Sunday, November 9, 2014

Pushing My Thinking - Technology in the Elementary Workshop

I don’t have time to blog this morning. I’m typing between picking up the house, clearing a room to be painted tomorrow, and heading to church for my CCD class’s student mass. And yet, here I sit, typing out a post. I blame Franki. And Cathy. And Kristin and Troy. See, they all posted blogs that made me think. (Read them by clicking on their names.) Each blog was in response to some remarks made by Nancie Atwell, one of my teaching, and writing, heroes. In reference to having iPads in lower elementary classrooms, Nancie made the following comment in her post…

"I have concerns about them [iPads] in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake."

Atwell is one of my heroes. Her books, In the Middle and The Reading Zone absolutely shaped what my classroom looks like. They helped lead me on the path to workshop based teaching and choice in reading and writing. I completely admire her and respect her right to this opinion. That begin said, it is not one I agree with in my room.

To be fair, she is speaking about the lower elementary grades and I teach fifth grade. Yet, I have many friends – including some who wrote posts I linked at the top – who use iPads (and other technology) in their classrooms and I completely admire their work. On the flip side, I am sure there are some elementary classrooms I could walk into that are using technology in a way that devalues the influence it could have in the classrooms. If devices are being used simply to do a task (worksheet) that could have been just as easily with paper and pencil, I don’t find value there. Just to play games, nope, not needed. The way I see it, technology is not a means to do what we’ve previously done in our classrooms online. If my students fill out a paper, send it to me through email or the like, what’s the gain? I might have a paperless classroom, but there has been no new learning, no new audience.

I see the value in iPads when I realize the world has opened up to my students. In the past, you would write a narrative and hand it in to your teacher. She would grade it and return it to you. Maybe, just maybe, the paper would be hung up for your classmates to read it. Your audience was small, as was your impact. Technology has changed that. My students can write their narratives and paste them into a blog that anyone in the world can see. They can tweet out the link to their blogs and others can read them. They get to learn about the impact we can make, the power of our voices. It is an influence that we cannot measure.

Through technology my students have learned to be creators on a different level. They are inspired and push their own learning and own their own learning. We use the iPads to brainstorm, research, publish, and share. The iPads allow my students – in a small, rural town in Central Illinois – to connect to authors and illustrators around the globe. Author visits are not common at our school, so when I introduced our classroom Twitter account to my students and explained that you could tweet authors, they went a bit nuts. When the first author tweeted us back – Dan Gutman – you would think we had won the lottery. Drew will be a Dan Gutman fan for life. That is something we couldn’t have done before technology.

When I think about my life and my classroom before technology, I know there was nothing wrong with it. We had amazing learning occur inside of those four walls. iPads and the like have not replaced anything I did previously, they have enhanced it. They simply removed the walls to our classroom and connected us to the world. We still read and write daily, our reading and writing just often includes a device as well as the traditional tools. Like everyone I linked has mentioned, I don’t see iPads or devices as an all or nothing proposition. My students are digital natives. They see the iPad just a tool in our classroom. I do too. I use iPads or apps when they fit the need. Sometimes I prefer to write in a notebook. I almost always prefer to read an actual book. Articles I read online. It all works.

So I thank Nancie, and everyone else, for spurring my thinking this morning. My classroom has evolved over the past five years, and will continue to in the future. Technology in the elementary classroom? Yep, I’m all in.