I think that many times we see technology as “giving students choice.” We see technology as a better option. I know that I always thought this. When I taught Grade 1 five years ago, I started blogging with my students. I was so excited! Look at the choices I was giving my students! But I really wasn’t giving them any choice. I had blogging prompts for the students, I required a certain writing form, and I had everyone share their thinking on the blog. This was no different than before when I had writing prompts for the students, a given writing form, and everyone writing in his/her journal. I thought that my teaching practices were improving, but really, I was just replacing a paper requirement with a digital one.
Since coming back from March Break, I’ve been talking to lots of people about various technology tools. I’ve answered lots of questions about GoogleDocs, the HWDSB Commons, and different apps. I’ve been happy to answer these questions, but I’ve prefaced each of the conversations with this statement: “I don’t tell the students what tool to use. Students have the choice of tools — from pencils and paper to iPads — based on the expectations of the activity.” Over the year, I’ve introduced and modelled the use of various tools.
- I’ve shown how to share and collaborate on a GoogleDoc.
- I’ve shown how to use the Commons for both the creation of private and public blogs.
- I’ve shown how students can email me photographs, links to videos, and written work (done in multiple programs).
- I’ve shown how to use various iPad apps — from PicCollage to iMovie — and we’ve looked at why people might want to use these different apps.
- I’ve shown various ways to write and create using pencils, markers, and paper.
- I’ve shown how to make Bitstrips Comics and how to make comics on paper.
Now I let students choose the tool(s) that work best for the activity. I also have students explain their reasons for these choices, as it’s good that they can think through their choices and take ownership over them. As long as I can have a portfolio of work from over the year (be it through photographs or electronic examples on Evernote or through a blog or GoogleDocs), I’m happy!
All students are different, and they all have different needs. They also all have different interests. I love technology, and many technology tools engage me, but does this mean that they engage my students? Over the years I’ve learned a lot, but here are three things that I think about often:
- The use of technology does not necessarily mean the use of choice. If we’re still only giving one method for completion, then it’s just a different tool for our single “teacher choice.”
- Technology does not necessarily engage all learners. If we want to know what engages learners, we have to ask, and then we have to be open to listening to the responses and seeing what we can do with this information. I’ll admit this has been hard for me, but it’s amazing to see the various ways that students can share their learning (if we do give them this control).
- We need to talk about the learning (and the expectations), not the tool. If we want students to focus on learning goals and success criteria, then we need to as well. Our assignments need to be linked to expectations, and then we can discuss tools to use to meet these expectations. I used to always do the opposite of this, but a small switch in word choice has had a big pay off in student understanding about learning.
Now I say all of this, and I know that it’s taken me at least five years to get to this point. I also know that my thinking continues to evolve, and that’s a good thing. Change is important, but can be slow. I think that there are lots of benefits to using technology in the classroom, and I often hear the saying, “We all need to start somewhere.” That’s true. How do we get from this starting point though to the next step? Sometimes I think that the jump requires some challenging/difficult conversations, and how do people feel about having these conversations? What do you think? As I work through my thinking, I’d love to hear your thinking as well!