I'm ditching SAMR for the 4Cs...

A lot has been made of the SAMR model. It gives you criteria for evaluating your lessons to see if technology is transforming them. The idea is that having technology in the classroom can be just another delivery model (digital worksheet vs. paper worksheet), but it can also be used to broaden educational opportunities and transform your instruction.

I have to admit, I was pretty enamored with SAMR when I first went 1:1 with chrome books in my classroom. It was interesting to think about how I might use technology to enhance my teaching, but I have come to change my opinion. I think SAMR isn't really helpful, and is sometimes even detrimental. I have discovered that a discussion around the 4Cs is so much more transformative than a discussion of which SAMR level you are at. Here's why:
  • SAMR focuses on technology use, not on instruction. The core question is "How are you using technology in your lessons?" It's focused in the wrong direction on 2 counts -
    • We should be focusing on the instruction, not the tool. My goal as a teacher is NOT to use the technology in my room in a transformative way. My goal is to help my students learn science. If the best way to do that is without a chrome book, then we should put away the tech.
    • This question is also teacher centered instead of student centered. It focuses on what the teacher is doing, when it would be a better use of our time to focus on what the students are doing.
  • SAMR is a model for ranking lessons and teachers. It is at it's core very judgmental.  Lessons can be rated from a lowly S (substitution level), up to a magnificent R (redefinition). The automatic assumption is that all your lessons should be at the M or R level, and that someone who's lessons are redefined is a better teacher. More importantly, it's very subjective. Ask 3 teachers to rate a lesson on the SAMR scale. I bet they don't all agree. It can be an interesting discussion, but it doesn't inspire me to change, and I'm sure that teachers who don't have as much interest in teaching with tech, but suddenly find themselves 1:1, will see this as harsh, misguided and uninspiring.
  • SAMR assumes the goal of "redefining" educational experiences. This is literally the highest level on the SAMR ladder.  The danger here is in assuming that everything will be better when we completely change education in America. Don't get me wrong, I am absolutely a proponent of transforming education. Technology in the classroom has opened up possibilities that we are just beginning to explore, but I want to learn the core principles that will guide me as a teacher long after classroom technology is commonplace. I want to live like the transformation is already here, not compare my teaching to what I used to do, with less access to tools and technology.
  •  I remember the late 90s and early 2000s, when the conversation centered around "21st century skills," a conversation that has faded as we find ourselves firmly in the 21st century. They are now just skills: often called the 4Cs: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking. These are so much more helpful and inspirational to me. As I've moved forward in developing lessons in a 1:1 classroom, especially HyperDocs, these 4Cs have become my guideposts. I don't waste my time trying to decide which level of transformation my lesson is at, or comparing my lesson to a lesson that doesn't use technology. Instead I think about what my students will be doing: How will they collaborate and create? How and when will they think critically and communicate their ideas? These are questions that are less subjective and far more helpful. When I discover I haven't given students an opportunity to create, I can easily start brainstorming ideas to include this and find myself inspired. (There are so many great digital tools available to facilitate this now.) If I find I'm not asking kids to think critically, I know I have to refocus my lesson to be more challenging. These are questions that do more than rate me, they challenge and inspire me to develop better lessons for my students. They lead to discussions and possibilities, not categories.
Do I think SAMR is accurate and appropriate for our time? Maybe, but given the limited time we have to dig in and really start making changes, let's skip SAMR and go straight to the 4Cs, and the rich student-centered lessons that they lead us to.