Technology can be a great tool for enhancing instruction; however, along with the positive aspects of integrating technology, there can be obstacles that make it difficult to integrate technology into different content areas. Language Arts instruction is an area that can be difficult to find ways to effectively integrate technology, especially in an elementary school setting. In an article by authors Barone and Wright, the point is made that literacy is shifting from the paper and pencil forms that have long been known to more interactive and adaptive literacies that involve technology (2013). Students need to learn to be literate in more ways than with just books. However, as pointed out by Barone and Wright, “Simply using software programs on computers does not prepare students for new literacies’ expectations,” (2013). We can expose students to all sorts of technology for instructional purposes, but it will take a deeper connection and interaction for students to really be able to gain from using technology in the classroom.
In an elementary school setting, integrating technology into ELA instruction can be a challenge because there is a lack of resources directed at elementary aged students. Many of the resources I have checked out for elementary ELA instruction rely heavily on students having solid reading skills. The tools would be better suited for older elementary or middle school students. Every time I have made my lesson plans with the integrated resources, I’ve thought about the handful of students I have who cannot effectively read on their own. Many of the games and practice tools I have found are time sensitive, so students who are not established readers will struggle. When I am looking for resources, I try to be conscious of how each student will be able to interact with the technology. With ELA activities, reading ability can play a huge role in students’ sense of success or failure. With math activities and games, students can often get by because they can just look for numbers. As a teacher, I find it hard to justify resources that won’t be suitable for all students. In second grade ELA, there are many activities that just don’t make the cut. To get past this challenge, it’s important for teachers to be aware of the activities and games they select for students to use. It’s easier to find ELA resources that would work for older students, and if I didn’t really look into the activities, I could end up sending my students to an activity that is way over the ability level of some students.
Sometimes integrating technology into ELA instruction in an elementary classroom is limited by students’ abilities to manipulate and use the technology itself. I love having my students type up stories and “publish” them by printing them out. But younger students need to be instructed on how to use word processors and sometimes computers in general before they can create an end product. That can take a significant amount of time that we just don’t have. When I have my students work on writing projects, it is a lot easier to skip the computer and have them handwrite it all. If I choose to not use the computers, I don’t have to plan to teach them how to access the program, save documents, or use a keyboard. I also don’t have to plan the extra time it takes my students to type instead of write. Realistically, if I want to make the best use of my instructional time for writing, I won’t have my students use the computer. However, I still choose to use computers and word processors in my writing instruction because sometimes the exposure to the tools and skills are more important than quickly finishing the writing projects. Overcoming this challenge requires flexibility from teachers on lesson pacing. Until students get used to using technology, it will take more time. When it comes to ELA instruction, it seems like there is barely enough time to hit everything we need to in a day without involving a computer, but if I teach my students how to type and use a word processor now, I will build a foundation for later lessons and the teachers in upper grades.
Another obstacle for integrating technology into ELA instruction is finding resources that fit into classroom and school budgets. Many of the tools I find and like cost money to use or to have all the features I want. My school operates in a way that teachers can do whatever they want in their classrooms with technology as long as it doesn’t cost money. When I start looking at different apps, programs, or websites I would love to use in my ELA instruction and see that it costs money, I almost instantly lose interest. Websites with interactive e-books such as Tumblebooks require subscriptions to access the content. Sites that are designed to aid in foundational reading skills instruction often require a subscription for each student. Even when a subscription is as low as $6 per student, it adds up quickly. My classroom budget, year to year, is entirely dependent upon how many students I have in my class, and at my school, we see a lot of variation in the number of students in each grade every year. Because of variations in budgets, something may be affordable one year but out of the question the next. It makes me a little bitter when I see online games, activities, or tools that would fit perfectly with one of my reading units or grammar lessons but realize they cost money. When we are so strapped on our budgets, it’s hard to justify spending money on something that may only get used a few times a school year. If I’m going to pay money, this thing better be awesome. This obstacle can be overcome by looking for similar free alternatives, finding donations, writing grants, or working with administrators to find budget money for some of the tools you can justify.
Technology has a lot of potential to help teachers provide better instruction. When it comes to ELA, I struggle to find ways to effectively use technology because I value that instructional time. It’s hard to give an extra 20-30 minutes for playing practice games when I could have students do two or three things with pencil and paper during that time. But as I have learned to be more flexible in my teaching style, I see that students are more engaged in my language arts instruction when it involves technology which means the students learn more in the time spent on the activity. While there are obstacles that can limit a teacher’s desire or ability to use technology in ELA instruction, it is worth the trouble to find a solution for your classroom.
Barone, D., & Wright, T. E. (2013, December 23). Literacy Instruction with Digital and Media Technologies. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from http://www.readingrockets.org/article/literacy-instruction-digital-and-media-technologies