I had the chance to get out into some schools this week. I spent some time in a high school (7-12) grade 8 class capturing video and pictures of how they are using Fountas & Pinnell scores to identify areas of need and then using specific strategies to improve on their own literacy skills. The strategies were personalized for the students. As a result, a number of “centres” were set up to address the needs of each student. I also spent two days in an elementary school (JK-8) helping teachers and students effectively use accessibility features on the Chromebook.
My focus in these kinds of assignments is always on the technology and whether or not it is really necessary or if it will make a difference. Is the technology improving the situation in a way that would not be possible otherwise? Having other qualified staff involved helps me to realize this because they understand what the students need and where they should be after certain strategies are utilized. It’s my job, through conversations with the teachers and program staff, to figure out how/if the technology can be used to support the process.
In the grade 8 class it was really obvious how this was happening. One of the centres involved the use of technology to access a news article for the students to read and then use the Verso app to post comments on the article. The app then allows for students to make comments on their peers’ thoughts. The technology really helps to organize the comments and make the comments visible to all students. Taking the pictures and video also helps to capture the process for others to see any time in the future. A number of English and Languages department heads were invited to watch the process live but now their department members as well as future department members can also see the process. A video interview was also created for the department heads to view before the visit so that they could be informed of what they would be witnessing that day. These videos and pictures captured conversations between students, conversations between teacher and student, comment guides for creating appropriate posts, anchor charts for the students to chart their chosen strategy and notebook organization. This was a great example of using Fountas & Pinnell effectively in the classroom and integrating technology to enhance the process. It was nice to see how the technology helped to capture the moment for any of us to see anytime, anywhere.
In the Chromebook accessibility visits, the effect of using the technology was harder to see. For this reason, I felt a little defeated by the end of our visits. The Chromebook is the device that is most accessible to these students and using accessibility features is not a straight forward process on the Chromebook. The students needed to create Gmail accounts in order to sign into the chrome browser and then add the Read and Write extension to their browser. Some of these students are in grade 4 and can struggle at times with their computer access credentials. Now they also have Gmail credentials. So, I worry that tomorrow they will forget or lose their Gmail credentials. We tried to keep them similar but in a lot of cases, their computer access username was already taken in Gmail. As well, their computer access password is 4 digits and Gmail requires 8 characters. As well, this was a new process for some of these kids. They needed time to “play” so I wonder how long it will take for them to effectively use the technology and for it to make a difference in their learning.
So, I wonder about where we draw the line between ease of use with technology and learning how to learn the technology. Is it reasonable to expect that all technology integration in the classroom should be seamless? Some aspects of our struggles can be trouble-shot. Some are more difficult because of the way our computer systems are set up. Every educational system struggles with some aspect of technology integration.
But we have to be mindful of the students and teachers. What do we do when they struggle with the technology or in my case, I suspect that there may be struggles with the technology? Should we fix it for them today and come back tomorrow when something else goes wrong. Is it possible to teach them how to trouble-shoot it themselves so that in the future they can solve their own problems in a more timely fashion. Can that same problem solving approach be applied to non-tech related issues? Isn’t this what we want our students to be able to do – learn how to find answers themselves? Can we find the answers somewhere?