The Journey Towards Best Practices Using Technology

Best practices in the classroom can mean many things, but there are some common attributes I think we can all agree on:
•    active student involvement
•    meaningful, real-world connections
•    higher-order thinking
•    student ownership of learning

As technology continues its march into our teaching and learning spaces, we have to infuse some common best practices into our technology use. Integrating the practices into our teaching with technology doesn’t happen overnight. Really, it’s a lifelong journey since technologies constantly change and evolve.

Eric on Beach


From Some Practice to Best Practice
Through my work as a teacher, author, and professional developer, I've had the opportunity to guide teachers along this journey. I am currently teaching in a K-5 Title I National Distinguished School in Oregon as a Technology Integration Specialist. When I arrived at our school in the fall of 2007, our technology practices consisted mainly of using document cameras to project teacher-driven material and student computer use for word processing. Don't get me wrong—best practices were infused throughout the teaching day—but they didn't really extend into the realm of technology use.

Rather than look at this situation as a negative, I decided to build on the great teaching already in place at our school. I started with observing and documenting the existing best practices (e.g. comparing/contrasting; using graphic organizers to organize thinking; using nonlinguistic representations) and then showing/modeling for teachers how technology could be used to support and even enhance these practices. For example, as part of the writing process, we began using Kidspiration for students to organize their ideas before starting a rough draft. Since Kidspiration required minimal keyboarding skills and had lots of built-in graphics (nonlinguistic representation!), even our kindergarten and 1st grade teachers found it engaging for students.

We soon acquired our first interactive whiteboard, and placed it in a classroom where best practices were well established. It wasn't long before other teachers were noticing the student engagement in the learning process, and over the next two years, we put boards in every classroom. At first, many teachers used the interactive whiteboard merely as a projection surface, but through best practice sharing (mainly through our PLC time), a classroom visitor now sees students independently engaged in meaningful activities at the board. Obviously, this didn't happen overnight. It took (and continues to take!) lots of trial-and-error, opportunities to make mistakes in a safe environment, professional sharing of powerful integrative ideas, and in-class modeling of best practices.

Stepping It Up
As we continue to experiment with and adopt new technologies, we are seeing this process repeated. We recently took delivery of 70 iPads and began using them in small group settings with students during our literacy block (which is structured around the Daily 5.) Up until now, we've mostly been using "consumption" apps, where students are responding to pre-created content. Very engaging for students, but not necessarily best practice. As we embark on a new school year, we’re beginning the move to "production" apps, where students will be creating content rather than responding to content. Three apps we'll be investigating are Educreations, Sock Puppets, and Book Creator. Again, it won't happen overnight—but with experimentation, time for collaboration and sharing, and expert modeling, we'll continue our best practice journey!

Your Turn!
We're wondering about you and your school's journey towards technology best practices. What does it look like? How has student engagement and learning been impacted?