This week, my wonderful efriends and fellow teacher-authors are helping me launch my latest prehistoric fiction novel, The Quest for Home.
Driven from her home. Stalked by enemies. Now her closest ally may be a traitor.
An early review…
“I can’t begin to imagine the hours of research, not to mention the actual writing time, that went into this wonderful gem of a story. I highly recommend this book. It’s a must read for those who love prehistoric fiction.” —Sandra Cox, author of ThunderTree
I know–this isn’t about education. In fact, the excitement is happening over on my writer’s blog where I am not only a teacher but an author. Today, I’m here on Ask a Tech Teacher, asking my fellow teacher-authors to help me kick start this launch.
My promise to you: Leave a comment below. I’ll follow up and make you part of my writing community. There’s nothing more powerful than us supporting each other!
I’ll be visiting efriends’ blogs between September 16th-30th to chat about The Quest for Home. Some of the questions we’ll cover:
Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Linda Cartwright, has a great list of basic writing apps to get your students started with the new year. A few–like Hemingway and Kaizena–I’ve used successfully in my classes. A few others are new to me. Let me know what you think:
In the digital age, teachers are concerned with the literacy of their students. With video calls and voice recognition technology, young people might lose the ability to express themselves in writing simply because they don’t see the necessity of acquiring the skill.
However, the school must prepare students for college and professional life and that means they have to master writing in a variety of formats. Leaving out the question of actual handwriting, let me focus on digital tools that will help your students to enhance their skill of written communication.
Kaizena is meant to be paired with Google Docs and its purpose is to provide feedback… with a twist. Admit it, no matter how hard you try to be encouraging and constructive, the format of short notes robs your comments of their warmth and student feels disappointed and frustrated – they only get the message that their work is not good enough! They lose their confidence and look for additional essay help online, instead of working on their skills.
With Kaizena, teachers can record voice notes, which are much more encouraging, since they preserve your tone of voice. Instead of simply getting marks on margins telling them what is wrong with their writing, students will get meaningful feedback.
No Red Ink
No Red Ink is another tool to promote constructive and actionable feedback instead of frustrating notes in here’s-what-you-did-wrong style and red ink. Instead, students get adaptive practice, track their progress, independently identify their stronger and weaker sides, and decide which skills they need to improve. No Red Ink empowers students, gives them back ownership of their learning, and helps to build confident writers who enjoy expressing themselves with words.
Everyone wants to write a book — right? Studies show that 74% of people think they have a book in them. Teens are no exception. With the ease in which that can be done, thanks to word processors like Word and Docs, online editors like Grammarly, and automated publishers like Kindle, there’s no reason why teens can’t do just that. Look at this list of kids who wrote successful books in their teens — or in one case, before:
- Alexandra Adornetto — published The Shadow Thief at age 14 and Halo at 18.
- Christopher Paolini — published Eragon at age 16 (he is now over 30)
- Steph Bowe — published Girl Saves Boy at age 16.
- Cayla Kluver — published Legacy at age 16
- Alec Greven — published How to Talk to Girls at age 9
As a teacher, I recognize that writing a book ticks off a range of student writing skills by providing organic practice in many required standards such as descriptive detail, well-structured event sequences, precision in words and phrases, dialogue, pacing, character development, transition words, a conclusion that follows what came before, research, and production/distribution of the finished product. I’ve tried novel-writing activities with students several times to varied results. Everyone starts out fully committed and enthusiastically engaged but by the end of the project, only the outliers on the Bell Curve finish. The rest have too much trouble balancing the demands inherent to writing a 70,000-word book (or even its shorter cousin, the novella). That I understand, as a teacher-author struggling with the same problems. As a result, usually I settle for less-impassioned but easier-accomplished pieces like short stories or essays.
Then I discovered co-authoring, a way to get all of the good achieved from writing a book without the intimidating bad. Many famous books have been co-authored, most recently, Bill Clinton and James Patterson’s The President is Missing but there’s also Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens, Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, and Preston and Child’s Special Agent Pendergast series. Done right, co-authoring encourages not just the writing skills we talked about earlier but perspective-taking, collaboration, and the teamwork skills that have become de rigueur in education.
The most common approach to co-authoring a book is to have students write alternate chapters but this doesn’t work for everyone. Today, I want to talk about four alternative co-authoring approaches that allow students to differentiate for their unique needs:
- multiple POV
- themed collections
As a teacher-author who relies on technology to bring my dreams to life, even I am surprised by how often technology can be applied to life. I share these humorous gems with efriends, post them on forums, and incorporate them into conversations with colleagues. My goal is to demystify technology, a topic that remains for many confusing and intimidating. If fellow writers learn to approach it light-heartedly, they’ll be more likely to accept it. Here are eleven tech terms I find myself applying daily to many of life’s quirks:
#1: Your short-term memory experienced a denial of service attack
A Denial of Service — a DoS – is defined as: “…an interruption in an authorized user’s access to a computer network…” If I’m the “authorized user” and my brain is the “computer network”, this happens to me often. Laypeople call it a “brain freeze” and it is characterized as an event, a name, or an appointment that should be remembered but isn’t. I simply explain to the class full of curious upturned faces (or colleagues at a staff meeting) that I am experiencing a DoS and ask that they please stand by. (more…)
We live in a digital era where the kids are in contact in all sorts of technological solutions that help them learn, connect, and have fun. Furthermore, recent tech advancements are facilitating the inclusion of kids with different sorts of disabilities, allowing them to attend regular classes without any trouble.
Nowadays, Artificial Intelligence is becoming more and more accepted in classrooms all over the world. The benefits of technology usage in schools are vast, including everything from grading tests to analyzing weak spots in courses, providing improvement suggestions. The use of AI in writing and education is also displayed through overwhelming employment of various forms of writing checkers powered by AI. One of these writing assistants is Robot Don, an AI-driven software which we are going to discuss in this article.
What does Robot Don bring to the table?
Writing essays on any given topic includes more than just performing deep research and understanding the issue at hand. It’s about practicing the ability to articulate your knowledge in a manner that is easy to understand and follow. In order to accomplish these goals, proper writing skills are a necessity. This includes impeccable spelling, punctuation, wording, and an extensive vocabulary. According to research, most common undergraduate writing errors include faulty sentence structure, misplaced words, poor punctuation, and pretty slim vocabulary.
The end of the school year is a time when both students and teachers alike are distracted by thoughts of vacation, sleeping in, and no deadlines. For many, this means, during the last few weeks of school, learning limps to a grinding halt but increasingly, teachers use this time productively to introduce curricular- and standards-aligned activities that “color outside the lines” — step away from the textbook to blend learning with dynamic activities that remind students why they want to be life-long learners. Many of these, educators would love to teach but “just don’t have time for“, even though they align well with broad goals of preparing students for college and career.
If you’re looking for meaningful lessons to wrap up your school year, here are my top picks:
- Digital Passport
- Cool book reports
- Practice keyboarding
- Dig into cyberbullying
- Applied Digital Skills
Common Sense Media’s award-winning Digital Passport is the gold-standard in teaching digital citizenship to grades 3-5 (or Middle School). This free-to-schools online program mixes videos, games, quizzes, and the challenge of earning badges to teach students the concepts behind digital citizenship:
- How to search
It includes certificates of achievement, badges at the completion of units, and a classroom tracking poster to show how students are progressing.
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: