You know it - that moment, the exact point in time when the light bulb turns on. That moment when a student "gets it." You see an expression of enlightenment, satisfaction, understanding - you may even see a smile. This is the moment every teacher lives for. It's when you feel like you've finally broken through, you've reached the summit, you've made a difference. You've succeeded in imparting knowledge on this day. THIS is why we teach.
As a technology coach, I don't often get to experience that "AHA" moment for myself. I most often work with teachers, either one on one or in a workshop setting. I've also been known to hover in the back of the classroom, upon request, to provide that "just in case" support. Yes, it IS satisfying when a teacher "gets it," especially when they integrate that idea/tool/pedagogy into their lessons. It's even better when, at a follow-up meeting, I'm told, "I wish I had learned about this sooner - this makes instruction/assessment/homework so much easier!" This is the moment when I feel I've succeeded at my job. And then, there are the times when I'm asked to push into a class to help with instruction. These are special opportunities when we tech coaches have the chance to make a difference.
This week, I was asked to introduce Read and Write for Google to a group of fourth graders in a resource room. Like most youngsters, this young group of boys prefer to write using computers (that is, if they HAVE to write at all.) Just like many resource room students, these kiddos have a variety of different learning needs: some have fine motor issues, some have trouble with spelling, a few others just have difficulty sitting. Having a guest teacher gave them a chance to do something different - learn something new. I explained that we were going to learn about a new tool that may help them with their new research project (the usual grumbling ensued.) I further explained that it could help them to read through the websites they would be using as their sources and that this tool could also help with their writing. They were intrigued and followed along patiently as we went through the steps of activating the Read and Write tools.
Once we were finally done with the nuts and bolts aspect of activating the toolbar, I showed them how Read and Write could read their websites aloud. They were impressed and seemed relieved that they wouldn't have to struggle through reading long articles on their own. However, it wasn't until the last step that they really understood what a powerful tool technology could be. I asked each of them to open a new Google Doc, which they handled with ease. (As a GAFE district, our 4th graders are pretty well versed in Google Docs.) Then I asked them to click on the Read and Write tab allowing them to see the tools. When I explained how text to speech could help them with their writing and proofreading, they were anxious to try it. I asked them to really think hard and formulate a full sentence in their minds before typing. They sat for a minute thinking about what they would write and then tentatively started typing. Finally, out of the silence, one of the computers loudly exclaimed, "Stevie doesn't like tomatoes!" The whole room burst into laughter. This was followed by the usual, "That's so cool!" and "Wait, listen to MY sentence now!" For the next 5 minutes, the boys typed feverishly so that their sentences could be spoken aloud.
Now, I know such tools aren't the be all/end all solution to remediating poor readers or motivating reluctant writers. Would this change how they felt about writing? Maybe, or maybe not. Should we expect computers to be the ultimate motivator for students? No. No more than a pencil encourages a student to write. But, if we could provide the tools to help shift the focus to content and composition and lessen the struggle with the mechanics of writing, then we've made progress. We've made the task a little less daunting. On this day, to be honest, I was just happy to see that they were using proper punctuation and capitalization - not to mention they were writing in complete sentences. Score!
...the Aha moment. The lightbulb turned on. Well done Stevie. Keep on writing.