During the “emergency teaching” era of the COVID-19 pandemic, digital resources and edtech tools were used by educators worldwide in an effort to maintain students’ continuity of learning. Tremendous investments were made by school systems in an effort to rapidly scale digital learning.
With many of the COVID-era restrictions receding, it is tempting to think that we’ve entered into a new, highly digital era of education that will be far less dependent on pencils and paper. But, in the famous words of college football insider and former coach Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend!”
Interestingly, the post-COVID teaching environment has so far, in my opinion, been marked by a strong desire to see things done with pencil and paper. In my district, I hear from educators, students, and families alike that they wish to see what they learned online to be applied in hard copy. After a two-year period where “virtually” everything was done on an iPad, parents have a thirst to see their children bringing home papers in their backpacks again.
This push back to analog forces district leaders to view edtech through a new, more critical lens. Now, instead of looking at edtech as a solution for all levels in all ways, we are looking at where hard copy materials fit in with our edtech investments. For example, my district looked at our edtech tools from Discovery Education – specifically the Social Studies Techbook – for reading passages, student activities, and assessments that could be accessed either digitally or as PDFs/hard copy.
Really, what we’re seeking is a way to balance our edtech investments and the gains we’ve made in creating engaging digital learning experiences with some of the more traditional aspects of education. Here are some strategies my district is taking to bring this sort of balance to our classrooms.
Look for Text Options
Depending on the edtech resource, the text that students read has a high level of accessibility for students, including language adaptation, lexile or reading level adaptability, text speech (the words on the digital page are read out loud by the device, which can also adapt languages), and the ability to change colors of the text or background for easier reading. All of these accessibility affordance are critical aspects of digital technology for inclusivity and equity.
But screen time can quickly overwhelm students and families are also increasingly concerned with the amount of screen time their children have, in and out of the classroom. One option for balancing screen time with hard copy material is utilizing the text option available within many edtech resources. As an example, reading passages are available within portions of units, and can easily be printed by the teacher, they can be offered to the students.
Using the various accessibility tools often found within the more sophisticated edtech resources, these materials can be printed in different languages and at various reading levels, allowing teachers to share differentiated materials in print. Students are then able to manually annotate, highlight, or just read the text as they hold it in their hands versus viewing it on a screen.
Spotlight on Strategies and Activities
This is an option widely used and very appreciated by our teachers. Discovery Education’s K-12 platform provides seemingly endless resources called Spotlight on Strategies, or SOS. Spotlight on Strategies include many options for students to demonstrate their learning based on specific strategies taught by the teacher and can be accessed as PDFs so they can be available for students as hard copies or even offline.
An example is the 3-2-1 Pyramid where students record a one sentence summary on what they’ve read, two reasons the topic is important, and three facts they have learned. The 3-2-1 Pyramid is a graphic organizer and Spotlight on Strategies includes many more graphic organizers, writing prompts, question stems, and quizzes that can be accessed at PDFs or easily recreated for pencil and paper work for students.
These are also perfect for formative assessments. The “Explain” and “Elaborate” portions include “quick writes” as activities and “document investigations” that can be accessed as PDFs and conducive to written responses by students. There are also many more options throughout the units in the techbook and all of them are conducive to visible learning and assessment.
Seek to Use Mixed Media Assessments
Assessments are another area that offers opportunities to balance what students produce electronically and manually.
Here, I would consider mixing the digital with the analog to construct mixed-media assessments. Within a science context, students could do a hybrid science laboratory where they watch a demonstration online then get to apply the learning with physical materials. Students could take the learning even further by applying cross-disciplinary skills in an assignment to write up their findings in a lab report with an accompanying virtual presentation made on Canva, PowerPoint, or a similar platform.
This challenges the students to think across multiple media while also empowering them to demonstrate and solidify their knowledge. While these solutions may sound simple or even obvious, it’s important we discuss the evolution of teaching and learning in the K-12 edtech context. We may be moving back towards a pen and paper style nostalgic approach, but our investments in edtech remain central to the development of each student.
This says to us as educators that we have to continue to leverage technology with options for teachers and students. While edtech is providing students and teachers amazing adaptability and flexibility, it is important to include some of the traditional work we know continues to add value to the learning experience. As we move forward in the post-Pandemic world, we as educators need to continue to look for ways to integrate new technologies with “tried and true” strategies to create new and innovative ways of creating engaging learning experiences for today’s students.
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