How Technology Improved Student Achievement in My Art Class
Originally published in TEACH Magazine, July/August 2020 Issue
By Lori Mendiola
As a teacher, I have high standards that I expect students to reach. At the same time however, trying to get them to take ownership of their learning can be difficult in the best of classrooms. I had all this in mind when I accepted a new job as a high school art teacher in rural South Carolina. It was a big change from the Charter school that I had just left, and an even bigger challenge because it was a Title 1 school (higher rate of students in poverty), but I was determined to give it my all.
My first year was strenuous. I wanted students to be excited in the art room, to enjoy creating things, to feel accepted, and to be proud of their hard work. Instead, disciplinary problems were high, student achievement was low, and so was my patience. My students were often on their phones, drawing on desks, arguing over grades, fighting with each other, and choosing not to do any class work. Any projects that were completed required repeated instructions because students weren’t listening the first time around, and were rushed, lacking effort, or not fully done.
I was frustrated with how the classes were going and knew I couldn’t do it again the following year. What worked with my Charter school students simply didn’t work for my current ones. I knew I needed to change my approach.
I started doing research about how some teachers were trying self-paced classrooms and implementing technology. I found an article about how it was being used in a math classroom in an urban high school in Washington, DC. The article was “Blended Learning Built on Teacher Expertise” by Kareem Farah and it not only opened my eyes, but also the floodgates for my research.
So I decided to completely change my teaching style. It was either going to be great or it was going to be catastrophic—and that was OK because at least I tried. A free program called Schoology is where I found the answer to using technology in the classroom that wouldn’t interrupt learning. The setup was easy for both me and my students. I looked through other platforms, but they either cost money or were difficult to use.
First, I organized and posted all my teaching units and different lesson plans onto the platform. The process was clear and straightforward. Each lesson included attachments of worksheets, videos, instructions, examples, and anything else I needed in one place for my students. They didn’t need to search different websites to get their classwork done.
During the first week, I explained to students how to use the new platform and access all the information that was available to them. We also went through a checklist I handed out that corresponded to their assignments posted on Schoology.
I also used another program called Screencastify that allows you to record your computer screen and a voiceover of yourself explaining information. This is what I would have done in person, but in video form. One of the other benefits is that students can pause, rewind, or re-watch the video if needed. I also used Screencastify to demonstrate how to use certain art materials. I will warn you though, it was initially very strange to hear your own voice from multiple computers all day long.
With these two new technologies in place, students worked independently through the units while referencing the different lessons and videos of me providing instructions and demonstrations.
After trying this new teaching method for one year, I noticed many benefits. Students were taking ownership of their education because they had to decide which assignments to do first. They also learned how to better manage their time and pace themselves. Those who were falling behind were motivated to keep up with others who were ahead. Students were also learning from each other because they had the opportunity to explore the content together.
Since there was always something to work on, students did not have the down time to get into trouble. There were fewer behavioral problems because I was always walking around to check on each student’s progress. I also now had time to put together small groups for those that needed extra help and hold demonstrations for students who were ahead and in turn, they would lead a demonstration the following day. I noticed too that students were less stressed because they only had four deadlines (for report cards) instead of weekly ones. Overall, things had taken a dramatic and positive turn in my classroom.
Everything was not rainbows and unicorns, however; I still had some challenges. Wifi would go down, students would forget their laptops, or not charge them to try and get out of work. So, I created a charging station, paired up students who forgot their devices, and wrote on the board three projects that most students were working on.
It was a lot of work to figure out the technology and set up an entire curriculum in advance. It also took time to gather all of the art supplies for the many different projects. For one course it took over 40 hours to put everything together. But it was all worth it. I can reuse the same setup for the following year and more importantly, I feel that it has changed how my students view education—for the better. I am still finding new ways to improve what I’ve started and am continuing to grow as an educator. Achievement has improved in my classroom with not only the help of technology, but also through building relationships with my students.
Lori Mendiola holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Art Education from the University of South Carolina and has taught art to students at all grade levels. She is currently completing her Master’s Degree and lives in Myrtle Beach, SC with her husband and two children.