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Don’t Return to Normal, Return to Better

By Michelle Cummings — July 15, 2021 3 min read
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As teachers head back into school and adapt to another “new normal” this fall, many are looking for ways to successfully blend the technology adopted so widely during the pandemic and traditional in-person learning. Like all aspects of life, we want to “return to better” -- not normal. Over the course of the pandemic, teachers discovered that technology-integrated learning can enhance student engagement and makes it easy to personalize learning. Unfortunately, determining the best ways to utilize digital solutions can create additional work for teachers who are already stretched thin.

Earlier this year, Teachers Pay Teachers launched Easel, a new suite of digital tools that pairs easy-to-use digital tools based on learning sciences with the world’s largest catalog of educator-created content. Easel supports many instructional practices, including modeling, differentiation, and timely feedback. We all know these are critical elements of effective teaching, but even without a pandemic it can be challenging to identify effective ways to deliver these practices to students.


That’s where harnessing the power of innovative digital tools with teacher-created content comes in. As we enter a new chapter and teachers prepare to greet students in the classroom, here are three ways teachers can engage students, accelerate learning, and bring their expertise to life with Easel by TpT this fall.

1. Modeling

Modeling concepts anchors students on exemplars and clears up any misconceptions. In the classic, “I do, we do, you do” strategy, teachers scaffold support for students to be successful independently. One example of this is Christina, a fifth grade teacher in California, who uses Easel by TpT as a digital whiteboard. In one lesson, she explores an essay with her students, annotating the elements of persuasive writing. She uses the highlighter and text annotation tool, calling on students to identify topic sentences and evidence in the text before they begin writing their own essays.

“They love the highlighting; they love the different colors... The students transitioned fairly well.” -Christina, Fifth Grade Teacher in California

2. Differentiation

Differentiation requires that teachers adapt the content, process, or product during instruction to meet individual needs and interests of students; it is one of the most inspiring and time-consuming tasks for teachers. Digital learning tools can save teachers time while personalizing learning. For example, Michelle teaches first grade in Illinois and has years of experience teaching English Learners. She differentiates lessons with Easel by TpT by scaffolding, providing visual cues and adding virtual manipulatives before assigning lessons to students on their tablets. Using the pen tool she writes notes and questions in the margins. With the highlighter she spotlights words to improve reading comprehension. Visual learners in her class appreciate the easy drag and drop images.

“I hope that teachers understand that this generation we’re teaching, they are now digital...I’m not saying they won’t ever use pencil and paper, but they like working on tablets.” -Michelle, First Grade Teacher in Illinois

3. Timely Feedback

Timely feedback takes place at or near the moment that learning happens and offers coaching to help students learn and grow. It’s probably no surprise that timely and effective feedback can help students learn more than just the right answer. This practice can also help students learn why an answer is correct and encourage higher-order thinking. With Easel by TpT, LaToya, a fourth grade teacher in Ohio is able to view student work in progress and provide real-time feedback and redirection. When students submit work, she can draw or type feedback and encouragement, then return it to students to revise and resubmit.

“That pen tool is heaven-sent, because sometimes what I need to say or do isn’t available on the keyboard.” -LaToya, Fourth Grade Teacher in Ohio

Modeling, differentiation, and timely feedback are just a few of the powerful instructional practices that are made possible when the wisdom of teachers is harnessed to innovative digital tools. During the pandemic, educators gained insight into how we can use technology to help our students grow. Now teachers can bring the best of those practices into the classroom through new tools that enable a whole new level of personalization with the promise of accelerating learning, engaging, and inspiring students as we “return to better” this fall.

Read more about Easel and the learning science at its foundation here.

About the Author

Michelle Cummings is the Vice President of Content at Teachers Pay Teachers, a platform that provides a marketplace for teachers to exchange instructional materials and access easy-to-use digital tools. Michelle had a thirty year career in education as a teacher, school principal, and district administrator and participated in District Administration’s National Superintendent Academy’s 2019 cohort.
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