Going Digital with AVID

By David Fiore 

October 1, 2018

With the influx of technology entering the classrooms these days, and the adoption of AVID throughout Stockton Unified School District (SUSD),  it only makes sense for teachers to start using more digital tools when implementing good teaching practices.

The outlook of SUSD seems to be geared towards 21st-century learning and modernizing the way of instruction.  Getting away from a teacher-centered philosophy and transitioning more towards blended learning, seems to be the goal.

Our district is already off to a good start.  From digitizing The Units of Study, and advocating for more Chromebooks in the classroom, teachers are becoming more familiar with tech in general.

In addition to tech integration, AVID is a major component that is being utilized more than ever.  Odds are, if you teach in SUSD, you are either AVID trained or you will be soon enough. Either way, this blog is to help shed some light on a few of the digital tools that I use in my own classroom, and how beneficial they can be with the combination of AVID strategies.  

AVID & Technology

In my world, technology and AVID go together like peanut butter and jelly.  The beginning of the school year with my 7th and 8th graders includes digital citizenship and AVID boot camp.  Students learn how to use technology appropriately and find out that AVID is much more than a 4-lettered acronym.  

Marking or Annotating the Text

Image of marked up text

This is a screen shot showing how students are ably to digitally mark up text.

We immediately begin with a lesson on Marking the Text.  Typically, students would receive a hard copy of an article and I would ask them to complete three steps:

  1. Number the paragraphs
  2. Circle key terms/information
  3. Underline the author’s claim(s)

The first time students attempt to mark the paragraphs, I would recommend that students use a pencil and paper. Once they understand how the process works you can then have them attempt the strategy online. In a perfect world, my preference is to use Google Docs.  There is an icon for underlining, which I have found very student-friendly.  Although circling isn’t something that can be performed easily in Docs, highlighting is.  In fact, I find that highlighting text has more benefits as you can use multiple colors while reading.  However, true AVID proponents would refer to this not as “Marking the Text” but rather annotating the text.  If you’re a stickler for staying within the confines, one way around this is to copy text from a document and paste it onto a Google Drawing.  Circling at this point can be done with ease.  

Working with PDFs

Portable Document Format files, or PDFs are very common.  One of the major issues used to be that they were not editable.  They were good to view and even print out, but what if you want to avoid the copy machine and have your students manipulate the document online.  Can it be done? Absolutely!

Image of writing in the text

This screen shot shows how students can use the Kami app to write in the margins of digital text.

There are several current applications out that allow users to annotate PDFs.  Most are free versions with the option to upgrade to a paid version, which usually allows for more tools to be accessed.  My favorite program to use with my students is Kami.  Adding a document is as easy as drag and drop and offers a set of basic tools to edit documents.  The best part is that it syncs with your Google Drive, and files can be uploaded and downloaded directly.  One students get the hang of things, marking and annotating the text will become second nature.

Writing in the Margins

Actively engaging with the text is a must.  In a nutshell, Writing in the Margins allows for deeper understanding and helps students to make more meaningful connections with what they are reading.  

My preferred method again would be to use Google Docs, as there is a comment thread that can be used for making notes off to the side, or in this case…the margins.  

Untitled drawing

After highlighting a particular part of the text, opening the comments thread will then align the comment to that area.  Students can ask a question, paraphrase a description, summarize and more.

Cornell Notes     

This strategy may receive some heat.  To be honest, I wouldn’t advise teachers to use this strategy with students who have trouble typing.  There is an option for “voice typing” in the tools section but try having 30 + students talking to their laptops the next time you’re lecturing.  

The Cornell Note Template that I use allows for students to mimic the same note taking process that can be done using a pen and paper but only more efficiently.  As I’ve always told my students, the day that you can write faster than I type, I will retire. They soon buy into the importance of being able to type, but also much more.  Google Docs allows for students to annotate and interact with their notes with the following:

  • Bolding
  • Italicizing
  • Using bulleted/numbered lists
  • Adding Tables
  • Underlining
  • Changing font style/size/color
  • Adding clip art

 Digital_CNotesThe Focused Note Taking Process can be really fun for students when completed digitally.  The common clip art that is available at the bottom of the page allows for students to make easy connections and help them recall and connect key details.  Not to mention that I have plenty of students who scour the internet searching for relevant images to help improve their notes.

AVID reinforces good teaching practices and technology is the way of the future. Combining the two should help keep students stay engaged and enhance their own way of learning.    

The Importance of Typing Skills

20161031_123530I cannot stress the importance of typing enough.  As our district continues to move closer towards a digital classroom philosophy, teachers are also discovering the benefits that come with creating digital assignments for their students.  From word documents to online presentations, there are a number of valuable tools that teachers use to assess student learning.  One concern is that some teachers are not taking their student’s typing skills into consideration.  In my experience, those students who possess basic or fairly-advanced typing skills have a better advantage when it comes to not only finishing assignments, but completing their work accurately.  Typing.com is  great website I use, where students can log in and track their progress.  It is loaded with lessons, as well as games.  What I really like about this website is that it shows proper finger placement for each letter when struck, and even gets progressively more difficult as users progress through each lesson.  Here are 3 reasons why teachers should actively encourage their students to practice typing in the classroom:

  • Saves your students time

If any of your students doubt this is true, consider the average person can type around 40 words per minute (wpm) in comparison to someone who writes 10-15 wpm.  A simple classroom demonstration would also set their curiosities at ease.  Explaining to your students that you can cut the grunt work in half…or more, will usually be met with raised eyebrows and gasps around the room.  Once students are fully aware of this fact, the buy-in will be plentiful.  Students truly value their time, and if they can work independently in a more efficient manner, they will be able to accomplish much more than they originally could.     

  • Saves you time

I cannot count how many times I have had students interject during lecture, and request that I slow down my Prezi or Slideshare as they hand write their notes.  I became so tired of having my students slow down my instruction, that I now have my students take the majority of their notes online.  Google Docs has become a life-saver, and more importantly a time-saver.  My lessons run much more smoothly, and students spend less time copying notes, and more time discussing the given content collaboratively.       

  • College and Career Ready

Let’s face it, typing is not only preferred, it’s a necessity in the workforce.  Employers aren’t just looking for technical skills from their potential employees, it’s pretty much expected.  Good luck trying to turn in an application that is completely handwritten these days.  Students can also expect this to be the case when they move onto higher education.  Typing 5 paragraph essays is one thing in the 8th grade, wait until they have to type a 5 page essay in high school…or a 25 page term paper in college.  Communicating to your students how invaluable typing skills are is as important as telling them to get a good night’s rest before an exam…or, that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.    

David Fiore

January 3rd, 2018

EdTech Cadre

Taft Elementary