When Technology Wasn’t The Preferred Choice

For shared reading, we’ve been reading a short play in class this week called The Big Bad Wolf. Since the students are getting excited predicting what characters might be thinking or feeling, I decided to do a mini-lesson in Writer’s Workshop this morning on the use of speech bubbles and thought bubbles. As I was getting things organized for my Language Block last night, I noticed that I had a bunch of old magazines and books. I decided to cut out pictures from them and put them in a basket along with some glue and big pieces of paper. I figured that after my mini-lesson this morning, I would invite students to take a picture and add a speech bubble, thought bubble, or even a story about what they saw. I tried to find various types of pictures (from animals to cartoon characters) to hopefully get everyone interested in writing.

As I was cutting out these pictures, I thought to myself, that I could find some images online as well, and create a Notebook file for writing on the SMART Board. I thought that students might like to work together on the SMART Board during Writer’s Workshop to add the text. During the mini-lesson this morning, students were very eager to come up to the SMART Board and write. They loved thinking about the pictures, and found many similar ones to the ones in the basket on the table.

When it came to Writer’s Workshop time though, not one person chose the SMART Board. Almost the entire class wanted to use the cut-out pictures though for some dialogue writing. Even after guided reading today, I had one student do some writing for me on the iPad based on a discussion that we had. This student is always eager to type, and happily even went back to edit his sentences after he wrote them. Despite enjoying this writing experience, he told me that he wanted to go to the picture activity next because he couldn’t wait to write about what the characters might be thinking.

This Student's Writing After Guided Reading This Morning

This Student’s Writing After Guided Reading This Morning

While my students always enjoy our Writer’s Workshop, never before have they requested a writing option for another day. Multiple students though asked if I would have more pictures for them to write about on Monday. One student even ran out to his mom after school and asked if they could cut out some pictures at home so he could write about them — and this is one of my most reluctant writers.

Even though I’m thrilled that this activity was such a success, it intrigued me that the pencil/paper option was more enticing that the technology one. I asked the students why.

  • They said that they liked that they could bring home their writing to share with their parents, and I could still take a picture (photograph) of their work to keep for myself and share with others. (They all see me tweeting their work.)
  • They also liked that they could all write at the same time, but if on the SMART Board, only one person can write at a time.
  • A few students also indicated that they could decide what the characters said, but if they worked with someone on the SMART Board, they’d have to decide together what to write. 

It’s interesting to me, for if given a choice, I would always choose the technology option. 

  • Glue is sticky.
  • It’s too hard to organize all of the sheets of paper, and knowing me, I’d likely lose the ones that I wrote on. 🙂 (Truth be told, I take photographs of all of my papers, so I’ll have copies of them when I lose the originals.)
  • I probably wouldn’t be able to find a pen, pencil, or other suitable writing instrument. It’s the running joke that the only writing tool I ever seem to have with me besides an iPad or a computer is a marker. Sometimes I can find a crayon. That’s about it. 🙂 And it’s really hard to write in a small speech bubble or thought bubble using a thick marker or crayon.

This whole experience was a good reminder to me that what students enjoy may not always be what we enjoy or what we think they’ll enjoy. If I never cut out the pictures today, a couple of students may have gone to the SMART Board, but likely, many students would not have experimented with speech bubbles or thought bubbles. Choice mattered. And hearing the student voices — about what they chose and why they enjoyed this option — also mattered. If I want to motivate my young writers to write, then I need to find lots of ways to interest them and get them experimenting with new writing forms and different sentence options. 

Technology is great! There are many things — from writing to planning to communicating to assessing — that I would struggle with doing as effectively in my day-to-day life if it weren’t for technology.  But sometimes the old tools are the ones that are preferred the most. And sometimes technology can be the most useful for just capturing the learning, and not necessarily doing the work. Linked back to my post earlier this week on differentiated instruction, maybe what works for one, doesn’t work for all, and it’s the variety of choices that matter the most. What do you think? When do your students/children choose to use technology? When do they choose not to use technology? How do you allow for both options? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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  1. Pingback: Is the grass greener? A question of resources | Julia Henninger

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