The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Letting Students Use Technology

As an elementary teacher who has technology deeply infused in my classroom, it is not at all uncommon for someone to walk into my room and see me sitting at my horseshoe table at the back of the room with four or six students while the other twenty or so are scattered about the room working on their Chromebooks. I have spent a great deal of time and effort learning how to best integrate technology in my classroom in a way that makes it so the devices are not simply a substitution for traditional learning tools. (However, like even the best of technology-minded teachers, it still happens.)

This week, however, I came to a realisation: far too much of my students’ technology use has been student-centered but teacher-directed. By this I mean that while I use technological resources to differentiate my instruction and allow my students to work within their zones of proximal development (as many of the tools we use provide help within their interfaces), they are almost always doing things that I have specifically directed them to do.

This week, however, my students have begun using their Chromebooks in a way that I quite honestly did not expect. We are starting a new science unit on how Earth’s processes impact landforms and I have had them working out of our Harcourt Science textbooks to build up background knowledge. To hold my class accountable for their learning, I have had the students answer the review questions at the end of the text lessons. Instead of just writing them answers on a piece of paper and turning them in, many students, without asking or even thinking that they should ask, opened their Chromebooks, created a new Google Doc or Goole Slides presentation, and combined information from the textbook with information they found online and then sharing the final product with me.

It has been really cool looking through the responses. One student had a separate slide for each of the review questions and then linked to a video about Mt. Etna in Sicily. If I had told the students that they had to use paper and pencil for their responses, the likelihood of my students finding this video and learning more about how volcanic eruption impact Earth and its plant and animal (including human) populations!

The result of this realisation has been a recommitment on my part to let my students use technology. I will still direct, guide, and prompt, but if I want them to become savvy users of these advanced tools, I need to be willing to let them explore and find ways to use them that I wouldn’t consider.

How has learning to let others act on their own impacted what you do?

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