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We lament about how much our students are hooked into technology, but even as I start my workday, I’m already distracted by the same things we claim are monopolizing their attention. I know I spend a good portion of my day with email, internet, and texting, mainly work-related. And later tonight, I will spend a couple of hours catching up on Facebook, Twitter, and more emails and texts when I get home. Given the amount of time I spend using technology for various purposes, how can I blame the kids for wanting to stay connected?
When I think about my students as learners, I know that the digital landscape for them is even broader than it is for me, that technology is so embedded in their lives that they don’t have to “make time” for doing all of these things I block out time for. So how do I meet them in their digital reality? How do I use technology to enhance their learning experience rather than use it to replace learning? How can I make sure that I have a balance for them with technology in my classroom so they are not always hiding behind screens?
When I first began blocking my Pre-AP English 8 class into two periods, my biggest struggle was making sure that there was a balance in my reading and writing instruction. Four years in, with four very different classes of students to have learned from, I finally believe I might just have a balance that I am satisfied with for the moment. But now I worry that I have an imbalance in the amount of time we spend using technology for learning. Google Apps and unfettered access to Chromebooks have made so many positive differences in how I can communicate with my students, especially this year when I have been out of the classroom for instructional coaching duties more than I want to be. Even while away at conferences, I have been able to comment on rough drafts via Google docs, answer questions by email so that the students don’t have to wait for me to get back to continue their work, and make sure that everyone is on track with their tasks. Access to Google apps has also made a difference in the collaborative process for the students, as they no longer have to work in the library or gather at someone’s home to complete group work outside of class. However, as excellent a tool as Google has been, I also worry that the technology has become too much of a part of our classroom and is now sometimes a barrier between us.
For this last segment of our Holocaust unit, the study of Night, I have had them off the computers and working in small groups and as a whole class to access the material without using technology, and there is a distinct difference in their level of engagement. I wouldn't characterize them as being more or less engaged than if we were collaborating and discussing with technology, it’s just a different type of engagement.
So my challenge to myself this afternoon, when I access my curriculum map to catch up on that online tool as well, will be to go back through my diary map and see where the students really need to access technology to enhance their experiences, and where technology can be replaced with other forms of engagement.
But first…I just need to post to this on my blog and on Twitter…before I get the rest of my day started.