I will be honest. I am a “digital immigrant,” a person new to rapidly changing technologies. I am proud to say that I am adjusting, and I’ve accepted the fact I am learning a new culture and language. I’m happy to ask tech experts many questions and have almost stopped apologizing for my lack of expertise. I had no choice but to get over my self-conscious ways if I was ever going to join the new culture. As a teacher, I am responsible for students as 21st-century learners. This pressure to become a tech expert used to overwhelm me; with so many tools and applications to try, I found myself attempting to do it all and learn everything. In the end, I knew just a little about each tech option, just enough to be dangerously underqualified to use the technology to support my learning and work in the classroom.
Frustrated by my lack of progress, I started watching my students and selected adults, trying to uncover how they learned and used new technologies. I discovered that smart learners match the technology to their interests, needs, and projects. My blooming artists, the visual kids with pizzazz in mind, conquered the artistic publishing program called Pixie 2 in no time. My classroom scientists conquered a graphing program and could import a variety of graphs to their science blogs. Garage Band was the perfect way for my social students to create podcasts. My brother, a journalist on the run, uses his phone in ways that most people use a laptop.
With borrowed wisdom, I started to take control of technology by making it work for me, rather than me working to know it all. What a relief.
Technology and Word Study
I started thinking about ways to infuse technology into my students’ word study. I wanted to blend technology with shared experiences so my students could anchor word study in the real world, capturing their experiences for future vocabulary collections, word analysis, and language study. I am a fortunate teacher, working at a school with an amazing outdoor learning lab. (See pictures at this link: http://franklin.osu.edu/horticulture/master_gardener/chapman-elementary-habitat. The shots were taken before our community garden raised beds were installed.) I knew how much my students enjoyed spending time in our outdoor lab called The Habitat, so it was easy to select the outdoor lab as our real-world connection for word study. So, what about technology?
Blending nature, shared experiences, and common language, our ideas could best be captured and enhanced with a digital camera. Many people would consider a camera a common tool, but for me, using the camera to enhance our word work was a new idea. I wanted the camera to support my students’ learning and enhance my teaching, using a familiar technology in a new way. We now live in a media ecosystem, so information with visuals is well received and makes lasting impressions. My simple digital camera could do more than capture special events in my classroom. I envisioned our pictures bringing our words to life.
Starting the Year with Living Words
To begin the year, the children discovered and cataloged Living Words, creating a word wall and word lists based on our adventures in the Habitat. They ventured into the outdoor lab during our first days of school with this common science belief:
A habitat is a place
that provides food, water, shelter, and space
in the proper arrangement
for a variety of living things.
Students were given this challenge: Go out and study, explore, and observe the habitat, looking for words that could be categorized into our different Habitat word categories. Here is a partial list of words gathered and used throughout the year.
Our Living Words reflected a dynamic word list created by students sharing a common context and purpose for learning about the world. The word list became a mural that grew as a resource throughout the year. Photographs joined the words on the word wall; we added images from our own cameras, my teaching partner’s photography work, free image sources (see the resource list at the end of this article) and pictures cut out of printed resources such as magazines.
Students found a real-world context for their Living Words, and I had a focus for my thinking when planning word study lessons. Which words could help me with the standards and targets I needed to cover? Which words could make nouns and plurals concrete? Which words were great starters for discussions about synonyms? Which pictures created great lesson anchors for active verbs and prepositions? Which words and pictures helped with word observations or word family studies? Rather than scrambling to find a different source each day and week for meaningful words, I had my students’ Living Words, a collection they had created, based on shared experiences in our outdoor lab. Our Living Words were easy to collect, unified our efforts, and focused our work.
Creating a meaningful word study program had been tricky for me in the past. When I started thinking about using a technology I was comfortable with, I gave the digital camera a chance to bring our work to life. When I shared the idea of Living Words with other teachers, they quickly saw how it does not rely on an outdoor learning lab. The Winter Olympics, global studies, a field trip, or a service project could be the source for words, language, and visual images. By expanding my view of word study to incorporate visuals, I saw a new and effective way to use a Smart Board.
What did I learn? Word study had traditionally been a two-dimensional, abstract part of my literacy program, and I was never comfortable with this instructional secret. When I looked for technology to support our vision of learning, I came to view word study in a new way. I felt like I accomplished something as a “digital native,” and it has since inspired me to investigate a new tool. Looking ahead, after finding success with our camera, I am planning how I’ll expand my use of the digital camera and add video during the coming school year. With our Living Words before us, my students developed a new attitude that word study is a tool working for us as learners. As I think about the coming school year, I am ready for new learning adventures with my students and am happy to have discovered a way of bringing our work to life.
Free Image Sources
National Geographic: Photo of the Day http://photography.nationalgeographic.com/photography/photo-of-the-day
Journey North: http://www.learner.org/jnorth/