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Personalized ed tech empowers students to change their stories

Classroom teachers have long faced a serious conundrum: How can they help every student succeed when they have so many who learn at different paces and in different ways?

Katharine Hale, a tech coordinator for Gunston Middle School in Arlington, Virginia, knows this challenge well. When Hale was an elementary school teacher, her third, fourth and fifth grade classes were filled with students from a wide diversity of backgrounds, including English language learners and students with special education needs.

After watching novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, “The danger of a single story,” Hale realized that the U.S. educational system was guilty of labeling its students based on oversimplified, presupposed stories.

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“My first year teaching, I became part of the problem,” Hale admitted. “I would tell my students that every one of their stories mattered, but by the end of the year, those report cards and state tests told me, ‘Nope, only one story matters. And that story goes like this: Johnny, sit down and stop talking. Finish your homework. Complete that worksheet. Study those vocabulary words. And finally, take that test.’ If the story works in their favor, their story is ‘A student.’ But if not? Special ed. Average student. Behavior problem.”

Then Hale discovered what she calls a #plottwist with the potential to change students’ stories for the better. When she got the chance to pilot a 1:1 iPad initiative in her fifth grade class, she discovered that the assistive technology gave her the capacity to do what she struggled to do on her own: personalize instruction for every one of her students.

Hale also learned that tech alone is not enough. Without educators who get to know each student — including his or her unique strengths, challenges, interests and learning styles — and select digital tools that can improve learning for students individually, technology is just as likely to become a story repeater as a story changer.

Watch Hale’s ISTE 2016 Ignite talk to hear the stories of her students and how she was able to change their course with the appropriate use of inclusive technology.  

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