A Nanobot of Sugar

shutterstock_116283283Our annual return-to-school professional development this year was a lovely buffet of technology-themed mini-workshops to help us navigate the ever-expanding realm of ed tech. The PD was well received, and it also got me thinking.  

I’ve never been a technology skeptic, nor does technology make me uneasy.  That being said, I’ve also rarely been the type to let any particular app or site or device really transform my classroom in any particular way. I adore Google Classroom and the entire suite of Google work tools (Docs, Slides, etc.), but I still think of them as supplements to my normal curriculum and pedagogy, as opposed to transformative additions (though Google Docs comes close with regard to writers workshops).  

A Nanobot of Sugar

Lately, though, I’ve started to realize that tiny doses of technology here and there have a pretty transformative impact on how we help our kids. I’m not offering this up as a revelation, but it’s worth thinking about what kids need in an English class and how we deliver it to them. Virtual and augmented reality are knocking at the door–Pokemon and PlayStation have already invited them in!–so we’d do well to think about what roles technology has performed well in inside our classrooms.

I’d encourage you to slow down your busy lesson planning routine to take similar stock of how and where you’re implementing technology.

To Infinity and Beyond: Traditional Assessments

Here are a few tech forays I’ve made into advanced approaches to very traditional English stuff.

Reading comprehension. My old failing in this arena was my continual insistence that students demonstrate their comprehension in written form. As I began to trust graded discussions more, I discovered how many students actually had a rather robust knowledge of the texts we were reading. These students, though, lacked the writing sophistication to express that knowledge in the only way I had been allowing them to.  

Oh, the irony, technology, you sly dog! It turns out, given a “safe space” where kids are typing (also known as “writing”) to each other–instead of to me–they suddenly reveal that very sophistication in their writing that I had found lacking.  

Technology is the key. In class I’m really fond of GoSoapBox, which allows for things like instant polling in addition to longer responses. It will also provide a printable transcript of any conversation the class produces. Google Classroom has similar features, but apps with a polling feature allow for some very interesting on-the-spot data: turns out kids get pretty honest when they’re provided a formative (absolutely key) and anonymous virtual space to share their thoughts.

Writing Feedback

I’ve written at length about the joys of audio feedback, which I began exploring last year using turnitin.com. This year I may explore other apps that provide kids a verbal walkthrough of their writing. My frustration has been that technology in this case was only addressing one side of the process–it’s great that I can talk to kids about their final product, but it seems almost MORE important for them to talk to ME.

toplogo2xEnter “Flipgrid,” a new app I discovered at a conference recently (thanks, AssisTechKnow!) that allows students to respond to a prompt with 90 seconds of video. If I can give them three minutes of summary about what I thought of their writing, it seems reasonable that they could give me half that amount in reflection on some area of the rubric I ask them to consider more closely. We’ll see how this turns out, but I’m surmising that speaking into a camera lens might have a sobering effect that traditional forms of reflection (“Fill out this self-reflection sheet–and be honest!”) simply do not.  

Exit Slips

Exit slips involve a bit more application of the same technology I’ve mentioned above, at least for now. I think Join.Me will play a role here too, eventually, allowing my students to share to the classroom’s center screen right from their seats. For now, though, I’m looking at smaller ways to gather fast, impactful formative data from my kids.

Right now it’s mostly online discussion or polling spaces, but there are apps out there that will allow kids to, say, take a photo of a page in their book and then annotate it with a drawing tool before submitting it to me on their way out the door. Imagine the usefulness of snippets of focused annotation from a struggling reader in response to a question–without having to photocopy a thing!

Like I said–nothing groundbreaking. Worth thinking about though: Are you using technology to fill gaps or to rethink failures…or are you just using it because it’s all the rage? I, for one, welcome our robot overlords…but that’s because I feel pretty good about all the toys they’ve brought.

Michael Ziegler

Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

Notes from the Classroom

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