To my mind the question of why, or how teachers would integrate ICTs into their classroom really boils down to whether the technology offers real affordances for common classroom routines. Can it be used effectively to help teachers explain abstract concepts, and make them more concrete? Can it be used to give voice to student’s experiences, and help them frame these ideas in more abstract ways within the academic discipline they are studying. Can it be used to help develop critical thinking skills?
One of the classic routines for developing critical thinking is the Think-Pair-Share exercise used to develop questioning skills. Students are first asked to think silently on their own about a question. This aims to ensure that no-one is let off the hook, that all students do engage with the question initially. Students are then asked to pair off and share their thoughts with a neighbour. After both students have shared their initial thoughts, these insights are shared with the whole class. A variant is to get students to report to their class on their partner’s ideas, not their own. This aims to promote listening skills, and of course collaboration.
This technique is highly effective in any classroom and requires no technology whatsoever. But once in a while I believe it is a good idea to change the way things are done. Routine is the enemy of good teaching, and adding a digital flavour to a familiar exercise is useful if only to freshen it up. The digital version of Think-Pair-Share also offers some new affordances, however, and should also be added to our armoury for what it offers.
If one is asked to write one’s ideas down, the time added to the response affords a little more reflection. While Oracy is immediate, Literacy does impose a slight pause for thought. I believe this imposed reflection is very useful. Writing something down also forces a response. Students are human, and very often will subvert a classroom exercise by not exactly staying on task. The Think-Pair-Share is particularly vulnerable to this. In the noise of a quick fire buzz group discussion the teacher cannot really monitor every pair of students, and many of the conversations do stray off topic. Getting students to jot their thoughts down means that each student is somewhat more accountable than when talk alone is used. Task compliance is a little easier to spot. To deploy technology, you can use something like Google docs, something which can work on a device, but getting students to whatsapp each other also works well. Students engage well with the idea of messaging each other and this also helps generate some excitement around the task.
When students share with the class, especially if they are sharing their partner’s ideas, they then read what the person wrote off their screens, adding their own response to that. This way of doing the Think-Pair-Share misses the affordance of summarising and reporting on another’s thoughts, but it does bring in a measure of reflection, which makes it a welcome addition to any teacher’s bag of tricks!