By Teachers, For Teachers
My father used to walk uphill to school both directions. He used to have to punch holes into cards to program a computer. He used to listen to records in the classroom and his dog used to eat his homework. He had it pretty rough.
Thanks to technology in the classroom, those hills were leveled out, and we can punch keyboards instead of cards now, and those records have made room for cassettes, CDs, and MP3s.
Times change, and technology in the classroom changes with them. Life is still filled with tedium and mischief, but our experiences as teachers have also been made easier with the opportunity to use an ever-widening set of electronic tools. While education still provides limitless changes and challenges, it’s important to make sure that we aren’t still doing things the hard way if there is an easier way.
Fortunately, here are six tried-and-true electronic methods that stand to make our teacher life considerably more efficient. As I’ve been learning, if there’s a better way to do the same essential task, then I should take advantage of that better way. Below are six items I feel that doing electronically have greatly streamlined my tasks and communication.
I used to distribute calendars to students on the first day of class on paper. I meticulously planned each day of instruction and listed the precise assignment due dates. Then, students lost this calendar and parents never received it. Thankfully I can now post calendars and day-by-day content online for parents and students to see. The additional benefit here is that this can’t be lost, changes can be immediately updated, links can be included, and students and parents can see what absent students might have missed.
My classroom isn’t entirely paperless, but it has gotten very close thanks in large part to the opportunity for transmitting papers electronically. Instead of collecting a stack of papers, I now collect a “stack” of files I can access from any device at any time. I can also provide feedback electronically which means that both students and I have all their work and all their feedback available throughout the entirety of the school year.
I’ve wondered how many minutes I’ve spent over my career passing out papers of notes, student work, or course content. Now I post almost all of these items digitally and just have to say “Open up the document.” Not only does this save oodles of time, but students who miss class, lose notes, or need a central place or organize their materials have a place that has everything they need.
There are many different kinds of assessments, but the advantages of electronic quizzes make distributing, grading, and recording quiz scores so tantalizingly efficient. I can have students take a quiz electronically and have all the multiple choice options scored instantaneously by the system so that both the students and I know their outcomes immediately. And even for written responses, all answers are organized and permanently stored for very convenient use.
Yes, videos and links are electronic already, but their incorporation into our classroom is a must. I used to print out pages and pages of supplemental articles, and take valuable class time for the showing of video clips. Now, I can simply send these links to students and ask them to view them prior to class. The few minutes they take before class to view these materials saves loads of time and paper throughout the year. While I haven’t entirely flipped my classroom, I have used the power of the Internet to help students prepare and be supported by these additional resources.
We discuss plenty during class time, but there always seems to be more that could be said. The use of discussion boards for our class to collaboratively share ideas now serves as a vital instrument in our interactions. Not only can discussions take place asynchronously throughout any given week, but students can also post pictures, links, videos, and documents that supplement the discussion in ways that can’t be easily replicated during a classroom conversation.
While I resist making changes just for the sake of making changes, I wholeheartedly believe in finding ways to make our teacher life easier. Nothing on the above list radically alters the classroom environment or teaching methods, but they do supplement the classroom process with practical electronic solutions.
Many of these can be done on the same space; for example I have used Schoology as a learning management system for multiple years now. Other teachers use tools like Edmodo, Edublogs, and Google Classroom as their online system for class. And other technically savvy teachers even create their own websites and applications to facilitate some of these lifesaving electronic reiterations.
No single method is perfect, but moving more of your basic classroom facilitation practices into an electronic medium can immensely improve the quality of learning and the use of time both in and out of the classroom. Of course, don’t feel like you need to do all of the above at once. Pick one, start small, and transition into the wonderfully convenient world of electronic tools.
What electronic tools do you now use that have helped the way you run your classroom and made teacher life easier? Tell us your examples in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.