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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Response: Tech Tools That ‘Increase Learning’

By Larry Ferlazzo — December 06, 2016 13 min read
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(This is the last post in a three-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What is your favorite web tool or app for helping students learn?

In Part One, Anna Bartosik, Jared Covili, Sam Patterson, Anabel Gonzalez, Richard Byrne, and Russel Tarr contributed their answers. You can listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Anna, Jared and Sam on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In Part Two, Kristina J. Doubet, Eric M. Carbaugh, Jules Csillag, Tahnja Wilson, Rajesh Kripalani, and Marsha Ratzel and Zachary Walker shared their suggestions.

In today’s Part Three, the final post in this series, Laura Taddei, Amy Benjamin, Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski, Carolina Pérez Ramírez offer their ideas. I also include comments from readers.

Response From Laura Taddei

Laura Taddei is co-author of Teaching the 4Cs with Technology: How do I use 21st century tools to teach 21st century skills? (ASCD), along with Stephanie Budhai. Taddei is a leader in higher education with a mix of administrative and teaching responsibilities and is currently an assistant professor of Education at Neumann University:

Given the multitude of web 2.0 tools available today, this is a difficult question to answer. I do have a few tried and true tools/apps that have helped students learn. I co-wrote a book, Teaching the 4 Cs with Technology, because I wanted to provide teachers, administrators and coaches with ideas and ways to integrate technology in meaningful ways. From this experience writing the book, we found it was not so much about the tool but it was about the learning. If students are not learning, then the tool doesn’t matter. We need to be purposeful and intentional about why we are using a tool and how does it increase learning. Within our book, we provide suggestions on ways to use technology to redefine learning and take it to another level with the use of technology. We use the SAMR model (substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition) as a framework to guide our intentional use of technology (Puentedura, 2009).

Although it is difficult for me to choose a favorite given the multitude of options, if you ask my students what my favorite web tool to use is, they would most likely say wiki. I have used wikis for years as a way to encourage collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking skills within my classes. Reflecting on the SAMR model, I believe the use of wikis has helped to modify and redefine learning in my classes. Wikispaces is free to educators and this is what I use. But there are many other WYSIWYG tools that offer the same type of experience. Many times we create a class wiki where my students share and collaborate with each other, but I have also had students work in small groups and create team wikis. Here are a few suggestions to help with implementing wikis if you decide to give it a try:

  • Create pages ahead of time and develop a framework for your wiki. What information do you want included? How does this connect to your student learning outcomes? How will this wiki contribute to the learning in your class?

  • Assign points to the wiki assignment - or else students may not contribute to the wiki

  • Model to the students how to join and add to the wiki - you can also create short Jing videos and share this with them ahead of time

  • Allow students to add to the wiki or explore the wiki during class time helps with anxiety related to trying a new tool

  • Refer to the wiki during class and highlight student contributions

  • Ask students to add pictures/graphics to the wiki

  • If possible, try to collaborate with another class/teacher and invite them to add to the wiki as well

  • Provide information on your wiki or have students contribute information that will be useful to the students even after they leave your class for the year and encourage them to continue the collaboration

Here are some examples of wikis that I have used for both teaching and professional development. Please feel free to join any you find interesting or use resources from any of them.

We created a wiki for our book, Teaching the 4 Cs with Technology, to share information and resources and hopefully continue the conversation -

What is your favorite technology tool/app to use? Reflecting on the SAMR model, where do you think it falls along the line?

Budhai, S & Taddei, L. (2015). Teaching the 4cs with technology: How do I use 21st century tools to teach 21st century skills? ASCD

Arias. //www.ascd.org/Publications/Books/Overview/Teaching-the-4Cs-with-Technology.aspx

Puentedura, R. (2009). As we may teach. Educational technology, from theory to practice. http://www.hippasus.com/

Response From Amy Benjamin

Amy Benjamin taught high school English in Westchester, New York for 30+ years. Her upcoming book is Infusing Vocabulary Into the Readers-Writers Workshop. Amy’s website is www.amybenjamin.com:

My favorite web tool for helping students learn is vocabulary.com. This is the one-stop shop for every dimension of vocabulary education you can think of...

Vocabulary.com features a dictionary that gives student-friendly definitions. Not only are its definitions written in comprehensible language, but they include attention-grabbing, image-rich connections between the words and students’ experiences. For example, the word “anticipate” is defined like this: “To anticipate something is to be expecting it. You dog may be waiting at the door, anticipating its next walk or squirrel chase...Anticipating something also implies that you are preparing to take some action because of your expectations--like when you anticipate your chess opponent’s next move and plan a counterattack.” Because knowing (understanding) a word does not necessarily come about by reading a traditional dictionary definition, vocabulary.com‘s dictionary presents descriptions and examples that animate the word for students, especially those who might have difficulty understanding--let alone remembering-- the language in traditional dictionaries. It also shows the word’s morphological forms, frequency, and usage examples from various newspapers.

Vocabulary. com offers what they call “The Challenge,” a word-knowing game in which students can jump in at any level and compete with other players and schools. “The Challenge” gives you several chances to get the word right, and after several misses, a side panel pops up with an accessible explanation. “The Challenge” is capable of responding to an individual’s level of word-learning. If a player gets a word wrong, vocabulary.com will bring that word back into rotation, changing the form of the question. I like to put it this way: “When you get a word wrong, it’s not like getting it wrong on a worksheet and just moving on. With vocabulary.com, the words you got wrong come back to haunt you.” The questions can be straight-up definitions, full sentence contexts, picture cues, and other forms, to keep it interesting.

Vocabulary. com is already loaded with lists--over 500,000 of them-- for the books commonly taught in upper elementary through high school, usually with multiple lists to choose from, most of which are chapter-by-chapter. It also has lists for the great historical documents and speeches, Latin and Greek word roots, and generic academic vocabulary. You can input and save your own word lists in a matter of seconds.

Finally, Vocabulary. com includes a blog where language lovers can read articles about how words are buzzing around in contemporary issues like politics, sports, and music. Curators of this blog keep their ears to the ground for all those neologisms, euphemisms, popular metaphors, and signs of language change as well as tips and tricks for teachers.

Recently updated and spruced up for mobile, tablet and desktop, Vocabulary. com is my favorite web tool for student learning.

Response From Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski

Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski is an elementary teacher in Farmingdale, NY, currently teaching third grade. Kathleen is one of the co-authors of The Two Writing Teachers blog and the co-director of the Long Island Writing Project. She passionately believes that literacy is the key to a kinder, more just world:

My favorite web tool is Padlet. Padlet is a digital bulletin board that allows you to curate resources and collaborate with other contributors. As a third grade teacher, I’ve used Padlet for many purposes, including professional development workshops I’ve facilitated for teachers. Here are some of the ways Padlet can help teachers collaborate and students learn:

  • Curate resources: I created a Padlet for each social issue my class was studying, including bullying, differences, family issues, poverty, and stereotypes. Students could click on the digital resources to learn more about each topic. I shared these with my grade level team and on Twitter so other educators could use these resources with their students. This is an easy, visual way to display poems, videos, and songs around a topic. As a teacher of writing and a blogger, I curated mentor blog posts in a Padlet to help me grow in my own writing. I’ve also curated resources through Padlet to share with other teachers in professional workshops.

  • Connect a community: Each Monday of the school year, students in my 3rd grade class would share what they were reading for #IMWAYR (It’s Monday- What Are You Reading?). My school community has been continuing to share this Padlet each Monday during the summer to keep the school community connected around reading and get book recommendations.

  • Reading Responses: During the Global Read Aloud last year, many classes, including mine, were reading Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. I posed the question, “When did you feel like a fish in a tree?” and my students answered on the Padlet. I invited other classes to answer as well, and we had students from across the country sharing their stories. My students loved reading and connecting with students who were also reading the same book. Padlet made it very easy to share our ideas!

  • Collaborate with other educators: Christine Hertz, one of the authors of A Mindset for Learning, recently created a Padlet to curate resources to support the stances of optimism, empathy, flexibility, persistence, and resilience. I was able to contribute many resources to this Padlet and be part of a community of educators sharing our knowledge and ideas. These resources will help students to develop a growth mindset and meet the challenges that await them.

Padlet is free or you can pay to upgrade for additional features. It is easy to use, has privacy options, and allows for video, pictures, and links to be included. It is visually appealing and user-friendly. Padlet is one of my favorite ways to organize resources for myself and my students and to collaborate with other professionals and classrooms. Padlet should be in every educator’s’ digital bag of tricks!

Response From Carolina Pérez Ramírez

Carolina Pérez Ramírez studied Civil Engineering at Extremadura University, Spain and worked as an engineer until she realised that teaching was her calling. She teaches Technology at IESO Mariano Barbacid in Solana de los Barros, Extremadura, Spain:

An infographic is a visual representation of information, data or knowledge. It can be used in a wide range of subjects and topics.

However, are infographics just another internet trend, or are they somehow superior when it comes to helping students learn?

I remember a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” I love this quote because I think that involving students in learning is the first goal for a teacher.

I have been teaching for ten years. For that reason, last summer I was thinking about my experience as a teacher. And I felt that it was a good moment to try new learning methods. So, I started to blog and teach my students different apps to use in class. As a result, I would say that the classroom environment changed, my students showed more interest and the experience was very positive.

I believe that I made my students feel motivated because I was motivated, too. So, Technology was key in my case.

Although, if you want your students to involve in learning, not only will you need web tools, the human factor and values as motivation and perseverance are very important. They need to know that what they are learning will be helpful in their lives.

At the end of this school year my students were supposed to complete an anonymous evaluation about my classes. One of the questions was about their favourite web tool, and they chose the most useful app to learn. The majority of my students selected tools to create infographics (Editor’s note: see The Best Resources For Creating Infographics).

Personally, I think that an infographic is a good educational resource. Firstly, infographics can communicate information better than a diagram, they are more attractive than a data table and more exploratory than a slide presentation.

Responses From Readers

John Norton:

Last summer MiddleWeb began publishing the Class Apps blog by Curtis Chandler, a former Kansas TOY and long-time classroom tech enthusiast. We think he’s worth following!

Lindsay Salinas:

DoInk Green Screen App is my go-to for creating projects with kids to share their learning!
I also love Book Creator and Scribble Press apps for student authors. The sentence stems and customization in Scribble Press makes ESL students of any level into successful authors.


I want to point out a solution that I’ve been using with my tech-hungry children and it does wonders in terms of internet time- and content-control. It’s called Blocksi and is also available for schools that use Chromebook computers. I have the Home version which I think would make a great learning tool when applied to the classroom and help children stay on track (it’s called Blocksi for Education or something similar - look it up!)

Jeana Schieffer:

FunEnglish! Love the games that records the kids’ voices to play!

Tracy Brady:

Soooo many!!! memrise?

Thanks to Amy, Laura, Kathleen, and Carolina, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

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