They See Themselves as Writers!

The Basics

This year I have been focusing on using technology to help my 3rd grade inclusion students access grade level content and to be able to create their own work in a way that is both accessible and meaningful for them.  We started small, letting students use Google docs to type their writing in order to help with typing skills and the readability of their work.  This allowed them to make the font larger, apply high contrast backgrounds, and most importantly, edit their work quickly and neatly.   Using a Google Doc also allowed me and other teachers to go into their writing and give them real time feedback.  I noticed that it was particularly helpful for me to highlight the exact parts of their writing that needed edits.  


Extra Tools in Google Docs

Once the students understood the basics of how to use Google Docs and how to share their work, I was able to teach a few of my students who are working to master phonics skills, to use the speech to text feature.  This seemingly simple tool was freeing for so many of the students who have amazing ideas for their writing, but get caught up in the logistics of spelling words.  Students would often spend the entire writing block working on one paragraph or a few sentences because spelling the words was labor intensive for them.  Once they had taken the time to write the word, they had forgotten their idea and the rest of the sentence.  Students use the speech to text feature, edit their work, and then print their document to turn in with the rest of the class’s handwritten assignments.  The students were completely engaged with their writing, and were amazed to see themselves filling an entire page with their words.


Moving Toward Google Classroom

In the weeks since we started using the Google platform to help students access content in the area of writing we have continued to learn as both teachers and students.  We have created a Google Classroom where we are posting writing assignments.  This has meant that we can go in and look at students work without them having to share the doc with us, which saves time.  It also keeps all of the writing organized.  We have also been able to move from using the comments in the doc as encouragement, to really putting in some substantial edits and individual goals for students.  My favorite was hearing about how excited the students were to see that I had “popped into their writing” and was able to give them feedback  from home on a day I was not in their classroom.

From here I hope to shift more of their work into Google Classrooms.  I will most likely start by uploading their guided reading books so they can use the Google Read and Write tool to troubleshoot words and definitions, practice their fluency, as well as annotate what they are reading.

It’s hard to tell who is more excited about using this in our classroom, me or them!


Talking before writing: An interview with Goldilocks

Revised Question

How can I use technology to make grade level writing tasks accessible to English language learners and students on IEPs?


Our first project in grade 3

Jen Ostayan (SPED inclusion teacher)  and I ( ESL inclusion teacher) set out to help our students write narratives that changed the point of view of the narrator.  We started with the traditional tale of Goldilocks.

What makes the task hard for our students?

Students would have to tell the story from the point of view of Goldilocks.  This meant students would have to use “I” any time they referred, and the correct verb form to go with it.  They would also have to be creative in order to think about what Goldilocks might have been thinking and feeling, and then add that into their writing.

What would we have kids to in order to use speaking to practice before writing?

Students did interviews of Goldilocks.  We paired high and lower students with the high student doing the interview, and the low student playing the role of Goldilocks.  Interviewers asked questions like, “What were you thinking when you saw the house?”  and “Why did you taste the porridge?” The higher student would have the challenge of asking probing questions, the lower student would have the chance to practice what they were about to write using “I” and the proper verb.

What technology would help us and how would we use it?

Our school has Chromebook carts for grades 1-5, but the kindergarten teachers share an ipad cart.  After evaluating the technology, we decided to borrow the ipads from kindergarten because it would be the least cumbersome technology.  We used  the  ___ app.

What did we notice kids were doing while recording their interviews?

Students with quiet voices realized they had to speak up to be recorded.

Students normally hesitant to speak in front of the whole class were very engaged and spoke a lot.

Many groups, even though we didn’t tell them to, rehearsed before recording, or re-recorded to “get it write”.

They made suggestions to each other.  “Why don’t you ask me___” or “Try that again but add _____”    Some of those suggestions included adding difficult vocabulary words.

What happened when it came to write?

Students were highly motivated to write.

Students were able to use “I” without too much effort to tell the story.

One SPED student that we had been previously been unable to engage in writing was so dramatic in her recorded story telling that we put her on speech to text software and she loved the assignment.  It was a real break through for her feeling like she could be a “writer”.

What did we do next?

We had students draw pictures to go with their recordings and they shared the work with their families at open house.

Developing a Research Question: Ready, Tech, Go!

Hi, I’m Jennifer Ostayan, I am a special education teacher at the Whittemore School, and this year I will be working with students in three fantastic 2nd and 3rd grade inclusion classrooms.  Previously, I taught inclusion kindergarten for 9 years.   I am equal parts excited and nervous about the WINproject this year, as I feel that tech is really my thing, but not so much the blogging/sharing my work in a public way.  

I am always looking for and experimenting with meaningful ways to enhance my students learning by integrating technology.  I have found over the past few years that technology has been a way for all of my students to participate in a way that meets their individual needs.  My own use of technology use in the classroom has evolved quite a bit over the years.  I often refer to the SAMR Model to frame technology use in my classroom, and a lot of my early work was in the sphere of augmentation, or using technology to improve the functionality of a task that my students could really do without technology at all.  For example, using a drawing program on an iPad to illustrate during writing).  Over time the purpose of technology in my classroom has changed, and I have found that my students are getting the most from the higher level tasks in the spheres of modification and redefinition, and are really using the technology to do something that was not possible before.  An example of this is using the app Book Creator to upload pages of their writing, record their voices reading their words, and then publishing the video of their books being read aloud.

This year, in my new grade levels and role in the classroom, I am starting with a very broad research question: How can I leverage technology in the classroom to allow my students to access grade level content?  My goal is to make sure my students are included the meaningful and complex work that is being done in their classrooms, in a way that makes sense and is accessible to their individual needs.  For the first few weeks of school I plan to get to know my students, deeply understand their needs, learning styles, and what supports need to be in place to help them be successful.  From there I will have a better idea of action steps to take this year, and to refine my research question.  In the meantime, I have included a concept map that broadly looks at the factors that will influence my practice this year.