It is not often we get a chance to learn a new language that will jumpstart student learning and achievement. But educators have a chance to do just that, every day when we use our craftsmanship to deliver and facilitate classroom instruction.

As a Nana I am constantly amazed at the level of comfort my two granddaughters display with technology—of any kind. Mikayla and Callie swipe, push, and click with the greatest of ease in order to retrieve their favorite interactive programs or Disney songs from (their parents’) music files. In fact my daughter and son-law recently added passcodes to their smart phones so that the girls would not have immediate access to their contact lists, social media channels, and other more grown-up apps.

My granddaughters are not teenagers. They are not even tweeny’s.

They are four and two years old with digital instincts I envy!


Don’t ask me to explain it. It would take the combined efforts of a neurosurgeon and an anthropologist to explain what I witness when Mikayla and Callie get their hands on the latest technology—they are digital natives. By that I mean that they are instinctively knowledgeable about how to retrieve what they need and how to use it. They may not yet understand how it all works, but then neither do I.

It’s as if their brains are wired differently from mine. At least that’s what I tell myself when four-year Mikayla shows me how to scroll my fingers up and down the mousepad of my MacBook Pro to input a 5:00pm appointment. (Something I struggled with for over a year to access the bottom of my Google Calendar!)

This got me to wondering. If my granddaughters take to technology like ducklings to water, this must also be the case for my students who are about 10 years older. Which also got me thinking about the ways I deliver instruction and facilitate my students learning.

I almost choked on my own thoughts when I realized that four years ago I must have been as interesting as dirt—delivering literature and writing lessons with token technology. Token technology is when students have access to technology and online formats—in the library– for research and projects, but it is not used in my classroom to increase student interest, skill level, and to model the appropriate “rules of engagement” with various media.

I was very skeptical about “jumping in” and allowing technology a vital role my classroom practice. Frankly, I was intimidated by wave after wave of technological advances that hit me like a tsunami, and left me floundering, struggling to find a foothold, somewhere. How could I bring something into my classroom that I didn’t know how to use, and couldn’t even afford to buy for my personal use?

Fortunately for me and for my students, I got my footing in a very unlikely place—or so I thought. It was during the time the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) hired me and about 20 other educators to revise the English Language Arts Standards. We met over several months, and quite often the work required digital and online formats for video conferencing, as well as screen and document sharing. This was all new to me and I did not initially take to it like a duck to water. But the work mattered and I wanted to learn. So I swallowed my pride and acknowledged the truth– here was a perfect opportunity to move past my comfort zone and open myself to new possibilities.

It turned out to be a very rich professional learning experience and I immediately integrated the tools I was adapting to into my instructional practice. I gained greater and greater proficiency every time I introduced a new tool to my students, because as digital natives they took to it quickly, and I became their avid student.

The same thing occurred when I served as a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow for the U.S. Department of Education (ED).  The younger, hipper teachers in my cohort were masters of Twitter and Instagram, and all I had was Facebook. But I was not shy nor hesitant to jump in this time.

I knew that I could only gain–past experience had proved it.  My students and community of learners and leaders would gain too, if I could share my unique edpolicy experiences with them via photos and “sound-bytes”. So, whenever I was on location for ED I watched, listened and learned from my more knowledgeable colleagues.

The take away in my story is this:

In order to prepare 21st century learners to engage and contribute in the global work place, teachers must have:

  1. Access to technology (i.e. projectors, document cameras, smartboards, tablets) and online formats (i.e. Prezi, Zoom, YouTube, Filpboard) so that they can model skilled and appropriate use of these tools in their practice;
  1.  Frequent and ongoing professional learning opportunities that empower and equip them to “speak the language” of digital natives as well as increase their ability to engage them in robust learning experiences that develop marketable real-world skills.

I know first-hand the impact of technology as a tool in the hands of an effective teacher because I am the recipient of their craftsmanship. In turn, I seek to do the same for my students. 

This year, I am teaching similar literature and writing content as four years ago, but with a virtual and flipped classroom approach. I am not yet totally at ease because of the constant wave of change and improvement in technology. But I am confident that the tools I use to enrich the learning experience for my students yields those marketable real-world skills I mentioned. All I have to do is observe as they skillfully and enthusiastically work on the end-of-the-year project to create a multi-media campaign on an issue that matters.

It’s early yet–school just began about a week ago.  But I will keep checking in with my students. When I asked about their ability to access the content and navigate through the virtual classroom, I expected some students to express frustration, much like I had experienced two weeks ago, in an attempt to navigate my way around the digital “classroom”. However, all I got were raves, thumbs up, and hoots.

Who could have imagined that kind of response for a tenderfoot simply trying to speak the language of digital natives?

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