Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: October 2015

Sometimes Technology Bombs

Sometimes technology bombs. It did yesterday.

I thought I’d be clever doing our ACT prep yesterday. Instead of the old paper-pencil version, I thought I’d integrate it with Socrative. That would let me see immediately which question students were having problems with, and they’d know immediately whether they answered correctly or incorrectly. Plus, no more having to wait for everyone to complete to go over the answers and tallying the results.

Students still had the paper copy to see the passage, so I thought it would work great.  And it did–for the reading test.

But when it came to the English portion–my students gave a resounding thumbs-down.  Many said they missed ones they normally wouldn’t have. Overall, they flat-out didn’t like it.

My theory: I think it could work online if the interface was different.  Unlike the reading test, where all the questions come at the end of the passage, the English test delivers questions aligned with the passage.

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Many of these questions ask students to analyze grammar, and I think it’s easier for students to compare possibilities when it’s side by side. Adding the extra step of then answering on the computer may have been a step too much.

Now we’re back to the old pencil/paper method, and then tallying class averages by hand (because we track how we improve as a class.)

Sometimes technology bombs. It did yesterday. So I shrugged it off and went back to the old way, though a little more knowledgeable now about the powerful effects the interface can have on students.

T.H.I.N.K. Before You Post



It’s Digital Citizenship Week–and Digital Citizenship is an issue that becomes more and more relevant and important every year. All of us–students and adults–need to be aware of our digital footprint that we leave behind. What reputation do we build about ourselves online?

If you’re not convinced that Digital Citizenship is important, take a look at these statistics:

  • 93% of employers check social media profiles before making a final decision (2014 Social Recruiting Survey)
  • 55% of employers have reconsidered a candidate based on his/her social media profile (2014 Social Recruiting Survey)
  • Between 35-86% (Kaplan Test Prep and Chicago Tribune) of colleges admit to searching prospective students’ social media profiles (Facebook, Twitter)
  • 67% of colleges admit to Googling prospective students (Chicago Tribune)
  • Sexting charges in Nebraska consist of being placed on sex offender list for life and minors lose cell phone for 1 yr. (Karen Haase, KSB School Law)
  • Nebraska county attorneys are prosecuting teens and adults at the same rate for sexting. (Karen Haase, KSB School Law)
  • In December 2014, over 100,000 hacked Snapchat photos and videos were published and indexed for the world to see (
  • If subpoenaed by a court, any photo or video on social media (including Snapchat) can be accessed–even if the owners deleted the photo or video on their own devices. (Karen Haase, KSB School Law)

Set a goal this week to create a good habit:  T.H.I.N.K. before you post on social media.

T:  Is it true?  Only post information that you are 100% confident is true.  If you’re unsure–don’t post it.

H: Is it helpful?  Will your post be helpful or beneficial to your audience? Or will your post generate feedback that will be helpful to you?  If the answers to these questions are “no,” reconsider posting that message.

I: Is it inspiring? Not all posts are meant to be inspiring or encouraging, but this is also a reminder not to use social media as an outlet to complain or discourage others. Is the purpose of your post only to vent? Then rethink that post.

N: Is it necessary? Your post may not be urgent or vitally important, but will others benefit from this information? Are you passing on news that others should know? If so, then post it! But if you’re sharing personal information or hearsay that others don’t need to see, don’t post it.

K:  Is it kind? Double-check the message one last time. Could someone interpret the post as hurtful or derogatory? Remember that sarcasm is hard to interpret online, so what may be obvious to you may not be so clear to others.

When you T.H.I.N.K. before you post on social media, you’ll not only avoid conflicts and problems, but you’ll also establish a stellar digital footprint that will create more opportunities for you when applying for college and employment. When employers and college recruiters see a profile filled with posts that are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, and kind, you’re more likely to get that job or college acceptance letter.


Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 5.16.49 PM**This was written for our local school website. Feel free to use it on your own sites–please just attribute accordingly.

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T.H.I.N.K. Before You Post by Melissa Pilakowski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Celebrating Our Independent Reading

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A crucial component of my classes is independent reading.  I expect my students to read a book of their choice the first ten minutes of class each day while I touch base with students who were absent the day before, take attendance, record books and page numbers of each student, and conference with students.

This reading time is sacred. My students know they’re not allowed to do homework or check their grades on their computers. It’s solely for reading a book they like.

In the past, students have written reading responses, but I was ready for a change.  Luckily, I crossed paths with Catlin Tucker’s blog post about her independent reading book clubs, which inspired me to create my own book clubs.

Here were my expectations:

We held our first celebrations this week, and except for a few students’ food forgotten at home, it was an undeniable success. I started each class by sharing my food (cinnamon bear candies), inspired by the book The Fever by Megan Abbott (since both spicy candy and fevers can make you sweat). After a 30 second spiel about the book, I read the first page.

Afterwards, my students all took turns volunteering to share their food and their book. As each period went on, I noticed students talking longer about their books, wanting to share more and more details.  Most important, though, was the quality of passages they read. They strove to share exciting excerpts, and everyone truly listened to each other and the passage being read.

The only thing that could have made it better would’ve been bringing in a few couches and loveseats and made it a coffeehouse setting. Alas, you can’t always get what you want.

Check out their textual/visual responses:

Expository Writing:

British Literature:

Applied Comm 11:

Applied Comm 12:

Daily Quizzes: More than just assessment tools

I’ve written other posts about Make It Stick, the amazing brain and learning book I read earlier this summer.  Like this one, this one, and this one.  I was determined to implement some of the strategies from the book into my classroom, and the biggest one was our Daily Challenge.

Each day my students free read for ten minutes, and then they complete a Daily Challenge. This is a 4-question quiz comprised of multiple choice and T/F questions that review vocabulary words and concepts from previous days or weeks.

The purpose of these challenges is not for a grade, nor is it for formative assessment alone, although that’s a great benefit. The main reason we have daily challenges is to reinforce learning.  As the book Make It Stick explains,  simply re-reading or re-listening to information isn’t as effective as self-quizzing. Answering questions and making the mind reach back reinforces learning.

In other words, I use these Daily Challenges as a learning tool.

Too often, we view quizzes and tests as forms of assessment. However, they can be more than that. Why can’t we use short daily quizzes as forms of learning, where we encourage to remember and recall what we did yesterday or to give them challenge questions they haven’t tackled yet?

Technology also provides enough quiz and test apps where we can provide feedback to students immediately after they answer questions.

Personally, I’ve found success with using Riddle. With this app I can’t see individual scores, but I can see class totals, which is what is important to me: to keep improving as a class overall. Also, students can take it at their own pace and I don’t have to wait for all students to be ready before beginning the challenge. Students can also take it if they’re absent (I link it on our daily agendas).

Riddle also provides immediate feedback to students, thus enhancity it as a learning tool.  Here’s a sample of one of my Riddle daily challenges:

Other great apps include Socrative, Formative, Exit Ticket, Kahoot, and Pear Deck. Each of them has their pros and cons, so find the one that works best in your classroom.

I don’t grade these, but I do use the results to add gold points in Classcraft. For each question that the majority of the class answers correctly, I award everyone 10 gold points. This encourages a stronger classroom culture and makes it less of a competition (which can be deterring for some students).


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