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Friday, July 6, 2012

Use Technology to Inspire Students in Language Arts

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts. 


My students hate English class. They hate to read what we tell them to read. They hate to write what we tell them to write. They really hate grammar and sometimes, they hate the teacher just because of the subject. To them English class is an unnecessary block of drudgery because they “already know how to talk.” That has never made sense to me because language is something that binds us all together. We hear it before we are born. But then I was that rare student who loved English class. Words are magic to me.



Teachers have magic readily available. It’s called TECHNOLOGY. We all know tech mesmerizes them. It’s time to use that to our advantage instead of making teens leave the most tactile, personal, intimate part of their world outside as we expect them to produce work that is the best of themselves. Educators have to realize three points: tech isn’t going away and neither is a teen’s fascination with it, tech will change how we teach, and we have to teach teens to think while using that tech. So how do I suggest a teacher use technology?



Use What Is Right In Front of You- Even if you only have one computer and a projector, you can use technology to get them writing. Dangle the fun. The internet is full of videos, good videos, that are just waiting to be written about by students. Tim Hawkins made a parody of Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel”. It’s called “Cletus Take the Reel.” It’s clean, funny, and short. Parody, compare/contrast, cause/effect, tone, metaphor, etc. Why not use a video that is interesting to them to get them to write. The internet is full of them.



Allow Students to Connect to Their Interests- The hardest part about writing is coming up with a topic. The rest is easy. If you only concentrate on the prompts, story starters, organizers, and outlines, then the passion of writing is removed. Students will be more likely to write and write well if they come up with the topic. Allow students to bring their world into the classroom. They don't want to write about your topics. They want to write about what is important to them. All sorts of stuff goes through their heads. They need to know crazy thoughts can turn into good writing. Teach them the joy of writing, then, teach that sometimes you just have to write about what you have to write about. When you do that, you get a different outcome with students.



Blog With Students- Students do not value assignments like the old days. Our value was determined by what discipline waited for us at home. Today, that is not a factor. If a teacher assigns busy work (how much of your assignments are just that?), the student becomes disengaged. Before I had access to a computer lab, I blogged with students using one computer, the internet, and their paper/pen. Put their work up in your room if you have to but give students an authentic audience. Their writing will change if they know that the world will see it. Blogging is free and paperless. Once someone who they don’t know comments on something they wrote, their whole attitude changes.



Use visual sites and microblogging- A great way to get students to write is letting them add pictures to their writing. Sites like Glogster, Storify, Animoto, ToonDoo, and VoiceThread let students add text and images to their writing. Microblog using sites like Twitter or Tumblr. Twitter allows a user to post a tweet using text. One popular assignment I used was a cell phone novel using Twitter. These assignments force students to summarize without realizing it.



There are so many uses for technology and we are not using them effectively. Instead of reaching for the teacher’s edition, do a search of your own. Look for websites that use lists and interesting facts. When you find them collect them using a calendar. Here’s mine. (Start with the beginning of school date.) Use these to get students thinking about their opinions. Nobody wants to write to the city council about the color of trashcans in the park. Yet we keep shoving those topics in front of them. Use current events such as news sites to get students looking at their world. When teaching poetry use the songs that define them to demonstrate literary devices. Teaching students to write is about connecting their world to the text in front of them. Technology makes them a captive audience. I say, let’s use it.


I have been an English teacher for 23 years. My life revolves around my husband, kids, books, and students. My love affair with all things bound began when I was four and I don’t expect it to ever end. My passion lately has been to help teachers realize that technology has a place in our world just like the paper and pen did when we were young. You can find me at lisa.byrdnest5.com or @baldmisery on twitter.

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