Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Month: December 2015

Going Paperless should NOT be the Goal

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In this time of resolutions, there’s one goal I ask you NOT to adopt:

Going paperless.

Perhaps that’s surprising from a tech advocate like me. In fact, I probably said “going paperless” was my own goal at one point. Most of my students’ work is completed on the computer.  Nearly all my grading and feedback is done on the computer.  You couldn’t pay me to go back to the stacks of paper haunting me from my teacher’s bag.

But let’s be careful here. What is the purpose of “going paperless”? Too often, I hear or read of teachers proclaiming their goal to “be paperless,” but I have to wonder what their purpose is. And if paper is getting an unfair reputation.

This all started a few weeks ago in a fairly-heated Twitter chat about paper. More specifically, about the copy machine and worksheets. Let me be clear: I’m okay with anti-worksheet rhetoric.  I’m certainly not a fan of handing out worksheets, grading them, and handing them back the next day (or a few days later.)

However, many people are equating paper with worksheets. If an assignment uses paper, then it must automatically be poor teaching. Even more dangerous, I fear that some teachers may be equating technology with strong teaching. The truth is there are great teachers out there who are technology novices, and there are tech-savvy computer-brained teachers who are poor teachers.

We need to be careful not to vilify paper. First of all, those evil worksheets are just as evil when they’re PDFs on the computer and result in feedback days later, when the student has forgotten all about it. Second, paper still comes with huge benefits:


1. Paper can spark creativity. While staring at a white document on a computer can leave me stumped, I feel much more relaxed with my pen and journal or notebook. It’s low-stakes. I don’t intend on anyone else looking at it–and that helps me release my creative juices. When my college comp students are struggling with writing, I suggest to them the same: grab a pen and paper and write longhand for a while. It doesn’t work for everyone, but it works for many of them. That’s why I allow students to work on either the computer or on paper during idea-development sessions: I’m meeting the needs of all learners.

2Writing and doodling can enhance our thinking. Research has shown that typing notes during a lecture results in less     retention than writing notes longhand. Add in doodling and visual art, and retention grows. This can be seen in the popularity of sketchnoting.

2013-04-21 FITC Toronto 2013 – 02 – Experimenting with Creative Process – Qanta Shimizu by Sacha Chua. CC BY-SA 2.0


3. Simplicity. Sometimes technology can be too much of a hindrance. Once I created an analysis assignment where students highlighted the different parts of an argument on a Google Doc. I showed the students how to use the highlighter tool and also how to use an add-on highlighter. After several minutes of this, students started analyzing the argument. Well, they started highlighting it. But then they’d forget to switch a color. Or they couldn’t get the add-on to work. Finally one student stated the obvious: “Can’t we just use regular highlighters?”

Looking back, I wish we would have. At the end of class, what stuck with kids? The frustration of using the digital highlighter, not how to structure an argument.

4. Tactility. Some people simply enjoy working with their hands. In this digital age, the joy of creating with your own hands–a piece of art, a board or card game, a hand-written poem–cannot and should not be overlooked.

Let’s look at the goal of “going paperless.” If you’re considering it, let’s reanalyze what you want.

  •  Is it to be more efficient in feedback and avoid dragging home papers? Then look into students using phones or iPads to take an image of their hard copy work and submit it online.


  • Is it to allow students to be more creative? Great! Show them the infinite number of apps and opportunities for students to create digital work. Even require work to be digital sometimes. But not all the time. Let students have the choice to make a hard-copy product occasionally.
  • Is it to integrate more technology into your teaching? Then I really applaud you! And there are hundreds of teachers on Twitter to support you–including me! Take a look at your lessons and find ways that technology could give feedback faster, or provide students more choices, or open your classroom beyond the walls to a global audience. Find a mentor if you don’t know where to start. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t sweat it. Choose one thing. Once you’re comfortable with that, try another. Tech knowledge has this crazy way of building on itself, and you’ll become more creative and innovative with it in a matter of months.

Let me emphasize.  I. Love. Technology. You will tear my laptops (yes, I own two) away from my cold, dead hands. I will never, ever give up the quick feedback and personalization that technology provides.  Technology is changing education for the better, and technology is what keeps me passionate about my job because it allows me to spend more time with my students and less time doing “paperwork.”

In short, technology has made me a better teacher.

But let’s end the “paper is the devil” argument. Paper isn’t the devil. It’s the choiceless lessons and meaningless assignments that are the devils in education.  Instead, resolve to use technology to improve feedback to students, to allow them more creativity, and to make our classrooms more global.

Daily Agendas using Google Docs

Each one of my classes has a daily agenda.  It’s the single go-to place for announcements, links, and plans for the day/week. In the past, I’ve tried lots of shiny technology, including a class blog, Google Classroom, and online lesson planners that publish to the web. They all came with benefits and drawbacks.  I kept looking for something more efficient for me and my students.

For me, the answer came in the simplest and plainest place:  Google Docs. After watching some webinars on creating flipped/blended learning lessons in Google Docs, I realized that would work great for daily agendas, too.

This year I started using tables in Google Docs, and I loooove it.  Here’s my British Literature agenda:

Here’s why my classes’ daily agendas and Google Docs work so well together:

1. Central Location. It’s the one place I can guarantee will have information students need. Assessment dates, links to assignments, even announcements for the senior class. I ask that students bookmark the daily agenda to make it easy to access for them.

2. Time Saver. Every day we have absent students. Now, all I have to tell them is “check the daily agenda and let me know if you have questions.” When students are planning to be gone for basketball games or field trips for other classes, I say the same thing: “Check the daily agenda.”

3. Easy Adjustment. I’ve used blogs and websites for daily agendas before, and they’ve worked fine–except when I’ve had to make adjustments to the agenda.  And to be honest, I have to make adjustments often. I realize I’ve forgotten an announcement. I’ve thought of another resource for students. To make these changes in a website requires lots of clicks to get into the post, to edit it, to republish it. In a Google Doc, I can make a quick edit in a few seconds.  It’s a true living document that changes throughout the day.

4. Easy Commenting. Blogs and websites allow for student comments, but viewing them involves scrolling and clicking. In a Google Doc (that’s set to “Comment Only”), students can highlight part of the agenda and make a comment–perhaps a question they have or a resource they’ve found that could help others. Then the comments are attached directly to the part of the agenda it refers to.

5. Hyperlinks: Granted I can’t embed videos or websites into Google Docs (although I dream that one day I’ll be able to…), I can link anything. Assignments in Google Classroom, YouTube videos, websites–you name it.

6. Compacted Interface. What I mean is being able to access and scan a lot of information in a small area.  For this reason (and reason #3) is why I choose Google Docs over Google Classroom for classroom agendas. Nearly all my above reasons can be accomplished with Google Classroom (which I also use), but want to look at the week at a glance? It’s a no-go. There’s scrolling through announcements and assignments. In Google Docs, I make one table for each week, put the date at the top, and change the color of the table each week.

7. Flexibility of Tables. My life changed when “Merge cells” was added to Google Docs. As my teaching pedagogy changes, so do my tables. Currently, I’m shifting to a more student-paced classroom and eventually plan to be fully quest-based learning. With the ability to merge cells, I can create “weekly plans & announcements” in a side column, then cells for each day on the right. Columns could be created for matching up the standards or student resources, too.

Still haven’t found the right answer to your Class Announcement/Agenda page? Try Google Docs. For me,  the answer was in the simplicity of Google Docs.

Takeaways from 10 Ways to Go Gradeless


Takeaways from Go Gradeless

EXPlore Like a Pirate This Holiday Season

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Thinking about sticking your pinky toe into the gamification waters?  

EXPlore Like a Pirate is for you.

Already swimming in the deep end of the gamification pool?

EXPlore Like a Pirate is for you, too.

Michael Matera has made his author debut by bringing gamification to the Teach Like a Pirate ship, and let me tell you–it will quickly become a seminal read for anyone implementing gamification into the 3-12 classroom.

For those still uncertain about diving into the gamification waters, Matera spends the first few chapters of EXPlore Like a Pirate explaining the benefits of gamification and dispelling the myths–all of which will have gamification-loving teachers everywhere thinking #preachonmatera with every page.

In Part II of the book, Matera describes the philosophy of “Knowing Your Crew”–in other words, knowing the types of players in your classroom. He explains Bartle’s Player Types and how his students take a quiz at the beginning of each year to show him the type of player each of them is. He also emphasizes the importance of providing activities in your game that motivates all four types of players.

An unexpected section of the book is Matera’s use of Purpose-Driven Language in his classroom. He not only posts a list of this language in his classroom–a list that consists of words such as determination, focus, and empathy–but further explains how he uses this language with his own students to help them build skills/abilities beyond typical class content. This is a chapter I will reread several times.

The second half of the book is where veteran gamemakers will find the most inspiration.  Matera not only describes tons of game mechanics available when designing your classroom game, but he also provides examples of how to integrate these mechanics based on the theme of your game. Thinking about a Wild West theme? Space? Medieval life? Matera provides for all of these and more.

In addition are chapters on one-day games and playful assessment, all with directions and ready for use, or modification, in your classroom.

Chapter 6 provided me the most inspiration. No surprise, since this chapter described creating your game story and I’ve got a writer’s heart beating inside me. But even for a writer and ELA teacher like myself, planning a game can be overwhelming. However, Matera breaks the process down into four routes: theme, setting, characters, and action, and then he encourages teachers to choose one of the routes to start with–the one that inspires you the most. Once you select your route, Matera provides questions that get your brainstorming bubbling with ideas.

This latest installment from Dave Burgess Publishing is sure to please new and veteran gamemakers. Do yourself a favor and start exploring Matera’s ideas right now by clicking here.Screen Shot 2015-12-19 at 2.04.01 PM


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