Eleven percent (N=4) of the teachers answered both yes and no. These teachers made a distinction between how they taught lessons before they had new technologies and what they now do with devices and software. They referred to students having more information available than before and how essential aspects of their lessons could be done easier and faster than before were common themes. But they drew a distinction between the help that high-tech tools give them and the constancy of core practices that are part of their planning and interactions with students during a lesson. They saw both change and stability in their lessons as a result of integrating digital tools into their teaching.
Nicole Lenz-Martin teaches in the San Mateo Union High School District at Aragon High School. An 11-year veteran of teaching, she teaches Spanish level 3 through level 6 (including Advanced Placement). Elenz-Martin is also an instructional coach in the district and an instructor in the Stanford World Language Project. Here is her “yes” and “no” answer to my question.
My teaching — in terms of pedagogical strategy and philosophical beliefs about World Language instruction — has not changed because of my regular use of technology; however, the regular use of Chromebooks in my classroom has dramatically changed my access to student learning, monitoring of their proficiency development, and my ability to cover more material over the course of a school year.
My students are required to be much more engaged and participatory in their learning because of their interaction with my lessons through technology. When covering material in class, every student can interact with the presentation on my SmartBoard to share answers, respond to polls, or ask questions (Peardeck, Nearpod, Google Forms, etc.) This has informed my instruction immensely and has allowed me to change my lesson “on-the-fly” to ensure understanding before moving on.
Students practice new vocabulary and/or comprehension questions with Quizlet, for example, and I can see their results and areas of challenge in real time. It allows me to change my path of instruction if necessary, as stated above, and it also allows me to personalize the learning for each student’s level and need.
Students have built classroom community and have strengthened camaraderie with review games (Quizlet Live, Socrative Space Race, and Kahoot!). Not only has light ‘gaming’ sparked excitement and interest for the students in learning the material, but it has allowed me to formatively assess each students’ understanding and learning on a daily basis. The comfort level and “fun” among classmates has allowed them to be better risk-takers and communicators with one another, and this is critical for a language class where students really need to feel confident and safe around their classmates.
Students have had individual access to more authentic materials from around the world, which is of course extremely important for culture and language learning. Their interaction with videos, texts, and audio can be documented in EdPuzzle, GoFormative, and Google Classroom. I can see their engagement with the material in a way that I was never able to assess before, and I can respond to students both individually and as a group much more efficiently and effectively. I can see what they are learning about a culture and I can motivate them to respond more critically to what they are seeing and comparing to their own culture….
Certain parts of teaching can never be replaced, enhanced, or changed by technology. The very most critical aspect of my teaching is the relationship that I create with each and every one of my students. Without having a strong, trusting, solid, and respectful relationship with each student, he or she is lost in my classroom and will be unable to learn from my teaching. Because I speak almost exclusively in Spanish, the oral communication in my classroom and the relationships with my students are the very cornerstones of my teaching. Therefore:
- Technology has not replaced the way I speak or communicate with my students, and since I am a Spanish teacher, they are still listening and responding to me and to each other through oral communication much more than with the technology. The amount that I expect them to speak with me and communicate with one another is the same as it has always been, even before technology access.
- Complex Instruction and Groupworthy tasks: I passionately believe in the importance of “student talk” and participation for learning, especially when it comes to working with partners and small groups on a communicative and/or complex task. Technology is almost non-existent in my classroom when students are working on an assignment that involves learning through talking with one another. Without going into too much detail — technology hardly has changed the way I engage students in partner and groupwork….[i]
And here is Sarah Press who has been teaching English at Hillsdale High School in the San Mateo Union High School District since 2007. Press, like Elenz-Martin, makes similar distinctions between the deeper aspects of teaching that cannot be altered by digital tools and the features of teaching that can change.
In some ways, my teaching hasn’t changed much at all. My goals are the same—to give my students opportunities to do something with the ideas I suggest to them in class, to engage with each other around those ideas and to offer lots of ways to be smart. I still have a heavy focus on literacy—sustained engagement with text and inquiry around meaning making. I continue to try to find authentic ways for students to show what they’ve learned and what they think, not just regurgitate what they’ve heard.
I also struggle with many of the same issues I always have: what to do with the huge range of skill sets in my room, how to differentiate activities and assessments to meet the needs of all learners, how to give feedback in meaningful and timely ways, how to engage all learners despite varying interests and abilities, how to create a positive socio-emotional atmosphere in my classroom so students feel comfortable taking and learning from risks.
So I think it’s important to remember that technology is just one of many tools I have available to me to try to meet those goals. That said, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, and I do see some potent ways in which technology helps me get closer to being the teacher I hope to, someday, become.
A huge one is the amount of choice I am able to offer students, about what they learn and how they learn it….
Another is the increased sense of collaboration in my room. While I have always striven to have students use each other as resources, to value each other’s expertise…I have not always been successful. Because technology allows students to simultaneously have access to a group project in a shared digital space that is co-editable…everyone can see a developing project and no can ‘mess it up.’ It’s also easier to track exactly what each student has contributed….
It’s a not insignificant note here that risk-taking becomes easier to encourage when erasing or changing work is as easy as ‘Control + Z’ or ‘Delete….’
Finally, technology is powerful because it makes it so much easier and faster to collect, distribute, and respond to data. I find myself experimenting more and more with forms of assessment when I can instantaneously collect responses from every student in my class….All this helps me adjust, clarify, and re-teach in much tighter, shorter cycles than before….[ii]
Like Elenz-Martin, Sarah Press saw both constancy and change in her lessons after adopting high-tech tools.
[i] Nicole Lenz-Martin’s email received May 8, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of the lesson I observed is at: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2016/02/27/part-2-from-the-classroom-teachers-integrating-technology/
[ii] Sarah Press’s email received May 12, 2016. In author’s possession. A description of the lesson I observed is at: https://larrycuban.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/from-the-classroom-teachers-integrating-technology-part-1/