As I read through districts’ promotional materials several slogans readily appear: Preparing learners for the 21st century; Using 21st century skills and tools; Where our focus is on 21st century learning skills; Empowering students to be 21st century thinkers…and the list goes on. Within the next sentence or so, many districts go on to mention the use of one to one technology devices for all students. What a tool! Students hold more available knowledge in their hands than their parents did in a k – 16 education. With all of this technology in the educational landscape, educational leaders and classroom teachers must ask how to harness the power of the tool while keeping student wellbeing at the center of our mission of preparing tomorrow’s successful adults.
“…success in blended instruction is almost entirely dependent upon teachers’ ability to integrate old school wisdom that works with new school technologies.” (Kieschnick, xvii)
Harnessing the power of new school technologies, leaders must embrace research of what works in the classroom as a foundation to add new ways for students to research, express themselves, collaborate, and demonstrate understanding. The world has changed and interactions are indeed different today than they were one hundred, fifty, twenty, or even ten years ago. What can teachers do to leverage the power of technology while teaching to the whole child?
As Britton (1970) said, “Talk is the sea upon which all else floats.” Students must move beyond the two-dimensional world of technology to collaborate and interact with their three-dimensional peers. To help accomplish that goal in my district, classroom teachers try to reflect what author Linda Hoyt told me many years ago, “All comprehension is social.” When students are working on their one to one devices, be purposeful to build in times for knee to knee interaction with peers.
- Peer conferences—as a way to purposefully build in student interaction within the writing process, students must conference with a peer prior to having their writing conference with the teacher. Peer conferences often involve reading passages aloud, working through trouble spots for the reader, or asking the author questions about their text.
- Turn-to’s of all kinds—processing information is much more powerful when teachers use turn-to’s effectively. After students have been working on their devices, a quick stretch break and a turn-to allows students to open their eighteen-inch focus to the whole classroom and then to a neighbor. A simple “take 90 seconds to discuss with your neighbor the author’s point of view on …and go” grants students release from the two-dimensional world into the thinking of their peers. Turn-to’s that have students up and moving are even more powerful!
- Partner Mania—using partners of all kinds within the learning process allows students the opportunities to work with their devices while learning all the social graces of enduring a partnership. Collaborating with a partner helps me grow in my thinking! And, haven’t we all been in partnerships that weren’t the best fit—what growth opportunities to problem-solve, work out difficulties, and learn to compromise.
Jensen (2016) talks about the engagement mindset, “I can and will engage with purpose every student, every day, every nine minutes or less, guaranteed” (148). Teachers should think through the length of a learning episode. There are moments in the learning episode where devices would help with rehearsal of known or newly attained materials. There are other times when students are working on devices, a teacher should switch inputs, outputs, or interaction modes to include purposeful engagement. Learning should be built, manipulated, acted upon, created, expanded, reflected…not passive. Here are three sets of tools for teachers to use to honor attentional focus with students and technology.
- State management – attention ebbs and flows continually during the learning process. Students’ mind/body states move from curiosity to boredom to frustration to arousal to flow in milliseconds. Read the class and determine how to purposefully engage students within the learning episode.
- Practice Press and Release – use whatever rule works for your classroom (10/2; rule of 9; 7th Inning Stretch), but make sure that students are flowing through press and release. For instance, students should be pressing their attention through listening, reading, watching or constructing for a period of time and then given a chance to debrief, reflect through writing or walk/talk about the meaning, connections, or reactions.
- Facilitate Focus – play around with memory games and activities that help students practice focusing in on one stimulus at a time. There are many memory games that teachers can use to help students develop an awareness of their focus. When students sense their focus has drifted, teach them methods to use to move to alertness. Facilitating focus or teaching students metacognition is yet another tool that moves toward richer student achievement. (Hattie (2009) concentration and engagement as an effect size of d = 0.48.)
How do your students do with technology in your classroom? The power of the tools available in classrooms is astounding. Are you finding a one to one environment is providing better engagement than ever? Or, are you searching for ways to make sure that the tools are not “more static” within the world of learning in your classroom? Please add to the conversation below! Look for Part 2 with additional information about the mental wellbeing of students with the use of technology.
Britton, James. (1970) Language and learning. London: Penguin Books.
Hattie, John (2009) Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge. https://visible-learning.org/nvd3/visualize/hattie-ranking-interactive-2009-2011-2015.html
Jensen, Eric (2016) Poor Students, Rich Teaching: Mindsets for teaching. Bloomington: Solutions Tree Press.
Kieschnick, Weston (2017) Bold School: Old school wisdom + new school technologies = blended learning that works. Rexford: International Cen