The present paper aims to investigate middle school teacher’s use of technology in the classroom. In particular, the concern of the paper is to look for the use of technology in the English language arts classes and that how teachers use technology for different pedagogic purposes like lesson planning, lesson impartation, and so forth.
Statement of Problem and Purpose
With the advent of technology in English language arts class, it is natural for the stakeholders to ask if the use of technology is effective to the extent it is being used. In order to satisfy the demands of the stakeholders, it is important to analyze whether the inclusion of technology is really effective in English language arts classes in middle schools. As such, the present paper examines the integration of technology effectiveness in the middle school language arts classes by the teachers for different purposes such as lesson planning, lesson presentation, gathering of the data, and reporting of the student’s achievement. Therefore, the present study focuses on technology inclusion in middle school English language arts classes from the viewpoint of its effectiveness in the areas mentioned above. The study seems to investigate whether technology does play a role in the context of English language arts classes or not.
Background and Significance of Problem
If integration of technology is taken into empirical consideration, it is analyzed the teachers today are attracted to the use of technology in English language arts classes, say, they give importance to the use of the Internet due to its scope and nature of being student-centered. The present paper, then, aims to examine the effectiveness of any such use of technology. The study focuses on the use of technology from the angle of its rightful place in English language arts classes: If the inclusion of technology is just because it is a coming-thing in the market, there is no doubt that this trend is merely an addition to the burden of technological sophistication in classes. In this way, the present study is going to be a contribution to the growing literature about the use of technology in English language arts classes in middle schools.
Preliminary Literature Review
Looking at the history of America with the viewpoint of Nature and technology, Segal (1994) notes that these two forces “are commonly treated as antagonists. Nature in whatever form is almost always portrayed as technology’s enemy and, usually, its victim”. However, the author disagrees with the claim and states that for both, “reconciliation took different forms over time”. This area is another issue for further investigation, which may provide sharp insight into the use of technology.
Hence, looking at the history of American schools, we find that it was in the late 1970s that the discussion in scholarly writings about the needs and wants of young school-going emerged, which was further highlighted in the 1980s. (Augustine et al., 2004). It was the groundbreaking book The Exemplary Middle School, in which Alexander and George came up with a new philosophy about how middle schools should be put to work. They presented a brand new concept for middle schools (Augustine et al., 2004). With the new paradigms reforms in middle schools being carried out in the early 1980s, educators and scholars raised their voice regarding “society’s lack of attention to young teens” (Augustine et al., 2004). As such, the continuous implementation of paradigms in the middle school’s reforms took place. As many issues as youth’s vulnerability, sexual behavior, and drug addiction took attention of both policymakers and the public, and “there were efforts to make schools—especially those that served “at-risk” youth—into full-service community centers that could facilitate the development of young teens” (Augustine et al., 2004). Other priorities set also continued.
Today, the debate of the middle school reforms taken into account two major sides of the argument: the academic and social-emotional aspects of the younger school-goings. According to the latest research, “students do best in educational settings that provide social support and emphasize academic rigor” (Augustine et al., 2004). As such, the challenges and goals for middle school young adolescents are (1) education for all, (2) addressing young students’ unique developmental issues, (3) serving the whole person, (4) bringing high academic standards for them as well as preparing them for high school.
With all these goals comes the role of technology integration in middle school teaching, say, in English language arts classes. As such, these technological advances overall “can serve as passports to an ever-expanding [sic] reservoir of knowledge and rapid human communication,” but they need to be tailored according to the needs of a specific context, in our case, the English language arts class of a middle school. Today, the inclusion of technology is redefining “how we learn, play, and understand our lives.” In this way, “the ability to understand, evaluate, and integrate information delivered by electronic media is becoming an important part of science, language, and literacy.” The authors emphasize the tailoring of the use of technology because it may have serious “intellectual and moral consequences to being able to tailor the information that reaches us” (Adams and Hamm, 1998).
Senator (1995) informs us that the prime goal of our curriculum is to expose students to information in both print and nonprint formats. Hence the answer to the question that ‘Why technology in language arts class?’ springs that there is a vital role of technology integration into language arts classes because “Every experience students have with technology involves the use of the language arts, either as part of the search or as the end product”. Thus, with the growing number of technology genres, such as CD-ROMs, laserdiscs, computers, and so on, it is becoming the fast need of the twenty-first-century language arts classes that technology be integrated into the syllabi. For instance, searching a database or the Internet, keywords, search terms, and specific vocabulary are a requirement for successful learning, especially in middle school. “All of these activities require that students read, write, speak, listen, and reason, thus using the language arts” (Senator, 1995).
Another area to examine are the benefits, which are other than the ones quoted above. That is to say, how much help can technology yield to students in relation to the subject knowledge, research, processes to relate these learning activities, and so on; the benefit of such an integrated instruction, as Kingen (2000) notes, is that “students can devote some time to researching the available sources that relate to the theme” creating in them self-reliance with regard to the use of technology.
With the above debate, the present study aims to focus on the integration of technology in middle school language arts classes so that a much better understanding can be born, which is the need of the present times.
Initial Research Questions
The following study specifically aims to investigate the following research question and find empirical answers with regard to technology integration in the middle school language arts classes:
- How do middle-grade teachers use technology in their classrooms?
- What do teachers say they need to effectively incorporate technology into their classrooms?
- What do teachers say prevents them from utilizing technology in their classroom instruction?
Methodology and Research Design
With the nature of the study and the research question, the present study seems to focus on an investigation of the research issues from the angle of the Qualitative research paradigm. The rationale for choosing this paradigm is that it will give insight into the above-quoted issues from the investigation of the ongoing process related specifically to research questions. Furthermore, the research questions demand that naturalistic processes and data be examined to grasp the kernel of the research.
Middle-Grade Teachers’ Use of Technology in their Classrooms
Technology education came into effect from industrial-arts education. It has ever since been the part of programs that educate teachers about the use of technology in middle school classrooms and has been practiced in most of the states ever since the mid-1980s. These educational programs, in substance, stress teachers’ learning of the latest technologies instead of depending on conventionally carved out tools that are more industrial and material tools. “While previous approaches focused more on occupational preparation, more contemporary efforts place emphasis on technological literacy. Today, the curriculum for technology education is guided by the Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA, 2000)” (Manning et al., 2004).
According to the specification of the Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA, 2000), the middle school language arts teachers use the following techniques/strategies to teach by the integration of technology:
- Practicum or Field Experiences: These are experiences registered by the teachers on the spot. These “allow prospective teachers to observe students, teachers, the teaching of technology education, and the overall school operation” (Manning and Ritz, 2004).
- Instructional strategies: These include preparation and planning of lessons; teaching approaches; learning both individual and in groups; “lectures, demonstrations, projects, and modules; instructional materials and media; and assessment of learners” (Manning and Ritz, 2004).
- Curriculum for technology education: It includes the outline about the teaching by the level of different grades. It also enlists curriculum framework approved by the state; trends in the national and international curriculum; standards nation and state-wide; as well as lesson planning, unit, and course.
- Planning/Designing Effective Instruction includes the organization of the laboratory, managing the classroom, assessing students, and human developmental issues.
- Mentored or Student Teaching: This is for the development of teaching skills via a long-term involvement in teaching experiences (viz., 2 sessions per week or per term) (Manning and Ritz, 2004).
By making further empirical investigation, we find that such criteria of technology education are necessary to improve student education. Such activities as hands-on, inquiry-based learning are very important as these activities “develop lasting skills that often translate into higher levels of student achievement” (Middle School Resources – glencoe.com).
Another study undertaken to investigate the use of technology by the middle school language arts teachers revealed that “E-mail, reviewing software, developing computer-enhanced lessons, and using content-based software were the applications that the greatest number of participants had previously used” (Egbert et al., 2002).
In the same study, it was examined that the use of technology by the middle school language arts teachers is prone to peer feedback and review; for instance, in the study, the sample participants were asked about the resources they used to learn about the use of technology and the “Participants cited their colleagues as the most commonly used resource for finding out about new activities” (Egbert et al., 2002).
What do Teachers Say they Need to Effectively Incorporate Technology into their Classrooms?
In the connection of this question, we find authentic data about what teachers say they need to effectively combine technology with their classroom teaching experiences. A study undertaken to examine the responses of pre-service teachers offered the technology-based activities which were
- Word processing software and graphics
- Web searching and bookmarking for
- Presentation on PowerPoint
After the study was over, the teachers stated that they really had a very good experience by going through a technology integration program. However, with what they learned in that study, it also came out that teachers need to immediately apply the knowledge that they have gained from a learning experience. Additionally, the study also brought forward to notice the fact that to effectively integrate technology into middle school language arts classroom teaching, for the teachers.
On-demand and just-in-time learning is the need for instructors to recognize and seize teachable moments. Teachable moments refer to a time when individuals are ready to learn. In using this approach, the teacher may appropriately decide that the current discussion or situation may offer a prime opportunity to meet current or anticipated learning goals better than the planned instructional activities (Duran et al., 2004).
Moving along the same lines, Magali Williams (2003) informs us that today in the complex times the language teachers need to: (i) leave out the classic technologies, like video, overhead, chalkboard, or television in the classroom; (ii) they should realize the true meaning of technology which is more than just simply using these classic tools; (iii) use technology like a tool that promotes teaching, learning, as well as multi-sensory experiences so that a number of different ways can be paved for students’ enhanced learning. From the same source, Cynthia Gomez tells us that teachers need to have a better grasp of students needs; they need to make instruction relevant “by focusing on technology that students have at home or have seen in real life”; to set up a classroom in such a way as it represents real-life situation; talk with students about the use of technology in the classroom to get feedback..
Furthermore, Allen, Merkley, & Schmidt, (2001). Caution that technology failures must also be put into consideration as the instructor needs to be ready for the unexpected: hardware that fails, software that won’t open, servers that crash, computer labs that are double-booked, and so forth. The instructor needs to be comfortable with modeling flexibility, troubleshooting, and problem-solving approaches when technical difficulties arise (p. 220).
What Prevents Teachers from Utilizing Technology in their Classroom Instruction?
In a study conducted to investigate the integration of technology through narrative collaboration, the researchers (Hausfather et al., 2002) found the following obstacles, or challenges, or preventive factors that kept the teachers at bay from integrating technology in their classrooms. These are given as under:
- Making presentations and instructing through technology at times gave the teachers with extra load or distractions for the students.
- The pre-design, mixes of colors, sounds, texts, and other such ingredients of software distracted the teachers from using technology in a learner-friendly manner.
- “More often, they struggled with apparent constraints to their teaching philosophy. Where they wanted actively engaged learning, technology seemed to inhibit student interaction.
- Creating a PowerPoint presentation was also found to be a daunting task by a teacher due to time constraints.
- Technology was observed as making the task more complex, which put certain limits to teachers’ capability to integrate technology into teaching.
- Other physical constraints such as no multi-media hook-ups, no proper handling of the extra data traveling were also found to prevent the teacher from using technology in their teaching
Another study Mcgrail (p. 05, 2005), examined middle school English teachers’ perspectives regarding the use of technology also listed some of the major preventive causes the kept them from effective technological implementation in teaching. These are:
- Administrative Challenges: the teacher reported two kinds of them: (i) in computer labs, desk arrangement protruded a difficulty of management; (ii) the access to computers by teachers was not easy, that is, they “could not reserve the computer lab for a month or three weeks”.
- Ethical Challenges: Many teachers in this study raised voices for concerns about malpractice such as plagiarism. “Specifically, the teacher noticed that their students had a tendency to use reference materials without citing the sources. Teachers blamed the web sites for setting bad examples”.
- Some of the teachers also reported bureaucratic pressures making their progress slow down or come to a halt.
As we examine a number of different factors that prevent teachers from integrating technology in English language arts middle school classes, we can sum up the discussion with what Richards, C. (2005) says about how to cope up with the challenges:
“To more effectively harness the exciting educational implications and learner-centered possibilities of ICTs, teachers need (a) new design strategies for teaching and learning which promote the applied integration of ICTs, and (b) to avoid the kind of add-on tendencies associated with still dominant assumptions about formal lesson planning and syllabus design on the one hand, and are often inadvertent in the use of top-down models such as instructional design and social constructivism learning theory”.
Today, technology in education like computers, the internet, multimedia presentations, and so forth are not taken merely as tools that assist better learning. They are visions for a better tomorrow as they bring with them the sophistication of enhanced learning in a broader spectrum for example, “More recently, however, the computer is being viewed more as an integral part of socio-collaborative learning activity and less as a means by which knowledge and skills are transferred to learners” (albany.edu, n.d.).
In this way, an emerging need is not only to examine the role of integration of technology into middle school (or any educational context, in general) English language arts classes is necessary; but the investigation of the more vital use of technology is also needed. With this view in mind, many unexplored territories can be carved out for better understanding, for future policymaking, and for a much better tomorrow that will be integrated with technology.
Henceforth, Technology can help us to:
“Create visual aids for teaching
Improve access to resources, such as online literature libraries
Review and comment on student work more efficiently
Integrate video clips into presentations
Broaden choices for students to demonstrate learning” (Christy, glencoe.com, n.d.).
Additionally, technology can also create a better social environment for a country by having the students go through experiences of different cultures through multimedia and other such programs, which have hope for the humanistic educational dream to come true as well.
- Adams, D., & Hamm, M. (1998). Literacy in science, technology, and the language arts: an interdisciplinary inquiry. Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey. pp. 160-185.
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