I recently began pulling students during intervention time who were struggling on the Lexia adaptive reading computer program. Lexia provides teachers with ready-made lessons to target the skills students can’t seem to master. So, I pulled one girl over and began working on sequencing events, the area in which she needed the most help, according to Lexia.
The lesson was super quick and required her to sort events in order. She was able to do so with little guidance from me, which showed me she knew how to do it. Well maybe she just needed a little hands-on practice, I thought. She went back on the computer and a day or so later, she shut her computer in frustration and began reading a book. I asked what was wrong and she said she still couldn’t pass sequencing events. I looked at my dashboard and it recommended the same lesson I had already provided. This time, I asked her to bring her computer over to me. We plugged in a listening station so that we could both listen to the task at the same time. The first question asked her to put three events in order and they were about sledding down a hill. Oh, this one’s easy, I thought. She’ll be just fine. She selected the first event correctly (take out the sled). But then she said the second one was to “sit down and hold the sides and go down the hill.” I watched as she selected that as the second event, leaving behind the event “take the sled to the top of the hill.”
I asked the student if she had ever been sledding. She said no. She didn’t realize you had to take it to the top of the hill. She had no context to answer that correctly. The computer isn’t going to ask her if she’s ever been sledding. A teacher will. I do believe there will come a time when computer programs will be driving the learning in our classrooms. Still, a teacher will always be needed because he or she knows the students best and can pinpoint individual misunderstandings that even the best computer is not capable of doing. The computer doesn’t know when students are having a bad day or whether or not the topic in front of them is interesting or relevant. Teachers do.