Using the Internet with Students is Nonnegotiable with Common Core

Teachers and leaders who have been waiting for a compelling reason to integrate technology into their instruction need to wait no further: use of technology by students, including the Internet, is explicitly stated in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  While no one is arguing that students need to, for instance, be able to cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources (RL1, RI1), under the Common Core, few school-communities seem to be using the mandate in CCSS to push for technology integration.

Where is technology use in the standards?

The Common Core Learning Standards are not a salad bar, where educators pick and choose what is relevant to their communities; all are necessary; all are required.  And the Standards very clearly state that students need to be using technology purposefully, matching the right tool to the right task.

The short answer is everywhere, both as students receive texts (as readers) and as they produce texts (as writers).  And I’m not just talking about in an English class; to explain, let me cite the literacy standards for history/social studies, and the technical subjects for 6th -12th grade.

Integrate visual information (e.g. in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts. (R7; History and Social Studies)

Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic. (R9; Science and Technical Subjects)

And perhaps the most compelling directives:

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas clearly and efficiently. (W6)

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation. (W8)

Guess which grade band those standards are for.  No, really.  

6th – 8th grade.  Students need to be using the Internet to both read and write in middle school so that they can deepen these skills in high school.  By graduation, W6 grows in complexity to become this directive:

Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.

The charge to employ technology, specifically collaborative technology that connects our students to authentic audiences and resources, is so clear it gets is own standard: W6.  

Teaching Literacy in the 21st Century

In addition to the specific and explicit charge to use technology including the Internet with 6th graders, there is also an excellent case to be made for using technology including the Internet into the methods by which teachers choose to meet many of the other standards.  This is what I mean when I say that the call for students to use technology is everywhere in the standards.

For example, to address R4, (Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies or scientific /technical context) you could do what I did when I started teaching in 2004: read the work, pull out key vocabulary words, make a worksheet, and spend a day in class letting my students look up the words in tattered dictionaries.  But why would you waste all of that time and divorce the desire to learn how words work from the tools that support that kind of learning so seamlessly in the “real world”?

Do you read with a print dictionary within arm’s reach?  I’m the biggest word nerd I know, and I don’t.

Now, I assign reading electronically so that students can touch or click words to look them up.  We use the Online Etymology Dictionary to search for word origins and fall into hypertext rabbit holes of related words.  Using Subtext, I can see how many words students look up on each page, how long they spend on each page, how often they tag the text or respond to another student’s (or my own) prompt.  Try getting that data about how your +/- 100 students are reading a trade paperback.

And to prove that they read and understood what they read (R2)?  Well, when I started teaching I would have created reading guides that looked very much like reading quizzes and I’d bombard students with reading comprehension questions that they could either look up on Google or copy from a friend if if they didn’t understand or didn’t read.  Did I have an accurate measure of my students’ ability to employ the tools of active readers to make meaning out of words on a page?  In retrospect, I doubt it.

I don’t make reading guides anymore.  Instead, last year’s juniors were assigned the creation of a wiki as we read The Great Gatsby.  They wrote logs demonstrating that they had read and understood at the beginning of the week, and had until the end of the week to pursue a topic of interest for a “close reading update” by Friday.  It wasn’t an option to complete the homework online, the homework was online. 

This year’s juniors wrote reader response logs as they read The Kite Runner … which they shared with me on Google Drive: never again will a log get lost or eaten by a dog.  Never again will my car warn me to buckle up my teacher-bag on the passenger seat, loaded with student essays.  More importantly, once students were responding electronically, I was able to embed close reading practice by teaching students how to search their responses for key words or ideas, use Wordle to sort the most frequent words to discover themes, and use hyperlinks to demonstrate synthesis of ideas.  Again, try doing that with pen and paper: you can, but why would you?

In closing, I’d like to encourage my readers to stop thinking about technology integration as an option and to start purposefully embedding opportunities for students to both produce and receive information in the way adults do: digitally.  If you’re preparing students even for the world we currently live in, they will be unprepared for their futures.

And if you meet pushback from your district leadership or tech support, consider this blog a template for pointing out the requirement – not the suggestion – that students use technology more like we adults do.  It’s in the standards because it’s as much a requirement for being successful in college or a career as is understanding what you read and writing clearly.

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