Walking into a classroom at McBride Elementary School in Muscle Shoals, a stack of Google Chromebooks stands out, sitting on the back counter in place of printed textbooks. Jana Hutcheson, a reading teacher at McBride, prefers to implement an online textbook rather than a physical book. In fact, no fourth-grade reading classroom at McBride has a physical textbook this year.
“I feel as if more teachers than not are open to the idea of new technology in the classroom,” Hutcheson claimed while pulling up StoryWorks, an online tool many elementary schools are switching to rather than textbooks.
StoryWorks is a medium that is not only engaging for students but beneficial in making sure they fully grasp important concepts and benchmarks. Every unit introduces a new concept for the students.
Along with these concepts come background information on the topic through informational videos, video discussion questions and printable worksheets. According to Hutcheson, her students are more engaged in reading this year than ever before.
She credits the students’ interest to StoryWorks and other programs they use online, such as a website called Freckle that allows students to progress at their own level.
Programs such as these give students the opportunity to not be overlooked in a classroom setting and urges them to return to material they did not previously learn through quizzes on readings. While these programs are advantageous in the classroom, they do come at a price.
“Their parents are paying for it,” Hutcheson said. “But what they do not realize is that they are not only paying for a computer program and magazine every month, they are paying for their child’s interest in reading, and that lasts a lifetime. Technology in the classroom has allowed education to become so much more individualized than in years past.”
While many teachers are advocates for reading assistance technology in the classroom, some see it as a hindrance to education. Cheryl Lockhart, an external reading coach at McBride, explains that while technology has many benefits in the classroom, it may also have negative effects on students.
“I believe that an overuse of technology with young children leads to not only a shorter attention span, but also limits a child’s imagination, play, and fine motor skills,” Lockhart claimed. “When we see most students lacking ‘grit’ or perseverance through a productive struggle, it is concerning. Educational growth is born out of risk taking and if students become frustrated quickly, they fail to grow at a natural pace.”
“I believe there is a place for computerized learning programs that give students opportunities to practice and remediate. However, if a student spends large amounts of time without teacher feedback, many will do nothing more than click to move forward. Research has proven that the single greatest factor in student achievement is a teacher, not a computer.”
Even with the new technology in the classroom, it remains important for teachers to still be involved in the education process rather than hand their jobs to the computer. But in this school, it seems that the pros far outweigh the cons.
“Teachers and administrators should definitely explore new technologies as they have a part to play in the educational process. We want to offer the very best of what is available,” Lockhart says, “However, we have to be wise so that we don’t overuse the technology and in so doing fail to provide what is appropriate. We want citizens that not only can type into a computer but can carry on powerful conversations face to face in the future. Our very freedom may depend on it!”
Technology in classrooms may always be a controversial topic for some, but for others, it has changed the way they not only educate, but influence the future teachers.