How (Not) to Use Technology in the Classroom

Based on the title, it would be easy to think this article would encourage you to use less technology in the classroom. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love technology, and I am pleased and excited about its potential in the classroom. However, there are good ways and bad ways to use it, and it is my intention to show you the difference.

Technolgy

Use as much technology as possible

Let me start by saying that teaching and technology is a match made in heaven. It is the job of a teacher to prepare his students for the future, and to give them every possible advantage. Years ago, graduating high school with a working knowledge of current technology was an advantage. That’s still true today, but technology’s role in our society has now progressed to the point where graduating high school without a working knowledge of current technology puts a student at a serious disadvantage. We therefore owe it to our students to expose them to technology as much as possible.

 

Powerpoint doesn’t count

Many teachers, when asked about technology in their classroom, will proudly say they use Powerpoints in every lesson. While this is technically technology, it isn’t really a good use of it. Don’t get me wrong; Powerpoint can be a very effective tool to get a point across, and it definitely has a place in most lesson plans. However, if using Powerpoint is the only way we incorporate technology into our lessons, then I believe we really can do a lot better.

Avoid superficial technology

I spent a few years teaching in the state of Virginia.  Their standardized testing comes in the form of “Benchmark” tests and “Standard of Learning” (SoL) exams. These tests are taken on computer, and feature “technology-enhanced” questions. At a glance, these questions seem like a terrific idea. However, after looking at some of these questions myself, I saw that their use of technology was superficial at best. They involved things like placing a point on a graph, or drawing a shape with a mouse. See the problem? There’s absolutely no reason those questions couldn’t have been done with a pencil and paper. While these questions were touted as a way of showing Virginia’s students were adept with technology, the only real technology used here was pointing and clicking with a mouse in the context of a couple simplistic tools that students are highly unlikely to see again.

This is what I call a superficial use of technology, and I believe it does more harm than good. The tools were not always intuitive, and many students elected to simply leave those questions blank, despite the fact that they knew how to answer the actual question. This resulted in inaccurate test results, and sometimes even caused students to fail a course they would otherwise have passed. These questions also meant the standardized tests had to be taken on computers, which in turn meant the students couldn’t all take the same test at the same time, but rather in shifts. This gave a distinct advantage to some students, who had more days to study than their peers. Also, to prevent cheating between shifts of testing, the questions themselves were randomized, which occasionally resulted in fluctuations in the difficulty level of individual questions. Finally, these questions gave a false sense of security, in that state and school officials believed their students were learning to use technology because of these questions, when in fact they were not. Relying on superficial uses of technology like this is to be avoided if we are to truly embrace the possibilities of technology in our classrooms.

 

So what’s a good use of technology in the classroom?

I’m glad you asked. The good news here is that technology, by its very nature, is extremely versatile, which means there are nearly limitless good ways to use it in the classroom. Instead of just using Powerpoints to deliver your lessons, have your students create their own, and challenge them to use things like hyperlinks and animations. Show students how to use spreadsheets, and have them perform analyses on their families’ expenses. Teach them a little HTML and have them design a webpage. There are nearly endless possible ways to incorporate technology into our lessons, and we owe it to our students to be as imaginative as possible.

Go with the flow

The future belongs, as it always has, to those who can adapt. Like it or not, technology is here to stay, and it has no place to go but forward. Many teachers shudder at the word “smartphone.” I must admit, when I started teaching, I found phones in the classroom to be a distraction at best, and a nuisance more often than not. But now I think I was wrong. Perhaps our students’ obsession with technology is not without merit. Why not lean into it? Divide students into study groups, and encourage them to communicate and work together on homework problems. Smartphones can be used as miniature computers, allowing (trustworthy) students to do research anytime, anywhere. There are also many websites, like Genius Plaza, that allow teachers to make educational games for mobile devices, which could then be used as study materials or even homework!

Like many teachers, I initially resisted the intrusion of technology in the classroom. Now, however, I think we could benefit from embracing technology, instead of trying to resist the inevitable. Technology is the future, so let’s give our students every possible advantage!


My Child Didn’t Like to Read

A few years ago, I was talking to my then 6-year-old son.  He was in the midst of first grade and learning how to read.  I was beyond excited for this stage in his life.  I had dreamt of having him sit on my lap to read one of our favorite books to me in that sweet innocent voice.  But in fact, this was not our reality at all.  My child did not enjoy reading.  He only practiced when forced, and complained about reading every single time.  It wasn’t only a struggle at home, but at school as well.  Even though he was learning and making progress, the love and curiosity of reading was sadly missing.

 

My entire job as an adult was teaching children.  Not only did I love teaching, but I felt it was my duty as a teacher to instill the love of learning and reading.  I was so passionate about teaching kids to read.  I loved showing them strategies to be successful and confident readers.  To enable them to independently escape into a book while learning new vocabulary and reading skills.  And in my very own home, I was struggling to help my own child.

 

Needless to say, I pulled out all the stops, and after some trials and failures, I was able to figure out how to have more successes than failures. Below are some of the reading strategies that helped my son slowly gain that love of reading.

 

Shared reading

Many kids look at a page of text and crumble.  They get overwhelmed with the amount of words and often give up or feel frustrated before they start.  I have found that taking the pressure off my child from reading all the words can be very encouraging.  We take turns reading, which not only motivates the kids to read longer, but the other reader is able to model fluency, syntax, and pronunciation of vocabulary.

 

Image heavy texts

From my own experience, my son starting getting excited about choosing his own texts when he started reading graphic novels.  These types of books, as well as books with a lot of great illustrations, lure the kids into the story.  The illustrations are also a great tool to help students who may struggle with reading, and gives them imagery for story context.

 

Choose texts based on their interests

This seems like an obvious one…but it makes a difference.  Kids will want to read about what they like.  If they love animals, try reading animal books.  If they love soccer, find some books about famous soccer players or a storyline that revolves around the sport.  The more they are intrigued about the subject matter, the better chance they will try to find out by reading it.

 

Use various forms of text

Sometimes, all kids need is a different format to read from.  I love eBooks to change things up.  I take advantage – when my son really wants to use the iPad, I have him read an eBook before he plays a game.  I love the eBooks and content on Genius Plaza, because there are so many different types of books that intrigue him.

 

We must remember that reading is a lifelong process.  All it takes is one book, one topic, one person to change the course of our child’s love for reading.  Being supportive and continuously providing engaging material are the most important things we can do to make our child’s reading career a successful one.