Reading Time: 4 minutes

elementary schoolboy using a tablet computer

As a primary educator and technology enthusiast, I have had countless conversations with colleagues around the world about using technology in literacy lessons. Common questions and topics for debate include: What happens to fine motor skills when students switch pencils for screens? What if my students know more than I do about the technology? Is it safe for them to be reading and writing for hours on screen? How can we preserve traditional literacy skills while moving with the technological developments of our times? These are all very valid questions, however the correct use of technology will serve only to enhance the teaching and learning process.

Educators should be innovative, risk takers who enjoy a challenge and are keen to try something new if it has the potential to excite, engage and support their students. They should also keep in mind traditional teaching techniques that work. Yes, students need to be ‘tech-savvy’, as new technologies are being introduced constantly. This means that when many of our current students complete their studies and enter the workforce, they will be using technology that is not yet available to us at present.

From a traditionalist perspective, focus should be kept on spelling strategies, encouraging students to write creatively and to take pride in the presentation of their ideas using pencil and paper. So, how can this balance be achieved? Technology, when used should add value to traditional pedagogy and bring something different to teaching and learning.

Here are three of the ways that I’ve recently used technology effectively in my literacy lessons. Each of these tools helped to excite and motivate my students as writers.

Make writing matter –

This website offers a variety of innovative and creative ways in which you can use technology to engage your students. Writing for a purpose doesn’t get more real than this. Use the daily writing prompts to launch your day, as children respond to the ‘Picture of the Day’ while you take your register. While planning for your lessons, you can view thousands of teaching and learning ideas and real work samples from around the world. These can be used as immersion tools. Allowing children to analyse real work by other students will hook them in to a new genre and facilitate the development of peer assessment skills. It can be used to encourage them to do some writing of their own. Perhaps the most exciting way to use LendMeYourLiteracy (LMYL) is to upload a photograph of literacy work from your class (maintain the traditional skills and use technology as a tool!) and watch views and moderated, supportive feedback come in from around the world. Giving your students opportunities to write for a global, supportive and responsive community will engage even the most reluctant of writers. They will ultimately realise that writing matters and that the audience goes way beyond their classroom walls.

Make every character count – Twitter
Writing concisely within 140 characters is challenging even for the most able writers. Reflections on lessons, responses to texts, engaging with other tweeting classes across schools and sharing learning journeys with parents, provide students with numerous opportunities for purposeful and concise writing. As with any use of technology for learning, boundaries need to be set and good practice needs to be modelled. Lock your class’ Twitter page and only allow members of the school community to follow. Try putting a ban on ‘text speak’ and encourage your students to think carefully about their vocabulary choices. A lesson in how quickly Tweets can spread is also a valuable exercise in internet safety and author accountability.
Make writing a team effort –
Using a Padlet board to share students’ questions or complete a pre-assessment to launch a lesson can be a powerful tool. Students can respond anonymously to a question by posting their responses, which can then be revisited and challenged throughout the learning journey. Alternatively, flip that idea and ask your students to summarise their learning in one sentence on Padlet as part of a plenary – this will give you a clear indication of their next steps in learning. Padlet can also be a great tool to support collaboration. Providing online access to a shared brainstorming area, allows students to continue their cooperative work after and between lessons. Set students a ‘real life’ persuasive writing challenge and support them to share their arguments on a collaborative forum. This can promote deep thinking and ownership of ideas. The ideas shared can then provide the basis for a written persuasive letter or inform a more traditional classroom debate.Technology has an important role to play in our classrooms today. Ensuring that we use it effectively to add value to our lessons, while preserving traditional literacy skills can help both students and teachers enjoy the best of both worlds.
By Jenny Murrayresized logo