Technology and Kindergarten: Is It Possible?
Technology and writing go hand in hand in the lives of students today. They are texting, Facebooking, Tweeting, blogging and more on a daily basis. This is our students' reality; they are comfortable functioning in this manner. As teachers, rather than fight societal changes, and exclude students' reality from school, we benefit if we embrace technology and make it work to our advantage. For pedagogical reasons, if technology tools are the most effective tools to use, why not use them? Doesn’t this make sense?
As teachers, we have an ever-changing job because the students who enter our classroom doors today will not be the students who enter tomorrow. They are living in a time different from all others. We live in a technological world, and although some teachers are not comfortable with all that technology is affording us, our students are, and we need to be. Even at five years old, students are entering our classrooms eager to use technology and, perhaps, having more knowledge about it than some of us teachers have. It is our job to embrace our students' ways of experiencing, ways of learning, and ways of being and use this knowledge to our benefit both in and out of the classroom.
And the Questions Arise...
This is the story of one kindergarten teacher and her class of kids. After participating in a year-long Maine Writing Project institute and exploring the possibilities of digital storytelling, I developed a real interest in using technology to enhance the learning of my young students. But how do I accomplish this with kids so young? They don’t type independently. They are just learning to write. Should I even be doing this with kids of this age? Are they going to grasp the concepts I am trying to teach? Is the technology going to serve the intended purpose and are the kids going to understand this purpose? Is it possible to embrace the use of technology to enhance student learning with kids so young? Does this type of learning enhance the curriculum I need to teach? And can kids use the needed equipment? These questions caused me a great deal of concern in the beginning. The majority of my students came to school well versed in how to use a computer, but I was going to have to take the time to teach them how to use the programs necessary for writing digital story. This would mean lost instructional time that could be devoted to literacy teaching. I had to do a great deal of reading and then think long and hard, weighing the benefits of digital story writing against the loss of literacy instruction time. I finally decided that digital writing afforded students, of any age, too many benefits to ignore. So, I chose to go for it.
It was not always smooth sailing. It was by a trial-and-error process that I learned what I should do for the kids in the interest of time and what I should allow the kids to do on their own. I wanted the kids to be completely independent at creating digital stories, but I realized quickly that when you are dealing with five- and six-year-olds, you have to make some sacrifices in the interest of time. It was a learning process to find that balance between giving the kids total independence and scaffolding their learning enough to still have time for direct literacy instruction.
Through my learning process, the administration and college professors supported me, but some of my colleagues doubted me—and still do. My colleagues felt that I was not providing enough direct instruction to my students. I determined quickly that, yes, the direct literacy instruction I was providing for my students was crucial, but through their digital storytelling work my students were learning revision skills, how to most effectively utilize the traits of writing, and how to work cooperatively in groups independent of my instruction! I became more of a facilitator, pointing out what the students were accomplishing. I gave words to what they were doing so that they would have the terms in their vocabulary.
Well, the struggles paid off, and my kids are creating their very own digital writing to prove it. Kindergarten kids, with relatively little teacher support are making digital stories about why they love their families, who they are, and what the best parts of kindergarten are. These young writers are creating multimedia projects with such voice and such emotion about their families and themselves. They are passionately explaining the highlights of kindergarten so that next year’s class will know what to expect. The kids are creating iMovies and using a digital camera, scanner, or the Internet to add photos and, some times add video from a Flip video camera. These projects are created collaboratively with each student having his or her own part in the whole.
And before the technology even comes into place, the writing happens. Students write and revise until they feel their work is ready to be shared with the world. The technology then takes their flat writing and makes it come alive. The use of technology enhances the engagement, revision, audience awareness, and presentation aspects of the students’ writing. Why would one not want to take advantage of an opportunity to enhance students’ writing?
Kindergarten students in my classroom are also creating VoiceThreads (www.voicethread.com), and their very own movies with Flip video cameras and it is not even that scary. VoiceThreads allow students to create and post multimedia projects that allow for collaboration with others on the project. The projects include critical stances on literacy and poetry creations as well as research reports and autobiographies. Using VoiceThreads with students has allowed the students the opportunity to collaborate with other students in ways they would never have been able to do otherwise. It has allowed them to experiment more with voice and audience, in much the same way as creating digital stories with iMovie. It goes beyond holding up pictures as they speak; it is a documented recording of their writing. When they are replaying it, revision naturally happens because they do not like the way it sounds or they do not believe the image matches the words they wrote. It is almost magical when the students see themselves as real writers for an authentic audience and see that there is a true purpose behind their writing. Confidence and motivation are instilled and strengthened.
Finding answers to my questions about the possibility of introducing technology to kindergarteners was the catalyst that began my full blown exploration into technology. But how do you most effectively incorporate these tools into your curriculum and lessons? This is a question that I am exploring each and every time I use technology with my students, and I am not sure if there is a definite answer. I think the more you use technology, the more you and your students learn about the ways it can work for you. Both written and oral language are acquired and developed by engaging in real-world experiences that have a clear purpose. The use of technology provides both the real-world experience and the clear purpose. This is the mind set I employ in my classroom, and the kids don’t even mind a few mistakes!
Technology’s Impact on My Practice of Teaching
I feel technology has greatly changed my teaching practice for the better. Technology has allowed me to enhance my teaching of literacy. My students understand revision, appreciate the role of audience, have become better communicators, and so much more. It has afford me a natural, meaningful way to teach students revision. As they read their writing out loud, recording their voices, something fascinating happens. As students play back the recording of their voices, they notice when it does not sound right. They look back at what they wrote and make adjustments to the written piece as necessary. Using technology in my lessons has taught my students about writing for an audience in a truly authentic way, as well as it has expanded our audience from our classroom, school, and families, to the world. As teachers we all know the value of teaching our students to write for a particular audience. With the incorporation of technology, this teaching point is made explicit through the very nature of the final product. All of these realizations came about because I first experimented with technology myself. In order to create a digital story that I was satisfied with, I needed to revise several times and found myself continuing to do so even after I started recording my voice. I searched for photographs to match my text. The audience to whom I was writing was very clear in my head, and that helped to guide the writing I created. The learning experiences I had when using technology are the same experiences I witness my students have when they use technology.
Young students know who their audience is when making a digital story, blog post, podcast, or video—it is everyone who will be viewing their project. And where these projects are posted matters! It matters to us a teachers, to parents, and to the kids. Finding a venue to post projects can be challenging with all the legal issues involved, but many sites allow for a great deal of privacy. My students have posted on YouTube, VoiceThread.com, and on our classroom blog hosted by Blogger. I choose these venues to post student work because of the ability to set privacy settings to include only the individuals you want to view the work and the real world application of these hosting sites. Students know about YouTube and Blogger, know people who post work there, and have most likely seen media on these sites. These sites also allowed me to limit those who could view my students’ work to parents, grandparents, the school principal, other teachers, and even day-care providers. It takes just a few minutes to explore the options. The students became so motivated to do their best work when they knew it was going to be viewed by so many people who are important to them. Their motivation led to the best work they ever produced. Audience has never been so clear to students before. My students are able to communicate in ways that have never been possible in the classroom before. When learning about another part of the world, how cool would it be to talk with individuals who live there and experience life there on a daily basis? When learning about a particular animal, how exciting would it be to talk with a zoologist who works with that animal? The possibilities are endless. Communication can happen through written chat or through video and the tools to do this are many.
As a teacher I wonder what tools are available and whether I can get access to these tools. How do I go about finding technology tools that will be useful? These were major concerns I had to address before I could even begin to feel comfortable incorporating technology into my classroom, and I am not sure I have truly answered them. I do know that my teaching has changed because of digital writing. The students’ behavior made me truly aware of the importance of audience and communication as well as the real work of revision. I am now better able to explicitly teach these things and am better able to teach authentically using real world experiences. One of the great things about technology is you can start to implement it without all the answers and it holds the power to help guide our teaching.
How do I begin the process of incorporating technology?
When I was a technology phobic kindergarten teacher, I was of the mindset that our youngest students were indeed too young to take full advantage of the technology that is today’s reality. Well, I was wrong. Using the technology myself made me comfortable and therefore, able to see the potential. I am not going to lie, finding the time to explore was not easy. In fact, it was the hardest part of the whole process of becoming technology literate. I am not sure if there is an easy way to find time, but I do know that it is well worth the time and effort spent.
Give students the opportunity to use technology and they will amaze you. In the beginning, our youngest students need a great deal of scaffolding, but they will gain independence. The scaffolding of how to use technology to the almost independent use of it provides students with such a sense of accomplishment. Not only are they proud of the content of that which they created, but they are proud of the professionalism of the creation, as well as how independently they are able to do so. Students leave kindergarten with more than a journal full of writing they have done; they leave with DVDs filled with the movies they have made and with access to all the multimedia creations they are part of.