Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Like a Box of Chocolates..A Substitute Teacher's Tale

Photo by Monique Carrati on Unsplash
As an adult ESL substitute teacher, integrating technology into my teaching has been somewhat challenging. For one thing, within the school board where I teach most of the year, not all locations are tech-friendly, e.g., multi-purpose satellite locations in church basements, recreation centres, seniors’ residences, or community housing buildings. In such cases, in fact, I consider it a blessing if a photocopier is available on site (a bonus if I’m allowed to use it)! On the other hand, in familiar classrooms which I know to be relatively tech-friendly, accessing available technology is not always possible for various reasons.

Even in the best of situations, the abilities of the learners, language- and tech-wise, must be taken into account. At any level of instruction (beginner to advanced), for instance, a trip to the computer lab can cause anxiety for some students, e.g., retired/senior learners, newcomers who’ve had little to no experience using computers in their native country, or refugees for whom survival has been the primary goal for at least a few years of their lives. (Of course, there are exceptions within these categories of learners.) Earlier this month, I tried without success to convince a senior in an advanced class that e-mail would be faster and more efficient than the handwritten letter she wanted to mail to someone in her home country, and last week I suggested to another adult student, a fluent speaker with weak literacy skills, that her teenage daughter help her type a resume for her job search. 

Generally, I’ve observed that there tends to be a greater interest in tech use among learners seeking employment. Also, the fact that most or all learners own a smartphone can occasionally be helpful, depending on the activity. But again, it's "like a box of chocolates"...

In contrast, the teaching opportunities that come my way during the summer months lend themselves to an abundance of tech options for teaching international students, who are typically tech-savvy digital natives with some degree of expectation that technology will take an active role in their learning. (I kind of get a sense of what I'm dealing with the first or second class, when students freely express their dismay at not being able to access the internet at every subway stop on their way to class, like they're able to do back home.) 

Like a trip to a candy store, the options for tech-enhanced instruction in my summer classes can be overwhelming. The challenge then becomes, which tech tools will I use during the 3- to 4- week morning and/or afternoon classes to which I’ve been assigned? In my limited teaching time, how can I best leverage the tools I’d like to experiment with, ensuring that they’re being used purposefully, to support learning, and not just for the sake of using technology? 

Adult learners, in particular, place a high value on their time and can quickly tell if an activity is an afterthought rather than intentional, so this characteristic of meaningful technology use is probably the most significant to me, but I'm sure it's an important consideration for all teachers who use tech, regardless of the subject matter and the ages or abilities of their learners.    

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