Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Tools of the Trade’ Category

Tool of the Trade: Technology as Teacher’s Pet

by Rita Sorrentino

How would you respond to the following poll?imgres.jpg

  • Were you ever considered a teacher’s pet in your K-12 learning years?
  • As a teacher, were you ever criticized for favoring a particular student over others?

Recently, on a late-afternoon ride to center-city Philadelphia via Market-Frankford Line, I overheard two adolescent girls commiserating about their day: a boring class, too much homework, unfair dress codes, and the existence of a teacher’s pet in a certain class. The first three complaints did not surprise me, but I was curious about the latter. With rubrics and standards for assignments, behavior and competencies, I would have thought the term “teacher’s pet” was no longer front and center in a repertoire of these students’ pet peeves.

Undoubtedly, both teachers and students face a plethora of pressures in their daily interactions with curriculum content, expectations, evaluations and communication. For the most part, policies and procedures are in place to support a healthy teaching and learning environment. However, preparation and planning make great demands on teachers’ time. Schoolwork, homework, and extracurricular activities often leave students with little time for relaxation and socialization. Fortunately, in today’s educational landscape, both teachers and students have access to apps and web tools to help make teaching and learning more manageable and meaningful.

Practical Ed Tech

Richard Byrne is one of my favorite go-to persons for all things edtech. In addition to Free Technology for Teachers, he also maintains and  Richard Byrne believes that technology has the power to improve student engagement and achievement. It enables teachers to form powerful, global, professional learning communities. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Introducing Nonfiction Notice and Note Signposts

by Kelly Virgin

9780325050805.jpgIn their Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, Kylene Beers and Bob Probst write: “Fiction invites us into the writer’s imagined world; nonfiction intrudes into ours and purports to tell us something about it.” Now, perhaps more than ever, it is important that we teach our students how to navigate this intrusion and how to challenge the “truths” of nonfiction writing. In this book, Kylene and Bob share a scaffolded approach to teaching students how to do just this. Their strategies can easily be adapted to any grade level from high elementary to secondary.

My 9th through 11th grade students have found great success with the strategies this year. I started by encouraging them to ask themselves the three big questions: What surprised me? What did the author think I already knew? What challenged, changed, or confirmed what I knew? By asking these questions, students started thinking more in depth about the nonfiction articles we read together and our conversations went beyond just comprehension and regurgitation of facts.

Read more

Tools of the Trade: Voice Recorders

by Kelly Virgin

For years, as a part of my regular classroom writing revision routine, I have instructed students to read their writing out loud. They do this with partners; they do this with me; they do this in corners of my classroom with themselves. I have even acquired a few Toobaloos (a semi-circular tube that students can hold up to their head like a telephone), and when my students aren’t fake phoning each other across the classroom, they are mesmerized by how up close the sound of their own voices become.Image.jpg

But this year I have taken it a step further. This year I have my students record themselves reading their writing out loud. This allows them to actually experience their writing as the audience of their writing. The effect has been noticeable. Just today, I had a student who is a regular work dodger, ask to come back during lunch to make some changes to his writing and then to rerecord to see if it “sounds better.” I regularly notice students cringe when they hear a stumble in their writing and then see them return to the piece, without prompting, to revise. On a few occasions, I’ve even noticed students playing excerpts of their writing out loud for each other. With the help of some simple technology, these recorded writings have seamlessly blended into our writing workshop routine. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Adobe Spark

by Rita Sorrentino

Need to spark up a lesson, add passion to a blog post or Image result for adobe sparksimplify digital storytelling for your students?  While there are indeed many tools and apps to accomplish these tasks, Adobe Spark is one that offers an ease-of-use for professional-looking designs.

With today’s students, technology is second nature, and Adobe Spark is a productive tool that even young learners can use to communicate their ideas and arguments. This suite of tools provides educators and their students many opportunities to foster voice and choice in the creation of content.

A Little Background

Adobe Voice, Adobe Slate and Adobe Post were popular digital tools used by educators and students to easily create and share content. However, since they were available for iOS devices only, Android users were left out.  With the premier of the web-based Adobe Spark, the tools are now available to everyone from within their favorite browser. The web version of the software allows users to create, edit and share their pages, videos, and posts anytime, anywhere.

Adobe Spark is also available as three free separate iOS apps on the App Store. They are currently working on Android versions. Adobe Slate is now Spark Page, Adobe Voice is now Spark Video and Adobe Post is now Spark Post. These three tools equip students and teachers with resources to add style to their content and share their visual messages. If you were familiar with Post, Slate and Voice, these new integrated apps will still look and feel familiar.

The best news is that with this makeover, you can use the web-based version, the iOS apps, or a combination of both. It’s free and doesn’t require a subscription, but a login is required since Adobe Spark syncs content between platforms and devices making it convenient to pick up where you left off. Students can log in with an Adobe ID, Social Media account, or Google account (including Google App For Education). The same login may be used on multiple devices and browsers. See Adobe Spark: A Guide for Schools and Educators for student age considerations, system requirements and further details. Read more

Tools of The Trade: Student-Friendly News Sources

by Kelly Virgin

I recently gave my high school students a twenty-five question formative current events quiz with names such as Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Keith Lamont Scott, terms such as Republican, Libertarian, and Pipeline, and places such as Syria, North Carolina, and Brazil. I asked students to match the names, terms, and places with the reasons they were recently featured in the news. On average, students scored a seven out of twenty-five, with some students scoring as low as a one or a two out of twenty-five. This quiz led to self-reflection and an insightful discussion about the importance of knowing what is going on in the world around us.

In their most recent book, Reading Nonfiction: Notice & Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies, Kylene Beers and Robert Probst insist, “Far more important than the ability to capture the teacher’s information and thoughts is the ability to acquire information on ones’ own, to test ideas against one another, and to decide for one’s self what notions have merit and which should be rejected or abandoned” (32). It was clear from my students’ quiz results that they needed more opportunities to practice the acquisition of information on their own. Read more

Tools of the Trade: Making Connections


by Rita Sorrentino


How many of us grew up with the adage, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” or perhaps, as a teacher, have been the recipient of a golden, gala delicious treat? For me, yes and yes.

Recently, I came across an earlier version of the popular apple/doctor relationship: Ait a happle avore gwain to bed, An’ you’ll make the doctor beg his bread.”[i] For some of us, in our brown bag lunch toting days, this healthy snack was a favorite and often made its way onto the teacher’s desk continuing another long lasting tradition of the apple/teacher relationship.  Before the establishment of public education, poor farmers would pay for their children’s teachers from their crops and apples were often abundant. In the ensuing years of low teachers’ wages, the gift of an apple provided good nutrition and economic support.  Conceivably, in today’s many underfunded schools, a bright shiny new Apple product would be a welcomed gift of choice to service the needs of students in an ever-changing world.

With Google, Microsoft and Apple companies offering goods and services to the world of education, teaching and learning are moving to new realms of possibilities. Other digital tools and products extend learning beyond the classroom, connect learning with passion, and provide opportunities for continued professional development.

Read more