Integrating New Technologies into a Literacy Classroom
In the past decade, technology has exploded into the classroom. Ten years ago I rejected the computer programs designed for language arts instruction because most of the available materials offered simply "drill and skill" on a computer And I argued that most of my pre-teacher students would eventually teach in classrooms where opportunities for using technology would be severely limited by lack of necessary equipment I had no computer in my own classroom and using even a VCR meant pushing an unwieldy cart holding a heavy monitor and undependable VCR on to an overcrowded elevator as I struggled towards my classroom. Once I had squeezed through the narrow classroom door, my next challenge was to weave the monster cart between chairs and desks and position the equipment where my students could see the small screen. Finding appropriate video materials was also a challenge. I had no rental budget, no purchasing power, few available materials.
I tried using email with my students, but many of them, even on the college level, did not have easy access to email. My own computer skills were limited. I enrolled in a course designed to teach me how to use the internet. Now I look back at those days in disbelief.
Today my classroom has a whole countertop filled with technology aids. One corner of my room holds a floor to ceiling screen. I can walk into my classroom and immediately pull up anything on the Internet I wish. I can pop in a video—I have many— and show teachers in their classrooms using the very teaching strategies I plan to discuss in my class. I can switch on my "ELMO" to share any chart, illustration, or material my students need visually. I have taught interactive video classes.
But even though I now have a room full of equipment, my students all have email accounts and computer skills, most elementary schools in the state of Kansas are supplied with technology, and I am much more comfortable using technology of various sorts, I am still a novice in many respects. And so I continue to look for ways to learn more about demonstrating ways my students can integrate technology into their future language arts classrooms. Luckily, I have become involved in INTIME, a three-year Catalyst Grant from the U.S. Department of Education's PT3 program (Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology). INTIME has provided a number of ways for me to strengthen my own skills and has offered me new technology experiences in my own classroom.
After experimenting with INTIME materials both on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa and in computer labs on my own campus, I have begun to see a number of ways I might use the materials in my own Reading and Writing Connections classroom. After my initial orientation to the INTIME methods, strategies, and materials, I have been developing a Technology Integration Action Plan, which involves some revision of my class syllabus. I knew early on that I wanted to redesign the section of my curriculum, which presents using predictable text with emergent readers and writers.
I chose to begin my implementation of planned course revisions in the fall semester of 2001. I began by installing RealPlayer on my office computer so that I could continue to preview the many videos INTIME has made showing teachers in a variety of classroom grade levels teaching a variety of subjects, using technology with their students. I decided to use a video highlighting an early childhood language arts classroom showing students and teacher interacting with Bill Martin's book, Brown Bear,
Brown Bear. The video shows the lessons from a number of different perspectives, all focusing on the use of technology with the children who were able to respond to the reading of Brown Bear, Brown Bear in technological ways.
Once I had chosen that particular INTIME video, I began working to set up lessons for my own class. My class met in the computer lab a number of times where they could all use computers at once. They first took a pretest determining their level of computer skills and their comfort zone. They were also introduced to the INTIME materials. They viewed the video, entered chat rooms to share ideas with other interested participants, and were encouraged to watch other videos. Back in our classroom, we discussed what we had seen and heard. Students were given the assignment to email a critical response to me for that part of the experience. All students did so. Two students did not have email accounts, but both students acquired accounts and were able to complete the assignment.
After these initial preparations, students were ready to plan literacy activities for emergent readers and writers. I supplied many patterned books Students worked in pairs. Each team chose a book and then prepared a lesson, which would use some sort of technology with their future students. All students used the "ELMO" as part of their presentation to our class. All students searched the internet for other technology ideas.
The lessons were not always smooth sailing. Some students had a great deal of trouble accessing the INTIME materials. We still had some "bugs" in the system INTIME was able to make a CD of the lesson for us however, so all students eventually had access to the needed video. Some students did not view other videos, however.
Because my lesson was very structured, all students did plan a lesson using technology in the classroom. However, I was particularly pleased to discover that after this early experience in the semester, many students continued to add technology components to other prepared lessons. I definitely saw an increase in use of technology as compared to prior semesters. Students included many more references to internet sites, to using various types of technology in their future classroom, and an enthusiasm for technology in general.
Near the end of the semester the students were given a post-test measuring their computer skills and self evaluation of skills and attitudes towards technology. My students showed a 38% positive change in their self evaluation of computer skills and attitudes towards technology. I suspect if we would continue to track that class of students, we would find their use of technology in planned lessons for their future students to be considerably higher than other students who did not participate in the INTIME project.
I, too, am much more aware of my responsibility to demonstrate and model technology use whenever possible My class is now on a Blackboard site where students can access all kinds of materials My assignments now are more strongly inclusive of technology use. My students use the technology in my classroom setting, and they are beginning to initiate that use without my prompting
While these findings are mostly self reported and related to a small population of thirty students, I believe they are significant. I imagine that a decade from now I might just look back at this paper in amazement just as I look back ten years before now with amazement at how far I have come. How far I needed to come. How far I might still go. How far my students will go. In time, we will all move along into a 21st century of technology not yet invented. In time.