“I am constantly amazed at what kindergarten children can do when they are given a chance to learn at their own level. I feel that teaching with technology has helped me support student learning so much that I could not even think of how to teach without it.”
When an interactive whiteboard was installed in her classroom, kindergarten teacher Rachel Ashby was only taught how to turn it on and off. Now she is using the technology for every aspect of instruction, from assessment to differentiation. How did she do it? What advice does she have for other teachers looking to enhance student learning through technology? Read on to find out!
Name: Rachel Ashby
School: Uintah Elementary School
District: Weber School District
How did you first start using technology in the classroom?
After my first year teaching I moved schools. I began moving my stuff into the new school and I noticed this large box in my classroom. On the outside of the box in large letters was “SMART”. I had never seen or heard of SMART Boards before. I found out that a SMART Board would be installed in my classroom. I wasn’t too excited because I didn’t really know what it was or how I would use it with young children. The school and surrounding community raised enough money to install SMART Boards in every single classroom. I was unsure how my young students (5 and 6 year olds) would be able to use it. Nevertheless, I began using it and creating simple lessons and activities. I began to realize how well it worked to engage the students and that it was an opportunity for me to become a more effective teacher.
I had very limited training (basically how to turn it on and off) and I did a lot of trial and error that first year. The next year I began using it more and more and was using worksheets less and less. The following year I began a Masters of Education program and registered for a SMART Board class. This class had a dramatic impact on how I have continued to use it in my classroom as a teaching and assessment tool. The class taught me how to plan lessons more effectively, provide differentiation for all learners, and incorporate informal/ formal assessment.
After that class I began adding to my current lessons and found I could teach my students more effectively with this powerful teaching method. After my hard work and seeing the results with my own students, I began to share my new skills and information with many other teachers and I also taught a class at a district technology conference. I became so interested and excited about teaching young children with technology that I focused my Master’s Thesis on young children and the use of technology in the classroom. I also recently had 40 people from WSD and the Chamber of Commerce come and watch me present a lesson with my students using the SMART Board and SMART Response. They were amazed at how well the young students interacted and learned using the technology. I am very passionate about using technology to teach young learners and consider myself lucky to have access to the tools to help support student learning.
How are you currently using technology in the classroom?
I am using technology to TEACH!! People often think of technology as an “extra” thing to use after you have taught a lesson or to use for games. I use technology to teach whole group and small group lessons, to formally and informally assess student learning, help scaffold students, and provide differentiated instruction for all learners. I find that most teachers create activity pages in the SMART Notebook software. I use the software to create lessons. Within each lesson I connect to background knowledge, present new knowledge, use informal assessment to check for understanding during the lesson, create differentiated activities to practice a new skill, and finally give a formal assessment to demonstrate understanding. I basically use it for every part of a lesson and teaching!! One parent asked me the other day: “Where are all the worksheets? My child has not brought home any worksheets.” I replied, “We don’t do many worksheets. The students participate in interactive lessons on the SMART Board and use manipulatives in the classroom.” She was very surprised. I think teachers need to use technology as teaching tool and use it to replace other less effective teaching practices.
What specific tool has had the most impact?
It hasn’t been one specific tool, but rather an idea that has had the greatest impact on me. I think the idea of using technology as a teaching tool and using it to teach–not using it just for games. Using technology to change the way I present new information, check for understanding, provide differentiation and scaffolding, and doing assessments has had the most significant impact on me and my students. Many educators resist implementing the use of technology because they cannot see how it will transform the way they teach and how the students will learn. It was amazing when I realized how important it was to embrace teaching with technology and the benefits for my students.
How has using technology impacted student learning?
Technology has impacted student learning in a remarkable way. I have had several other educators and administrators observe my class learning with technology and they are always amazed that the children are using higher levels of thinking. Technology supports ELL learners and provides differentiated instruction for each and every student. Every year it seems I am required to teach more concepts in the same amount of time. I am able to present new ideas and make connections with students more efficiently using technology. I am constantly amazed at what kindergarten children can do when they are given a chance to learn at their own level. I feel that teaching with technology has helped me support student learning so much that I could not even think of how to teach without it.
What challenges have you encountered? How have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge that I have is time! I wish I had more time to develop lessons to support student learning. I also wish I had the time to share my knowledge of effectively integrating technology into a classroom with other educators. I also struggled in the beginning because I received no training on how to incorporate technology in a classroom or how to use the software. I understand that colleges are now providing that instruction in teacher education programs, but I didn’t have any training prior to getting the SMART Board in my classroom. I overcame the lack of training by spending time trying things—some worked and some didn’t. I also tried to build upon what worked for me and my students. It is so easy to complain that your district or school isn’t providing enough time or training with technology, which may be true. However, we need to be active learners ourselves and seek out the training and help we need to integrate technology into our instruction.
Another struggle I had was to convince my administrator that younger students can use and need to use technology just as much as the older students. I had to wait several years to get the SMART Response for my young students when the older students already had them. It is also frustrating because the young students are often the last to get technology resources and administrators need to see how valuable technology is for all students. I would suggest educating yourself and then showing/convincing your administrator how it can positively impact student learning. Overall, my advice would be: don’t give up! We tell our students all the time to keep trying and they will be successful—we also need to continue learning about and incorporating technology into our classrooms.
What tips would you give to other teachers?
• Use technology as a teaching tool—don’t only use it as an activity center!!
• Don’t give up!
• Ask others for help.
• Start! It seems overwhelming at first, but start somewhere and then add a little more and soon you will have an amazing collection of interactive lessons.
• Collaborate, collaborate, and collaborate! Even if other teachers at your school are not willing to collaborate with you, find someone at another school who is using technology to collaborate with.
• Attend technology training and learn new techniques. Make sure to share what you have learned and teach/help others.
• Keep an open mind. It will allow you to accept and try new techniques to help change your way of thinking and start to see technology as a tool to teach in an amazing way!
• Technology can be a powerful teaching tool but you have to change the way you think about presenting and teaching a lesson. It’s not about the technology; it’s about what you are going to do with it to change pedagogy and student achievement.
• ”Teachers will be the single most important source of guidance in making their schools technologically relevant and effective places to learn” (Tapscott, D. (1999). Educating the next generation. Educational Leadership, 56 (5), 6-11).