I Used to Think…But Now I Think… (Part 2)
We made a decision this year to shine a spotlight on computer time in K-1 in order to better define a standard of excellence and a vision of best practices that could be shared across our network. Achievement First has a history of using technology to support centers-based reading instruction. (KIPP LA Empower blended learning pioneer and school leader Mike Kerr is the former principal of AF Crown Heights Elementary, where computers were used for a similar purpose.) Heretofore, that history has been one primarily of babysitting and not data-driven instructional practices and the use of the “software-as-colleague”, as we’ve begun to think of it. We identified one lead teacher in each grade at Amistad Academy Elementary School in New Haven, CT to own the project of reinventing the use of computers and incrementally sharing practices with her co-teacher and other teachers across the grade. There are approximately 90 students in each grade, divided into 3 classrooms of ~30 students each. Every student spends approximately 20 minutes/day on the computer during reading centers. What follows is the unedited writing of these two pilot teachers after I asked them to share reflections using the structure of “I used to think… but now I think.”
Jamie Murphy (Grade 1 teacher)
Jamie is in her second year of teaching at Amistad Academy through Teach For America.
In my first year of teaching, my idea of “blended learning” were the four dinosaurs (computers) running software that neither myself nor my students totally understood. My students would rotate onto computers one time a week, for 20 minutes during the centers block. The majority of the time, something was broken or not working, so they had to take out a book and read instead. Additionally, these first grade students were having a difficult time navigating a keyboard to enter a username and password (understandably so), and it could take up to 5-10 minutes of fumbling around to finally get into the program. If students managed to log-in successfully and everything was in working order, the program was not challenging, nor was it individualized and I think students could sense the meaninglessness of the work they were doing. This was a headache, more than anything. The students didn’t like it, and neither did I. It was a management nightmare, and little to no learning was happening during that time. Going into my next year of teaching, as far as I was concerned, I would be better off without this “system” in my classroom at all.
But then something wonderful happened. My principal approached me with the proposal to launch a technology pilot in my classroom. This would entail a set of 12 Chromebooks, access to two totally new literacy programs (MimioSprout and myON) and access to a math program (ST Math). This meant that every student could rotate on the computers for 20 minutes, every day, using a program that was meaning to each of them, while providing me feedback of their progress.
In September of this year, each of my students was placed into the appropriate level in MimioSprout and they work to progress at their own rate every day during the reading block. When students “finish” the MimioSprout program, they move into an independent reading program, myON, where they can choose books of their own liking, and then answer questions to assess comprehension. Also, thanks to a TON of work on the end of our Director of Digital Learning, Dan Cogan-Drew, students log into individual accounts using a series of picture passwords; no more laborious typing of usernames and passwords!! Because of this students can be logged in, practicing meaningful material, in a matter of seconds. All of the management problems during the computer block that present themselves last year are virtually gone. Students are happy and learning, so I am happy.
Where last year I had no real concept of what blended learning could look like, this year my mindsets have transformed thanks to new systems and procedures that I have the opportunity to utilize. Now I know that the use of technology in the classroom can be an extension of my teaching if used properly. If the work on the computers is engaging, meaningful, individualized, and can provide clear and easy to access student outcomes, I am absolutely better off WITH this system in my classroom. My students and I can only hope to have this kind of opportunity for years to come.
[Read Part 1 of this blog series where we heard from kindergarden teacher, Becca Trombly.]