LD students, Tech in the Classroom, and the American Dream

My third period class of LD sophomores and I have been having an ongoing discussion about computers in the classroom. Their thoughts have cemented the use of integrated technology into my Resource Room English classes.

Image representing Google Docs as depicted in ...Image via CrunchBase

After I discovered (by listening to Wes Fryer, Rodd Lucier, and Ed Tech Talk) all of the different tools on the web that I could leverage for my Resource Room Students, I jumped right in. After some groveling on my part I managed to get 10 laptops for 6 weeks before Thanksgiving. We used Google Docs daily for writing. I had them start using SpokenText.net for editing. I developed a wiki. We worked on Creative Commons. Discussed online ethics and appropriate behavior.  They liked trying out all of this “new” stuff. (This trimester I added blogs to the mix. )

I noticed that the student’s quantity of writing improved. I also noticed that if I collaborated with them, they would actually edit and proof their work.  While I was glad to see this, I didn’t know if I had a convincing enough argument to get us full-time access to laptops.  After yesterday, I think I do.

We are working on a Unit 4 of the Michigan Merit Curriculum. This unit’s focus is on “The American Dream.” We began class by defining the term and reading three different essays about the American Dream. I used Google Docs to take notes. They were amazing articulate in their understanding of what the American Dream was and how it changed.

From there we segued to the concept of “work ethic” and how native born Americans don’t want to work as hard as immigrants. This naturally flowed into school and how it hasn’t changed much since I was in high school in the 1970s.  This group knew that they needed to learn new and different skills than what their parents had learned in school. The world was different and schools weren’t keeping up. Schools as they currently exist weren’t going to help them achieve the new scaled down American Dream.

Then amazing things began to happen. (Note: This is a Resource Room class for LD kids, so I only have 6 in this hour.)

JW, a smart aleck with great reasoning skills, said: “School is so boring. You are the only one teaching us things we need to know.” I was flabbergasted. Surely, we  were teaching them the skills that they’d need to succeed. I didn’t know what to say. 

AP, insightful but real learning problems jumped in. “Mrs. Chi, you are the only one who is actually teaching us how to use computers. All we learned in Computer Applications (the required computer class) was to type.”

CB, a very outspoken girl with some reasoning difficulties, had to have her say. “All we use computers in other classes for is to write papers and copy stuff from the Internet.”

DM, a bright kid with major attendance problems, added, “I am amazed at how much more I can write. I never wrote more than a sentence or two. Now I write paragraphs.”

Others agreed with him. A couple of the others mentioned that they had only used computers to play games or listen to music until now.

They all agreed that they thought they were actually learning how to “really use” technology. A couple of kids mentioned they liked that they could access their work from the public library or from home if they were absent or if they didn’t finish in class. These were tangible benefits they they could see to tech use.

JW even admitted that he hated computers and wanted nothing to do with them before my class. Now he was even using his Google Docs account for his other classes. “Hope that’s okay , Mrs. Chi.”

I was so pleased. This direct transfer of knowledge to another setting. He was applying what he had learned. I walked on clouds the rest of the day.

They got it. These “at-risk, special education” teens got it. Some were not digital natives, but once given the opportunity to really use the resources available to them, they saw the power of the web. They understood that they could do what other kids could do. They had opinions. They could express them. They mattered.

The Denny’s Free Food incident spawned a blog assignment (more about this in my next entry). This assignment asked them to critically look at readers’ comments to a local newspaper article. The kids were amazing. The discussions we had surrounding what was and what was not appropriate validated everything I had been trying to get across to them.  They began to see that what someone writes matters. They were outraged by how the commentators represented themselves, their town, and their school. I can’t wait to read their posts. (They asked me to wait, because they needed more time to read and respond. I never expected this.)

So I am now completely sold on the power of the internet and other technology to level the playing field for all kids. Every class should use technology to enhance learning.  Education as we know it needs to change. The kids know it. I hope our government and educational policy makers figure this out soon.