George Lucas Educational Foundation
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When teaching with digital natives in a digital world, one question facing many educators revolves around integrating technology to help facilitate learning: How do you work technology into the pedagogy, instead of just using something cool? That task can be especially daunting in language arts literacy classrooms where reading and writing skill development is the crux of daily lessons. However, as 1:1 technology initiatives roll out, integrating technology into the classroom is our reality.

With hundreds of sites, apps, Chrome extensions, and platforms available, choosing the right ones can seem overwhelming. As an eighth-grade language arts teacher, I've experienced this myself. Following are four tools that can help provide immediate formative assessment data as well as top-of-the-rotation feedback to help students develop personal learning goals.

If, like my school, you're in a "Chromebook District," these suggested tools will work well because all integrate perfectly when you sign in with your Google ID, limiting the need for multiple passwords. This saves a lot of student confusion, too.

1. Online Annotations via Scrible

Annotating texts is an evidence-based literacy strategy to help students understand and navigate complex texts, and a large part of my district's schoolwide literacy initiative. Annotating digitally as part of our 1:1 Chromebook program was something that I wanted to incorporate, and Scrible has proved to be a valuable tool for my students.

Registering is quick and free, whether via Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, or your own email account. Upon registration, users should select an educator account, which allows them to create libraries where they save the annotation for future reference. The one drawback is that Scrible doesn't yet support .PDF files. Among the highlights and benefits:

  • Students can work collaboratively on the same file.
  • Students and teachers can share annotations with each other.
  • Teachers can use annotations as formative assessment and comment back to students, allowing for immediate feedback.
  • Users can share annotations online via Facebook or Twitter.
  • With the sharing option, teachers can share any in-class modeling with students who were absent.
  • Annotating digitally allows for greater student choice as students find their own online texts.
  • There is a Google Chrome extension that you can add to your toolbar.

2. Video Annotations via VideoAnt

Digital literacy and using video as "texts" can create a myriad of issues for students who don't take effective notes. Developed by the University of Minnesota, VideoAnt allows users to annotate videos and save them to their own virtual "ant farm." The benefits:

  • Users can timestamp important parts of a video, allowing for easy access later.
  • Users can type notes with the timestamp, creating a quasi two-column note-taking tool.
  • Users can share video annotations with others.

3. Feedback via Kaizena Shortcut

Formerly known as Kaizena mini, Kaizena Shortcut is a Google extension that allows teachers to provide actionable, detailed feedback in a streamlined fashion. Typing out feedback in Google Docs comments boxes can get cumbersome. Even limiting feedback to three or four items takes time. Also, what happens when you need to address grammar errors? With Kaizena, teachers and students can:

  • Provide feedback in the form of typed comments.
  • Record comments verbally so that students can hear their teacher's voice on playback.
  • Insert links to grammar lessons.

The last bullet point is clutch for teachers who tire of providing feedback about the same grammar errors over and over. For example, many of my students commit that cardinal sin known as the comma splice. In Kaizena, I created a lesson on comma splices in which I typed a detailed explanation of what they are and how to correct them, as well as a link to a YouTube video about them. This lets teachers provide effective feedback that appeals to students with diverse learning styles. The drawback is that you have to manually create the lessons for each topic. But once you have them, the work is done, allowing you to differentiate grammar lessons based on individual students' errors.

4. Formative Assessments via EDPuzzle

Teachers of language arts and all content areas try to differentiate learning to reach a diverse group of learners by using video clips. But how do you know if students are really focusing and engaging in active learning during videos? EDPuzzle helps collect formative data that can drive instruction.

Users simply register for an account and then create classes. Each class gets its own code that students use for joining. Teachers can search and upload videos from YouTube, TED-Ed, Vimeo, KhanAcademy, and other sites. Then you create a lesson by embedding questions in the video that provides immediate formative data and allows you to check for understanding. Questions can be multiple-choice or open-ended.

I've used this when differentiating lessons, and it has worked flawlessly. For example, when working with theme, I broke the lesson into three levels. The first was for a basic understanding of the definition of theme. The second was for analyzing text to explain theme. The third focused on the crafts that writers use to create a theme. Students came in and completed an entrance slip via Socrative. I then used the data to determine where they were in the process of learning about theme, and assigned them appropriate videos in EDPuzzle.

As students completed the videos, I was able to check for understanding based on the data from their completed questions before moving them to the next level. I could also provide real-time feedback to the questions, explaining concepts further if needed.

While there are hundreds of technology tools out there to help language arts teachers, these four have helped me enhance my use of formative data and feedback to further student achievement in a diverse and differentiated classroom.

What technology tools work well in your language arts class?

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Tahir Bey's picture
Tahir Bey
Consultant at

This is a very informative and inspiring article. I particularly agree when you said that "integrating technology into the classroom is our reality." As educators, we have to embrace technology in our teaching methods and way of life.

Lisa Mulligan's picture

Hi there, this article was super helpful. I clicked on your link to Edpuzzle, and I created a quick video with quiz. I am involved in some online tech for teacher classes this summer and would like to share a couple of sites for exploration. These are ones that I will use in the classroom regularly. Thanks for your tech support!

Ella Garcia's picture
Ella Garcia
Writer, editor, tutor

Hi, Frank

These are great and useful tech tools, thank you for sharing!

I haven't used Kaizena Shortcut yet, but I will check it immediately!
Additionally to your list, I would recommend ReadWriteThink, which offers nice free materials for quality practices in reading and language arts, Unplag, in my opinion, it's the best plagiarism checker, and PicLits, where you can picture your words and amplify your imagination. Check them out, if you haven't already.

Thanks again!

lao85522's picture

This article was very helpful! I am currently in a Classroom Technology class through the Master's Program at Bethel University in St. Paul and reading your article and the comments was very beneficial to my learning. I hope to integrate some of these tools and concepts into my classroom someday.

joannamoneyhon's picture

I logged on to Twitter because of the class I am taking Tech 512 becoming a connected educator. This is my first day connecting; I have no idea of what I am doing. Nevertheless, I am enjoying myself learning how to teach how to connect with my students. I teach students that have been put out of school for their behavior of sickness. I realize now after reading about the tool you have integrated into your classroom. I realize I can intergrade those tool into my lesson even though I am teaching my student at the library. Thank you for sharing.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Welcome joannamoneyhon! Let us know if we can help you as you work through your course.

joannamoneyhon's picture

I will let you know. I may need you for the presentation. Right now I have to help my husband, he takes home dialyses. Thanks.

Cagri Kanver's picture
Cagri Kanver
Interested in Education Information

Technology improves literacy only insofar as it improves a learner's ability to identify, analyze, evaluate and create media.

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