Planning for Individual Student Needs
As teachers make plans for reaching both long- and short-term goals, customiz- ing those plans to meet the educational needs of individual students can be facil- itated by referring to a database of individual student concerns. Whether added to a main database of student information, or created as a separate file of learn- ing characteristics, comments on everything from student learning modalities to special classes required can be recorded, simplifying the planning to meet the needs of students. If, for instance, three students leave to go to work with a speech pathologist every Tuesday at 1:00, a guest speaker can be scheduled to avoid that time so that the students would still be able to participate. Whereas scheduling around one or two students’ special schedules or planning for ways in which they will learn best might be possible without any help from a computer, effectively planning based on the needs of thirty students or close to 200 teachers who see a series of different classes throughout the day could become problematic. A data- base created for this purpose will maximize planning and teaching time by help- ing to manage the specific characteristics a teacher must remember about every student.
Designing a Classroom Layout
How the furniture in a classroom is arranged reflects both the personal style and the teaching style of a teacher. Not only does the placement of desks or bookshelves con- tribute to the aesthetic atmosphere, but it also determines the functional traffic pat- terns of the room. Desks pushed into groups are more conducive to different learning experiences than are desks organized into measured rows. Regardless of the desired learning atmosphere, graphics software can be of great assistance. Available furni- ture can be mapped out and moved. Student names can be assigned to desks or ta- bles and shuffled to achieve a workable mix of personalities and learning styles. These types of modifiable seating charts are especially helpful for substitute teach- ers to become familiar with students (see Figure 16.3).
Along with the educational planning necessary in quality learning environments, much attention must also be paid to the fundamental scheduling of activities and other arrangements. Budgeting money, booking guest speakers, and making arrange- ments for field trips can all be simplified with the use of classroom technology.
To operate a classroom frequently involves the planning, collecting, accounting, and distributing of money. Money might be collected to pay for a field trip, raised by having a school candy sale, or saved to reach a class goal. When students begin bringing in wrinkled dollar bills and handfuls of coins, an orderly system of money management is vital. The features of a spreadsheet are best designed for the pur- pose of budgeting money. Columns can be organized to account for who has brought in what amount, and functions can calculate the total amounts. Time esti- mated to reach monetary goals can be planned, relying on calculations based on an anticipated income from a money-raising event; this makes a good, relevant learn- ing activity for students. A legible spreadsheet accounting for every penny is a much superior method of tracking classroom expenses than a handwritten list of names and amounts scrawled on the back of an envelope full of dollars and change (see Figure 16.4).
Booking Classroom Guests
Despite the perception of isolation that four walls give to most classrooms, there are, in reality, often enough visitors moving in and out of classrooms to give teachers plenty of practice in the role of talent-booking agents. Guests may range from par- ent helpers to community experts, but the appearances of all visitors must be care- fully choreographed to fit in seamlessly with the natural flow of classroom learning. Teachers and students can use word processors to compose initial letters inviting guests to come to the class. These letters might even be based on generic letter tem- plates written to include all of the basic information about the class that a visitor might need to know. Scheduling visitors can be done with either a spreadsheet or a calendar program, making accurate work of keeping track of who can be expected each day of school. Consulting online schedules regularly will remind teachers of upcoming visits so that if any unexpected schedule changes occur, guests can be con- tacted and rescheduled in a timely manner. Guest contact information should be carefully recorded into a database, so that it can be quickly accessed. Finally, word processors and possibly even graphics programs can be utilized to write thank-you notes.
Teachers generate learning documents every day, no matter the subject or age of stu- dents taught. Even teachers who adhere closely to packaged curricula have frequent cause to supplement commercial materials with those that are teacher made. Work- ing from what is known about individual and collective abilities of students, as well as on the pace and climate of learning, work pages, recording sheets, quizzes, tests, dictated stories, and an unlimited number of other materials need to be created. Many teachers have scribbled down a handwritten quiz at the last minute only to have students run into problems trying to read the handwriting. When students are faced with a handwritten page with which to work, they may not put forth their best effort because it does not appear as though a great effort was shown in the creation of the assignment itself. Word-processed documents are professional, neat, and cus- tomizable. Topics that come up on the spur of the moment can be quickly added to an existing document, and an appropriate amount of space on the page can be left for students to write depending on the size of handwriting of which students of that particular age are capable. Any special grading practices employed by a class can be accommodated by creating custom documents.
The web now offers teachers a great number of easy ways to generate fun, appropriate, and free activities to use with all ages of students. For example, Quia (www.quia.com) has online game creation with a seemingly limitless selection that includes matching, flash card, concentration, word search, pop-ups, jumbled words, hangman, and scavenger hunt games. Microsoft in Education (www.microsoft.com/education/?ID=ClassCorner) offers a whole host of ready-to-use activities and ideas that utilize its productivity tools, including the Certificate of the Month Club with printable certificates according to monthly and current events. As with anything on the web, these offerings tend to change frequently. Teachers can quickly locate other learning tools, already made and ready to use, with a web search (see Chapters 3, 7, 8, 9, and 10, including the companion website for each chapter at www.ablongman.com/bitter7e).
Another strength of using technology in generating learning materials for the classroom is that it facilitates sharing of ideas among teachers. So often, a teacher who wants to use a page that another teacher has created is left to merely copying the document, making do with any portions that do not directly pertain to the class, or attempting to cut and paste to customize it to fit a unique purpose. Word- processed documents are superior because they can be shared either on disk or through a network and can be easily modified to reflect class needs.