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.
“What is your favorite tool?” is a question that I often hear from fellow teachers. It is really difficult to give one answer to that question. In our fast-paced, digital world, technology tools change, update, come, and go. I am a huge proponent that a tool needs to meet the needs of each learner and support their learning. If you think about it, a couple of decades ago, teachers did not assign an encyclopedia project. Educators understand that an encyclopedia is just a tool to support learning; often that is missed when we design projects for our students with the digital tool as the main focus, instead of the learning.
In our classroom, the students never discuss the technology tool (or app) they are going to use until after
all of the research and writing has been completed. Then, my learners look for a tool that will support and strengthen their message. Often my writers have an idea in mind and they go searching for a way to publish. This often results in them and introducing the class (and me) to a great new way to publish.
As I began to brainstorm this column and narrow down my list to my ten favorite publishing tools, I wondered if my students’ list would look the same as mine. So, I asked them to share their favorite tools. They had some interesting ideas that I had not considered. As my students often do, it caused me to rethink my list. This final list of tools, like so much of our class, is a collaborative effort of the top ten tools we love for publishing.
: My learners have latched onto blogging like a fish to water. They have become voracious writers sharing what they are learning, reading, exploring, or contemplating. Rarely is there a time when at least one of my students isn't blogging. They have found the power of personal reflection and love the aspect that what they write has an audience who will continue their conversations and challenge another's thinking.
: In class, we have a Twitter account. Many of you may be wondering about this as a publishing tool as a user only has 140 characters. However, with Twitter, my learners have to learn about being succinct and powerful in their words choices. It has really helped them to focus on their message and the best way to get that message across to their followers. They all agree that standard English is what we use when we tweet from school—no "text speak"—so that all of our audience understands what they are saying. They really enjoy writing tweet stories and Twitter book reports.
: Voki allows the user to create a personalized talking avatar that can be easily embedded into wikis, blogs, profiles, and email. Voki has the option for the creator to type the text they want spoken or record their voices with their avatar. The students really enjoy using this to tell stories from different characters’ or historical figures’ points of view. We use the free version, but there is a paid version that allows a teacher to set up and manage an entire class.
: Morfo is a free app that is similar to Voki. Users can create avatars and record their own voice speaking. The major difference is that students can take a photo of themselves, and Morfo guides them in setting the photo to be the one that talks. With Morfo, students become the avatar. The website has several examples that demonstrate how it works.
: This great tool has quickly become one of my students’ favorite. Using the education version of the site allows teachers to create and account and provide free web space for students to use to publish. My students have used it to create a topical themed interactive website for their global peers. Additionally, each one of my students is using their account to create an ePortfolio. They are always working on it to publish evidence of their learning. I actually have students begging to stay after school so that they can continue to create new pages.
: Toontastic is a free app that allows the user to create his/her own cartoons. Users can choose the backgrounds and characters provided in the app or they can create their own. My students love having the feature to create their own versions of characters and backgrounds. It guides the user through a story arc while they add animation, music, and voice. To publish it, an adult must approve the account. Then it can be sent through email or embedded into other sites. Additional characters and backgrounds can be purchased for a small price.
: Graphic novels and comic books have a strong appeal for students, and they support ELL and struggling readers. ComicBook! has quickly become one of my students' favorite ways to publish. The user has the ability to create their own comic book using photos taken on the device (Apple or Android). The app provides the user with different filters for the photos to make them look like the artwork in comic books as well as adding borders, captions, stickers, and graphics within different layouts. The finished product can be saved as a JPEG (image) or PDF making it easy to embed into other tools. You can also share it through email, Twitter, or Facebook.
: This ReadWriteThink
tool is available as a tool or as an app
. Through Trading Cards, students are guided in analyzing characters, real or fictional, by pulling support from the text. Each category on the card asks questions that guide learners in creating information-rich cards while employing summarizing strategies. Trading cards can be shared with an audience and collections of cards can be built. My students love publishing their trading cards for others to read.
: StoryJumper allows students to create digital storybooks which can also be purchased should someone want a copy. StoryJumper has a huge selection of clipart and backgrounds, but writers also have the ability to upload their own artwork and photographs, which my learners love.
: If you are looking for a tool for your learners to create an audio file or podcast, Audacity is user friendly. There are the basic functions of recording a piece of writing as well as a lot of bells and whistles, which can really tap into a student's creativity.
Those are our top ten publishing tools…for now. If you ask us tomorrow, it will probably be a bit different. Just like our students and the world that we are living in, things are ever changing. We must be willing to continue to embrace the tools the supports the needs of our diverse learners.
I hope you have found some new tools to use to support your students’ writing and publishing. If you have a favorite tool that did not make our “hit list,” please leave it in a comment. I’d love to find some new tools that can further support my writers’ amazing publishing. Until next time, happy publishing!
Are you a fan of Plugged In? Come see Julie D. Ramsay present a session on collaborating in class and online at IRA’s 58th Annual Convention, April 19-22, 2013, in San Antonio, Texas.
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 (Stenhouse, 2011). She travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.
© 2013 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.