What I'm Thinking

Technology Integration: It Should be Messy

Last week I flagged down a parent as she and her son were leaving the parking lot at the end of the school day. “What did your son think about the learning management system? Has it helped you as a parent be more involved in his school experiences?” We talked about how her son likes the system, but there were problems with the log in process. It wasn’t said, but I also suspect that more scaffolding from staff involved might be helpful. This is a new tool (Epiphany Learning) that guides students to document and facilitate self-directed projects. It’s a step in the right direction from your typical LMSs toward more personalized learning. We tried it on a small scale, only a couple of kids.

I am getting a sense from school leaders and educational articles online that the more fluid and streamlined the process is for integrating technology in schools, the better the outcomes. The most recent entry I’ve read on this topic comes from an article in the District Administration magazine. The writer, a digital integration specialist, talks about how smoothly handing out the 750 Chromebooks went to ensure all students had 1:1 access to technology in their classrooms. They cite evidence from the classroom to support the success of this initiative:

The level of engagement and collaboration for students—in and out of the school environment—has increased significantly. In the first month after device distribution, utilization of our learning management system to distribute and collect electronic assignments—as well as to facilitate classroom discussion and collaboration—increased more than 65 percent.

I’m all for a smooth rollout of technology in education. The last thing I would want to do is frustrate teachers and students when introducing something new. Yet…are these outcomes the results we would want? For example, how the LMS is being used (I suspect Google Classroom) seems more about paper chasing and facilitating conversations that could just as easily happen in the classroom, face-to-face. I don’t want to assume, but this seems like technology integration lite, in which a digital veneer has been laid over traditional instructional practices and then calling it 21st-century learning. In addition, my suspicions peak whenever I hear about a one-device-only rollout. If Chromebooks are the tool of choice, will that make every learning challenge conform to Google’s platform?

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I believe technology integration should be a bit messy. True change in education is a hard process, digital or otherwise. This is primarily because we are asking adults to change their habits for the better as much as our students. Examining beliefs about teaching and learning, creating a vision for what’s worth learning in schools today, and exploring different technologies to make that vision a reality should be occurring before going digital at a schoolwide or districtwide level. It’s an arduous process, something I have personally gone through and documented in my first book on digital portfolios. In my experience, it’s a 3-5 year process. Mistakes and hiccups are a prerequisite for success.

As we think about next year, I hope we consider a value-added approach to technology integration in our classrooms. A primary question might be: How can digital tools help us realize our school’s mission and vision on behalf of our students? Parents, students, staff, and the community should be involved in the planning. One way to measure the effects is by developing indicators of success. I list several guiding questions as indicators in my last book, 5 Myths About Classroom Technology (ASCD Arias, 2015, pg. 48-49):

Figure 2. Technology Benefits: Necessary or Nice?

  • Are learners an active part of instruction through modeling and guided use of technology?
  • Does the technology accommodate and differentiate for all learners’ needs?
  • Can the technology help facilitate reflection and deepen student understanding?
  • Are students and the classroom part of an authentic learning community?
  • Can learners create content and develop new ways to present information?
  • Does the technology bring in an audience for learning, both near and far?
  • Are students provided both voice and choice with technology, thereby increasing ownership and engagement?
  • Are there opportunities for students to engage in peer feedback and collaborative work?

Technology integration is not about ensuring the sailing is smooth; it should be about successful navigations of uncharted waters in the name of improving student learning.


If you are in the southwestern or western part of Wisconsin this summer, I am facilitating technology workshops through CESA 3 and CESA 4. Check out my Workshops and Events page for more information. I may also be available this summer and in the future for personalized learning experiences for teacher teams and schools. There is a contact form on the page previously linked.

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Join me at the @ASCD Annual Convention in Anaheim this Sunday! #digiportfolios #EMPOWER17

In a couple of days, I will be flying out to Anaheim, California for my first visit to the Golden State. Purpose: I am facilitating a session on digital student portfolios on Sunday, 3/26 at 3 P.M. Click here for location details.

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This session will be an opportunity to share new resources and ideas from my upcoming ASCD book (August) on authentic assessment and technology. The confirmed title is Digital Student Portfolios in the Classroom: Celebrating and Assessing Student Learning.

If California is a bit of trek, consider attending one of my upcoming summer workshops in the Midwest (click here for schedule). I may also be available to facilitate one- and/or two-day workshops in your neck of the woods; reach out for more information.

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Exploring Classroom Innovations at the AWSA/WASDA Summit for Data-Informed Leadership in Green Bay

Data is a four letter word, literally and sometimes metaphorically in education. Educators need data to drive instruction and making informed decisions about student learning. When students have information about their own learning progress, they know themselves better as learners. Yet when data does not serve an important purpose, it can also monopolize our time that is better spent teaching and learning.

I was grateful for the opportunity to speak about the challenges and promises of this topic at the Wisconsin Summit for Data-Informed Leadership this week in Green Bay. This event, co-facilitate by WASDA and AWSA, gave administrators and teachers the opportunity to develop a better understanding of data in the context of schools today.

Beyond the Gold Star: Strategies for Nurturing Self-Directed Learners

This first session guided participants to explore innovative classroom approaches that gave students more autonomy in their learning. Data in this context wasn’t necessarily a number or letter; video, audio, and images can also serve to inform teaching and learning.

Educators tried to create a story using an unknown digital tool with little direction. This activity gave participants, especially school leaders, an opportunity to experience the anxiety that teachers and students might feel working with technology. Some of our tensions are healthy, as we sometimes don’t challenge ourselves enough.

Attendees were directed to a simple Google Site with several pages devoted to innovative approaches for classroom instruction: http://bit.ly/classroominnovations. Right now it is pretty bare bones; I hope to add more ideas and resources to it as time goes by.

Digital Student Portfolios in Action

This session was much more technology-focused, around one approach to facilitating qualitative assessment. Our goal was to “rethink our plates” instead of trying to add one more thing to our busy days.

Participants had a lot of time to explore different digital portfolio tools, as well as new ways for students to represent their learning. This group already had a strong understanding that data was not limited to quantitative information. They offered smart questions and creative ideas for making their classrooms more student-centered.

Having studied and experimented with digital portfolios for students for almost five years, it was probably the most comfortable I have felt presenting on informational technology. It was a good way to prepare for my presentation on the same topic at the ASCD Convention in Anaheim on March 26.


I will be facilitating a number of workshops this summer on these two topics at CESA 3 and CESA 4. If interested in learning more about classroom innovations that work, as well as having time to effectively integrate technology into the curriculum. please reach out!

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How might making lead to literacy? A #WSRA17 presentation

Today I facilitated a 1.5-hour session on makerspaces at the Wisconsin State Reading Association convention. The focus was on trying to answer the driving question:

How might making lead to literacy?

This was a true wondering. Although I had some suggestions and ideas, it was on the educators that attended to determine this. They are the kid and literacy experts.

Below are some pictures from the experience. Click here to access the agenda and click here to view the slides. As you can see, we had a lot of fun exploring the possibilities.

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Interested in learning more? I am hosting a one-day workshop at CESA 3 on July 18. The focus will be on how to use technology to increase student independence as learners.

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Student Goal Setting in the Classroom

Below is my response for Larry Ferlazzo’s Classroom Q & A for Education Week. You can view all of the responses by clicking here. Enjoy!

Used smartly and with intent, goal setting can be a game changer in engaging our students in their own learning process. Writing down goals makes them concrete. Sharing goals with peers, teachers, and family members puts more accountability on oneself. Including others in setting the goals provides a support system to help achieve them. Others become invested in their success. When students finally do achieve what they set out to accomplish, everyone celebrates.

So how can we use goal setting with our students? I believe the first step in this process is asking students what they are interested in as well as their needs. In one 2nd grade classroom, one teacher I know (my wife) asked her students questions regarding their interests and needs. One student, who in previous years had significant behavior issues, said he wanted to “build more because I like to tinker”. This information translated into co-developed goals between teacher and student around creativity and the importance of choice in learning. Over the course of the school year, both his behavior and academics improved dramatically. Both the process (choice) and the product (building things) were a part of this example of student-involved goal setting.

Including students in the goal setting process also benefits from making the learning process and eventual outcomes visible. By visible, this means documenting student learning as it is happening and sharing their work for a wide audience. Digital portfolios are an effective way for facilitating this approach. Going back to the previous example, my wife used FreshGrade to capture images and video of her students building during Genius Hour. Families could observe the idea generation, collaboration, prototyping, and collaboration that led to an exciting product as it was happening. By making visible a student’s pathway toward goal achievement, it takes the mystery out of the learning process and celebrates their work.

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What I'm Feeling

10 Questions for the New Year

These questions were offered as part of owning and using the Day One journaling app (which is awesome, by the way). I decided to post my responses on my site. I encourage you to post your own responses to these questions on your website or blog. Have an enjoyable holiday season! -Matt

1. What was your favorite single day/single event of the year?
The day I resigned my position as an administrator in my former district. The reasons are complex and matter little. For the first time in a while, I felt empowered regarding my future. I don’t think I would have taken the risks of looking for a new position if I had not made this first step of letting go.

2. What was the best thing you built/created?
The white paper The Secrets of Self-Directed Learning. It became a free eBook for FreshGrade (www.freshgrade.com). This work allowed me to pour much of what I know and believe about classroom instruction into a longer form of writing. I hope teachers find it useful in their practice.

3. What was the most impactful decision you made for you and your family’s future?
Bringing my family to Mineral Point, WI has certainly been impactful. This is a very tight knit community. They have welcomed us with open arms. Everyone’s support during our transition was critical to this move.

4. What was your best financial achievement?
I don’t know if this is a financial achievement…in taking the position of elementary principal in Mineral Point, I was able to negotiate a certain amount of flex time for writing and everything else that comes with it. It is a benefit that should help me find better balance between my role as a principal and as a writer.

5. Did you achieve any lifelong goals?
This fall I took a course titled Technology and School Leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This was an great educational experience. It might also be my first step toward pursuing a PhD in education. The work involved is formidable, from what I am told. I haven’t decided on anything yet.

6. What was the hardest lesson you learned over the past year?
That regardless of how qualified one might feel about a position, people hire based on who they feel would be a best fit for their organization. I had interviews for curriculum positions prior to taking a position at Mineral Point. These rejections have been blessings in disguise, as we are very happy here.

7. Did you develop any new hobbies or passions? Are there any new hobbies or passions you want to develop in the New Year?
My wife bought a new acoustic guitar for me for Christmas. I used to play and even take lessons until my teacher left. With all of the online resources available now, I am looking forward to learning how to play again.

8. What was the most humbling experience of the past year?
That would have to be how well we have built trust in our new school. This is a staff that has had six principals in the past ten years. To make a significant amount of progress in such a short amount of time is humbling. The support from individuals from my prior school community have been just as supportive. I am very fortunate.

9. What is the one thing you are most grateful for from this past year?
That I no longer have two mortgages? That one is too easy… I think I most grateful for my family. We have gone through a significant change. Their health and well-being has been something I have tried to not take for granted.

10. What are your personal goals for the coming year? Family goals? Religious goals? Health goals? Financial or career goals?
Personally, I want to continue to make gains in balancing work and home life. There really is no clean separation between the two, especially with my writing. Yet it is worth pursuing.

Family, religion, health…these all seem to run together for me. One thing that has helped is developing a comprehensive calendar. It includes all of my events and commitments. I feel more efficient at school, which allows me to be more present for family, spiritual and physical well-being.

Career-wise, I am closing in on submitting my first draft of a new manuscript for an ASCD resource. It is a follow up to my previous book on digital student portfolios, this time centered on teacher practice. I’ve also had the opportunity to design and eventually teach online graduate courses for prospective administrators through the University of Wisconsin-Superior. They say you don’t truly understand something until you teach it.

These opportunities have given me perspective on how I should best use my time, energy and expertise. This has meant saying “no” more often than usual. And in saying no to what is not a priority, I should be better able to say “yes” to what is.

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Free #edchat Resource: The Secrets of Self-Directed Learning

Today is the release of The Secrets of Self-Directed Learning: Strategies for nurturing and stimulating independent learners. What started as a whitepaper for FreshGrade is now an eBook. Click here to download this resource today.

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In The Secrets of Self-Directed Learning, I make the case that we need to start releasing more responsibility of the learning to the student. The challenge is: How do we do this? The false promises of praise and administering measures of compliance in the name of accountability have made this task that much harder. To help, I offer four clear steps that any teacher can use to better develop self-determining learners:

  1. Cultivating the Conditions for Success
  2. Clarity Above All
  3. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback
  4. Real Work for an Authentic Audience

I’ll be honest: there are no secrets described in this resource. Most of the suggestions shared here are based on sound research, as well as practice from my own experiences as a public educator. I know how busy teachers can be. Let this eBook be a practical guide for fostering true independence in the classroom.

To read my eBook immediately on your mobile device, click here. Registration is free.