In my previous post, I shared a bit about my journey to the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy and my own personal transformation. It was evident, the Institute prompted me to take a step back and rethink how I approached coaching conversations and supported teachers with technology and digital literacies.
When I returned to my role as a technology integration coach, I was eager to begin sharing my newfound knowledge on digital literacy, its importance in literacy instruction, and how it shares similarities and differences with traditional, or offline, reading comprehension.
I quickly began setting up meetings with teachers, gathering resources, and gearing up to change the worlds of technology and literacy in my district.
Then came my first conversation with a classroom teacher:
Teacher: “I want to use iPads more in my classroom. How do I do that?”
Me: “That’s a great idea. What is the learning target or standard you’re wanting to address with the iPad?”
T: “Um…I don’t know. All of them. I’ve just been told I need to use more technology in my teaching.”
M: “Ok, we can start there. How would you say your current instruction supports the development of digital literacies in your students?”
T: “….well, they know how to use computers, sort of.”
You see, I had entered this conversation only considering my newly honed perspective and understanding of digital tools and practices. I had not considered the teacher’s experience and exposure to the concepts of digital literacy. I had returned from my experiences in Rhode Island with the blind excitement of a child, forgetting the best practices we know as educators. What is the teacher’s background knowledge and experience with this topic? What biases or beliefs does the teacher bring to the conversation? What misconceptions need to be overcome before we can begin moving towards the goal of purposeful planning for digital literacy instruction?
I regrouped, and a few days later, entered another classroom:
Teacher: “My principal told me I need to incorporate more technology, but I don’t think it’s needed. How is technology going to help them on a test?”
Me: “I understand your perspective. How do you see yourself using technology in the classroom?”
T: “Well, I heard you can scan in worksheets and have students write on them with the iPad. I want to do that.”
This teacher was expressing the most common theme I hear when visiting classrooms. They want to take what they’re already doing and digitize it. They don’t want to give up the routine of checking off questions on a worksheet to demonstrate student mastery (though I question what the student is actually mastering in these situations). It is here that I find my most difficult struggle with balancing the learning outcomes teachers expect, what teachers are able to do with technology, and what is best practice for students. I want to shout from the rooftops about how video production, web navigation, podcast creation, blog publication, and more can help students internalize literacy skills that will last a lifetime, help them become critical and competent users of media, and transfer across content areas. But I also try to come down from these rooftops and meet teachers on their level, listen to their concerns about high stakes testing, and help them take a small step forward all while envisioning the path this first step could lead us down. Teachers have zones of proximal development too, and I feel tension navigating them at times.
Finally, I present my most recent conversation with a primary grade teacher who was taking part in a grade-level discussion on technology integration:
To set some context, this was a first-grade team meeting at a local elementary school. One of the teachers on the grade level had worked with her young students using multiple technologies to facilitate learning including learning management systems, cloud-based storage, shared documents, and digital social spaces. She used think-aloud strategies as she modeled digital literacy practices. Her students mostly approximated these skills at first, but with time and consistency in teacher modeling, they began to use the digital tools effectively. This grade-level meeting was called to discuss what was happening in the teacher’s classroom where technology was creating engagement and increased student performance.
Teacher: “I know we’re here to talk about technology, but these kids use too much technology at home. I want to give them a break from it at school.”
Me: “That’s an interesting perspective to take. Explain more if you don’t mind.”
T: “Well, they’re on those violent video games all afternoon, or using whatever social media they use to rot their brains or get bullied. I want to create a safe space for them here, so we don’t use technology in my classroom.”
This interaction made me recognize the perception that technology is an “add-on” in our lives. This teacher viewed technology as completely separate from the everyday processes in her classroom and in her students’ lives. She was also positioning technology as something negative, blind to its possibilities. It reminds me of a colleague of mine, Dan Koch (@danvkoch) who routinely asks teachers to move from saying, “Yeah, but…” to “What if…”. So instead of saying, “Yeah, but social media opens the doors for bullying,” shifting towards, “What if I could model for my students how to use social media to create social change.” Or instead of, “Yeah, but video games rot their brains and instill violent behaviors,” considering, “What if I used gaming platforms as a pathway into conversations about the implications of virtual identities and actions on real-world relationships?”
It’s all about perspectives. I’ve always come from a perspective of technology being a part of my identity; it’s something I enjoy and feel comfortable enacting and integrating. When I heard about the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, I had the perspective of being a novice entering a world of experts, but that changed on day one of the Institute as I was treated like an equal and my thoughts considered as powerful input into the conversations surrounding digital literacy. Then, as I took my new knowledge and experience back into my context, I was reminded that others hold perspectives different from my own, and I must consider these as I begin conversations about digital literacy. We are all at different places on our journeys towards embracing the shift in education as it pertains to digital tools and practices. I can choose to leave people behind as I continue alone down my personal journey, or I can pull over, take my time, meet them where they’re at, and invite them to join me in discovering this path together.
Meg Jones is a technology integration coach in Citrus County, Florida, supporting in-service teachers with digital literacies and classroom technology integration. She earned her Masters in Reading from the University of South Florida and is currently enrolled in University of Rhode Island’s Graduate Certificate in Digital Literacy program.