A student made a video call during class today, again. But this time, I smiled. She’s done it before, against my classroom rules. Today however, she was learning something.
How can I engage students who spend a fair amount of time on screens? Before I became a teacher, I went to a technology conference looking for ways to incorporate technology into my lessons. At the time it seemed like the only apps and devices available had to do with online quizzes and reading eBooks. To say the least, I was disappointed. I knew that there would be no way to use devices in a way that would help my students enjoy literature and writing. It seemed unnecessary using computers just to use computers.
A Change of Heart
It turns out I wasn’t thinking about teaching with technology correctly. As teachers, we sometimes think students will be entertained by new apps, or that they need more time in front of a computer to build or practice skills. Students will use technology in the classroom, but in the ways that they already do every day. Students don’t need to experience new apps as much as teachers need to use existing technology to engage students’ minds.
I invited students to learn something new. I wanted them to take ownership of their education, and give them the confidence that they can do it. I wanted to show them that the skills we work on in English apply to life.
A few months ago I had students create a free blog. No more book reports, just writing about what they read. Sure, that’s relatively new technology, and it’s not much different from Instagram or Snapchat.
Now, they are learning how to write for an online audience. They know how to embed pictures and videos, and create hyperlinks to videos and other websites.
Technology in Action
This assignment was to learn something new over a week, and document (through writing, picture, or video) what they learned, and where they found the articles or videos that helped them. They could also talk to people that they know and learn from them. My first thought was that they would just use YouTube or a parent to learn something and then write about it, and maybe take a picture of the end product (or bring cookies to class). Or, if they learned a trick or dance move that they could film, they’d get a short video and create a link to it.
One girl in particular video-called a friend. She wanted to learn how to sign a song. She got help from a friend whose mother is deaf. She could ask questions, show her the signs to see if she was getting it right, and then move on to the next part of the song. It is a great use of technology, and she can show how she learned something new. She can write about how it worked, and what could have been better. I was impressed with something that had upset me before.
I haven’t yet seen their reflections on their learning, but I’m excited to see what my students produce about what they have learned. I’m sure it will be a great conversation.
- Authentic learning is interesting to students.
- Authentic writing is interesting to read for teachers.
- Solid teaching practices take some time setting up and training, but pay off with multiple forms of assessing student learning.
What about you? Have you tried anything like this? I’d love to know what you’re doing in your classrooms with technology.