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EdTech: Mirror, Mirror


The Tinniest Schoolhouse
by Ta-Nehisi Coates

School of One is the brainchild of a Teach for America vet named Joel Rose. A former Houston-area elementary-school teacher, Rose watched the kids who left his class graduate to everything from high school to the county jail. He wanted to know why educators were able to reach some kids but not others. So he tracked down his former students and talked with them about how their experiences in his class had affected their future. After hours of conversation, Rose began wondering about the possibilities of an individualized curriculum.

Teachers generally work on a mass-production model—if 30 kids are in the class, the goal is to find a method that will allow the highest percentage of them to succeed. A great teacher can employ secondary methods to get through to laggards, but given the variables that individual students bring to the class, a handful of kids will inevitably be shortchanged…


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“The vision I had was a large open space with different modalities happening at the same time,” Rose told me. “I don’t know a lot about technology. But I did talk to people who know a lot about technology. I said, ‘I’ve got this crazy idea. Is this even doable?’ And they said, ‘Yeah.”…

School of One is the tangible result of those conversations. To come up with a way to tailor a lesson plan and teaching method for 320 seventh-graders in a pilot program at three schools, Rose collaborated with Wireless Generation, a Brooklyn computer-programming firm. … At the end of every day, the student takes another short diagnostic, which is used to create another tentative lesson plan that appears in the teachers’ inboxes by eight o’clock that evening.

Scan-a-tron on steroids?

This appears to be a great move towards redefining our educational system in terms of a new economy. Is it just scan-a-tron on steroids? Or is it a real answer? The term being used today is “Differentiated Instruction.” It goes back to my columns about one size does not fit all. This has always been the way in the arts. Each student was unique and had developed to a personal level.

However, this is not financially possible today. We cannot afford individual tutoring for all students. The solution above seems to be the answer. We need to use technology to alter and adjust instruction and testing to fit the student at their level. Now this does sound a bit like coddling the student, but maybe not if they understand the consequences and not if the testing has a level process with rewards. This actually sounds a lot like a game. Remember my column on Einstein not being able to do basic algebra? Yet when someone made it a game he quickly comprehended.

Maybe this is the mirror? Maybe we use this technique as a mirror that is held up to every student and we get to see what they are really made of? Only we have the ability to adjust the determining factor and see what would make it better. Maybe in here is the truth? After all, “mirrors do not lie,” just as long as we don’t.

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