Wednesday, May 18, 2016

GUEST POST: Teaching with Technology: Reinvigorating Pedagogy in an English-Language Arts Classroom (Tracey Kent)

This is the first in a series of posts by teachers in the TUSD Connect Fellowship for the 2015-2016 school year. I hope you enjoy reading their reflections on the impact of technology in their classroom, specific tools and strategies that have made a positive impact on teaching and learning, and their goals moving forward.

*This post is cross-posted on the Technology Fellowship blog at

Technology has had a noticeable impact on my classroom this year. It has afforded me greater efficiency and reinvigorated somewhat calcified pedagogical knowledge. For my students, it has increased their productivity, accountability, and engagement.

This year, technology has added to my efficiency as an instructor in various ways. In terms of managing the requisite influx of writing assignments, Google Classroom, Goobric/Doctopus, and have helped to make me a more efficient grader so that I can provide timely writing feedback to my students. Google Drive’s “Suggestion” mode has made leaving digital comments on student work just as easy as writing them by hand. The customizable nature of rubrics via Goobric/Doctopus and also allows me to give directed feedback to students that pinpoints areas that need improvement. While it has definitely been an adjustment, scoring online is something I feel has improved my efficacy, and as a result, my students’ learning. I also believe that my efficiency with delivering content knowledge has improved with technology. Tools like Haiku and Pear Deck permit me to hone in on the necessary content and become more strategic about the way I deliver such information. These tech tools have helped to effectively disseminate content and have forced me to rethink pedagogy. Although much of the essential pedagogy remains unchanged (pair sharing and group collaboration and lecture all remain as effective instructional methods), technology has allowed for a reinvention of some of what is considered “tried and true.” For example, TodaysMeet and Verso provide another avenue for collaborative discussion. Pear Deck brings interaction and accountability to lecture. Google Drive helps with editing and revision. Ultimately, I have discovered that technology can enhance existing pedagogy by making it more efficient and engaging.

See the end of this post for some examples of my lessons utilizing these tools.

Technology has also impacted student productivity, accountability, and engagement in my classroom. With the aid of technology, students are able to produce more, in that certain activities once bound to class time are no longer confined to the classroom. Online discussion boards like Verso allow for conversation to continue outside of class, which extends discussion activities. Students are also able to produce differently with technology. For example, instead of using a poster, students can use a Google Drawing for a visual project. The change in how and where assignments are produced inevitably leads to increased engagement and student learning. I polled my junior honors English classes about how much the various tech tools we have used this year enhanced their learning, and approximately 80% said that Google Drive and Google Classroom greatly enhanced their learning while 73% said these tech tools “positively impacted their interest” in learning the content. 

Furthermore, sites like Actively Learn, Curriculet, and Pear Deck hold students accountable. With these tools, students cannot passively listen to a lesson or read a chapter. They provide the teacher with valuable feedback to help modify and refine instruction. In a survey of my sophomore class, 72% of students said that online reading tools like Curriculet or Actively Learn engaged them in their task because it helped them to better understand the information. One student wrote “ I think it was more engaging because there were questions to be answered as we read and it helped us to focus on what we were reading and remember.” Ultimately, I believe that student learning was positively influenced by my use of technology this year.

In the future, I plan to continue to explore what technology has to offer as an instructional aid. Technology aids instruction and learning in myriad ways, but it is important to remember that there is no replacement for good teaching. Much of my experience as a Tech Fellow this year has reinforced that idea. The process of building purposeful lessons and reflecting on teaching practice is what makes an effective teacher. Though technology brings new ways to engage students and greater efficiency, the content and pedagogical knowledge of a trained, living-breathing teacher is a combination that is not replaceable. Students need teachers who teach them how to learn and think, and technology can be a tremendous asset to skilled teachers who know how to use it to complement instruction.

Here are a few of my favorite lessons from the year and how the technology supported the learning goals.

Google Docs / Google Classroom / Goobric / Doctopus
Student essay with teacher comments submitted to Google classroom: Students completed an essay on The Glass Menagerie using a Google doc that they submitted to Google classroom. This enabled students to complete a peer review activity in which they were asked to highlight topic sentences, evidence, and commentary. They were also asked to provide a comment with the number of sentences of analysis and commentary. Then, students made corrections, de-selected highlighted text, and submitted the assignment again to Google classroom. Here I scored it using the Goobric/Doctopus extensions and made similar comments on their work.
Student essay rubric attached with Goobric/Doctopus in Google classroom

Google Drawings

Student group project Google drawing: To learn rhetorical strategies (ethos, pathos, logos, etc.), my sophomores were asked to design their own app and market their product to their classmates. They are asked to create their own advertisement and “commercial” presenting their product. During their presentation, they must provide a visual aid (Google drawing) that incorporates various rhetorical strategies.

Verso discussion: Students were asked to post a comment to the discussion board before class after reading an excerpt of Thoreau’s Walden. Before the start of the period, I grouped the responses according to those who agreed or disagreed with Thoreau’s central argument. In class, we reviewed the comments on Student Mode (student comments are anonymously displayed) before we began a discussion of the specific techniques Thoreau uses to espouse his position.

Pear Deck

Sample Pear Deck lecture on Modernism : To introduce the literary movement Modernism, I asked my students to review content on Haiku. The following day, I used Pear Deck to ask students to demonstrate their understanding of the information read for homework. For example, they were asked to define key terms from the reading. Pear Deck enabled me to make a lecture-based lesson more interactive, in that I was able to check for understanding throughout class and display and clarify student answers. At the end of the lecture, students received a “takeaway” transcript from Pear Deck in their Google drive containing the answers they provided as well as the slideshow itself.

Actively Learn / Curriculet

Actively Learn reading assignment: My sophomores used a site called Actively Learn to read some of the core works (Lord of the Flies Chapter 3 pictured below) Students are guided by questions as they read; these questions cannot be skipped, ensuring that students slow their reading pace to aid in comprehension. The screenshot shows student responses and the way in which I scored them.

About the Author: Tracey Kent has been teaching English at Arnold O. Beckman High School for the past nine years. A lover of learning and literature, Tracey received a Bachelor's degree in English, a single-subject teaching credential, a Master's degree in teaching, and a Master's degree in English literature all from the University of California, Irvine. Teaching combines Tracey's passion for literature, writing, and grammar (yes--even grammar) with her love of learning. She delights in helping to nurture her students' sense of curiosity and nourish their intellects. Tracey is enthusiastic about all forms of expression--literature, art, film, music--and it is this appreciation of culture that most informs her teaching. Technology's impact on art and culture fascinates Tracey, and she looks forward to discovering ways in which she can use technology to help enhance students' literacy.

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