Let Your Students Help You Use Technology In New Ways
by Rachelle Dene Poth
It’s true, most teachers do have “summers off.” However, this does not mean that we all stop working, learning, finding new ways to spend our time which will contribute to our personal and professional growth.
I know many teachers who participate in some form of professional development or other learning experiences, some get involved in teaching summer classes, working at camps, or find other temporary employment. Even though school is out for summer, many teachers use it as it as their time to learn, to explore and to seek out new opportunities. They use it to become students themselves and learn more to be better prepared for the upcoming year, so don’t miss the chance.
It is the end of July, but there is still time because learning is ongoing. There are opportunities everywhere, and even though most teachers and students are on break for the summer, it does not have to be a time for a break in learning. There are plenty of teacher resources available to learn new skills. And while free time is always scarce for teachers, finding time to reflect on the past year, and use this knowledge as an opportunity to plan for the next year is crucial to your growth as an educator.
Where To Start
This summer has been full of conferences, edcamps, book studies, t witter chats, Voxer groups, Google Hangouts, Blabs and much more. There are so many choices that making a choice can be difficult. We all struggle with that fear of making the right choice; why worry? Think about one area that you would like to improve upon in the upcoming school year, and start there. I can share a few ideas with you, some simple changes that might help you to start the new year with a few new methods or tools.
One area that I’ve heard many educators discuss this summer is finding better ways to communicate and collaborate with students, parents and other teachers. There are so many great tools for communication and collaboration, which enable each of these groups to learn more, to explore and to connect. If this sounds like an area that could benefit you, then look into some of the messaging apps, website creation tools and LMS options that are available. Perhaps even consider setting up a Classroom blog or wiki.
Any one of these would serve that purpose and can easily be set up. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect. There may be problems that come up, but it is part of our learning path and growth as educators.
Further Ideas: Presentation Software & Backchannel Chats
If you want to start with some new ideas but are worried about the time involved, then think about what you are already using in your classroom. If you have some favorites or frequently used digital tools, consider alternate ways that they can be used by you or your students; many of these tools provide options that you may not have thought of initially. Maybe your new learning experience is to find creative and innovative ways to build on your current use of these digital tools in your classroom.
I know that when starting to integrate technology into the classroom, at least in my experience, I chose a specific tool to serve a specific purpose. I made the mistake of using one tool for one purpose, and did not consider other possibilities. For example, when I started using Quizlet, it was as a way for students to have access to flash cards which were already available or that I had created. I did not look at the other possibilities, but then I discovered the benefits of having students create their own sets of cards and how this was a more personalized learning experience (that also provided more resources for the classroom). And the students discovered the additional options such as the games, the test preparation, or the audio component to practice listening and speaking the language for example. The students were excited about all of these possibilities, and I was excited to learn about these new resources.
You could also adapt some of the traditional “assessment” or “presentation” tools for some other use. I have found that some tools used for discussion, or backchannel chats on twitter, or assessment tools, offer much more. Sometimes I figured out these additional capabilities during my own exploration, but as with Quizlet, it was often one of my students who suggested using the tool as an option for a project, or in some other non-traditional way. I really value their input, creativity and innovation in this area, and they have led me to discover new opportunities for so many of the tools we use in class.
Starting Small Is Okay
Consider trying some new digital tool, or giving students more options for creating in class. Digital tools today really are versatile and can serve many purposes, it just takes some creativity and curiosity, and maybe even a little bit of a risk in trying something new.
The point is that if you’re looking for something to change your classroom and provide diverse learning opportunities and choices for your students, you and your students have a chance to grow. You may find that it is not working in a way you thought it would, but in the process you may also find it serves another purpose and is useful. That’s the nice thing about learning–you have to start somewhere. Opinions change, you make mistakes, you gain different perspectives, but the end result is that you end up somewhere else.
Giving students choices involves taking a bit of a risk, just like the risk we as teachers take when we try a new form of technology in our classroom. It may or may not work out like you pictured, but what’s more important is to consider how this experience affected your classroom and what does this new knowledge offer you and your students.
While clear learning objectives and streamlined lesson planning that nail those objectives are pleasing on paper, a good teacher knows the value of engaged students who are able to make anything a ‘learning experience.’ Also consider other factors- did it lead you to another way to use a tool or did it lead you in another direction entirely, (remove comma) that ends up being more beneficial for your students?
Remember to model risk-taking and engage in conversations with your students about these new experiences.
Let Your Students Help You Use Technology In New Ways; image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics