At the end of the 2015-16 school year, I wrote a proposal to be considered for a Chromebook pilot in our junior high. In 2017-18, our school district would be a 1:1 school, but this school year (2016-17), the district was looking for teachers who wanted to help with the transition. As an English teacher, I wrote my proposal filled with questions: What can technology do that paper, pencils, and books cannot? How can technology raise awareness, start conversations, find answers, join partners, and make a positive difference in readerly actions? And how can I balance screen time and eye-to-eye, human relating?
I had used Chromebooks or i-Pads intermittently for a number of years. Students blogged about their independent reading; we researched topics for activists speeches, we made film adaptations of our books as we learned about shots, angles, lighting; students collaborated on slides to co-teach a lesson on poetry; and we recorded and shared family stories. I already had an idea of how technology could raise awareness, start conversations, find answers, join partners, and improve communication (especially for introverted students). I just never used them every day. I never pushed out a poem through Google Classroom instead of having students tape the poem in their interactive paper notebooks. I never posted a question and waited for the countdown of students to finish rather than walking around and reading over their shoulders.
I was awarded a cart of 30 Chromebooks to keep in our classroom for my 6 reading classes (4 eighth, 2 seventh). Here are three lessons I learned from my first week with Chromebooks.
1. It’s hard to see what students are typing on their screens. With paper notebooks, I can easily see what students are writing or drawing because the surface is facing upward. A quick glance is all it took to see their thoughts. Now, I have to bend down to do a quick check because the screens are perpendicular. Also, the font is tiny. I like to talk to students as they work, as they write, as they think. I guess I will have to wear my glasses and do my stretches to prepare for all the squats I’ll be doing. For next year, I would like to replace all the desks with high tables so that I don’t have to bend down. (By the way, I am 6′.)
2. I have to teach students technology and reading. This may seem like a lesson I should have figured out when I wrote the proposal, and I did think about it. Heck, I attended a district Google summit this summer. Even though there were lots of sessions on how to use certain Google features and some great insider tips on how to use them with students, I underestimated the number of features I’d need to introduce and overestimated the students’ ability to use technology to learn. In other words, how to manipulate the technology to make their improve the learning experience. I have to think about what apps, extensions, techniques they need to know and be able to do in order to use the technology to benefit their reading, language development, speaking and listening. For example, I asked students to read a text in Google docs and respond to a question on Google Classroom. Many students did not know how to navigate between apps, and only a handful knew that they could view the text in one window and the question in another — side-by-side. I know there is an extension for this, but we went with a lesson on sizing and moving windows and tabs in the moment. Here’s another example: you know how you can send out a document through Google Classroom, making a copy for each student? Well, that doesn’t work with forms. I wanted students to use a form to track their own reading progress using a form template I made. Instead, I spent time teaching how to make a form — an important tool, but that was time we weren’t reading. I have to be more strategic with how and when to teach the tech tools just like I have to be with reading strategies.
3. I need a tech-free day. I think the students do, too. After four days of setting up and practicing Google Classroom, blogs, forms, assignments, and questions, I had planned to start on our first project using the Chromebooks, but I woke up Friday morning wanting a tech-free day. Our first project is called “Tell me your story.” One student asks another student for his/her story, takes notes, renders the story into a third-person narrative with help ultimately seeking consent to publish the story. The purpose it to recognize that the stories we read in books come from or are inspired by real people and that the stories are published for us to read because authors (also real people) craft those stories into texts. In this project, we study the author’s craft while renewing our appreciation for the source of stories. Friday was the day students were going to ask for and take notes on their partner’s story. I had modeled how to balance eye contact with typing notes using Chromebooks; I had modeled how to pose questions to elicit elaboration; I had modeled how to respond when someone tells a sad bit or a proud moment while trying to take notes. However, I just didn’t want to take the chance that the screen might literally come between two human beings relating about a life experience. So, I opted for a tech-free day, and it was glorious. Okay, so the first few minutes were awkward — really awkward — but once the story-telling began, the room filled with conversations, follow-up questions, and compassion for…
…the time I got fleas
…my first funeral
…how I crossed the border
…I thought it was candy but it was medicine
…I accidentally killed a cat in Mexico
…my pet bunny saved my life.
I know that the students will collaborate on their stories in Google docs and that they will read each other’s stories on Kidblog. Technology will bring people together and help everyone have access to each others’ stories. But sometimes, it is best to leave the Chromebooks in the carts so that we can swim in a little social awkwardness, rekindle our love of live storytelling, ask questions using our voices, react to facial expressions in the moment, and just look into each others’ eyes.
My plan is for Fridays to be tech-free days. Students will do oral storytelling and “text” responses to develop our speaking and listening skills.