If We Had Then What We Have Now

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Today’s technology tools would have made my foray into teaching a lot more successful.

Christina C. Schaller, Managing Editor AS AN EDUCATION MAJOR, I spent my senior year of college student-teaching. I didn’t have access to the whiz-bang tools of today—electronic whiteboards, laptops, and the like—but I was able to discover the power of technology in the classroom. For that lesson, I have one student in particular to thank. His unwitting demonstration of the motivational power of technology got my attention, but the setting of the story was key to its impact on me.

The scene was a bleak inner-city high school, a far cry from the wealthy, white-bread neighborhood I was raised in. When I met my class of 10thgraders, it was all I could do to pretend that seeing pregnant teenagers and kids with rap sheets was nothing out of the ordinary for me. Then came the challenge of meeting the needs of five new students classified as emotionally handicapped.

Fortunately, my internship allowed me time to observe the lead teacher. I picked up cues from her, but I thought she was boring the kids because the lessons were so rudimentary. When I had a turn at the helm, though, I saw the relevance—these students ranged from functionally illiterate to, tops, what I would consider seventh-grade level.

Barely recovered from culture shock, I had to adjust my expectations again. I had to scrap my “high school-level” lesson plans and move classroom management from the bottom of my list of priorities to the top. And I knew if I didn’t make classtime engaging, I didn’t have a chance of reaching anyone.

I found ways to spice up remedial English. The best results came from a quiz-show format that the lead teacher and I used to disguise spelling and basic grammar drills. Our motley crew stayed on task most of the time—a huge accomplishment for the EH kids—competed passionately but not rudely with each other, and took enormous pride in “winning” points I tracked to reward them for class participation.

We had less latitude when tasked with preparing the kids for a standardized test. Part of the prep was a lecture on a VHS tape, so we had the privilege of using the AV cart—the only technology at our disposal. But when we played the tape, the VCR kept stopping. The third time the lead teacher restarted the tape, in the reflection of the TV screen, she saw a student pointing his watch at the cart. In a classic eyes-on-back-of-head maneuver, she whipped around and held out her hand for the watch. There was a remote control in it!

In spite of the misbehavior, I couldn’t help but be thrilled by the way technology had tuned at least one child in to his clever side.

Imagine how those kids would have taken to handheld response devices. The cost would have been a tall order for the school, but I know the students would have enjoyed playing the quiz game with their own controls. Watching their winning tallies on a screen at the front of the room would have encouraged them, the handhelds would have kept every student occupied, and the students would not have had to worry about anyone else knowing when they entered a wrong answer. That technology also would have let me see who needed help with which questions so that I could tailor lessons on the spot.

It’s too late for those kids, but with No Child Left Behind, One Laptop per Child, and other technology initiatives, there is hope for kids like them everywhere. Educators, school board members, parents, voters—it’s up to all of us to make sure students have the tools they need to succeed.

— Christina C. Schaller, Managing Editor

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of THE Journal.

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