Teaching with Technology: How, When, and How Much?

*Check out the original post on the Classcraft Blog here*

Technology is to the classroom as a costume is to a superhero. Superhero in this context will be defined as someone with abnormal quirks that allow them advantages over the typical human. Many superheroes use their powers without any sort of accessory, but their suit often serves as a modifier, enhancing or structuring abilities so that they can take down villains with ease. It is important to remember that the suit is unique to the superhero.

Like a suit, technology should be unique to our classroom and our students. For technology to work, we have to consider a variety of factors before we use it. It’s kind of like the scene in The Incredibles when Edna reveals the suits she has been working on to Helen, aka Elastigirl. If I’ve already lost you, you can check it out here.

My point is this: As instructional-change agents, we must vet the technology and applications that we use in class. Above all, the technology that we choose should enhance instruction and allow maximum output, rather than be an additional hindrance that we are tacking on for style and flair.

How do I best use technology in the classroom?

Consider the needs of your students and the outcomes of your lesson. Each app or service that you choose should help you meet your instructional goal(s). Rather than focusing on the bells and whistles of the app, use the following checklist to decide if the app is just right for what you are trying to accomplish.

  1. Is the interface user-friendly? Not all students are tech-capable, which means that we need to plan for students who may struggle with the interface. Most good apps come with a basic introductory lesson for students. If it doesn’t, then you have to create one.
  2. What is the purpose of the application? Why is this better than a traditional method? If you find yourself saying “because it makes my life easier,” you may be choosing to use technology for the wrong reasons.
  3. Is this a one-trick pony? How often (really) will you use this? Time is precious. So the more often you use an app, as well as the variety of ways it can be used, will determine if this is just right for you.
  4. What technology is needed to make this work? Consider the capabilities of your school. Does this work on cell phones, tablets, laptops? Is this ideal for campuses that aren’t 1:1? Is it Google Classroom–friendly? Does it work with Microsoft 365?
  5. Does it have SSO? Single sign-on capabilities ensure that students only have to remember one password. This saves a lot of time and headaches.

Once I go through the available technology, I decide the key apps that students will need to be literate in for my class. These are published on day one for students, and then I roll out each app as we use it.

I plan in at least 30 minutes for an app introductory lesson so that students can learn how I expect them to use the app with me present as a troubleshooter. The implications of this practice mean that class time is used to teach students the application. It also means that I am taking on more than my content when I do this; however, I have found that once students feel comfortable with the technology, little to no time is wasted as students transition to the appropriate technology.

Click here for an example of the online websites list for my classroom.

Lastly, have a process for managing the tech in your class. The problem is not that students have access to technology. It is what students do once they get access. It is important that we teach students how to appropriately use tech in the classroom.

Having clear rules and procedures will make your life much easier when integrating technology. Strong classroom management will yield strong integration. If your students are not following directions during a traditional lesson, giving them access to the internet will not magically make them sit down and pay attention. Here are some catch phrases I use with my students:


  1. “When I say go …”: Students know that they are not allowed to log in to anything until they hear the word “go.”
  2. “45 degrees”: When someone is speaking to the group, screens should be at 45 degrees. This ensures that students are focused on the speaker and not on their screens. It also teaches students that when someone is speaking to the group, they should be actively listening.
  3. “Submit your work and log off”: No matter how many times we use Nearpod or Google Classroom, my students have to be reminded to turn in their work. Some of my kids share devices, so it’s important that they log off and leave the device ready for the next class to use.

When should we use technology?

Using tech during the discovery or practice components of the lesson ensures that the teacher is not substituting technology for good old-fashioned classroom instruction. Flipping lessons is great (I flip about 33 percent of my lessons), but students need the teacher to help them navigate confusion and misunderstandings. A typical lesson cycle involving technology in my class looks like this:

  1. Do Now (pencil to paper)
  2. Homework and Agenda (students write down their homework but reference the online instructional calendar)
  3. Introduction to Material (teacher-led)
  4. Check for Understanding (pencil to paper)
  5. Group Practice / Individual Practice (tech integration)
  6. Assessment (tech integration)

How much technology should we use?

Screen time is valuable but can be detrimental if used in place of methods that help brain development. A good ratio of technology integration to traditional classroom methods, in my opinion, is 60-40 (70-30 for a beginning teacher). This allows for teachers to continue to help students grow their brain and move information from short-term to long-term.

I personally never use technology to introduce new information. Tech is used to reinforce in my classroom. There is value in students writing things and creating study tools by hand. We regularly create mind maps and notes on paper in my class.

Remember, technology is a tool, not a teacher. It is the suit, not the superhero. Successful integration of technology requires intentionality from the instructional leader of the classroom.

“Boys Don’t Read”…Or Do They?

There is a common (mis)conception that boys don’t read. I put the mis in parentheses because although I have seen that the love boys have for reading books dwindle as they reach the middle grades, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t reading. Students are overscheduled. As they get older, this only gets worse and so their time for reading for relaxation or to escape into worlds unknown is limited. Reading must compete with sports, family time, school work, and the ever present budding social life.

Consider this for a moment. Your son or student plays HOURS of games on their Playstation or Xbox. Many of these games–Resident Evil, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, Persona 5, etc.–all have in-depth storylines that the gamer must READ to succeed. Sure there is often the option to “skip through,” but most tried and true gamers read and listen to every word. I often see the same engagement with the boys I teach when we’re reading something particularly juicy like Ender’s Game or Unwind. The amount of intrigue is too good to pass up, and before they know it, they’ve devoured the entire book. So I propose that boys DO read, we just have to find the find the right texts and tools to KEEP them reading.  Read on for my own criteria/rules for getting my boys to fall in love with reading again.

  • Boys prefer to read GOOD stuff. It seems like a no-brainer, but time and time again we assign them things that are tedious and odious texts. But the standards?! But the tests! I know. I know. That is another post for another day. The fact of the matter is if he doesn’t like to read for pleasure, there is little to no chance of getting him to read passage upon passage for a state test. In short…if you assign it, he’s not going to read it unless it’s good or you’ve convinced him that it’s good enough for him to commit his time to. Some classics are classically boring and telling him to read “just because” does not hold up in the court of “I have more fun things to distract me.” Give them a reason to get past the first page and chapter.  


  • Annotation is not always the best practice. There is a time and a place for annotation, and when he is reading about an intense fight scene or nail-biting heist is not it. Annotation, especially DEEP annotation requires the reader to pause, leave the text, highlight, write, recap materials, and then re-enter the text. The flow of the moment of lost. While annotation is an excellent skill for short passages, challenging primary and secondary sources, and poems, we should not require that students mark up every single text that they come across. My boys HATE this. Annotating just to have something on the page is not what the skill is intended to do. Teach them how to annotate when they come across a reading block or struggle, but don’t let annotation interrupt the flow of a good read. When I tell my students just to READ, no annotation required, you can hear the sighs of relief and joy. There is more than one way to check for reading comprehension, and if the only way you’re checking to make sure students have read is by how much highlighter is in the book then you need to reevaluate the goals you have for reading in your class.


  • Give them a good reason to re-read. Layer in argument, pop-up debate,  and low-stakes writing. Students NEED second, third, and fourth reads. As a loyal follower of Kelly Gallagher, I can attest to the power of Deeper Reading; however, students, especially boys are reticent to do a plethora of close reads when they’ve already read it once. I hate to stereotype by gender, but there is a reason why so many comedians make a note of a man’s unwillingness to follow directions. Why? Because he has to read and re-read them. I’ve found that my boys are willing to re-enter a text if they have a reason to, and an argument is a great reason to go back to the text and dig deeper. Any book or passage we are reading in class is often followed by a pop-up debate or a quickly constructed response for them to collect their thoughts and provide evidence for them. I play devil’s advocate a lot to entice them to prove me wrong, i.e. go back into the text and prove me wrong. It works every time.


  • Boys need choices. The more choices they have in the text they are reading, the more likely they are to actually read the text. Instead of providing one core text or excerpt, provide multiple ones from multiple perspectives. Literature circles work great with boys because they feel ownership over their chosen text. After all, they chose it.


  • Get over the gore factor. Most boys like gore. There is a reason why Stephen King is a bestseller. My boys like to read gore and write gory stories. The more mysterious, the better. There are some who shy away from stories about death and monsters, but the majority of them will read it because of peer pressure. I should feel bad about this, but I don’t. My class library favorites of my boys are The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman), Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (Jonathan Auxier), the Unwind Dystology and Scythe (Neal Shusterman), anything by Cinda Chima Williams, Endgame (James Frey), Ripper (Stefan Petrucha), and Lockwood and Co. Jonathan Stroud. All of these are middle grade and/or YA, and all have at least one cringe-inducing moment of gore that the boys can’t wait to talk about.


  • If your current novel list doesn’t include at least two sci-fi, dystopian, fantasy, graphic novel, or juicy nonfiction, then you’re doing it wrong. These books tend to have plots that not only appeal to boys but also add conversations and connections to current social and political situations. During a study of 1984,  I had my boys read excerpts from Art of War, Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” “Harrison Bergeron,” “Minority Report,” and watch V for Vendetta. They are analyzing these supplemental texts under the guise of “understanding Winston more.” If I taught these texts out of context from the book, they would never get read with the same level of interest and depth.


  • Either throw away the “reading schedule” or be okay with them reading ahead. Plan ahead for “spoiler” kids.  Strict reading plans tend to stifle students. Once they start reading, they will inevitably read ahead. I’ve had to relax my type-A personality and let this be okay. As long as they don’t “spoil” the book for others, they can read ahead. In fact, I encourage it. I also let them come and talk to me about what’s happening in the book.


  • Allow them to get comfortable. When you’re reading in class, let them get into relaxation mode. If this means you endure smelly feet and have to step over boys who are sprawled out on the floor and under their desks, then so be it. As long as they’re reading.


  • Read what they’re reading and engage in authentic conversations about the texts they like to read. I teach at a boys school because I love teaching boys. I also read many of the texts that my students read. They recommend a variety of texts to me, some that I like and others that I don’t, but it opens the door for conversations. Without this, I would have never discovered the Reckoners series or watched Death Note on Netflix. Turning my nose up at what they like, even in jest translates to “I’m judging you.” (Let’s be honest sometimes I am) Boys are sensitive, in my experience more so than my girls because they simply shut down rather than showing me how upset they are. I’ve had to work really hard to at least try what they like and show them that I care about the same things they do.


  • Audiobooks are a gift from Amazon. Many people dislike audiobooks. I don’t know why. For struggling readers, they open a new world of seeing the book. Once I opened the door the audiobooks in my classroom, my boys started reading again, especially my struggling readers. They can get them for free from the local and school library on Overdrive. My one concession is that I want them to follow along with the actual book as they listen so that they see the words on the page. They especially love the full cast productions (again The Graveyard Book is a favorite here).


That’s it, my TOP TEN ways for getting your boys to read. Try one or try them all!

Click here for my summer reading list of Books for Boys.


Happy Teaching!