to be a 21st century school, what it meant to be “one to one,” and what it would look like to replace “pen and paper” strategies with other, more technology-based strategies. I read Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap, reviewed Marzano’s Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, looked over the PowerPoint for David Conley’s “Four Keys to College and Career Readiness,” and spent many hours on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ website among other things. I also asked myself, “How can AVID more closely align with the 21st century college- and career-ready skills reflected in the work of Wagner, Marzano, Conley, and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and embed those skills into our AVID College Readiness System?” To see how these 21st century skills were being applied in the classroom, I asked to visit several classrooms at the local AVID high school where I had given the professional learning workshop. Not a single teacher would volunteer to let me observe their class with the intention of witnessing 21st century teaching in action. The reality of this was evidence that I was not the only one unfamiliar with what it meant to be a 21st century school. It seemed to me that “pen and paper” were still the norm in many of our AVID classrooms.
Fortunately, because of the forward thinking of AVID, as a professional learning organization, there is cause for celebration! While technology is not the only, and perhaps, not even the most important 21st century skill, it is one upon which AVID is determined to set the standard. With our continued focus on Blended Learning ‘Launches and Boosts’, our E-Learning ‘On Demand Training Modules’, and our very intentional inclusion of 21st Century Skills and STEM Initiatives as part of this year’s National Conference, AVID is staying ahead of the learning curve on knowing how and when to use the appropriate technology for achieving the highest level of teaching and learning.
Additionally, and more recently, the organization conducted several focus groups on how AVID teachers are using technology in the classroom to make the curriculum more engaging and accessible and to enhance the learning of our students. Tim Bugno, Program Manager for Professional Development and Curriculum, shared, “Over the summer, AVID conducted three focus groups of teachers, administrators, and District Directors on the topic of classroom technology for two main purposes. The first was to determine the best practices with classroom technology, and the second was a vision casting and needs assessment. We feel that we have made great strides in both of these endeavors, and are beginning to pull together solutions, suggestions, and a forward thinking plan that will support educators' transition into the 21st century.” Another important forward thinking development is in the writing and revisions of our Write Path Curriculum Guides. Our newly revised The Write Path English Language Arts: Exploring Texts with Strategic Reading includes 21st century skills that are embedded within the reading strategies, intentionally focusing upon the use of technology in language arts. Michelle Mullen, one of the authors of this guide and the National Director of Curriculum Initiatives for AVID Center, writes, “It is important to realize though, that technology is not just a vehicle for implementing strategies; it actually provides a different way of ‘seeing’ and making sense of the world. Our high-tech students enter our classrooms with a whole new literacy that we want to engage. It is incumbent upon us to engage students by bridging their high-tech literacy skills to some of the more traditional literacy skills found in the language arts classroom” (p. 5).
Finally, it is with the support of our Executive Vice President, Rob Gira, and our Director of Professional Learning and Instructional Delivery Systems, Lauren Ramers, that this blog was even written. It is the forward thinking of this organization that truly makes AVID a 21st century professional learning organization!
We are moving in the right direction; we are creating professional learning opportunities and curriculum guides for our teachers that will ultimately enable their students to, as Linda Stone put it, be busy and be connected, in order to be alive, be recognized, and to matter.
As we embark upon a new academic school year, I am hopeful that the professional learning opportunities that AVID provides to our clients will continue to be engaging, that the inclusion of technology will reflect responsible and effective application, and that, as an AVID representative intent on furthering AVID’s mission every day, I will be more mindful in how I help teachers to increase student engagement, and ultimately, student achievement.