Teaching Tools and Their Uses
By: Kristin Kelly-Sierra

Every year it seems that more is expected of us as teachers. We need to increase test scores, differentiate instruction, drive our instruction by using data, increase the daily rigor of the activities our students participate in, and be a member of countless committees. Not to mention the things we do daily, lesson planning, calling parents, taking anecdotal records, grading tests, holding coach classes, and more. Now there is one more thing we need to do in order to be considered effective teachers, use technology to engage and motivate our students. Technology is a scary word for a lot of teachers. Many of us are unfamiliar with technology so we shy away from it, while others are in schools with very limited technological resources. What is great about the book, Adolescents and Digital Literacies Learning Alongside Our Students by Sara Kajder is that it is about the teaching practices that technology assists.

Kajder states that, “our work now is about broader English curriculum, one leveraging the unique practices students bring to the classroom as readers, writers, viewers, and users of a variety of textual spaces (digital and print) in order to teach both traditional practices of reading and writing and new literacy practices ranging from information literacy to working in online communities to composing with a variety of media” (Kajder, 2010, p.4). Kajder says a lot in this statement, she’s explaining that it is still important to teach the traditional way, but we need to embrace practices that motivate our students. These motivating practices will also allow students to work in a format that they use outside of school. A teaching practice that is very effective because it allows teachers to see the multiple literacies that students use independently and it makes a connection between home learning and school learning.

Throughout the book, Kajder discusses how her professional learning has been enhanced by the NCTE Policy Research Brief. She discusses how when teachers embrace the multiple literacies of their students they are “bridging everyday literacy practices to classroom practices, allowing students to take ownership of their work, and using computers to motivate and engage students” (Kajder, 2012, p.6). Our goal as educators is to prepare our students for the real world and to ensure that they are ready for college. In order for students to be literate, they need to know how to take meaning from different text forms and communication modes and how to communicate through those modes. Some examples of these different modes that teachers can utilize are: blogging, podcasting, participating in a Wiki, using IMovie or Photoshop, and constructing a PowerPoint. You can use these different modes of communicating in numerous ways for reading and writing. Students could construct projects based on a novel, they could blog about what they are reading, or they could create a podcast, instead of writing a journal, from the viewpoint of a main character in a book. Again, it’s not about changing the entire way that we teach. It’s about enhancing what we already do by using different forms of technology.

Another way for teachers to incorporate technology in the class room is to understand and utilize the multiple digital literacies students use regularly outside of school.This topic is explored in chapter two. Teens participate in uploading photos online and share them using programs like Flickr or Photobucket, they create and post videos to YouTube, and they also find and download applications for their IPhones and I Pads. An idea for teaching could be to have students create a YouTube video where they are acting out a scene from a book. Megan, a teacher that is discussed in the book, wanted to encourage “good writing grown from deep reading” (Kajder, 2010, p.89)) with her students. She spoke about changing an assignment that she normally had her student’s do, which was to “create a point of view character journal.” Megan decided to alter this assignment by using flickr.com and Project 365. This project required students to have access to a digital camera or cellphone. Students used their camera to capture one image for each day of reading, again from the point of view of a character from the novel, but now they were summarizing or capturing a key moment from the events in the pages of the assigned reading. Students then had to post to the class “group” in Flickr where they provided the image, a caption written from the character’s point of view, and two specific tags unique to the class. The tags were meant to organize entries (Kajder, 2010, p.89-90). Megan is showing us again, how you can take a regular assignment and enhance it with technology.

When incorporating the multiple literacies that students utilize outside of school into the classroom, it is also important to give students the opportunity to work together in order to build a sense of community amongst the students. 55% percent of online teens say that they have a profile within a social networking site (Kajder, 2010, p.18). Students are motivated by social networking sites because they are interacting with friends and the community. They enjoy reading their friends Facebook pages because they are learning more about their friends, participating in conversations, and publicly sharing their opinions. To motivate students that same way that social networking sites do, teachers should think about the great power that learning together has on students and incorporate activities where students collaborate together and in their community (Kajder, 2010, p.47). Another teacher discussed in the book was “Kristen”; she did a good job of creating a community of learners in her classroom. Her story talked about having students self-select a text for independent reading. After selecting and reading their independent novel, students created a book review using VoiceThread.com, “VoiceThread is an online digital storytelling tool, allowing users to post and sequence images with narration” (Kajder, 2010, p.110). To promote a community of learners, students were instructed to comment on 3 of their peers projects. Having the students comment on each other’s projects was a smart way to build a community in the classroom. As teachers, we hope this practice will transfer to in class discussions.To continue building a community, Kristen had students work in literature circles for the book Enders Game. To add technology to this practice, the students had to create a 6-8 minute podcast that discussed the book. I love how she took 2 “normal” classroom activities and enriched them with technology. This practice will help teachers that are hesitant to use technology. If you present it to them as, just adding something technology based onto what they already do, teachers will be less intimidated.

As we are moving towards teaching using the Common Core Standards, teachers are going to have to provide more instruction on how to construct research based writing. We want students to use technology to find answers to questions and to use appropriate resources for research. Our goal is for students to be able to “locate, critically evaluate, and use information” they find while researching (Kajder, 2010, p.64). The only way they are going to learn how to do this effectively, is if we provide them with opportunities to practice. Teachers can begin by providing students with a list of websites to explore. Make sure to include sites that search blogs, podcasts, and other digital media. Show students how to organize the information they find on the internet using Diigo (Digest of Internet Information, Groups, and Other Stuff). Teachers can create private accounts for each student which will allow them to bookmark the site, highlight important information in an article, add a sticky note to comment on a page, and save bookmarks by tagging (Kajder, 2010, p.60). Following this procedure for teaching students how to conduct research will help student’s understand the importance of locating reliable information and then analyzing that information to answer their research questions.

The way we teach English isn’t changing. We still want students to “learn to master the power of words and symbols-theirs and others” (Kajder, 2010, p.36). The difference is now we have many different tools that we can use to enhance our teaching because of technology. Teachers can utilize tools like: sharing image files, blogging, creating surveys, online projects, sharing audio files, and social networking (Kajder, 2010, p.36). There isn’t going to be instant change for teachers, it’s a gradual process that involves, “thinking about how we teach, examining how students learn, and then looking for openings for change” (Kajder, 2010, p.36).

So, start thinking about how you can enhance your current teaching practices with activities that provide students with literacy experiences that are multimodal. How can you integrate technologies like blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking spaces, goggle maps, online communities, and so many more into your teaching practices?

Teaching Tools Discussed
Google Maps
Social Networking Sites
http://www.diigo.com http://help.diigo.com/Diigo_Educator_Account

Kajder, S. (2010).Adolescents and digital literacies learning alongside our students.NCTE Urbana:IL