This week’s blog post for my Emerging Tech for Libraries course focuses on technology tips for teachers. By right, I am not big on technology; Verizon basically had to wrestle my iPhone5 out of my hands and force an upgrade to a newer, working model; thus, my confidence with technology is not as high as others. This assignment pushed me to think about what I appreciate with technology and how I’ve integrated technology in my classroom as a middle and high school English teacher and also as a math special education teacher. I have been thinking back to what 13 & 11 had access to in elementary school and now, in middle school. I am also forced to rethink what I learned from my graduate students at UMass who were always trying to find ways to integrate technology into their classrooms.
So, without further ado, here’s my list:
- Understand the tools available to help students gain skills independently. There are some great programs out there that allow students to take control of building their skills. For example, Symphony Math is a program I’ve used to help students gain confidence for numbers sense; Lexia Reading is a program that works on phonetics with students; Read180 is used by some classrooms to build reading skills; while, Achieve3000 offers articles that are based on student reading levels but allow for similar lessons across the board.
- Communicate with school staff to understand the available technology within the building. Some reading teachers, for instance, have access to programs that most classroom teachers do not, but that doesn’t mean that content teachers can’t collaborate with reading instructors or other specialists to bring specific technology to students in need.
- Think of how best to communicate with parents — most districts use a LMS system, which allows for updates to grades but not always notes to parents. Class Dojo is a program that 13&11’s teachers used in elementary school; this program can track behavior management, projects, and other facets of the classroom. Any tool that simplifies communication with parents and maintains transparency is a win-win.
- Check out laptops from the library/utilize computer rooms. Students need to gain confidence and understanding navigating the Internet. In a world of Wikipedia, it’s imperative that students know and understand how to research properly. Lessons can be piloted through collaboration between classroom teachers and technology/library specialists at school to enable students to gain higher order thinking skills all while learning proper ways to research and document.
- Maintain consistency around rules and expectations with technology. For example, 13 & 11 do not have cell phones — their school has a policy that phones should be kept in their lockers but last year, we noticed that some teachers wanted phones in the classrooms to use for video. I’ve read about schools allowing students to use their cell phones for in-class research and I do see the benefits of this, but I think in order to do this successfully, all parties need to be on the same page and have access to the same materials.
- Teach students how to utilize presentation software. Most schools teach PowerPoint, which is great — I know 13 & 11 used it in elementary school for in-class presentations; they also used GarageBand on iPads in school. In my college classes, I’ve had some students who learned how to use Prezi, which is a really fun and engaging way to create a presentation. I think that encouraging students to play around with new programs and offer mini-tutorials on how to incorporate proper content will allow for more functional and efficient public speaking opportunities.
- Allow students to communicate in class the ways they communicate socially. Several years ago, I taught a Romeo & Juliet lesson. Instead of droning on about the tragedy, I had students take things into their own hands. In groups of two, on the laptops, students devised texting conversations between two characters. They used modern language while making connections to the text. Once they finished, we posted them on the Mimio and had students put their modern words into iambic pentameter, had them make predictions and inferences about how things would turn out with the level of communication at their fingertips now, and offered feedback about accuracy and staying on point. It was a fun activity that engaged the class and allowed them some space to showcase their communication skills vs. mine vs. the text.
- Investigate critical literacies. In graduate school, I took a course by Vivian Vasquez — she’s amazing and taught me so much about emerging technology. This was back in 2007, so tech has obviously evolved since then, but the concept remains the same. Functional literacy can take many forms and does not strictly involve reading words on a page — I took this concept and applied it to my students who struggled with reading comprehension by using audio books and read aloud/think aloud sessions paired with grade-level readings for them to create v-logs. Removing the blatant reading and writing duo that often accompanies a text allowed students who had high comprehension, but low reading/writing skills, to shine. In classes with 30 students, it can be difficult to find and understand each student’s literacy strength, but that is where specialists come into play and allow for support and tech integration.
- One thing we always talk about in reading is the importance of forging connections to the text. Utilizing laptops to search for articles that took place around the time/setting of a book can help students better understand some of the context given throughout the text. It is also fun to set up these searches as a scavenger hunt that utilizes higher order thinking and Bloom’s buzzwords.
- Ask your students how they utilize technology for academic purposes. This question can yield two-fold responses: First, you’re able to gain access/insights to the ways students utilize technology, so you can beef up your own usage and second, you’re able to redirect any red flags (Wikipedia; plagiarizing) by demonstrating software you use (for example, at BHCC, I had access to software that would note how many sentences were from outside sources). This offers a great deal of transparency and allows for natural, in the moment lessons and redirections all while using a SmartBoard and integrating further levels of technology.
I hope these tech tips are helpful — it took a lot of thought for me to think about how I’ve used technology, on how my kids’ teachers and schools have offered technical solutions to work, and how I can improve the usage of technology for myself and fellow staff.
When I was in school, we had overhead projectors that would sometimes overheat and shut down; we also had chalk. The ability to utilize technology within the confines of a classroom truly offers boundless experiences for students, which is equal parts great and terrifying. I tried to think of how both teachers and students could benefit by my list, thus the examples; and how a librarian would be able to facilitate learning outcomes with both staff and student. Currently, I have a lot of thoughts swirling around my brain about how this could all look and play out — the librarian really can serve as a central hub/school’s access point between so many departments. It’ll be neat to further explore this and understand how all of these pieces can come together.