To Use Technology or Not to Use Technology: It’s Not Even a Question

Computer Hard Drive Half-Full

Today I will be reflecting on Wendy Donawa’s and Leah C. Fowler’s “The YA Reader in the Digital Age” from their book Reading Canada. This chapter focuses on using technology in ELA classrooms. Donawa and Fowler (2013) state that “technology ought to be a seamless, integral part of what [teachers use] in the classrooms, especially in literature classes. Students and teachers want and need a connected classroom” (p. 188). This quote fits perfectly with my reason for becoming a teacher: my purpose is to help students realize their potential, uncover their unknown and known interests, and gain the confidence needed to share their knowledge and perspectives with others (both face-to-face and online). In my opinion, the purpose of learning is connection; we learn to share, we share to learn. Technology is a tool that teachers can and should utilize to get students engaged with collaborative learning. Furthermore, the use of technology improves “students’ interest, engagement, learning and success with Canadian [and other] literature” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 190). This is how I view technology in my classroom. I believe all methods of instruction need to be utilized and would suggest that the only wrong strategy is an over-used strategy. Technology – although I will have to step back and explicitly teach certain programs – is not the lesson but the tool. Donawa and Fowler (2013) suggest that “mastering digital tools and technology is not the goal of instruction, but if they are well integrated for reading, research, and analysis of literature, they motivate, engage, and support learners” (p. 179). Appropriate use of technology is vital, as our directive is to implement the Saskatchewan Curriculum. Therefore, technology is a tool in accomplishing that goal. Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “technology needs to be relevant to the objectives, topics, and assignments; it should be high quality, fast, accessible, glitch-free, focused, and specific. Classroom sites or web-based instruction platforms can be marvelous resources for teachers’ tailor-made assignments and activities that enhance learning key principles. Teachers and students support success when they co-create relevant resources and links that connect for learning” (p. 188). Some of the platforms – albeit, not always glitch-free or accessible to all – that can be used are:

Teacher Resources Student Resources Both
Teachers Pay Teachers

Twitter (ex. #edtech; #edchat)

Youtube Youtube
Teaching Channel Prezi EBooks
Edutopia Blackboard
Facebook (ex. Sask. Teachers’ pages) WebCT


TedTalks (Ed)

Class Wiki or Blog (ex.; kidblog)
 Google Docs Moodle

I believe that adding technology into our repertoire does not discredit or ignore previous methods or disrupt a sound ELA curriculum. Through the use of technology in the classroom, students can develop “inquiry strategies… receptive and expressive literary skills, and form meaningful online relationships and participate in reading communities” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179) and still work “on classic literary strategies: phonemic awareness, oral language development, spelling, vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and fluency” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193) through online exploration. We are not replacing the old with the new but shifting from individual classroom studies to global knowledge sharing communities; “the impact of the digital world and on readers and reading, and on literature production, has been profound” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179). Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “we have come to expect an unlimited choice of information and communication as a norm and a right” (p. 180); technology is not going away and it is time to embrace it in our ELA classrooms.

Computer Hard Drive Half Empty

With the positives always comes the negative. Although I do believe technology is something we must incorporate, there are definitely some cons. One of my biggest issues with technology is the overload! I often feel bogged down; I can never keep up to all the information that comes my way and I am sure students feel the same. As an educator with endless amounts of great resources and new information each day, it is hard to pick what to study. We need to help students – who are coming of age and figuring themselves out – navigate through a vast amount of sources and engage with positive choices.  Donawa and Folwer (2013) note that this can be done through instructional scaffolding (p. 191). But this is harder than it sounds, especially when you can find anything to back up your opinion. I often wonder how we can determine if anything is credible? Are we not more incline to believe that an article that supports our preexisting belief is more credible than something that challenges our ideas? Technology is a great example of this: take for instance the many pro. technology articles on edutopia or #edtech on Twitter versus John Lornic’s work or Fusion New’s “This is what it’s like to be one of the 75 million Americans living without Internet access:”

(Note: John Lornic (2007) suggested that “multi-tasking, although inseparable from pervasive electronic distraction, is a phrase initially used to describe the capabilities of a the computer, not the human brain” and that “the sheer glut of data itself has supplanted the kind of focused reflective attention that might make this information useful in the first place (p. 50; 59)).  Even Donawa and Fowler, who are promoting the use of technology in ELA classrooms, suggest that “the generous support of information technology and competency-based learning may well be the prudent fostering of a future workforce, but it is generally accompanied by diminished support for art, music, literature, and liberal education” and furthermore, “ceaseless electronic demands… replace human interaction or inner contemplative and cognitive activity” (2013, p. 180). How do we pick what to focus our attention on and what to believe? And how do we teach this to students when we are figure it out ourselves?

Another issue I have with technology is the lack of access. Donawa and Fowler note that “Canadian students have a media-textual world at their fingertips through home, school, or public library computers” (2013, p. 189) and although this is true for most, over 75 million Americans are without technology access (see above video). This creates a socio-economic divide and also disproves the misconception (see page 191 in Reading Canada) that students are “digitally competent and able.” Many students need explicit instruction and just as learners are ready to learn at different paces, their ability to access technology is diverse. I want to flip my classroom one day but what if I had students who did not have access to technology? Could I do it? What could I do to assist those students and even the playing field?

Searching for Files

In the end, I will utilize technology in my classroom because the pros outweigh the cons and it is not an option. It is here to stay and it is a mode of teaching that works. Not only that, but it is ingrained in our lives; it seemed like I was helpless on my trip to Minot when I had to shut off my data and couldn’t consult Google Maps or Goolge whenever I wished. Technology is part of us and the theoretical framework of an ELA classroom can be met through the use of technology. For instance, technology fosters inquiry-based learning (answering self-directed, real questions), and constructivism (“learning is a socially mediated process, where learners are actively and relationally involved in a process of meaning-making and knowledge production” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 191). By utilizing technology students get “choice, pace, and control over their work” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193). Technology fosters motivation, responsibility, independence, interaction, engagement, critical thinking, exploration, and reflection. Our learners may be all over the map with technology but as teachers it is our job to start with the zone of proximal development and expand their horizons, albeit at their own pace. Furthermore and most importantly, technology = digital citizenship = citizenship.


Internship Rating – October

At the midway point of internship (where has all the time gone!?) this is my current rating:


I have moved up in regards to Professional Competence and Development (2.67 to 3), Interactions with Learners (2.55 to 2.82), and Instructional Competence (1.43 to 2.4). I have maintained my ratings in Planning, Organization, Assessment, and Evaluation (2.6), Teaching Strategies, Skills, and Methods (2.25), and Professional Qualities (3.56). My goal is to increase Interactions with Learners, Instructional Competence, Planning, and Teaching Strategies to 3 (or more).

My goals are to work on classroom management (extreme behaviors), providing students with more choice, differentiating assignments (tiered lessons), and using more technology.

ECS 410: Assessment and Evaluation in Secondary Schools: Case Studies


This reflection looks at Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grades, Case Study 4: Hiring a Student, and Case Study 6: All or Some. Case Study 2 highlights the effects of assigning a zero and how detrimental this practice can be to a student’s overall grade. Furthermore, zeros are misleading and do not accurately represent what a student achieved or learned during a semester. Case Study 4 analyses how grades can be misinterpreted and often do not provide a clear picture to students, employers, teachers and parents about what a student knows and can demonstrate. How teachers choose to weight assignments has an impact on the overall mark a student receives and this choice can vary from school to school and/or classroom to classroom. Case Study 6 deals with number crunching and evaluating students before they have had adequate practice time. To deconstruct these case studies, current research on high school grading trends and personal experiences will be used.

Keywords – number crunching, assessment, evaluation, grade reporting, overall achievement, feedback, gradebook, zeros

 Case Studies

Case Study 2: Interim Report Card Grade

In Case Study 2 the student received a zero on one assignment because they were absent. As a result, the report card shows that they have a 68.8 percent overall average after the first four weeks of classes. However, the lowest mark the student received was a 62.5 percent on one assignment that was weighted out of eight. The student received a 90 percent or higher on the majority of their assignments. If the zero was not reported the student would have an 81.6 percent average.

I personally would give the student the 81.6 percent because I believe it better reflects what he or she has learned and/or demonstrated. I also think the student will be more motivated to keep up the good work if they see an 81.6 percent versus a 68.8 percent. The current research suggests that zero grades are an unfair and inaccurate marking practice and this case study illustrates how misleading a zero grade can be. A 68.8 percent is not a fair representation of this student’s overall achievement, when the majority of their assignments are in the 90 percent range or higher.

What bothers me most about the student receiving the 68.8 percent is that they were absent for the test. Todd Rogers, a psychologist from University of Alberta, suggests that “a zero indicates the student knows nothing about a topic when they might actually know plenty… the mark of incomplete is more honest” (Sands, “Educators defend no-zero rule”). Based on the other marks that the student has received, I believe he or she understands the content and could do quite well on the test, if given the opportunity. I think the student should get a chance to take the test and in the meantime the assignment could register as ‘incomplete’ so that it does not skew the overall average for the first four weeks. The goal is for students to meet the curriculum outcomes; if students are not given the chance to demonstrate their knowledge then zeros are used to punish their behavior rather than representing their knowledge of an outcome (Bower, “Giving zeros a power trip”). I am just starting to grasp this concept, as I am very much imbedded in our grading system. I used to agree with the critics that the no-zero policy would not prepare kids for “the real world” and that fifties would become the new zeros. I also used to think that giving second chances or extended due dates was not fair to students who met the deadlines and were present. I am now realizing that all students have different circumstances and furthermore, giving zeros does not hold students responsible to complete their work. This case study has taught me that the zero – which actually represents that the student missed a day of classes in a four week period – not only punishes the student but disrupts the learning process. This zero does not indicate that the student does not know the content or only knows 68.8 percent of it, for that matter. Instead, the zero is used to punish a behavior that has nothing to do with the student’s overall understanding of the curricular outcomes.

This case study highlights many tensions amid our current grading system. First and foremost, it shows that zeros can be detrimental to students because they are misleading and an inaccurate representation of the acquired knowledge. Also, in this case study students are receiving grades for every assignment, including daily work. This means that their practice time is being evaluated. Davies (2011) notes that “students need a chance to practice” and she proposes that “increasing the amount of descriptive feedback, while decreasing evaluative feedback, increases student learning significantly” (p. 2-3). The numbered average does little to show how the student is doing, in regards to the curricular outcomes, whereas, feedback would be much more informative. Bower suggests that we treat assessment like “a needed conversation between a teacher and student” rather than “a spreadsheet” of misleading grades (“Giving zeros a power trip”). Giving a zero would most likely result in an unmotivated student who now has an inaccurate perception of their overall achievement. Bower notes that students who receive zeros are more likely to drop out or become unmotivated (“Giving zeros a power trip”). I would have had an emotional breakdown if this would have happened to me in high school. Thus, I do not think a grade of zero is appropriate (assuming that the student has not refused the opportunity to retake the test) and I believe that feedback after four weeks would be more beneficial and create a continuous learning process.

Case Study 4: Hiring a Student

Case Study 4 illustrates what grades fail to communicate about student achievement to parents, employers, educators and students. Based on the information in Scenario A, Student 1 would get the job. They received 0/25 in practical knowledge – which makes me question if they missed the test or assignments? – and 71/75 on theory. Student 2, on the other hand, received 25/25 on practical knowledge but only 27/75 on theory. Thus, when the weights of practical and theory are rated out of 25 and 75 respectfully, Student 1 receives an overall grade of 71 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 52 percent. If a manager at the local auto repair shop looked at these marks, he or she would hire Student 1 because they appear to be more competent.

However, in Scenario B Student 1 receives an overall grade of 47 percent and Student 2 receives an overall grade of 68 percent. This is because both practical and theoretical aspects were weighted equally out of 50. Student 1 receives 0/50 and 47/50 but Student 2 receives 50/50 and then 18/50. In Scenario C, the weights of practical and theoretical knowledge are weighted 75 and 25 respectively. This reverses the weights in Scenario A. Student 1 receives a 0/75 and a 24/25, resulting in an overall grade of 24 percent. Student 2 receives 75/75 and then 9/25, resulting in an overall grade of 84 percent. Therefore, if a manager was comparing marks based on Scenario B or C, Student 2 would receive the job.

This case study shows the discrepancies of grades and the effects of teacher choices on the worth of course components. Guskey (2011) notes that “what one teacher considers in determining students’ grades may differ greatly from the criteria used by other teachers… even in schools were established grading policies offer guidelines for assigning grades” (p. 85). This affects student motivation, class choices, post-secondary admissions, job choices and scholarship success. I think we need consistent assessment practices because grades determine the future for our students. I would allow students to choose how to weight their assignments and tests so that they could play to their individual strengths, yet still complete all course components. This choice could be made within assignments on the rubrics or between all of the class assignments through a student-teacher contract.

I honestly do not know what scenario I think is fair because I do not know what each component encompasses. This once again highlights how poor report cards are at communicating learning achievement and tasks. One suggestion I would have for this teacher is dropping low quiz scores or providing second chances. I used to believe that students should not all have eighties and/or get second chances but I am now realizing the purpose is for students to meet the curricular outcomes – albeit, at their own pace – and learning is not about competing for grades. As Guskey (2011) notes “grades have long been identified by those in the measurement community as prime examples of unreliable measurement” (p. 85). I think this will be one of the biggest challenges in teaching: how do you decide what learning or skills are more important than the others? Unless we create consistent guidelines to follow, grades will continue to be misleading and very few students will benefit.

Case Study 6: All or Some

Case Study 6 shows the parachute-packing test results of three students. Student 1 was above the competency/mastery level for the first five tests. However, tests six to nine are scored well below the mastery level. Student 2 started at the mastery level, scored above the mastery level on tests two, four, six, and eight, but below the mastery level on tests three, five, seven, and nine. Student 3 was well below the mastery level for the first three tests, fell just below the mastery level on tests four to six, but made improvements on each test thereafter and scored above the mastery line on tests seven to nine.

Based on these results, I would want Student 3 to pack my parachute. Student 1, although he or she started strong, is well below the mastery level on the last four tests. Student 2 has very inconsistent results. But student 3 has consistently improved since test one and has been well above the mastery line for the last three tests. This student has the most consistent and reliable results and I would feel safest with them packing my parachute. It does not matter to me that Student 1 used to be able to pack a parachute and I do not want to take a chance that Student 2 is having a good day.

If this was represented on a grade book, it would look very similar to the chart below (the grades are an estimate):


Student   1

Student   2

Student   3









































Student 1 and 2 would pass but Student 3 would fail. However, this is contradictory to my prior answer that Student 3 is competent at parachute packing. This is because grades do not accurately show how a student is achieving the outcomes without additional feedback. Student 3 would benefit from Shepard’s idea of “replacement assignments and replacement tests or throwing out test scores when learning is verified in later assignments” (2006, p. 44). Student 3 has demonstrated that they can complete the task but he or she is being held back for learning at a slower rate.

Another issue is that the initial tests are marked. As Laurie Gatzky mentioned in her presentation, we should evaluate the recent work rather than averaging the entire course work because students need learning and practice time. It is not fair to evaluate students so early. Davies (2011) also states that “when students are acquiring new skills, knowledge, and understanding, they need a chance to practice” (p. 2). When I coached basketball I did not mark students at the first practice but instead I gave them feedback throughout the season. The “test” or evaluation occurred in the final few playoff games. Noskin (2013) stated that “assessments must be formative and frequent with timely feedback; a summative assessment should follow at the unit’s end” but not before then (p. 73). If students would have been marked solely on test nine, Student 3 would receive an 85 percent, Student 2 a 45 percent and Student 1 a 30 percent. However, this would not be represented on most gradebooks. I would personally give “descriptive feedback during the learning” and evaluate tests eight and nine (Davies, 2011, p. 2).


In the end, all three case studies highlight the tensions and inadequacies of our current grading practices. I know evaluation will be a constant stress and concern that I have as a teacher. However, I am learning the benefits of giving more feedback and fewer grades. Furthermore, I understand that students need practice time and choice, whether it is the choice of how they demonstrate their knowledge or what their assignments are worth. Giving zeros punishes students for their behaviour or attendance issues and disrupts the learning cycle. Every student deserves a second chance, especially since learning is a lifelong process. Our goal as educators should be “to create a learning culture… instead of a grading culture” (Shepard, 2006, p. 41) and in order to do this we need to make learning an intrinsic reward rather than a competition for the best mark, which is an extrinsic motivator that poorly communicates a student’s understanding of the curricular outcomes.


Bernhardt, S. A. (1992). Teaching English: Portfolio evaluation. The Clearing House, 65(6), 333-334.

Bower, Joe. (2012). Giving zeros a power trip. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.20.

Davies, A. (2011). Making classroom assessment work. (3rd Ed.). Courtenay, British Columbia:  Connections Publishing.

Found, Rob. (2012). Not giving zeros also skews marks. Edmonton Journal, pp. A.11.

Guskey, T. R. (2011). Stability and change in high school grades. NASSP Bulletin, 95(2), 85-98. doi:10.1177/0192636511409924

Noskin, D. P. (2013). Toward a clearer picture of assessment: One teacher’s formative approach. English Journal, 103(1), 72.

Rodgers, Bob. (2012). Why giving children zeros is a “good” idea. Airdrie City View, pp. 9.

Shepard, L. A. (2006). Creating coherent formative and summative assessment practices. Orbit, 36(2), 41.