Recently, I visited a third grade classroom, at the request of his teacher, for an individualized writing conference. Cameron (fictitious name) and I sat down in a quiet corner of the room with a laptop.
“Can you log in to the computer for me?” I asked him.
Cameron’s face went blank.
“Do you know your login?”
“I think so.”
My school, like many, gives each child his or her own login, so everything created is stored on personal server space. This works fine as long as the child remembers how to access his or her information or there is a teacher available who does. Unfortunately for us, there was a substitute in the classroom that day. Without his login, Cameron couldn’t even open up a word processing system. We ended up logging in under my name and starting a new story that day, which I stored on his grade level server space. I showed him where it was on the S drive.
“Do you think you can find this tomorrow to continue your story?”
“I think so,” Cameron answered tentatively.
On several occasions, I have seen students spend more time unloading and loading the laptops from a mobile cart than actually writing. Not only does it take time to remove the computers from the cart, it takes time to get the computers functioning. Elementary students make typing mistakes, creating a need to attempt login more than once. And a networked computer can take several minutes to boot, not to mention shut down. Precious little time is already allotted to writing workshop. Should it be spent logging on and booting up? And what about the need to share the mobile cart between classrooms? The demand is high and teachers must adhere to a rigid schedule so everyone gets a turn. Just when your students are settled in and feeling their words flow may be the moment when computers must be shutdown and put back in the cart for the next class to use.
Writing time should be devoted to trying to make a story work, not a computer. Efficient use of technology is essential. Here are a few suggestions:
· Teachers lucky enough to have classroom workstations should assign a classroom helper to boot up and log in the computers first thing every morning. Classroom computers should always be ready to go when a student has a piece ready to type.
· Teach students to save their work on a shared drive. This means that students don’t have to log in individually to access their work. This also allows teachers to review work in progress and write conference notes to students. It is often difficult to reach all students in person who want to conference each week. Give yourself another option for the student you didn’t have time to meet with in class.
· Backup work on individual flash drives. If students can’t purchase their own flash drives, petition the PTA to purchase them. When each student has a flashdrive, work cannot only be backed up, it can be taken home to finish.
· Allow students to finish typing pieces at home. Thirty minute writing workshops do not provide adequate time for a mini-lesson, composing time, and typing time. Students need to learn how to compose a story on a computer. This requires the ability to type. Typing is a skill that takes hours of practice. We don’t have hours at school, particularly on the elementary level, for any activity. Allowing students to type at home gives them the practice they desperately need in an unrushed environment without the distraction of friends. Many teachers are reluctant to allow students to work at home because they are afraid the product will have too much parental involvement. While I will accept that this is a real concern in some households, it is not the case in most. Schools do not have to be like the airports which require us all to suffer through security hassles for a terrorist minority. Just because a few parents will take over student writing projects doesn’t mean that all children should be robbed of the opportunity to practice writing at home. Besides, parental help can be helpful. My mother taught me to punctuate. She insisted I correct my papers before I turned them in. After seeing numerous students in grades 3-5 pass in stories absent of any punctuation at all, I sometimes wish more parents were like my mother. Teachers don’t have time to do everything. And we must acknowledge, as Alison Hart so aptly discussed in her introductory Pencil Tips blog, writing is complicated. It takes the acquisition of many skills. We need to give our students the opportunity to practice writing skills at school and at home.