academic choice · challenges · classroom environment · teaching tools · technology · writing workshop

Daring To Lift Student Learning- Choice in Writing Tools

Lauren’s question is a common question. People often ask what apps my students and I use in our classroom and how to get started using technology. Bringing technology into the classroom is a brave task for many us, myself included. I have to be honest, I had a dislike of technology and didn’t believe I could do anything more or better with technology than we could do with pencil and paper. The tools are bulky, unreliable, and I teach 1st grade; my kids are too young. Right?  Well, no. A strong resounding NO!
The tools can be bulky and unreliable, but when you pick-up technology with purpose and determination this all changes. The tools begin to feel comfortable in your hands; you begin to notice you can help a friend troubleshoot a problem because you’ve struggled with the same question. Before you know it, you’re planning a lesson, listening to colleagues talk, or teaching your class, and you realize you know just the app to boost the learning.
The Importance of Curiosity
I believe as an educator I have an obligation to my students to be a curious digital learners. Before I can introduce my students to technology in ways that will lift learning, I need to understand the potential of technology in my life and our classroom. It isn’t about the tools; it’s about the purpose of our work and how we choose to elevate our work with technology. Tools work for us; we don’t structure our learning around the tool. I haven’t heard anyone say, “I feel like banging a hammer, I think I will build a house”? The reach of the tool and the purpose of the work will lead learners in determining which tools to choose. The tools we use today will be obsolete to our students when they reach adulthood. For this reason, I cannot rely on a tool. I need to be an active learner, exploring and discovering the potential of the apps and technology available to us now. I must share this curiosity with my students so they may choose and create tools to work for them.
The Potential of Choice
In our classroom, we have a choice of tools. Colored pencils, pens, markers, crayons, iPads, apps, and a variety of lined or unlined paper fill our shelves. It’s the work and the intention of the work that determines what we choose.
The simple answer to Lauren’s question is “yes”. I do expect my writers to write on paper when it fits the purpose of the work. The more thoughtful and complicated answer is: I expect my writers to know why they’re writing, their audience and to choose the tool, or tools, to meet the intention of the piece. When writers are clear about their audience and why they’re writing, they can better choose the tool(s). Of course, this takes careful and intentional teaching in the understanding of audience, writing purpose, and the power of the tools.
Embrace the Awkward
The beginning steps in technology often feel awkward, and that’s okay. Remember the early days of tying shoes, holding a pencil, or learning to cut paper? Embracing technology requires the same patience and time to explore. While some kids will grasp technology or pencils sooner than others, they all need time and guidance to use these tools and explore the possibilities they provide.
Teaching well demands we stay current and try new ideas. There isn’t any insurance policy that the newest strategy, book, program, or app will work for all or anyone, but we trust our education and experience. We do what we know to be best for kids.

Brené Brown in Daring Greatly says,

Risk aversion kills innovation.

So embrace the mess, the awkwardness, and all the uncertainties rattling in your mind and do what you trust to be best for the students in your classroom.
In future posts, I plan to share more about the tools in our classroom and how students and I choose to use them to lift learning.

Join the Conversation- 
How do you embrace the mess and the awkwardness in your classroom?

What risk are you taking for your students?


Show What You Know with iPad: Using an iPad to Create and Self-Assess in Early Years in this post-Karen Lirenman shares a free course on iTunes U.

Amplify Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom by Katie Muntaris and Kristin Ziemke. Katie and Kristin discuss how they connect literacy skills, critical thinking, and technology to amplify student learning.

Daring Greatly by Berné Brown

The Power Of Vulnerability by Berné Brown Ted X Houston I have linked Brené Browns Houston TedX talk, but she has so many more

4 thoughts on “Daring To Lift Student Learning- Choice in Writing Tools

  1. Hello Deb,

    nice thoughts! Actually, I was teaching 8th grade and therefore in my classroom, I had a wide range of digital learning tools to use. We used a lot of collaboration and communication tools, one of the most useful was Notability.

    Besides, I support your words about the importance of educator’s job to give an impetus to learning as curious and engaging activity. That’s why even when we checked our essays with plagiarism checker (we used Unplag) I remained a mentor who supports and encourages his students.


  2. Thanks for writing this! I plan to share it with my parents as this is the first year their 3rd grader has an iPad and they naturally are concerned by this new tool. Your post will help settle their fears. Know you are helping parents and their kids and their teacher in Arlington, VA!


  3. Great post, Deb! I agree with Helen- Amplify is a great read! I’ve gotten so many wonderful ideas from reading it and being part of the Facebook community. I also think What’s Essential in Digital Reading 3-8 by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass is a transformative read for anyone thinking about integrating more technology. My third graders have really taken to Google Docs and I love the ability to be able to edit their work when they share it with me. We also use Kidblog as our platform for blogging and I think that is a great way to naturally incorporate technology with writing. Apps like SeeSaw would be great for sharing a page in your writer’s notebook and annotating it with self-reflection. Deb is right- it’s important to “embrace the awkward” and realize that there is a learning curve with technology but there is a learning curve with everything!


  4. I would highly recommend reading the book Amplify: Teaching and Learning in the K-6 classroom!! I read it within a week of receiving it. Not only does it give you great ideas about how to incorporate technology, the Kristin and Katie give you great ideas about how to start. I find that teachers often make the mistake of assuming that there students will know how to use an app for the purposes of creating and sharing their learning. Students don’t! They are comfortable using technology but they still need guidance about how and WHY to use it. Thanks for writing such a thoughtful blog entry!


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