New Teaching Tools for an Era of Technology
This year, Waterford launched a 1:1 Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) program in our Middle and Upper Schools. Teachers and students alike have found Waterford's laptop initiative enhances the learning environment in meaningful ways. Waterford's 1:1 program has equipped teachers with new tools to more effectively teach today's tech-savvy students. At a recent Parent Association meeting, English Department Chair Casey O'Malley shared her experience with technology in the classroom.
To read a student perspective on Waterford's BYOD program, click here.
Technology Offers New Solutions to Old Problems
1. Technology helps me have more check-ins with more students in one class period. I often wished that I had the sci-fi technology to be in multiple places at once or clone myself into an army of identical Ms O’Malleys. I’m sure this would be terrifying and dreadful, but there are times when it would be so helpful. In my classroom, it is not uncommon to have four or five hands up in the air as students work on projects or essays: try as I might, I simply cannot be in enough places at once. In my mad dashes from one student desk to another, I will inevitably trip over 2-3 wheelie backpacks, a lunchbox or two, and various articles of clothing.
Having laptops in the classroom has made this easier. I can see students writing in real time and send a quick message via a Google chat box. I can give students impromptu, formative quizzes that are not part of their grade, but that allow me to spend more time reviewing a tough grammar concept or a tricky passage from a novel.
2. Technology helps bring participation up. I know that there are many students who have different ways of communicating and who don’t love or like to raise their hand and speak in front of the class. I know it can be heart stopping to even think about doing so. I know that this fear is valid, and I’ve long struggled with how give students the tools and the confidence to participate.
This is the area where I have seen the most impressive shift from years past. Students now have more modes of communicating allowing those who aren’t really the hand-raising type to still get their questions answered.
3. Technology helps me review feedback with my students. I spend a lot of time grading. And I mean A LOT. In years past, handing out a stack of essays with my somewhat sloppy, very smeared handwritten comments (I am lefthanded and have an unfortunate preference for gel pens) would be disheartening—I knew that not everyone could or would make time to read my feedback. When we shifted to using Canvas as our LMS- the situation improved. I could type feedback and knew that it was readable.
Having technology in the hands of each student allows for me to build in lesson time where students look at feedback, and respond to feedback in the classroom. I’m there to help them remember the sometimes overwhelming number of clicks or buttons that it takes to find feedback, and I give them time to read it and process it before asking student sto reflect on it. When students have laptops in the classroom, I can design my lesson plans in ways that reflect what I think works in writing instruction: writing instruction must be a dialogue. I cannot have 15 or 18 simultaneous dialogues, but I can have those 15 or 18 students reading my feedback and knowing that it matters.
4. Technology helps make assignments more relevant. In the past, I have given out assignments that were sort of the “green leafy vegetables” of the learning world. Students didn’t always love them, and I would have to explain WHY they were worth it. Students were often unconvinced by my attempts to change their hearts and minds.
Having computers in the classroom has allowed me to redesign some of these assignments in a way that eels more relevant, more engaging, and that develops a great variety of skills. Knowing that every student has a computer, I can use different tools that allow to meet the same learning goals as a pencil-and-paper character chart, but do it in a way that teaches them how to use more 21st-century tools: finding appropriate images, collaborating with groupmates remotely or in-person, delegating tasks and distributing workload
Tools for Better Teaching
Having computers in the classroom has not completely revolutionized the way that I each. But, it has made my lessons more efficient, more engaging, and more relevant. I get fewer groans about assignments. Most importantly, I am thinking more about HOW I assign things: in years past, I would assign writing or I would assign reading. Now that I know that students have the capability to engage with curricular content with nearly limitless technology tools, I am more thoughtful about how I design assignments. Maybe one will use Padlet. Maybe one will use Adobe Spark. Perhaps another assignment will offer the best learning outcomes if it uses video, or audio, or something else.
Having computers in the classroom has made me a more thoughtful teacher, for which I am grateful. But mostly, it has improved learning for my students because I can be in more places at once and communicate with more students in more ways. It allows me to build stronger relationships with all students—which is nothing new. Really, that’s what we teachers have been trying to do all along. Having technology in the hands of every students just makes the process easier and more accessible, which yields more learning and more engagement.