Technology Integration

Do I Need to Use Tech for That Lesson?

These tips for finding the right technology for your students, and knowing when to go screen free, can help support middle school students’ learning.

July 10, 2024
Neil Webb / The iSpot

Technology provides students with access to a vast amount of information, helping them develop research skills and broaden their knowledge base. Utilizing technology in school also gives teachers opportunities to teach digital literacy and promote responsible use.

But as the landscape of technology in education continues to evolve, it’s essential to me that I reassess my approach to technology integration to ensure that it’s meeting students’ educational and developmental needs and that the tools are the best way to achieve the educational goals.

evaluating tech tools for Your Classroom

When utilizing technology in the classroom, I try to focus on quality screen time and prioritize interactive opportunities over passive consumption and also consider if it allows students to receive individualized content that would not be possible otherwise.

I prefer platforms that let instructors monitor the students’ progress to allow for accountability and feedback. It’s also helpful to look at the app or website from a student’s perspective. The student-facing product is often different from the instructor site, and without looking at the student version, I’m not able to get the information needed. Some sites offer a quick-click option for the instructor to view what the students see. 

Some applications and programs that were once free are now only available for purchase, have limited features on the free version, and/or have excessive advertisements on the free version. If I’m not able to purchase the paid version, then I consider the amount of advertising, age of students, and ease of use in the free version and consistently check back to see if anything has changed. Another consideration is that many educational apps include features like streaks and rewards that are designed to keep students engaged but may create compulsive behaviors. 

There’s a lot of educational content on YouTube that allows for differentiation and review, and students to get a visual representation of what they are learning. It can also encourage hyperconsumption, though, with features such as YouTube Shorts. Considering the age of the students as well as the purpose of the video determines if it can be shown to an entire class or is something that a student will need to view on their own with access to the YouTube website.

Screen-free learning activities

There's no doubt tech can have benefits. For instance, much of the technology time in my English class is spent using a word processor to write, revise, and edit papers. The ability of students to quickly edit and revise their work in a word processor is significantly more effective in the revision process than rewriting everything on paper. 

Excessive screen time, however, can reduce opportunities for face-to-face interactions, which are important for developing social skills and emotional intelligence. It’s essential to consider when activities and lessons can be done offline and plan intentional times for students to be screen-free. When doing screen-free activities, I ask students to put their device under their desk or leave it in their locker. This helps keep them focused on what they’re doing offline. 

Talking: Anytime I can get students talking to each about content without looking at a screen is a win. Setting expectations such as looking at each other when speaking, taking turns, and using evidence to support their ideas in a debate are all ways I keep the discussion on track.

Some discussions are formal, and others are quick, during a lesson to allow everyone to share ideas with a partner or small group. This opportunity helps students develop verbal communication skills and process the content. 

Journaling: This year, I have students write in a spiral notebook using journaling prompts to process their ideas and practice some grammatical sentence patterns. Taking this writing offline and into a notebook helps many students focus because they aren’t distracted by the opportunity to click to something else on their device. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback from students about this process.

Presenting: Providing opportunities for students to present ideas formally and informally to their classmates allows them to practice public speaking skills and share and process content knowledge. 

Drawing and creating: Students can process the content, practice skills, and showcase their understanding through drawing and creating visual representations using paper and coloring supplies. They can draw pictures to help them remember vocabulary words, sketch what they recall from a section in a novel, create posters or flip books to demonstrate understanding, and more. 

Reading aloud: Students of all ages love being read aloud to, and taking time to enable them to practice listening skills while hearing a story read to them is a favorite in my classroom.

Screen-free days: When possible, I have students put away their device for the entire class period and spend the time reading, discussing, writing on paper, and/or creating.

Evaluating tech tools for your classroom helps enhance instruction while supporting student learning and developmental needs. Intentional and thoughtful use of technology has made many new and amazing things possible in education, but it is important that educators consider if they are using it for the sake of using it or if it is the best tool for learning. Asking questions, acknowledging positive outcomes, and recognizing challenges while carefully examining the impact of technology on students can help us create a better learning environment for all students.

Classroom Management

Using Classroom Technology Less so Students Interact More

Building new pedagogical habits can help teachers move away from screens and toward other ways of teaching and learning.

Share This Story

  • email icon

Filed Under

  • Technology Integration
  • Teaching Strategies
  • 6-8 Middle School

Follow Edutopia

  • facebook icon
  • twitter icon
  • instagram icon
  • youtube icon
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
George Lucas Educational Foundation
Edutopia is an initiative of the George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Edutopia®, the EDU Logo™ and Lucas Education Research Logo® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the George Lucas Educational Foundation in the U.S. and other countries.