Technology’s Unmet Progressive Promise

Michael DeArmond

Twenty-five years ago, I was a young history teacher soaking up progressive teaching methods that aimed to foster deep, personalized learning for my students. My classroom was decidedly low-tech, but I can see how today’s technological advances might have made it easier for me to manage the significant demands of progressive teaching. Yet in the personalized learning (PL) schools we’ve visited so far for this project, few teachers appear to be taking advantage of technology’s potential to support progressive teaching.

In the late 1990s, I was part of Brown University’s Undergraduate Teacher Education Program (UTEP). UTEP allowed me to graduate with my BA in American History and a secondary teaching credential. Ted Sizer, the chair of Brown’s education department at the time, heavily influenced the program’s curriculum; his belief in the power of coherent, mastery-based, and personalized schools has guided my sense of what schools and teaching should be like ever since.

As a student teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, I spent untold hours earnestly crafting history lessons around “big ideas,” developing case-based learning activities, and learning how to facilitate group work. I asked my students (my “historians”) to work with primary documents and make what today’s Common Core advocates would call evidence-based claims. With these and other progressive approaches, my fellow teacher candidates and I were pushing students toward deeper and individualized learning, though we didn’t use those terms. Teaching this way was incredibly exciting, but it was also extraordinarily time-consuming and challenging.