How Much Tech in School is Too Much?

I wouldn’t have asked myself the question above five years ago. I’ve been passionate about technology in the classroom for as long as I’ve been teaching. I’ve been fortunate to work in an international school also focused on developing tech resources, and my teaching has evolved dramatically in line with this objective. I heard an ECE colleague make a comment a year ago that made me stop and think, however. She said that she feels our community of learners has such ready access to technology at home that she feels driven to focus on other skills at school. Perhaps, they are viewed as more “traditional”, but students use iPads at home, they don’t necessarily finger paint. Another recent conversation got me thinking about this again. A fellow teacher, and a parent to one of my students, commented that since our fifth grade homework is all on online and her son enjoys iPad games, her idea of “family time” is “no iPads”. Even if they’re watching a movie together, that’s different than the inevitable isolation and screen focus that comes with a device or computer.

On Monday, we’re starting a new school year. My third year teaching fifth grade, and my fifth year at my current school. After spending four years moving more and more of our learning online, I’m wondering if it’s time to take a step back. Do students “need” more tech, or are they so inundated with screen time as it is, that the need now lies elsewhere?

It’s true that technology has changed how I teach. Using google docs, for example, in writing has allowed me to stay in closer touch with where students are in the writing process. It effectively allows me to look over their shoulder in a way that doesn’t intrude, and I can offer feedback at crucial points. Blogging has allowed students to immediately share writing, responses to reading and other thoughts with our class community at large for feedback. It’s opened up the line of communication through writing in a truly authentic way. I’ve had students do math practice on IXL.com for all four years. This has allowed me to identify specific skills where students need reinforcement and track progress. The benefits have been numerous, and student engagement is, of course, also a great motivator to keep going down a similar path.

In the end, I don’t think I have an answer yet. I see all the benefits, but I’m also worried about the children’s total screen-time in this tech-saturated world. Screen-time at school, screen-time for homework, then screen-time for pleasure. I’ve started to consider going back to journalling for homework. The advantage would be that I’m not requiring more screen time at home, and writing in a journal can be done any time, any place. We would still share journals at morning circle or in lit circles or writing. There would still be accountability. The only downside, of course, would be that my immediate access to checking and commenting on homework would be limited to a paper journal in front of me. Every teacher knows that a major challenge is giving timely, effective feedback when it matters most. Technology has helped me do this, so I’m extremely torn.

This is yet another example of how there are no end to the great things you can do for you students as a teacher. Picking which one to do at the right time, that’s the challenge.

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