Kidblog has become an unexpected support tool in preparation for students to take the new version of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS 2.0), commonly referred to as the “Next-Generation” test. Up until 2017, students were required to take the MCAS on paper every year in the spring. As of 2017, students will begin to take the MCAS on the computer as a computer-based test. This statewide shift toward technology will be a requirement for all grade levels by 2019.
This change has placed a difficult burden on many urban districts that do not have enough computers or laptops available for every student for a one-to-one ratio. There are over 600 students, grades 6-8, at my middle school, and we only have three computer labs and one working laptop cart. This means we roughly have ninety computers available to students. That isn’t even enough for a single grade level to use computers at the same time. The lack of computers leads to competition among teachers to get in the computer lab with their classes. This results in students not getting enough of the much-needed screen time with computers or laptops.
Smartphones vs Keyboards
In my experience as a teacher in urban districts, I have found that students have extensive knowledge of smartphones and tablets. But limited experience with computers and laptops severely impacts their typing skills. Many districts have gotten rid of computer or technology classes because they incorrectly assume that this generation of children gets sufficient hands-on experience with technology outside of school. While schools are correct in the assumption that children get plenty of time with technology, most of that time is limited to just smartphones and tablets.
In September when I first started bringing my students to one of the three computer labs at my school, I was shocked to see just how limited students’ knowledge of computers, including a keyboard and mouse, was. As I looked around the computer lab, I saw students typing with only index fingers. They struggled to handle the mouse in an efficient way. Students also found it difficult to open up a browser and simply type in a URL. Many of the students tried to just use google as a way to get to websites. They didn’t know how to use the “shift” key to capitalize letters, how to use spellchecker features, or how type using proper punctuation like quotation marks.
Since blogging is 20% of students’ grade in my class, I make it a point to schedule computer lab time for my students at least once a week. I have high expectations for blogging; students are not allowed to use “text-talk.” They know that blog posts won’t be accepted unless words are spelled out, capitalized, and have punctuation.
This high expectation was definitely a battle at first. As a teacher I’d have to tediously check each and every post for my 100+ students. However, as the weeks went on, students became better adjusted to the expectations and standards of blogging. Some students have even started to hold each other to these high expectations. I have seen students commenting on their peers’ posts, politely mentioning spelling/grammar mistakes. This type of blog dialogue makes the teacher in me jump for joy!
I still have a small number of students that need constant reminders to adhere to our blogging standards. For the majority of students though, there has been improvement in speed and accuracy of their typing. We have overcome the obstacles of limited access to, and minimal experience with, laptops and traditional keyboards. I truly believe this continual blogging with high expectations will positively impact my students’ performance on computer-based standardized tests.