I wrote this post for you, dear teacher, because I was you. Long ago, it seemed every post or tweet I read was about technology. I tried to pretend it wasn’t there, but then, my teaching partner hauled the laptop carts into her room, and at the end of the day her smile was contagious!
Her students had published their first blog posts.
That was it. I had the fever. I wanted the joy in her classroom to infect my students.
In my previous post, titled: Infusing Technology: It’s More Than Apps and Devices, I shared what I wished I had known before bringing technology into the classroom. Successfully infusing digital tools hinges on so much more than the actionable steps in today’s post.
I hope you will read both posts so you can infect your teaching partner with your contagious smile.
What is Technology?
Technology is any tool that allows you to do your work better. Any time kids are writing, we want to try to invent/find a tool to help them do (that thing) better. Cornelius Minor #TWRWP
Cornelius Minor’s words are perfect. Technology is anything that allows you to do your work better. Digital tools, the apps, and devices we can use for teaching and learning are nothing more than a tool that can help us do work better. The hurdle for students and teachers is knowing what tool is best when and how to infuse digital tools so they remain, just another tool.
Put Digital Tools Your Room
As educators, we strive to help students find and learn the best way of expressing themselves and making meaningful connections with those around them. Our communities and our classrooms have changed. We have digital tools that give us the ability to work better. Most are collaborative and make creating multimedia presentations, stories, and other innovative projects even more powerful.
“Digital tools are in your stance. They’re not a seasoning or a decoration.” Cornelius Minor #TCRWP
- Set Expectations
Last year, my district issued all students and staff iPads. As a first-year instructional technology coach, I was in awe of all the work and organization that went into this initiative and eager to dig in and make the work we do better! Despite all the attention to rolling out iPads, it was clear I neglected one critical step, setting expectations. This year, I plan to sit shoulder to shoulder with teachers and guide students to establish a few guidelines before digital tools become part of the classroom landscape. I like to go into these conversations with an open mind and follow the lead of the students.
Gathered as a community, we will discuss the following points to help us develop shared expectations. One component including the care of the devices. For instance:
How should we carry our devices when we are transitioning into the room?
- Where will we keep them during the day?
- Where will we store them at the end of the day?
In addition to the care of our digital tools, discussing the purposes and our intentions will be equally important.
- Why do we have digital tools in our classroom?
- How will we know when to use a digital tool?
- What is the difference between a tool and a toy?
I encourage teachers to keep iPads easily accessible. Accessibility cuts down on unnecessary transitions and lines. Also, this helps students see the tablet as just another tool in the room.
When I was a classroom teacher, students who needed help with an app or a device had a procedure.
- First, try a few new buttons on your own.
- Then, if needed, seek the help of at least three friends.
- Choose another tool.
Time is precious, I didn’t allow students to spend the time stuck. If the student wasn’t able to solve the problem in one of these two ways, they had to choose a new tool. Students learned to find just the right friend to pull them through a crisis.
I left room for students grapple when they’re at an impasse. In the problem-solving process, students often found something new! The excitement of a new discovery dissipated any ill feelings of frustration, and in turn, build problem-solving skills.
I resisted the urge to jump in and solve problems. Mostly, because I couldn’t, I didn’t always know the answers and I was teaching. In insisting the student’s problem solve not only was I protecting teaching and learning time but, the students learned the power of grit.
2. Apps for Writing
I have been using technology in the classroom for about ten years. I have collected and dabbled in many digital tools. Having a plethora of apps sounds like a blessing, but I have found an overabundance makes it difficult for students and teachers to become skilled in the apps. Writers who are more familiar can work intentionally and write with purpose, maintaining focus on the writing.
I always started with the digital tools purchased by my district. Using this Google form, I compared the apps with the needs of my students and the writing they’d be doing. I talked to teachers and students in my building who had worked with the tools, I read blogs and searched Twitter for more advice from experienced users. All this information helped me make informed decisions and envision the technologies in our writing.
3. Introduce Apps to Students: Go on an “APPloration”
With a handful of apps for creating and a few for organizing writing, I was ready to take the next step. I introduced apps to the students, one app at a time.
I began infusing technology into the workshop just as I would a new genre study. I immersed the writers in reading what it was they’d be writing- digital writing.
As I worked to add technology, I stayed consistent to what I knew to be best practice. I considered the digital tools just another genre or another instrument. There wasn’t a technology day or even a special event. Our routines and procedures were unchanged. Maintaining consistency helped the students to see the devices as tools for learning and not toys.
I guided the students to look at the digital tools as writers. We discussed what we noticed and wondered about digital writing. We created a chart to capture ideas. Once I was sure the writers had a taste of digital writing I introduced them to the tools they’d be using, one app at a time.
It was important to give the students time to work in each app before sharing another tool.
- With my device projected on the large screen, I asked the students to talk about what they saw and to think about what the icons might mean.
- As students talked I recorded the name of the app on the left side of a chart and across the top, I recorded the features they’d expected to find in the app.
- When the students seemed to be repeating ideas I gave them time to dig into the tools like writers.
I have found this was the most important step in teaching students to use technology with purpose. Students need time to explore and discover. Free exploration allows the learner to use the features of the app without thinking about the tool. The tools we use to work should never distract us, or our students from the learning.
Students chatted with their neighbors as they discovered features. I asked them questions, guiding students deeper into thinking and exploring. We finished the “apploration” just as we would any writing workshop, sharing. Students sat in a circle and told what the tool could do, and some even showed us how. Following the lead of the students, I went across the chart marking a yes or no under the features recorded along the top. When the chart was complete, the writers had a visual reference for support for later work when they would choose digital tools.
4. Blending Digital Tools into Writing Workshop
I found blending digital tools into writing workshop much less intimidating than I imagined it would be. The students were ready they just needed me to trust them. Knowing the importance of learning alongside my students, I decided to write in front of them using technology. I didn’t mention my choices. I didn’t announce, “Today, I am using an app on the iPad.” I wanted the merge to be seamless. I projected my iPad, and began writing with the students as I had many times before. A few students commented on the tool, I nodded quietly and explained how I wanted to try writing a story like our digital mentors.
When I finished writing, I dismissed the writers with the typical, “Happy Writing.” Writers scattered across the room, some grabbed paper, a few brave writers pulled out their iPads as they glanced up at our “apploration” chart. As writers observed their peers using iPads, they turned to me, looking for approval. I pretended not to notice because I wanted the students to know they owned the choice and I trusted them. Stepping back and showing the students we believe they are capable builds mutual trust and respect between the student, the writing, and the teacher.
As the writers worked, I pulled up beside them to confer. I followed the day’s plan, conferring with the writers I needed to see. The tool choice of the writer didn’t change the focus of our conversations. I asked the writers about their writing, their plans, and how they would accomplish these plans.
Watching the writers work, I noted a few students whose digital writing could serve as a mentor text. During our share circle, I asked these writers to share with the class. I was careful to ask questions about the writing technique or craft before discussing the apparent tool choice. I wanted the students to know the writing is what matters.
5. Small Steps Make Big Impacts
Integrating technology with traditional tools was a gradual process. I started slow. I knew digital tools could make the work we do better. To ensure we reached this goal with authenticity I had to tread lightly.
I used the SAMR model (substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition) to assess the teaching pace and to push myself to higher levels.
The SAMR model was developed to guide teachers as they work to blend technology into the classroom. Sometimes, the use of an app did nothing but substitute an iPad for a paper. As the students became more familiar with the tools, I saw new elements emerging, augmenting the level of the writing. With unruffled determination, a strong desire to teach writers what’s possible in the digital world writers continued to lift the level of their writing.
Observing students creating multimedia projects and connecting with an audience outside of our school community continues to push me to learn more. There is an observable reciprocity in my continued learning.
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