Delving Deeper into Inquiry

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April 25, 2013 by wendybeamish

On April 15th, Wendy Beamish, James Francom, Teresa Haysom, Paula Saar and Andrea Wood met collaborated for a third time, examining and exploring their inquiry question: Through technology can we increase the literacy of the Skills Development Centre (SDC) learners?

The iPad

We began our exploration by discussing what each of us is doing in the SDC. While at the beginning of the year, the activities we selected for our students were homogeneous, we are finding that as time progresses, differences our emerging in our teaching practices.

Student writing and vocabulary development continue to be areas of focus. At the same time, we are focusing on areas that are more conventionally taught in Skills Development Centres such as student goal setting and homework recording.

We are aware that some of our students are using phones or iPods to record homework assignments. It was agreed that we should take a closer look at how our students are using these devices.

Early into our discussion, auto-correct once again worked its way into our agenda. It seems that it is almost impossible for us to examine student online (and, perhaps, offline) writing without looking at the role auto-correct plays in it.

Many adults are incredibly thankful that when they use their smart phones, auto-correct steps in and automatically capitalizes the pronoun “I” and makes up for a litany of spelling errors due to clumsy fingers trained to text late in life.

However, adults seem not to expect auto-correct, to work the same way it does on our smart phones when we write with a word processing program or on an online document.

Once we make our students aware of this, their writing improves immensely.

We have been having writing conferences with are students and using the support workers in the SDC to help with this. Our students are extremely responsive to individualized attention/instruction and respond well to these conferences. For us, it has been exceptionally rewarding to note that most students can correct their own errors when they are informed that they have made mistakes. It is our weaker writers who cannot recognize their mistakes.

While we all focus on the language of learning in specific subject areas, one teacher is taking this further. This teacher has his students set goals and bring in artifacts to the SDC reflecting student goals.

Another teacher is working on different forms of writing and critical thinking. Students have been working on forming inferences.

We all recognize that the year is coming to an end quickly. For this reason, we are allowing students who request time to directly work on homework or outstanding assignments to do so immediately.

Furthermore, we know that many students will be writing exams shortly. We allow students to write sample e-exams during their SDC blocks. All they need to do is to go to the British Columbia Ministry of Education website and navigate to the e-exams.

Since it became apparent to us that, we were focusing on different topics, we agreed that we will compose a list of core skills be taught in the SDC on an annual basis.

The next thing we looked at in this meeting was the advantages and disadvantages to having the iPads in the SDC. Because the advantages of having the iPads in the SDC significantly outweigh the disadvantages of having the iPads in the class, our group was obviously reluctant to talk about the disadvantages, which are invariably off-task browsing on sites such as facebook, Twitter, and Youtube…the usual culprits.

The iPads are leading to increased technological literacy for students who do no have computers at home or come from technological impoverished home environments.

As research tools nothing beats having google at your finger tips and the iPad offer students this.

We have listed online resources on our Skills Development Centre blog that students can use to develop specific skills and/or research topics.

Another advantage is that the iPads increase learner engagement.

We came up with a list of applications that we would like to download onto our iPads. Currently, we are not using any apps on our iPads. We also need to be mindful that any app we purchase compatible with iPad One, which is what we are using. As we anticipate many apps being currently designed will likely not not be compatible with the version of the iPad we currently have, it is important to move quickly.

THE BIG QUESTION:

Through using technology in the SDC, are learners developing literacy skills?

At this point, we do not know. This is not to say that SDC students are not developing literacy skills. They are. Because there are so many variables involved, we cannot be sure what is leading to gains in literacy.  We have different teaching styles and are classes are not homogeneous. Our students are also exposed to other teachers who may be developing their literacy skills.

We cannot measure literacy gains because we do not have a standardized test that is sensitive enough to pick up  increases or decreases in literacy over a short period of time. We have only really been using the iPads for 6 months.

We understand now why it is said that there are few studies showing that technology improves literacy. Conducting a valid study would be an enormous undertaking.

Final Collaboration Meeting:

During our final collaboration meeting, we would like to look reflect upon and examine our collaboration question once again.

Furthermore, we would like to create a list of recommendations for next years SDC teachers. The recommendations would be around best practices in using technology to develop literacy. While we have not come to absolute conclusions, we suspect that some practices are better than others and it would behoove SDC teachers to employ these.

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