Lesson Planning as Collaboration in Digital Environments

Thanks to Susan Toma-Berge for this guest post on LiteracyBeat this week.  Susan is Coordinator of the Multiple Subjects Program at the University of California, Irvine. ~DeVere

Collaborating with colleagues and students is almost effortless since I started using Google Apps with my students, primarily Google Drive.  Recently, our campus adopted Google Apps for Education, which gave us the option of merging our existing campus email with Gmail.  I thought that alone was pretty harmless and uneventful, until I started exploring the possibilities.  Now my ability, and that of the teacher candidates with whom I work, to collaborate on documents, gather information, and archive information has increased and the process is much more streamlined.

Class Discussion

When I first learned of Google Drive a few years ago, I knew only of Google Docs.  Our campus email was not integrated with Google at the time so I had two separate email accounts – my campus email and my Gmail.  I used my personal Gmail account and utilized Google Docs as a way to archive important documents (like drafts of my dissertation).  I attempted multiple times to use Google Docs in my teaching by writing out discussion questions for students to answer in small groups during class.  I was able to do this by creating a Google Doc, then share it though the link provided when I added other viewers who could edit.  I then either emailed the link to my class, or added it to my class website.  The goal was to be able to have all my students work on different questions then have the ability to project the whole document to the class for our whole group discussion.  It was meant to replace using chart paper and markers that were a staple of our group discussion and sharing.  The students would then have notes from each of the other small groups who worked on different questions, and all these notes were saved on my course website for the remainder of class.

Without fail, I had students who could not access the document for one reason or another.  Some had difficulty if they did not have a Gmail account.  Others simply could not see the text on their own laptops.


In the not so recent past, asking my students, all pre-service teachers, to collaborate on a document meant sitting down together hunched over the same computer screen with one typing.  This style of collaborating had benefits, because they were able to share ideas and instantly put them in words.  The downside was finding a time for both of them to work together to devote to this task.

If they could not meet in person, the task meant working independently at their own computers then merging text together once they shared their writing through email or with a flash drive.  This was effective because each could each compose on their own time and share when done.  The downside to this method was limited face to face collaboration and the writing was frequently disjointed because they usually divided the task into parts.  This type of collaboration also made it difficult to keep track of the most current version of the document, especially if multiple revisions were emailed back and forth.

Now that all my students’ campus emails are linked with Gmail, they all have Google accounts so they have many more options for collaborating.  They meet face-to-face during class time, but work on group assignments using Google Docs.  When working on a lesson plan together, my student teachers have reported sitting at their own computers at home while writing up a shared lesson plan.  They use the chat feature to discuss what ideas are included.  The collaboration is in real time and both student teachers have the most recent version of their document.

Pairs of student teachers used Google Docs for their weekly lesson plans, as well.  They maintained a shared document with the mentor teacher so everyone was aware of the week’s plans and any changes made.  The mentor teacher shared these plans with me so I was also able to monitor my pre-service teachers’ weekly progress. Each lesson evolved, collaboratively, over time and in the cloud. See figure one, below, for an example of the final product.

final lesson plan

Figure 1: Final Collaborative Lesson Plan Contributed by Jasmine Hwang and Tawnee Houses

The unit plan (figure 2, below) was created by a mentor teacher, Johnnie Perry, when he had two student teachers in his classroom. They used the Google doc to keep updated versions of their weekly plans available to all three of them.

figure 2

Figure 2: Shared Unit Plan by Johnnie Perry, master teacher, and two student teachers

Collaborative Research

I also teach a class in the masters of art in teaching (MAT) program where my students are required work in a small group to write an action research proposal.  The majority of my students wrote their group papers using Google Docs.  Even though they met face-to-face twice a week in class, group members had to open their own computers as they discussed the themes of their literature review or selected instruments for data collection.  During this conversation, one or more members of the group put these ideas in writing during this collaboration. As an instructor, it was gratifying to hear these rich conversations and see their projects develop as multiple colored dots, representing each author’s cursor, floated across the screen.  This type of collaboration ensured all students in the group had the same version, even if one member was away that day.  These students also mentioned using Google Hangouts to discuss their writing when they composed from home.


I’m positive that we have just scratched the surface on how using a cloud-based shared document, like Google Docs, can aid collaboration and writing, especially for student and novice teachers.  The potential for teachers to share ideas and put them down on “e-paper” is unlimited – even at brick-and-mortar institutions like mine, where most of the classes are “on-the-ground.”  How do you facilitate collaboration for your student teachers and teachers in training?



Goodnight, iPad!

by Dana L.  Grisham

Goodnight, Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown (1947) with pictures by Clement Hurd, is a classic piece of children’s literature often given as a baby shower present in board book form. According to Wikipedia, it was one of the “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time in a 2012 poll by School Library Journal.

The story is about a little bunny who has been tucked in bed and is about to go to sleep. He looks around the room at pictures–a cow jumping over the moon, three little bears, and at real animals such as two little kittens and a mouse. He also looks at a quiet old lady who was whispering “hush.”  The little bunny says “goodnight” to the room; to the moon, the cow, the light and the red balloon (a favorite of my own granddaughters) and the book ends with a goodnight to “noises everywhere.”

Goodnight, Moon

Goodnight, Moon

Let us fast forward to 2011. A new book makes the scene, called, Goodnight, iPad, by Ann Droyd (surely a pseudonym)*, published by Blue Rider Press (Penguin Group).

Goodnight, iPad

Goodnight, iPad


In this book, instead of a little old lady saying “hush,” there is a little old lady trying to sleep. Why can’t she sleep? Because in a “bright buzzing room” there are a number of electronic devices being use by critters vaguely resembling bunnies (think baby “minions”) who are wide awake. Even the fireplace is a giant TV with a “virtual” fire. Eminem is singing as a ringtone for a mobile phone and there are taps that signal text messages “with no end.” The old lady has had it! She gathers up their devices and throws them out the window,  saying “Goodnight” to each of them, while ignoring some pretty dramatic protests from the bunnies/minions. She tucks them all in bed and now she can, at last, sleep in peace and quiet.

The last panel is one of the little guys in bed with a book, a flashlight, a cat, and a mouse. What are they reading? Goodnight, Moon, of course!

Last panel

Last panel

 What can we take away from a comparison of these two iconic books?

First, our lives have changed irretrievably in terms of everyday activities. Technology, which Don Leu described as “deictic” or constantly changing over a decade ago (Leu, 2000), has unmistakably gathered momentum and may be seen as revolutionary rather than evolutionary.

Second, EVERYONE, virtually without exception, around the entire planet, is involved in the revolution. Mobile devices, tablets, Youtube, social networking sites, e-games, and LCD HDTVs, ringtones and texting, Twitter, and so on….digital literacies!

Third, we have technophobes who gloomily predict the end of civilization as we know it (Goodnight, iPad seems to fit) contrasted with technogeeks, who want more changes faster and see the resulting energy as a renaissance and a leveling of society (Gorbis, 2013). Who do we believe?

Finally, what does this mean to education? Kevin Leander (2009)  has characterized the responses that educators (and others) have to the changes we are experiencing. He notes four types of response to digital literacies: (1) resistance or steadfast adherence to print-based literacies; (2) replacement, or discounting of print-based literacies; (3) return, or valuing of digital literacies only as they support print literacies; and (4) remediation, or the attempt to redefine  literacy learning through adoption of a “parallel” pedagogy that values both print and digital literacies. I was trying to decide my own stance on “literacies” and found myself in the remediation phase. Interesting that, for the first time in my life, I am in remediation!

But literacies are social as well as academic and the popularization of online communication has brought that further into focus. Are we headed for an era when so-called “school literacies” are denigrated to the resistance phase?

Needless to say, I don’t have the answers, but I do have some observations on how literacy proceeds in the early years and how technology is involved in that development. The observations are of my own children and grandchildren and while that is not at all scientific, there are some semi-respectable precedents for it (think Skinner box).

Example 1.

When my son, who is a pilot in the Army National Guard, was sent on a second tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2012, he left behind his wife and a two-week old baby son. This tour of Afghanistan differed greatly from his first tour in 2003, when letters (pen and paper) and emails were the extent of communication. Once, when a Blackhawk helicopter crashed, he was allowed to phone home to tell his parents that it did not involve him. That was revolutionary at the time.

On this tour, he was able to purchase reliable Internet time in his quarters on the base in Bagram and Apple technology allowed him to Facetime almost daily with his wife. In addition, they purchased a camera system that worked with iPad and iPhone and he was able to observe the baby in his crib. In terms of more traditional literacies and technology, he purchased a book about dads and babies and audio-recorded his voice so that he could “read” to his son while deployed. Attached is a picture of the baby listening to his father “read” the book.

Listening to Dad read.

Listening to Dad read.

Happily, my son came home safely and now reads “real” books to his son, including his favorite Red Truck (Hamilton, 2008). Can Red Truck make it up the hill? Red Truck can! Red Truck will! ZOOOM! Red truck goes to the rescue and when my son reads to my grandson, they make the sounds dramatically together. Incidentally, Red Truck is available as an ebook.



Example 2.

I also have twin granddaughters who are now four and a half. In my September 2012 Literacy Beat blog, I shared a picture entitled “Digital Morning,” which I’m reposting below. You can see Dad on his laptop, and the twins–one on an iPad and one on an iPhone.

Digital Morning

Digital Morning

The twins love to read print books, but they also love to explore literacy online.

Both of them LOVE the iPad and use it for lots of things, such as puzzles, art, coloring, and literacy learning.  Recently, they have been exploring two Apps, Reading Ravens (http://www.readingraven.com/ ) and Hooked on Phonics (https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/hooked-on-phonics-learn-to/id588868907?mt=8).  Both provide experiences with phonological awareness, with phonics, with word patterns, tracing letters on the screen, and with beginning reading. Both are interactive in different ways. Both take very different paths to the same end. Both are very engaging to my four-year-old granddaughters.  In my next post, I will explore these two Apps and provide a list of resources for early literacy development.

I began this column with the book Goodnight, iPad because iPads play an increasing role in literacy these days. One resource that I have found valuable is Using Apps for Learning with Literacy Across the Curriculum, by Rick Beach and David O’Brien (2012). In a review of the ebook, Don Leu termed the increasing use of iPads as “…perhaps the most profound change taking place in literacy and learning today” (p. ii). Naturally, I downloaded this book to my iPad and it offers a useful framework for thinking about how to employ the apps across grade levels and content/discipline areas. They include an Apps for Learning with Literacy website and a resource Wiki for readers. Last each of 12 chapters provides a wealth of resources for educators. Enjoy!

* Actually by David Milgrim, an author, illustrator, and cartoonist, who is “very interested in how we got to be who we are.” Check him out at http://www.davidmilgrim.com.


Beach, R. & O’Brien, D. (2012). Using apps for learning with literacy acros the curriculum.

Gorbis, M. (2013). The nature of the future: Dispatches from the socialstructed world. New York: Free Press.

Leander, K. (2009). Composing with old and new media: Toward a parallel pedagogy. In V. Carringtron and M. Robinson (Eds.), Digital literacies: Social Learning and classroom practices (pp. 147-162). Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Leu, D. J., Jr.  (2000). Literacy and technology: Deictic consequences for literacy education in an information age. In M. L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson, and R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, (Vol. 3, pp. 743-770). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Digital Literacies: An IRA Cross-Journal Virtual Issue

In response to the Common Core State Standards, and the growing literacy demands of a 21st century digital world, educators have increased their focus on practices related to critically navigating, evaluating, and creating texts using a range of digital technologies. When digital literacies is a part of classroom instruction students are better equipped to communicate effectively in digital media environments, as well as to comprehend the ever-changing digital landscape.

The International Reading Association has created a cross-journal virtual issue focused on digital literacies. This new FREE virtual issue is available through Dec. 2013 and features articles from  The Reading TeacherJournal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and Reading Research Quarterly.  The articles were selected by the editors of these journals for their impact on both literacy scholarship and practice.

Among the offerings is Bridget Dalton’s piece entitled Multimodal Composition and the Common Core State StandardsThis article describes how a Digital Writers’ Workshop can be a vehicle for integrating multimodal composition into the classroom. It offers general workshop principles and strategies, followed by a multimodal poem project illustrating how to scaffold students’ design processes. It invites teachers to contribute to the conversation about literacy and technology integration at The Reading Teacher‘s Facebook page.

Another intriguing piece is co-authored by Jill Castek and Rick Beach.  It’s entitled Using Apps to Support Disciplinary Literacy and Science Learning.  This article showcases apps that help students access information, interpret and share information, and create multimedia products. Classroom examples illustrate how to use these tools strategically to enhance learning. For additional insights, don’t miss the Podcast supplement for this article.

Comprehending and Learning From Internet Sources: Processing Patterns of Better and Poorer Learners co-authored by Susan R. Goldman, Jason L.G. Braasch, Jennifer Wiley, Arthur C. Graesser, Kamila Brodowinska used think-aloud protocol methodology to better understand the processing that learners engaged in when performing a web-based inquiry task about volcanoes using multiple Internet sources.  In this study, 10 better learners were contrasted with 11 poorer learners. Findings suggest that multiple-source comprehension is a dynamic process that involves interplay among sense-making, monitoring, and evaluation processes, all of which promote strategic reading.

There are several more great articles in the virtual issue on digital literacies.  We hope the ideas you find within these articles will spark a whole host of new implementation directions for you and your students.  Happy reading!

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