Two Tech Tools for Enhanced Literacy Instruction

Another busy week is about to conclude and here on Team Summit, that means we are winding down work on two fairly significant writing pieces.  The first, a response to literature based on the novel Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, focused on using evidence to identify plot structure and elements of literature. The second, a research paper on yellow fever, probed student understanding of the movement and migration of disease and the impact that can have on cultures and community.

For the most part, these CCSS based writing tasks are the norm for language arts and the development of literacy. What may be more important are the processes and tech tools we are utilizing to enhance the writing process. The first, and most accessible, involves student-teacher collaboration using Google Docs. I’m assuming that this platform is becoming the norm throughout writing classrooms and workshops.

In my experience, I am seeing significant improvements in student submissions since establishing Google Docs as our standard writing platform. Because we have shared, reviewed, and revised our work so frequently and seamlessly using the Google Docs share function, the writing process has become, in a sense, an ongoing revision process. Students continually make improvements and I am attempting to monitor their progress and provide feedback in as timely a manner as possible. Some key points from this experience:

  • Importance of Positive and Constructive Feedback: Because students are being asked to share their work on a regular basis, it is critical that they have the language and tools that will allow them to provide effective feedback to their peers. This has required additional instructional time and consideration.
  • Self-Editing and Reflection: Google Docs allows students to continually revise and receive feedback from peers and teachers. It pays for teachers to stop the process and thoughtfully direct students in the art of self-editing and reflection. This can provide students with a “break in the action” and the opportunity for teachers to give mini-lessons as needed.
  • Student Input: as part of our developing practice, we are surveying students at the end of each assessment task to get their input on materials, methods, and the most effective teaching strategies. Using Google Forms, each assessment exercise presents opportunities for improvement based on student input.

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 9.43.30 PMA second tool that I utilized during these writing processes was passed along by Adam Deyo (@adam_deyo) in a workshop on Monday. Padlet is a free, easy-to-use app that allows a teacher to create a wall, or pad (pictured), that students can use to pose questions, resources, and responses. This is a very easy application that allowed our students to collaborate with each other to find answers, research information, and share links to relevant information.

For teachers looking to increase student collaboration, student engagement in the revision process, and tools to build a writing community, the use of Google Docs and Padlet come highly recommended.


Technology and Personalization

Last week during my teacher advisory period, I asked my 7th and 8th grade advisory students if they could share their trimester goals with me electronically. All of the students have these documents in their Google drives but when the documents began to trickle into my inbox, I was taken aback by the results.

What was so unusual about such a simple task? Of the first 5 students to submit their work, four had chosen to complete the task is subtly different ways. One student simply took a screenshot of their goals document and embedded that into the body of an email. A second student shared the Google document using the Share feature. A third student directed me to her website where I could find the document and a fourth student included the document as a .png attachment.

This was an eye-opening reminder of the importance of personalized learning and the role that technology can have in allowing students to achieve the same goals with different problem-solving strategies. In his 2007 Phi Delt Kappan article, “What is Personalization?”, James W. Keefe alludes to the advantages using technology to personalize learning:

Personalization requires interactive learning environments designed to foster collaboration and reflective conversation. The personalized learning environment is child-centered, with a values orientation, a measure of creativity, and constructive learning activities. It builds on the child’s natural ways of learning, with a unity of thought, action, activities, and experiences. An essential ingredient of personalization is a school culture of collaboration in which teachers, students, parents, and other community members work together in a cooperative social environment to develop meaningful learning activities for all students. (Keefe, 221)

In my line of thinking, the use of technology dovetails beautifully with Keefe’s vision of an interactive learning environment. Indeed, the students in my advisory, through their demonstration of different solutions to a relatively simple task, demonstrated the importance of allowing students the opportunity to demonstrate learning using a wide range of formats. In this case, as with the hundreds of other tasks,  small and large that students complete in our classroom, technology provides students the opportunity to successfully achieve objectives through multiple pathways.

Equally important is the notion of a collaborative learning environment. Technology allows teachers and students to collaborate and share the learning experience. In this case, the sharing of Google documents enables me to monitor, share, and discuss student goals and hopefully, to encourage and personalize the student learning experience so that they can achieve them.


Keefe, James W. “What is personalization?.” Phi Delta Kappan 89.3 (2007): 217.