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Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Classroom Technology Opinion

20 Suggestions About Teaching in a Class Where All Students Have Laptops

By Larry Ferlazzo — September 07, 2021 11 min read
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(This is the first post in a three-part series.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Many teachers will now be teaching for the first time in the physical classroom with students who have laptops every day. What are your suggestions for how teachers incorporate them in lessons and what classroom-management guidelines should govern how and when they are used?

The pandemic has created a situation where we almost all now teach in one-to-one schools. In other words, all students in almost all schools (at least in the U.S.) have laptops (a few might have tablets).

Most of us educators, however, have not previously taught in-person classes where all of our students have had a device in front of them. In this three-part series, teachers who have had that experience will offer advice to the rest of us.

Today’s post features suggestions from Anabel Gonzalez, Michelle Makus Shory, Ashley Kearney, and Cindy Garcia. Anabel, Michelle, and Ashley were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in The Best Resources On “One-To-One” Laptop/Tablet Programs.

The only advice that I can offer—based on my entire one whole week of teaching in a one-to-one class—is that my telling students they have a choice of submitting many assignments either online or in writing by hand seems to be going over well. So far, about one-fourth of students have chosen the pen-and-paper route.

Today’s post is the latest in a series supporting educators entering the third COVID-19-affected school year.

The previous posts have been:

‘A Mindset Shift’

Anabel Gonzalez is currently serving as a CTE instructional facilitator with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools in North Carolina. She began her teaching career in business education and has also served as an ESL teacher and instructional technology trainer.

I have been teaching in a 1:1 laptop school since 2012 and I can’t imagine doing school without laptops. However, for those that are new to devices in the classroom, it is important to note that a digital learning environment is more about redefining teaching and learning and less about the use of devices.

While it allows for differentiation and personalization, digital teaching and learning require a mindset shift on the part of all stakeholders, especially teachers and school leaders. If you give each student a laptop but change nothing else, teaching and learning will not be impacted. And in fact, it may reduce student engagement, add more to a teacher’s workload, and show little to no increase in academic achievement.

Here are some important points to keep in mind:

  • No laptop will ever replace the teacher. While technology can enhance the learning process, no tool or device can ever replicate the human connection between an instructor and a learner.
  • Increase rigor. Use the devices purposefully and begin with the end in mind. Laptops will put information at a student’s fingertips, but in order for it to impact learning, we must go higher on Bloom’s Taxonomy. This will also help prevent cheating.
  • Be a facilitator of learning, not an imparter of knowledge. Lecture less, engage students more, and most importantly, don’t sit at your desk while students are on the computer. Wear comfortable shoes and spend time observing and interacting with students.
  • Students don’t have to be on laptops all the time. Digital literacy is a 21st-century skill, but so are communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. The best use of laptops is for creating new tasks, previously inconceivable. Review the SAMR model and reflect on how you’re integrating technology.
  • Don’t be afraid to learn from students. You can be a learner and still be the authority in the room. For years, I assigned video projects on iMovie, yet to this day, I still can’t create one myself. Students can figure things out for themselves; let them teach you.
  • Try not to confiscate a laptop as a consequence, unless they are grossly misusing it. This can also create more work for you, especially if work is submitted via a learning-management system and/or you need to provide nondigital resources for completing assignments.
  • Have a Plan B. Devices and the internet are for the most part dependable, but outages happen, and learning must go on. Try not to plan 100 percent of the lesson on the laptops and always have an alternative, should the internet or a particular website be down.

Technology is just a tool, a means to accomplish tasks and access resources. It’s not a gadget, a carrot stick, or a reward. While it can be tremendously beneficial, pedagogy trumps technology every time, and we need good teaching to accompany technology tools.


‘Create More Meaningful Questions’

Michelle Makus Shory is a veteran language educator with 25 years of experience in five states. She is currently a district ESL instructional coach in the Jefferson County public schools, Louisville, Ky. Michelle helped establish Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library in Louisville:

Yes, we’ve heard that students are digital natives—and this is mostly true—but most of us have learned that students are most comfortable with phones, not laptops. Therefore, be sure to explicitly teach students how to use the applications your district utilizes. For example, Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets are easy to learn, but mini-lessons that demonstrate how to collaborate, make copies, and compute simple formulas can be pretty helpful.

Additionally, if you support special education students or English-learners, be sure to show them how to use the embedded supports like Microsoft’s Immersive Reader or the captions, speech to text, and translation features in Google Workspace.

Think about your content objectives before selecting a website, tool, or app. (And the purpose should always be loftier than creating a paperless classroom.) Use technology to get timely and relevant information. For example, read current events articles, share tweets with authors on Twitter, and explore novels’ locations with Google Earth. Show students how exciting it can be to connect with people and classrooms around the world.

Integrate technology but not all the time. Give students (and their eyes) a break. Be sure to build in some offline work during each class period. Make sure that students are moving around and having meaningful interactions with their peers. Plan for students to interview each other, work in stations, and collaborate on tasks. Using manipulatives, chart paper, and other low-tech tools can be a welcome change.

It is also important to remember that digital reading and print reading are different. Be sure to teach students explicit strategies for reading digital texts, as well as print texts. When reading digital texts, try to include a nondigital activity like doodling or sketchnoting to get students working in different modalities. Also, remember that students tend to skim digital texts, so if you want them to read a text closely, it might be best to print it.

Finally, don’t waste your time locking down websites so that students are unable to Google answers. We live in a world where we all have instant access to whatever questions we might have. Instead of wasting time locking down sites, spend that time creating more profound and meaningful questions that cannot be Googled. Ask students for connections, comparisons, opinions, and evaluations.


Removing Barriers

Ashley Kearney is an award-winning secondary math educator and 2021 Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow in Washington:

The impromptu shift to remote learning amplified many of the inequities in our education system, especially as they relate to the digital divide. The fact that physical classrooms will be equipped with laptops every day is a game changer that should be embraced as an asset to the learning experience.

However, what has been undoubtedly clear is the need for human connection and interaction, so technology should not dominate the learning environment. Technology can be used to:

· Provide laptops as a research tool for open resources at students’ fingertips.

· Set up laptops for stations, centers, or self-paced work areas.

· Have online notebooks and learning portfolios that allow students to organize, monitor, and access their work inside and outside of school.

· Set up open learning communities to provide opportunities for students to learn with peers in different classrooms in the same school or different schools, same content or interdisciplinary.

· Students can record exemplars for peers who may be absent or need support at-home.

In addition to the ISTE Standards for Students, one overarching question should govern when and how technology is incorporated: How can the use of technology help to remove barriers to the learning experience or content?


Beyond ‘Turning in Assignments’

Cindy Garcia has been a bilingual educator for 16 years and is currently a district instructional specialist for P-6 bilingual/ESL mathematics. She is active onTwitter @CindyGarciaTX and on her blog:

Laptops can be a great tool for learning when incorporated thoughtfully in the classroom. Below are some guidelines and recommendations for using laptops in the physical classroom.

  • Do not use laptops just because they are available. It is not necessary to use technology simply to use technology. There are tasks that are more effective when they are worked on digitally but not all of the time. Getting your class to use their laptops without having a solid plan can lead to wasting instructional time and frustration by the student.
  • During virtual or remote learning, laptops were a way for students to complete and turn in assignments usually through a learning-management system (LMS). It is important to think about what is the purpose for using laptops in the physical classroom. How can laptops be used to go beyond turning in assignments and support student learning?
  • Determine the applications, programs, and websites that will enhance your lesson. It is necessary not just to determine what tool your students will use, but how is the best way to use the tool. What is the purpose for using that tool? What will students need to know in order to use the tool effectively?

    Take the time to explore and play around with the tool in order to figure out what challenges your students might encounter. Also, keep in mind that it is not necessary to use numerous tools or continuously change them. Select a few tools to focus on and become proficient in using them. Are you interested in students collaborating together to create a table with collected data? Google Slides provides students the opportunity to write, draw, and create at the same time. Do you want students to share their solution to a word problem and provide feedback to each other? Flipgrid allows students to record video responses.

  • A refresher on digital citizenship and digital literacy will help the use of laptops be more efficient. Are students aware of what it means to be digitally responsible and safe? It is important for students to understand what types of websites they can visit, what they are allowed to download, how they should interact with each other when working collaboratively, and how to avoid cyberbullying.
  • It is important to have guidelines for laptop use and care in the classroom. Where will laptops be stored when not in use? Are laptops safe inside of desks? Is there a common area to store laptops? As laptops are being used during instruction, there will be moments when laptops are not needed. How do students show their attention to the teacher and not to the laptop? Do they close their laptop to create a 90-degree angle or turn it around? Depending on how long laptops are used, they will need to be charged during the day. Where do students go to charge their laptops? Is there a designated time to charge laptops?

Thanks to Anabel, Michelle, Ashley, and Cindy for contributing their reflections.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign—new ones are not yet available). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first ten years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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