Empowering Teachers to Create Effective Learning Environments

Overview

In my studies for my digital education leadership master’s program, I have frequently been reminded that effective teaching strategies are not dependent on the learners or the environment.  Specifically, many great teaching ideas I come across for my ninth grade classroom are just as relevant to a group of teachers learning about technology.  This realization has been especially apparent I as have been studying ISTE Coaching Standard 3 (Performance indicators e and g), outlined below.

ISTE Coaching Standard 3 – Digital age learning environments: Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students.
E – Troubleshoot basic software, hardware, and connectivity problems common in digital learning environments
G – Use digital communication and collaboration tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers, and the larger community

These performance indicators call for technology coaches to help educators create effective digital learning environments.  To do so, classroom teachers must feel confident enough with digital tools that they can use them independently in their classrooms.  I initially responded to this standard as I normally do, thinking the solution was as simple as just showing teachers some cool digital tools and assuming that alone would be enough for them join the digital learning bandwagon.  With this in mind, I started my research by exploring the question: how can digital video, audio, and social media be used in professional development (PD) in hopes of modeling these platforms so educators can use them comfortably on their own?  However, I soon realized that the second part of this question, getting teachers to use digital tools comfortably on their own, was the essential point to address.

To create such an environment, technology coaches must first consider the end objective, to help educators feel motivated and empowered to embrace educational technology.  Coaches must also consider their learners who are teachers that may or may not embrace technology. With this in mind, coaches can work to create PD opportunities using the effective teaching methods educators rely on in their classrooms. If successful, coaches can empower teachers to confidently explore and implement digital learning tools independently.

Teachers as Students

Teaching teachers is scary.  Anyone who has had the opportunity to lead professional development for educators likely knows this to be true–if you disagree, please tell me your secrets!  Many educators, myself included, can’t help but judge “teachers of teachers” on their presentation methods, learning activities, and management strategies. How can we not when our own careers revolve around creating killer lessons and learning opportunities?  If we assume that most teachers get hung up on the delivery of professional development, it becomes clear that teachers of teachers must consider effective teaching practices used in the classroom when creating PD. When teachers are students, they expect to be engaged and leave motivated.  To help foster this, some questions to consider when before developing PD opportunities might include:

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Know your Learners

Professional development opportunities require a lot of forethought in order to be successful.  In the planning stage, it is vital to think think about the unique needs of your learners.  In any given PD session, the learners are not simply educators, but rather a diverse group of people with varying learning preferences and needs. Some may require accommodations to access the material, some may have significantly more prior knowledge of the content than others, some may be unmotivated to learn, and so on.  When providing PD, I have noticed a few common trends in participants which appear to hold some back from embracing new learning.  Below, I outline these trends and provide possible suggestions to address each.  While applicable to any learning environment, the trends and suggestions specifically consider learners participating in technology PD.

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Combatting the “Curse of Knowledge”

Technology coaches, among others who lead PD for teachers, are typically current or former teachers who have demonstrated exceptional confidence with using digital tools effectively for learning. These coaches, who often have a wealth of resources to share and enthusiasm to boot, also commonly share one potential fatal flaw, the curse of knowledge.  “The curse of knowledge”, as described by Christopher Reddy in Edutopia’s article “The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About”, is the phenomena that occurs in educators when they have such a strong base of content knowledge that they overlook the difficult and time consuming process it takes to acquire this knowledge.  Reddy explains that educators, “do not remember what it is like to not know what they are trying to teach” and therefore “cannot relive the difficult and lengthy process that learning [the] content originally took” (2015).  In creating technology PD, coaches must consider how the curse of knowledge might be negatively impacting the participants. Does the coach meet the learners at their level and build them up, or is the learning process overwhelming the learners? To address the curse of knowledge, Reddy offers several thinking points which are outlined in the Coggle mind map below.  While these points relate to teaching in a K-12 classroom, they are applicable to any learning situation. 


 

Future Questions

  1. For this module I had intended look at methods to empower educators to use video, audio, and social media in the classroom by using these tools in professional development.  In my research, I came across several resources (included below) on the topic.  I ended up shifting my focus a bit and would like to look back at my guiding question and address it more fully in the future.
  2. I ended up reflecting professional development as a whole rather than just on technology PD.  I think that most of my resolution is relevant to technology PD, but wonder what other points technology coaches should consider when creating PD opportunities.  

Resources

Arora, D. (2014, June 25). How to Use Social Media for Professional Development. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://www.socialmediatoday.com/content/how-use-social-media-professional-development

Davis, M. (2013, February 26). Social Media for Teachers: Guides, Resources, and Ideas. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-media-resources-educators-matt-davis

How to Encourage and Model Global Citizenship in the Classroom. (2016, July 19). Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/global_learning/2016/07/how_to_encourage_and_model_global_citizenship_in_the_classroom.html

Raths, D. (2015, June 17). 6 Ways Videoconferencing Is Expanding the Classroom — THE Journal. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from https://thejournal.com/articles/2015/06/17/6-ways-videoconferencing-is-expanding-the-classroom.aspx

Reddy, C. (2015, December 18). The Teacher Curse No One Wants to Talk About. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-curse-of-knowledge-chris-reddy

Frameworks for Selecting, Evaluating, and Managing Digital Tools

Overview

The Association for Educational Communications and Technologies defines educational technology as “[…] the study and ethical practice of facilitating learning and improving performance by creating, using, and managing appropriate technological processes and resources (Januszewski et al. 2008).  While mostly straightforward, this definition begs the question of what processes and resources are deemed “appropriate”, who determines them as such, and what is the process for doing so?  The “who” seems easy enough–according to ISTE coaching standard 3 it is the role of the technology coach to “select, evaluate, and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning”.  Additionally, coaches should create collaborative spaces for teachers and administrators to select and evaluate digital tools and resources (2016). So, if it is the role of the technology coach to facilitate tool selection, how is this done?  

The “how” was much more tricky to answer. I know that technology coaches in my district share digital tools amongst one another and with staff, but I don’t know that there is much of a process besides, “I found this cool, maybe you would too?”  I’m sure many educators have come up with mental checklists for what they do and don’t want in a tool, but I have never been in a scenario where that was openly discussed.  In considering this, I choose to explore the question “What frameworks and tools are available to educators to select and evaluate digital tools?”  My ultimate intention is to start a conversation within my district on our process for selecting and evaluating tools.  To support this, I have compiled some of the main points I have come across in hopes of creating a foundation to start this conversation.

Selecting

In the rapidly growing atmosphere of digital learning, it can be extremely difficult to know where to begin when looking for a digital tool.  As is outlined in my Coggle mind map, one great place to start may be a website, such as the EdSurge Product Index or Common Sense Education.  These sites offer reviews of digital tools by educators and allow users to sort the tools based on subject, standard, platform, and cost, among several other factors.  With or without a specific tool in mind, a few ideas to consider are to…

  • Start with the end in mind.  What standards are you hoping to address?  What do you want the learners to produce?  Does the tool help you reach the intended outcome for the lesson or activity?
  • Ensure all learners have access to the technology. Do all students have access to devices?  What tools work well on those devices?  Will students need access to the internet at school?  At home?
  • Check your district’s technology policies.  What tools are aligned with your districts’ policies?  Does your district already subscribe to tools perform the given task?  Are there restrictions on which tools you can use?
  • Keep in mind learners that need accommodations and modifications. What digital tools will help you better address students who need accommodations and modifications?  Will the tool be valuable for these learners, or will it present new challenges?
  • Make a Checklist. While you may have heard about a really cool tool on social media or from a colleague, don’t forget that you need to choose one that works for you.  It is all too easy to try to force use of a tool because it is exciting, only to realize later that it was not appropriate for the task at hand.  It may be useful to make a checklist of the first factors you need to consider when looking for digital tools to help maintain focus.

My “checklist” is included below, which is from my recent blog post on selecting and evaluating digital tools.

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Evaluating

In addition to helping you find great digital tools, sites like the EdSurge Product Index or Common Sense Education provide extensive ratings and reviews and have therefore done a lot of the evaluating for you.  If their rating system is compatible with yours, you may be ready to experiment with the tool.  For a more individualized tool evaluation system, LearnTrials, an educational technology management system, is an AWESOME resource.   This site allows users to create a library of the digital tools, approve or deny tools for use, write reviews and ratings, explore new tools, and collaborate with other educators.  I see this as a great fit in my district as it could create a platform for teachers to keep the tools they use organized and share them with one another.

Another possibility for evaluating digital tools is to use a rubric or checklist. One of the best rubrics I have come across is the one below, based off of the SAMR model and created by Andover Public Schools Digital Learning Office.  I don’t know how realistic it is to assume that individual teachers would consult a rubric each time they looked at a new tool, but it could provide a good frame of reference.  Rather, a rubric may be more appropriate for a committee to use when making a group decision on whether or not a adopt a new tool.

Future Questions

  1. I am eager to learn more about the tool selection process in my district.  Has a rubric or evaluation process already been put into place?  Who is involved in the tool selection process for the major tools we use, such as our online gradebook or our learning management systems.  How often do these tools come under review?
  2. How can I compile my findings on evaluating digital tools into a resource for educators that is easy-to-use?  Would a rubric be sufficent?  Would simply sharing online resources be enough?  Is it better to give a few options for tool selection and evaluation, or stick with one framework?

Resources

ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentary. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Johnson, K. (2016, March 15). Resources to Help You Choose the Digital Tools Your Classroom Needs (EdSurge News). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-03-15-resources-to-help-you-choose-the-digital-tools-your-classroom-needs

Teachers Know Best: What educators want from digital instructional tools. (2014). Retrieved August 3, 2016, from http://k12education.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Teachers-Know-Best_0.pdf

Technology Integration Rubrics – Andover Public Schools Digital Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/a/k12.andoverma.us/aps-digital-learning/technology-integration-rubrics

Zielezinski, M. B. (2016, June 25). What 7 Factors Should Educators Consider When Choosing Digital Tools for Underserved Students? (EdSurge News). Retrieved August 03, 2016, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2016-06-25-what-7-factors-should-educators-consider-when-choosing-digital-tools-for-underserved-students

Selecting and Evaluating Digital Tools

Overview

When selecting digital tools to use in the classroom I often run into the same few issues:

  1. I get caught up exploring a tool I think is “cool” and lose sight of the objective, often trying to force use of a tool that isn’t the best for the task at hand.
  2. When I realize a tool isn’t appropriate for the task, often after exploring it for a long time, I have to start the process over, wasting valuable planning time.
  3. Looking for a tool in the first place can be daunting, there are so many great ones out there!

In order to help myself, and hopefully my colleagues, break this cycle, I have recently been exploring methods for making the process of tool selection more effective.  One great place to locate and review digital tools is Common Sense Media’s Education site (formerly Graphite).  This site offers both site and educator reviews of just about every digital tool relating to education that is out there.  The reviews can be categorized by subject, standard, or by top picks.  Since finding this site, my tool selection process has been greatly streamlined, yet my issues have not bene solved entirely.  To  aid in the tool selection process, I have put together the infographic below which briefly describes the four main points I consider when selecting and evaluating digital tools to use in a learning environment. While not all factors need to be met with every tool, keeping each in mind will help determine what tool is best for the task at hand!

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Review of a Digital Tool

Overview

Using the criteria outlined in the four points to consider, I chose to review the new Google Sites.  I choose this tool because it just became available in my district I think there would be a lot of use for it, both for educators and for students.  The new Google Sites allows users to create websites directly from their Google Drives and easily edit and embed content.  I am very excited about this tool and have started switching over my old class website to a new Google Site.  I intend on having students make their own sites for future projects too. Specifically, in the past I have had students create a theme poster project at the end of our short stories unit.  After sharing and turning them in, they ultimately make their way to the recycling bin.  If students share this information on Sites, they can easily share with others in, and out, of the classroom and archive their work when finished.  They can also include various media, collaborate more easily, and still maintain focus on aesthetics.  Using the new sites can totally redefine this project!

To get started, just go to your Google Drive, click “New” and then “Site” and prompted directions will walk you through the rest.  On the site ControlAltAchieve, contributor Eric Curtis includes a detailed article, titled “The Totally New Google Sites“, that walks users through the process of getting started!

Review

  • Appropriateness: Sites is easy to use! It allows users to seamlessly embed content, such as slideshows, videos, documents, images, and much more.  Sites is probably the easiest-to-use website creation platform I have come across–it is easy to navigate through the tools, simple to quickly edit and update, and made for collaboration! It would be appropriate for any grade or level of expertise. I see this tool working for a variety of tasks, enabling users to redefine how they share and present information.
  • Cost: Google Apps for Education is free but the business version has a fee per user. Like most Google tools, the new Google Sites is being rolled out in stages so it may not be available to you just yet.
  • Platform: As this tool allows users to create websites, they are viewable from any device that gets internet. Sites allows users to view their site from a computer screen, tablet, or phone, to make sure it looks great on any device!
  • Management Abilities: Users can choose who views their site (just their network or the entire web) and who collaborates with them on it.  Those viewing the site can subscribe, allowing them to recieve email updates when changes are made to the site.

Resources

Browse All Reviews and Ratings. (n.d.). Retrieved July 29, 2016, from https://www.commonsense.org/education/reviews/all

Curtis, E. (2016, June 13). Control Alt Achieve: The Totally New Google Sites. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from http://www.controlaltachieve.com/2016/06/new-google-sites.html

SAMR Model – Technology Is Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved July 29, 2016, from https://sites.google.com/a/msad60.org/technology-is-learning/samr-model

Redesigning Classroom Management Practices in a Digital Environment

Overview:

At the start of next year my district will be fully 1:1 with Chromebooks.  This means that all students above sixth grade will be assigned a Chromebook which they take to and from school during the school year and elementary level students will have access to Chromebooks during the school day.  While this increase in technology accessibility is met with great enthusiasm, many educators are also expressing concern over how to properly manage the technology and student behavior and this new digital atmosphere.  As a classroom teacher I share my colleagues’ concerns and as a technology mentor I have been eager to explore the topic of redefining classroom management in a digital learning environment.  Fortunately, my digital education leadership program through SPU is currently studying ISTE Coaching Standard 3 which states that “technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students”.  Components of this standard require that educators model effective classroom management strategies, coach teachers in online and blended learning practices, and expand choices for online professional development (2016).  In consideration of this standard, I have recently been exploring the question, “how must educators redesign both the physical space of the classroom and their classroom management policies to accommodate a digital learning environment?”.

Through my research I have found a melee of resources relating to my question.  Some resources focus on theoretical aspects of the changing learning environment and offer points to consider when designing instruction.  For example, in “Designing for the K-12 Classroom: ten influential elements to consider” contributor Caroline Bone briefly outlines the flipped classroom and blended learning models as potential frameworks for redefining traditional teaching.  She explains that the benefit of such models is that they “allow for more collaborative, group-based learning in class, with the teacher acting as a facilitator rather than the ‘Sage on a Stage’” (Bone, 2014).  These models, which are being used in more and more classrooms, offer greater opportunities for differentiated instruction and rely heavily on embracing digital education.  Many other resources I came across offered more concrete, “do this”-type advice on how to manage a digital learning environment.  One example would be Edutopia’s blog, titled “Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design“ in which contributor Mary Wade offers a detailed infographic of a 21st century classroom.  Along with her visual, Wade explains that the key elements of a modern classroom revolve around accessibility, mobility, inspiration, and respect  (Wade, 2016).

With so much information already available relating to my question, I choose to synthesize my learning into the eight main points I came across when considering how to redesign the physical space and classroom management of a digital learning environment.  These points, outlined in the infographic below, were designed in consideration of a classroom that is in a 1:1 setting where the district provides technology to students.  I attempted to keep the tips general enough so that they could still apply to a BYOD or shared-device setting.  Additional information on classroom management in a digital learning environment can be found in the links under “resources”.

Ideas to Consider when Designing and Managing a Digital Learning Environment:

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Possible Issues and Future Questions:

  • The “points to consider” that I have outlined are met to address current concerns in my district.  How will the digital learning environment continue to change as more educators embrace the flipped classroom and blended learning models?
  • These resources, while good for any classroom, relate more to secondary level. What different classroom management challenges might an elementary level teacher face in relation to technology integration?
  • As my district provides Chromebooks to students and uses Google Apps, I sometimes focus too heavily on tools and tips that only work for those platforms. What other classroom management policies might educators need to reconsider in a district that uses digital tools I am unfamiliar with?

Resources:

B’s Book Love : Don’t Hate, Integrate: How to use Smartphones in the Classroom. (n.d.). Retrieved July 24, 2016, from http://bsbooklove.blogspot.com/2015/11/dont-hate-integrate-how-to-use.html

Bone, C. (2014, October 7). Designing for the K-12 Digital Classroom: Ten Influential Elements To Consider. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from https://designmind.frogdesign.com/2014/10/designing-k-12-digital-classroom-ten-influential-elements-consider/

ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved July 22, 2016, from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-coaches

Johnson, B. (2015, June 17). How to Manage Cell Phones in the Classroom. Retrieved July 24, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-manage-cell-phones-classroom-ben-johnson

Wade, M. (2016, March 29). Visualizing 21st-Century Classroom Design. Retrieved July 20, 2016, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/visualizing-21st-century-classroom-design-mary-wade

Evaluations and Communication in Digital Education

Overview

The end of the school year often meets me with mixed emotions.  As hard as it to say goodbye to students, it is exciting to imagine what their futures will bring.  While I thirst for the summer off, I dread the lack of routine and separation from the school environment. Other educators may have differing end-of-year emotions, but one commonality is that, for all of us, it is a time for reflection, goal setting, and final evaluations.

In my first years of teaching, my reflections were varying forms of “do everything differently next year, get better”.  My goal was to get at least average scores in my evaluations to eliminate any proof of my shortcomings as an educator.  I do not say this to mean that I felt like a failure as a teacher, but rather that there was so much more I should, and could, be doing.  While these thoughts and feelings have not gone away–nor would I necessarily want them to–I no longer feel as if I am totally swimming in the deep end.  So, for the end of this year, and for my exploration for Module 3 of my Digital Ed. Leadership program, I decided to look a bit more deeply into the evaluation process and communication practices in my district.  My intention is to gain a better understanding for myself, so I can more effectively reflect and set growth goals, and to share what I have learned to gain input from others.

Evaluating a “Digitally Distinguished” Educator

On the ISTE site, contributor Helen Crompton offers an in-depth explanation into ISTE standard for teachers three, relating to modeling digital age work and learning.  She explains that, “Students need to learn how to effectively and appropriately use digital tools, and it is the teacher’s job to model what that looks like” (2014).  I understand that the increase in available digital tools and devices has happened so quickly, majorly redefining teaching, and I’m sure that it has been difficult to stay updated on the best practices for evaluating teachers. However, if indeed it is the “teacher’s job” to model responsible and appropriate use of technology, than surely this is an area they are being evaluated on.

My search to understand how teachers in my district are evaluated on technology use started with our evaluation rubric, based on the Danielson Framework.  After scouring the rubric for any keywords relating to “digital” or “technology” I found only a few vague statements.  The first mention, under the “designing coherent instruction” section, seems to tag technology on as an afterthought–it is not consistently mentioned throughout, but only mentioned, in parenthesis, in the “distinguished category”. The second two mentions, both under the “Fostering and managing a safe, positive learning environment” section, are more consistent with the expectations but both have basically the same verbiage regarding “effective technology use”. The first expectation seems to revolve around the actual use of technology–are teachers using the tools available to them? The second expectation seems to have more to do with how technology is used–are teachers using the tools wisely? The concern for me is that there are so many areas to assess within “effective technology use”, which are more clearly outlined in the ISTE student and teacher standards.  Is our evaluation rubric in need of an overhaul?  Or at least a supplement so it is reflective of current teacher expectations.

In looking for a more comprehensive teacher evaluation relating to technology, I came across this rubric, created by a media and technology coordinator from Minnesota, that uses the Danielson framework (maybe mixed with ISTE or other standards??) to create a more specific technology evaluation for classroom teachers. While this may not be a perfect fit for my district, it makes it clear that there are many more, specific areas, we should be evaluating teachers in regards to technology competency and use.

Communication Practices in a Digital World

My district has been a Google school for several years and, at this point, most teachers and administrators are effective users of Gmail, the Drive, and Google Calendar.  These tools offer effective ways to communicate, share documents and resources, and stay informed on important dates and scheduled meetings.  I am truly impressed with the competencies of my district as a whole in using these tools.  With that said, other Google tools, such as Google+ and Hangouts are used by very few, and I would like to see them utilized.  For example, Google+ communities could create great place for staff and students to share resources–right now one of the few communities, frequently used though, is made up of technology mentors.  I also think that Hangouts could be a great way to organize meetings between staff and with parents and students.

The middle, mid high, and high schools in my district also all maintain Twitter and Facebook pages, which is a great way to reach out to parents and students, and the community. A lot of cool information is shared on these sites too, including sports victories, academic successes, upcoming events, etc.  The setback to these sites is that many students are convinced that the schools are trying to “spy” on their social media, and therefore refuse to “friend” the sites.  Additionally, there has been some issue with parents and community members inappropriately vocalizing complaints through our social media platforms. While the sites are ultimately beneficial, making sure they are used effectively can be a challenging struggle.

It is easy to locate and dissect the shortcomings within any educational system when looking for them through the lens of a critic.  It is even easier to notice potential deficiencies when the focus is on educational technology, an area that is not only constantly changing, but rather doing backflips and cartwheels.  With that said, I maintain an appreciation for my district–while there are indeed areas in need of improvement, we definitely have a lot of forward momentum and dedicated educators willing to do what’s best for students and our community.

Further Questions

  1. It seems like the evaluation process has gotten a lot more time-consuming since we started using the Danielson framework for assessing teachers. How much more of a time commitment would be necessary to effectively assess teachers in this area?
  2. How can we keep the evaluation process simple, while still looking for specific areas of technology proficiency?
  3. We have studied the ISTE teacher standards–how are these actually applied to the classroom? Are they more of a suggestion for technology savvy teachers to consider, or do some districts use the standards to assess teachers?

References

Crompton, H. (2014, July 24). Know the ISTE Standards•T 3: Model digital age learning. Retrieved May 13, 2016, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=109

Johnson, D., & N. M. (n.d.). Rubric for Effective Teacher Technology Use. Retrieved May 07, 2016, from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el201303_johnson_rubric.pdf

ISTE: Critical Thinking and Reserach

In my masters program I have recently had the opportunity to form inquiry questions based on ISTE Standards three and four, relating to critical thinking and research.  These questions have helped guide my learning and have lead me to several instructional models and digital tools that I plan on incorporating in my classroom.  Below, I have included the questions, along with my Coggle mind maps, to share what I have learned.

ISTE Standard 3 Question: How can I support students in developing their own learning through research while ensuring that they are staying focused to the task at hand. In other words, is there a framework or “roadmap” to keep students on the path to discovering answers to a question without them getting distracted by the volume and scale of available resources.

ISTE Standard 4 Question: How can I modernize my current English 9 curriculum to incorporate digital tools that foster critical thinking skills necessary in the 21st century? What tools are available and how can I smoothly integrate them into my current instruction?