Tools for secondary education majors

Tools for Secondary Education majors to consider

Because I teach General Secondary Methods in my college, I am always searching for tech tools (and the appropriate pedagogical frameworks to guide the incorporation of those tools) to teach to the mixture of preservice high school teachers in my class. With my background in Language Arts education, I am particularly interested in tools to engage, enhance and extend students in this area. Tools that work for Language Arts will apply across various subject areas, fortunately, so what I can present to my class will likely be useful to most of them.

Tools that address classroom learning overall include Socratic, Socrative and Quizlet. For Language Arts specifically, I know one English teacher in the Lincoln Public Schools that relies on NoRedInk (NRI) for her vocabulary and grammar usage training. Because I already know Quizlet, I will focus on Socratic and Socrative. Since I do not know NRI at all, I will include that tool in this collection of three tech options for secondary education majors to consider.

First, Socratic is a free tool that uses artificial intelligence and info from educational sites like Khan Academy and Crash course to offer explanations for homework problems, including videos and step-by-step instructions. It offers support material for subjects across the curriculum. Students can be taught to reach out to this resource before they reach out to teachers or even peers. In this way, students learn to take control of and responsibility for their learning.

Video games and digital literacy

Steinkuehler, C. (2015).  Video games and digital literacies.  Journal of Adolescent & Adult

Literacy, 54(1) (September 2010), 61-63.

Steinkuehler (2015) described a novel approach to studying the effect of video games on students and concluded that video games are “important literary practices” (63), much to the disagreement of parents and teachers who see video games as distasteful distractions.  Period.  Quite by accident, during her afterschool lab time created to study boys and gaming and the disconnect from school, Steinkuehler met “Julio.” Through that acquaintance, she learned that when a boy is allowed “to choose what to read, he [may] read four grades above his diagnosed reading level, not three grades below,” as was happening to Julio in his English class.  His English teacher decided he was troubling for her and sent him for testing in special education.  Steinkuehler concluded that the English classroom had become a female domain and that students were being forced to love only what the teacher loved —  a demand that Julio and others like him were not going to meet.

Even though the article offered no compromise with parents, teachers and especially English teachers, the point was well made that boys, in particular, may do well in school only when they have choice in their content.  Technology that could be used to engage boys and hopefully open the way to academic development should be encouraged.  Studies that highlighted just such a practice would be supportive of the stance taken in this article.

As an English teacher, I stand guilty as charged (by Steinkuehler, anyway).  I have given very few choices to students as to what they would prefer to read, considering that an option for their spare time.  The classroom curriculum was outlined for me and I complied.  I did not include video games or other more creative technology to engage disinterested boys, for example.  Looking back, I wish I had.  There were more unengaged boys in my classes than otherwise.  I knew they weren’t reading, and their grades reflected their choices.  The opportunity to reach them is lost now, but I can encourage my teacher candidates to be more open to how technology (namely video games, for the sake of this discussion) could enhance their future classroom curricula.

Week 4 — Digital Technologies and Pedagogies


Weis, T. M., Benmayor, R., O’Leary, C., & Eynon, B. (2002). Digital Technologis and

Pedagogies. Social Justice, 29(4), 153-167. Retrieved January 28, 2018, from


Digital Technologies and Pedagogies

Weis et al, (2002) explain their use of technology to create assignments for their students associated with the grant-funded Visible Knowledge Project (VKP) headquartered in Georgetown University (see hhtp:// Each teacher utilizes digital publishing formats for finished products. Weis and Benmayor’s courses encouraged minority students to tell their stories, after significant primary research. O’Leary taught a capstone course in digital histories that began with a research phase, moved to a lengthy essay-writing phase and then concluded with a digital publication that is stored for students, professors and historians to access on the Web. Eynon’s undergraduate course at LaGuardia Community College, a fully international institution, requires students to study their culture and prepare oral histories and ePortfolios of their findings. It is evident from the research happening with the VKP that “new digital media are empowering students to become researchers, storytellers, historians, oral historians, and cultural theorists in their own right” (p. 153). The VKP seeks to “bridge the digital divide, and to make visible the stories that have been invisible for too long” (p. 166).

This design-based research by Weis et al was in the second year at the writing of the article. Several researchers shared how they had already modified their approach as they gathered information from the first research effort. All authors focused on multicultural themes and used technology to give a new voice and new perspective to the students and to the readers (and watchers) of their final projects. At the time of the writing, ePortfolios were a new concept as technology was developing to make such endeavors possible. The authors, if writing today, would have very different things to say regarding the newest tech available and how they might incorporate it in their assignments.

As a practitioner in Language Arts, I was thoroughly interested in the project-based and inquiry learning discussed in the research projects. I would like to see the research widened to include topics that go beyond just multicultural or historical themes. I am also interested in what questions could be asked and what research projects could be developed given the array of technology availability now. Language Arts classrooms and curricula should only improve with time. I’d like to help with that momentum.

Software for Constructivist Language Arts Classrooms

Wren, P. (Spring 2003). Semantic Networking in Constructivist Classrooms: Aligning Software Acquisition with Epistemological Assumptions. The Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 68(3), 15-30.

Wren (2003) supports the use of Inspiration 6.0, used for concept mapping, as software that effectively facilitates the constructivist approach in the language arts classroom. Though the article mentioned several minor limitations with the software, overall the philosophical basis for using the software is sound. The software facilitates everything from instructivist-style assignments to project-based learning in many disciplines, while encouraging higher order thought for visual and tactile learners. Teachers have options for designing assignments while students have freedom to explore the concept mapping templates available or design their own as they develop cognitively through the process of connecting and organizing content.

While clearly supporting this particular software for the purposes above, Wren began by listing many comparable programs that are likely as valid for constructivist language arts classrooms. She concludes with the proposal that all of them need more research to support case study claims that students actually benefit from using such software in this approach. She refutes the minor criticism that linear learners could be inhibited and that the templates are somewhat limited. A more significant issue is that there is no way to observe errors in content connection until the project is finished. Wren suggests that teachers assess the drafts and have students revise–something the program allows.

The list of software options, and especially the deeper discussion of Inspiration 6.0, are valuable because as a trained teacher of English, I am always seeking valuable new software to incorporate. The fact that it is sound philosophically lends itself to encouraging me to place trust in the software. As I train Language Arts Education majors in my newest position, I am able to share with them this valuable resource (and others that are more current). I am also able to continue to contemplate and perhaps study the issues suggested in Wren’s conclusion.

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