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Using Technology to Meet Students Where They Are

November 20, 2014

As any teacher will tell you, education is an ever-evolving field. There are always new ‘best practices’ for educating children. Within recent years, I have seen an explosion in the use of technology in classrooms. I started the 2014 school year with a new position as a special education teacher in a technologically robust charter school. I was not used to having so many available resources; it was quite an overwhelming feeling. Bringing technology into the classroom seemed very intimidating at first. Many questions ran through my mind: What programs do I use? How do I manage my classroom? What do I do with the data? There was no better way for me to face this new world of technology than to jump right in.

I didn’t have to do much in terms of “selling” the touchscreen laptops to my third graders. As soon as they saw the shiny new computers, they were eager to log in. The difficult part arose when I had to convince my students (and parents) that the programs they would be using were indeed proven programs to increase learning. This is not something that happened over night. It took many serious conversations about the data the programs provided.<>

Being that I work in a special education pull-out classroom, I may utilize technology a little differently than general education teachers. For any given subject, I work with about five to eight students with varying disabilities. One of the biggest challenges as a special education teacher is meeting every student at his or her academic level. Technology has played a key role in making this happen.  

When thinking about the effectiveness of technology inside a classroom, one student comes to mind. There are five students in my math class. Four of the children receive instruction using the third grade curriculum, while the fifth student uses a completely different math program geared towards her academic needs. I was at a loss for how to teach two different math lessons during one math block. It soon dawned on me: why not create a modified blended learning platform for this student? Blended learning is an approach to teaching in which a student spends half of an academic block on an educational computer program, and the other half of the block receiving small group instruction from a teacher. It took several days to get the blended learning routine in place.  I placed many signs and reminders. The young lady using this program now knows that when she walks into my classroom, she immediately grabs a laptop, sits down, and begins using iReady Math. The program is wonderful because it differentiates lessons based on each child’s needs. While this one student is working on the computer, I am able to conduct a traditional lesson with my other four students based on the third grade curriculum. When the direct instruction part of the lesson is over, and those children are working on their independent practice, I am able to instruct the one child with her own differentiated math program. Since implementing this system, I have seen so much growth with this student—not only academically, but also in her overall confidence. She feels successful working at her own pace, and the data gathered from the computer program proves that she is growing academically.

Technology has provided a way for me to effectively manage my class. I am now able to educate all of my students where they need it most.

Caroline teaches special education in Washington, DC.