Note this is one of the posts I will be bringing over from my previous blog. This was originally posted on February 20, 2012.
One of the things I struggled with as an inexperienced teacher was how to engage students in my lessons. This was even more challenging when you factor in that I was teaching ELA. Engaging students in writing pieces was normally as simple as allowing them to have some choice in regards to the topic. Engaging students in grammatical lessons was much more challenging. To be perfectly honest some of the grammar units that I needed to teach were boring for me, so I could only imagine how boring they were for fifth and sixth graders.
My first year these grammar units were very challenging to teach, because my students weren’t engaged. The fact that the “best” way to teach these lessons was directly from the textbook definitely did not help matters. Fortunately, strictly grammar units were only roughly a third of the curriculum. Of course grammar was always part of writing assignments, but I taught those grammar mini-lessons only when a specific skill needed to be reviewed or taught. Teaching grammar from the textbook was something that really made both my teaching and my students learning less enjoyable. I did and still do recognize that the ability to use a textbook to learn and as a resource is a skill that is necessary beyond fifth and sixth grades. However, at the same time this is a skill that can be better taught using social studies and/or science textbooks.
From my time as a student I knew that technology was a way to get the attention of my students. I also knew from my education course work that technology should not be used simply as the hook (tool to engage). A good teacher can create lessons that use technology to enhance and add to the value of a lesson. That is what true technology integration can and should do; engage the students, enhance the lesson and add value to the lesson.
Unfortunately, my first year I had little technology to combat these strictly textbook grammar units. I would supplement textbook work with some worksheets, editing practice, and overhead transparencies, but in most cases these methods did little to increase student engagement. The average grades of my students were in the C to C+ range, so about what one would think of as average.
My second year I was given a secondhand data projector and document camera. This allowed me to do many of the same things I did with the overhead projector, but it also allowed me to instantly project the textbook onto the screen. While to an adult this doesn’t sound overly exciting. For some reason to fifth and sixth graders this projection of the textbook had a huge impact in regards to engagement. Students who I had in fifth grade and resisted following along in the textbook suddenly were following along intently when the textbook was projected using the data projector. This really helped solve two issues. The first issue was the attentiveness of my students. The second issue was not having to send students to the hallway or their homeroom to get their forgotten textbooks, now they could just follow along on the screen. The average grades of my students also improved slightly and were now in the C+ to B- range. This increase was due to my gained experience as an educator, but also in part to my use of technology.
My third and fourth years of teaching I was able to add a permanently “borrowed” laptop to my projector-document camera set up. This allowed me to take the textbook lessons and transform each into a rudimentary PowerPoint presentation. These presentations were nothing spectacular and really were just a more colorful, but less distracting version of the textbook lessons. Suddenly, nearly all of my students had a new found love for grammar. Even when I pointed out that the presentations were very similar (in reality the same) as what was in the textbook the students still looked forward to grammar units. Unfortunately, without an interactive whiteboard the student interaction with the technology was limited. Even with the limited interaction I was able to integrate the technology in way that added to the success of my lessons. The average scores for my students made another gain and now were in the B to B+ range.
In the past two years I have shifted from teaching two sections of both fifth and sixth grade English to only teaching English to my homeroom students (I now teach social studies to both fifth and sixth graders). This year my homeroom students are fifth graders, while last year I had a sixth grade homeroom. At the beginning of last school year a SMART interactive whiteboard was installed in my classroom. I was able to get funding through a grant. The interactive whiteboard allowed my students to easily interact with my previously created grammar PowerPoint presentations. My students could now come up to the front of the room and write answers to the practice exercises. This interaction with technology added to even more improvement in the overall average grades, raising them to the B+ to A- range.
Technology has had a large impact in my students over the past six years. My original lack of technology was a blessing in disguise since it allowed me to “see” the impact technology could have on my students. Of course I would be foolish to think technology was the only factor. It should be noted that as with all professionals, I have worked and improved my teaching skills during my six years. However, I believe some of the improvement was directly related to the integration of technology in grammar my lessons