Empowering Learners

Q: What are tools, technology and curriculum that we can use to teach K-5 students how to use, understand and leverage technology to set goals, monitor and reflect on their learning in a way that makes sense for them developmentally?

One digital platform that I had heard about and then researched further in order to answer this question was Seesaw – a student driven digital portfolio. In an article I read from TechCrunch, “How Seesaw Accidentally Became a Teacher’s Pet at ¼ of U.S. Schools”, it became clear that Seesaw could be a great way to ease students into using technology to learn goal setting, share and reflect on their work and others, and that this could be done with students in the early grades.  Some key details that got me initially excited about Seesaw were that students can use a QR code to sign in easily, it is free (a paid subscription is available), it connects families to the classroom and can be a way for shy students to showcase their learning in a more comfortable way (Constine, 2016). There is also a potential for connecting Social/Emotional Learning curriculum within it also.    

One frustration that I have had as an educator is that many of the digital education platforms being used in education are too complex for the younger years and so they are not getting familiar with technology early on in an educational way. Instead, they are often using technology purely for games which can lead to not taking tools and technology seriously as a learning platform. In the article, “Supporting Autonomy in the Classroom: Ways Teachers Encourage Student Decision Making and Ownership”, they talk about the idea of ‘Catch’ and ‘Hold’.  Catch is the bells and whistles in instruction used to attract attention and the hold is where we can then engage students in meaningful academic tasks (Stefanou, Candice R., Perencevich, Kathleen C., DiCintio, Matthew, & Turner, Julianne C., 2004, p.105). Often, technology platforms excel in the ‘Catch’ portion of this but the ‘Hold’ is sacrificed because it becomes a game to students instead of a tool for learning. When I connect this to the ISTE standard around Digital Citizenship, this is a key area where digital education leaders can think about better serving students by explicitly teaching them at a young age that learning is happening on these tools and goal setting, reflections and seeing their growth and peers growth is a fantastic way to do this. With Seesaw, the simplicity of the design and input from students, allows students and educators to focus on the ‘Hold’ not the ‘Catch’ of winning tokens, currency, points, stickers or the many ways that apps and platforms ‘catch’ young learners.

Finally, Seesaw connects to the importance of high cognitive autonomy being the essential ingredient in which motivation and engagement can be maximized (Stefanou, et a.l (2004)).  When we choose to use platforms that ask students to take the time to think deeply about their learning, what they are doing and, even more essential, WHY they are doing it, the connection to autonomy is greater. It is not about autonomy based on the choice of organization or procedures within learning but instead active engagement in better understanding of how to explain their own learning, misunderstandings and how/why they think what they think. If students can start engaging with digital technologies in this way early on, just imagine how they may approach learning later on in middle and high school settings!  Instead of compliance around doing what the teacher says, they can be interacting with educators and education in a way that transfers to all content, contexts and disciplines every step of the way from elementary school to college to real life situations.

All of the above connects deeply to ISTE Student Standards 1a and 1c because of the focus on student involvement in both use of the platform and personal articulation being documented on Seesaw.  If we as educators want student commitment, involvement and autonomy which provides a motivation for taking hold of their own learning, then so far, it seems as if Seesaw could be a solution to starting this process in the early years for our youngest learners. Yet, since I have not personally tried Seesaw, I leave many questions on the table still around equity, engagement, and reality of ‘boots on the ground’ when using this technology in the classroom and with the school community (parents, administration, etc). I look forward to reporting back here to reflect on my own learning after I launch into using it.