Thursday, February 5, 2009

Elementary School Topic: Laptops in Fourth Grade

10-second review: The results reported in this article were disappointing to me—increased motivation and engagement were the major advantages. Activities were fast-paced and quick changing. All of them could have occurred with paper and pencil. Effects of the use of laptops for learning on standardized tests were side-stepped.

Title: “Literacy Instruction with Digital and Media Technologies.” D Barone and TE Wright. Reading Teacher (December 2008/January 2009), 292-303. A publication of the International Reading Association (IRA).

Summary: Each student’s having a laptop increased engagement with class activities which were neither different from pencil and paper techniques nor produced greater achievement. I’m still waiting for reports on activities that increase student learning from the use of technology.

Summary/Quote: “Warschauer’s (2006) research found that laptops and connections to the Internet provided scaffolding for many classroom topics, thus building background knowledge.” p. 293. How? RayS.

Summary/Quote: “Teachers will see that giving a laptop to a student results in greater engagement. Greater engagement equals higher achievement. End of story.” p. 302. Whoa, Nellie! RayS.

Summary/Quote: “A final issue is centered on assessment. The question of how students achieve in traditional assessment will affect those who make decisions about moving to new literacies. This question, although important, is losing its power as major assessments like the National Assessment of Educational Progress move to the use of computers.” p. 302. How’s that for ducking the question? RayS.

Comment: I accept the value of increased engagement in learning activities from working with laptops. I also accept the use of the Internet to increasing background knowledge although the authors say nothing about how that is done as a class activity. Even the rapid pace in changing activities is impressive—if the teacher is able to keep up with and respond to the students’ work.

The students are actively engaged in activities. But where is the instruction?

For years, people have been saying that word processing is a wonderful tool for writing. They don’t say it’s a wonderful tool for improving learning to write. Results are inconclusive. However, I have never denied that word processing made writing enjoyable (“engaging”) for students and that was definitely worth while.

But still the question lingers: does using word processing improve students’ learning to write? I don’t suppose that we’ll be able to answer that until students are able to complete writing assessments using a word processor. I’m inclined to believe that student writing improves, not because of word processing, but because of skilled teaching. Same thing with laptops in the fourth grade. RayS.

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