By Howard Pitler, Ed.D.
Technology is not a substitute for quality instruction
Technology is a great tool to add to your teacher toolbox. There are an abundance of amazing resources available to both educators and students. If you are just beginning to integrate technology into your teaching here are a few tips to consider.
Tip 1 – First and foremost, a quality teacher begins by selecting the most appropriate instructional strategies for the lesson being taught and the specific group of kids in the class. Just as “one size fits all” really doesn’t fit everyone, a good instructional strategy will work well for some students, but not for all. Combining quality instructional strategies with appropriate technology that enhance instruction is the key. Technology will not replace a good teacher, but a good teacher who uses technology to enhance her instruction will replace one who doesn’t.
Tip 2 – Avoid Google searching, especially for younger students! Asking students to Google something without pre-planning is a likely recipe for trouble. Want proof, just Google Martin Luther King. In the results window, one of the links is Martinlutherking.org. Go there at your own peril. At the elementary level consider Kidtopia.info. At the secondary, level look at Infotopia.info. Better yet, go to Google SafeSearch settings and turn on safe search. Better yet, preload sites you want your students to have easy access into a classroom Diigo site and even categorize them by themes or chapters correlated to the text.
Tip 3 – Technology is only a tool, not an end in itself. While technology-based activities can be engaging and fun, begin your lesson planning by identifying the learning intentions/objectives you are planning on teaching. I like stating my learning objectives as what you expect students to know, understand, and be able to do. After you have unpacked the lesson into those declarative and procedural knowledge pieces, then and only then look for technologies that will enhance the lesson. Sometimes the best technology for a given lesson is no technology – and that’s ok.
Tip 4 – Room layout can make or break a technology-enhanced lesson. Be sure every screen is visible. This will enable you to effectively monitor learning by scanning the room to identify students who might be off task. I find it helpful to both monitor screens by scanning the room and then use physical proximity to adjust behaviors. If you see a learner at a site that clearly isn’t part of the lesson just quietly walk to the student and just put your hand on the back of the chair. When students know you are actively monitoring their screens, there will be much less straying.
Tip 5 – Be sure your students know the “why” of the activity you have designed to support the learning objective. While you might have a great reason for students to create a presentation for example, sometimes students get wrapped up in the technology and lose sight of the objective. When creating a PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi on a topic, be sure the focus is on the topic. Students shouldn’t spend more time working on the cute factor of a presentation than on the content itself.
Tip 6 – Content is king! A really fun lesson using an interactive lesson can be really engaging for learners, but is there a clear link to the learning objectives within your school’s scope and sequence? Teachers tell me that one of the biggest barriers they face is time, and yet I often see students engaged in “fun” activities without a clear connection to content. Time is always an issue, but until we have figured out how to change the time-space continuum, be sure that every minute you have your students is spent intentionally on learning what’s within the scope and sequence.
Tip 7 – Don’t wait to use technology until you are an expert. Some teachers avoid using technology because they are afraid that either the technology will crash on them during instruction or because they don’t feel expert enough and their students might see them mess up. First, the technology WILL crash. Trust me on this. I have been in front of hundreds of educators in a PD session and had the power go out (thank you, driver, who hit a transformer in front of the school).
Always have a viable backup plan you can quickly switch to. Also, kids know technology blows up on occasion. It happens to them as well, so accept it and keep going. Second, it is very likely you will have a number of students who know more about the technologies you are trying to use. They honestly will be willing to help. It is perfectly ok to tell the class, “I am just learning this and might need some help along the way.” Students need to see teachers as learners too. Waiting until you are the expert would be similar to waiting until you are an expert bike rider before actually getting on the bike to ride in a parade. Redefine failure in your to FAIL=First Attempt In Learning. The only people who haven’t failed are those who have never tried and never learned.
Technology is a wonderful enhancement. It is not a substitute for quality instruction. Learn and practice research-based instructional strategies and be sure you keep working on your pedagogy to become the best teacher you can. Even the master teachers I work with are constantly learning and growing. What was new technology last school year is now the baseline and new technologies will appear. It’s a challenging time to be an educator, and an exciting time as well.
This article was first published here.