Reflections of a Teacher-Learner


It’s a curious phenomenon when a teacher becomes a student.

As I embark  on my second semester in the graduate program in EdTech at Texas State University I can’t help but reflect on how it feels to be a student after spending 17 years as a teacher.

For one thing, I know a little about teaching.  It’s hard to separate the teaching and the learning as I’m experiencing it.  I’m examining the craft as I’m consuming the content, and I know when something is good and when it could be better.   It’s kind of automatic, and I can never go back to just being a student.  Does Martin Scorsese just watch a movie?  I doubt it.  The experience is forever changed based on insider knowledge, but instead of being disappointing, it actually makes the experience all the more rich.

I know a little about learning.  I know how to make connections between the new knowledge I’m acquiring and the myriad of experiences that already exist in my own schema.  I know strategies to help me make my own thinking visible and to aid in the assimilation and application of what I’m learning to what I’m doing.  It helps that the degree I’m pursuing is directly applicable to the work I’m doing on a daily basis.  Talk about real world relevance.

What I didn’t know, or didn’t remember, was what it feels like to be in the role of a student…an actual student who is earning points toward a grade toward a degree.  There is a tension that exists between wanting to just absorb and process new knowledge, and wanting to do the assignment/test correctly to make a good grade.  I believe in the value of failure to help the growth process, but, my friends, I do not want to fail.  At least not on paper. (And this overachiever pretty much equates a B with failure.  Perfectionist much?  But that’s a whole different blog post.)

Teacher as student is a curious phenomenon.


Pairing Digital Storytelling with Research

Creating a digital story puts a modern twist on writing that combines multiple student standards into an engaging project with a fun end product.

One way to introduce the power of digital storytelling with younger students is in combination with student research projects.  The digital story could be an engaging alternative to a standard research paper or report that incorporates a host of technology application skills with the writing process.

Consider these steps in an elementary class research project on landforms, climate, culture and the geographic regions of the world:

Students work in groups to research a geographic region; they collect information, images and source documentation about the region.

The teacher creates a starter story (see Prezi example below) to engage students and give them a model to follow for the creation of their own digital story.

Students use the teacher template to create a travel adventure story told from the perspective of a class mascot or pet; information and images from group research are creatively incorporated into details of the story.

Students work collaboratively in groups to record audio and embed images in their digital story.

Students present their stories to the rest of the class and/or an authentic audience from outside their own classroom.

Once the group digital story is completed, students have a good foundation and can apply the elements learned in the process to create independent digital stories.

Digital Story Starter Example

Click HERE if the embedded Prezi below does not load properly.

By assembling research facts into a digital story similar to this one, students are achieving multiple objectives including:

  • locating, evaluating, synthesizing and presenting ideas and information
  • participating in the writing process (drafting, editing, revising)
  • evaluating written composition for coherence and relevance to the topic
  • storyboarding and planning
  • managing and manipulating digital files
  • navigating digital hardware and software
  • evaluating and applying technology tools for meeting creative needs
  • respecting the intellectual property rights of others; abiding by copyright and fair use guidelines

Research with Padlet

When working with young (elementary) students on developing research skills, I’ve found it useful to narrow the process down to three steps:

Read and think

Write what you’ve learned

Show what you know

Going Digital

The proliferation of digital tools in today’s world allows for the integration of technology at every step in this process.  Naturally, students are going to access  web-based resources for the “read and think” stage, and creating a digital product such as a podcast or a video or even a digital poster to “show what you know” is engaging and becoming easier to accomplish.  But what about the “write what you’ve learned” stage?

Padlet for Collaborative Note-Taking

Padlet is a free web 2.0 tool that allows users to post text, links, files, and images on a “wall” that resides on the web.  It is a tool that students could use in the research process to record resources they’ve discovered and their thinking around the information.  Students working in collaborative research groups can share resources and ideas on the same Padlet wall creating a digital, collaborative research “notebook”.

View the Padlet tutorial video below to see what a shared student research “wall” could look like, and to learn how to set up your own collaborative Padlet wall.

Padlet Tutorial Video


A research project in an elementary classroom achieves many different academic objectives such as locating information (digital and print), evaluating text for relevance to the project, reading/thinking critically, summarizing informational passages, differentiating between main ideas and details, writing (note-taking as well as all steps of the writing process), synthesizing information into a new product, and refining communication/collaboration skills.  Students will be covering standards in multiple academic content areas within the context of a research assignment (i.e. Science,  Social Studies, ELAR, Technology Applications, etc.).


A group research assignment that incorporates Padlet as a collaborative notebook could include these steps:

  1. Introduce the topic to be researched.  This could be a topic from your standards or curriculum, or it could be a brainstorm session of student self-selected topics.
  2. Assign student groups, or allow students to choose their own groups based on common interests.
  3. Begin the “read and think” stage.  Have students explore a variety of resources related to their research topic.  This is a great point to involve your campus librarian if possible.
  4. Create Padlet walls (see screencast tutorial above for help) for each student group.  Give students the links to their group wall, and show them how to add posts.  This is the  “write what you learned” stage.
  5. Monitor Padlet wall content to determine if students need guidance or redirection.  Give groups feedback on their progress.
  6. After students have had enough time to research and record, have student groups use the information from their Padlet wall to “show what you know”.  They can create a product of their choice (written report, blog post, podcast, video, book, poster, etc.) to showcase their learning.
  7. You could have a research showcase event where student groups present their products to an audience (parents, another class, administrators, etc.)!

Give Padlet a try.  Your students will love it, and so will you!

Happy learning!