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Tech Class

Apps and Allegory

Grade 7 students use iPads to boost knowledge of literature and enthusiasm for public speaking.

By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo

Joey Jackson, Ontario Certified Teacher, sits with a group of students. They are all using tablets.
Joey Jackson, OCT, uses technology in her classroom to help students with reading assignments.

The Challenge: Improve students’ understanding of literary elements and increase confidence in presentation skills.

The Solution: Give students access to tablets and a choice of assignments in which they use the devices to show their work.

Lessons Learned: Many Grade 7 students would rather blend in than stand out, which means they can be reluctant presenters. Not so for a class of Grade 7s at Mitchell District High School near Stratford. Thanks to one English teacher’s willingness to embrace technology, these students are eager to share their work with peers.

Joey Jackson, OCT, guides a class that uses iPads provided by the Avon Maitland District School Board. For their independent reading assignments — in which the students are expected to read books on their own and present their analyses of plot, theme and other literary elements — the students can choose various ways to use software on the tablets to demonstrate their knowledge. They can make movie trailers or re-enact and film scenes for the books they’re reading. They can also record podcasts of discussions among classmates or create travel brochures for a novel’s setting. Or, they can summarize a plot with a comic strip or create online profiles of characters.

“The one they love the most right now is the Minecraft assignment,” she says. Minecraft is a video game in which players place cubes to build 3D settings. “They use the game to recreate scenes and then they present that to the class.”

Observations: From Jackson’s perspective, the students are engaged because the variety of assignments lets them find methods that work with their individual interests, talents and learning styles.

Beyond learning about the elements of literature, they also become adept at presenting in ways that can be inspiring. “It’s a wonderful community we’re creating,” Jackson says. “We’re clapping and cheering and talking about what they could do differently, how to improve their work.”

The preteens also learn to appreciate the range of capabilities others bring to class. Hierarchies shift. Students whose interests tend more toward technology than sports become the leaders who help fellow students with the hardware and software. That’s great for a group normally classified as wallflowers.

The positive results she has seen affirm Jackson’s belief that teachers don’t need to know everything about technology to use it in the classroom. Take the risk, embrace the tech and let the students lead. “The kids know the technology. I know literature and how to analyze it. I wouldn’t be able to teach somebody how to build a world in Minecraft. But I can teach them what they need in that world.”

The College’s professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media ( guides members’ professional judgment in the use of technology.

Helpful Hint: Looking for a creative way to use technology in the classroom? Get advice from your own students. Joey Jackson, OCT, asked her Grade 7s how they would use apps, games and software in their independent reading assignments.

You Can Do It Too!

What You’ll Need:

Steps to take:

  1. Review the list with your class to find activities that interest them.
  2. Encourage students to add to the list.
  3. Have students use the tablets to complete their assignments.
  4. Let students share their creations with classmates.