I love technology and I love how it has opened up possibilities in my classroom. However, I will never give up some traditional ways of helping students learn.
Let me take you back across a few decades to when I was in high school. I can clearly remember how I studied. First, I would read over my notes. Then I would write them out again. Finally, I’d close my notebook and try to say everything out loud. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was activating all of my learning styles. By reading, writing and speaking, I was ensuring that I was able to remember the material. Our teens today are so used to taking photos of notes, and typing and reading on line, that they may not be using some of the old fashioned ways of learning — and just because they are old, doesn’t mean they’re bad.
I read an article on Edutopia this morning about the Brain Benefits of Unplugging that touched on the importance of writing things out, as well as other good reasons to unplug at times. It got me to thinking about the best way to balance two very good things in my classroom. As I said, I love having technology in my teaching toolbox. It’s a wonderful thing for collaboration, research, revision and formative assessment. It also helps us save paper and time. For those reasons, I will use Chromebooks as often as I can get my hands on them (we have to share at our school). However, there are also times when I want my students to use their voices and their pens and their paper, because those are very powerful tools as well.
Here’s how I find a balance in the different areas of my curriculum:
1. Communicating with each other: I often begin the year with online chats. Students will read a article on a controversial topic, and then work in groups on Google Docs to discuss it. I do this because they are getting to know each other and they are often “braver” behind the screen. I can also monitor the discussions and see who is adding to it and who is not. But, after they become more comfortable with each other, I want these chats to happen face to face so they can work on speaking and listening skills.
2. Collaboration: Again, Google Apps provide an incredible way for kids to work together and for me to monitor that work. But, in the real world, we have to learn to collaborate face-to-face as well, so I work to find a balance between the two different ways to collaborate. It helps that I don’t have Chromebooks all the time, but even if I did, I would mix it up regularly because there are different skills to be learned from each method.
3. Writing & Assessment: Google Docs saves me so much time when I want to give descriptive feedback. I can type faster (and more legibly) than I write, and so I can give the kids more feedback. Because of this, I almost always have them pass major writing assignments in through Classroom. However, I do want the kids to have the experience of writing by hand as well, so when my students do quick-writes and journal responses, I ask that they are written out. These are also times when we want students to just get their ideas down. If they are typing, they are more likely to stop and edit as they go — which is not something we necessarily want with an activity that is about thinking and idea generation.
4. Note taking: The kids will always want to take a picture with their phones — and why not? It’s a lot easier. However, lots of research says that they will remember information much better if they go through the act of writing it down. So, if what I have on the board is important for them to remember, I make sure they use their pens; if it’s just information — like a due date or something that they won’t be assessed on — I let them take a photo. Also, sometimes they will brainstorm as a group — on a board or a piece of paper. That’s another instance where a photo is a good idea.
We are in a time of transition in education, in so many ways. Technology has been a game changer, but I don’t think we should lose sight of the things that worked well, just because something else is faster or flashier. I’m still walking up that technological learning curve and quite enjoying the challenge of doing so, and I’m looking back as I do so, to make sure I remember the tools and skills that allow me to get up and over the hump.
How do you find a balance between old and new ways of learning?