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The best digital tool is even better in the hands of a great teacher

Six preferred practices for using edtech in the classroom

Ellen Dorr, director of digital learning for the Renton School District in Washington, recently presented a well-attended webinar on empowering teacher leaders. In this 60-minute session, she explores how using technology intentionally and innovatively leads to greater equity and achievement for all students.

Central to Dorr’s vision of digital learning is the importance of “connecting the why.” She explains that people always want to know where to click, but she and her team prefer to start with why to click.

Everyone—teachers and students alike—needs to understand and appreciate the value of digital tools before they can successfully begin to use those tools in an effective blended learning environment. With this in mind, Dorr and her team of coaches developed the following preferred practices for using edtech in the classroom:

  1. Provide supports and foster independence. When introducing new technology, Dorr suggests you first use the tool together as a class. After you go through the basics and spend some time practicing, it’s important to equip students with the resources they need to problem solve on their own later on. Fostering independence is a best practice no matter what tools you’re using, but it’s particularly valuable with digital tools.
  2. Ask supporting questions. Instead of enabling passive behaviors by giving students the answers, Dorr suggests you ask students supporting questions like, ‘How could you figure that out?’ or ‘What does this mean to you as a mathematician?” The goal is to help students see how digital learning connects with other types of learning and supports their thinking.
  3. Ensure meaningful and important work in tools. If you’re doing stations, establish a specific learning target for each station to help students understand exactly why they’re using a particular tool. You can also ask students, ‘Why is it valuable for your learning to use this?” so that they make that they make the connection themselves about why the tool is important.
  4. Track and celebrate progress. Students are motivated by data and get excited when they see their progress toward different Common Core State Standards. In addition to using the digital tool to track progress, ask your students to record the standards they’re mastering in an analog notebook to help reinforce the connection between online and offline learning.
  5. Intervene based on data. Today’s powerful digital tools provide a wealth of data, which has the potential to make us all better teachers. Data enables you to identify and pull aside a group of students who are struggling with a particular concept, or intervene with an individual student who needs one-on-one instruction. The best digital tool is even better in the hands of a great teacher, especially when you use data to inform instruction.
  6. Connect online to offline instruction: Teach students that everything they do in the classroom supports learning. Try not to distinguish between computer time and other learning activities. It’s all learning—whether it’s online or offline.

If you’d like to hear more about how Ellen Dorr and her team were able to implement and scale effective instructional practices in the Renton School District, check out “Using Personalized Learning and Data to Build Instructional Capacity”. It’s available on demand, so grab a colleague and watch at your convenience.

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