A Necessary Change

I love technology! I will always choose typing on a computer or writing on an iPad to writing with a pen or pencil. At any given time, I have at least one device with me, but no piece of paper. Technology, and more so Twitter and this blog, give me a voice in education. Yes, I’ll participate in face-to-face discussions with colleagues and friends, but during these conversations, I tend to spend more time listening than talking. I share, I question, I comment, and at times, I provoke, all with the use of technology.

When I taught Grade 1 for the first time five years ago, I was a huge advocate for using technology in the classroom. My students all had their own blog. We had a class Twitter account. We tweeted together every day. Often I had one or two students as “class tweeters” to share our learning with the world on a daily basis. We Skyped to connect with other classes. We used the Livescribe Pen to record our thinking. Flipcams and iPods helped us document our learning. But we also played Language and Math games with the use of various apps. In many ways, I think this is when I became known as the “technology teacher.”

Now, five years later, I’m starting to question the use of technology in the primary classroom. Please don’t get me wrong!

  • I love that we can document our learning with the use of technology. Tweeting our our day and then Storifying it later, lets the parents get a daily glimpse into our classroom learning and a way to extend this learning at home.
  • Recording apps let me hear the classroom discussions that I may have missed before. We’re beginning to use Explain Everything more to discuss different topics in Language, Math, Social Studies, and Science. This use of Explain Everything is not about a final product; it’s about the process of learning. I get to hear the different student contributions. I get to know what they understand and what questions they still have. I get a recording of Learning Skills. How do students collaborate with their peers? How do they problem solve? Can they wait their turn, respond to comments made by others, and share a single device for the purpose of speaking and learning?
  • I get to capture what was difficult to capture before. During our Math Congress, I’ll use a podcasting app to record the discussion. During our Writer’s Workshop Mini-Lesson, I’ll use a screencasting tool to capture the lesson, the student writing contributions, and the student conversations.
  • Independent reading has changed. We still read books in the classroom, but with Raz-Kids, all students can read and respond to texts at their independent reading levels, and I can hear what they read. I can offer them feedback, but I can also record my own anecdotal notes for use when planning guided reading groups, communicating with parents, and/or creating report card comments.

Sometimes I’ll use an iPad app to review phonemic awareness skills reinforced during guided reading. Occasionally, we’ll use different websites to assist with research connected to our current inquiries. And for students that need itthey’ll use an iPad or a computer for writing. If putting a pencil to paper is stopping students from generating ideas because of fine-motor difficulties, then technology gives a new option. But technology isn’t used all of the time, and it’s used varying amounts for varying students depending on their needs and interests.

Talking to students, they like that technology (and more so Twitter and our class blog) allows others to see their work. They like that technology allows others to comment on what they’re doing in the classroom, and ask them questions that make them think. Students don’t have their own blogs, and they may not this year, but they do contribute to our Daily Blog Post by showcasing their work and contributing to class discussions (that are audio or video recorded). My hope is that they’ll start to write some of their own tweets that accompany their work as the year goes on. Tweeting will let us further discuss how to stay safe online, and for students that will likely grow up to be “digital citizens,” I think there’s value in teaching digital citizenship.

I also think there’s value in giving students real learning experiences, as Heidi Echternacht and I discussed on Twitter last night. I teach many students with English as their second language, and they need these concrete learning experiences to help develop their oral language skills and understanding of concepts. As I learned yesterday, technology isn’t always want students want either. So I’ll …

  • continue to take the students outside to explore their environment.
  • bring in items from home (or my favourite store, Dollarama) to act as provocations for learning.
  • encourage the use of markers, crayons, pencils, and pens for writing.
  • provide lots of different paper choices for writing — to get the students excited about, and choosing, a choice that works for them.
  • put out lots of clay, playdough, paint, construction paper, and craft supplies for open-ended Art creation that links to Math, Language, Social Studies, and Science. 
  • continue to look for ways to make Art, Music, Drama, and Dance instructional strategies that make their way into all facets of our learning. 
  • really think carefully about how and when to use technology, and why it’s the best option at the time.

This doesn’t mean that I rely a lot on blackline masters. Choice and voice can be present even without the use of technology. Open-ended activities inspired by student interests are still an important part of our classroom. Inquiry is one of the main ways that we learn. But technology use in our classroom is different for me than it’s been in previous years, and I’m okay with that. I see the growth in my students, I hear what they’re saying, and I see what they’re doing: I know this change is right for them. How do you use technology in the classroom? Has your use of technology changed over the years? Why or why not? What’s the impact for students? I’d love to hear your stories!


6 thoughts on “A Necessary Change

  1. Mine is the value village classroom (a great teacher resource store)! I think technology is a tool to document the learning of young children. My kindies need to touch, smell, taste, and experience with their whole physical selves. I am excited to finally be getting one iPad for my class. That is all the technology we have. I can’t wait for my students to use it to document their own learning through pictures and videos and share their learning through twitter. But our centres are full of things to touch and books to support the learning.

    • Thanks Rachel! I think this is a great point. My Grade 1’s need these experiences too. I wonder how many older students do as well. Obviously, as the content gets more challenging, the use of articles, videos, and recordings — all available online — help students understand topics better. But how many opportunities do our junior and intermediate students have to experience this “tactile learning” that real items provide for them, and how often do they need to? I’m not sure. I wonder though, if I were still teaching Grade 5, if I’d use technology in the same way and to the same extent. I’m not sure.


      • Yes. I agree that the hands on learning is essential at all ages. Our students have many opportunities to engage in technology and it needs to be balanced with “real” experiences. However, I also think that we need to teach appropriate and constructive uses of technology!

        • Thanks Rachel! I totally agree with you. It’s how we balance all of these needs that can sometimes be challenging. I can also see technology becoming even more useful in the older grades, when students need to access more resources to deal with more challenging content and/or inquiry topics. Technology also allows all students to share their learning in different ways, and this can certainly be useful in all grades. I still continue to vacillate on when, how much, and in what ways to use technology in the classroom.


  2. The title of this post caught my eye. I teach grade 1 and am taking a Masters in technology and I try to incorporate technology as much as I can, but feel restricted by things beyond my control. There is a netbook cart to share among 5 classrooms and only 1 iPad mini in our room. There are also restrictions put in place with the Board on being able to use things like Twitter and blogs. So I like that you validated other forms of writing and learning. I also agree that using technology to assist students with fine motor is helpful as well as motivating. I have tried to use apps like ShowMe to capture their learning but with only 1 iPad, It can be tricky. Your post made me think about how and why to use technology. It is another tool that can be helpful but there are also more “old school” tools that work just as well.

    • Thanks for the comment, Krista, and for sharing your experiences. I do see a lot of value in using technology to document and share learning (providing that authentic audience for student work), but I’m really reconsidering some of my other uses of technology. For some reason, I think that when we think about not using technology, what tends to come to mind are reproducibles, but there are definitely low-tech tools that still allow for developing critical thinking, problem solving, and academic skill development. Maybe it comes down to how we use them and how we plan with all of our students in mind. Maybe technology is necessary more for some students than others. Maybe the best first question we need to ask ourselves is, “Why are we using this tool?” Thanks for giving me more to think about!


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