Digital Tools & the Common Core: Making Thought Visible

Come chat with me on Friday morning, 11am — Level 2 Foyer — about digital tools & the Common Core. If you can’t make it (or this is after the fact & you totally missed my tech-on-the-go session at NCTE), no worries! Here are the highlights :)

We all know that the Common Core embraces collaboration and technology in the classroom. Consider Joe Wood’s post (from a year ago today) that states, “Digital text is a critical part of being literate in the 21st Century.” He goes on to elaborate in another post on the five of thirty-two anchor standards that “specifically call out the importance of digital reading and writing.”And for those of us advocating digital literacy and 21st century skills, this is a welcome relief.

But how exactly do we use these tools with purpose in the classroom? Just like many of you, I’ve been tinkering with technology in the classroom for years. But as I studied the Common Core and worked to craft aligned lessons, I realized that my major goal in exploring digital tools was not only to introduce students to the ways in which they’ll communicate in this next century. It become more than trying to engage or motivate (though those are fine things, happening too!) or create interactive methods for structuring student learning in the classroom. It’s also to play on the strengths of diverse learners, deepen their critical thinking skills, and perhaps most importantly, empower them to become active participants in their own lives and the world around them.

Because, after all, whoever does the work does the learning.

So that’s my rationale. Digging deeper is important, though. Just tossing a tech tool into the classroom does nothing more than, well, add another tech tool. Here are some questions to ask before you select the digital tool(s) you want to use:

1. What is my purpose? What do I want my students to think about? how do I want them to document their thinking? what do I want them to create to reveal their learning? and what choices do I want to provide  them?

2. How will this digital tool help prepare our students to engage with the world? Globally competent students, according to the Asia Society & CCSSO’s Educating for Global Competence, are involved in investigating the world, recognizing perspectives, communicating ideas, and taking action.

With these two questions answered, you’re ready to think through the ways in which you’ll engage students in doing the work and what digital tool you’ll use in order to accomplish that.

Consider these Digital Tools:

  • Class, subject, or themed Wiki: I use pbworks.com but many use wikispaces.com. Multitude of uses – but incredible for documenting change over time, evidence from the text, and broadening collaboration to more than those sitting real-time in the class.
  • PollEverywhere: Forget clickers. Here’s a real-time “read” on student thought, knowledge, or input. Great for formative assessments, votes, or silent shares.
  • VoiceThread: Hold a conversation around a common text…in the cloud
  • Citelighter: store, organize, and share your reading, research, and thoughts for free. Thanks to Troy Hicks for pointing out this nifty tool!
  • FlipCamera, Bloggie, SmartPhone, anything that records: When students perform, create, and innovate on video, it gives other students something to deeply consider. Suddenly, peers are examining this new “text” in order to provide feedback or tease out perspective or even to respond to in an ekphrastic fashion!
  • Wordle: More than just a beautiful word cloud, wordles allow you to assess student knowledge (tell me three facts about the topic that you know from looking at this wordle), engage learners (create three questions about the topic that this wordle prompts), and integrate collaboration (share your questions with a peer and see if they know the answers).

Have you used these tools? Have others to share? Tell me how you’ve successfully (or not so successfully – we can always brainstorm & troubleshoot together!) integrated digital tools into your classroom. And finally, what ways have you found to negotiate the demands of Common Core?

About April Niemela

English teacher and co-director of the Northwest Inland Writing Project, April Niemela is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology Program at Michigan State University.
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