Integrating Technology and Literacy

When teaching with digital natives in a digital world, one question facing many educators revolves around integrating technology to help facilitate learning: How do you work technology into the pedagogy, instead of just using something cool? That task can be especially daunting in language arts literacy classrooms where reading and writing skill development is the crux of daily lessons. However, as 1:1 technology initiatives roll out, integrating technology into the classroom is our reality.

With hundreds of sites, apps, Chrome extensions, and platforms available, choosing the right ones can seem overwhelming. As an eighth-grade language arts teacher, I've experienced this myself. Following are four tools that can help provide immediate formative assessment data as well as top-of-the-rotation feedback to help students develop personal learning goals.

If, like my school, you're in a "Chromebook District," these suggested tools will work well because all integrate perfectly when you sign in with your Google ID, limiting the need for multiple passwords. This saves a lot of student confusion, too.

1. Online Annotations via Scrible

Annotating texts is an evidence-based literacy strategy to help students understand and navigate complex texts, and a large part of my district's schoolwide literacy initiative. Annotating digitally as part of our 1:1 Chromebook program was something that I wanted to incorporate, andScrible has proved to be a valuable tool for my students.

Registering is quick and free, whether via Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, or your own email account. Upon registration, users should select an educator account, which allows them to create libraries where they save the annotation for future reference. The one drawback is that Scrible doesn't yet support .PDF files. Among the highlights and benefits:

  • Students can work collaboratively on the same file.
  • Students and teachers can share annotations with each other.
  • Teachers can use annotations as formative assessment and comment back to students, allowing for immediate feedback.
  • Users can share annotations online via Facebook or Twitter.
  • With the sharing option, teachers can share any in-class modeling with students who were absent.
  • Annotating digitally allows for greater student choice as students find their own online texts.
  • There is a Google Chrome extension that you can add to your toolbar.

2. Video Annotations via VideoAnt

Digital literacy and using video as "texts" can create a myriad of issues for students who don't take effective notes. Developed by the University of Minnesota, VideoAnt allows users to annotate videos and save them to their own virtual "ant farm." The benefits:

  • Users can timestamp important parts of a video, allowing for easy access later.
  • Users can type notes with the timestamp, creating a quasi two-column note-taking tool.
  • Users can share video annotations with others.

3. Feedback via Kaizena Shortcut

Formerly known as Kaizena mini, Kaizena Shortcut is a Google extension that allows teachers to provide actionable, detailed feedback in a streamlined fashion. Typing out feedback in Google Docs comments boxes can get cumbersome. Even limiting feedback to three or four items takes time. Also, what happens when you need to address grammar errors? With Kaizena, teachers and students can:

  • Provide feedback in the form of typed comments.
  • Record comments verbally so that students can hear their teacher's voice on playback.
  • Insert links to grammar lessons.

The last bullet point is clutch for teachers who tire of providing feedback about the same grammar errors over and over. For example, many of my students commit that cardinal sin known as the comma splice. In Kaizena, I created a lesson on comma splices in which I typed a detailed explanation of what they are and how to correct them, as well as a link to a YouTube video about them. This lets teachers provide effective feedback that appeals to students with diverse learning styles. The drawback is that you have to manually create the lessons for each topic. But once you have them, the work is done, allowing you to differentiate grammar lessons based on individual students' errors.

4. Formative Assessments via EDPuzzle

Teachers of language arts and all content areas try to differentiate learning to reach a diverse group of learners by using video clips. But how do you know if students are really focusing and engaging in active learning during videos? EDPuzzle helps collect formative data that can drive instruction.

Users simply register for an account and then create classes. Each class gets its own code that students use for joining. Teachers can search and upload videos from YouTube, TED-Ed, Vimeo, KhanAcademy, and other sites. Then you create a lesson by embedding questions in the video that provides immediate formative data and allows you to check for understanding. Questions can be multiple-choice or open-ended.

I've used this when differentiating lessons, and it has worked flawlessly. For example, when working with theme, I broke the lesson into three levels. The first was for a basic understanding of the definition of theme. The second was for analyzing text to explain theme. The third focused on the crafts that writers use to create a theme. Students came in and completed an entrance slip via Socrative. I then used the data to determine where they were in the process of learning about theme, and assigned them appropriate videos in EDPuzzle.

As students completed the videos, I was able to check for understanding based on the data from their completed questions before moving them to the next level. I could also provide real-time feedback to the questions, explaining concepts further if needed.

While there are hundreds of technology tools out there to help language arts teachers, these four have helped me enhance my use of formative data and feedback to further student achievement in a diverse and differentiated classroom.

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