My name is Larry Ferlazzo, and I am a Luddite.
Well, maybe not quite a “smash the machine” kind of Luddite. But, coming from spending nineteen years as a community organizer and seeing that face-to-face relationships are the real glue that can genuinely bind diverse people together in struggles for social change, I am very suspicious of the general effect technology has on relationships in our society. And I am equally skeptical of claims that technology can revolutionize our schools.
So what’s a sort of Luddite doing writing in a blog about educational technology, and having his own blog about using technology in the teaching of English as a Second Language, not to mention being the Grand Prize Winner of the International Reading Association Presidential Award for Reading and Technology?
Well, I believe, and a number of studies have shown, that used in an appropriate manner, technology can indeed have a significant impact on academic achievement for second language learners and learning disabled students. I’m an ESL teacher in the largest inner-city high school (over half of our students are English Language Learners) in Sacramento, California, and we have used technology successfully with our immigrant students and their families, including providing home computers and DSL service to assist them in studying English. I’ve also begun working with the Special Education department at our school to expand their use of technology with students.
In terms of mainstream students, I do think it’s important for schools to equip our students with basic computer skills. I’ve also seen, experienced, and read about teachers and students doing extraordinary projects with technology that have been very engaging and have had tremendous educational value, which I think should be encouraged and supported. I’m also aware of many extraordinary projects that I believe have had an equal or greater impact on student achievement that haven’t used any high-tech gizmos at all, and I believe those should be encouraged and supported, too. I’ve seen teachers use technology in useless ways, and have seen terrible lessons not using technology. The key, I believe, has been the teacher and not the tools. I’m not a Web 2.0 True Believer.
I use technology with my non-ESL students, but I don’t use it during my classtime with them. They all have a Computer Applications class and that teacher has agreed to let my students do technology-related projects (that I assign) connected to my class during part of his classtime. They use that time to write online about various topics and comment on each other’s journals. I’ve found that using a web application called Your Draft is easier, at least for my students and me, than a blog. I create a webpage, post an online journal link for each student, and they can very easily just click on it and write, or copy and paste. On that same page they create a myriad of other Web 2.0 projects related to the unit we are studying at the time. One example is using a great site called Fleck to annotate webpages with virtual yellow post-its to demonstrate the use of reading strategies. Here’s an example of a student demonstrating the use of “asking questions” in our study of Natural Disasters.
Would I use my own classtime with them to use these programs? Sometimes, sure, but probably not a whole lot. This way, though, I, in effect, get an extra half-hour a day working with my ninth grade regular English students in a way they find very engaging. I think they would also say they are also very engaged when they are in our class and not using technology.
I don’t even like to use much technology when I give workshops on using the Web with English Language Learners. In these workshops, as in my own classroom, I’m a fan of transparencies and overhead projectors. Tech conference organizers usually think I’m kidding when I ask if there will be an overhead projector in my room. But I think it’s safe to say that teachers who come to my workshops (and students in my classes) are just fine with it. Again, I’ve seen some great workshops using high-tech gear, and I’ve also seen some real disasters. Equally, I’ve been in some loser low-tech trainings and some great ones, too. It’s the presenter, not his/her tools.
What do you think? Am I just being a fuddy-duddy “digital immigrant?”