February 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Technology is Not the Goal | Tech Tidbits from the Guybrarian’s Gal

As librarians, our role is often one of instructional coach. We are called on to help teachers and students find solutions to challenges. Recently, a teacher asked for assistance in locating 35 iPads for Read 180this great lesson idea she had. She teaches Read 180, a class dedicated to helping struggling readers improve their literacy skills. She was going to partner with two of her colleagues who teach our English Language Learners. The impetus for this lesson was the opportunity to have a guest come and talk to the students, and they wanted the students to have background information on the speaker by reading an article in Climbing magazine. The piece contained vocabulary that was significantly more challenging than anything they had yet tackled.

One teacher was very excited by the new app from Apple, iBooks Author, which allows you to create interactive, multi-touch books that incorporate captions, links, and even video. It’s a great tool, but we had a major problem—we don’t have any iPads. The three teachers immediately went into scavenger hunt mode, trying to borrow iPads from other schools and teachers so they could make this lesson happen. This is when they came to me.

My first thought was, “Let’s back up. What is the instructional goal here? What exactly is it that we want students to gain from this experience?” And the answer was simple: we want students to  read and comprehend a difficult text. I had a vague memory of another tool that could do much of what iBooks Author could do, so I called my district technology coach who reminded me about Soft Chalk. Our district owns an old version of this software, so he sent it to me; I downloaded it, got a copy of the Climbing magazine article, and I was in business.

Soft Chalk logoSoft Chalk allowed me to copy and paste in the article text, highlight difficult words that became mouse-overs with an embedded definition, and embed pictures and video links to further illuminate the text. I broke the text into short chunks with a multiple-choice comprehension quiz at the end of each screen so students could get immediate feedback. Once created, the Soft Chalk lesson was easy to upload into Blackboard, where the kids could open it and read the article at their own pace.

I presented this lesson to the teachers, who were willing to call off their hunt for iPads. The lesson was a huge success with students, many of whom were inspired to do additional research about the speaker who they are very excited to meet next week.

The bottom line for me, in this rapidly expanding technological smorgasbord we live and teach in, is that it’s all too easy to get caught up in the newest snazzy tech gadget or app and lose sight of instructional goals. Technology can be motivational to the learner in and of itself, which is often the main reason we use it. But when it comes to learning, the technology we use should really be incidental. Let’s coach teachers to keep the focus on the learning goal.




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