“We Bought iPads, and Now We’re Common Core Aligned!”

ipads

Dave StuartDave Stuart Jr. teaches English and world history in Cedar Springs, Michigan. He also writes a popular blog on teaching the Common Core State Standards, called Teaching the Core (www.teachingthecore.com). With over ten thousand monthly readers, Dave’s blog has been a beacon of light for teachers who refuse to freak out about the Common Core. He also speaks and gives workshops on literacy instruction, and he has served as an adjunct professor at Aquinas College. Below is an excerpt from his new book, A Non–Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core, which was released last month. Enjoy!

The 6th college and career readiness anchor standard within the writing strand of the CCSS reads as follows:

wccr6


Use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

 

Now then, how about we talk about technology and education?

“We Bought iPads, and Now We’re Common Core Aligned!”

I once heard a school leader claim her school was on its way to Common Core alignment because she had just purchased an iPad for every child in the building. I instantly facepalmed on hearing this, because Common Core alignment, as I hope you’re learning through this book, isn’t about buying iPads. In fact, an iPad alone does nothing to increase one’s likelihood of being college and career ready. Conversely, when technology (iPads or otherwise) is integrated thoughtfully and efficiently, it can promote college and career readiness.

Although the computer-based tests of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers are causing some districts to spend more on technology, I’d like to bury any lingering misconceptions you may have about the Common Core’s technology emphasis. In fact, there is no such emphasis, with very few anchor standards explicitly mentioning technology. I count only three:

  • W.CCR.6—See earlier.
  • W.CCR.8—“Gather relevant information
    from multiple print and digital
    sources . . . ”
  • SL.CCR.5—“Make strategic use of
    digital media and visual displays of
    data . . . ”

This isn’t to say that the Common Core intends for students to use technology with exceeding rarity—technology can be used to support mastery of every one of the 32 anchor standards, after all—but rather that 1:1 classrooms—that is, classrooms where every student has a computing device—aren’t a prerequisite for Common Core success, and that when technology is used, it should be done thoughtfully and efficiently.

With all of that said, let’s explore the techiest anchor standard in the Common Core, which is all about leveraging technology to produce and publish writing.

Produce and Publish Writing with Technology

I’m glad this standard is in the Common Core. I’m pretty old school when it comes to literacy, but there’s no doubt that college- and career-ready people are aware of the powerful amplifying effect technology can have on a writer’s work. Today anyone with the grit to learn how to use an online publishing platform—like WordPress, for example, on which I build my blog—can literally write things for the whole world to read. (If it weren’t for online publishing, you wouldn’t be holding this book.)

To help students prepare to use technology at a college- and career-ready
level, they need ample experience thinking through the implications of, and practicing the strategies and methods for, producing and publishing writing online. Having a sophisticated awareness of what it means to post something—on social media or on a blog or anywhere else—can help students with everything from getting a job to creating a company of their own.

At the time of this writing, a person needs only an Internet connection and a Web browser to access everything from word processing software (for example, Google Docs) to the top publication platforms (for example, WordPress, Tumblr, Weebly)—and all of this is free. Essentially, all the tools for writing for huge audiences have been democratized to the extent that all that stands between a person and millions of readers is the skill—and certainly the business savvy—of the writer.

With that being said, it must be emphasized that simply requiring kids to keep a blog or use Google Docs won’t guarantee their success in college or career, and in fact can be an enormous waste of time. It is much more critical, really, that they be able to write well. In other words, they must master the other writing anchor standards. In a way, W.CCR.6 is the rocket that propels a ship into space: it’s not the ship itself, but rather a means of getting the ship to its destination.

An Illustrative Anecdote

As a member of the high school graduating class of 2002, the snazziest technology I could access in elementary school was the occasional game of Frogger on a classroom Macintosh. By the time I graduated from high school, Microsoft’s Hotmail was just coming into vogue, AOL Instant Messenger was the  coolest thing I could do on my home’s dial-up Internet connection, and “Web 2.0” was still a nerd-only word.

Yet, when Facebook came out, I figured out how to use it. Slowly but surely, I figured out that there were things that should be posted and things that shouldn’t. When blogs became accessible via Blogger and WordPress, I began to dabble in them—not because a teacher told me to, but because I saw them as an opportunity to share my writing. Through using them, I figured them out.

In terms of the technology instruction I received in my K–12 education, I had a keyboarding course in middle school (and thank you, Mr. Nash, for strictly enforcing the “don’t look at your fingers” rule); a Microsoft Office class as a high school freshman; and a computer science course in which I learned Visual Basic computer language. All of these classes, looking back, were great at developing in me a critical physical skill (keyboarding) and thinking abilities (by showing me how computer software features tend to be organized and how computers run on code). In all of my other courses, we rarely used technology except for writing papers.

And despite not having spent countless hours in my core classes using the latest technology, I have graduated from a demanding university, found employment wherever I’ve moved, and altogether flourished in the twenty-first-century world that has come of age along with me.

To what do I credit my success? I lack much innate talent or intelligence. Rather, I was given a boatload of reading, writing, thinking, speaking, and character instruction. In anchor standard terms, I was made college and career ready in all of the other anchor standards, and this made W.CCR.6 a cinch.

Now, with all that being said, I do think W.CCR.6 prompts us to think of ways to incorporate more technology into our writing instruction, especially when it comes to producing and publishing writing.

Producing Writing

For producing writing, I still think Microsoft Word is an essential program. Alternative (and often free) programs like Google Docs and Open Office are getting better all the time, but Word, if your district can afford it, is still the quintessential word processor. According to Bill Coplin (2012, p. 52),

Bill Gates is the man behind Microsoft and, whether we love or despise him, we all need to thank him for Microsoft Word, which is the only word-processing tool you need to master. Other wordprocessing programs, no matter how cheap or quaint, are useless in writing for work. Most of you already know that and have some experience using Word. The rest of you need to get on board.

These words may seem strong, but, for at least the time being, they seem likely to remain true. Of the attachments I receive from teachers, publishers, and businesspeople through email, the vast majority are either in Microsoft Word format or in a PDF format produced with Microsoft Word.

Publishing Writing

Online platforms for publishing writing seem to multiply by the day. For the sake of getting the biggest bang for your time investment, it seems wise, if you’re allowing students to publish pieces online, to teach them to use platforms that have been around for quite a while and seem set to stay. It’s impossible to predict with absolute certainty which platforms will still be here in ten years, but, for my money, I would bet that WordPress will remain a top blogging platform for years to come. WordPress actually has an education-specific platform, too—check it out at http://edublogs.org.

Interact and Collaborate with Others Through Technology

Perhaps one of the most powerful features of technology-based writing is the ability to interact and collaborate with people on a scale never seen before in history. I’ll share a few of the modes of tech-based interaction and collaboration that college- and career-ready folks should be aware of.

First of all, email communication know-how is a must in the twenty-first century. Handwriting may be on its way to becoming a thing of the past, but it’s likely that email is here to stay for as long as there’s the Internet. More schools are looking to companies like Google to provide email accounts for all of their students; in schools where this
isn’t possible, students should be encouraged to create professional email addresses as soon as they can (in other words, jonsmith@gmail.com instead of footballplayer1234@gmail.com), and to use them at least periodically to communicate with teachers.

When my freshman students interact with me through email, I tell them to pretend I am their future professor or boss. Many of them smile and nod, and then proceed to send me emails with vague, text-ish subject lines like “i need help” or messages like “hey stu, i turned in the arcle [sic] of the week.” Whenever student emails are written in a way that is likely to decrease their standing in the eyes of an employer or professor, I simply respond with: “Dear So-and-So, Please reread your email and revise it to professional standards.” In general, students are underprepared to treat online communication with the same care they should afford polished essays. Students should also know how to do basic tasks with email, like attach files (most of my students can do this) or insert links (most of my students need to be taught how to do this).

College- and career-ready people are also aware of the power and proper use of social media. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram boast enormous memberships (Facebook now famously exceeds one billion users), and as a result they provide enormous potential for collaboration and interaction. However, content posted to these platforms is becoming increasingly scrutinized by college admissions officers, employers, and even lending institutions. In addition to that, interacting with peers via Facebook is rarely the best way to build one’s communicative skills; also, it can become quite addicting. As a result, college- and career-ready people think critically about their use of social media and use it wisely.

College- and career-ready people should be aware of the relative ease with which they can work with others on a piece of writing, in real time; a platform for this collaboration that is becoming increasingly common in the realms of both business and education is Google Docs, which allows users to create a document; share it with peers; and work on the document together, through separate devices, in real time. In my own district, teachers are using this simple, powerful tool to create living, collaborative documents (for example, vertical curriculum progressions), and students are using Google Docs for  everything from lab reports to group presentations.

whyThough it’s becoming increasingly rare, I still have students ask me if they can just handwrite an assignment instead of doing it digitally. The old school in me respects their no-frills instincts, but few careers currently exist in which some form of digital writing or collaboration isn’t called for, and that number seems destined only to shrink with time. Consequently, I like to inspire students to consider just what’s possible if they become excellent writers who know how to use technology strategically, and toward that end I love showing them examples of people who have created online businesses for themselves.

One example I share with students is Pat Flynn. Pat, as his readers know him, was an architect studying for an industry test when he decided to put his notes online in the form of a blog. His goal was to learn the content for the test more deeply by writing about what he was learning in a manner that was useful for others. When Pat was laid off from his job several years into his blogging, however, he realized that the large audience he had developed would be likely to appreciate a polished, portable ebook of his best material. He created a simple PDF study guide that quickly sold well enough to support his family, and ever since he has been experimenting with different forms of online income and writing about it on his Smart Passive Income Blog (www.smartpassiveincome.com).

Pat’s story is one of insane success—he now averages an income of $50,000 per month—but I share it with my students because, for many of them, this type of entrepreneurship helps motivate them not just to get good at using technology strategically, but, even more important, to become great written communicators.
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ABOUT THE BOOK:

A Non-Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core: Using the 32 Literacy Anchor Standards to Develop College- and Career-Ready StudentsImplement the Common Core for ELA without all the stress! Buy Now

A Non–Freaked Out Guide to Teaching the Common Core uses the often-neglected anchor standards to get to the heart of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)—teaching students the skills they need to be college and career ready. Each anchor standard is broken down into its key points, and a discussion of each anchor standard’s central purpose helps outline the context for each required skill. This easy-to-read guide gives educators the kind of clear explanations, examples, and strategies they need to feel comfortable teaching the CCSS, and shows how CCSS skills can be integrated into virtually any existing lesson plan. “If you’re a teacher or admin wondering how to help your students play the academic intellectual game, Dave Stuart is your guy!”

—Gerald Graff, professor of English and Education, University of Illinois at Chicago; 2008 president, Modern Language Association of America

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