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Teaching to Learn: Using Technology Purposefully to Support Student Learning

Written by Cindy O'Donnell-Allen
December 20, 2012

How can technology support hands-on, interactive literacy learning for students and teachers as well?

Increasingly, teachers have access to hardware, software, and the internet; yet many of us continue to feel apprehensive about how to use these resources effectively to enhance our teaching. Technology can’t be the ever ubiquitous “something more” on top of everything else we are expected to learn and implement. It has to make us better, and it has to support and improve student learning.

For several years prior to the SOS Project, the Colorado State University Writing Project (CSUWP) had offered weeklong workshops during the summer that ran concurrently with our summer institute. These workshops were open to any teacher, and the topics varied to reflect current issues, needs, or challenges we perceived that teachers and schools were facing. The issue we selected for our weeklong workshop in Summer 2010 was teaching with technology, not just as a shiny “add-on,” but as a tool that could amplify our writing instruction in ways that pencils and paper alone could not.

Also in the works was our planning for the Saving Our Stories Project, also described in this resource. Based on the service-learning experiences in Cindy O’Donnell-Allen’s class for preservice teachers at Colorado State University (CSU), we knew that we would need more than the usual couple of teachers to lead this young writer’s workshop. We speculated that the young writers would be eager to learn, but we wanted them to use technology purposefully as they captured their digital stories. We knew we wanted more than “point and shoot” and “record and press play.”

This parallel goal—to teach teachers and students to use technology purposefully and effectively to improve learning—led us to the idea of pairing the workshops and featuring student and teacher interaction as part of the mix. Our partnership school where we were holding the SOS Project agreed to the concept and offered us a computer lab where we could also hold the Teaching with Technology workshop. Students would learn how to tell stories well while teachers would learn how to use technology well. Together, they and we would learn how well the two could mix.

Selecting Workshop Participants

To recruit participants during Year One, we modified our usual procedures of opening the weeklong workshop up to any teacher and limited it to a continuity event for our own writing project teachers, whom we knew would be patient during implementation as we worked out the kinks. We were able to use NWP monies to completely fund the workshop and provide modest stipends for teachers to attend, which they might use to pay for graduate credit at a reduced rate. We also bought books on teaching with technology, including The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks, who made a guest appearance because he was providing professional development in the area.

This abundance of riches also enabled us to invite CSU preservice teachers who had worked on the SOS service-learning project in Cindy’s university class. Because they had already developed and implemented SOS curriculum in the classroom with high school students, the preservice teachers entered the workshop with existing expertise that allowed them to learn alongside our CSUWP fellows. In our first year, this resulted in the optimal mix of a one-to-one match of six CSUWP teachers to six CSU preservice teachers. In the absence of NWP funding in Year 2, we opened the workshop up to teachers outside CSUWP as well, including our alternates for the summer institute. This allowed us to generate enough revenue to cover our costs and to use the weeklong workshop as a kind of “farm team” to identify recruits for our subsequent summer institute.

 Setting Up Shop: Workshop Design

As described above, our overall goal for the workshop was to help teachers use technology effectively to amplify student learning. In addition to discovering when and how to use it to meet their teaching goals, we also knew that they would need to learn the actual equipment and software right away so that they could provide support for the SOS students. At the same time, especially because our own fellows would be attending, we wanted to remain true to our CSUWP value for inquiry-based learning. This meant the workshop couldn’t just be a “how-to”; it also had to be a “why-to” or a “why-not-to,” as dictated by one’s teaching context and purposes.

For instance, Smart Boards were becoming increasingly available in area schools, but were they the best tool to support hands-on, interactive literacy learning? If so, we should spend time on learning how to use them effectively during the workshop. If not, we needed to spend our time exploring other digital tools. Regardless of the technological tool, we needed to problematize its use and to always, always make sure it supported our learning goals for students. Otherwise, it shouldn’t make the cut.

The italicized question above not only functioned as a litmus test for us, but it also suggested that we needed to learn about technology use, period. This meant we needed to explore other questions as well, such as:

  • What instructional standards exist that address digital learning?
  • How were other teachers implementing technology in their classrooms?
  • How might we revamp our classroom curriculum to purposefully incorporate digital tools, including hardware, software, and social networking tools?

These questions guided our purposes and our workshop design. As you will see on the attached flyer, we spent the mornings as follows:

  • constructing and editing digital texts using podcasts, images, and video
  • documenting our learning on a blog
  • reading about issues, standards, and methods for teaching with technology and engaging in online discussion about these on a Ning
  • exploring various social networking tools and Web 2.0 applications, such as Twitter, Glogster for Educators, Prezi, Storybird, etc.
  • determining how we might purposefully integrate technology into our personal classroom curriculum

In the afternoon, we immediately applied what we had learned by working with the SOS students as they developed and edited digital stories.

We also attended the Friday celebration where students debuted their work. Although we tweaked the workshop slightly in Year 2, the general structure remained the same based on our success in Year 1. We plan to replicate our recruiting strategies and workshop structure for Year 3 as well.

Our continued goal for this evolving project is to find those productive intersections where students and teachers can learn with technology alongside one another to become more powerful writers in their own lives.Open teaching with technology flyer.pdf



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