• by Hilaria Bauer, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • April 2000 •
Technophobe, cyber novice, electronically challenged… Call it what you will. As a teacher, I was puzzled about computers.
Then one day, our school had a computer lab. It was introduced to us as a new way of teaching students basic literacy skills. Naturally, when something new comes to a school, not everyone is invited to experience the innovation at the same time. So it was a while before my turn came to use the lab. By then, I had heard so many horror stories about the difficulty of using them, I was petrified that I would push the wrong button and make everything go blank on the screen. It did not help that our secretary’s desk had a little sign that read: “To err is human, to really mess up things requires a computer.” I definitely did not want to mess up things.
Since I am already a pretty good teacher, I said to myself, why should I even bother to try this new thing. All my children need to learn is to read, write and, of course, do math. Unconsciously, the innovator in me was being silenced because of my fear of the unknown.
I rationalized that computers may be okay for older children, but not for my little ones. The older students already knew how to identify letters and numbers. They had the attention span necessary to spend time in front of the screen and figure out what was needed in the exercise. Computers were not appropriate for my little ones. Yes, that was it, not appropriate! My young students needed to spend more time exploring, interacting with each other, playing, developing motor skills, etc., etc., etc.
But, I was forced into the computer lab. I had no choice, and I realized that I might as well learn to deal with it. Still, I put forth a struggle by asking questions (questions that any good teacher should ask about curricula, etc.). Only, I tried to use my questions as excuses for avoiding computers.
My first question was: “Is Spanish software available?” All of my students were classified as beginners in English, and their native language was Spanish. I knew then, and still believe now, that the foundation for early literacy rests on the development of the mother tongue. Even back then, we had a very basic program called VALE. VALE is a phonetics-based software program that allows children to practice letter-sound relationships. Despite its limitations, I knew the program would help students develop letter-sound relationships, which are the building blocks of literacy. Thus, my excuse about linguistically appropriate software would not work.
My second question was: “How can my students interact with each other during this hour-long block of time?” There were eight working computers in our primary computer lab. I decided to sit two students at each computer. I then created a small literacy group with the remaining six. So, I started a computer lab rotation with 16 students working on the computers and six in a small literacy group with me.
The computer lab teacher assistant did not speak Spanish, but she helped me keep everyone on task. She also began to pick up some Spanish from my students. The students also helped each other to recognize letters and sounds. They enjoyed computers so much they looked forward to lab time. They learned to help each other with the basic logistics of running the program. So, my second excuse, about the quality of student interaction during computer lab, would not work.
My third question was: “Can this computer strategy be considered developmentally appropriate practice?” Many critics of computers in early childhood environments frown at the thought of children being stuck for hours in front of computers. People question whether children are being rushed out of childhood prematurely. My students taught me that when given well-organized activities in the computer lab, they look forward to practicing their knowledge. Outside the lab, I continued a generous regimen of literature-based instruction, where books, developmental writing and integrated curriculum instruction were constantly experienced. In the lab, as expected, some students quickly gained proficiency in the practice drills, while others took more time. Little by little, some children began to use the computer as a word processor to write their compositions.
A National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) position statement says that development proceeds at varying rates from child to child as well as unevenly within different areas of each child’s functioning (Bredekamp and Copple, 1996). I realized that computers were appropriate for my students as long as I kept a respectful distance and allowed them to tell me when they were ready to move to more challenging activities. I began to use the software programs for our benefit, not to let the programs rule our curriculum. Software programs are designed to be used and tailored to the needs of the classroom, not to dictate what should to happen. My third excuse, then, was dissolved by my students’ progress and enthusiasm.
For me, the answers to my questions did not come quickly. It took many hours of self-convincing and tailoring the innovation to the class’ needs to feel comfortable with the computer’s role in my instruction. I experienced frustration because I had not had adequate training, yet I felt challenged to make the best out of a difficult situation.
By the end of the year, I felt strongly that computers would be more productive in the classroom than in a lab so that students would have better access to them. I also learned that, like any other resource, technology products vary widely in quality and application. I learned that the teacher is still the best individual to choose what is appropriate for students.
For my students, many of whom may not have had access to computers otherwise, working with computers was an issue of having an opportunity to equitable access and equitable resources. Bradley Scott, the director of the Intercultural Development Research Association’s (IDRA) equity assistance center, refers to these opportunities as “the unobstructed entrance into, involvement of and full participation of learners in schools, programs and activities within schools” (2000). In addition, he says that access to equitable resources means that:
Funding, staffing and other resources for equity-based excellence that are manifested in the existence of equitably assigned qualified staff, appropriate facilities, other environmental learning spaces, instructional hardware and software, instructional materials and equipment, and all other instructional supports, are distributed in an equitable and fair manner such that the notion that all diverse learners must achieve high academic standards and other school outcomes become possible (Scott, 2000).
In early childhood education environments, these goals translate into demanding more access to staff development and resources that are appropriate for our students.
Many times, those of us in early childhood education forget that our students are part of a bigger picture, that eventually children need to become proficient to face to challenges of our times. We need to keep in mind that whether we are ready or not, our students need to experience technology in order to build the social background that will enable them to be successful not only in school, but in life.
Technology is here to stay, and it is transforming our classrooms. A recurrent theme in the developmentally appropriate practice principles is the theme of development and learning influenced by multiple social and cultural contexts. As the technology revolution unfolds, the way we communicate with each other is evolving. In the past, it was necessary to learn how to write, so letters and notes could convey our thoughts to others. Today, e-mail has changed many of those conventions (Windschitl, 1998).
As our students learn to communicate both orally and in writing, we need to introduce the many ways we are now communicating technologically. In the past, the telephone was a staple of the “house” center. Today, I think we must add a computer.
Bredekamp, S. and Copple, C. (Editors). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs (Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1996).
Standish, P. “Only Connect: Computer Literacy From Heidegger to Cyberfeminism,” Educational Theory (Fall 1999) Vol. 49, No. 4, pp. 417-435.
Scott, B. “We Should Not Kid Ourselves: Excellence Requires Equity,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 2000).
Windschitl, M. “The WWW and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take?” Research News and Comment (January-February 1998) Vol. 27, No. 1, pp. 28-33.
Yánez-Perez, A. “Technology, Teachers and Early Childhood,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, April 1996).
Hilaria Bauer, M.A., is an education associate in IDRA Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the April 2000 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]