When I became a teacher in 2001, “integrating technology” looked a lot like using an overhead projector and maybe finding some websites that could be a resource for your lesson. In 2016, digital tools are NOT a nice little extra thing to throw in a lesson, the take-it-or-leave-it cherry on top of the otherwise perfect ice cream sundae, separate from the actual instruction and learning. Rather, digital tools can transform your teaching by allowing students to have a writing community beyond the classroom walls, be innovative, make meaningful connections to other writers and students, have more resources readily available, and have true, authentic reasons for writing.
As a third grade teacher, I have tried several different digital tools this year and have found these five to be game-changers for many subjects, especially writing workshop.
Digital Tool: Google Drive and Google Docs
I am fortunate that my school uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Google Drive is a way to organize all your documents and share them with others. You can access all your files wherever you have Internet, avoiding the need for memory sticks. Google Docs is like Word, except you never have to save anything (everything saves automatically) and you can easily share the document with others. One document can have many collaborators, which offers so many possibilities in a writing workshop.
How I used it: I used Google Drive to organize all my files, including student mentor texts I want to save and use again next year. I taught my third graders how to use Google Docs and share their work with me. This made it easy to pull up their work in front of them and edit together. It was also useful when we ran out of time to mail pen pal letters to our friends in Mrs. Aliza Werner’s third grade class in Wisconsin. School ends earlier in Wisconsin than it does in New York, and I was able to send all the pen pal letters with a few clicks!
Next year, I could try: Google Docs would be a great tool for writing partnerships, teaching students to read and comment on each others’ work!
Digital Tool: Weebly Class Website
I learned about Weebly last year during #cyberPD when Cathy Mere wrote about using Weebly to create a “class hub” for her students, a central place to find links and information. I had a simple class webpage before but wanted greater freedom to include more items and change the design. Weebly is free, but I paid for a “Pro” membership to get more access to features, like unlimited pages on my class site.
How I used it: I created a class website. It included a page called “Important Class Sites” which became an easy way for my students to access places I wanted them to online. I often included a link to the newest Padlet (see more below!) I wanted them to contribute to and there was a Symbaloo of resources there as well. The link to our Kidblog site was on this page and made accessing Kidblog very simple. Third graders have a hard time typing in long url names, so this was a real time-saver and made it easy for students to access Kidblog at home as well. One of the page types you can create is a blog, and I used this during our March Slice of Life Story Challenge. I posted links to the students’ Kidblog posts on the class blog each day.
Next year, I could try: I started to create parent resources for each subject area. Next year, one thing I could try is flipping some of my writing instruction, especially around common mistakes like ending punctation. I could post these videos on the class site! Another way to use the site is to make more use of the blog throughout the year. I could create a class job to be the “blogger of the week” and that student could write a post at the end of the week, highlighting the important things that happened.
Digital Tool: Kidblog
This was my second year using Kidblog, which is an easy-to-use, kid-friendly platform for blogging. There are many privacy features and also ways to connect with other classes who use Kidblog. This year, there was a fee to become a Kidblog member, but I found it was definitely worth it!
How I used it: I introduced my third graders to blogging early in the year and we launched our blogs! Every Tuesday, I signed up for the computer lab and it was our “Slice of Life” blogging time. We also blogged at other times and students could blog from home. In March, the students took part in the Slice of Life Story Challenge and were challenged to blog each day of March. I also facilitated a blogging club for fourth and fifth graders in my school and used Kidblog with them.
Next year, I could try: Each year, I want to improve my instruction around blogging. I need to do more work around the images we use in our blogs, since some students would spend a lot of time selecting an image and less time writing. I hope to share more of my ideas around improving the quality of our blogging next school year!
Digital Tool: Padlet
Padlet has become one of my favorite tools because of its versatility, the possibilities for collaboration, and its visual appeal. Padlet is a digital bulletin board where people can contribute (or not) based on how you set it up.
How I used it: For writing, I used Padlet to create my own collection of mentor blog posts and a collection of student mentor blog posts. I also used Padlet for students to craft a personal response to a time where they felt like “a fish in a tree.” During the Global Read Aloud last November, when many of us were reading Fish in a Tree, by Lynda Mulally Hunt, I shared this Padlet and students from different places contributed their stories. We also used Padlet to post reasons why we are grateful around Thanksgiving time. Students loved Padlet and started creating their own Padlets later in the year.
Next year, I could try: Since students were very motivated by Padlet, perhaps I could let a student create a Padlet question each week and design it, then allow other students to write their response to the question. I could also use Padlet to organize our mentor texts for each unit, pictures of our anchor charts, and anything else related to the unit of study. It could be a resource that other teachers could add to as well, which would help all of us to improve our instruction.
Digital Tool: SeeSaw (Student-Driven Digital Portfolios)
SeeSaw is an amazing tool for students to capture their learning. It is free and easy to use. Students can take pictures, add audio, video, or even create a screencast. All of their work is saved and stored and parents can access their children’s portfolio. Dana Murphy blogged about SeeSaw earlier this year.
How I used it: In our first writing unit, I used SeeSaw as a notebook celebration. Students took pictures of a page in their writer’s notebook and then made an audio recording about what they wrote about and their process. I also tried to use it as a way to possibly flip my instruction. Here, I am explaining a strategy I taught.
Next year, I could try: Students who need more oral rehearsal before writing can create an audio recording or a video of what they want to say, then play it back as they start to compose their story in writing. I’d like to make a better effort to have students put an entry in SeeSaw for each writing unit of study. This would really showcase how students grow as writers throughout the year.
Other tools I’ve loved: I recently used the app Green Screen by Doink to make my student’s persuasive speeches come alive! Green Screen allows you to have any image behind you in your video. Students selected images that matched their persuasive speeches. I recorded them reading their speech, then added the images and it made for a really cool presentation. Click here to see one of my students persuade you to stop assigning homework! (I’m convinced.) I also love QR codes and recently blogged about QR codes and summer notebooks.
Some “honorable mentions” are tools that I love but haven’t used specifically for writing workshop. They include Smore newsletters, Thinglink, and Biblionasium. These tools could definitely be used in writing workshop and I hope to share more about how I explore them for that purpose next year.
Digital tools have changed my teaching for the better. They allow students to have more choice, voice, and ownership over their learning and their writing.
What are YOUR favorite, go-to digital tools for writing workshop? Please share in the comments and also share other ways you’ve used any of the tools I’ve described.