Digital Tools for Formative Assessment

Links to tools discussed at  the NCTE 2010 Tech To Go kiosk

Allows for collaborative writing and the ability to “play back” writing. I suggest downloading a copy of your work because inactive pads are deleted.

Great for collaborative writing that you want to be more permanent than pads.

Site for managing classes and creating different types of quizzes and activities.

Create polls (closed and open-ended) for students to respond to using the web or cell phones.

Google Forms are an easy way to get student feedback or create self-evaluations. I also use them to track independent reading.

Headed Out

Tomorrow morning I’m taking off for the Klingenstein Summer Institute in Lawrenceville, NJ (after a stopover in Annapolis, MD). It feels a little like the first year of college- I’m packing shower shoes and a foam mattress pad. When my parents were about to leave me at college, I started sobbing. My mom tried to console me, but I choked out, “It’s not because you’re leaving. My computer’s not going to be configured for the internet for another two days.” Hoping for a lack of tech troubles this time around 🙂


I couldn’t find a shower basket that I liked, but I had the idea to use a planter. It’s 100% recycled material and has drainage holes. I can plant in it afterward. Also, toiletry train cases were $20 at Target, but insulated lunch boxes were $8. Thrift for the win.

Students As Teachers

On the ride over to Raleigh on Tuesday, several students and I got into a discussion on the subject of students and teachers. (We have pretty frequent conversations about pedagogy in my classes, and it’s one of my favorite subjects to talk to kids about.) One of my students suggested that she thought students should be the teachers at teacher school.

I was grinning ear to ear as, over the course of the next 2 hours, my students became teachers for those attending the MEGA (Middle Educators Global Activities) showcase at the NCState Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. They showed teachers, tech specialists, and school district administrators some of the good work they’ve been doing in their classes this year. They also had the opportunity to share the ways in which they’ve added content and customized their blogs on their own.

Students had had zero prep for the event, and even I wasn’t a 100% sure what to expect. I told them that we would just think of it as an adventure and do our best to tell the story of what we do in our classroom.


One thing that really impressed me was that my students not only told people about their blogs and tablets, but also showed them what the technology could do. I heard them saying things like: “Here let me show you how you embed an object.” or “Would you like to try writing with the stylus?”

Very occasionally there was a technical question that students didn’t know the answer to, so I would step in to answer. The incredible part was that without my prompting students then worked this information into their presentation to the next visitor. (“We use WordPressMu as our blogging platform.” or “A pingback creates a comment on your post when another person links to it in their post.”)

The moment I knew they’d hit their stride was when a student suavely reached down and took one of my business cards. She handed it to the teacher and said, “Here’s Ms. Stewart’s card. You can access her blog at this address, and you can get to our blogs from there.”

As we were leaving one of my students said, “That was amazing! I felt so smart. I was explaining things to adults that they didn’t know, and they were impressed.”

Thanks to Sophia, Niara, Melissa, and Shreyas for representing our school so well!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A quick video of the students in action.

I Need a Picture!

I hate busting students for technology violations, probably because I know how easy it is for me to get distracted by tech. But rules are rules and for the most part enforcing them is a part of helping students monitor their own behavior and develop good habits.

So when I looked over today towards the end of study hall and saw the tell-tale movements of thumbs under the desk, I sighed and said, “X, I need to see you please.” (Students are not allowed to use cell phones during the day in the Middle School.) As the student approached my desk, I realized what he was holding was not a cell phone, but an incredibly sweet wireless keyboard. (You can get your own here.) “Dude, I need to get a picture of that!” I exclaimed. He smiled, knowing my love of all things tech.

Sweet Keyboard

Although I think I have generally good “teacher intuition” and can evaluate situations quickly, I’ve learned that it’s better to start with questions, rather than accusations. Today was a good reminder that things are not always as they seem.

Interview with a Learner

For one of his classes, Dean Shareski is asking students to interview teachers who are also intentional about being learners. I just finished responding to one student’s questions and thought I’d post my answers here. Thanks to Chantelle for the great questions!

How do you go about getting your students on the right track with using the technological tools you want them to make use of? (Slow release, direct instruction, free exploration, etc.?)

I use all of the above. Usually 4-5min of modeling the basics of whatever they need to get them started and then work by themselves or with partners as I walk around the room available for troubleshooting/questions. Occasionally, we’ll have time to free explore- I’ll direct them to a site or sites and ask them to give me feedback on how/if they think those sites might be useful in the classroom.

Do you tend to spend a larger amount of time at the beginning of the year to get them on-board or is it slowly taught as the year goes on?

We definitely spend time at the beginning of the year establishing a routine when it comes to tech. Because students use their tablets every day, they get into a pattern pretty quickly. Those first few weeks of schools though can be a little painful 🙂 I just have to remind myself that by the end of the year they will be light years ahead of where they are at the beginning of the year. I find it’s helpful to identify students who are already proficient with a task or program and appoint them (either formally or informally) as apprentices to help other students.

What are a few of your favorite tools or programs that you use with your students?

Microsoft OneNote

What parameters do you set for student use of computers during class time? Do you find students are typically on-task and efficient or is this something you have had to teach in order for it to be effective?

It varies from student to student. Students are using their computers pretty consistently throughout class. If I notice students appear checked out and involved with something on their screen, I’ll ask them to put their PC in tablet mode (with their screens flat). I also occasionally ask them to flip their screens around (facing me) if we’re having a discussion. In general, I’m not super-strict because I find most students are “with” me the majority of the time.

In what ways does the use of technology further your professional development?

Most of the deeply valuable professional development I’ve experienced has either occurred online or has been spurred by relationships I first developed online. The English Companion Ning has been a great place for me to get in-depth feedback on issues or questions. Twitter has been a useful resource for bouncing ideas off people and sharing and getting resources.