This is a post for my friend Shaun, but I hope it’s something you all can use.
Shaun is a top bloke. He’s an English teacher who has a deep passion for literature and from what I can tell a real knack for sharing this with his students. His students get great results at assessment time. He’s warm, funny, relatable and engaging.
But, in a brief chat about another blogger’s controversial anti-technology post, it was clear that Shaun was not enthusiastic about digital learning.
In fact, he despises it. And also has had such bad experiences that he now doesn’t trust teachers who use it.
So…what to say to my friend who is in the position of already being a great teacher getting great results?
How to convince him that digital learning is more than fancy icing on his otherwise tasty, filling and nutritional educational cake?
I thought that this task might call for a personal story.
ABOUT ME: I am an English teacher who has always loved English. As a child and teenager, reading was like breathing to me – not just ‘part of life’, but an urgent necessity. In school I excelled at debating, and public speaking. For my HSC I studied as much English as I could – 2 unit Related plus 3 unit English. I loved essay writing, adored my English teachers, and was in my element during teacher lectures that were accompanied by class discussion. My UAI was in the mid 90s. I was a successful English student.
MY CONFESSION: While all of the above is true, it is also true that in year 9, for the first time, I did not read our class novel The Wizard of Earthsea. The teacher never knew, and my grades were stellar. Same again in Year 11 with The Scarlet Letter. Same again in HSC 3 unit English with Shakespeare’s The Tempest. And…same again with about a third of the books I was supposed to read for my University English courses, though in that arena my grades weren’t stellar…just above average.
Why do I make these confessions, horrible as they are for an English teacher?
Because when Shaun tells me that his students are all engaged with their learning without the use of technology, I can tell you from experience that they aren’t. Not authentically. Sure, they may gaze up in awe as he speaks passionately about the wonder of Hamlet, and they might have the skill to assemble good essays by aping the points brought up in class discussion. But I guarantee you Shaun, you are teaching at least some people just like me – people who slip under the radar due to their genuine love of English and their skill in using language, but who have the potential to be far more active in their learning.
The other reason I make these confessions is because arguments trying to promote the adoption of technology are often made with reference to engaging low-ability or disinterested students. And I support those arguments whole-heartedly – I have seen students, especially in the junior years, really turn their attitude around (especially in regard to writing) because the fun side and familiarity of using computers gave them the confidence and motivation to complete some work.
It is so much harder to convince teachers of ‘successful’ students that anything needs to change.
But (and Shaun this is my final point I swear!) not only does digital learning have the potential to increase student engagement at all levels due to its inclination toward communicative and collaborative learning practices, but I truly believe that neglecting the development of students’ digital literacy means that as teachers we are neglecting one of our key roles – the preparation of students to participate and engage fully with society, present and future. Technology isn’t going away. And English teachers that say ‘digital literacy is not my job’ would do well to remind themselves of the times when English teachers used to say ‘visual literacy is not my job’.
Times change. Media changes. Language changes. We must make sure our students are equipped to cope with this.
I would be most grateful if people could add comments to this post with their own personal success stories from English classrooms that have embraced technology, either in content, pedagogy or assessment.
We will not convince technology haters to change by telling them they are wrong, when their experience is to the contrary. We must do it by showing that we know about some amazing, engaging and powerful tools for achieving the outcomes they value and desire
…and that not all teachers using technology are merely doing so to look cool and get promoted