The use of instructional software in the classroom can enrich the material and supplement instruction.
Tutorials, educational games, simulations, databases, applications, and drill/practice programs are available for practically any subject area. Some subjects naturally lend themselves to certain types of software; there are, for example, many more games available for social studies classrooms than for language arts, and math teachers can choose from multitudinous drill programs.
In the language arts classroom, applications and tutorials are the most common useful software offerings. There are a variety of programs available to help students strengthen their skills in language arts – various drill/practice programs that build grammar and vocabulary knowledge, for example. For the purpose of this post, I would like to move past these programs and focus on applications that take student writing outside of the five-paragraph essay and into the expanding “real world.”
Most schools make Microsoft Office programs available to their language arts students, but there are many other applications that can be used to good effect – particularly now that online publication and “new literacy” is becoming an important skill in the secondary English classroom. The frosting on that particular cupcake is that bringing Web 2.0 applications and software into the classroom increases motivation and engagement, hence improving performance.
I have witnessed the powerful, positive effects that the introduction of blogging can have on a classroom. Using a teacher-controllable platform like Edublogs, students have control over their own little piece of the Internet. They go from being a voiceless teenager to a published author with the click of a button. What’s more, their writing is no longer incubated in a vacuum solely for the benefit of their teacher; other students, and even readers outside the school, read and interact with their work. Blogging gives equal class-discussion standing to the shyest and quietest students. It has measureable effects on fluency, creativity, and peer responsiveness – and underlying all this is the enormous benefits it can have on students’ confidence in their own writing.
If you are interested in bringing blogs into your classroom, I recommend starting with free Edublog accounts. If it seems to be right for you, write that grant and get funding for an Edublogs Campus subscription, which will allow you greater control and connectedness at your school. Although I have not used them myself, there are other school-centered blogging platforms such as ClassPress and 21Classes that might be a better fit for your needs. You can also use a regular blogging platform, such as WordPress or Blogger, although they offer less options for monitoring and teacher control. Another option that I have used with fairly good results, although it did end up being much more work than I’d anticipated, is to build a blog platform through a customizable social network like Ning.