Teacher Laptop Initiatives

I remember some time ago, the Teacher Laptop Foundation (site is now defunct, it appears) was attempting to match registered teachers with a company who would be willing to provide teachers with free laptops. I wonder why the Teacher Laptop Foundation folded (or appears to have folded)?

I should think it would be a great benefit for computer companies to provide teachers with free laptops. First of all, I think it displays a commitment to helping teachers and influencing positive change in technology education. I think teachers with laptops would be encouraged to learn more about technology, which could lead to more technology integration in schools. More technology integration in schools can only be a good thing for computer companies, as they stand to benefit from increased sales.

Some schools and districts provide their teachers with laptops. My children attend Fulton Co., Georgia schools, and I know this district provides teachers with laptops. The laptops, I would assume, remain the property of the district, and should the teacher leave the district, I imagine he or she must return the laptop, but while the teacher is employed at the district, I think it’s great to have a computer that can travel.

My own school does provide each teacher with a desktop for use at school, and a very nice one at that. I also have a SMART Board attached to it, which enables me to do some truly great things with technology in my classroom. Frankly, for most of the teachers on my faculty, I believe the desktop is sufficient. My own laptop would be useful to me, however, because I would be able to plan activities with SMART software without having to move anything over using my flash drive. It’s fine for now, but it would be really nice if I didn’t have to do that.

When I Google relevant search terms (such as free laptop teachers education), I feel somewhat discouraged by the results. I wonder why, in an age when we have an initiative to provide laptops for children in developing nations, that we don’t have an initiative to provide teachers with laptops.

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Best Practices for Teaching Writing

I want to thank everyone who commented on my previous post, “Writing: Best Practices.” I said I would share my own thoughts, but wanted to hear what you all had to say first.

First of all, I am a firm believer in teaching students how to write using the process model. I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve worked with who tried to turn in first drafts that had not only not been edited, but hadn’t even been outlined or planned first, and it always shows. Their writing tended to be disorganized and weak on development. I think, however, that we have to help students find a prewriting format that works for them. One student of mine never did prewriting until I showed him how to organize his papers using webbing. He mentioned offhand some time very much later that he found it very helpful and used it all the time. I utilize peer editing, and I have to give credit to the Reflective Teacher who comes up with great peer editing activities. I found great success with peer editing in my class last year.

Depending on the assignment, I like to try to book the computer lab so that we can write the essays in class. Conversations that happen between the students and me as I look over their writing are invaluable. They can catch it if they’re way off track early on. Also, if they are on the right track, they feel more confident continuing if I can tell them so. They can ask me questions about something they’re just having trouble with. I think writing in class is especially valuable if you are dealing with younger writers or weaker writers. I teach a writing seminar course, and last year, our class became quite close as we shared our writing and helped each other improve. It was a wonderful teaching experience.

One thing I am still working on is an effective way to deliver feedback. I would like to do more conferencing, but I also think having written feedback so that when the students walk away to do revisions and forget what we said (which happens to the best of us), they have written suggestions. I admit I usually write comments in cursive, which many of my students have trouble reading. It’s not that my handwriting is bad, but I am finding that my students are arriving at high school in increasing numbers without being able to read or write cursive. I suppose it’s going the way of the dinosaur, but it frustrates me that a mode of communication I have successfully used so often in the past is now becoming closed to me. One thing I do occasionally — not with each essay — is type comments and attach them to the essay. These comments are usually quite long — anywhere from a half a page to a page single-spaced. I’m a very fast typist, so sometimes these comments take me about as much time as handwriting about a paragraph’s worth of comments on a student essay.

One thing I have found extremely effective is to use models or pull samples from students’ own writing to share. In a recent class, my students who had read A Lesson Before Dying wrote persuasive essays about whether or not we should abolish the death penalty. I pulled example paragraphs from three student essays (with their permission, of course) using statistics and the Torah to develop arguments. I think it really helped the students to see what a really good paragraph written by one of their peers looks like. I showed the same paragraphs to another class with students who have more writing problems before they began their essays. It will be interesting to see what effect seeing the models beforehand has on the student writers. What I don’t do well and need to improve is saving examples like this from year to year so I have a repository of examples. Frankly, now that I have a SMART Board, I have no excuse for not saving these samples from year to year. There’s nothing like seeing a model to help a student realize how they can improve.

I like to ask students to reflect, which I admit I don’t do often enough. I think portfolios are valuable. Something I am trying this year is to allow students to revise one graded essay each nine weeks for a higher grade. I will ask them to attach a reflection to these pieces, although I haven’t yet determined what sorts of questions I will want them to answer for the reflection. I do think using guiding questions will be important.

Basically, I was just curious to see what others are or were doing. I knew I was getting good results based on what I was doing, so I wasn’t worried about my practices. I suppose I just wanted to collect some data. Thanks for sharing if you did, and if you didn’t, feel free to chime in.

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