Being that it’s the summertime, I interviewed a third grader who is participating in a summer program (camp) at my school. She was in my class this past year, and is moving onto 4th grade. To get started, the first question I asked her was about what she values and loves about what we did in our classroom learning environment. I asked her to name at least three things. She responded by telling me that she liked when we have recess in our classroom (I knew that first answer was coming!). The second thing she answered was that she loved when we did projects together (she referenced a video we made together as a class), and the third thing she said she loved was Writer’s Workshop and Writer’s Celebration.
I then asked her what she would like to change about our classroom learning environment, but I didn’t require her to list three things. She responded quickly by saying that she wished we didn’t have math ALL morning. I was interested in this answer because she is a very strong math student, and I never got the impression that she didn’t enjoy our math class. We have math from 8:30 when school starts till my students leave for physical education at 9:50. From a teacher’s perspective it’s wonderful, but I know that’s a very long time to sit when you’re 8 or 9 years old. The second thing she said she didn’t really like was Study Island. We have benchmark tests required by administration that need to be administered several times per year in our computer lab as a whole group. I have gotten the impression several of my students are overwhelmed by Study Island due to it’s formatting. Many students move up from second grade and have to adjust to taking assessments on the computer.
My student mentioned several parts of our learning environment and classroom procedures that involved digital media, technology, and personal creativity, so then I asked her what she liked and disliked about the different types of technology she likes in our classroom, and if she thinks she can be creative with them. She said she loved using the Activboard, loved when we learned how to make a video, loved using camera and video camera, and loved using Discovery Ed in science class (but not Social Studies). She said she felt very creative when we got to shoot the video, make our online collages, and take pictures in class. She said she dislikes taking tests in the computer lab, which was something she expressed earlier in the conversation. She also said she doesn’t dislike typing, but feels like she isn’t good at it and wants to practice typing on the computer more frequently. She said she feels creative when we get to use the computer in our computer class every tuesday, because my students got the chance to type letters, make powerpoints, search for pictures, make collages, and play games. She said she doesn’t think it’s very creative for me to put up slides during reading and grammar on the Activboard. She said, “Come on Mrs. Gardner, everybody does that!”
The discussion with my student was predictable in some ways, and enlightening in others. Not very many of my students have expressed their distaste for taking assessments on the computer, but her admission makes complete sense. Most of their assessments are in a paper-pencil format, and then they are randomly requested to be assessed on the computer. I think it’s important I take the time to make them more comfortable with online assessments, especially since NJ is moving to the PAARC test this year. I had my students on the computers so frequently, but I need to invest even more time there this year. In addition, I learned that my students in elementary school have never not had a day or lesson that hasn’t had an Activboard in it. What they think is a standard, boring, typical slide on the Activboard, is actually something some seasoned teachers find difficult to produce and practice every day. They are lucky to be familiarized with these technologies at such young ages, but to remain creative and spark their creative interests, we have to constantly reinvent and amp up the “same old” things we use in our classrooms. Her comments about slides have made me realize I need to transfer a lot of slides and files to be more creative and dynamic presentations. When we have an online resource like Prezi available, it obviously would be beneficial to our students and ourselves as teachers to move away from PowerPoints that have been saved from years past. I was happy to hear that my student loved Writer’s Workshop, because it involves a lot of drafting and typing. The student I interviewed was encouraging about project based practices I have in my classroom, and our conversation also served as a great reminder to check myself in my everyday uses of technology. It is important to be more creative with the every day, and not just when we are actually creating something new as a class.