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

Learning Without Devices

My classroom is a 21st century technology-enhanced learning environment. That is something I am very proud of and work hard to accomplish each day. There are some teachers who allow modern technologies to take over in the room and others who are downright fearful of them. I would like to think that I have found a balance of using devices to enhance learning in ways that could not be done without the devices while also making sure that learning is student-centered and student-driven.

Sometimes, however, I have to scale back on the use of devices so my students can develop better work habits. I noticed the other day that far too many of my students were getting off-task during our Daily CAFE, primarily because I am working with small groups during that time so there is nobody monitoring what they are doing on their devices. (They are supposed to be engaged in a variety of literacy-based activities, such as reading, writing, and researching different topics.) Because there has been side widespread misuse of the devices in the afternoon, I have decreed that the devices will be put away before lunch. Students will have to earn the right to use them during literacy by showing that they can follow directions and engage in independent tasks for an extended period of time.

There was some grumbling about this, but the class by and large understood and accepted the consequences. Those who had been doing what they were supposed to do will continue to do so and quickly earn the privilege again. Those who have not will hopefully adjust their behaviour accordingly.

I discovered today, however, an interesting unexpected consequence of this. I was working with one of my reading groups and gave them a task to create a dictionary of terms of their own choosing. We discussed the components necessary: terms listed in alphabetical order, definitions, illustrations/diagrams as appropriate, etc.

Then one of the students asked a question: “How are we supposed to find the definitions if we aren’t allowed to use our Chromebooks?”

My response was initially silence. I looked at her and waited. She asked it again. I continued to just look at her. Her group members also stared, but at me. They were all wondering how they could complete this task without using their devices during literacy. I finally answered, “How do you think you can find the definitions without using your Chromebook?” (Yes, one of my favourite ways to respond to a student’s question is to repeat it back.)¬†One of the students hesitantly suggested using her computer at home. Another said he could do research in the morning.

I asked them how they completed tasks like this before Chromebooks. After all, they first started using them at the start of their third grade year, which means they went through roughly 80% of their lives without having Chromebooks. Their eyes lit up as they excitedly talked to each other about using dictionaries in the classroom, looking up examples in their books, or creating definitions from their own knowledge of words.

It didn’t occur to me that being in a classroom so rich in modern technology would lead my students to forgetting how to learn without their devices. I am glad that this will give them a chance to revisit some of the other learning tools they have at their disposal!

How do you create a balance between enhanced technologies and other resources?


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