How Routines Can Help You Embrace EdTech in Your Classroom
Last week, I wrote a little bit about how I want to establish more clear routines and procedures this semester and it got me thinking about where and when routines benefit my students and me the most. As I wrote before, my big takeaway from the first semester of this year was the need to begin and end each class, in the same way, each day so students know where to find the information they need to be successful.
But another area where I know from experience routines are helpful is when implementing technology. Now, I am not talking about how you check out devices (though that does help) I am talking about the actual lessons you do.
When you are new to using technology in the classroom it can seem overwhelming at first, there are just so many apps and tools and cool lesson designs and incredible ways to connect your classroom with the world and so on and so on. But if you are new to using tech in your classroom there are three realities you need to face: 1) you can't do it all 2) you are going to have to teach your students your digital expectations and 3) you will need to teach the students how to use the tools.
You Can't Do It All
This is a hard one for me because so often I equate routines with monotony and so I am always looking for ways to spice up my classroom and it can often lead to me wanting to try everything out there. But the reality is that I do not have time to learn every single new app or tool and that isn't what is best for student learning in my classroom. Each new tool or lesson design I try means I need to teach my students those tools and expectations as well. That is going to take away from the content and skills I am here to teach if I try and do EVERYTHING that is out there for me to try.
This is where if you put pedagogy first the right tools will fall into place for your students and your classroom. You might use the same 4 digital tools all year and if you put pedagogy first then that is absolutely okay. It is not about the tool, it is not about winning some award for how many apps did you use this year, it is about good teaching. Technology allows for greater collaboration, creativity, choice, and student voice. Technology allows teachers to give feedback more efficiently, grade smarter so you can spend more time on feedback and connecting with students, and technology creates more authentic learning experiences that can easily adapt to what is happening right this minute to help keep students engaged.
So if you are new to using technology in the classroom don't be overwhelmed by all the possibilities instead, find the options that will best support learning in your classroom. Learn a handful of tools well and then I promise it will become easier to add more to your toolbox when you are ready but you don't need to learn them all to start creating an effective blended learning environment.
You Are Going To Have To Teach Your Students Your Digital Expectations
Students have their own digital world with their own digital rules and their own digital culture. As much as you may want to mock the worlds they have created via Instagram or Fortnite, these are digital spaces where young people have created their own culture with their own norms. The norms they have created for those worlds are not the norms you are going to want for your digital classroom experiences so you need to be clear, specific, and direct about your digital expectations and you need to take time to teach those expectations to your students.
This is the same as setting students up for success by going over your classroom expectations, in fact, you can add it as part of how you teach those norms for students. But if you don't set the expectations from day one, they will default to how they understand communication to happen digitally and that is when you get incomplete sentences with slang that you can't comprehend. When you don't teach the expectations from the start you may then have to address each student individually. I see this most with my own students with digital discussions, students need clear expectations on what and how to contribute. This doesn't mean you need to have a rigid set of how many sentences but it doesn't hurt to start that way for the first few digital discussions so students understand the norms and expectations.
One of the hardest things to remember is that just because the students in your classroom might be entrenched in a digital world, that is not the same as the digital space you are going to create as a teacher. Just as with any lesson, by setting clear expectations from the start you will get better results from your students.
You Will Need To Teach Students How To Use The Tools
I will often forget this one, especially if my students have done really well with one tool for a long time I will try and throw a new tool at them and forget that they were successful with the first one because I taught them how to use it. Again, your students might have a robust digital life but that doesn't translate to knowing the tools you would use in a classroom to create and communicate. It is worth your time to review the basics of these tools with students before diving into them.
At the start of the year, a lot of my students will tell me they hate using technology in the classroom. They struggle with tech because the tech they know at home and the tech they are expected to use in the classroom are not at all the same. Students might be amazing video editors using Snapchat or Instagram but they won't know how to navigate Adobe Spark unless you show them how.
This is another reason why if you are new to creating blended learning experiences it is okay if you stick with a few solid tools to get you started or until you feel comfortable with incorporating a digital space in your classroom. You will need to take the time to teach students how to use most tools so if you have 50 tools you want to try out, that is going to take away from the other stuff you need to do in your classroom. But if you use 5 tools consistently all year, if you make digital routines within your lesson planning, it is easier to throw in a new tool now and then to spice things up without taking away from the goal: teaching the content and skills aligned with your class.
But Why Should I Take The Time To Do Any Of This?
Right now, you might be thinking that this sounds like a lot of time to give up in order to incorporate digital lessons and to create a blended environment. When you are first starting out and when your students are first starting out, it does take some time. This is where establishing digital routines for you and your students will make it easier to cross that bridge and create a more blended environment.
The value of blended learning and what it will allow your students and you to do is worth the extra time it may take to get started. If you start with clear expectations, routines, norms, and making time to teach students how to use the tools then you will have more time throughout the year to use these digital spaces to their fullest.
The reality is, we don't know what types of jobs we are preparing our students for. My reality is before I was a teacher my ability to adapt to technology quickly often led to promotions and job stability that I wouldn't have had otherwise. We cannot ignore that more and more work occurs in digital spaces and requires a level of digital literacy that students won't get from Instagram or Fortnite. By creating a blended classroom not only can you create a more personalized learning experience with greater authenticity and more efficient feedback but students will get some of the skills they need to navigate their future careers.
If you have no idea where to start and I have just seriously overwhelmed you, I suggest reading EduProtcols. This book does a fantastic job of giving you some solid digital lesson templates that can be used with any content area to help you get you and your students working in digital spaces. My big takeaway from this book was by creating digital routines you can focus more on the learning, not the tools, and in the end, learning is always the goal.