Is our love of technology risking our pedagogy?

Are we in danger of turning our backs on effective practice as we become seduced by the appeal and excitement of working with the latest technologies and gadgets?

This little anecdote illustrate my point.

One very effective way of teaching children to spell multisyllable words is to chunk them. In a nutshell, this involves the students breaking the words into blocks of sounds rather than individual letters. It’s a fantastic strategy – if you haven’t tried it a great explanation of chunking can be found here.

A couple of years ago, a visiting consultant was modelling some teaching strategies in my classroom. When teaching the children to chunk, she wrote each word on a piece of cardboard. To model the chunks, she cut the flash cards up into their separate sound blocks.

As I watched this, I’m ashamed to say, I was feeling rather dismissive. I would have created an interactive display on the IWB where the chunks would fly apart with sound and colour. Cardboard and scissors seemed so old fashioned.

However, the effect on my class was somewhat different. They were shocked as she cut up a real object. Though it was only a cardboard flash card, working with it had more immediacy and was far more tangible than the virtual flash cards I would have used on the IWB.

At a later point in the lesson she mixed all the chunks cut from different words and invited some students to put them back into whole words. Again, this is something I would have had them do on the IWB. As it turned out, her way was more effective. Using real objects, the children could hold them in their hands and manipulate them in a way that is just not possible on the IWB. It was a multisensory and kinaesthetic experience, not just a visual one.

This was a gentle wake up call to me which reminded me of the obvious. Young learners need hands on experiences with concrete objects. IWBs, computer screens and IPads are all fantastic devices, but they still create a filter between learners and the objects they are manipulating. They display virtual objects, not real ones, and there is a world of difference between the two.

The myriad of technologies available to us today are just tools of our trade. As we get to know our students and how they learn best, it’s important that we choose our tools wisely.

Do you have a similar story to share or any thoughts on this one? Feel free to leave a comment.

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