By Carrie Sorensen
First Grade Teacher at Highlander Charter School & RI Fuse Fellow
The use of technology in the classroom elicits great passion from both the advocates and the nay-sayers. This article by Audrey Watters seems, while well thought out and constructed, a bit too far into the conspiracy theory camp for me. One of the things that adopting technology into the classroom requires is an acceptance of technology as a useful tool and part of the world in which our students already live. Eschewing the entire idea seems naive. However, wholeheartedly accepting and trusting edtech companies to interpret information and provide content without question also seems to lack judgement.
My feelings on using technology in the classroom are, as is likely the case with many educators, borne of my experiences in the classroom. Adaptive programs and data driven reports are helpful, but the best and most convincing model I’ve experienced comes when students use technology to create, rather than to consume.
I realize this is, in itself, perhaps a naive point of view. We can’t just have our students making sculptures, singing songs, and painting murals all day. How would they learn to read? But I stand by it. And here’s why.
I teach first grade. I’m wildly biased about the importance of this year, but it’s the most important year. Kids start the year as kindergarteners – learning how to navigate the social experience that is school, learning letters and numbers, and in many cases, learning a new language, to being second graders – questioning and thoughtful learners who have moved from the “learn to read” to the “read to learn” side of the table. It’s magical.
Research on teaching students to read goes back centuries. Lucy Calkins’ work, which is part of the modern cannon for any teacher education program, highlights the importance of a short mini-lesson and adequate time to practice independently. I’ve seen 1st graders navigate successfully within a reader’s workshop in which they learned a concept and then went back to incorporate those ideas into texts they were exploring independently. How can technology top that? A communal experience followed by independent practice at students’ own levels is pretty tough to beat. Where blended learning can push the envelope comes from those moments when students have questions and are able to answer them independently. Access to the internet – photos, videos, interactive conversations, factual research – has incredible learning potential, but with great power comes great responsibility. And I’m not just saying that because I have a three-year-old spiderman enthusiast for a child.
Access is one thing. Responsible use is another. Sharing work publicly is yet another, but that’s where the good stuff happens. George Couros, Canadian educator, speaker and all around smart guy, has full presentations on the importance of sharing experiences globally. I was skeptical at first. But as teachers, we are tasked with teaching our kids in their time, in their space, and in their environment. Working and sharing with a global audience can make an incredible and lasting impression.
Adaptive programs are wonderful. Data-driven and common core aligned software is widely useful both in terms of content and the time it allows for small group instructions. Graphing and organizing and sorting are all parts of my day, and I value it greatly. But, when I think of the transformative power of technology, I think about the video screencast my wildly brilliant student made retelling his favorite story. I think about the green-screen skit two kids did that they shared with their parents who were unable to attend our home-school night. I think about the Skype call we made to a classroom in Kenya, and the 360 degree “field trip” we got to take of the great wall of China while corresponding with classes there. I think about how students are given a platform in which they are able and encouraged to teach one another. I think about how my wonderful students came up with their own projects and essential questions and spent their recess and free-time researching topics of their choosing. Independently. I think about breaking the physical, social, and theoretical boundaries of the classroom and giving the six and seven-year-old students I have the incredible privilege of working with each day, a chance to voice their feelings, questions and wildest dreams, and then going about investigating those things.
Like I said, it’s the best year.
Written By: Carrie Sorensen