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Finding the Right Balance of Talk, Student Voice, and Technology

posted Apr 1, 2016, 7:02 AM by HSD Principal

            In this article in Literacy Today, Julie Coiro (University of Rhode Island) takes note of a large international study by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development), which found that computers were having no significant impact on students’ proficiency in reading, math, and science. In many countries, the study found, frequent use of computers actually made students’ performance worse. “Although these findings may relate to differences in professional development or implementation,” says Coiro, “it was clear that drill-and-practice software had a negative effect on student performance.”

            Coiro draws a distinction between personalized and personal approaches to teaching and learning:


-   Experiences are customized for each student but controlled by the teacher or program.

-   Students work individually on computers.

-   They move through personalized playlists independently and at their own pace.

-   Students have little choice in selecting the activities or how they demonstrate mastery.

-   Students have few opportunities to construct ideas or collaborate with others.


-   Students initiate and control the learning process.

-   Learning experiences often emerge from actively engaging and talking with others about personal wonderings.

-   These wonderings are often sparked by a topic or problem encountered in school, at home, or in the community.

-   Students have opportunities to generate questions and create products that connect their own interests to real-life concerns.

-   Technology is not critical for learning to be personal; all that’s needed is space and time to actively reflect, collaborate, and engage with personally meaningful ideas.

-   Once students are empowered to direct their own learning pathways, technology can open the door to a range of texts, tools, and people to explore and connect ideas.

“What worries me,” says Coiro, “is that, in some circles, personalized learning increasingly has come to represent a narrow strategy of computer-based instruction with limited opportunities for human interaction and personal ownership of the learning process. When blended learning becomes synonymous with separating students into cubbies equipped with headphones and customized digital playlists for a large percentage of each school day, we risk losing sight of the human elements that make learning a truly personal endeavor.”

            Coiro believes that when blended learning is implemented in a balanced way, “teachers and students use a range of human and digital resources to improve their ability to think, problem solve, collaborate, and communicate. A delicate balance of talk and technology use keeps us all grounded in conversations with other people about what really matters.” Coiro has four suggestions for striking this balance:

            • Build a culture of personal inquiry. Students have regular opportunities to pursue topics relevant to them, using a range of texts, tools, and people (offline and online) to get emotionally engaged.

            • Expect learners to talk. Students engage in literacy experiences involving face-to-face and online collaboration, conversations, arguments, negotiations, and presentations.

            • Encourage digital creation. Students create original products that share new knowledge and connect insights from school, home, and the community.

            • Make space for students to participate and matter. “Through participation, individuals assert their autonomy and ownership of learning,” says Coiro. “In turn, their inquiry becomes more personal and engaging.”


“Let’s Get Personal: Balancing Talk with Technology to Truly Personalize Learning” by Julie

Coiro in Literacy Today, January/February 2016 (Vol. 33, #4, p. 6-7), no free e-link available; Coiro can be reached at jcoiro@uri.edu.

Excerpt taken from Marshall Memo #622, Feb. 1, 2016