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The best use of technology in the classroom

 A friend called me a few days ago for help on an upcoming interview. He’s applying to become a social studies teacher, and he wanted tips about how to answer the question, “How would you use technology in your classroom?”

I know the “right” answer, the one the interviewers want to hear. You’re supposed to link technology with large-scale, authentic projects. You’re supposed to talk about video and audio and new, obscure Web 2.0 tools. In this answer, the role of technology is to shock and awe.

That’s fine. I like snazzy tech tools, too. But that’s not the real right answer. Today I came across a tweet by Franki Sibberson, a literacy advocate and blogger at “A Year of Reading.” This is what she thinks about the role of technology:

In other words, rather than saving technology for flashy, end-of-unit projects, teachers should use technology day-in, day-out to advance the core components of learning, like reading.

I totally agree. In my class this year, my students and I used technology, and sure, we had fun projects, like “Tech Danger,” a music video exploring the role of technology in Frankenstein.

But the true power of technology in my classroom was less sexy. Here are three examples:

1. Google Docs. Many teachers see Google Docs as old-hat. Been there and done that. But Google Docs was crucial for my students’ writing. They drafted their essays, received feedback from me, a peer, and an online writing mentor, and reflected each week on their writing growth. Less time was wasted printing, waiting for feedback, and making improvements. Writing gets better with extensive practice, and Google Docs is the reason my students were able to complete 16 essays this year.

2. Mass texting. More and more teachers are using texting to communicate with their students and to build relationships. I used texting this year to extend the learning day. After all, five hours a week of class time is not enough to meet ambitious learning outcomes. Time after school and at home are imperative to accelerate learning. To encourage studying after hours, I used SmashText to send texts to all my students. Texting was a popular and effective intervention for my students, who appreciated the reminders and words of encouragement.

3. Class Blog. Teachers have had websites for years, usually to share information, but few have opened them up to their students as shared learning spaces. (My favorite is “Word Choices.”) Last year, I decided to let my students post to iseroma.com however and whenever they wanted, not just for assignments and projects. This decision built classroom community and gave students an authentic space for their work. It made my students’ work and thinking more real and more public.

I’m pretty happy with how technology in my classroom materialized this year. For technology to be useful, it must take hold; in other words, students must return to the same tools over and over again, rather than just one time.

Next year, I hope to expand my use of technology, this time to improve reading. I’m looking at using ipadio or Evernote to record think-alouds and text-based discussions. Capturing students’ annotations will also be important. If they’re on paper, I can just snap a picture. But I’m also thinking of using Google Docs or Diigo (my favorite, though clunky) or another annotation tool (they aren’t that good, actually) to promote a sense of shared reading and thinking.

Please let me know what you think. How do you use technology in the classroom? 

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