This is the final guest post of the week (see the others below) culminating a special series for National Teacher Appreciation Week. I will continue to offer opportunities for guest posts on timely and relevant topics, so please feel free to reach out and post a comment. Thank you educators everywhere. Thank you guest bloggers. Have a great weekend!
By Larry Ferlazzo
"I'm not very good with technology. What are some ways I can use it that will bring a value-added benefit to my students and me, and which will take less than a minute for them and for me to learn how to use?"
That is the question I ask myself, and that I imagine being asked, as I scour the web for potential educational resources. I attempted to offer a more complete response in a post I wrote last year, A Few Simple Ways To Introduce Reluctant Colleagues To Technology. That piece discussed computer projectors, document cameras, and ways to easily create authentic audiences for student work. This post will function as a sort of "Part Two," and will highlight other web applications that—in an exceptional way – can meet the criteria of offering a value-added benefit and taking less than a minute to learn.
Here are my choices:
Annotating the Web: My number one favorite web application is called Crocodoc. In the classroom, I am constantly encouraging my students to learn the art of text annotation through the use of highlighting, Post-it notes, and writing notes in the margins. The sooner they learn this skill, the more successful they will be in all of their classes – in both reading and studying skills. Crocodoc lets students do the same thing on any webpage with a virtual highlighter, Post-it note, and drawing tool. An individual student can make his/her annotations, or multiple students can use the same page. It's free and no registration is required. You're given a URL address for the annotated page. In fact, any document can be uploaded to Crocodoc, converted into a webpage, and be annotated by one and all.
Searching the Web: Most search engines will function adequately for student research. However, search engines like Middlespot and Mel Zoo offer the additional advantage of providing images of the search results. That kind of visual support not only helps students with reading and other learning challenges, it can save time for any searcher by giving a clearer view of what might be on the page.
Organizing Research: Many students need help developing organization skills, especially with research. Once students find potential websites that can be useful in their project(s), sites like Middlespot, Wallwisher, or Tizmos can be easy "bookmarking" pages where students can save web pages for future reference. Not only are these three super-simple to use and free, they also show the images of the saved sites and not just their names. Plus, unlike some of the more popular bookmarking applications, they tend not be blocked by school content filters.
For English Language Learners: English Central can be a "one-stop shop" for ELL's getting practice in reading, speaking, and listening. Students can watch engaging videos, read the closed-captioned text, and repeat what they have read and heard before getting graded by the computer on their accuracy. Teachers can set-up their own classes to monitor student progress. And, of course, it's free.
Engaging Reluctant Readers: NewsCred and icurrent are two simple places where students can create their own personalized daily newspapers that only include content on topics that interest them. They are attractively designed and easy to use. It will certainly be harder for students to say that they can't find anything interesting to read!
Encouraging Early Readers: One of the best ways to encourage reading is by allowing students to choose books that interest them. This can be challenging for young children and English Language Learners of all ages when their ability to read independently is limited. However, multimedia resources on the web that provide visual and audio support for text greatly expand those opportunities. Starfall and Literactive are two of the best free sites for these talking books on the Internet. Tar Heel Reader is another great choice, and has the added benefit of letting students easily create their own audio books.
Getting Professional Development: Three of the best – and easiest – places on the web where teachers can connect with colleagues throughout the world to enhance their professional skills are Classroom 2.0, the English Companion Ning, and EFL Classroom 2.0. No matter what your level of competence in technology is, and no matter how many years of experience you have in the classroom, the welcoming atmosphere and incredible talent on these sites will greatly enhance your professional development.
There are many more web applications out there and tons of ideas about how to use them. What are your suggestions of additional ways that meet the criteria I set-out at the beginning of this post – providing a value-added benefit, and taking less than a minute for a tech novice to learn how to use?
Larry Ferlazzo teaches English and Social Studies at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California. He writes a popular resource sharing blog, and is the author of two books, Building Parent Engagement In Schools and English Language Learners: Teaching Strategies That Work.