To Use Technology or Not to Use Technology: It’s Not Even a Question

Computer Hard Drive Half-Full

Today I will be reflecting on Wendy Donawa’s and Leah C. Fowler’s “The YA Reader in the Digital Age” from their book Reading Canada. This chapter focuses on using technology in ELA classrooms. Donawa and Fowler (2013) state that “technology ought to be a seamless, integral part of what [teachers use] in the classrooms, especially in literature classes. Students and teachers want and need a connected classroom” (p. 188). This quote fits perfectly with my reason for becoming a teacher: my purpose is to help students realize their potential, uncover their unknown and known interests, and gain the confidence needed to share their knowledge and perspectives with others (both face-to-face and online). In my opinion, the purpose of learning is connection; we learn to share, we share to learn. Technology is a tool that teachers can and should utilize to get students engaged with collaborative learning. Furthermore, the use of technology improves “students’ interest, engagement, learning and success with Canadian [and other] literature” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 190). This is how I view technology in my classroom. I believe all methods of instruction need to be utilized and would suggest that the only wrong strategy is an over-used strategy. Technology – although I will have to step back and explicitly teach certain programs – is not the lesson but the tool. Donawa and Fowler (2013) suggest that “mastering digital tools and technology is not the goal of instruction, but if they are well integrated for reading, research, and analysis of literature, they motivate, engage, and support learners” (p. 179). Appropriate use of technology is vital, as our directive is to implement the Saskatchewan Curriculum. Therefore, technology is a tool in accomplishing that goal. Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “technology needs to be relevant to the objectives, topics, and assignments; it should be high quality, fast, accessible, glitch-free, focused, and specific. Classroom sites or web-based instruction platforms can be marvelous resources for teachers’ tailor-made assignments and activities that enhance learning key principles. Teachers and students support success when they co-create relevant resources and links that connect for learning” (p. 188). Some of the platforms – albeit, not always glitch-free or accessible to all – that can be used are:

Teacher Resources Student Resources Both
Teachers Pay Teachers

Twitter (ex. #edtech; #edchat)

Youtube Youtube
Teaching Channel Prezi EBooks
Edutopia Blackboard
Facebook (ex. Sask. Teachers’ pages) WebCT
Pinterest

Upworthy

TedTalks (Ed)

Class Wiki or Blog (ex. kgorhamblog@wordpress.com; kidblog)
 Google Docs Moodle

I believe that adding technology into our repertoire does not discredit or ignore previous methods or disrupt a sound ELA curriculum. Through the use of technology in the classroom, students can develop “inquiry strategies… receptive and expressive literary skills, and form meaningful online relationships and participate in reading communities” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179) and still work “on classic literary strategies: phonemic awareness, oral language development, spelling, vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and fluency” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193) through online exploration. We are not replacing the old with the new but shifting from individual classroom studies to global knowledge sharing communities; “the impact of the digital world and on readers and reading, and on literature production, has been profound” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179). Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “we have come to expect an unlimited choice of information and communication as a norm and a right” (p. 180); technology is not going away and it is time to embrace it in our ELA classrooms.

Computer Hard Drive Half Empty

With the positives always comes the negative. Although I do believe technology is something we must incorporate, there are definitely some cons. One of my biggest issues with technology is the overload! I often feel bogged down; I can never keep up to all the information that comes my way and I am sure students feel the same. As an educator with endless amounts of great resources and new information each day, it is hard to pick what to study. We need to help students – who are coming of age and figuring themselves out – navigate through a vast amount of sources and engage with positive choices.  Donawa and Folwer (2013) note that this can be done through instructional scaffolding (p. 191). But this is harder than it sounds, especially when you can find anything to back up your opinion. I often wonder how we can determine if anything is credible? Are we not more incline to believe that an article that supports our preexisting belief is more credible than something that challenges our ideas? Technology is a great example of this: take for instance the many pro. technology articles on edutopia or #edtech on Twitter versus John Lornic’s work or Fusion New’s “This is what it’s like to be one of the 75 million Americans living without Internet access:”

(Note: John Lornic (2007) suggested that “multi-tasking, although inseparable from pervasive electronic distraction, is a phrase initially used to describe the capabilities of a the computer, not the human brain” and that “the sheer glut of data itself has supplanted the kind of focused reflective attention that might make this information useful in the first place (p. 50; 59)).  Even Donawa and Fowler, who are promoting the use of technology in ELA classrooms, suggest that “the generous support of information technology and competency-based learning may well be the prudent fostering of a future workforce, but it is generally accompanied by diminished support for art, music, literature, and liberal education” and furthermore, “ceaseless electronic demands… replace human interaction or inner contemplative and cognitive activity” (2013, p. 180). How do we pick what to focus our attention on and what to believe? And how do we teach this to students when we are figure it out ourselves?

Another issue I have with technology is the lack of access. Donawa and Fowler note that “Canadian students have a media-textual world at their fingertips through home, school, or public library computers” (2013, p. 189) and although this is true for most, over 75 million Americans are without technology access (see above video). This creates a socio-economic divide and also disproves the misconception (see page 191 in Reading Canada) that students are “digitally competent and able.” Many students need explicit instruction and just as learners are ready to learn at different paces, their ability to access technology is diverse. I want to flip my classroom one day but what if I had students who did not have access to technology? Could I do it? What could I do to assist those students and even the playing field?

Searching for Files

In the end, I will utilize technology in my classroom because the pros outweigh the cons and it is not an option. It is here to stay and it is a mode of teaching that works. Not only that, but it is ingrained in our lives; it seemed like I was helpless on my trip to Minot when I had to shut off my data and couldn’t consult Google Maps or Goolge whenever I wished. Technology is part of us and the theoretical framework of an ELA classroom can be met through the use of technology. For instance, technology fosters inquiry-based learning (answering self-directed, real questions), and constructivism (“learning is a socially mediated process, where learners are actively and relationally involved in a process of meaning-making and knowledge production” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 191). By utilizing technology students get “choice, pace, and control over their work” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193). Technology fosters motivation, responsibility, independence, interaction, engagement, critical thinking, exploration, and reflection. Our learners may be all over the map with technology but as teachers it is our job to start with the zone of proximal development and expand their horizons, albeit at their own pace. Furthermore and most importantly, technology = digital citizenship = citizenship.

Differentiated Instruction with an Example Lesson Plan

This video by the Teaching Channel provides a quick 12 minute description about Differentiated Instruction that anyone can understand, regardless of their area of expertise. Differentiated instruction is at the core of my teaching philosophy.

Some tips:

In order to differentiate you must assess. If you don’t assess, you will not know how to differentiate your instruction because you won’t know the levels your students are at.

Assessment is continuous and pre-assessment is vital in order to group students.

Exit slips and class discussions can let you know if any students are struggling or excelling. These are examples of post-assessment.

TIERED INSTRUCTION is key! Tiered instruction involves teaching the same, global lesson for about 15 minutes (approximately) and then providing different levels of assignments. Students will be put in a particular level based on their pre-assessments and exit slip results. One way to do this is to teach a lesson, give each of the three groups an assignment or task or station to work at as the teacher circles the room, and then summarize with the group at the end of the lesson.

– Groupings can be made based on interests, learning styles or academic level. Groupings should be changed. A great tip is to color code the tiered assignments and change the color so that students are not singled out!

– Scaffolding is also important. Group discussions where students can scaffold off of each other’s answers are beneficial for all students.

It is important to note that:

– Sometimes students can all complete the same thing. Group instruction is not bad. Variation is needed, however.

– It is impossible to incorporate 800 differentiated techniques at once, just like it is impossible to work on 800 goals or data collections at the same time. Start small. I’d recommend trying to do this once a week at the beginning of your career. FURTHERMORE, DO NOT MAKE INDIVIDUAL PLANS FOR EACH STUDENT. GOOD TEACHING STRATEGIES ARE GOOD TEACHING STRATEGIES! 

My Example of Differentiated Lesson Plan Example with Tiers!

Inclusive Education Resources

10 Steps to Writing an Inclusive Lesson Plan from Concordia University

Adaptive Dimension

ADHD from Alberta Education

Autism Resource Centre

Autism: Sensory Overload

Behavioral Recording

Bilingualism and Children from the Hanen Centre

Birmingham Grid for Learning: Multiple Intelligences: This website is a great tool to get to know students and how they learn best. This link leads to a quick, 5 page learning inventory for high school students. After completion, students receive a code and they can give this code to their teachers. Then the teacher can print off individual graphs for each student, the entire class, the boys, or the girls. This offers a great visual for the teacher and can help guide instruction. I would personally put the whole-class visual in my classroom and after each lesson I would check-off or assess what ways of knowing/learning I targeted for the day (an inclusive education strategy). Students could also print off their own results so they know their strengths and areas to work on! I hope to use this in my pre-internship, along with some more interest-based games, to get to know my students so that I can instruct them appropriately and work on relationship building.

ConnectAbility for Developmental Disabilities

Constructivism from Concept to Classroom

For Parents with Children with Hearing Loss

Four Directions Teachings

Glossary of Instructional Strategies

Inclusive Education Library

Inclusive Education from Western Canadian Research Centre of Inclusion

Inquiry Based Learning from Concept to Classroom

Instructional Strategies and Lesson Plans for Inclusive Educators

Katie Letnes’ Blog

Language-Based Learning Disabilities from American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Lesson Plans Directory

Lesson Plans for Teachers from eduref

Lifelong Learning and Adult Education

Power Soccer and Power Soccer Video 2

Rhett Syndrome in Males

Rick Hansen on Losing his Ability to Walk

Social Media + Differentiating Instruction

Supporting Behavior and Social Participation from Learn Alberta

Supporting Positive Behavior from Alberta Education

Special Ed. and Physical Education

Special Ed. Wiki by Sarah Belson

Technology Lesson Plans

We Act Lesson Plans

Wheelchair Basketball

Wheelchair Yoga