Professional Development Books that Influenced my Teaching Practices

I am asked often enough for recommendations of this sort of thing that I thought I’d share.

Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe was the first truly useful and completely life-changing professional development book I read. I utterly altered the way I taught after reading it. It seems obvious to think about larger questions and determine what I want students to learn or be able to do by the end of a lesson or unit, but I wasn’t doing it before I read this book. This book is an essential in project-based learning. Some of my older posts written as I reflected on reading this book still get more traffic than anything else on this blog. Try searching for the tags “ubd” or “understanding by design” to read them.

After reading An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students by Ron Berger this summer, I completely revamped the way I teach writing, and it’s really working well. For more information about writing workshop in my classes, check out these posts: Writing Workshop Part 1, Writing Workshop Part 2, and Writing Workshop Part 3. One of our history teachers and I discussed how this process could be used in his classes as well, and he has begun to implement it with excellent results. We had an enthusiastic sharing session about it last week. I am so thrilled. The side benefits: 1) students are returning to the work, even after it’s been graded, to refine it further (not every student, true, but the fact that any student is doing this is remarkable to me); 2) no issues with plagiarism, which is a benefit I didn’t even consider when I started (but it makes sense if you are sharing your work with all your peers, you wouldn’t plagiarize it); 3) our classroom is a true community—one student commented on course evaluations that “we are always collaborating” and another said that the class is like “a family.” Students are beginning to ask for workshop. It’s amazing. I can’t say enough good things about how it has changed my classroom for the better, and it’s really because I read this book that I opted to try it out. One thing I’d like to see: an update of this book with consideration of using technology tools. Ron Berger carries around a massive amount of original student work, and digitizing it or doing the projects using digital tools would really help. A new section explaining how to do that would be great (I volunteer as tribute, if the folks at Heinemann or Ron Berger himself are interested).

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember the summer I went to a Teaching Shakespeare Mini-Institute. It was phenomenal. The performance-based methods advocated by Folger have increased my students’ engagement in Shakespeare and have helped them grapple with his language and themes. I have used Folger methods with students of all backgrounds and levels, and they just work. I couldn’t teach without this book. It makes me sad that there isn’t one for every play I’d consider teaching, but this volume has Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth, and two other volumes have been published that incorporate 1) Hamlet and Henry IV, Part One and 2) Twelfth Night and Othello. I would love to see one on Julius Caesar. I think that play is hard to teach, and it is so frequently taught. Could be useful. Anyone want to go in with me to design a good Caesar unit? Let me know.

Penny Kittle’s book Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing helped me understand the importance of modeling, of the teacher as learner. The book includes a DVD, so you can see Penny’s writing workshop in progress. She discusses how her students keep writer’s notebooks, how she incorporates minilessons and conferences, the ways in which she teaches genre, and how she assesses. It’s fantastic.

I have a lot of books on my shelf that I really need to get through. Hopefully, with some changes coming soon, I’ll have some time to do that.

So now it’s time for the real conversation: which resources do you recommend?

Just for the purposes of full disclosure, I’m an Amazon associate; however, none of the authors or publishers have offered me compensation for sharing these books, and I share these books with you because they have truly been helpful to me. The associate links are a convenience for those who wish to purchase from Amazon.

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Writing Workshop, Part 2

WritingIn my previous post about Writing Workshop, I explained what an In-Depth Critique looks like in my class. Logistics and tools may be a concern, especially for teachers with a large number of students.

My school has Google Apps for Education, but as we do not use the Gmail feature, Google Docs/Drive is probably the most frequently used Google App at our school. I am piloting a tool called Hapara that works with Google Drive (and also Blogger, Gmail, and Google Sites, if you like) to make it easier to track student work and push documents out to students.

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What I like about it is that I don’t have to remind students to share their docs with me; their docs are automatically shared. Google Docs has an excellent commenting feature that I much prefer to track changes in Word. If you haven’t used this feature, this video gives a succinct demonstration of what it looks like:

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As you can see in the video, if a student clicks on the comment, the highlighted text changes color so that the students can easily see what the comment is referring to. They can use the feature themselves to make notes to themselves about what to change. I have a student, for instance, who uses it to talk to himself about areas where he knows he needs to do some more editing or thinking. Once the student addresses the comment, he or she can mark it resolved, but the history is still visible if the student clicks on the large Comments button at the top.

Google Docs makes it much easier for me to conduct Writing Workshop because the student whose paper we are workshopping can have it open in Google Docs and make suggested edits on the fly as we discuss the paper and can take notes on others that he/she needs to consider.

At this stage, we are not sharing our documents with each other. Rather, one student’s essay is projected on the screen, and both the student and I have the doc open so that we can both add the peers’ comments and suggestions. Later, we may decide to share docs as we build our community of writers and gain that trust.

Today, we workshopped a student’s paper. He did a fabulous job integrating quotes, which allowed us all the opportunity to learn. I mean, it really was masterful. His title was clever, but we wondered if it really fit the ideas expressed in the essay, which was an analysis of John Updike’s short story “A&P.” The image of the customers as “sheep” mindlessly pushing their carts through the aisles really appealed to this student, and he wanted to work the image of the sheep into the title. In his paper, he argued that the protagonist, Sammy, made an unwise decision in quitting his job. I should mention that each trimester, all students taking a particular course, in this case World Literature II, write on the same given prompt, which we call a common prompt. The common prompt for this trimester asked students to determine whether or not they felt Sammy made the right decision in quitting his job, and yes, either yes or no can be argued successfully based on the text.

We began, as before, by asking the student to identify his goal for the writing and what, in particular, he especially wanted feedback on. Then we read the essay as a whole, commenting on what we liked and noticed and on what questions we had. Then we read almost sentence by sentence.

The student had an amazing breakthrough when were looking at a sentence in which he described the girl Sammy dubs “Queenie.” My student described her as “bossing” the other two girls around, which is how Sammy realized she was in charge. Another student suggested we didn’t really see any “bossing,” and I agreed. But we all agreed it was obvious she was the group’s leader. How did we know that? Well, the students said, the way they walked around. She was in the middle. She was directing them around the store. Wait! One student had an idea. Why didn’t the writer tie the way the girls walked around the store back to the image of the sheep? And the student writer said, maybe he could revise the sentence to describe Queenie as herding the other girls around the store. It was brilliant! I actually jumped up and down and then gave a student a high five.

I am telling you that this is the kind of thinking we WANT students to be doing about their writing. And it worked because one student suggested a word change, another had an idea about a way to think about the word choice, and the STUDENT HIMSELF came up with the best word to use.

In addition to word choice, we were able to talk about commas and why they can be problematic, but also how we can figure out when to use them. Students were able to see an excellent model for integrating quotes and clever word choices. Students had an opportunity to help a peer think critically about his word choices and correct a few grammatical issues. I can’t even tell you how much easier Writing Workshop makes writing instruction. The kicker is that the writing instruction is much more meaningful because it comes from the students’ own writing. We are establishing ourselves as a community of writers with the goal of improving everyone’s writing.

After class, one student hung back to ask a question about using a semicolon, as it came up when we examined the essay today. Another student asked about integration of quotes in literary analysis as opposed to the kind of writing she does in history, which was a great opportunity to discuss audience and writing for different purposes.

I only offer a couple of examples here. In truth, I do not think I could cover nearly as much writing instruction in a traditional writing assignment graded with comments, which the student might examine for the grade. Perhaps the student might read the comments, but certainly I would see the same problem areas in the next paper, ad infinitum, mainly because the comments alone really don’t help the student understand how to improve. And frankly, I am as guilty of this as anyone, but such feedback never seems to celebrate what went right with the writing. Putting the essay up on the screen and taking a period to discuss it hits all of these common problems in writing instruction. What I like to see in Writing Workshop is the way in which it encourages the students to think about what makes good writing.

Do you have questions regarding logistics? Please ask in the comments.

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UbD Educators Wiki

Keep Calm and Wiki OnSome years ago, after reading Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, I started a wiki for teachers to learn and share UbD units and ideas. Despite having over 500 members, the wiki doesn’t see a lot of new content. At this stage, I think only two members regularly contribute new content, and one of them is me.

If you are interested in helping, this is what we need:

  • Units and ideas from teachers in a variety of fields. Perhaps because I am an English teacher, and mostly English teachers keep up with this blog, most of the early contributors to the UbD Educators wiki were and still are English teachers, but as I said, aside from me, only one other English teacher is still actively posting units. I admit to using it myself just to keep track of my unit plans, which is fine, but it isn’t very interactive. If you teach using UbD, especially if you don’t teach English (but even if you do), please consider sharing your plans.
  • Chapter reflections. Miguel Guhlin made shell pages for chapter summaries. I admit I am conflicted about this because ASCD, Grant Wiggins, and Jay McTighe have been so supportive of the wiki, and I would hate to do anything that might prevent people from purchasing their book (which I think all teachers should read). However, I think it might be a great idea for people to use those pages to share their reflections and insights from chapters. If you have insights to contribute, please do.
  • What’s missing? What subject areas do we need to include? Links? Resources? If you think something should be on the wiki that isn’t, please add it.

Despite the fact that the main page has included a note that all the materials can be viewed by lurkers, and that you do not have to join the wiki to see anything, I still receive requests to join at the rate of one or two people a week, and none of the new members has made contributions in years. I don’t mind lurkers. If the early contributors had minded lurkers, we would have put the information behind some kind of registration wall. I am opposed to making people jump through hoops to access the materials, but I think this wiki has the potential to be a much greater repository than it is, and it can only become a great repository if we build it together.

I would be interested to know if people join with the intention of contributing but then feel shy about sharing their work online (overheard and paraphrased at the ISTE conference: Share your work. Teachers don’t share their work because they don’t think they’re doing great work. They ARE doing great work, but no one knows about it if you don’t share). Do people skim over the note about lurking and join because they think they will get to see more more materials if they do? I am genuinely curious, and I am not sure of the answer.

My hunch, as much as I hate the idea, is that folks are joining without reading that page, thinking they will access more materials if they do. The reason I think this might be the case is that I had a wiki for my students, and even though I clearly stated that only my students would be permitted to join the wiki, I still received requests until I finally had to turn off the ability to request membership because I was really tired of processing the membership denials for teachers who simply didn’t read. In the case of the UbD Educators wiki, over 500 people have joined, which is awesome, but they haven’t contributed, which is a lot less awesome.

On a side note, most of the visits to this blog are from folks looking to read UbD-related content, so I know there is real interest in the subject, and I know that teachers are looking for guidance and ideas. It might be nice if we could build up the wiki a bit so that they had some resources. In case you are worried, the materials are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Noncommercial, Share-Alike license, meaning that work posted there can freely be used and remixed with credit given to the original author, but not for profit.

I guess I will get into how I feel about sites like Teachers Pay Teachers some other time. Not sure I want to stir that particular pot right now, and to be honest, I’m not really even sure why I feel the way I do about the site, so until I can articulate my thoughts more clearly, I’m just steering clear. I will say I think teachers fall into two camps when it comes to sharing: 1) people who share everything; 2) people who refuse to share anything. I have been lucky enough to know a lot of teachers who share, and I have benefited enormously from their ideas. Through their generosity, they have made a better teacher. At it’s core, that is all the UbD Educators wiki is about—sharing ideas so that we can all benefit and become better teachers.

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Digital Learning Day at the Worcester Academy Library

Digital Learning Day was February 6. How did your school raise awareness for digital learning?

Worcester Academy’s library chose to showcase QR codes. We commissioned a display project from art students. We were thrilled to discover the QR code they created actually scans!

QR Code ProjectLibrary staff researched media such as e-books, podcasts, videos, and websites that connected to library books and other materials.

Materials DisplayThen we created QR codes and affixed them to the books and materials. in the picture above, you can see Neil Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys. The QR code attached is linked to a YouTube video cartoon version of one of the many Anansi folktales. The other book, 1812: The War that Forged a Nation by Walter Borneman is linked to an episode of the In Our Time Podcast that discussed that war.

DisplayThe display was wide-ranging and included links to library resources, Black History Month resources, and resources related to the curriculum.

2013-02-13 08.47.41Books connected to a major World Civilizations project that ninth graders complete at Worcester Academy had QR codes that linked to e-book versions that students could access from home.
Novels and Other MediaFiction and other media were not slighted, either. A new box set, The Long Road to Freedom: An Anthology of Black Music has a QR code that links to Black History Month resources, and Rachel Cohn’s novel Beta links to the Human Genome Project’s Cloning Fact Sheet.

2013-02-13 08.48.01We also displayed some titles from our Professional Development Collection.

You may have noticed the iPads as well. The library owns a set of iPad 2′s and 3′s loaded with a QR code reader called Qrafter. Students and teachers can scan the QR codes using their own devices, or they can use one of the iPads and send the link to themselves from the iPad.

QR Code SuggestionsWe set these slips of paper out among the displays for students and faculty to suggest QR codes for books and other media. Two of our sixth graders have already shared QR codes. One student shared a book review of the children’s novel Tuck Everlasting and another student shared a Britannica blog post connecting gladiators in ancient Rome to The Hunger Games.

QR codes have enormous potential to extend learning in libraries and information services far beyond the four walls of the libraries themselves.

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QR Code Tips

I participated in a Teq webinar on QR codes today. I thought I was fairly well versed in QR codes and their uses, but I learned a couple of interesting things today that I thought I’d share. First of all, I hadn’t played much with QR Stuff. I think I sometimes become set in my ways with regards to tools—not that I don’t like to try new ones, but if I have a tool that does what I need, I tend to stick with it unless I need to change, and sometimes, this isn’t a good thing. QR Stuff is cool because it allows you to change the color of your QR codes and also allows you to easily create codes for a variety of data types, including plain text.

One of the webinar participants said that you can point QR codes to Google Docs to share text-based content, too. I like this idea, but I need to play around with it a little more. I am a little bit embarrassed not to have thought about connecting QR codes to Google Docs before. Unfortunately, some tech issues on my end kept causing me to drop out of the webinar, and I had to reload U-Stream in order to get it working again. It seemed to happen whenever I tried to use chat.

Finally, I learned about the QR Reader iPhone app. I have been using Red Laser, which scans all kinds of bar codes, including QR codes, but I actually like the way QR Reader handles scanning QR codes better. Red Laser’s focus is mainly on price comparison, and its QR code features are limited. It’s easier to scan codes with QR Reader. Better than that, however, QR Reader has a creator feature that allows the user to create all kinds of QR codes and save them to the iPhone photo album, send them via email, print them, or share them on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, or Tumblr. Cool!

I had already heard about another tool mentioned in the webinar, Class Tools’s QR Code Treasure Hunt Generator, a very quick and easy tool to generate scavenger hunts, but I don’t recall if I have mentioned it here before, and it’s something many of you might want to check out.

QR codes have a lot of potential in education; your only limitation is really your imagination (and your mobile device).

It also pays to see how other folks are using tools you think you know a lot about and try doing things their way.

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How I Use Diigo to Automate Sharing

Diigo is one of my favorite, most indispensable social networking tools. I use it not only to bookmark sites and articles I find interesting and useful, but also to share those links with others. When I first started using Firefox many years ago, I found I was consistently losing my bookmarks. I turned to the online bookmarking service Delicious so that I wouldn’t continue to lose precious links. I discovered I actually liked the social bookmarking aspect of Delicious. I could subscribe others’ bookmarks, and they could subscribe to mine. It was a great way to discover information. Even after Firefox’s bookmarking issue seemed to stabilize, I continued to use Delicious. Then Diigo came along.

Diigo has several features that prompted me to stop using Delicious as my main bookmarking tool. First, educators have access to a few of the special features that regular free users don’t have. Teachers can create class groups and student accounts so that students in a class can share bookmarks to the group. I tried this feature out with somewhat limited success, but I think if you had a class that really understood the power of social bookmarking, it would work very well. It’s probably my fault that the students didn’t use the feature much, but when I try this feature again, I will do a much better job of educating the students about its uses. Diigo educators also have a Teacher Console, which makes it easy to manage your class group.

Because I like to share my bookmarks, I have three systems in place the help me bookmark and share my bookmarks more easily. First of all, I have an extension installed in Firefox called Diigo Toolbar. Similar extensions are also available for Google Chrome and Internet Explorer. I can use the toolbar for a variety of tasks, such as adding a sticky note or highlighting information on a website, saving information to read later, or simply bookmarking sites. I admit I don’t use the first two features much, though I probably should use them more. You can make your sticky notes public or private: it’s up to you. When I bookmark a site using the toolbar, a popup window appears. Here I can change and add information to the bookmark. I almost always add a short description of the bookmark and tag it with appropriate tags. Tagging is crucial because it is the easiest way for me to find my bookmarks in my account. I simply search my tags in my Diigo library. Here is an example of what happens when I search for bookmarks tagged “gatsby.” I can also choose to send a link to my new bookmark out via Twitter or save it to a group. I am a member of several Diigo groups, including the English Companion Ning Group, the English Teachers Group,  and the Diigo In Education Group. You can create groups and easily share resources among members of your department, your classroom, your school, your district, or any other group.

In addition to the Diigo Toolbar in Firefox, I also use a feature that automatically saves tweets I mark as “favorite” in Twitter to my Diigo account. It just takes a minute to set up, and then it’s easy to collect bookmarks using Twitter. Twitter is my best source of information and links. Members of my professional learning network (PLN) on Twitter are always sharing great websites, tools, and blog posts, and simply by mousing over the tweet and clicking the star on their tweet, I can mark it as a favorite:

This process is even easier in my preferred Twitter client, YoruFukurou. I don’t even have to mouse over the tweet to be able to see the star.

Anywhere from every few days to once a week, I go to my Diigo library and tag the bookmarks I have saved from Twitter. Hashtags that the tweeter may have used will automatically function as tags, but I usually need to add my own tags or additional tags in order to make the bookmark easier for me to find again.

The third feature I use to help share my bookmarks is Diigo’s auto blog post feature. I set it up once and now every week on Sunday, all the bookmarks I have saved are published to my blog so that anyone who follows my blog but not necessarily my Diigo accounts can see what I found. Unfortunately, you can’t specify which day you want the bookmarks to publish; Diigo automatically publishes them on Sunday. You can choose to publish bookmarks once or twice daily, but I felt that was too often.

I have also added Diigo’s app to my iPhone, and when the day comes that I’m able to buy an iPad, it will be on my iPad, too.

One of the nicest features of Diigo is that I was able to set it up to automatically publish all of my bookmarks to my old Delicious account, so anyone who subscribed to my Delicious bookmarks can still receive them, but I don’t have to bookmark using two different sites or systems.

Diigo saves me so much time, and it allows me to quickly curate and share all the great websites and information that I come across. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

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Adobe Creative Cloud and Creative Suite 6

Yesterday, Adobe announced Creative Cloud and Creative Suite 6. Creative Cloud will be subscription-based ($29.95/month for teacher/student editions). Users will be able to download and install CS6 applications through the Creative Cloud. Creative Cloud also works with tablet apps like Photoshop Touch and will enable users to sync and store files in the cloud so they can be accessed on different devices. I’m really excited about the opportunity students will have to create mobile apps and magazines and catalogs for iDevices and Android devices. I envision schools creating their literary magazines using Adobe and publishing them via the web and iPad. Since users will have access to Adobe Typekit, which includes over 700 fonts, students can experiment with the look and feel of their publications’ typefaces. Creative Cloud users will also have access to upgrades before they are launched as major updates. Creative Cloud also includes Adobe Muse and Adobe Edge, two new tools for HTML5 design and development. Soon, users will also have access to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 and Digital Publishing Suite via the Creative Cloud.

Creative Suite 6 has updated Photoshop. I was most impressed to learn that the new autocorrect tools do a better job of correcting issues, and the new Content-Aware capabilities look great. Illustrator has a new user interface and Image Tracing Engine, Pattern Creation, and Gradient Strokes. InDesign has new Adaptive Design Tools—Alternate Layout, Liquid Layout, Content Collector Tools, and Linked Content. Dreamweaver will make it easier to design interfaces for different devices, making the process of designing websites to work on iDevices and Android devices easier. Flash Professional includes a toolkit for CreateJS that will help users transition flash skills to HTML5. Premiere Pro has a new editing environment and now supports Open CL on MacBook Pros. After Effects is faster and now includes a caching feature that will make it easier to move among several projects.

You can learn more about Creative Suite 6 here.

Full disclosure: I am an Adobe Influencer and received a free version of the Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection.

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History and Twitter

I’ve heard many people say they think the subject with which is hardest to integrate technology is history. Nothing could be further from the truth if you have a little imagination! The folks at The History Press proved that yesterday with their live Twitter commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic. Followers could read events live from the viewpoints of passengers, Captain Smith, officers, crew members, and nearby ships in real time as the ship approached its doom. This kind of idea would be great for commemorating any historical event. Students could do the research necessary to plan such a Twitter event and select a date (an anniversary would be great, if possible) to hold the event, then drum up interest and build excitement as the event approaches.

A project like this has a built-in authentic audience. Students need to think about the audience who will read their tweets and draft the tweets in advance. They would need to find out, if they can, the exact timeline for the historical event. Students can feel experience history “live.” I know that as an audience member, I felt like a part of the event, almost like I was watching it happen. I was glued to the Twitter feed. Creating a Twitter commemoration would give students intimate knowledge of the historical event and even allow them to take on roles as major players in the event. I can’t think of a better way to learn about history. After all, isn’t that what made Oregon Trail so much fun?

Obviously, this kind of project has other implications. A book’s events could be reenacted for a reading/English class, for instance. More ideas for integrating technology in history to come. Exciting stuff!

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Cool Tools: YoruFukurou, The Tweeted Times

Lately Twitter has been my main go-to tool for learning and connecting. It’s not a new tool by any means, but I don’t think I’ve ever made as much use of it as I have lately; even when I haven’t tweeted much, I have followed lots of interesting folks and learned a great deal.

I wanted to share two tools that make using Twitter easier for me. The first is a Mac app called YoruFukurou that I first heard about from Audrey Watters on Twitter. “YoruFukurou” is Japanese for “NightOwl.” Ever since Nambu pretty much gave up the ghost, I had been looking for an app that was as clean as Nambu and also gave me an unread messages count for my lists as well as my main Twitter feed. The unread messages aspect was crucial, and other clients just don’t have it (for some reason). YoruFukurou actually has Nambu beat. As far as I know, the creators still have no plans to develop YoruFukurou for Windows, but if you have a Mac, and you’ve been looking for a good Twitter client, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The other tool, much newer to me, I found via Danah Boyd on Twitter. Boyd linked to a post on the First Five Tumblr in which she shared the first five websites she visits each day. I had toyed with the idea of creating a Twitter paper before, but I wasn’t sure about it. On a lark, I tried out The Tweeted Times, since it was on Boyd’s list, and I love it. I can set it up to tweet my top stories daily at a time of my choosing. Also, I can set it to tweet my top story whenever it changes. It figures out what my top stories are based on what the people I follow—my “friends”—tweet, and what my “friends of friends” tweet. On one hand, this might be kind of risky because it relies a bit on the wisdom of the crowd, but if you follow smart people, it seems to work. The advantage of having a Tweeted Times is that I don’t miss some stories I previously might have missed. I can also tweet links from the stories within the paper itself. I can subscribe to others’ papers, too. I suppose that Paper.li works much the same way. Can anyone who has used both give me a comparison of features? I’m trying to decide if it’s worthwhile to go ahead and sign up for both (but I don’t want to annoy Twitter followers either).

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Technology Integration for Preservice Teachers

Bethany Smith asked a great question on Twitter this morning:

I don’t remember learning much about technology integration when I was a preservice teacher, but then that was 1996-1997. We thought we were advanced for using email to communicate with each other. I’m not sure what has changed in the intervening years, if much of anything. I have found, contrary to popular belief, that young teachers do not necessarily know as much about technology as older teachers think they do, nor do younger teachers necessarily naturally integrate technology. (For that matter, I don’t think kids know as much about technology as teachers think they do, at least not using it for school or work, but that’s a separate blog post.)

The key word in instituting technology integration as part of a preservice teaching program is integration. Technology shouldn’t be an add-on, or else preservice teachers will only come to think of it as such in their classrooms. Asking preservice teachers to create lesson plans and assignments for their college courses that integrate technology and then reflect on how that technology might be used in their classrooms might be effective. An e-portfolio would be a great start. preservice teachers could share it with prospective employers. It can be hard sometimes to find a job with no experience, and a great portfolio can encourage administrators to take a chance on first-year teachers if the portfolios show the young teacher to be thoughtful, engaging, organized, and involved in their field. That portfolio should include a blog. When I was a preservice teacher, my classmates and I had to write weekly “think pieces” about an issue we were concerned about. We passed these around in class so that our classmates could be exposed to our ideas, and of course, they were graded by our professors, too. A blog would be a natural forum for such thinking aloud.

Other artifacts that might be included in such a portfolio:

  • Evidence of understanding good presentation practices. I have seen some horrible PowerPoints in my day (often created by teachers and administrators), and teachers cannot be expected to teach students how to create good presentations if they themselves don’t know how. Presentation skills are a key part of any preservice teacher’s education.
  • Evidence of having created an online PLN through Twitter or through a group such as the English Companion Ning (or equivalent for subject matter). A link to the Twitter account or biography page should be sufficient.
  • Evidence of having created a wiki, perhaps as part of a group assignment for the course or perhaps as a repository for lesson plans.
  • As more teachers are flipping the classroom, I think an important piece of the portfolio should include a lesson delivered via audio, and a lesson delivered via video (could be a screencast). The topics should be well chosen in that they should be topics easily taught and learned via this method.
  • A link to the preservice teacher’s Diigo profile. I think social shared bookmarking has been one of the most fantastic tools to come along in my fourteen years as a teacher. It’s a quick, useful way to share great resources that can be integrated with both a blog and a Twitter account as well as your browser (depending on which one you use). I happen to prefer Diigo to other bookmarking systems myself, but it’s not the only game in town. Any professors teaching preservice teachers could make that call.

One of the most important things a teacher needs to learn when integrating technology is flexibility. Sometimes things go awry when you’re trying to integrate technology, and it’s important that teachers are able to change course if the technology fails. The Internet sometimes goes down. Sometimes the projector bulb burns out. Lots of things can happen, and it’s important that teachers include, as part of any lesson plan integrating technology, their backup plan for what they will do if the technology fails.

As part of their preservice teaching program, teachers should also learn how to search. Using boolean search strings will save them time and help them find resources they’re looking for quickly. Learning how to use the everyday tools of teaching, including projectors, the Internet, videos, and the like should be an essential part of a preservice teacher’s education.

To steal an idea from Melissa Scott, time to share tools, perhaps a weekly session, would be great. The way I would probably set this up is to ask preservice teachers to sign up for time if they have found a cool tool and then present and demonstrate that tool to their fellow preservice teachers. Before long, teachers would have quite a toolkit to take with them to their first job. Any tools that could more easily be shared via a Diigo group created for the preservice teachers would not necessarily need to be shared via presentation, and there should be an expectation that the preservice teachers will make use of Diigo, contributing shared links and also saving links.

It’s also key that preservice teachers understand the importance of rehearsing technology. Teachers who fiddle with tools they aren’t sure how to use in front of a group of students are wasting time and hurting their credibility. Try out the tools and figure out how they are used before asking students to use them or before using them in front of students. Don’t rely on students to be your tech support when you get stuck, which leads me to my final recommendation: learn basic troubleshooting. Most of the troubleshooting I do for other teachers, they could do themselves if they tried searching for the problem online. That’s the first thing I usually do anyway. I’m happy to help teachers. I don’t mind troubleshooting. However, they could save a lot of time if they learned how to do it themselves. It isn’t the best use of the IT department’s time to restart your computer if it freezes up when that is something teachers themselves could have done much more quickly on their own.

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