I love technology. If there is a button, I will push it; if there is a switch, I will flip it; if there is a cool new gadget, I want to check it out and play with it. Many of our students are the same when it comes to technology. It is interesting to them and a big part of how they communicate in the world; if technology continues to advance and be welcomed into every part of society, it will also be integrated into everything they do as adults, and as teachers we need to make sure they are ready for that.
Bringing technology into the classroom is a logical step for educators to make. Once in the classroom, it can make our teaching more efficient, help us be more organized, let us share amongst ourselves and the world, engage students while they are in school, and provide the skills they will need to succeed when they leave school.
In her 2004 article, The digital whiteboard: A tool in early literacy instruction, Solvie discusses the affects of the use of a digital whiteboard with her first-graders. She found that, while the whiteboard did not “result in a significant improvement over traditional skill instruction, [she] found it to be effective in other ways.” (Solvie, 484). These “other ways” were text coding, following up on previous lessons, appealing to kinesthetic learners through physical manipulation of texts, increasing student engagement, and developing knowledge and vocabulary about the technology. The article ends with a cautionary note: “It’s important to keep the focus . . . not on the tool.” (Solvie, 487), in other words, remember that the digital whiteboard is only the vehicle for delivery, it is content that is important.
Barone and Wright (2008), explore Literacy Instruction With Digital and Media Technologies, and use author Wright’s fourth grade class to demonstrate and discuss the integration of technology into the classroom and the new literacies necessary to address within the classroom. Among these new literacies are “innovative text formats (multiple media of hybrid texts; Lemke, 1998), new reader expectations (reading nonlinearly; Warschauer, 2006), and new activities (website publication; Leu et al., 2004).” (Barone & Wright, 292). The authors created an amalgam of multiple students, whom they call Michael, and trace his actions during his day in Mr. Wright’s class. As in the Solvie (2004) article, technology is seen as a tool, not as the focus. It is important that the integration of technology into routines and lessons is seamless and does not seem forced or contrived just for the sake of using technology. Mr. Wright puts items onto a server that Michael accesses at the beginning of class and will need that day. Michael then engages in a vocabulary warm up in which he creates graphic and textual representations using software that is on his laptop. During reading time, students instant message each other about what they are reading, the class fills out a graphic organizer, and work in centers that often utilize technology. During recess students are allowed to stay in the room and engage in “sending IMs, checking and sending e-mail, and going online to enter kid-friendly virtual worlds” (Barone & Wright, 295), thus giving students who may not have access outside of school the opportunity to use technology in a more casual manner. Mr. Wright differentiates writing instruction through the help of a website that provides articles about a single subject at different reading levels.
The article’s focus then shifts to how to make the transition towards a classroom that seamlessly uses technology, notably gaining support from the administration, securing professional development, and having teachers that believe in this change. The school has a clear goal as well, lower grades begin using technology and each year a new piece is introduced and the other pieces are reinforced.
Gabriel and Gabriel (2010) in their article, Power in Pictures: How a Schoolwide Photo Library Can Build a Community of Readers and Writers, discuss how photographs can be used in a variety of ways to foster student reading and writing. The collection of the photographs provides opportunities for the development of useful technological skills. Using the photos for the creation of hybrid texts (such as “Alphabet books using images from around the building, Biographies of people, animals, or objects around the building, How-to books. . . Genre exercises. . . [and] Compare-and-contrast paragraphs, essays, graphs” (Gabriel and Gabriel, 681)) lends itself to differentiation and scaffolding for ELL students. The digital format allows the products to be published and shared easily. The authenticity of using student-generated photos engages students and provides relevant experiences to create texts around. These hybrid texts are then used as described in work by McVicker (2007) and Norton (2003) that I have written about previously.
September 2008 was my first year of teaching. I created a blog and a WebQuest while student teaching, my portfolio for my exit presentation from the Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine was created digitally in the form of a website (http://www.freewebs.com/chrispirkl/), but I had, and have, no formal instruction in any of the technologies I’ve used or currently use. I spend a substantial amount of time investigating technological opportunities and tools to use in my classroom. I explore the Internet, I speak with colleagues, and I make things up when it’s appropriate, and of course I learn from my mistakes.
So, when the librarian asked me if I wanted a Smart Board the third week of school, I gave him a very excited and emphatic “Yes!”. I spent hours before, during, and after school teaching myself how to use it and coming up with ways to use it in my classroom. I can speak to many of the things that Solvie (2004) writes about in her article as I have experienced what she describes. As soon as students realize that we’re using the Smart Board I have their attention (I emphasis ‘we’ because without it, there isn’t much difference from me writing on the whiteboard). When I model how I mark up a poem with my thoughts, the rhyme scheme, and other poetic devices it does two things: one, I don’t have to carefully erase everything from a dry erase board to start over, I click on another copy of the poem and the next class gets a brand new copy of the poem. The second benefit of this is that it provides me with another way to differentiate between classes; the class that has been struggling with metaphors can focus on that during the lesson. I can then save the modeled work from each class and put it on the website for all students to benefit from. Solvie (2004) also talks about the physical interaction with the board. This kinesthetic element benefits students whose learning style strength this is, and who are able to use that strength the least, by letting them physically interact with texts. Other students benefit from this interaction as well and the class benefits from having everyone engaged and thus effectively becomes the classroom management. Engaged kids do not pose behavior problems.
Solvie’s (2004) article was an introduction to digital whiteboards that spent time on how they work and other rudimentary aspects of the tool and its software. For this reason I found the article to be not as helpful to my own teaching as the other two articles I read. The common cautionary theme between Solvie (2004) and Barone and Wright (2008) to the reader to not make the technology the focus, along with the charge to look and treat technology as a tool to be used with traditional methods was a helpful reminder.
Barone and Wright’s (2008) account of Michael was astonishing and inspirational. One fact that stopped me was one they cited from Wells & Lewis (2006) that read “the average of U.S. students’ use of computers in school [is] 12 minutes per week.” (Barone & Wright, 292), I can only hope that in the four years since that statistic was reported use has gone up. It is mind-blowing that student use of computers per week could measure so dismally low. It does not clarify if this number is K-12 or some section therein. Barone & Wright (2008) note that, while many students have access outside of school to technology, they are not given time during school to use computers. I can conservatively estimate that my students use their laptops 2.5 hours a week, and that is just in my class! Of course it does help that Maine has the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) that puts 1:1 laptops in middle schools and has recently expanded to the high school level. To do anything less I think does a disservice to the students and puts them at a disadvantage.
I really appreciated the walk through of a student that demonstrated concrete ways technology can be used in the classroom, as well as the list of websites and other resource that were included by the authors. I would have liked to hear more about how Mr. Wright made this transition himself, how long it took him to reach the point that he is at now, and what specific support and challenges he had from the administration and district.
Photography is a hobby of mine. I started a photography club at my school and I try to bring photographs into lessons whenever appropriate. When I saw the title of Gabriel and Gabriel’s (2010) article, I was excited to find a resource that combined my personal and professional interests. It also relates to the topic of hybrid texts that I wrote about previously using works by McVicker (2007) and Norton (2003). The twist that Gabriel and Gabriel (2010) add is that the photographs are taken by students of subjects they know (school, people, places). This creates motivation and investment in the product that leads to greater engagement in the learning. This engagement leads to a richer learning experience.
My preferred style of teaching is to spend the least amount of time possible talking at the class and the most amount of time possible having the students engaged with the material, each other, and the class. Technology fosters this structural goal for me. I see the role of the teacher as similar to that of a cruise director; they must present material such that the students will get their brain out of its metaphorical seat and participating and engaging the subject matter. A cruise director is not the focus; it is the activity (material/lesson) that everyone is putting their energy into. Technology assists me in leading my students toward more self-directed, exploratory method of learning.
Of the three articles, Solvie (2004) does me the least good, as I am beyond the experience level of her target audience. Gabriel and Gabriel (2010), and Barone and Wright (2008) provided practical ways to further incorporate technology into my class. I starred activities and methods that I could implement in the Fall with my new students. Mr. Wright’s classroom stands as the apotheosis of technology integration for me to strive towards. I will begin directing students to sync their paper agenda books to the Google calendar that is embedded on the class website, which will ensure that everyone is up to date on due dates. The MacBooks that my students are provided with have web cams that we can use to take photographs, many students have digital cameras but this option will level the playing field that we can use to start creating our own photo library that they and future students can use and add to throughout the year.
Technology is a powerful tool the educators have to embrace, as their students already have. If we don’t employ the technology that students use daily and will have to use as they enter society then they will be lacking the knowledge and guidance that it is our job as educators to provide. Each of these articles mention the benefits students receive from exposure to technology in school; they begin to understand how it works (and can troubleshoot how to fix it), they use the vocabulary associated with the different technologies (so they enter the world knowing how to speak intelligently about these tools), and they can use the technology in a variety of ways to produce a variety of things. These are the 21st Century literacies that are crucial for our students to acquire. To make this happen teachers must take and embrace the next step: integrating technology into every classroom.
Barone, D., & Wright, T. (2008). Literacy Instruction With Digital and Media Technologies. Reading Teacher, 62(4), 292-303.
Gabriel, R., & Gabriel, M. (2010). Power in Pictures: How a Schoolwide Photo Library Can Build a Community of Readers and Writers. Reading Teacher, 63(8), 679-682.
McVicker, C. (2007). Comic strips as a text structure for learning to read. The Reading Teacher, 60(1), 85-88.
Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147.
Solvie, P. (2004). The digital whiteboard: A tool in early literacy instruction. Reading Teacher, 57(5), 484-487.
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