Consider these three steps for successful integration of technology in the classroom or a school. I’ll be facilitating a workshop on technology integration in West Salem, Wisconsin on Thursday, April 12. If you are in the area, sign up today (click here).
“If math is the aspirin, what is the headache?” A high school teacher posed this question. In her context, she was explaining why she always needs to make a case for mathematics with her students.
Replace “mathematics” with “technology”, and the opposite may be true. Many educators cannot help but adopt more technology in their classrooms and schools. We want to be 1:1, even though we may not be able to provide a good reason why every kid needs a laptop. Distraction can increase with this digital influx. Are we creating more problems, when we should be giving students the right tools to solve problems they themselves created?
Are we creating more problems, when we should be giving students the right tools to solve problems they themselves create?
The point to make here is that before we start selecting digital tools to integrate into instruction, we have to a) determine why we need the technology, b) discern what resources are needed to be successful, and c) decide how and when to use technology.
1. Determine the why
This step involves examining one’s beliefs and values about teaching and learning. The process involves reflecting on our current practices and being honest with ourselves about what’s working and what is not. School assessment results, student surveys, and peer or administrator feedback can be helpful in getting started.
One process I like for examining beliefs and values in order to determine why we might integrate technology in the classroom is “This I Believe”. Here are the steps suggested for this reflective experience, either independently or with a group.
Listen to/read Luis Urrea’s response (“Life is an Act of Literary Creation”) to This I Believe as an example.
Write a personal reaction regarding what you believe about assessment and education for today’s students.
Post it on your blog or share it with a trusted colleague.
Through this process of examining our beliefs and values and determining why we want to use technology to improve students’ learning experiences, we can make more informed decisions about instruction.
2. Discern the what
When I initially wrote this post, I had this section last. Pedagogy trumps technology, right? Yes…but we also don’t know what we don’t know. It can be hard to decide what technologies and other resources we might need to enhance instruction if we are not aware of them.
That’s why I do like to explore a wide range of digital tools with teachers as we design instruction with technology in mind. Playing with different applications and ideas for how we might use them in the classroom is an act of creation itself. With a broader perspective about our beliefs and practices we find effective, the tools are less likely to drive our instruction and instead enhance it.
Next is a list of ideas shared recently at a workshop I facilitated on implementing digital portfolios for English learners.
Share information about home literacy activities through a notification/announcements function of a digital portfolio (DP) tool. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
Teachers can take a picture of a book to be sent home and post for those students, accompanied with ideas for families to explore it at home. (FreshGrade, Seesaw, Smore)
Encourage parents to use the DP parent app to email teacher (linked) about questions they have regarding their child’s reading progress, words that were tricky for them, etc to be used for future instruction. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
Post a survey questions, asking parents to share favorite book titles in their home in the comments. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
Send “interview” questions through DP for parents to ask their child to guide home reading. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw))
Have students reflect in DP about their current reading instead of a formal reading log, using video, audio, and/or text. (FreshGrade, Kidblog, Seesaw)
Scaffolding Literacy Experiences
Provide multiple days at the beginning of a unit for students to read and immerse themselves in the focus of the study. (OverDrive, Kidblog, Biblionasium)
Offer a choice board in media to explore to build background knowledge around the topic of study. (QR Codes, YouTube, podcasts)
Include audio versions of selected texts so students can access literature they are interested in during the study. (Playaways, OverDrive, Audible)
Give students choice in a primary text to read during a unit of study, and facilitate a book club with guiding questions and discussions. (Google Classroom, Edmodo)
Document student discussions, both in small and whole groups, to prepare for future strategy instruction. (iPad, Apple Pencil, Notability; MacBook, Day One)
Representing and Celebrating Diversity
Have parents video record or write and share a story from their earlier lives. (Google Drive)
Record students reading a text aloud in both English and Spanish. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
Read and record discussions of diverse literature in book clubs/literature circles. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
Examine and organize your classroom library with students, focusing on the amount and quality of the culturally-representative text.
Maintain a wish list of culturally diverse books and share it with families regularly to purchase for the classroom. (Amazon, Google Site)
Develop a digital pen pal relationship with classrooms in other parts of the world. (Kidblog, ePals)
Create a bilingual book with audio, images, and text and share it online for a public audience. (Book Creator, Little Bird Tales)
Create original content where students teach others life skills, such as how to speak Spanish or how to use a computer. (YouTube, Vimeo, Book Creator)
Bring in a local family from another country to speak about their culture and values to kickstart a geography or storytelling unit. (Smore, Remind)
Develop a community room for visitors to sit in and learn about the school’s mission, vision, and beliefs, offering bilingual resources. (Google Translate, Smore)
Design advertisements for local businesses in both English and Spanish as a performance task for a unit on persuasive writing + economics. (Canva, Google Docs, MS Word, Pages)
Create a public service announcement (PSA) about a local problem, such as hunger or an environmental/safety issue. (iMovie, YouTube)
Assign volunteers to record themselves reading aloud selected literature via audio or video (Google Drive, Evernote, Vimeo)
3. Explore the how and the when
Integrating technology with instruction is both a technical and cultural change. It’s technical in that teachers are now tasked with including tablets or laptops as part of their lesson planning and delivery. “How should I model this application for the students – mirror it to the whiteboard, or gather the kids around?” might be one question a teacher would ask. I’ve encouraged teachers in the starting stages of integrating technology in instruction to avoid focusing on both pedagogy and technology during a lesson. Teach one or the other. This helps build comfort with using the digital tools while 20-30 students are watching you.
This process is also a cultural change. At least it should be. Some teachers only reach a technical change. For example, they may only use Kahoot! or Quizziz to assess basic student understanding of a prepared lesson. Instead, what about letting kids design lessons for peers and using these same tools to evaluate each other? They can be taught how to craft higher order questions to evaluate deeper understanding of the content. It’s still a teacher-directed classroom when the learning experience lacks at least some student ownership. Successful technology integration will only reach its potential when we position students as lead designers, learners and assessors.
To shift the learning culture, a place to start is by rethinking our classroom design. The spaces we ask kids to learn in should foster collaboration and creativity. Here are a few suggestions:
Replace most desks with tables and flexible chairs.
Let kids provide input in what furniture to purchase and how they might be arranged.
Reduce the lecture area to free up more space for collaborative work.
Arrange seating to allow for student movement and a variety of alignments, i.e. independent work, small group, whole group.
Release responsibility for bulletin boards, the classroom library and wall space to the students; let them decide what should be showcased with clear criteria for excellence in mind.
Put students in charge of classroom communications, such as the class website and social media accounts.
Expect students to maintain and troubleshoot most technology challenges. For example, assign students jobs such as “tech support” and “device storage”.
The how and when this happens is up to the teacher. It can happen tomorrow, next week, or next year. (Please note that the students are ready now.)
Disagree with what is shared here? What process have you found effective for technology integration? Please share in the comments!
I will be speaking to school leaders at AcceleratED on February 21 in Portland, Oregon on the topic of digital portfolios. If you are an educator located in this area, consider registering for this conference. It’s definitely worth your time away from school. Below is an adapted excerpt from my new book on the topic, detailing steps leaders can take to implement better assessments for students.
Students are more than a score. They are unique individuals, each possessing different motivations and talents. To distill an understanding of their current status and future potential down only to a symbol, such as grades or levels, is at best a misrepresentation of their abilities and at worst educational negligence. We can do better.
One way to do better is to implement digital portfolio assessment in every classroom in a school. Digital portfolios can be defined as online collections of evidence of student work, carefully curated to document student learning for both growth and mastery. Tools used for this initiative include but are not limited to Edublogs, FreshGrade, Google Sites, Kidblog, Seesaw, and Weebly.
There is more than one pathway a school leader might take in implementing digital student portfolios at a schoolwide level. Every school has a different culture and climate. Having completed this type of change before, as well as being familiar with the literature and research on organizational change, I am confident that school leaders who follow these general steps will be more likely to experience success.
Start with assessments. “What gets measured is what gets done.” If this adage is accurate, then school leaders, including teacher leaders, have a lot more authority to drive assessment practices schoolwide than previously thought. Making changes include not only introducing digital portfolio assessment but also expanding the types of assessments being used as well as developing assessment literacy with faculty.
When we alter assessment practices schoolwide, we also change the conversation about how student success will be measured. Case in point: In the fall of my first year in my current school, the newly formed instructional leadership and I instituted fall and spring writing assessments. Although writing was not yet a priority for our school, one teacher asked, “Are we focused on writing as a building?” Starting with a change in assessment practices can be a subtle yet powerful call to action.
Assess your level of access. Without available and robust technologies, both hardware and software, we risk running this digital initiative into the ground.
I experienced this first hand in my previous school. We had purchased several iPads for each classroom with the intention of using them for documenting student work online. Unfortunately, we ran into many challenges in this process: wireless access points were installed in inappropriate locations; the bandwidth was not strong enough to upload video from multiple devices at one time; purchasing one type of tool (tablets) did not recognize the developmental needs of the different age levels in our school. If we had not slowed down our technology integration process and rethought our approach, I don’t think the end result – schoolwide implementation of digital portfolios to improve student writing – would have been realized.
In my two books on digital portfolios, I provide a readiness tool for school leaders to complete in order to assess the level of access for this type of initiative. Click here to download this tool to use with your leadership team prior to or during implementation.
Start small. Instead of pushing every teacher to adopt digital student portfolios right away, consider allowing faculty who are ready for this initiative to run a pilot. This was one of the steps we initially took in my last school that proved to be successful. A 1st-grade teacher and our speech and language teacher tried FreshGrade with their students. They discovered an increase in collaboration, better parent engagement, and students feeling more involved in their work through self-assessment and goal setting.
Their enthusiasm carried over the following year when we decided to implement digital portfolios schoolwide. In fact, these two teachers plus other school leaders would sometimes lead the professional development sessions for the rest of the faculty. They became champions for this work, which accelerated the implementation process.
Attend to the culture. Any schoolwide improvement effort that truly impacts student learning involves a cultural change as well as a technical change (Muhammad, 2009). Culture is defined as “the school’s unwritten rules and traditions, norms, and expectations” (Deal and Peterson, 2019, pg. 6). Leaders have to facilitate change in how teachers engage in their practice. They need to attend to teachers’ beliefs about the importance of this type of work, understanding that beliefs drive practices and, subsequently, the acquisition of resources (Routman, 2014).
To start, school leaders have to communicate this change as a part of an existing initiative and not “one more thing”. Technology without the context of pedagogy can create the perception that this is separate work outside the purview of core instruction.
One way a school can connect digital portfolios with daily instruction is by guiding teacher teams or departments to develop a yearlong plan of instruction. The outcomes of this plan can be around whatever the school values as important for students to know, understand, and be able to do. In my last school, we had a strong focus on writing. Therefore, each teacher team mapped out their yearlong plan for writing genre instruction.
At the end of each unit of study, teachers were expected to guide students to upload a piece of writing they were most proud of, accompanied by reflection and goal setting.
Also helpful for teachers is sharing long-term goals for this work. Leaders can honor the initial efforts of innovators by highlighting where they are at on a continuum of digital portfolio assessment, from simply posting work online to using digital tools to inform many areas of instruction. Wherever a teacher is at professionally is recognized, with the caveat that there is always room for growth on a pathway toward excellence.
Above all, culture has to be infused with constant celebration. Taking time to acknowledge teachers’ and students’ efforts at the beginning of staff meetings and professional development sessions fosters motivation for continuing this work. We have to enjoy the journey as well as the destination when upgrading our assessment practices with the help of digital tools. Learning at each level should be an exciting and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
When I signed the contract with ASCD over two years ago to write this book on digital portfolios, I realized that I had a lot more learning to do. Unlike my last book on the topic, this resource would be directed toward teachers. I had not been in the classroom for almost a decade, although I have observed many classrooms in that time as a school principal. Still, it is not the same as having the main responsibility for student learning.
It was educators such as Karen who provided essential knowledge and experience for me to write any type of #edtech guide worth a teacher’s time to read. I am thankful!
P.S. FreshGrade has been giving away free copies of my book. Check them out on Twitter for more information.
This was a nice surprise to come home to yesterday. ASCD is great to work with.
It’s great to see my book finally in print. I signed the contract for this project almost two years ago to the day. In that time, our family moved to Mineral Point, took on new positions in education, and became a part of a new community. Exciting times and something I don’t need to experience again for the foreseeable future!
Here are some book-related updates.
Right now, the book is only available in print and only through ASCD. The publisher and I prefer orders through them directly, although I realize Amazon can be more convenient. As for print only, I am checking with ASCD on that. Stay tuned.
If want an overview of my book, click here to check out the archived webinar I did through ASCD.
In our Google+ Community on the topic of digital portfolios, I am giving away three books to anyone who +1’s this post. You have to request to join first.
I’ve written a draft curriculum for an online course on digital portfolios. It will likely be a companion to the book and provide multimedia content that can’t be delivered through a book alone. If you have suggestions for what should be in the course, leave your feedback in the comments.
While I am working full time as an elementary principal, I do have some availability to facilitate teacher workshops on digital portfolios. Click here for a description and feedback from a workshop I led this summer (scroll to the bottom of page). Here is what one attendee said about this professional learning experience:
What I liked most about the workshop is the wealth of web-based resources the instructor shared with us to help support technology-based student activities and projects. I am not very tech-savvy, so giving me the sites and time to explore the applications for building technology integration into my class was very beneficial.
I’ll be speaking on digital portfolios and technology integration at the following events this school year (so far). If you are able to attend, let me know and we can connect!
October 5-6, 2017 – Wisconsin ASCD 2017 Fall Conference (Wisconsin Dells, WI)
October 25-26, 2017 – Illinois ASCD Lead & Learn 2017 (Schaumburg, IL)
February 21-23, 2018 – AcceleratED & IntegratED (Portland, OR)