Arguably, or perhaps not, English and Language Arts instruction is the most vital area of instruction for students. After all, if students cannot read or write, they are not likely to succeed in other content areas. That being said, a lot rests on the shoulders of English and Language Arts instructors, especially with the changes brought about in the information age, such as portable and handheld devices and the internet. These new devices and changes in the way people communicate have posed new challenges to teachers in the form of “new literacies.”
As stated by Roblyer and Doering (2013, pg. 268), the primary responsibility of English and Language arts teachers is teaching students to make meaning of text. This means as the literacies change, instruction must change to ensure the success of students. A hornbook, an innovative and useful piece of technology in the 1600’s has little use in education today besides that of an historical artifact. It will not help students of the 21st century learn to navigate digital text. Is the same true of print textbooks? The technologies have changed and so must the instruction if we are to prepare the students.
One of the obstacles to this change could be a generation of teachers unfamiliar with the new technologies and some of whom possess an unwillingness to learn. I’ve often heard the grumbles, “Why do I need this.” “I don’t care about that, I’m retiring in a couple years.” I would argue that most of these teachers still have a passion for teaching and seeing their students succeed but because of the approach with the new technology, often times throwing new gadgets and devices into classrooms and saying “if you use this you will be better teacher and it will raise test scores,” teachers are resistant and cannot see the benefit of changing something that already works for them, especially when they are not shown how it can be used to aid their instruction. The technology is also new to many teachers. Even in my pursuit of a degree in early childhood education in 2004-2008, I do not recall learning about using social networking in the classroom, ebooks, iPads, even interactive whiteboards were just making their way into the program. I did however grow up with video games and computers making the transition to new forms of technology somewhat easier. To overcome this obstacle districts must to a better job in providing professional development for teachers in the areas of instructional technology. Rather than just placing the technology in the classroom and telling teachers to use it. They must train teachers by showing them how the technology is helpful and relevant. A language arts teacher would be much more likely to use their Smartboard if they knew the benefits of going through the editing and revising process with the technology. They need to see the new and beneficial uses
Another way to overcome the obstacles of integrating technology in the Language Arts is for teachers to make use of personal learning networks, PLN’s. Educators have always worked together to help one another with ideas and strategies on what works in their classrooms, but this often only existed within a school building or a small group of educator friends, or perhaps at a large conference. The existence of social networking connects teachers all over the world. If you have a question about how to integrate blogs into your writing lessons, simply post the question on a forum and get responses from teachers who already use them effectively in their classroom. PLN’s give you access to creative, innovative educators all around the world, who post their ideas and strategies to their personal blogs giving you strategies and ideas that have already been tested by other educators. No longer are educators limited to a small circle of fellow educators, but ideas can be exchanged across the world instantly.
Finally, one of the biggest hindrances to integrating technology into the language arts curriculum is the availability of the technology itself. Many classrooms only have one or two computers creating a planning nightmare to get students on the computer to read and write. Schools also have limited lab space available. I suspect that with the advent of online standardized testing effective in the 2014-2015 school year in the state of Ohio, there will be more lab space or mobile labs available for classroom use. Low cost alternatives to desktop models such as Google Chromebooks, will allow schools to increase their computing power while eliminating the need for more lab space. This issue of teacher training still exists however. Even when the technology is available teachers must be trained in how to integrate it into their curriculum.
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching (6th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.
In this VoiceThread I describe my rational for breaking down the walls that block access to so many great resources in many educational institutions. There is a transcript of the text below.
(It seems that you cannot embed VoiceThread content into WordPress. I attempted to find some workarounds, but was not successful with these either. So… here is the link to my VoiceThread.)
When thinking of a walled garden I think back to the Disney movie Aladdin. Princess Jasmine has been stuck in the palace walls all of her life and wants out. She wants to do something on her own. She wants to experience life outside the walls. What happens though when she sneaks out?
She almost loses her hand for taking an apple, which she assumed was OK to do. The people outside the palace were much different than what she was used to. It was a different culture. Jasmine was not prepared to communicate with them and she didn’t know how to properly interact with the people outside the palace walls.
Isn’t this what we are doing to our children or students? By avoiding the topic and blocking the sites we make them more vulnerable. Yes, we must protect them but as I mentioned in my post Internet Safety, the best way to protect them is to educate them so they can make responsible decisions when they are on their own.
By keeping them within the walls, are we really preparing them for what they will face?
Are we truly doing what is best for the child?
My answer to that would be no. And there are two reasons I have come to the conclusion that the walled gardens should be opened up to students: Safety and Learning
You may be wondering how opening up the walls makes things safer. Well rather than letting kids sneak over the wall and encounter new situations on their own, I propose we teach them how to use the media. I will continue with the Princess Jasmine analogy.
- Boost them up – give them a peak over the wall, demonstrate what is out there, point out the dangerous places
- Take their hand – lead them outside the walls, don’t go far at first, guide them through, practice together, show them what to do in a bad situation, keep practicing and venturing further
- Loosen the grip – you’ve given them the tools and knowledge, now they need to experiment, they will still help and guidance so stay within sight, talk about their experience
- Let go – it’s a big world out there, but at least you can say you’ve done what you can to equip them, they are still bound to make mistakes, but they will learn. They weren’t going to stay in the garden forever.
Beth Holland in her article Teaching Toddlers to Tweet? Introducing Social Media to Elementary Students recalls how as elementary students we were all taught the “social media” of our time. We learned to write letters, answer a telephone, or maybe send a thank you note. Shouldn’t we be teaching today’s students how to use the social media of their time and how to use it safely?
OK, I can’t resist, sappy love song aside, Aladdin’s “A Whole New World” describes the “dazzling place”, the “thousand things to see”, “new horizons to pursue” and much more. The internet is the same way. Outside of the walled garden exists a fantastic world of learning and education. Do we really want to limit what students can learn? Is it appropriate that we are not teaching them how to succeed by collaborating and interacting with others around the world? Isn’t our job to put them on the magic carpet and show them the world?
If we are to teach students how to use the Internet for what it is, a vast information network and collaboration platform, what good are we doing them by keeping them within the walls?
I grew up in a district with very little ethnic diversity and teach in a district with even less diversity among the student population. I see great potential in programs like K-2 Building Bridges to Tomorrow and A Week in the Life… from Flat Classroom or ePals, to connect and educate our students about the world outside our small community.
Holland, B. (2013, June 18). Teaching toddlers to tweet? Introducing social media to elementary students. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/introducing-social-media-lower-elementary-beth-holland
This article fits under AECT Standard 3 Utilization because it involves decision making regarding opening up web access to use social media. Ultimately it would lead to implementing new policies for staff and student access.
Internet safety is perhaps one of the largest concerns on the minds of parents and educators, and if it is not, perhaps it should be. The news often contains stories of young students committing suicide because of their feelings of despair after being cyber-bullied. Stories of sexual predators being caught after attempting to set up a meeting with who they thought was a young girl or boy. And stories of child pornographers being arrested. This does not include the cases where incidents occur and perpetrators are not caught. Now try to shelter a child from the internet. It is nearly impossible. Students can connect from their cellphone, laptop, iPad, Nintendo DS, Xbox, televisions, even their mp3 player. You don’t have internet at your house you say? Well what about the library, school, coffee shops, Starbucks, McDonald’s, a friend’s house. It seems as though everything has connectivity, and with the exception of those in rural areas, you can connect from anywhere.
Don’t go lock your child in their room, because, well that’s illegal, and they would probably find some way to stay connected anyway. Now, I don’t say this to scare you away from the internet, but to raise awareness that it can be a dangerous place if children are not educated and prepared to use it. I think the best way to tackle the issue is to follow the advice from Jacqui Murray in her post “How to Instill Digital Citizenship in Students.” In this post Jacqui suggests we teach children to treat internet safety like neighborhood safety. I will use this premise to create a guide to talk to your children about internet safety.
Most of you did not let your toddler freely roam the neighborhood. You kept them close and as they learned not to play in the road, not to talk to strangers, or to stay within a certain area they earned more privileges. With those privileges also came more responsibilities.
“You can do to the neighbors, but stay away from Mr. Smith’s across the street.”
“You can go to your friends, but first I want to meet them and I want to know where you are going.”
“If something happens and you want to leave, please call me.”
So, what are the rules?
- When at home, ask permission. – This sets up a standard that you care about the child and want to know what they are doing.
- “Look both ways before crossing the (virtual) street” (Murray, 2013) – Be careful about going to new websites. If it seems unsafe or makes you feel uncomfortable back up by pressing the back button.
- “Don’t go places you don’t know” (Murray, 2013) – Don’t go to sites or click on links you aren’t sure about. These can contain software that may harm your computer.
- “Don’t talk to Strangers” – Unlike walking on the street, it is very difficult to tell who may be trying to talk to you on the internet, even if it is a name you know. It is best not to talk to strangers and tell an adult if someone is trying to talk to you on the internet.
- Think before you act – It’s great to think you may have won a computer or a maybe even money, but these are advertisements. Just like that delicious ice cream cone on the television that makes you want to go buy one, advertisers on the internet do what they can to make you click their advertisement and go to their site.
- “Play [nice]” – It’s always important to treat your friends with kindness and respect. The same is true on the internet. Never bully! And help one another out.
It is vital that we teach students how to use the web. Ignoring the issue and attempting to keep them from it, will only exacerbate the issue. Begin teaching these skills early and talk about them often with your students and children.
Here are some more resources to educate yourself and your students.
NetSmartz – Netsmartz has numerous resources for students, parents, and educators. This is the best resource I have come across related to computer and internet safety.
Webonauts – This is a role playing type game from PBS Kids. The students will get to create a character and encounter different situations where they must make the appropriate decisions related to web safety.
Internet Safety for Kids and Parents– Kidshealth.org provides resources to many informative articles. The articles can be read or students can listen to them as they are read aloud. I have found that this motivates them to read more articles.
BrainPop Jr. Internet Safety – This is a video for students (probably younger students K-3), but follows the same ideas as those from Jacqui Murray.
Murray, J. (2013, July 2). How to instill digital citizenship in students. Ask a tech teacher. Retrieved from http://askatechteacher.wordpress.com/2013/07/02/how-to-instill-digital-citizenship-in-students/
I created my video blog using my built in webcam. I wanted to use wireWAX to add interactivity with my links and some videos. It seems like a great service, but the way the “tags” work, I couldn’t add the elements when I wanted them to appear into the video.
As an alternative I used the annotations feature in Youtube. Please leave your comments.