Have you ever noticed that Deaf and Hard of Hearing classrooms differ from regular education classrooms? If you have been isolated at a school for the Deaf, maybe you wouldn't be aware. Or perhaps if you are a sole SDC teacher within a district, it would also come as a surprise. Do you listen to the chatter in the teacher's lounge? Do you become part of the conversation? Are you part of the instructional technology buzz on the internet, constantly searching for lesson planning ideas and ways to incorporate technology into your classroom? Or are you afraid? Come on, admit it, all of us have a bit of fear. It is a leap of faith. It is overwhelming at first, but weren't you overwhelmed your first year of teaching too? Didn't it become easier as the year went on?
I have had a very unique experience of itinerant teaching, as well as working in schools for the Deaf and smaller regionalized programs. In recent years, after returning to public education and the mainstream environment, I have begun to recognize significant difference in the educational environment and use of technology. I have been blessed with the experience of seeing some really outstanding regular educational teachers maximizing student learning potential by incorporating technology in everything they do. Students are immursed in lessons and actively involved from the time they enter the classroom until the time the bell rings (and I have also seen my fair share of teachers that still adhere to strict paper pencil tasks). On the other side, I have seen some really outstanding SDC teachers (for the Deaf as well as general SDC classrooms in which my DHH students are placed). I have also seen SDC teachers that are so burnt out or unorganized that there is no rhyme or reason to their instruction. Students run amuck, instructional assistants are chatting with each other and the teacher is checking email. I've seen it all.
So let's take a deeper look into the exceptional teachers: first, the SDC classroom. Teachers utilize technology as a teacher tool.
- ELMO is used to display stories on the white board, maintain focus eye contact during guided instruction and the completion of worksheets. Basically, it is a glorified overhead projector...in color.
- Interactive White Boards (IWB) are almost non-existant in the SDC classroom, however in some of our school remodels, I have noticed IWB being placed. I have observed a lesson once in which and SDC teacher actually utilized the IWB, and that was to project a stream video as an introduction to a unit on weather (mental note: there was no "interaction" during this lesson either from the teacher or the students). In a few other instances, I have watched lessons where the teacher utilizes the IWB much like the ELMO: as a glorified chalk board.
- Clickers are seen far and few between in SDC classrooms, in my experience. We had them at the school for the Deaf where I was employed. There is no way NOT to be interactive with this activity, and in my observations, students were always enthrawled when used. There error comes when teachers do not utilize the data to re-direct instruction.
- Almost every class for the Deaf is equiped with Assistive Technology including Video Phones, Assistive Listening Devices, and TTYs. And they are used for just that purpose (or rarely used at all).
- And let's not forget, the computer. What classroom does not have at least one computer available for student use? The question, do they ever get used by someone other than the teacher? And what is the purpose? Typing programs, math games, reading games, you know the drill.
Now, back to regular education teachers and the use of technology. Note the differences. These teacher utilize technology as a tool to create an interactive classroom experience; students utilize technology for learning.
- ELMO is used to demonstrate science experiments so that all students can see. Students utilize ELMO for show and tell. Classroom timer is set under the scope so everyone knows how much time is remaining on a particular activity.
- IWB are used in small groups and independent student practice. Students edit documents together at the board. Students are actively involved in giving lessons and presentations to the class, while the teacher becomes a moderator.
- Clickers are used to assess learning throughout a lesson, but the data is also used to assess instruction.
- Cell phones and text messaging are used as an extention of the classroom, in addition to twitter, blogs, email, GoogleDocs, skype, googlevoice, my list could go on forever.
- And computers? We are talking laptops for every student, or rolling laptop carts. I recall in my time at the School for the Deaf, we had just purchased a laptop cart (set of 10 laptops) to share among the teachers in the High School. They were in such high demand you had to reserve them a week prior to your request. But unfortunately, they were primarily used for games and down time. In regular ed classes, students are using the laptops to collaborate on lessons at the IWB using GoogleDocs or create presentations.
- They are taking virtual field trips, having real time chats with professional geologists, creating and editing videos; they have camaras and video recorders on hand for any activity.
The key difference here? Students are interactive and up front. You may think using technology in the classroom is time consuming and difficult to manage, but I think students know far more than we give them credit for. They want to be involved. I say give them the reigns! They may surprise you. Are you one of these teachers? If not, are you up for the challenge? I challenge you to never say, or dare think, "My students could never do that!"