Technology is an accepted part of daily life and is readily becoming available in most schools as a regular component in the classroom day. Used appropriately, technology can serve as an independent and individualized learning tool for students while providing a useful “extra hand” in classroom management to support one group of students while the teacher engages in personalized instruction for others.
Whether technology energizes students and brings learning opportunities into the classroom or dampens engagement, expression, and creativity depends on the culture established by the teacher for the purpose and value of technology. Lately, there has been an outcry by both students and teachers to bring learning and interaction back to the classroom rather than spending time on “digital busywork.” The following suggestions can help teachers increase students’ understanding of the purpose and procedures for classroom technology use, leading to a more engaged and successful learning environment. These guidelines assume that the technology used is pedagogically sound and relevant to students’ needs.
- Through discussions, help students establish a mindset that technology is a tool that prepares them to develop skills, gain knowledge, and become a better learner—one who can ultimately participate and share their ideas with others.
- Get students’ buy-in to use the technology as intended and at regular intervals and evaluate whether they are using it as expected and reaching their desired goals.
- Specify the purpose of their computer time to support a real outcome (e.g., finding information to write a report, learning to decode words to read better, etc.)
- Establish the conditions for students to bring their skills and/or knowledge back to real-life interactions with their peers and/or you. Whether it involves reading a shared story together, drawing pictures of their favorite character, discussing alternative endings, making interpretations, and applying data to other uses, the importance of formulating and sharing ideas with others cannot be overstated.
- Establish schedules and routines that support rotations through technology as a learning station. Once students see the relationship between their work on the computer and their interactions in group or individual instruction, their time on the computer becomes more relevant and valuable.
To assess whether they have appropriately and successfully leveraged technology to enhance classroom instruction and student engagement, teachers can reflect on the following questions:
- Are regular routines established and are students able to independently follow the schedule?
- Do students know why they are using technology and how it supports their engagement with peers and teachers?
- Are the students applying the knowledge and skills learned on the technology in real-life interactions in which they share, formulate, and refine ideas?
- Are students self-motivated to learn more and to participate in shared experiences?
Used well, technology can serve as an equalizer by providing widespread access to high-quality learning support and enable students to acquire and apply skills and knowledge while actively participating in real-life interactions. Through engagement, observation, and focused instruction, teachers will be able to provide feedback about their continued use of technology and/or other avenues to support their learning. This modeling of the iterative learning process will support them throughout their lives as active and curious learners.
Dr. Carolyn Brown and Dr. Jerry Zimmermann are co-founders of Foundations in Learning, with a new intervention called the Foundations Learning System™, which provides school districts with research-based tools designed to assess struggling readers, address their foundational skill deficits, and assist them to achieve gains in reading fluency and comprehension.