I have always found it very difficult to approach the appropriate use of technology in my classroom, and there are a few reasons for that. Firstly, as many teachers know, there’s the issue of funding and budget cuts. In the past, it has not been clear as to how technology should be allocated to our special needs students. At a school that is (this year) working on a new one to one technology initiative for grades K-5, I have more at my fingertips now, given that my students are also assigned to A regular education homeroom. Now comes the truly hard part. My students have multiple academic challenges, the hardest of which to address are their challenges with literacy.
Most of my primary exposure to, and observations of, technology use in the classroom was limited to students typing up final drafts of writing, completing practice activities on an academic program (such as TenMarks or Istation), and practice with the stages of conducting a basic research project. Most students engaged in these activities in isolation from their peers. Those students have a level of self-motivation and accountability that the individuals in my classroom have not yet developed. And to top it all off, many of my students read 2 or more years below grade level, and have rudimentary spelling. Some students are still struggling to spell their last names and copy down basic words in grade 3. I never could wrap my head around how my students were supposed to conduct searches, navigate tool bars, and access technology and common core expectations with their limited abilities to read. How am I supposed to build their digital literacy skills without having a teacher constantly ‘babysit’ their computer usage?
I understand now that my past view has been too literal in regards to digital literacy. I wasn’t sure how to teach my students to conduct safe searches, evaluate sources for validity, and self-monitor to utilize technology appropriately during classroom time. My students are held to the common core expectations, and I struggle with creating adaptations to our use of technology. I always assumed that I had to first build up my students’ “traditional literacy skills” before opening up the world of technology. It wasn’t until our MEDX in-class discussion (graduate class), that I discovered the flaws in my perspective. I need to be encouraging my students to use technology in other ways; to express themselves, to explore different avenues for explaining their thinking, and most importantly of all, I need to teach my kiddos to collaborate. They have already been introduced to social media at home, but that is not what I mean. I need to show them tools for collaborating with peers, communicating their work to others, and taking responsibility for their decisions in and out of the classroom. My students love to get things correct. They like praise and extrinsic rewards. But, they often lack the confidence to see the value in all of the things they do. I want to, and need to, build that self-confidence and intrinsic motivation. The kiddos need to become advocates and cheerleaders for themselves.
It will not be an easy task. I have a lot of litigations to get around regarding internet usage, access to devices, and photo/video waivers from parents. And I have to review and change my own misconceptions. I have a few things in mind, and I have picked a place to start. It will certainly be an uphill battle; but I am ready to take my struggling readers and build their literacies within a digital age. We will be “digital non-literates” no longer.
Autism Expressed (teaching digital literacy and life skills with technology for special needs students)
Learn NC (facts and resources regarding technology use and students with disabilities)