One of our secondary school Ed Tech programs is the Digital Learning Workshop. This January, we were able to host one at Pacific Cascade Middle School where we had the pleasure of visiting Heidi Fielden’s 7th grade English Language Arts classroom to observe how she incorporates Actively Learn as both a collaborative classroom discussion as well as an individual student platform for reading and question/answer.
In this particular lesson, students were reading a memoir and looking at the use of figurative language. Ms. Fielden had the class work through the first half together with class read aloud, individual answer, and then group sharing and discussion. A student or Ms. Fielden would read a chunk of text, and then students had the opportunity to answer a question. One required students to rewrite a highlighted sentence using figurative language referring to their notes. Ms. Fielden could check their progress with her teacher-view to see who had completed the question, who might need support, and who was working ahead. Though students were reading on the computer, they were still talking and sharing answers in collaborative groups while determining what type of figurative language their tablemates had used. She then let them work at their own pace and complete the memoir text and questions, monitoring students’ progress and checking in with students that needed more support.
To learn more about how Ms. Fielden uses Actively Learn in the classroom, I was able to ask her some questions and get her ideas on how to implement its use in other contents. Ms. Fielden uses Actively Learn in a variety of ways in both Language Arts and Social Studies, sharing, “I had students watch a TedTalk in social studies and I added the transcript so that students could read along and answer questions. I will use it as preparation for Socratic seminars and for reading current events and NewsELA articles.”
Actively Learn has a variety of content available for several subject areas, but Ms. Fielden did note that the content you might want is not always available, so she recommends connecting it to Google Docs so that when texts are uploaded they can still be chunked for questions as opposed to uploading a PDF, which functions as a single image. She also suggested starting with a practice assignment first. She shared, “I gave my students a practice text (a fairytale) to get them familiar with the tool. I asked them to practice all of the skills that I thought I might use this year (annotation, defining words, answering short answer questions, answering multiple choice questions, looking at peers’ responses, etc.).” By having them practice the skills first, they are better prepared for when the assignment counts in class.
The integration of Actively Learn might seem daunting to a teacher who does not have 1-to-1 in their classroom, so Ms. Fielden offers suggestions for effective ways of incorporating Actively Learn to support student collaboration and even supporting emerging readers. She states, “It is a great tool for students to use at home. Teachers can assign readings with questions for homework and then use the responses to have discussions in class. It also has a collaboration feature for students to use when working on group projects, so they can have discussions and annotate articles together. If you don’t have enough computers for all students, it could be very helpful to allow ELL students to use a computer and read on Actively Learn because they can use the translation feature built into the program.”
Ms. Fielden has explored many of the features that Actively Learn has to offer and has even used the “extra help” feature, which can be applied to specific students who need that little bit extra. Specifically, Ms. Fielden suggests Actively Learn as a tool for ELL students as it can provide the extra help tips and prompts as well as a translation option. Some of her other favorite features of Actively Learn include the ability to connect questions to standards, tracking individual progress based on standards, and providing immediate feedback via a score or comment or both.
Watching Ms. Fielden use Actively Learn in this blended way showed how students could engage with technology, yet still engage with one another and the class. It was a showcase of how it is another effective tool to use engage students in reading, higher-level thinking, and discussion. For a quick reference of what Actively Learn is and the benefits of using it, Actively Learn Reference Sheet.