Reflecting As I Reach This Year’s Finish Line


With all the amazing resources we are fortunate enough to have at our disposal, and having purposely signed up to participate in this WIN Project, I still often feel like I just don’t use enough technology in my classroom. I’m one who not only refuses to give up my actual paper/pencil plan book but who carries it around outside of the school setting, taking it out and opening it up at the doctor’s office so that I can use it as a reference when booking my next appointment. I also tend to give up easily in those frustrating instances when half of the class either doesn’t have a charged iPad or doesn’t have an iPad at all, resorting to my back-up paper copies for everyone. This certainly hasn’t helped turn me into the better friend to the environment that I envisioned myself becoming just a few years ago when iPads were handed out for the first time.


However, I did recently conduct my own little inventory of the apps and sites I use on a fairly regular basis during instruction. This made me feel better because I realized that, even though it’s not all technology all the time in my room, I do in fact use technology in some meaningful ways pretty routinely. Those examples that first came to mind were:

  • Explain Everything for the creation and sharing of math tutorials for each unit of study
  • Notability to project and preserve notes
  • Google Drive for sharing resources, providing and collecting assignments, providing feedback on written work, and creating/projecting slide shows to introduce or review content material
  • Kahoot for reviewing content in a game format
  • Quizlet for vocabulary review
  • Nearpod (occasionally) for interactive lessons across subject areas


Of all those apps/sites listed above, Google Drive is the tool I use most often. Although I shied away from Google Classroom this year, I did create and share folders with each of my students in Google Drive (not too hard to manage since my class sizes are so small) and found this to be a good way to manage digital assignment submission as well as a good place to share digital resources. For instance, within the folder that I shared with each of my math students, I created a “reference section” and put in it copies of reference sheets used over time (e.g., multiplication chart, steps for performing calculations with integers, steps for solving for a variable, etc.). I’m already mulling over, though, how to improve upon this next year. Maybe I’ll have students take more ownership of the process or maybe I’ll force them to use it on a regular basis in place of the hard copies also provided (remember my environmental unfriendliness?). Ideally, I’d like to see them taking this resource with them to high school and actually using it, possibly even adding to it!! This, I think, is much more likely to happen with a digital resource than it is when you send home that big old reference binder full of papers at the end of the school year. What are the chances that that binder actually makes it home and, if it does, that it is ever opened and referred to again?


Considering my previously mentioned affinity for my paper plan book, it might come as no surprise that I loved the old spiral-bound agenda books that used to be provided to all students for recording their homework. It was a simple part of the routine to ask everyone to copy the assignment from the board and then do a do a quick check to make sure they had all followed the instruction. With Plus Portals in place now, this is no longer necessary. Plus Portals is an amazing tool and has changed my life as a teacher in so many wonderful ways. However, I don’t have evidence or any reason to really believe that any of my students are actually checking the Portals at all. Perhaps this is because they often look at me (and other teachers) like I have three heads when I ask that they hand in an assignment that is due. This occurs even though homework has also been written on the whiteboard and referred to at the beginning and end of each period. So, this has clearly emerged as something I’d like to tackle in the coming school year!

In which I plan what I think will be an amazing lesson – and I learn more than the kids do.

I continue to ask the question:  How can I use technology help ESL kids speak more in order to improve their writing?   

So… I planned to teach, what I was sure would be an amazing lesson  😉

Lesson Objectives:

Day 1:  Students will create their own food chains.  Students will record 2 sentences about each picture that describe the plant or animal’s role in the food chain.  

Day 2:  Writing task:  Write a paragraph to describe the food chain that you created.  Use buddy sentences to describe the role that each plant or animal plays in the food chain.       

 Students will use revise their writing to be sure there are at least 2 sentences for each plant and animal.


If I had written them up, these would have been my NEW technology objectives:


Students will:

*Set up “Clever” on their homepage

*Open a document on Classroom, copy it, rename it, and use that copy

*Click and drag pictures into a table

*Add Google Read-Write to toolbar

*Highlight a picture and leave a voice note comment.  Insert the comment into document

*After typing, use the cursor and tracking pad to revise by adding sentences to writing


And I discovered:   I bit off way more than I could chew for both myself and my students.  

I don’t know much about technology but can envision what I would like it to be able to help me with.  That, I have learned, can be a dangerous approach.  I need to learn what hardware and software can do, and then figure out ways to best use it with my students.  I also need to learn how to teach students gradually.  Too much at once will only overwhelm them, and make us all lose sight of the content.


Think about lesson goals

What is the content I’m trying to teach?  What technology would I like to teach?   If what the technology they are learning is part of the lesson goals, I would be more likely to slow it down.  In the lesson I did, students had to click and drag pictures into a food chain.  They had not yet learned to manipulate the tracking pad on the Chromebooks.  If I had taught a lesson on that, or had the computer teacher teach that at another time beforehand, it would not have taken 45 minutes to do what would have taken 5 if they had not been using technology.  All of the technology objectives I listed above were NEW things my students needed to learn.  Whoa!   Way too much.


Take baby steps

What technology can I use that students already know how to use?  What is one small addition I can add to that technology?  Will it be something that will be useful for the future?    It would be great to backwards plan.  What do I want my students to use technology for in the end of my unit?  How can I gradually teach them to get there?  In addition to clicking and dragging (which I mistakenly thought would be easy) I was introducing the students to Google Read Write and Recording using the Speech Notetaker.  They had never used any of these before.


Preteach a few difficult technology concepts to kids who need extra help – and kids who can help me help other kids.

I pulled a few kids to preteach – some higher kids that could help others and some lower kids who would need more small group instruction.  This helped, but it only happened because the classroom teacher made time for me and I had a prep period right before the class.  This also allowed me to see, and plan for, what the pitfalls of my lesson would be.


Make decisions based on the technology I have available to me

Chromebooks are good for some things, IPADs are good for other things.  It would be great if we had both for all grades to have the flexibility.  In the meantime, why spend time on clunky recording apps in a Chromebook?


Make sure I am not using too many apps that I am not yet comfortable with

I made a big mistake using Google Classroom in that I set the assignment up so that all students had the same document, and then needed to make their own copy. (For some reason the option to make a copy for each student did not appear for me so I didn’t realize it was a problem.) Some students used the master copy instead – ugh.  It was only later that I discovered I could have set up Google Classroom for each student to have their own document.


Persist anyway

I wanted to give up and throw the whole lesson plan (and maybe the Chromebook cart as well…) out the window.  But I kept going.  In the long run, I kept trying, testing my improvements on students before each of what became a 3 day (instead of 2 day) lesson.  The kids also persevered even when documents got messed up, recordings got lost, and they weren’t sure how to share with me (or get through the new district login – bad timing for that!).  In the end we ended up completing our objective, and I think kids were proud of the results!


Student work

Here is a sample of a student’s final writing product.  In addition to the writing below, the student had a color food chain with voice recorded comments about each section of the food chain.     This ESL level 4 student was able to practice speaking about the food chain by recording in Google Read Write as part of his prewriting.   
Student Work:

  Animals in the food chain are connected.The sun gives energy to the grass.The grass is a producer. A producer is a plant that makes its own food. The plant is eaten by a buffalo. A buffalo is a primary consumer. A primary consumer is a plant or a animal that gets eaten by something else. The buffalo gives energy to the wolf. A wolf is a secondary consumer. A secondary consumer is the second animal that eats a plant or a animal. When the wolf dies the wolf gets eaten by a earthworm. A earthworm is a decomposer. A decomposer is something that eats a dead animal. A carnivore is something that only eats meat. A herbivore is something that only eats plants. A organism is a single living thing.This is how a food chain works.  


It’s October already!

That’s what I said to myself the other day. I am an ESL Teacher at the Northeast School and I am still trying to figure out my schedule. If its already October, when am I going to bring technology to my instruction? Then it just happened – bam! I was meeting with a fourth grade teacher that has ELL students in her class and we were discussing a Patricia Polacco unit she was planning to begin. The unit involved reading complex text and had reading and writing assignments that were linked to Grade 4 Common Core. While she was talking I could visualize immediately how I can incorporate technology into the unit that would help all of the students , especially my ELL students, increase their comprehension of the stories. This in turn would lead to more detailed writing responses. The teacher had chosen 5 Patricia Polacco stories. For each day of the week, there were activities for the students to do in connection with the story. The two days of the week that I knew I could use technology were Tuesday and Wednesday. The Tuesday activity was called Think Tank Tuesday which was the day that the students would work on activating prior knowledge and building background for the stories they were to read. Work It Wednesday was the day that they read the stories. For Think Tank Tuesday I wanted to give the student access to videos that would provide them with the background knowledge needed to access the books. For Work it Wednesday, we wanted students to read the stories but also to provide the option to listen to the story as a first or second read.

The students are in 5 groups of 4 and each group is reading a different Patricia Polacco book. I set up the Think Tank Tuesday and Work It Wednesday in Google Classroom, invited the students and teachers and was very excited to begin. We scheduled the chrome books for Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The first Think Tank Tuesday was today. I projected the Google Classroom on the board. I had the students join the classroom and showed the students how to access the videos for the Patricia Polacco book they were reading. They all started to build their background knowledge and then our bubble burst. Some of the students could watch the videos while others received error messages when they tried to open the video link. POP! I made a couple of calls. I learned that even though this was teacher-driven, it was possible that students will not be allowed to access youtube videos. Ugh. I hope not. It would require a lot more searching to find suitable non-youtube videos. The ones selected for students to watch were so appropriate for the story they were going to read. I am waiting for an answer. I am hoping that this is just a glitch and is not because the district is denying access to youtube. Holding my breathe and crossing my fingers.