By Rachelle Dene Poth
There are many ways to provide students with authentic learning experiences in the classroom. We promote student choice by offering a variety of ways for students to show their learning, whether it be through the use of digital tools, or by designing their own demonstration of learning, without the need for technology. The most important element of this is that students have the opportunity to explore their own unique interests and engage in learning activities that are more personalized to them and which enable them to develop their voice in learning.
The shift towards more personalized learning has come about as a result of changes in instructional strategies, research studies, data and perhaps, what I hope to be part of the catalyst for this, is student voice. By taking time to design more authentic ways for students to amplify their learning, to connect with the content in a more meaningful way and to have choices in how to apply their learning, I believe that we will also see the development of student agency and more empowered learners. This is a goal that educators strive for in their classrooms each day.
We know that simply using technology because it is available, does not guarantee that it will have a positive impact on student engagement or achievement. Technology must be used with purpose, and as educators, we should always begin by asking “why” we want to implement a certain digital tool in the classroom. In what ways will this tool provide something different, better, or more authentic than what we are already using.
One area where I do believe that technology does have a strong purpose is in promoting student voice. The availability of technology and the integration of a variety of digital tools have led to students becoming more confident, creative, and comfortable in sharing what they have learned and in connecting with their peers and classrooms around the world.
As to my own classroom, I wanted to find more ways for students to create, communicate, collaborate and to think critically about the work they are doing. Whether it is in my STEAM course, or project-based learning (PBL), students need to have access to a variety of options for creating and sharing their work. It is up to the students to decide: How can they best apply their learning? How do they want to show what they know and can do? How will they engage the audience in their demonstration of learning?
In order to give students more opportunities for being creatively engaged in their learning, I often provide a list of tools for them to choose from, but I am always receptive to their ideas and welcome the opportunity to learn about new digital tools from them —tools which help demonstrate the Four C’s: Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity.
Teachers can offer a variety of tools for students to choose from for creating project s or providing a choice in homework assignments and practice. The key is to empower the students to decide how to show what they know and can do with the material. By having a choice, students can apply their learning in a way that is more meaningful, personal and promotes the retention of the content. When students have autonomy in learning, they become more motivated and engaged, which will increase their learning potential.
As an educator, I offer these tools as choices so that each student can have unique learning experiences. When students are able to decide how to show their learning, it amplifies their potential for mastering the content material.
A few options for having students present information in a more visual way, with options for multimedia include the following:
1) Buncee is a web based tool that can be used for creating presentations, interactive lessons and more. Buncee is full of diverse options for students to select from different characters, fonts, animations, videos and more. Buncee is a versatile presentation and assessment tool, which according to students, is great for creating multimedia projects and having fun while doing so.
2) Piktochart is a tool for creating infographics, social media flyers, engaging presentations and more. It is easy to use, a drag and drop tool, which has been used by students for their PBL work as well as for other regular projects. For example, students have created menus, self-descriptions, movie and tv advertisements, recipe presentations, sports and health “flyers” and many other unique creations. When creating an infographic, students then have the option to display it in “present mode”, through which it will rotate through each section of the graphic, making it similar to other presentation tools.
3) Visme is also a “drag and drop” tool, which is easy to use for creating infographics, reports, digital resumes and multimedia presentations. It is updated with new features regularly, and when creating, you can search through the various libraries of images, charts, maps and more. For several students, Visme presented the perfect tool to display information which included maps and statistics, making it much easier for the audience to interpret the content.
4) Storybird is an easy to use platform for creating beautiful picture books and poems. Educators can create a “class”, provide students with a join code and then assign a specific project for students, or students can create their own story by selecting from a variety of “themes” full of drawings designed by specific artists. The stories can be shared and the books created can also be printed and purchased in either softcover or hardcover formats. We have several of the student created books on the bookcase in our classroom and it adds so much more to student learning to be able to read the book written by their classmates.
5) Storyboard That a tool which offers many opportunities, not only for education but for anyone looking to share information , tell a story or produce a product in a more visually engaging way. It is a very authentic tool that promotes critical thinking, communication and creativity . It fosters innovation in designing and empower s students in the learning process. Students take control of how they show what they have learned and can now do with the material, in their own personal way.
What are the benefits of providing these options?
Deciding how to best use digital tools can be challenging at times, but a good place to start is to hear directly from the students. Involving the students in the classroom decisions and then asking for reflections on their experience with using each digital to o l helps educators to understand if and how technology is enhancing the learning process.
When considering the ISTE Student standards, I often focus on the “Empowered learner” and “Creative Communicator” standards. These standards emphasize the importance of providing students with opportunities to do more than just use technology but rather to “leverage technology” and to create with technology to gain new perspectives, to communicate, collaborate, and become responsible digital citizens. As Creative Communicators, “Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.” By offering these different tools as options for students, we empower them through choice and help them to develop a voice in learning.
About the Author:
Rachelle Dene Poth has been teaching at Riverview High School in Pennsylvania for the past 21 years. Rachelle currently teaches Spanish and a STEAM course What’s nExT? In Emerging Technology. Rachelle is an attorney and has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology. She was President-Elect of the Teacher Education Network and Communications Chair for the Mobile Learning Network and was selected as one of “20 to watch” by the NSBA and received the PAECT Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2017. At ISTE 2017 San Antonio, Rachelle received the Presidential Silver Award for Volunteer Service to Education. She is a regular blogger for Getting Smart and Kidblog. Find Rachelle regularly on Twitter @Rdene915.