Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

The Use and Abuse of Technology in the Classroom

This article was also posted on the kinderchat blog.


More and more primary teachers now have access to technology in their classroom. Whether it is an iPad or an iPod touch, a desktop or a laptop, a growing number of teachers are either being given access to this technology by their school boards or bringing their own devices to class to help students to learn. Because of the multitude of choices and opportunities that technology enables, this is a positive development.

I have been concerned, though, by some of the ways that I see technology being used. Technology should not just allow us to do things in a more engaging way; it should allow us to do new things that we thought were not possible. It is those new things that are the real value technology provides.  It is not enough to USE technology. You must use it well.

Having access to books does not mean that the students in my classroom will learn to read. I need to make careful pedagogical choices and use those books in a way that will gently and purposefully help those children to become independent readers. Very few children can make this leap themselves. Most need a thoughtful teacher to guide them.

In the same way, having technology in my classroom does not mean that my students will discover how to use it as a learning tool. I have to carefully select and structure what it is used for so that it becomes truly educational. As with reading books, should not our goal be to develop independent learners? Here are my personal abuse and use lists for the handling of devices in the classroom.

Technology Abuses

Technology should not be used as simply a digital worksheet. There are many apps and Internet sites available that are simply a technological version of a paper task, forcing students to practice over and over a skill that they may already have mastered.  Don’t get me wrong. Skills do need to be practiced. I just happen to think that students should spend most of their time using technology for more creative purposes.

Technology should not be used as a way to keep students occupied.  A small number of computers or devices in a classroom can be an inviting center, whether it is an assigned or a self-chosen one.  If you use technology in this way, choose wisely when you decide what the students will do with the technology. There are many, many creative options available. It should not be just to keep students busy while you work with small groups of children. (They’re working on mouse skills? Really?)

Technology should not be used to do what can be done without it.  Drawing a picture on an app or a computer program and labeling it is a worthwhile activity, but why bother if that activity is an end in itself? It may as well have been done on paper. Technology should allow you to do something new with that picture, such as sharing/publishing it in some way.

The good news is that there are other, better options for using technology. My heart does a happy dance when I see these.

Technology Uses

Technology should be for accessing what was inaccessible. In the past, my teaching materials were limited to what was in my classroom and in the school’s library. Now there are a plethora of materials available online to fill any teaching need I have, limited only by my online search skills. From classroom-ready videos such as those of Mercer Mayer and Dr. Jean to sharing and learning with other teachers on Pinterest or Twitter to accessing the creative commons photos of thousands of photographers—well, let’s just say there is no longer an excuse for not having appropriate resources.


Technology should be for doing good things in better ways
. For example, hearing books being read aloud is an important part of primary literacy.  Long ago, listening to books on a cassette tape became listening to books on a CD. Now, there are online books and apps that do a much better job of this, highlighting the words as they are read aloud.

Technology should be for sharing with the world.  The environment that our students are growing up in is wired for sharing. The hardware and the software that is available make it easier every day for children to share what they are learning with the world. Even young children can share their learning using drawings, images, blogs, video and digital portfolios. By sharing their artifacts digitally, students invite the involvement and support of their parents, grandparents and anyone who sees their work.

Technology should be for connecting. Before the advent of the Internet, classrooms were forced to be isolated learning hives.   Now, those hives can all be interconnected as classrooms can easily link with other classrooms and experts to ask questions, compare experiences and learn together. Tools such as Skype, Twitter and blogs make connecting and collaborating with classrooms from anywhere a possibility.

Technology should give choices.  We are blessed to have a lot of technology in my classroom and my favourite part of that is the choice it gives my students in both their learning style and in sharing what they have learned. When allowed to choose, some students prefer to read on iPads or computers. Others choose paper books.  I think choice is important as we accommodate the variety of needs our learners have.

Technology should not just allow us to do traditional in a different way; it should allow us to do things that we thought were not possible.

 

  • Jenni says:

    Thank you for the reminder of how to really use technology in our classrooms. Technology can be such a great tool in the classroom, but it is just a tool that needs to be used appropriately. It’s a great reminder as we head back into our classrooms for the new year.
    I love how you have included examples in your blog of your student work. It makes what you say even more valuable as we can actually see proof what you’re saying in your student’s blogs. Thank you for sharing your learning and allowing others to see into your classroom. You continue to inspire me! :)

    Jenni
    @jennivanrees

    January 5, 2013 at 5:31 pm
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      Thanks, Jenni! That was my hope in sharing the examples. Like any proud teacher, I do love to show off what my students do. They inspire me every day.

      January 5, 2013 at 5:36 pm
  • Jen Wagner says:

    Going to mail this to every single elementary teacher on staff….
    Excellent, excellent, excellent.
    Jen

    January 5, 2013 at 5:38 pm
  • Nancy C says:

    You have given me some points to ponder. Bringing technology into the classroom is motivating and engaging for students. However, you are correct when saying it should be more than that. Your analogy of the of accessing books in your classroom as I think it drives the point home.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Best,
    Nancy

    January 5, 2013 at 5:47 pm
  • Karen Lirenman says:

    A fabulous post Kathy and one I couldn’t agree with more. Nothing frustrates me more then when someone asks me to recommend a math app to practice a drill and practice skill. What an expensive way to practice such a skill. Watching my students create things, and share their creations with the world is an exciting way to teach and learn. And how exciting to easily bring the world into our classroom with technology. :-) I love working and learning along side of you and I’m pretty sure there will be more “wow, why didn’t think of that” moments shared.

    January 5, 2013 at 6:02 pm
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      I learn so much from you, Karen. It has been a pleasure to see the exponential growth you have experienced over the last year and a half.

      January 5, 2013 at 10:00 pm
  • Miss L says:

    Great list! It can be easy to use technology just for the sake that it is there and then all of a sudden we’ve forgotten what we can actually accomplish with it. I am sharing this list!

    Miss L
    Miss L’s Whole Brain Teaching

    January 5, 2013 at 8:01 pm
  • Sheri Edwards says:

    Thanks for the reflective reminder of what is possible, even at young ages. I’ll be sharing this with our primary teachers!

    January 5, 2013 at 9:55 pm
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      Thanks, Sheri! I am a big proponent of the “little kids can” movement.

      January 5, 2013 at 9:58 pm
  • Jessica Dubois says:

    Thank you for sharing these ideas and examples of great practice Kathy. I have plenty to follow up now and play around with! Comes at the best time for us Australian teachers as we prepare to start the new school year in a few weeks. On behalf of the primary teachers in our District that I will share this with, thank you

    January 5, 2013 at 10:57 pm
  • Robyn Thiessen says:

    Thanks so much for the excellent examples that you have incorporated into your post. I am hoping to encourage those that I work with to push their comfort zone and move into creation and discovery rather than using our technology to do old things in a new way! Is it OK for me to put a link to your article on our staff blog?
    Thanks again,
    Robyn

    January 6, 2013 at 1:07 am
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      Of course it is! I would be honoured. Thanks for your encouragement.

      January 6, 2013 at 4:21 am
  • Meg Jones says:

    Amazing. Just as I finish my two week holiday I am ‘gifted’ with finding your blog. You have captured my total philosophy, and better yet, I have hours of perusing your websites to be inspired and renewed as I start into this new year with my all boys first grade. Little kids CAN…I love.

    January 6, 2013 at 1:18 am
  • @mattBgomez says:

    Such a great post Kathy. I hope teachers are inspired to use the technology as you have outlined. The post did lead to me writing about digital worksheets. I have long spoke out against them but I think we need to be careful about denouncing them completely. Would love your thoughts http://mattbgomez.com/digital-worksheets-apps-have-some-value/

    January 6, 2013 at 2:26 pm
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      I certainly didn’t mean to denounce practice type apps, only their mis-use. I hope I made that clear. Thank you for providing another perspective.

      January 6, 2013 at 3:14 pm
  • Karl Bentley says:

    Thank you for taking the time to post this. Teachers here in the UK just don’t seem to have the time to do the research or work within their community of practice here to develop the use of IT. Maybe that’s why they fall back to what is ‘easy’ or well tried even if it is not the best practice. Just written a chapter in a new book to try to get student teachers to ask themselves how they are going to approach the use of IT in the classroom (out in mid Jan).

    http://www.amazon.com/Developing-Teacher-Expertise-Exploring-Practice/dp/1441179119/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1357485815&sr=8-2&keywords=Developing+teacher+expertise

    All profits are going to fund our Canterbury Christ Church University student teachers with international projects.

    January 6, 2013 at 3:28 pm
  • Leo says:

    Thought-provoking. And an excellent list of the principles exemplifying good practice.
    Have already shared it in a couple of groups/lists and will share it with my teacher trainees.
    Thank you.
    L

    January 8, 2013 at 7:25 am
  • Anneli vossman Stromberg says:

    Thanks for a good article about these so important questions. I’m going to tell my teachers and recommend them to read it.
    Anneli, Pincipal at Mimer Academy, Sweden

    January 14, 2013 at 10:35 am
  • evaristo says:

    “Technology should not be used to do what can be done without it. Drawing a picture on an app or a computer program and labeling it is a worthwhile activity, but why bother if that activity is an end in itself? It may as well have been done on paper. Technology should allow you to do something new with that picture, such as sharing/publishing it in some way.”
    I’m teacher in fine arts for young people and I agree with you.
    I agree so with the conclusions of “Technology should be for…”
    It is difficult to balance a “manual activity” and other “technological”, if we forget the the skills that characterizes us as human beings.

    January 15, 2013 at 9:06 am
  • Dr.V.G.Rivlin says:

    I liked your article. However…
    I am nearly eighty. In spite of being a graduate in the sciences I am something of a technophobe when it comes to using equipment of most kinds. I have a son who is the opposite of me in most respects and through whom I found your article. He is an enthusiastic advocate of education via modern technology. Yet I keep wondering whether, in spite of all its advantages the modern gadgets may make us lose touch with our roots. We have already done so. To put it plainly should childhood have a strong ingredient of tough ways of growing up, from hard memory work learning tables, poems, facts, and not just the internet for ready reference? I could say more but would guess you already have the idea. Kind regards.
    VGR

    January 19, 2013 at 1:37 pm
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      Great to have you comment on my blog! I applaud the fact that you are continuing to learn with technology.

      January 20, 2013 at 4:21 am
  • Amber Belt says:

    I am a highschool student creating a documentary for an English project on this specific subject and I would just like to say thank you for the inside on what its like inside a primary school with the technology accessible to younger ones. As a highschool student only some classes have this opportunity, but as a student I see many of my classmates not use the technology to their advantage during class. I see many students looking up answers instead of using it as a tool to aid learning.

    February 8, 2013 at 1:03 am
  • Amber Belt says:

    Also as a highschool student some of the digital classes are basically having the students teach themselves and each other which can lead to some problems as I have witnessed in my economics class, but its also an advantage

    February 8, 2013 at 1:15 am
  • Jennifer Carey says:

    Really great article and highlights the fact that technology should not be used just for the sake of technology.

    February 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm
  • Cari Raymond says:

    Dear Mrs. Cassidy,
    My name is Cari Raymond. I am an EDM 310 student at the University of South Alabama. As part of our class projects we are assigned different teachers from around the world to read their blogs, learn from what they have shared and leave our comments or questions on their blog. About two weeks we can comment again and then one month later we post a summary of the post we commented on as well as our thoughts. This way everyone in the class can share what they have learned and how we can apply these findings in our future classrooms. I will be posting the summary on my blog Cari Raymond’s EDM 310 Class Blog on March 10, 2013. Thank you.
    I agree that simply having computers in the classroom will not guarantee that the students will learn any better than if there were only books. Teacher need to show their students how to use all form of technology properly in order for them to continue to use it even after they have left their classroom. If a child sees a computer as a means to play games then when they enter college they will struggle to learn because they lack the knowledge of all that a computer can do. It is the same as the saying “give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day but teach a man to fish he’ll eat for life”: if a teacher shows how to use what a student already knows to achieve their goals then they will continue to keep wanting to learn. Last year my mom showed me that with Google I could use the Drive section to send papers to my group members and when they made changes it shows on all of them so that even when we could not meet we could still keep working. This helped me in many ways but once I saw that there was so much I did not know about an item I use nearly every day I wanted to know more so that I could do and be more than I was before. I am glad that someone has finally listed the cautions that teachers need to take when using technology in the classroom. I do not want to see my classmates have wonderful ideas to help their students learn but not see the damage they are doing by not teaching how to use it correctly. Thank you.
    Sincerely,
    Cari Raymond

    February 25, 2013 at 4:17 am
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      Thanks, Cari. I’m glad you are beginning to see the value in connected learning. There really is much to think about when using technology with young students.
      Good luck with your studies!

      February 26, 2013 at 3:05 am
  • Sean Patrick says:

    Very nice article

    March 4, 2013 at 10:05 pm
  • Monica says:

    Thank you so much for this great post! I’m doing a PD about how to incorporate technology in the classroom and I am going to start by sharing your blog post!

    July 10, 2013 at 3:09 pm
    • Kathy Cassidy says:

      Great to hear, Monica! Good luck with your PD.

      July 10, 2013 at 3:26 pm
  • tasllem boodeemiah says:

    You are true in your statement. I totally agree with. Technology is an adder. It just helps us to DO things which WE cant do without it.

    September 22, 2013 at 12:17 pm
  • Jane Kinkle says:

    I’d like to think we could make using technology in the classroom as engaging as using technology outside of the classroom. I encourage my students use their personal devices in my middle school science class to follow my posted mini-lectures, take notes, and “Google” topics that they find interesting and to answer their “wondering” questions on the spot. I don’t know if this strategy for engagement will improve test scores, but it has definitely made my classroom a more exciting place and has raised the level of engagement.

    December 24, 2013 at 9:13 pm

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