Readers of EL are likely at different places in their process of integrating technology into their schools, classrooms, and assignments, and have different preferences for which technologies they want to explore with students. But all are likely to have the same goal—to enrich students' learning. Articles in this month's EL share something for teachers at all stages of their journeys.
Teachers who are making their first forays into using technology and online learning—and maybe feeling shaky—might want to consider Catlin Tucker's advice ("The Basics of Blended Instruction," p. 57). Tucker says that plunging in with just a few tech tools and being honest about her need for help led her to become adept at blending online and traditional teaching.
- Consider the first of Tucker's five tips: "Find one piece of technology that will complement your class and start with that." Identify one education-related website, app, learning platform, or other tech tool that fits with your instructional methods or an upcoming unit. Commit to trying this piece of technology over the next few weeks. You might choose a resource to try from one of those in various content areas mentioned in Larry Ferlazzo's online article "Technology: Moving from No to Yes" or from the chart in Kristine Gullen and Holly Zimmerman's article "Saving Time with Technology" (p. 63).
- Tucker notes that once she started using the online platform Collaborize Classroom, it was much easier to get all students, not just assertive ones, active in class discussion. In whole-class discussions, have you noticed that it's hard to get quiet students to participate? Have you tried hosting class discussions on an online platform? Try organizing an online class discussion with a platform like Collaborize Classroom and note what happens. Report to the group on what you notice about students' participation. Did you have any "aha" moments, like Tucker's?
Surgical Searching and Screencasts
Science teacher Mike Dappalone "weaves technology into the culture of his classroom" to enhance his best teaching practices ("Making Best Practices Better," p.69). He has students research key background and basics about math and science concepts by using Wikipedia and searching the Internet (with minimal guidance). Dappalone explains how one might take advantage of students' skill at "surgical searching" on the net:
In math class, for example, students might … locate and explain how the area of a circle was determined prior to the development of the concept of pi before studying the unit circle. Or history students studying the early U.S. presidents might spend a few minutes searching for information about a current event that has some relationship to the issue of presidential power. (p. 71)
- Do you let students use Wikipedia or student-directed online searches as part of lessons, rather than presenting all information by lecture? Could you try some of Dappalone's techniques to spur students to drive their own learning in class through online research?
- Dappalone recommends using screencasts—recorded lectures or demonstrations that teachers find online or create themselves—in both in- and out-of-class work. How might you incorporate screencasts into your teaching to engage kids and differentiate instruction?
Using New Literacies to Teach to New Standards
William Kist's article, "New Literacies and the Common Core," (p. 38) explores how teachers can use new media—like videos, blogs, podcasts, and wikis—to strengthen the close reading skills required by Common Core. If we're to prepare students to take part in a "wired world," Kist claims, we need to ensure that students get good at navigating new ways of reading, including those that meld visual and audio media with text.
Consider one of the assignments that Kist recommends that English teachers adopt. He primes students to read printed texts more analytically by first guiding them to "read" a video clip more closely, concentrating on just one feature or effect, such as the lighting or mood-setting music in a film, then directing them to read a written passage closely, looking for key elements like metaphors.
- Discuss Kist's view that there are close parallels between screen-based reading and page-based reading. What parallels do you see between "reading" a movie scene and reading print on a page? What differences are there?
- Do you agree that training students to look carefully at elements in a film or TV show will train them to read books more closely? How might you try making this connection in your classes?
Kist says teachers need to talk to students about the challenges screen-based writing presents, such as how to handle hyperlinks or layouts. Ask what differences students see between traditional print texts and online texts—both as readers and writers. What do they like about reading texts online? What do they like—or find hard—about writing for online-only venues? For print venues?
For School Administrators: Has the Web Changed the Picture?
Will Richardson, a long-time commenter on how quickly maturing technology is changing schools, says the technological explosion "raises important questions for education leaders that speak directly to the way we think about the potentials of technology in school." ("Students First, Not Stuff," p. 10). Leaders' questions concerning technology, he claims, shouldn't be about which hardware or software to buy, but about how schools need to change to address the needs of modern learners.
- Read the four questions that Richardson says conscientious educators should ask themselves and prod their communities to think about: (1) What do we mean by learning? (2) What does it mean to be literate in a networked, connected world? (3) What does it mean to be educated? (4) What do students need to know and be able to do to be successful in their futures? Think about how you would answer one of these questions, or talk about the question within your group, keeping in mind how the advance of digital technology affects your answer.
- Consider how Richardson, within his article, answers the same question. Where do you agree with his ideas and his suggestions for how schools and teaching should shift? Where do you disagree?