New technology tools available for teachers bring new challenges, and English teachers are not exempt from these issues. In fact, English and language arts teachers are wise to navigate these issues and leverage the powerful tools available in this major content area. This post will discuss what some of the obstacles are and integration strategies to best overcome them. While I have added my own thoughts and other resources as cited, I relied heavily on Chapter 9 called “Teaching and Learning with Technology in English and Language Arts Instruction” (Roblyer & Doering, 2012) for this post.
In their 2012 book Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching, Roblyer and Doering state, “Reading, writing, and critically analyzing written communications are considered fundamental skills for a literate person, and technologies have much to offer teachers as they help their students develop these skills. However, technologies have also brought about dramatic changes in the format and types of communications that literate people must deal with, thus presenting an array of new challenges to English and language arts teachers” (p. 266). The new challenges are very real, but also present exciting opportunities for both teachers and students.
Because technology changes so rapidly, the definition of digital literacy is also fluid. The University of Illinois defines it on their website in three parts: 1) The ability to use digital technology, communication tools or networks to locate, evaluate, use and create information; 2) The ability to understand and use information in multiple formats from a wide range of sources when it is presented via computers; and 3) A person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment… Literacy includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation, and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments (http://www.library.illinois.edu/diglit/definition.html). This is a powerful definition that not only involves using the technology itself, but understanding, evaluating, and interpreting information. Taking it a step further, students must be able to perform tasks more effectively and apply new knowledge as a result of such literacy. Hence, English and language arts teachers are responsible for much more than reading and writing. They must equip their students with 21st Century digital literacy skills.
Need for New Instructional Strategies
Patricia Edwards, then-president of the International Reading Association, stated in 2010, “If students are to successfully meet the social, political, and economic demands of their futures, they must be able to adapt and reinvent the ways that they read and write the world” (p. 22). She further notes that teachers must be willing to take risks and to adapt their instructional approaches and classroom resources in new and imaginative ways (Edwards, 2010). Teachers can’t rely on old instructional strategies to teach new technology skills.
Today’s classrooms are more diverse, and often include students of all backgrounds who are learning English for the first time. Some students struggle with attention disorders or learning disabilities, and many need additional support in reading and writing. There are many technology tools that can wisely be used to support this diverse group of learners. Another challenge English teachers face is motivating students to write, as students are reading less for pleasure and struggle more with basic reading and writing skills. Ebooks, blogs, wikis, and similar tools can greatly help in this area. Much is expected of teachers, and professional development and training must support them in their efforts. Administrators everywhere must make professional development a priority if teachers are going to be equipped with enough 21st Century skills to impact our students.
“The transformation of our culture from an Industrial Age to an Information Age is why a new kind of literacy, coupled with a new way of learning, is critical for today’s classroom teacher” (Edwards, 2010). Though demanding, this is an exciting time to be a teacher, and fortunately there are many tools that can assist in this great undertaking.
Integration Strategies (Solutions!)
I love the following technology integration strategies listed by Roblyer and Doering (2012, p. 273-274) and feel they are worth a repeat here (click the image to see it as a full-size PDF with hyperlinks):
Of those listed, I feel one of the most powerful and effective ideas is digital publishing of students’ work. This can be done through a class blog or wiki, or through an individual assignment such as creating an eBook in a particular area. I recently designed a sample activity using eBooks for young students that meets cross-content area objectives. Students enjoy this type of activity, and are generally more motivated to write if they know others will read what they have written.
There are countless tools available to English and language arts teachers that help instill stronger literacy skills in students. Technology integration can be overwhelming but that shouldn’t keep teachers from starting small, starting somewhere. Pick one tool, one website to try. Then another. Great technology tools plus great teachers equals better equipped students with digital literacy skills. Our kids are worth the extra effort!
Digital literacy definition and resources. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.library.illinois.edu/diglit/definition.html
Edwards, P. (2010). Reconceptualizing literacy. Reading Today, 27(6), 22.
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2012). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (6th ed.). Allyn & Bacon.