I am a big fan of the Food Network. One of my favorite shows is Chopped, where chefs are tasked with using four unrelated (and often unusual) ingredients into a cohesive dish in a short amount of time. A recent episode challenged chefs to create a palatable entree from mackerel, squid ink base, candied orange peel, and graffiti eggplant in 30 minutes.
I do not consider myself a chef. The extent of my culinary prowess extends to a long list of slow cooker dishes that I’ve found on Pinterest. In fact, when I’m cooking, I often think how I would be the first contestant chopped as it routinely takes me 30 minutes to find and prepare my ingredients prior to cooking. I am always amazed that these chefs are able to put together any kind of meal in 30 minutes. But what the completed dishes have in beauty, they lack in cohesion. I watch and think, “These foods can’t possibly taste good together. I mean, who wants to eat a candied orange fish smothered in a squid ink and eggplant puree?”
When I work with educators about using educational technology to support English Learners I often feel that I’m in an educational episode of Chopped. “I have 6 ELs, 2 iPads, 45 minutes, and a lesson plan about the midwest region of the US. What technology tool should I use?” While I laud educators that endeavor to incorporate innovative strategies into instruction, I often caution them about using technology solely for the sake of using technology. At best, jamming a technology resource into instruction where it doesn’t fit can lead to a contrived, inauthentic learning experience for students. At worst, it can hinder a student’s academic achievement and language development. Bottom line -- English Learners deserve more than a forced mashup of tools and circumstances.
Don’t get me wrong, teaching with technology shared similarities with cooking on Chopped. Teachers and chefs are both creative professionals who rely on their training, experience, and creativity to create magical results out of ordinary circumstances. However, handfuls of salt and spices won’t save a burnt meal just like adding technology to a weak lesson will give you nothing more than a flashier weak lesson.
As you design technology-infused instruction, here are some questions to consider:
I am a former EL/bilingual teacher and administrator, current EL & Bilingual Education Consultant, and lifelong student working on my EdD in Curriculum Studies. I'm most passionate about the use of instructional technology with English Learners as a catalyst for language development and academic achievement.