A Texas teacher’s perspective on her unique students and their shift to digital textbooks.
GUEST COLUMN | by Stacy Brown
I am a sixth grade Social Studies teacher for Burkburnett Independent School District in Burkburnett, Texas. My district is blessed, and all of our students have an iPad. The iPads are essential for my classroom as we regularly use rich online content in my class and have recently shifted to digital textbooks. As do most teachers, I too have students with different learning needs and abilities. The Social Studies “Techbook” we use has allowed me to connect with my students like never before. I received permission from three of my students’ parents to include them here. I wanted to pick a blend of students to share our experiences with you.
As any good teacher would do, we pull our lessons together from a variety of resources. The digital resource is our primary guide and where we always begin our planning.
Let me introduce three students with different learning abilities: vision impaired, dyslexic, and general education. I think it is unfair to single them out due to their disability, so they are just my students from here on out.
Kylie is a very bright child who enjoys learning. The digital textbook will read everything to her. She can and does use a text-to-speech feature to complete some of her assignments. She enjoys typing, but there are some days where that is not desired. She has the ability to toggle back and forth from typing or text-to-speech to record her answers. Kylie is able to adjust her learning in a personalized way which allows her to keep up with her classmates.
My second student I would like to talk about is Brandon. He is a studious young man who learns by doing. He has learned to work around any limitations by using the tools provided in the digital resource. He consistently uses the feature to have the text read to him while he follows along. Just like Kylie, he toggles back and forth using the keyboard and the text-to-speech component to record his responses.
My third student is Brealie. She has an active mind and enjoys learning at her own pace. She prefers to be in control and is very inquisitive when something grabs her attention.
We do a lot of projects that involve collaboration and sharing ideas in my classroom. The Techbook’s text-to-speech continually enhances the literacy process for all of my students. The resource has built a bridge for many students with special literacy needs.
Throughout the year, I have modeled how to use the features in the digital textbook many times. I wanted everyone in the class the features, if they chose to. That alone has been the biggest blessing for all of my students who have different learning needs. Now, they all fit in because they can make adjustments for their learning needs and preferences.
Let’s face it, Social Studies has not always been an interesting topic for a lot of students. The online resource is uniquely designed, so there are continuous comparisons for history past and present. The students are more engaged when it has relevance to them.
This is my first year teaching with the Techbook. I am not going to lie; I was very overwhelmed with the wealth of information at my fingertips. Initially, I questioned why some topics were briefly mentioned in one chapter versus another, but I have learned the resource continually spirals with the majority of concepts. Every concept gets covered, but they are spread out through the school year. I firmly believe this has helped my students achieve mastery with different concepts because a concept does not “go away” when I am done teaching that chapter.
There are two teachers who teach sixth grade social studies at my school. We serve approximately 230 students. Between the two of us, we have approximately 16 years in social studies. I am technology driven, and she has used traditional textbooks in the past. This has been an interesting journey bringing in both of our teaching styles. Together, we are embracing the online capabilities more each day. As any good teacher would do, we pull our lessons together from a variety of resources. The digital resource is our primary guide and where we always begin our planning.
Our Techbook includes a Global News Wrap each week, based on current events. We watch the three to four minute video as a class first. Students are allowed to watch it a second time on their own before they pick one topic to take a position on. Then they complete a writing prompt in their Assignment Builder. Some students type; while others use text-to-speech. I always remind them to speak into the microphone like it should be written for an English teacher. I believe this will help them in other classes as well.
Here is an example of how well our digital textbook spirals around events. The Global News Wrap for 02/01/17 discussed the wall that President Trump wants to build between Mexico and the United States. We had an depth class discussion about this event.
A few days later, we were continuing our unit on Europe. The topic for the day was, Overcoming the Berlin Wall, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism. In our digital textbook, snippets of video and text made the subject really come alive for the students.
Brealie was immediately intrigued. Her hand went up promptly, and she asked for me to pause for a moment. She wanted to know more about the wall President Trump wants to build compared to that of the Berlin Wall, which came down with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I told her that was a great question, and we would be looking at similarities and differences about both the following week. She asked if she could go ahead and start doing research on her own. As if I would tell her no! I was thrilled by her interest in both and her desire to learn more about them.
Previous generations used traditional textbooks and atlases that could not be updated until the next adoption and publication. It was impossible for them to stay up-to-date with current events and they were not designed to be interactive, either.
We live in a world where technology has provided instant access at our fingertips. I want my students to know how to take charge of their own learning in ways generations before them were not able to. Previous generations used traditional textbooks and atlases that could not be updated until the next adoption and publication. It was impossible for them to stay up-to-date with current events and they were not designed to be interactive, either.
Our digital textbook is a living document which updates as world events do. It is also a safe environment for students to explore and do research in. We always begin class research in it. I will be the first to admit, there are times when I feel my students are teaching me something new about their digital textbook. I love and welcome these moments. They allow me to demonstrate my eagerness to learn while collaborating with my students. I hope this type of learning will continue being used in my district for many years to come.
Stacy Brown is a teacher at Burkburnett ISD in Burkburnett, Texas. She graduated from Midwestern State University with a BS in Social Studies 4-8 and from University of Texas at Arlington with a Masters in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. She has been teaching for 10 years, married for 27 years, and is as excited as ever about the upcoming school year. Write to: [email protected]