Here are five of my favorite tech tools for teacher-authors:
Whether you’re self-published or agented, you want your documents as clean as possible. You can edit it yourself, use beta readers, or pray, but one more option to include in your toolkit is a good online editing program. Often, these ask you to copy-paste your text into a dialogue box on their website and they take it from there. Sometimes, you upload your entire manuscript. What they do varies from simply checking your grammar and spelling to analyzing pacing, word choice, and more. I like Grammarly for basics and AutoCrit for more detail.
See my Grammarly review here.
I know lots of people who write the first draft of their documents with paper-and-pencil but almost always, the next version is completed on some sort of digital device. That might be a Mac, PC, iPad, Chromebook, laptop, or in some cases a dedicated word processor like the Retro Freewrite or Alphasmart. Pick one or more that work for you, doesn’t matter which as long as it’s digital and allows you to type and edit your manuscript.
Jennifer Lockman, a journalism major at UCLA, contacted me about her thoughts on how technology has changed the way she and other professionals write. It’s been a while since I was in college so I am excited to share her ideas with you:
Technology has definitely changed the art of writing and the means we can use to get our points across. Not so long ago everything involved handwriting (and then typing) a draft, spending hours on revision and proofreading, and eventually submitting a finished text to an editor’s red pen. Thus, doing this kind of work well still takes skills, talent, and perseverance. Luckily for us due to the evolution of technology, everyone with an Android device or access to the internet can get the help needed to write and polish a paper. Whether you’re writing a college paper or the next Great American Novel, there are multiple apps available to help you with the entire process.
In 2015, Idaho adopted an open-enrollment policy allowing families to send students to their school of choice. Despite being a Title I District, Coeur d’Alene established itself as one of the most outstanding districts in the state. School leaders credit a multi-faceted senior writing project, new curricula, and instructional technology for bringing new students to their doors.
This is Coeur d’Alene’s story–how they recognized a need to improve student writing skills and effectively addressed it:
Tucked just north of the Spokane River, along the western side of the panhandle, lies Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Nine out of 17 schools in the Coeur d’Alene School District (CdA) receive Title I Funding, and according to the 2016 National Education Association survey, Idaho ranks last in per-pupil spending and 47th in the nation for average teacher salary.
In 2015, Idaho passed a state-wide open enrollment law that allows parents to send children to their school of choice. This was good for families, but given the many challenges Coeur d’Alene faced daily, the policy had the potential to greatly affect matriculation throughout the district. CdA Administrators, however, felt that open enrollment could be an important driver of change while also giving parents the ability to choose the best school for their needs.
“We’re not utopia, we have a lot of challenges,”
explained Mike Nelson, the Director of Curricula and Assessments in the Coeur d’Alene Public School District, “but at the same time, we knew a few key changes would be of benefit to all.”
I confess, I cringe when I come across spelling and grammar errors on websites or blogs. To me and many others, that bad first impression creates an authenticity hurdle that’s close to impossible to overcome. Then there are homophones — to or too, your or you’re, their or there or they’re. I know the difference but write them wrong when I’m not paying attention. I am thankful when a well-meaning efriend points it out. And how about those messaging auto-corrections? They turn my words into gibberish.
I started to
think hope grammar errors have become so common that readers are immune until I read these statistics curated by Colin Newcomer:
1,003 UK consumers were interviewed about the factors most likely to damage a view of a brand. The number one response (by far) was “poor spelling or grammar.”
Global Lingo surveyed 1,029 people and found that 59% “would not use a company that had obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing material”. 74% answered yes when asked whether they noticed spelling or grammar on a company’s website.
Studies show that a single spelling mistake on a website can cut a company’s online sales in half.
It seems everyone equates good writing mechanics with quality whether from a teacher, in her/his lesson plans, or on notes to parents. After all, doesn’t every word processor include spell-check?
In truth, solving this problem isn’t that easy. Consider the difficulty of automating the correction of writing across the globe, with the multitude of cultural spellings, grammar rules, and translations. But perception is reality so it’s incumbent upon teachers to turn out error-free written work and teach students to do the same. Start by explaining how to use automated spelling and grammar checkers (with their blue, green, and red squiggled underlines) but add a deeper level of protection by installing a dedicated grammar checker. If you’re looking for tools beyond the popular Hemingway App, here are the top five websites and browser apps I recommend:
- Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
- Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
- Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
- Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
- Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
- Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
- Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry
All across the nation, school, teachers, students, libraries, and families celebrate by reading, writing, and sharing poetry. Here are websites that do all that and more. Share them with students on a class link page, Symbaloo, or another method you’ve chosen to share groups of websites with students:
From ReadWriteThink–students learn about acrostic poetry and how to write it
Knowledge is meant to be shared. That’s what writing is about–taking what you know and putting it out there for all to see. When students hear the word “writing”, most think paper-and-pencil, maybe word processing, but that’s the vehicle, not the goal. According to state and national standards (even international), writing is expected to “provide evidence in support of opinions”, “examine complex ideas and information clearly and accurately”, and/or “communicate in a way that is appropriate to task, audience, and purpose”. Nowhere do standards dictate a specific tool be used to accomplish the goals.
In fact, the tool students select to share knowledge will depend upon their specific learning style. Imagine if you–the artist who never got beyond stick figures–had to draw a picture that explained the nobility inherent in the Civil War. Would you feel stifled? Would you give up? Now put yourself in the shoes of the student who is dyslexic or challenged by prose as they try to share their knowledge.
When you first bring this up in your class, don’t be surprised if kids have no idea what you’re talking about. Many students think learning starts with the teacher talking and ends with a quiz. Have them take the following surveys:
Both are based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Harold Gardner’s iconic model for mapping out learning modalities such as linguistic, hands-on, kinesthetic, math, verbal, and art. Understanding how they learn explains why they remember more when they write something down or read their notes rather than listening to a lecture. If they learn logically (math), a spreadsheet is a good idea. If they are spatial (art) learners, a drawing program is a better choice.
Vicki Davis is a teacher, author, podcaster, tweeter, blogger, international presenter, and so much more. I admire her podcasts and posts so was honored when she invited me to chat with her on her podcast, the 10-Minute Teacher. The topic is one dear to my heart: How to use technology to teach writing in creative ways.
Click the image below to access her post where you can listen to the podcast or read the transcript–whichever works better for you. Or scroll down a bit more and you’ll find the podcast embedded:
In my school, every teacher assesses writing. Even in the tech lab, which is my purview, I provide mini-how-to-write lessons before tech projects that include writing. That’s not just for essays or reports but slideshows, blog posts, comments in forums, and more. I remind students of the five-paragraph essay, synonyms, plan-revise-edit-rewrite, persuasive essays, letter writing, or whatever fits the day’s lesson.
This connected teaching approach is consistent with most modern pedagogy. Writing is no longer treated as a stand-alone skill, rather a tool students use to provide evidence of their knowledge. If I use Common Core as an example, here’s what these Standards call out as important about writing (slightly rephrased from the Anchor Standards):
- Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
- Write informative/explanatory texts to examine complex ideas clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
- Write narratives to develop experiences using effective techniques, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
- Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
- Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
- Use technology to produce and publish writing.
- Conduct research based on focused questions that demonstrate understanding of the subject.
- Gather relevant information, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.
- Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
- Write routinely for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Note that nowhere do the Standards mention handwriting, word processing tools, editing typos, or general technology skills. Why? Because achieving the Standards transcends the media with which you write. Whether that’s paper-and-pencil or word processing, audio, comics, or video, the goal is to communicate ideas.
If it’s online it’s free
This, of course, isn’t true but the rules and laws surrounding plagiarism and copyrights aren’t nearly as well-known as those that deal with, say, driving a car or crossing a street. The Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics surveyed 43,000 high school students and found that:
- 59% of high school students admitted cheating on a test during the last year. 34% self-reported doing it more than twice.
- One out of three high school students admitted that they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.
Dissuading students from improper use of online materials is a massive effort that few are willing to undertake. Teachers are at ground zero and start with three basic rules:
This week, my wonderful efriends here in the blogosphere are helping me get the word out about my second novel, Twenty-four Days. What makes this exciting for us geeks and techies–and why I think readers of Ask a Tech Teacher will like it–is that the AI (artificial intelligence) Otto introduced in To Hunt a Sub is all grown up, now a mobile speaking android who plays a critical part in solving the mysteries and saving the world:
A former SEAL, a brilliant scientist, a love-besotted nerd, and a quirky AI have twenty-four days to stop a terrorist attack. The problems: They don’t know what it is, where it is, or who’s involved.
Kirkus Reviews had this to say: had this to say:
A blistering pace is set from the beginning: dates open each new chapter/section, generating a countdown that intensifies the title’s time limit. Murray skillfully bounces from scene to scene, handling numerous characters, from hijackers to MI6 special agent Haster. … A steady tempo and indelible menace form a stirring nautical tale…
I’ll be visiting blogs to chat about the book and answer questions like:
- Can science make a warship invisible?
- Exactly how cool is Otto, the AI?
- What is an ‘AI’?
- What pick-up line does the story’s geek, Eitan Sun, use to attract his first wife?
- Are there drones in this book?
- Is the submarine’s invisibility shield like the cloak in Harry Potter?
- Do you have to read the prequel, To Hunt a Sub, to understand this book?
- How does Otto find submarines anywhere in the world?
- Is this a romantic thriller?
- Is the tech included in the book really possible?
- When is Book 3 in the Rowe-Delamagente series out?
Here’s the schedule of who’ll I’ll visit. I haven’t included the question–you’ll just have to drop in to see the answer:
Please join me whenever you can. I’d love to see you.