Copyright 1996 Miguel Guhlin

Although B.F. Skinner recanted behaviorism, despite student failure rates, and new insights into how students learn, the essence of classroom teaching can be collected in a simple question--Will it help my child pass the TAAS? "Sure, I'd like to teach creatively," one teacher said. "But, my class has done wellon the TAAS. We did that through drill-n-practice." Teachers of bilingual, at-risk students can't waste time, expecting students to learn in spite of their efforts at drill-n-kill.

As administrators clamber aboard the whole language, cooperative learning, put technology in your lesson plans bandwagon, teachers ask themselves "Will this really work?" How can multimedia or hypermedia influence student learning? How can technology improve TAAS scores. Can technology be used to remediate student learning? Is it as easy as a teacher saying, "Here, go to the computer lab," and the student walks in, hands over a prescription to the lab manager. "Sit down at this computer," the lab manager says quietly, so as not to disturb other students staring blankly at $2000 computers. "Do this. When you're done, I'll send you back to class." Didn't PRESCRIPTION LEARNING software end up unused and dusty on your lab shelves?

Ok, sure, you and I both know it happens. But, are people still that naive? I'd rather believe as one middle school principal put it: "We still need that one-on-one, student to teacher, for real learning to occur." Let's not believe the lie of drill-n-practice teachers--that computers can teach basic skills better than real teachers.


The U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) (1987) found that only 1% of commercially available software programs are designed for students learning English as a Second Language. Furthermore, even in exemplary programs, software was poor in quality and primarily focused on grammatical forms, many of which were not important (Johnson, 1992). It is critical, now more than ever, to integrate technology into the bilingual curriculum. Unfortunately, among regular
classrooms teachers who teach second language learners, 22% use computers compared to the proportion of all regular classroom teachers (50%) who use computers. (OTA, 1987). Although increasing numbers of computers are being placed in schools, they continue to be used for drill-n-practice activities requiring only relativley low level cognitive skills of rote memory and application (Becker, 1982 as cited by Cummins).
Review of the research (Mehan, Moll, and Riel, 1985 as cited in Cummins & Sayers, 1990) shows that not only are minority students excluded from using technology, but that female students and those from low income and ethnic minorities tend not to have the same access to computers as do their male, middle-income, non-minority counterparts; and when minority students do get access, they are more likely to be assigned to drill-n-practice rather than problem-solving activities.


Having been a bilingual teacher who has survived basic training amidst gang member wannabees and pistol-carrying sixth graders, my classroom experience has shown me that technology does work. How
effectively, however, depends on how I use it. When using it for drill-n-practice, skills remediation, students failed. For me, this was unacceptable. You don't set students up for failure; you build the necessary support structures so that they can be successful. . .then you take those scaffolds away one at a time as language proficiency increases. For students to be successful--notice I didn't say, for technology integration to be successful--computers must be used as tools. They must be used as tools for authentic communications, as well as accomplishing intellectually challenging, nonremedial tasks in the context of real life simulations and activities. Employing technology as a tool, rather than as a drill-n-practice center, allows students tindex.html���Ч@�õõõ�TEXTMSIE��Aĵ�n�O:�õ�uNDEX~1 HTM in Concept and Practice. The Computing Teacher, 30.
Wiburg, K. (February 1994). Integrating technologies into schools: Why has it been so slow? The Computing Teacher , 6-8.
U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (1988). Power on! New tools for teaching and learning, OTA-SET-379. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.