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Content & Skills Before Tools: Build Tool Fluency!

Every time I read an article that really strikes home with me regarding Web 2.0 tools, it tends to mention something along this theme: Content and skills NEED to come before tools- tools provide the means.

Last week I made a list of tools that I was committing to this year in order to keep myself focused and to help students become fluent in their use.  While the content and/or skill was in my head that would match each tool, I didn’t write it down.  When I realized this, I wondered if I was falling into the trap- the trap of being enamored with what these web tools could do and not placing equal or more importance on the skills they would develop.  Since I am calling myself out on this, I am going to re-write my list here and add the skills I am aiming to strengthen. You can all be my accountability.

These are not to be confused with individual sites my students will use for specific skill/content practice.  I want them to learn tools that are flexible and could be transferred to other subjects and skills throughout the year and their school careers. My vision is that students would learn how to use these for a basic goal and then they would be encouraged during the year to revisit them to fulfill ideas or needs they have regarding their learning and collaboration with classmates.  A year or two ago, one boy asked me, “Hey, is it ok if we use Google Docs for this? It just makes more sense since there are 2 of us.” He had learned how to use it earlier in the year and transferred its use to a new goal.   I will know this is successful this year when I hear someone say something like: “Hey, couldn’t we organize this with Evernote?” or “This would be better if we shared our thoughts through Padlet.”

Kidblog– This group of students (and all students, I think!) craves an audience.  They REALLY want to be heard!  I have had success with 3rd-4th grade students blogging before, but want to thank Pernille Ripp for sharing all of her blogging guidelines and wisdom.  This is really going to help me scaffold for this group.

HOW WILL WE USE IT?   I already use Edmodo, which is technically microblogging so this will extend that style of communication.  I will use it in just about every subject, asking students to opine or explore an open ended question, providing evidence to back their claims.  Sometimes I will use it to simply provide a motivation for students to write cohesively with the hopes that their audience will engage.  Students will learn to read posts closely and critically, as well as effectively respond, comment and question.

EdmodoObviously. :)  This won’t be new to them (this is my second year in the looping model), but this year we will be expanding our understanding of its possibilities.

HOW WILL WE USE IT? How will we NOT use it!?! I am hoping they become more fluent with accessing links in the libraries, understanding the Google Docs integration, and participating in book discussion small groups. I will be linking up with some other classses around the world for the Global Read Aloud and am hoping to join students from different classes within the school on Edmodo to participate in cross-class book groups, allowing for students to always have a group to read with at their level, no matter what it may be.

SoundCloud– I think this is my best option for basic audio recording that would be available on both iPads and laptops.

HOW WILL WE USE IT? Last year I used it to record our read aloud novel sessions because it was a challenge to include all of the students when so many were in and out for services.  Students accessed the read aloud that night via Edmodo to be caught up.  I also noticed that other students would re-listen to the chapter, though, something I never expected and loved.

Once, we wrote paragraphs to accompany artwork depicting the “First Thanksgiving” (1621 Harvest), practiced them for fluency  and then created QR codes to attach to our displayed work so parents could scan and listen.

Students who needed to verbalize their writing ideas before planning and drafting found success with SoundCloud, as did students who needed to record explanations for a comprehension or mathematical response.  If writing got in the way and was not the goal, they recorded it. Why not?

EdcanvasI have always been a LiveBinders girl, but my wonderful friend and colleague Lindsay Meade used this a lot last year. I think it creates a better visual option for younger learners.

HOW WILL WE USE IT?I will still share LiveBinders with students when providing subject-specific interactives for them to use, but I think Edcanvas will be better for organizing content that they need to explore, read, and access information for their learning. Here is an example that focuses on content regarding Australia. As they become more versed in searching the internet effectively, they can create their own Edcanvases.

Padlet (formerly WallWisher)- Another one from Lindsay! Have you ever led a discussion and written students offerings on chart paper? Not everyone gets to speak? Some kids need more time to process and share? Someone takes over the whole conversation? Yeah. Enter Padlet. Click here to see an example.

HOW WILL WE USE IT? This is the tool I will use before, during and/or after units/concepts.  It is essentially a bulletin board for students to post their thoughts on the theme of the “wall”.  Can you see the efficiency?!? Everyone gets to speak as much or as little as they need (want?) to.  Set a limit or range if needed, model, and make the focus of the wall clear. Anonymous or not, everyone gets to speak.  You will gather a ton of information in a much shorter time.

Evernote This is one of those tools that has so many possibilities that I have yet to uncover.  But, that’s the beauty- they will appear as I need them and we will learn as we go. Evernote is a web based…notebook system, I suppose I could say. You can combine text, PDF, audio/visual etc. all in one place and share with others.  It is full of organization and collaboration. Goodbye cluttering paper!

HOW WILL WE USE IT? We are going to start small. My students are going to have their own notebooks to track their fluency of a variety of texts.  They will take a picture of the page they are reading and record an audio track that will post right below the text image.  This is where we will start- I will let you know where we go with it!

Skitch or Educreations or Explain Everything for Screencasting: I have used them all, but will most likely narrow it down to one this year for students.  I have a feeling we will go with Skitch since it syncs to Evernote. This will improve our workflow. All of them are awesome and do similar things, but Explain Everything probably has the most capabilities while Skitch is the easiest for younger students.

HOW WILL WE USE IT? I will use screencasting for instruction when I need a small group to get a pre-teach or a re-teach, but I also need to work with a different group.  I can upload images and/or draw on the “whiteboard” while recording audio.  I can post these to Edmodo and students can access them as much as they need to.  I will use this tool for “flipped” lessons so that when my students begin Math or Word Study the next day, they have the base and we can get down to business.

Students will use it to practice explaining their thinking, talking out problem solving process and sooo much more! It will be a strong tool for formative assessments to truly hear what students understand, or THINK they understand.

It’s really exciting to see this all in print now and while it feels slightly overwhelming, I think I am saving myself the headache later if trying to decide what tool to use.  We will immerse ourselves in these, learn their powers and be amazed.  And in the spirit of balance, be on the lookout for my future post on non-technology materials with which we will build our fluency- it’s only fair. :)

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7 comments on “Content & Skills Before Tools: Build Tool Fluency!

  1. Rachel Small
    August 22, 2013

    I LOVE this post! I will totally share it with tons of teachers. Thank you!!


  2. Lisa Chesser
    August 22, 2013

    Thank you for this. It’s so helpful–the practical explanations.


  3. Judy Deshaies
    August 22, 2013

    Very impressive Jaclyn.


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This entry was posted on August 22, 2013 by in education, The World of TE(a)CH and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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