Thought of the Day: Technology and ELA

In Reading Canada Donawa and Fowler (2013) state that “technology ought to be a seamless, integral part of what [teachers use] in the classrooms, especially in literature classes. Students and teachers want and need a connected classroom” (p. 188). Furthermore, the use of technology improves “students’ interest, engagement, learning and success with Canadian [and other] literature” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 190). Donawa and Fowler (2013) suggest that “mastering digital tools and technology is not the goal of instruction, but if they are well integrated for reading, research, and analysis of literature, they motivate, engage, and support learners” (p. 179).

Lets converse below: What purpose do you see technology having in your literature classes? How can we make our technology use seamless? How does technology help us meet the goal of a connected classroom? In what ways does technology improve engagement with the material? How do you integrate technology to support learners?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves as self-reflective educators. But remember… even cats are doing it.

As Bender and Waller (2011) suggest “important changes… will take place regardless of those who lag behind” (p. 171 in RTI and Differentiated Reading).

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Photo Credit: Mrs eNil via Compfight cc

ELA and Digitial Citizenship Resources and Activities

Resources (as suggested by Donawa and Fowler in Reading Canada Chapter 6).

 “Fan fiction writers use pre-existing fictional characters from an original work to develop alternative relational, situational, and plot events which they self-publish for one another… fan fiction makes up 33 percent of all content revolving around books [on the web]” (in Boos, 2008)”” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 186)

“Carlie Webber (2009) points out that school assignments like writing a letter from Mercutio to Romeo are fan faction: “You put your own spin on someone else’s story”” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 186).

Activities (as suggested in Reading Canada by Donawa and Fowler 2013)

  1. Role-play
  2. Use Cross-Country Bookshelf to get students to present about authors
  3. Movie trailers
  4. Canada Read’s to debate and defend book of choice

“The concept of play (good for the brain and emotions) requires the students to know the story, setting, characters, and themes to be able to participate. The result tends to be higher order thinking and more elaborated conversation, including more extensive understanding by the young adult readers” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 187).

To Use Technology or Not to Use Technology: It’s Not Even a Question

Computer Hard Drive Half-Full

Today I will be reflecting on Wendy Donawa’s and Leah C. Fowler’s “The YA Reader in the Digital Age” from their book Reading Canada. This chapter focuses on using technology in ELA classrooms. Donawa and Fowler (2013) state that “technology ought to be a seamless, integral part of what [teachers use] in the classrooms, especially in literature classes. Students and teachers want and need a connected classroom” (p. 188). This quote fits perfectly with my reason for becoming a teacher: my purpose is to help students realize their potential, uncover their unknown and known interests, and gain the confidence needed to share their knowledge and perspectives with others (both face-to-face and online). In my opinion, the purpose of learning is connection; we learn to share, we share to learn. Technology is a tool that teachers can and should utilize to get students engaged with collaborative learning. Furthermore, the use of technology improves “students’ interest, engagement, learning and success with Canadian [and other] literature” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 190). This is how I view technology in my classroom. I believe all methods of instruction need to be utilized and would suggest that the only wrong strategy is an over-used strategy. Technology – although I will have to step back and explicitly teach certain programs – is not the lesson but the tool. Donawa and Fowler (2013) suggest that “mastering digital tools and technology is not the goal of instruction, but if they are well integrated for reading, research, and analysis of literature, they motivate, engage, and support learners” (p. 179). Appropriate use of technology is vital, as our directive is to implement the Saskatchewan Curriculum. Therefore, technology is a tool in accomplishing that goal. Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “technology needs to be relevant to the objectives, topics, and assignments; it should be high quality, fast, accessible, glitch-free, focused, and specific. Classroom sites or web-based instruction platforms can be marvelous resources for teachers’ tailor-made assignments and activities that enhance learning key principles. Teachers and students support success when they co-create relevant resources and links that connect for learning” (p. 188). Some of the platforms – albeit, not always glitch-free or accessible to all – that can be used are:

Teacher Resources Student Resources Both
Teachers Pay Teachers

Twitter (ex. #edtech; #edchat)

Youtube Youtube
Teaching Channel Prezi EBooks
Edutopia Blackboard
Facebook (ex. Sask. Teachers’ pages) WebCT
Pinterest

Upworthy

TedTalks (Ed)

Class Wiki or Blog (ex. kgorhamblog@wordpress.com; kidblog)
 Google Docs Moodle

I believe that adding technology into our repertoire does not discredit or ignore previous methods or disrupt a sound ELA curriculum. Through the use of technology in the classroom, students can develop “inquiry strategies… receptive and expressive literary skills, and form meaningful online relationships and participate in reading communities” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179) and still work “on classic literary strategies: phonemic awareness, oral language development, spelling, vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and fluency” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193) through online exploration. We are not replacing the old with the new but shifting from individual classroom studies to global knowledge sharing communities; “the impact of the digital world and on readers and reading, and on literature production, has been profound” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179). Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “we have come to expect an unlimited choice of information and communication as a norm and a right” (p. 180); technology is not going away and it is time to embrace it in our ELA classrooms.

Computer Hard Drive Half Empty

With the positives always comes the negative. Although I do believe technology is something we must incorporate, there are definitely some cons. One of my biggest issues with technology is the overload! I often feel bogged down; I can never keep up to all the information that comes my way and I am sure students feel the same. As an educator with endless amounts of great resources and new information each day, it is hard to pick what to study. We need to help students – who are coming of age and figuring themselves out – navigate through a vast amount of sources and engage with positive choices.  Donawa and Folwer (2013) note that this can be done through instructional scaffolding (p. 191). But this is harder than it sounds, especially when you can find anything to back up your opinion. I often wonder how we can determine if anything is credible? Are we not more incline to believe that an article that supports our preexisting belief is more credible than something that challenges our ideas? Technology is a great example of this: take for instance the many pro. technology articles on edutopia or #edtech on Twitter versus John Lornic’s work or Fusion New’s “This is what it’s like to be one of the 75 million Americans living without Internet access:”

(Note: John Lornic (2007) suggested that “multi-tasking, although inseparable from pervasive electronic distraction, is a phrase initially used to describe the capabilities of a the computer, not the human brain” and that “the sheer glut of data itself has supplanted the kind of focused reflective attention that might make this information useful in the first place (p. 50; 59)).  Even Donawa and Fowler, who are promoting the use of technology in ELA classrooms, suggest that “the generous support of information technology and competency-based learning may well be the prudent fostering of a future workforce, but it is generally accompanied by diminished support for art, music, literature, and liberal education” and furthermore, “ceaseless electronic demands… replace human interaction or inner contemplative and cognitive activity” (2013, p. 180). How do we pick what to focus our attention on and what to believe? And how do we teach this to students when we are figure it out ourselves?

Another issue I have with technology is the lack of access. Donawa and Fowler note that “Canadian students have a media-textual world at their fingertips through home, school, or public library computers” (2013, p. 189) and although this is true for most, over 75 million Americans are without technology access (see above video). This creates a socio-economic divide and also disproves the misconception (see page 191 in Reading Canada) that students are “digitally competent and able.” Many students need explicit instruction and just as learners are ready to learn at different paces, their ability to access technology is diverse. I want to flip my classroom one day but what if I had students who did not have access to technology? Could I do it? What could I do to assist those students and even the playing field?

Searching for Files

In the end, I will utilize technology in my classroom because the pros outweigh the cons and it is not an option. It is here to stay and it is a mode of teaching that works. Not only that, but it is ingrained in our lives; it seemed like I was helpless on my trip to Minot when I had to shut off my data and couldn’t consult Google Maps or Goolge whenever I wished. Technology is part of us and the theoretical framework of an ELA classroom can be met through the use of technology. For instance, technology fosters inquiry-based learning (answering self-directed, real questions), and constructivism (“learning is a socially mediated process, where learners are actively and relationally involved in a process of meaning-making and knowledge production” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 191). By utilizing technology students get “choice, pace, and control over their work” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193). Technology fosters motivation, responsibility, independence, interaction, engagement, critical thinking, exploration, and reflection. Our learners may be all over the map with technology but as teachers it is our job to start with the zone of proximal development and expand their horizons, albeit at their own pace. Furthermore and most importantly, technology = digital citizenship = citizenship.

Poetry and English

Response to John Loeppky’s 2nd Public Write: “I Guess it Scares Us – Teachers Discuss the Teaching of Poetry in Senior Secondary English” (DOI: 10.1111/eie.12016)

I thoroughly enjoyed that you wrote about Australia’s education system. I agree that there is a lot to learn about what other places around the world do. It is also important to note how their school system is organized when we consider a specific teaching choice or strategy because we need to see the whole picture. You provided a nice summary of this in your opening paragraph. We often only look at the States or Canada but in this technological and global world that we live in, it only makes sense to expand our passion and curiosity of learning and teaching to other countries. I thoroughly enjoyed your response, your inquisitions and how you wrote with conviction.

Poetry was not taught mainly because of teacher preferences and the belief that students who were not gifted would not understand the genre. I like your point that this is a “perceived challenge.” You note that studies show that those who write poetry on final exams received higher grades, making the assumptions they have irrelevant. As an inclusive educator, I often witness teachers ignoring studies and results based on their own assumptions that something will not work. I love your idea that “the subjects that distance themselves from the norm today are the norms of tomorrow.” Our commonsense is always changing and always should be. I believe that teachers should take risks because that is how students learn; ignoring poetry just because the English teacher down the hall does, is not a reasonable excuse. Furthermore, school is for our learners and should be student-centered not teacher-centered. It is our job to provide our students with many choices and genres. It is also our job to learn about things that we may not have the most experience with. For instance, if a teacher is unknowledgeable about treaty education then they go to a PD day or workshop to learn the skills they need. They do not just get to opt out.

If I am being entirely honest, poetry is going to be a hard subject for me to teach. But so will Shakespeare, plays, classics, etc. But should my students just read Facebook posts all day because that is easy? Obviously not! Teaching and learning are not effortless, easy tasks and they never should be. I think if we focus on all genres both teachers and students improve, whereas if we limit ourselves we do not grow. If we only study things that are students already understand then we are not allowing them to grow as learners. Furthermore, some students might connect with poetry more than other genres. Poetry might be their key to enjoying English class. It is not our right as teachers to take that learning opportunity away from our students. If students do not have the background knowledge from previous years we can show them picture books or poetry that is easier to understand. We can also look at popular music, which is relevant to our learners.

There are so many levels and types of poetry that everyone could be introduced to the genre, no matter their academic level. I also think that a vast array of emotions and experiences can be represented in poetry. I agree with you that we do not have to focus solely on literary analysis when reading poetry. I have worked with kids who are at risk and many of them connect with poetry, rap music, etc. They also enjoy making their own pieces – something that I benefited from in high school. High school and adolescent years can be very difficult and I think poetry is a great release. It also promotes creativity and choice, since it is often not structured. Oral speaking, another important skill, connects nicely with poetry. For instance, you could have a poetry slam assignment.

The main thing I took from your public write is that “poetry is only as inaccessible (or indeed accessible) as you, the teacher, make it.” This should be a motto for all teachers to follow. At the end of the day, it all comes down to our mindset and if we approach hard topics with a positive attitude, anything is possible for any learner! Thank you for your incite and engaging conversation.

 

Using Checklists

This article suggests using checklist in our instruction. Checklists are something that everyone uses in everyday life. They can be used in our classrooms to: record data (formative assessment), evaluate (summative assessment), track behavior, list items that need to be included in a project, list items that need to be completed in a task, etc. (Rowlands, 2007, p. 61). Checklists must be flexible and Rowlands suggests using them “with individual students or with the entire class” (Rowlands, 2007, p. 61). Obviously, using checklists with the entire class is more inclusive.

Checklists are a teaching strategy that often gets brought up in inclusive education. They can help students with Autism, ADHD, anxiety disorders, visual learners and those that need structure (like me). If you have a student with Autism in your class, checklists and task lists are not an option but a requirement for their success, in most cases. You can create within (steps within a single task) and between (tasks of the day) task checklists, depending on your learners. Checking off items gives students with Autism much needed closure. Students who need their learning broken down or have trouble starting a task can benefit from checklists. Organizational goals, like using checklists, will be found on many of our students’ IIP’s. Rowlands notes that “poor organization skills, rather than a lack of conceptual understanding, prevent [students’ from producing work that fully represents their capabilities, and we then find ourselves in the unhappy position of recording grades that measure lack of clerical competence, rather than lack of content or skill knowledge” (Rowlands, 2007, p. 64-5). Checklists can be a great tool to assist students who have organizational issues. At the end of the day, checklists are a skill that can benefit all of our learners because they are practical and tactile.

Rowlands notes that “by articulating and labeling operational steps, checklists scaffold students’ metacognitive development,” which is important for problem solving, self-aware learners and is part of the revised 2001 Bloom’s Taxonomy of learning. She suggests that teachers can make the checklists but I think since lifelong learning is a goal, student could help construct the checklists. In ECS 410 we learned that if students are part of ALL steps in the learning cycle and assessment process, then they have a better understanding of their strengths, weaknesses and the task at hand. When I taught Grade Five at Regina Huda School, we provided the class with a checklist about the requirements of an oral presentation before they presented to the class. One thing Taylor and I should have done is construct this with them. Checklists, in my opinion, can allow students to self-assess before, during and after. It provides a visual for them to see if they have completed all their work or are staying on task. I think if we changed the curriculum outcomes to student-friendly ‘I Can Statements’ then students could check off what outcomes they have achieved and visualize what they still need to work on.

Rowlands suggests using checklists from class-to-class to foster consistency and to help students conference each other’s writing to foster constructive feedback (2007, p. 63). I also think a checklist for each stage of the writing process could help students write better pieces and break down the daunting task of writing even more. Rowlands also suggests that checklists can help with comprehension, research papers and can be put in many different formats, like bookmarks (Rowlands, 2007, p. 64-5). I think a classroom poster or an agenda checklist could also work. Checklists are not rubrics, but when coupled with them I think students would have an even better understanding about what they are expected to do and learn.

Basically, I am all for the checklists. I would use checklists in a boat and I would use them with a goat. And I will use them, in the rain and in the dark, and on a train, and in a car, and in a tree. They are so good, so good, you see! – Dr. Seuss (although this may be paraphrased slightly).