If your Tablet were your Classroom

If your tablet were your classroom, what would it say about your teaching?
I took inventory during my first year, and found a hodgepodge of app-tivities that would not have cut it in any other learning center:
  • A coloring app = a couple of coloring books in art center
  • A letter-learning app = some flash cards in reading center
  • A handwriting app = some tracing sheets in writing center
(Yikes - no wonder my tablet center was always the last pick during free choice. If you want honest feedback, just ask a four-year-old.)

I know that as teachers we can be our own harshest critics. With anything new, whether we are new teachers or new to technology education, we are just trying to keep our heads above water. I would also bet that most of us in early childhood are not independently driven to start teaching tech in our classrooms. Teacher evaluations now include the use of classroom technology, and many of us are torn between school-wide expectations and guidelines for screen time.

However, with the right learning goals and plans, we can have more than a do-no-harm or check-that-box attitude. We can make intentional activities and materials so that our students can be planners, creators, and deep thinkers. We can teach with technology in ways that reflect our greater curriculum goals and our knowledge of best practices for young children.

Since we use a literacy curriculum in our PreK program, it was easiest for me to think of how technology might work within balanced literacy. There is a fantastic article by Jennifer Shettel and Kevin Bower that discusses different levels of technology integration in the balanced literacy classroom.

My key takeaways:
Technology is not viewed as tools for the classroom, but rather as strategies that foster creativity. (p. 3)
The technology should not drive the instruction; instead, the instruction should drive the technology. (p. 7)
In reading and re-reading this article, I found a place to hang my hat for my own tech teaching. Any technology in my PreK classroom would need to be a literacy strategy, capable of representing meaning. It would be another part of my literacy instruction and would support the literacy objectives.

My stumbling block was the developmental needs of my students. Namely, what technology can be used as a pre-literacy strategy? If my beginning objectives are that students learn to read pictures and draw to write, what technology supports these goals?

I based a revamp of my tablet center and the next year of my technology instruction on one guiding statement that I think ties together these big ideas: coding (the language that tells computers what to do) is writing.

This idea comes from Marina Bers, Mitchel Resnick, and the ScratchJr team. Hear more in their video about ScratchJr, a developmentally-appropriate coding language for young children:

Since starting to code with my four- and five-year-olds, my tablet is an extension of the learning and teaching that is happening in every other center in the classroom.  If a student can tell a story in block center or dramatic play using props, and then can tell that story in writing center or art center using symbols (pictures, letters, words), he or she can also code that story and share it with others through technology. We can give students a new literacy - a new means of creating something that they can share with others - through technology. That's not only educational, it's also empowering.

If you are curious or excited about the potential for creating with technology through coding, but don't know how to start with young children, I hope that Shoelace Coding will be a place for ideas, conversation, and questions. Coding is writing, and any literacy is not a natural process. Teachers need guidance on how to teach technology literacy to students. Moving from thinking about teaching students "how to use" technology to thinking about how technology can be another literacy in our classroom is just the first step. Want more? Click here to start setting new goals for your early coding learners!

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