Academic Lens: An English Teacher's Journey With Technology

Posted by Karin Clough


A reluctant blogger….

I come from a family of English teachers and fell in love with reading and writing long before the Internet. I read voraciously throughout my childhood devouring all the Little House on the Prairie books, and I wanted to be Nancy Drew. In high school I read all of Jane Austen’s novels during a winter break, and I still re-read them every year or two—just for pleasure. 

Proctor Academy English

One of my favorite memories is standing in my father’s book lined office at the start of school vacation and asking him what books I should read over break. He’d stand up, run his hand along the shelves, and pull out two or three that he thought I was ready for. Thomas Hardy was one of his favorite authors, and I would be gone for several hours a day, out on the moors with Eustacia Vye.

Proctor Academy English

So, it is a little hard for me to embrace any other way to read or experience books. I have tried reading on a Kindle (until I left it on a tree stump at a campground) and my I-pad, but I simply do not have the same satisfaction as I do when I am fully immersed in a physical book. Maybe it is the tactile pleasure of turning the pages, the ability to flip back a few pages to double-check what just happened, or just the weight and heft of the novel in my hands. I know most people these days would have a list of a thousand reasons why e-books are better than paper, but I haven’t convinced myself—yet—of their superiority.

I do feel a sense of responsibility, of course, to my students. Their aged teacher who simply cannot enter the modern world should not hold them back. I have trotted off to conferences on Technology in the Classroom, engaged with discussion with other teachers, and have listened to experts in the field on our own campus. I even get quite excited about these conversations, and think, “Yes, I am going to have my students use that 3-D mapping to deepen their understanding of the plot structure of The Catcher in the Rye,” or “This term we’ll create a Great Gatsby wiki page all on our own.” Good intentions notwithstanding, I usually end up reading the novel with the students and engaging in good old-fashion discussion, writing, and analysis. In a conversation with my seniors about Fight Club the other day, I asked one question and the debate raged on for twenty minutes without my guidance or interference. They just wanted to figure the book out.

Proctor Academy English

So, it can be easy for me to slip back into pre-technology habits and feel okay about them. I can even—on a good day—feel like the conversations I have with my students, and the ones they have with each other, about the big ideas in a great novel are worthy enough in themselves. We are happy reading, talking, thinking, writing, and responding right there in our classroom…no need to look beyond our walls. But then again, maybe I am missing opportunities to inspire and deepen my students’ love of reading.

 Proctor Academy English

I am open to new ideas, and recently spent time with Adam, our edTech guru. He walked me through some basic (probably ridiculously basic, for him) features of our myProctor system. I attached an excerpt from a New York Times book review and asked the students to join a discussion thread about the review. It’s a simple enough Substitution (following our Professional Development Day Speaker, Dr. Reuben Puentedura’s model) and only helps me link an interesting article directly relevant to the novel in an easy and appealing way for my students. I am hopeful that the discussion thread will create an area in which we can all practice blogging and responding publicly to the text.

That said, I still feel strongly about the pleasure, simplicity, and focus we can have while alone with a great book in our hands. It’s a quiet, uninterrupted gaze, and maybe we need that now more than ever.

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