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Overwhelmed with Opportunity

In a small exploratory study completed recently as a part of Transforming Professional Learning to Prepare College- and Career-Ready Students: Implementing the Common Core, Kentucky teachers report that they are overwhelmed with, yet grateful for, the technology-based resources available to them to support implementation of the Common Core standards. The study, reported in Meet the Promise of Content Standards: The Role of Technology in Teacher and Student Learning and supported by the Sandler, Bill & Melinda Gates, and MetLife Foundations, follows nine teachers through a four-month period as they turned to web-based resources for their own and their students' learning.

Teachers volunteered to participate in the study and received a stipend for their participation. They agreed to tap into five different, freely available technology-supported resources several times per month and complete a brief survey about their experiences and participate in a focus group. Teachers used the five resources and many others that they identified or had available through their schools or districts.

Overall teachers express gratitude for the wealth of available web-based resources. Teachers appreciate in particular a few elements in the resources. They like the ability and flexibility to design instruction to meet students' differentiated learning needs and to provide students with frequent assessments of and feedback about their learning. They also appreciate access to current, relevant resources that allow them to provide different levels of instruction to students, connect students with instructional resources outside the classroom, and facilitate formative assessment with nearly immediate results. The web-based resources provide a stopgap until textbooks, electronic or print, fully align with the Common Core.

However, the benefits have a concomitant cost.

One cost, teachers report, is the time to locate, analyze, and evaluate the available resources. Because of the enormous breadth of what is available for teachers, it is very time consuming to search for high-quality instructional and professional learning resources that align with Common Core standards, student learning needs, and the specific curriculum they teach. In addition, the unevenness of quality of web-based resources causes teachers to be particularly wary of what they locate. Wading through the breadth of resources to find those that are of the highest quality requires thoughtful analysis, a process teachers do not want to shortchange. And although some technologies help them identify resources, the participants still consistently express fatigue with the amount of time and energy they had to invest to find good resources, then match them to the Common Core standards.

Ideally, teachers request, the technology solutions and web-based resources would be vetted for alignment with Common Core standards and the curriculum as well as for rigor. Teachers particularly note that multiple resources for basic instruction in concepts in their respective disciplines are plentiful, yet what is lacking are instructional resources to support deeper learning and authentic application of learning, a key distinction between Common Core standards and earlier ones.

Another surprising cost is districts' technology infrastructure and policies. Teachers complain that bandwidth is too limited, hardware is outdated, and dependability of connectivity is uneven. Teachers are also surprised about access policies that restrict use of websites teachers determine are relevant and useful. One teacher reported locating an instructional resource to guide students in applying learning in real-world ways, designed a lesson to integrate the website, and discovered the site was blocked when he tried to access it on the school's server. Because appropriate instructional resources to support application of learning are disappointingly few, when sites teachers deem appropriate are blocked, their efforts are wasted and they must spend additional time to be able to access the sites.

To manage the challenges associated with the abundance of resources, teachers turn to peers for help locating resources. Collaborating with each other opens doors for teachers to share what they have found, learn how others have used the resources in similar grades or courses, and evaluate the effectiveness of resources. Teachers, pooling their experiences, develop a collective knowledge about what works and what doesn't. Teachers discover through face-to-face and online collaboration that they are not working alone to meet the challenge of the new standards.

District leaders can support teachers as they transition their classroom curriculum and instruction to align with Common Core standards in several ways. Providing opportunities for collaboration, access to vetted web-based resources, and the infrastructure to support their use are the first steps. Lastly, district and school leaders can ensure that teachers have effective and sufficient professional learning to meet the demands of Common Core standards and create classroom learning environments that support deep implementation of the standards.

Joellen Killion
Senior Advisor, Learning Forward

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