Right now, digital technology is rapidly evolving and finding a place in classrooms all around the world. Long gone are the days when educators could blissfully ignore the technologies that were available to them. Now, it’s necessary for educators to embrace all sorts of technologies or be left behind (and lose their students along the way.) An example of this in the state of Idaho comes to how reading fluency is measured. For years, the state of Idaho has measured reading fluency K-3 using what is called the IRI (Idaho Reading Indicator.) Hard copy probes were/are administered by teachers to students in a school to measure oral reading fluency. Currently, the state is going through the process of adopting a more comprehensive reading test called the ISIP that is computer based rather than paper. (ISIP stands for IStation’s indicators of progress, and it is a test developed by the company IStation to measure reading fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling.) Teachers who have avoided putting students on the computer for lack of their own tech comfort can no longer avoid the situation. Technology in the classroom is something teachers cannot escape.
In lower elementary classrooms, tech trends find their place differently than in upper elementary and secondary classes. Young children require the foundational skills in literacy, so that drives most of the instruction in K-2. As we transition to a world driven by technology, digital literacy is a skill set that all students must have, and it begins in the early elementary years. When I teach children skills for being a good reader, I am not teaching them every word they will ever encounter. Rather, I am teaching them skills to be able to decode every word they come across. This is the same concept with digital literacy and fluency. There is no reasonable way that a teacher can teach his or her students how to use every type of technology. However, by exposure to different types and learning the problem-solving skills that come with using technology, students will have the know-how to figure out many types of technology. In my second grade classroom, I try to teach my students to not be afraid of technology. This isn’t a hard task in most cases considering my students were born into the world at a time when technology is taking off. Most of my students come to me knowing how to use touch devices like smartphones and tablets. Using apps is second nature to my students. The internet and desktop computers, on the other hand, are still a foreign concept to them. When I teach new things on the computer or internet, I try to relate it back to what they might already know from using iPods and tablets. In the CoSN Horizon Report 2017 K-12 edition, the author states that students need to “be able to make connections between the tools and intended outcomes.” An example of this is teaching my students to use word processors for writing stories. My students have access to both desktop computers running Windows and Google Chromebooks for typing up writing projects. The go-to word processor for Windows has been Microsoft Word. But as the students transition from desktops to Chromebooks, they need to be able to use web-based software like Google Docs to make documents. My job for making that transition easier is to help them see the connections between both tools. Once students recognize the similarities between the programs, they realize that they can figure out how to use both.
Coding as literacy is a tech trend that has slowly started entering my second grade classroom. Websites such as Code.org have made teaching code and the problem-solving skills of programming easier for a beginning coder such as myself. Coding is something even my students who struggle with reading, work to be successful at. As students work with code and practice debugging and getting programs to run as they want, those skills can transfer to academic subjects. In my classroom, we try to use the word algorithm whenever we are describing a set of steps for something. In math coding takes the form of students explaining how they used the addition algorithm. In English Language Arts subjects, coding carries over into grammar when students describe the steps for making sure a sentence is complete. When I teach reading, I help students use concepts like debugging to “debug comprehension” and figure out where they picked up a misunderstanding about a story.
Coding itself helps build important skills necessary for reading literacy. Students practice decoding (reading) and encoding (writing or spelling) at the same time that they are creating a program. Some students—especially those who struggle with reading—feel like they can get by in life without having to read or write. When I stick them on Code.org in a course or Hour of Code activity, I have those same students realize that they need to read things to be able to accomplish the task at hand. I see the problem-solving skills my students gain from learning code, transfer into whatever subject we are learning.
As I think about how tech trends impact the way I teach, I mostly see the need for helping students be confident and comfortable with technology. When I teach ELA subjects, it’s necessary that I provide my students with opportunities to experience the technologies that come with it. Whether it’s reading and grammar, or math and science, technology is going to play a significant role as we keep moving forward in education.
Freeman, A., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Davis, A., and Hall Giesinger, C. (2017). NMC/CoSN Horizon Report: 2017 K–12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.