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Using technology in the secondary English classroom

Technology in the English Classroom:
Integrating Constructive Innovations for Secondary Learners

Kathryn Klonowski

ETC 558: Technology in the Secondary Classroom
Professor Mary Lane-Kelso, Ph.D.
September 24, 2007

Much has been developed in recent years to integrate technology into the English classroom. Since the subject of language arts includes the areas of reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary and literature, the possibilities to include technology are virtually endless. In this paper, the use of interactive whiteboards will be considered as a significant tool in allowing for more interactive classroom instruction. In addition, the whiteboard can be used to more easily cover topics across the curriculum, allowing for more creativity and relevance in class projects.

Technology in the English Classroom
There is no shortage of ways in which technology can be integrated into the high school English classroom. There are many aspects to teaching these elements of the language arts that can include using some sort of technological support. Especially now, with the ever-growing use of computers in daily life, the need for students to be technologically proficient across a wide array of subject areas is crucial to success. Much of that proficiency lies in knowing how to be language literate in addition to being technologically literate. “There is a widely shared concern that the implementation of technology into teaching and learning practices has not succeeded as well as expected. The use of educational technology is still at a comparatively low level” (Ilomäki, Lakkala, & Paavola, 2006, p. 249). At this time, there is no official educational standard that requires technology to be integrated in English classes, but every standard in the English classroom could be met with any number of technological tools.
Technology in Reading and Literature
Literary texts are now commonly available in electronic forms such as text archives, hypertext fiction, electronic magazines, blogs, wikis, and have changed the face of reading (Webb, 2003). While books may not become obsolete, the possibility of having a large literary collection saved in a small space is appealing to many. As of late, there have been even more books, both old and new publications, which have found their way into electronic libraries. In the classroom, it can reduce paper waste, help with space issues and eliminate wear concerns.
With search engines and tools, it is also much easier to find specific information in a text rather than flipping through vast quantities of pages. Also, with the addition of so many online research tools, a student rarely needs to make a trip to the library anymore. Many educational institutions have access to online journal archives with scholarly resources that number in the thousands. With so much at a student’s fingertips, it becomes all the more important for students to be able to determine what is an appropriate literary text for use in a scholarly research paper (Webb, 2003).
Technology in Writing and Grammar
In addition to providing reading material alone, the web can supply supplemental readings and other projects that might be able to offer useful introductions to methods in composition (Bush, 2003). One of the most commonly used writing tools is the creative and collaborative wiki tool. Wikis allow many users to access an area whenever and from wherever a student wishes. Wikis also support a variety of tools such as movies, graphics, links and hypertext (Bush, 2003).
There are also many websites that contain interactive, web-based quizzes that provide immediate feedback on grammar knowledge and skill-level. There have also been many English teachers who have found that sharing lessons and WebQuests online through shared resource pages has been helpful in engaging students in various projects (Daccord, 2007).
From a simpler perspective, technology has been an important part of written production for quite some time. The development of word processors gave rise to a whole new efficacy when it came to student written work. The tools many students rely on now, such as the ability to cut and paste text, autoformat, and spell check are integral software tools that students all but take for granted.
Above all, technology has allowed students to share and display writing in ways that were never possible before. The introduction of teacher-moderated websites has allowed students to become published writers, reaching audiences all over the world. This becomes an impetus for writing achievement. “Students who publish on a website realize that their work is going to be viewed by a broad audience, and, therefore, it is important to develop that site and their work with a great deal of care and attention. Students will take responsibility for their writing and their work in a way that they haven’t before when they start publishing on the internet” (Webb, 2003, pt. 4). Moreover, it is a way for students to maintain a sense of responsibility about what is appropriate and helps them to become more media literate and, therefore, more productive and knowledgeable citizens (Webb, 2003).
The Interactive White Board (IWB)
One technology tool that can capably integrate the many facets of the secondary English curriculum is the Interactive White Board (IWB). The IWB is an interesting and dynamic tool because it allows teachers to present material in a much more vast and interactive way than ever before. “Part of the flexibility of the IWB is, however, that it can also replicate the function of other technologies as well as produce something new. The IWB can be used to show the kinds of texts that could be displayed on the traditional blackboard, or via a television or computer screen. Moreover, some of the texts designed specifically for use with the IWB replicate the function of traditional text forms, such as textbooks or worksheets” (Jewett, et al., 2007, p. 305).
The Benefits of the IWB
There is a lot of potential associated with how the IWB could be used effectively in the English classroom. One of the primary reasons is that it is a very effective and engaging tool for whole-class teaching (Glover, Miller, Averis, & Door, 2005). The IWB commands attention and allows for more effective demonstrations (Higgins, Beauchamp, & Miller, 2007). It is also believed that the IWB makes it easier to incorporate more and different types of multimedia in one concentrated area with seamless transitions, high aesthetics, and motivational subject matter, thus resulting in more effective classroom behavior and engagement. Additionally, the IWB is perceived as being a multi-intelligence learning tool that caters to a variety of learning styles (Higgins, et al., 2007). The pacing of the class is improved because the IWB eliminates the amount of time needed to switch topics or write on the board (Jewett, et al., 2007). The teacher workload is reduced because the work can be saved and used again for other classes or in other years or by other teachers. The resources can then be built upon and improved for later use. Additionally, teachers who are less likely to use technology might feel compelled because of the simplicity of the IWB’s design, function and ease-of-use (Glover, et al., 2005).
There tends to be a fair amount of study surrounding the efficacy of the IWB, but there are some drawbacks as well (Smith, Higgins, Wall, & Miller, 2005).
The Drawbacks of the IWB
One of the big concerns with using the IWB for teaching literature activities is that the design for exploration opportunities and participation needs to go beyond simply physical manipulation. Many factors need to be considered, such as if the information is appropriate. The teacher should look at what makes the concept dynamic and the balance of time between discussion and recording. “The IWB can be used to display, annotate and manipulate students' texts (e.g. using scanners, visualisers or sticking student posters on the IWB). Aspects of a text can be designed to be open or closed, fixed or manipulable, each enables different constraints and possibilities for interaction depending on the pedagogic intention” (Glover et al., 2005 p.159).
There are also some logistical concerns such as cost of equipment versus other similar types of equipment that are perhaps not quite as dynamic, but, nonetheless, more cost effective. There is not always sufficient space in the classroom. Sometimes lighting and placement are a major concern and can cause a serious loss of usefulness (Higgins et al., 2007). There are also many teachers who balk at and shun new technologies (Wood, Mueller, Willoughby, Specht, & Deyoung, 2005). By the same token, the initial preparation involved in making and executing new lessons may be longer than might be considered ideal.
Teachers aren’t always the ones who have objections. Students have felt left in the dark as well, and this is especially so when the IWB is not used “interactively”--taking away from the student-centered nature of the delivery. In this case, the teacher usually ends up relying more on the multi-media features of the technology for presentation purposes rather than allowing the students to benefit from the technology’s interactive potential (Higgins et al., 2007).
One of the key factors to creating a positive learning environment in the classroom is the “intersection between technical and pedagogic interactivity; in other words, in the opportunities this technology holds for collective meaning making through both dialogic interaction with one another, and physical interaction with the board” (Smith, et al., 2005, p. 99). In an English classroom, the idea that reading and writing should flow seamlessly into one another is an idea that can be presented well on a IWB. Using the IWB to create intertextual pieces with the class as contributors opens all sorts of possibilities for collaborative writing.
For example, students could take a poem that was projected on the board and consider the possibilities of changing any number of elements to suit the occasion (a class theme, or perhaps a mood). Since poetry flows into art, and art into math, and math into science and science into music and music into words, there is so much a student could use to add to the poem to create something larger (or just completely different) than anything the original author may have intended. The idea is to see how words can create a multitude of images and that students are resourceful in finding how language transcends genre and class subjects. It could be a very interesting interdisciplinary exercise.
The most important factor to take into consideration when developing a technologically integrated English class is making sure the integration is not gratuitous. There seem to be many examples of teachers with good intentions who have merely used technology for the sake of using technology instead of really looking at how it will inspire student learning. As long as teachers are willing to sincerely examine their aims for using technology tools in the classroom, there is a much greater potential for success.

It is vital that teachers adopt technology in their classrooms, but it must be done carefully and with good professional sense (Cambre & Hawkes, 2004).
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