Monthly Archives: November 2014

Teach the Small Things

Recently, I read an article about the use of digital technology in the classroom. I loved the way the authors outlined all of the important ways we can and should apply technological tools to raise the level of student achievement. The use of technology is authentic: in my work life, I rely on my computer to develop content, peruse new information related to my field, and connect with other like-minded (and otherwise) people in education to gain a broader understanding.

iphoneoct14 021

It made me think about the ice cream cone. One way to reduce laundry and hassle might be to spoon feed my son this summer treat, but sometimes, the best way to learn to eat an ice cream cone is to just eat an ice cream cone with someone you love by your side. It can get messy! With some gentle reminders, feedback and modeling (Lick the sides! Eat the top first! That’s the way!) we get better and better at it. The most important thing is that we are learning new things all the time as we discover the world, while doing something that we enjoy.

In my work with teachers and students, I find that lessons involving technology can be extremely engaging and powerful, or they can serve to fit a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. There are many teachers who are understandably scared of the management that will happen when you plan your entire lesson around a tech tool. The idea of “it gets messy” can be very uncomfortable. Others might feel that with so much to cover, taking time to explicitly teach individual skills that are specific to a device, application, or task might detract from other subjects.  Many of us assume that kids get so much screen time at home and they are better with the technology that we are. This may be true, especially in the sense that often show willingness to discover and play when handed a new device. Their open mind and natural curiosity is a springboard. However, my two year old son has a natural inclination to flip books, point to words, name them, and turn pages. He likes to discover what he can about these important tools. Yet I wouldn’t for a minute think that this would be the only instruction he would get over the next few years.

To teach readers, we let them explore books that are carefully chosen. Then, we take a more directed approach to teaching skills necessary to discover more about books and reading. Sorting out for students all of the things they need to know about the world is a HUGE job, and is best done by both  teachers and parents. I give my daughters and students feedback on their computer based tasks, teach  tricks and tips, have them watch me manage frustration with a platform,  and let them explore.  In the future, their ability to decide when they don’t know something and then find out where they can go to get the answer will be a useful skill that doesn’t have to take time away from your lesson on punctuation. Who’s to say they can’t have a tab open with a grammar rules references site, just as many professionals might? {author’s note: just looked up something on the GrammarGirl website to improve that last paragraph.}

Lessons on specific skills & strategies and sometimes just one-to-one conferences about the little tricks and trips that YOU find helpful to you as a reader. Some of the “mini-lessons” that I have done, or seen, that have helped students move forward more confidently in order to apply the learning goals to the new technology might have looked like this:

  • a mini-lesson on how to use tab, center, justify and align keys embedded into a mini-lesson in the writing workshop on paragraphing
  • one-on-one conferring about how to cut & paste during the revision process
  • Whole group “exploration” time to show tips and tricks when working with a new device
  • Partner coaching session on web browsing: back button, bookmarking, and tabs
  • Explicit instruction through developing anchor charts for web research

image comes from, with another awesome article on Teaching Reliable Sources and Citations

Classrooms where students feel confident in their ability to troubleshoot, but are also led by educators  willing to use trial & error, model, discuss and teach the “little things” are excellent places to promote the skills students will need in the 21st century.