Finding the Right Tools

Reading the discussions and examples of tools for students, it becomes apparent that there is a lot to consider when we bring technology into the classroom. One important consideration is how the technology acts as a tool in the classroom. Is this shiny new tool grounded in good pedagogy? Does it enhance the curriculum? Is the technology picked first, and then the lesson is adapted to fit the technology? What level is the technology supporting of the students’ learning on the SAMR model? Will it enhance their learning or transform it? There is a lot of debate around how best to use technology in a meaningful way. My own limited experience with technology use in the classroom means I do not have a definitive opinion on this yet, but I appreciate the dialogue around these issues.

When I think of differentiating curriculum, whether with or without technology, I am reminded of the importance that the tools used work for the individual student. I am interested to read more about how teachers differentiate the technology they use to best support the learning of each child in their class. As with any instructional tools, there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.

Recently, I had a teaching moment that reminded me of this. At the end of a parent education session with my adult students, I passed around a spiral notebook for the students to write their comments or further questions about the topic so I could follow up with them. One of the students paused when he received the notebook, then flipped it upside down and began writing. He explained that he was left handed so it hurt his hand to write in a spiral notebook the traditional way (with the binding on the left). Something as low-tech and simple as a notebook, did not work for every student. He literally had to turn it upside down to make it work for him. It will be interesting to see how technology needs to be flipped or turned to work for each learner.

Tech Itself is Not the Goal

I am digging deeper into the idea that technology is not the goal of instruction, but rather a way to form deeper learning. Audrey Watters explains the historical thinking of the rise of technology where the educational content was something to be delivered to a passive learner. This is similar to the way Blooms’ taxonomy of learning was structured, where the learner was passive and on the receiving end of the learning. I understand why in the 1990s educators chose to change the wording in order to reflect actions on behalf of the learner, using words such as remember, understand, and apply. Viewing learning as dynamic, alters the way in which the teacher and student interact with each other and gives the student more ownership of their learning.

This concept of taking action is something Watters also discusses when looking at networks. She states, “We must act to shape the learning networks we want to have.” This could be applied to online learning networks, but also to educational networks, which I realize can also be online. That inter-connectivity is what is so interesting and complicated about networks.

The network of learning has changed for students, and for this reason educators have changed their instruction. The SAMR model, for example, targets higher-order skills while using technology to go beyond merely enhancing learning to transforming it. It is important to think about the network of learners and the audience that our students can have as they use this model. Rather than a traditional essay, students can have an interactive experience with an authentic audience. Students are able to engage in their learning on a deeper level though the use of technology without technology itself being the learning goal.

Technology is More than a Tool for Special Needs Students

For Some Special Needs Children, Technology Can Be Powerful

In their book, Using Technology to Engage Students with Learning Disabilities, Billy Krakower and Sharon LePage Plante discuss the important role technology can play in the lives of children with special needs. We have talked about the importance of connected teaching in this class and the ways in which technology can lead to students having a broader audience for their learning. Students can connect with students at their own school or across the globe using tools such as Google Hangout or Edmondo.

As effective as this use of technology can be, educators continue to point out that the importance lies in the pedagogy, not the technology. I would agree with this point. This is similar to the research that has shown us that just having access to technology is not enough, but rather it is having a lot of positive teacher support that helps students succeed.

But is this true of special needs children? Krakower and Plante assert that for some students, the importance lies in the tech itself. For learning disabled children, technology goes beyond being a tool, but instead can be a path that leads them to success. In a technology lesson in the classroom, a teacher may see the acquisition of new skills related to the technology to be the goal of the lesson, but for children with special needs, the technology is actually a starting point “as a way to engage in and understand learning as a whole.”

Krakower and Plante state that special needs children “need permission to show the power they have within. The tech is just the glasses and hearing aid that their brain needs.” I appreciate this powerful message for educators as we find ways to help children with learning disabilities. Rather than focusing on what they cannot do, we are tapping into the power that they have inside them and giving them the tech that allows that power to be shown.

I recently went to a faculty retreat where we were trained in a methodology for behaviorally challenged children called The Nurtured Heart Approach. This is a relationship-based approach that focuses on helping children find the greatness within them. As educators, we want to unlock the greatness inside all the children we teach, and sometimes technology can be the key. There are many different tools and ways to use technology to assist and differentiate for children with special needs. I look forward to learning more about them as I continue my reading of this book.

Technology Equity

Whether you’re using books or computers, great teaching and supporting the student are essential.

When we think about equity, we often think in terms of resources. Students need access to schools, books, quality teachers, computers, and the internet. However, access alone is not enough. Technology is often touted as the great equalizer that can level the educational playing field, but we’ve seen that access to technology is not enough. What is more important is how we use it.

If we only allow low-income students to use technology for remediation, we are never providing the quality educational opportunities that we provide to more privileged students. All students need to engage with authentic tasks when working with technology, rather than tasks that only reinforce basic skills. This should not be surprising, as this is the best way to engage learners in any capacity in the classroom. Learning needs to promote discovery, encourage imagination, and allow for problem-solving.

For technology to have the positive impact we want with all students, we need not focus on the access to technology, but rather on how it is used. Teacher support and peer interactions are key to having a positive experience with technology for students. We are social learners, so having positive interactions with other people allows for deeper understanding and more substantial learning. As with all learning, teacher support is key. Combining strong, supportive teaching with technology instruction could in fact bring the equity that we hope to achieve.

Thoughts on Ed-Tech Inequalities

Audrey Watters asks, are education technologies helping education or making some things worse? That is an interesting question, especially for me as a preschool teacher. I spend a lot of time looking at the ways in which ed-tech tries to enhance learning for young children. However, these technologies often fail to provide the type of learning that young children need, such as concrete, real-world experiences. However, could some ed-tech be beneficial, especially for older children and teenagers. Can such applications, like the use of MOOCs (massive open online courses) provide a learning environment that is without borders or biases?

I agree with Watters when she looks at the inequity surrounding the use of ed-tech, especially when examining the accessibility of computers and high-speed internet. My oldest son in is high school and most of his classes do not have textbooks. Rather, the students are supposed to access information via the internet. I find this very problematic because it does not take into account the students that do not have internet access at home. Many families only have smartphones to access the internet, but that will not work well for students attempting to do homework. Likewise, many students do not have WiFi at home, which makes watching videos for school extremely difficult. I have heard of many students at my son’s school who have had to go to friends home to use their WiFi. In some cases, parents saw these students outside trying to access neighbor’s WiFi because the students were too embarrassed to ask for help or admit that they could not access their homework. The schools will say that students can do work at the library at school or check out a physical textbook if they need it, but again students are often too embarrassed to admit they need this. Hardly a status-blind or bank account-blind situation, despite some proponents of ed-tech claiming the opposite.

Teaching Breathing

As a preschool teacher, I spend a lot of time teaching the children in my class how to calm their little bodies. One technique that I have been teaching is deep breathing.

At circle time, we practice breathing in through our noses and out through our mouths. The visual I often share is the idea of smelling a flower, then blowing out a birthday candle. This helps the children focus on their breath and breathe slowly. You can read more about breathing exercises for young children here.

For breath to be calming, individuals should focus on “belly breaths.” Breaths that come from the chest often cause us to hyperventilate and add to our body’s agitation, rather than calming us down. One visual aid I provide is a Hoberman Sphere so children can see it expand as they breathe in and shrink as they exhale.

We do not use computers or videos in our classroom, yet videos can be a powerful way to illustrate concepts to children. I found this video of a story about a “sea child” who uses her breathing to calm herself as she lies on her back with her hand on her belly. This is a wonderful way to teach breathing to young children. As a way to increase my home-school connection, I will be sharing this video with the parents of my preschoolers, so they can practice this breathing technique at home. It will be helpful for the parents as well to remember to breathe.

You Can’t Have Too Many Books

This week there has been a lot of buzz on social media about Marie Kondo’s Kon Mari method of tidying up.  Her Netflix show has people purging their closets and folding their clothes in an effort to declutter their homes.  I’ll admit to being a fan of organizing.  I love a quiet afternoon with just me, some bins, and a label maker.  However, the problem I have with Marie Kondo’s method is when she talks about books. 

Like most book lovers, I bristled when I heard her suggest that people should keep their book collection down to about 30 books.  30 BOOKS? Really? This made me curious what 30 books looks like, so I counted the books on my bookshelf at home.  30 books is ONE bookshelf.  Just one!  Considering we have bookcases in every room of our house, it made me wonder how many books we have.  It turns out my seven-year-old has 33 books in his room.  Sorry, I typed that wrong.  He has 333 books in his room.  After counting the books in each of my children’s rooms, the bookcases in our living room, dining room and basement, the book bins in our play room, the stack on my nightstand and desk, and the bins of “out-of-rotation” books in my storage closet,  the grand total is 1,550 books! 

OK, maybe that is too many books. 

Obviously we are a family that loves books.  I have three children, each with a temperament and learning style that is different from each other, but what they all have in common is a love of reading.  Sure, the vast number of books in our home isn’t the only reason, but the fact that we value books and a love of reading is certainly a factor.

You don’t need to have a thousand books in your home to create strong readers.  Here are some ideas for promoting a positive reading environment in your homes:

  • Read Early – Begin the love of reading from an early age by reading to your babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.  Babies and young children learn about the rhythm and rhyme of language and develop important pre-reading skills like turning pages and connecting pictures to text.  Learn more about the benefits of reading to your baby here.
  • Read Every Day – Make reading a consistent part of your day.  Children love to hear the same books over and over.  Most importantly, they love the connection they will have with you while you are reading.  The more you read to children, the more they will develop a love of books and learning.
  • Model Reading – Show your children that you are a reader too (and not just on your phone).  Pick up a book or magazine and model reading for pleasure.  Share the excitement you have for books and learning with your children.
  • Build Your Home Library – Despite what Marie Kondo suggests, an abundance of books is important to develop literacy skills in your children.  Studies indicate that literacy achievement soars when children have more than 80 books in their home.  One easy way to build your home library is through Scholastic book orders at your child’s school. Thrift stores, garage sales, second-hand book stores, and books from groups like Buy Nothing and Freecycle are also a great inexpensive way to build your home library. 
  • Go to the Public Library – If you do not already have a library card, please go out and get one.  The library is a wonderful and free way to expose your child (and yourself) to countless books.  Young children may enjoy a library story time or they may just want to check out a big bag of books to take home and read.
  • Make Books Accessible – Give your children a lot of access to books. If they are too young to be gentle on the books, give them board books and indestructible books.   Organizing your books in bins helps children find the books they need.  Rather than placing them on bookshelves in a traditional fashion, try organizing them in bins with the covers facing out.  This helps children find the books they want and makes putting them away easier too.
  • Don’t Stop Reading! – Parents often stop reading aloud to their children once their children learn to read on their own.  I encourage you to read to them forever.  My children are ages 14, 10, and 7 and we still read aloud as a family every night.  Not only does this promote family time, but it also allows us to discuss complicated themes in books and expand their vocabulary.  You can find great tips on how to read aloud to children at different ages here.

As writer Garrison Keillor says, “A book is a gift you can open again and again.”  When you fill your home with books, you give your children the gift of learning, of discovering new worlds, and of unleashing their imaginations.  Let those wonderful gifts fill your home every day.

My Biases

As I embark on a journey through technology in the classroom, I feel it’s important to recognize my biases on the topic. As an early childhood educator, I feel strongly that young children learn best through concrete interactions with the real-world. Most importantly, children learn and benefit from the relationships in their lives. With these tenets in mind, I am skeptical of the benefits of screen use for very young children and find myself advocating for less screen use for toddlers and preschoolers.

Last quarter I spent time researching screen use and found that there is little evidence that screens benefit the learning of young children, mostly due to the fact that children under the age of three are still developing concrete thinking and therefore have trouble applying what they learn from a screen to the real world. However, there has been some evidence that screen use in older preschoolers does help their executive function skills, especially their working memory. One factor that has been examined a lot in these studies is the ways in which children interact with screens. They have found that children learn the best from screens when they are watching with an adult. It is the relationship that is important to the child’s learning.

Recently the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report that discussed selecting developmentally appropriate toys for children in our digital era. They urged parents to use more physical toys and books, especially with their young children, as a way to promote healthy growth and development.

While my biases are that screens are not the best method to teach young children and screen use should be limited with this age group, I recognize that there are also great uses for technology in classrooms. As a parent educator, I would like to use technology more effectively with my adult students. I think it can be a useful tool to communicate and share information. I’m sure there are many other ways it can be beneficial that I have not yet encountered and I will keep an open mind to its possibilities.

First Blog Post

This is my first Blog Post, which is obvious from the title. I’m getting the feel for blogging here and using this site. I have a personal blog on Tumblr where I mostly talk about my children and offer some funny insights into my parenting I haven’t used it as much as I thought I would, but perhaps blogging here will get me more in the habit.

There’s an interesting mental block that happens when I try to write online as I become very aware that what I’m saying is public. That will be an interesting challenge for me in this course as I also just created a twitter account. For now, I think I will just follow some people and organizations before deciding to jump in and tweet myself.

I think a course on technology will be a positive challenge for me as I’m not naturally drawn to technology. It’s not that I’m opposed to it per se, I just don’t often seek it out. If something arises and I feel technology would help, I’m generally able to figure it out. Although I will admit I enlist the help of my family members to help me when I’m unsure of what I am doing. For instance, my 10-year-old daughter helped me set up this site! It’s amazing how intuitively children of her generation can figure out technology. This is why I feel I need to be more adept at using these technologies. First, as a mother I want to be abreast of what my children are learning. Second, as an educator, I feel compelled to know what my students will be learning in their classrooms. As I work with preschool-aged children, it is fascinating to think of the technologies they are growing up with and wondering how this affects their learning and cognitive growth.

I know for this course we are encouraged to use digital texts, so that will be a challenge for me as well as I prefer a book and a pen in my hand. I’ll keep an open mind and try not to be too skeptical of the technology that exists and how I can use it for my students.