In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.
I love this time of year in the classroom. The students have learned routines, they’ve become more independent learners, and (hopefully) they have begun to take initiative. One idea that hits me this time each year is when the students return after the winter holidays, they want more—more of a challenge, more exposure to new ideas, and more options when publishing.
To be clear, my learners always have at least one publishing project going all the time. Not all of these projects are digital. Some students choose to share their writing through a one-person performance, a puppet show, or a handwritten, bound journal. Their options are only limited by their creativity. However, some students are so overwhelmed with all the options, they need some guidance in selecting the method or tool for amplifying their writing to an audience.
Although I do my best to keep up with a wide variety of new tools, both high-tech and low-tech, I’ve discovered my students’ favorite ones are usually the ones that they discover themselves and share with one another. In the vein of the holiday, I thought I would pay forward some of the digital tools my students are currently using. These are digital tools that they really enjoy using to share their writing with their global audience.
Using Tackk, students can create beautiful digital brochures, posters, or websites. Because of its organization, Tackk is simple for students to organize their writing and include other types of media, such as graphic, photos, video, audio or illustrations. One feature the students particularly enjoy is that everything is automatically saved, relieving students of the fear they are going to lose hours of work.
Students can log in using their Google or Edmodo account (other options like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter are also available). Using the intuitive tool bar, students publish their writing embedding the other media that supports their text. Then, with the click of a button, they can publish it on a wide range of social media outlets, embed it into their blog, email it, or print a hardcopy. However, the ease of publishing and sharing is not what appeals to my students most. The element they love is the robust commenting feature. Now their project is not just a static project. It welcomes ongoing dialogue and further learning through the ability of visitors to comment upon their Tackk. By not only having their writing easily read by their peers, but also encouraging an ongoing conversation lends the authenticity that today’s learner craves.
With PowToon for Education, students can turn their writing into animated presentations with cartoon style videos. Students simply drag and drop the elements that they need onto their work surface. With a large collection of background, themes, and props, students can easily bring their writing to life without getting bogged down or side-tracked in the nitty-gritty technology aspect of a tool, which can prove frustrating to many learners. Learners also have the ability to import their own images, if they prefer, including their own photographs or hand-drawn images. Additionally, they are further able to personalize and customize their PowToon by adding their own sound tracks and voice-overs. If a student (or you) gets stuck, this site has a great library of user-friendly, short video tutorials that break down each of the steps in creating a great visual. Once complete, students can share their final project in multiple ways. It can be uploaded to YouTube, shared through many different social media sites, or embedded in a blog, wiki, or website.
Smore is another site enabling a user to publish a digital flyer, newsletter, or website. With Smore, learners can publish their writing and embed a variety of different media from graphics and photos to videos. This tool also has a simple user interface with a drag and drop design. My learners love that it has many options to customize the look of their writing. I love that there aren’t so many “bells and whistles” that students lose focus on the point of this publishing…to amplify their writing for an authentic audience.
Once a student has completed his/her Smore, it can easily be shared through social media outlets or embedded directly into a blog, wiki, or website. Much like Tackk, once a piece is published on Smore, that’s not the end of the project. Smore also has a commenting feature so that students can continue to have a conversation with other members of their learning community. With all of the different tools that we use, I’ve observed that my students tend to lean towards those, which allows them to receive meaningful feedback on their writing from their peers both, local and global.
I hope these tools will provide you and your students something new to add to the publishing toolbox. If you have a favorite tool you would like to share with all of us, please leave a comment or email us at social@/. Wishing you and yours a wonderful holiday season and new year full of fun writing and publishing adventures!
Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator and the author of Can We Skip Lunch and Keep Writing?: Collaborating in Class & Online, Grades 3-8. She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, AL. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.