Over the last year I have been very much out of my comfort zone. After years teaching senior primary (11-13 year olds), I am currently teaching the younger years. I am thoroughly enjoying the change, and the fresh challenge that it has brought to my teaching. It has given me a whole new appreciation of where my older students came from, and love seeing how fast they grow and learn at this age.
One thing that I have had to change dramatically, though, is my approach to technology. Previously, I established classrooms where students had freedom to choose the technology based on what they wanted to achieve. We also spent a lot of time discussing cyber safety and ensuring they understood their rights as digital citizens. Here are some of the things I have found work when integrating technology in the early years.
1. Confidence is everything
It is amazing how quickly a teacher or parent’s anxiety around technology can transfer to a child. Many children who are otherwise very confident become hesitant around technology because they have been told multiple times not to click anything. There is no bigger barrier to using technology in the early years than a students’ lack of autonomy. If you have to log in every device for 25 students, there will be no time left for the actual lesson.
That said, I am aware that safety is obviously a concern for younger students. Once you have explored an app or site, though, and deemed it appropriate, there should be no reason why children can’t explore within that one place themselves. Give them the chance to try and choose which button to press themselves. Once they know which ones not to press (any that close that particular app or site) then their learning process is a lot faster, and they can begin helping each other.
2. Set the right barriers
That all said, a teacher or parent can only give room for a young child to explore technology on their own if the right safety barriers are in place. While they are not perfect, a good Internet filter and adblocker are vital. They are only part of the cyber safety story, but a vital one for young children. If children end up in an app or website they don’t recognise, ensure they know to first stop, and check with an adult. This happens far less than you would think, but if children know what to do then they are less likely to end up somewhere they should not be. It also helps their freedom, as they can explore what different things to within an app or site, but then if they end up somewhere unfamiliar, they know they have support.
3. Establish one tool at a time
When teaching older years, it was not uncommon for me to introduce two apps so students could use them together to create a superior product. It did not take me long to figure out that not only should I only teach one app/website at a time, but even that tool may need to be broken up into several smaller lessons, depending on it’s complexity. The students were then able to use that tool for a couple of weeks to become comfortable with it before moving on to a new tool. If you move on too quickly, students may forget how to use the first tool, meaning you have to spend time going back and revisiting it from the beginning – not something that many teachers have time to do!
4. Allow ‘exploration lessons’
This is vital at any age. Whenever you introduce the basics of a new tool, students (and adults!) will naturally want to have a go themselves. This is very useful, because it allows students to remember what each button does and how to use it (especially for students who are not yet confident readers). Once they have had a go, they are then ready for another mini-lesson on how to use the more complicated aspects of the app. I have introduced quite a few new apps to my students using this method, and it has worked wonderfully. Sometimes the students will even find new tools that you haven’t explored, or think of a new way to use a known one! It helps them to become confident users, which is absolutely a priority when teaching children to use technology.