Encouraging Self-Directed Learning In Students Through Technology

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 2

2. Design and develop digital age learning experiences and assessments Teachers design, develop, and evaluate authentic learning experiences and assessments incorporating contemporary tools and resources to maximize content learning in context and to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes identified in the Standards.

b. Develop technology-enriched learning environments that enable all students to pursue their individual curiosities and become active participants in setting their own educational goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress.

Program Standard 6

6. Assessment – The teacher uses multiple data elements (both formative and summative) to plan, inform and adjust instruction and evaluate student learning.

6.2 Element – Designing Student Assessments with an Emphasis on Formative Assessment

6.2 Example of Proficient – Teacher has a well-developed strategy to using formative assessment and has designed particular approaches to be used.

One of the main obstacles that teachers face in the classroom is lack of student enthusiasm to learn the content being presented. Research has shown that there are a few key elements needed to provoke intrinsic motivation in students. Learners need to feel that they have self-efficacy (belief of one’s competency), control beliefs (belief in one’s ability to influence outcomes), and task value (comprehension of the reason for doing a task) in order to sustain interest in their studies (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012, Chapter 2, para. 2). While these learning qualities are well known by many educators it remains difficult to find creative ways to imbue students with them. For EDTC 6433 (Teaching with Technology) I researched how the second ISTE standard would influence my teaching by researching how technology could be used to promote elementary age students to take ownership of their education by setting their own learning goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress. What I discovered is that technology can be a great tool for addressing the three aspects of intrinsic motivation that can influence student engagement and promote self-directed learning. The goal as a teacher is not just to help students comprehend concepts and gain new knowledge but also to encourage them to pursue their own independent inquiry.

Self-directed learning can improve students’ sense of self-efficacy by helping them understand the process of learning and their own part within it. Abrami, Venkatesh, Meyer, and Wade (2013) asserted, “Self-regulated learners are individuals who are metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participants in their own learning” (p. 1188). This kind of active involvement in the learning process that invokes students to set their own goals, research those objectives, and then reflect on their progress can greatly enhance their confidence in their own abilities. Researchers conducted a study to determine if the use of electronic portfolios could improve student achievement by helping them engage in self-directed learning. What the researchers found is that the students using electronic portfolio software outperformed their peers in the control group in not only their competence of subject matter knowledge but also in the their ability to set goals and actively engage in learning (Abrami, Venkatesh, Meyer, & Wade, 2013, pp. 1198-99). However, some of the gains seen could have also been achieved if the students used a physical portfolio to engage in self-directed learning but the process would not have been as seamless or interactive. While the researchers mainly established that self-directed learning is a key element for student success, they also demonstrated that electronic portfolios are superior to physical ones because of their interactive nature. The students in this study were able to easily share documents and artifacts with their peers and teachers in order to receive feedback on their projects in a much more efficient manner.

Receiving swift feedback from peers and teachers can also greatly influence students control beliefs by allowing them to actively participate in the outcomes of their learning projects. When students are able to quickly determine if their approach is effective they have more control over adjusting that plan to better achieve their goals. Any kind of technology that allows students to easily share their work and receive prompt feedback will help with their intrinsic motivation. For example, another student in EDTC 6433 shared the website www.edmodo.com which helps students and teachers create online learning communities that allow for this kind of active collaboration from students. While this website is not structured exactly the same as the electronic portfolio software the aforementioned researchers studied, it provides students with many of the same opportunities and may actually be more useful. Although the electronic portfolio software used in the study was easy to navigate and effective at directing students to set goals and assess their learning it also required teachers and students to download it to their computers which made it less accessible. Edmodo has the benefit of being a collaborative website that teachers and students can access from anywhere they have an internet connection. Students can pose questions and share research in an interactive platform that invites peer-to-peer engagement. It also provides teachers with an easy and efficient way to track student progress and offer meaningful advice which can encourage self-reflection in students. Both of these resources can benefit students by giving them more feedback to help in the personal assessment stage of self-directed learning.

While this kind of information sharing and interactive learning provides students with more control over their own learning, it also presents them with a sense of task value. Many students become disengaged from learning because they cannot see the outcome or purpose of it. When students create projects with the objective of sharing them with peers it can provide them with a reason to be more invested in their research and the development of their project. Websites like Edmodo are made just for this kind of student interaction. Teachers could also use any blog hosting website to achieve a similar goal and many have successfully. Recently there has been a hotly debated trend in education where teachers are forgoing the classic term paper and instead having students write several blog posts over the course of the term. Richtel (2012) poses the question “Why not replace a staid writing exercise with a medium that gives the writer the immediacy of an audience, a feeling of relevancy, instant feedback from classmates or readers, and a practical connection to contemporary communications?” (para. 6). While a general consensus for the replacement of traditional research papers with blog posts may never be reached, the benefit of this type of collective learning for younger students is hard to refute. It can be difficult to get young children to want to self-direct their learning but offering students a platform to display knowledge they have gained provides them with the incentive to actually want to learn new subject matter. When students are able to create information that they can share with their classmates and even other students around the world their desire to engage in learning can be greatly increased. One teacher recognized this fact and used Edmodo to have her students post their experience on a field trip to the Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, MA. Her students invited other classes from around the country to join their online group on Edmodo enabling them to engage with history in a more tangible manner (Carroll, 2012). The students who took the field trip were able to enrich the study of other learners while also deepening their own experience by providing them with a greater sense of task value.

Students who believe in their own competency, understand their own capacity to influence outcomes, and recognize the reason for doing a task will inevitably gain more from their education because they will be more engaged with it. Technology has the capacity to offer educators a myriad of different ways to supplement their teaching and assist them in demonstrating to students the benefit of self-directed learning. With the help of websites and software I plan on showing students the importance of setting their own goals, managing their own learning, and assessing their own progress. As a future teacher, I plan on integrating technology in a meaningful way whenever possible and electronic portfolios and online communities are an interesting way to help students achieve. Self-directed learning becomes much more stimulating when students can interact with each other and easily obtain feedback on their progress.

Abrami, P. C., Venkatesh, V., Meyer, E. J., & Wade, C. A. (2013). Using electronic portfolios to foster literacy and self-regulated learning skills in elementary students. Journal Of Educational Psychology, 105(4), 1188-1209. doi:10.1037/a0032448
Carroll, N. (2012). “Shared” Field Trip Using Edmodo. Teaching is Elementary. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://teachingiselementary.blogspot.com/2012/11/shared-field-trip-using-edmodo.html
Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McRel [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Richtel, M. (2012). Blogs vs. Term Papers. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/22/education/edlife/muscling-in-on-the-term-paper-tradition.html?_r=0

Using Advance Organizers To Promote Active Learning

Program Standard 1

1. Expectations – The teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.

1.3 Element – Engaging Students in Learning

1.3 Example of Proficient – The lesson has a clearly defined structure around which the activities are organized. Pacing of the lesson is generally appropriate.

When learning new subject matter it is easy for students to become overwhelmed and confused by the material. One efficient way of helping students understand the lesson is to begin with an advance organizer. This technique provides “introductory material presented ahead of the learning task and at a higher level of abstraction and inclusiveness than the learning task itself “(Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, p. 204). Framing instruction this way allows students to not only understand the eventual outcomes of their learning but also connect the information to previously learned material. Four main types of advance organizers help student increase their learning: expository, narrative, skimming, and graphic (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone, 2012, Chapter 4, para. 20). Expository advance organizers scaffold learning by creating a written or verbal framework for the information about to be presented. Narrative advance organizers spark students’ interest by framing the material in the format of a story or tale. Skimming advance organizers allow students to obtain a general overview of the material being presented so that they can begin to arrange the information in their mind. The most popular of the four is graphic advance organizers which allow students to see a visual representation of the content being taught (Dean et al., 2012, Chapter 4, para. 21-9). While this teaching strategy is framed around explicit instruction it is anything but passive.

Teachers who employ this tactic effectively in their classrooms actually enable students to become active learners who are aware of their own metacognitive processes. When used competently educators can encourage students to become life-long learners capable of employing the best inquiry practices. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted, “Critical thinking and cognitive reorganization can be explained to the learners, who receive direct instruction in orderly thinking and in the notion of knowledge hierarchies. Ultimately, they can apply these techniques independently to new learning” (p. 210). This kind of instruction imbues students with the tools necessary to fully understand the learning process and become familiar with their own needs. This awareness becomes even more prominent when teachers use advance organizers in meaningful ways. Educators should try to utilize all the different varieties of them for the benefit of their students. This mixture will do two things for students. First it will allow students to be exposed to information in an array of distinct approaches which will improve information retention. The second thing that it will do for students is to allow them to explore their own unique learning style by being exposed to different types. It is important for students to be engaged in their learning and advance organizers can provide students with the efficacy to take control of their education.

Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement (2nd ed.). Denver, CO: McRel [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Abstract Thinking Of Concrete Concepts

Program Standard 4

4. Content Knowledge – The teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning. 

4.1 Element – Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy

2.1 Example of Proficient – Teacher’s plans and practice reflect familiarity with a wide range of effective pedagogical approaches in the discipline.

Educators are charged with the complex task of helping students learn new concepts. However, this does not mean that teachers should merely present students with facts to study and memorize. Instead, they must find ways to present information through meaningful learning experiences that will equip students with the ability to transfer their learned skills from the classroom to real world situations. Bruner (1971) called for “an approach to learning that allows the child not only to learn the material that is presented in a school setting, but to learn it in such a way that [he or she] can use the information in problem solving” (p. 70). For students to be able to engage in complex reasoning they first must be able to look at straightforward concepts abstractly. One way that teachers can get students involved in this kind of thinking is through the synectics teaching model.

This strategy employs the use of metaphors and analogies to deepen students’ examination of topics. Educators use it to develop students’ thinking by having them investigate concrete notions in abstract ways. There are two manners in which to use synectics in the classroom: to produce a new idea out of something familiar or to make unfamiliar knowledge relatable (Joyce, Weil, & Calhoun, 2015, p. 160). Both of these approaches lead students to think more critically about any given topic and incite them to view concept exploration as a highly involved process. This type of learning also invites students to examine their own thought development. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) stated in reference to synectics that, “students learn to think about their problem solving processes and gain a measure of metacognitive control over how they solve problems” (p. 149). This type of intentional cognitive exploration can help students develop better critical thinking skills that will transfer more readily to a variety of situations and extend beyond the classroom.

Bruner, J. S. (1971). The Relevance of Education. New York: Norton. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

How Questioning Can Be An Effective Teaching Strategy

Program Standard 2

2. Instruction – The teacher uses research-based instructional practices to meet the needs of all students. 

2.1 Element – Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques

2.1 Example of Proficient – Most of the teacher’s questions are of high quality. Adequate time is provided for students to respond.

As traditional ways of thinking have diminished and new theories have taken their place, education in the United States has undergone a transformation. Although many traditional teaching techniques are still prevalent in American classrooms the general consensus concerning learning has shifted. No longer are teachers thought to be the sole proprietors of knowledge and students the passive vessels waiting to receive information. Instead it is believed that students are natural learners waiting to discover different concepts and that a teacher’s role is to encourage and aid students in the discovery of new information. Inquiry based models are now seen as an effective teaching style to engage students and inspire them to become lifelong learners. Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015) asserted, “If we build learning communities that draw students into inquiry into subject matter and help those students engage with it conceptually, they will master any subject” (p. 23). It is now seen as essential that teachers use questioning techniques to unlock the knowledge that students already obtain and then encourage them to build upon that information. Research has shown that in order for students to succeed they need to feel that they have self-efficacy and control over their own future and inquiry based teaching can provide that to them (Johnson, 2015, 28).

It is important for students to develop a sense of agency in order for them to realize their self-efficacy. Once students are aware of their own capabilities they will come to realize that they can achieve any goal they set out to accomplish. Leading students into inquiry through thoughtful questioning can help them achieve that realization. Johnson (2004) stated, “Teacher’s conversations with children help the children build the bridge between action and consequence that develop their sense of agency” (p. 29). In order for students to be engaged in learning it is important that teachers demonstrate to them that their ideas are important. One way to do that is to create a supportive environment where students are encouraged to express their opinions. If teachers ask questions that allow students to direct the conversation it is more likely that students will become engaged in the subject matter. This type of teaching allows students to ignite their imaginations and connect the content to their own personal experiences.

It also allows students to make connections between the content that they are learning and real world scenarios. Johnson (2004) believed “that the less compartmentalized we make children’s learning lives, the more likely they are to transfer their strategic problem-solving to other situations” (p. 44). One main goal of education is to prepare students for life after school and help them develop the skills to thrive throughout their lives. It is important that the skills learned in school are transferable to a multitude of different situations. Posing questions and allowing student to explore topics on their own can teach them how to learn instead of just what to learn which will help them as they get older. As demonstrated it is essential for educators to employ questioning as part of their teaching strategy. It creates learners who can think for themselves and who understand the process of developing new skills. When students are a part of an inquiry based environment they develop the agency to take learning into their own hands and the skills to do so efficiently.

Johnston, P. (2004). Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com
Joyce, B.R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015) Models of Teaching (9th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved from Amazon.com

Using Technology to Differentiate Instruction and Inspire Student Learning

International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standard 1

1. Facilitate and inspire student learning and creativityTeachers use their knowledge of subject matter, teaching and learning, and technology to facilitate experiences that advance student learning, creativity, and innovation in both face-to-face and virtual environments.

Program Standard 3

3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning. 

3.3 Element – Demonstrating flexibility and responsiveness in persisting to support students.

3.3 Example of Proficient – Teacher persists in seeking approaches for students who have difficulty learning, drawing on a broad repertoire of strategies.

Tailored instruction has long been thought to yield the highest level of comprehension when learning a new skill. It is logical then that legislatures and administrators would push to implement that principle in schools. Differentiation is now considered an essential tool for educators to learn and more teachers are encouraged to adopt this technique every year. Instructors well versed in differentiation provide students a variety of approaches in which to explore a single concept. This practice allows students to take into consideration their personal learning style when mastering subject matter or even practice the same skill several ways for a deeper understanding. It also allows students choices in their education which can imbue students with a sense of agency and incite engagement in their studies. Effective educators use many methods to achieve differentiation in their classrooms and often technology can be a valuable tool in achieving that goal.

For the class EDTC 6433 (Teaching with Technology) we were asked to explore how the first ISTE standard can be applied to our own teaching goals and experiences. This standard asks how technology can “facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity” so I researched how it could be used to provide students with a more tailored education. My theory on the subject is that if students are allowed to use technology to progress at their own rate and receive individualized ways to practice certain concepts they will reach a higher level of mastery in those skills. Investigating this project uncovered a wide range of resources available to teachers including software programs, websites, and apps to name a few. In order to narrow down my examination I focused solely on the use of educational apps. During my research I discovered an article that provided a framework for strengthening children’s literacy skills through the use of apps. Northrop and Killeen (2013) asserted that the use of apps to scaffold instruction can be very effective when coupled with explicit instruction, however, they warn teachers that this technology should not be seen as a substitute for meaningful lessons (p. 533). One issue they noted was the game-like structure of the literacy apps they tested and how that might cause issues with long-term retention of the skills presented. Northrop and Killeen (2013) stated, “we noticed that the child would race through the app, clicking to get the correct answer, not paying attention to decoding and reading the words” (p. 535). Despite this setback they recommended the use of literacy apps in classrooms and suggested that with proper instruction and monitoring that this kind of technology can be a useful instructional aid.

Another student in EDTC 6433 found a similar article that dealt with the use of apps to build on students’ math skills. The article chronicled a study conducted on a group of fourth grade students and demonstrated how the use of math apps improved their comprehension of the subject matter. The researchers in this study also found that the apps worked best when used to scaffold learning already achieved through explicit teacher instruction. The researchers in this article indicated that the best apps to improve student achievement allow students to progress at their own pace and provide expedient feedback (Zhang, M., Trussell, R.P., Gallegos, B., & Asam, R.R., 2015, p. 33). These two features enable students to focus on the particular skills they struggle with and provide teachers with valuable information that they can use to differentiate instruction. These authors also touch on the idea that it is important for educators to use apps to supplement instruction and not rely on them to actually teach students new skills.

Overall, the use of technology as an instructional aide can greatly benefit both teachers and students. When used effectively it can provide students with differentiated instruction by allowing them to work at their own pace and to work on the skills they struggle with the most. However, it is crucial that teachers take great care to implement technology in a thoughtful and intentional way by providing explicit instruction and guidance on how it should be used. Mary Ann Wolf of the State Educational Technology Directors Association emphasized, “Strong leadership is needed to encourage the correct use of technology, provide support throughout, and systematically integrate the use of technology for instruction. Integrating technology is much, much more than putting a piece of software into a classroom” (Robin, 2015, p. 221). Once teachers become proficient at managing technology use in their classroom, it will advance student learning and incite engagement in the content presented.

As a future educator, I am dedicated to advancing student learning by using a wide variety of techniques. Technology will definitely have a prominent place in my classroom and I will use it to engage student learning and provide them with the differentiated instruction that they need. All of the articles cited provide useful information about the benefits and the difficulties of using technology in the classroom. In order to implement technology in a meaningful way I will have to carefully plan out how to integrate it into lesson plans in a seamless and impactful manner. This will mean that any piece of technology that enters my curriculum will have to be well vetted to determine if its use will actually benefit the learning process. The two articles dealing with the use of apps in the classroom discuss the fact that the wide range of apps on the market means that some are much better developed than others. Some apps focus on a very narrow skill set and some cover a wide range of material. Furthermore, some apps provide useful feedback on student progress that educators can use to scaffold learning and some provide no feedback at all. These issues will mean that adding technology to my classroom will be an extensive process but the resulting benefits to my students will be well worth the effort.

Northrop, L. E., & Killeen, E. (2013). A Framework for Using iPads to Build Early Literacy Skills. Reading Teacher, 66(7), 531-537. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.1155
Robin, B.R. (2008). Digital Storytelling: A Powerful Technology Tool for the 21st Century Classroom. Theory Into Practice. 47(3), 220-228. doi: 10.1080/00405840802153916
Zhang, M., Trussell, R., Gallegos, B., & Asam, R. (2015). Using Math Apps for Improving Student Learning: An Exploratory Study in an Inclusive Fourth Grade Classroom. Techtrends:Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 59(2), 32-39. doi: 10.1007/s11528-015-0837-y