Language Arts in the Digital Age

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.

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4 responses

  1. Hi Craig,

    You make some great points. This comment “as the literacies change, instruction must change to ensure the success of students” really is important. Unless students find relevancy in the work they are asked to perform, they will struggle to find motivation. Schools/teachers must also adapt to changing cultural norms. While the language of texting is not appropriate for formal writing, it is a valid form of expression and teachers need to recognize it as such, perhaps even incorporating it into some lessons.

    You also address the issue of teacher PD, and correctly point out that just showing teachers new tech is insufficient. Our school has had success by including content teachers in our PD. After we do general training, we break teachers up by content or interest, and then give them time with a teacher that is already using the new technology. Transfer of skills from teacher to teacher has proven very effective. Nice work. -Jim

  2. One of the best PD’s our school has ever had was a “technology rodeo.” Teachers all rotated to different rooms, where they were given 30 minutes to learn about and play around with different Web 2.0 tools. Seeing how much some teachers struggled, however, made it easy to understand why so many teachers resist incorporating some of this technology in their own classrooms. The only way to get them past that though is to continue having practical PD’s like this.

    I also love your point about Chromebooks. My school has a lot of limitations with the availability of technology. My district, however, got a major grant and the High School will be giving every student a Chromebook next year. For teachers to be able to fully utilize technology, we definitely need to have ample access to it.

  3. I think your point about integrating technology when perhaps teachers have limited access to it is so important. When I worked for a city public school, I had thirty students in a class, nine old laptops, and a digital curriculum. I think often times our eyes are bigger than our wallets in education, and since the technology of the world is changing so fast, often it’s not that most teachers don’t want to incorporate the learning but many merely cannot because of their lack of access. We must make funding for technology more equitable if we’re more states are going to move toward online testing, like Ohio.

    Furthermore, your points about PLNs are so valuable. I have become an avid Twitter user in the last year because of the volume of ideas and resources we can share so quickly. Days of old school PD where teachers sit and listen to an out-of-district professional from a PD organization the school pays for whatever they offer is gone. I love the idea of a “technology rodeo,” where teachers can not just learn about the technology out there but actually try it out. Teachers need MUCH more time to play around with a technology before understanding how to incorporate it into their classroom, English or otherwise. I think we are more than willing, often times, to use new technologies if we have the time to understand it, use it, and play with it to find its place in our teaching. Technology must be a tool within the larger skills and content, not a replacement for those skills and content.

  4. You bring up woes that myself, and many teachers are familiar with! I too struggle with the lack of technology itself…we simply do not have enough computers for all of the students.

    I can also relate to the first obstacle you mention: teacher resistance. Professional development is key. Beyond just the PD, though, I think we teachers (at least in my district) need the time to work with and play with the technology that we learn about in PD workshops, seminars, etc. I often find myself overwhelmed at the end of technology (or any) professional development course. It would sure be nice to have some time to work with the material that we learned to conceptualize and create quality lessons and activities. Does your school allow for this? Might be a good place to incorporate the PLN’s you mention!

    Nice post.

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