In my corner of the world, I don’t bump up against too many teachers who are resistant to tech integration, particularly as it concerns the work of literature circles. I know kids who circle up around blogs rather than books, and I know teachers who build literature circle roles around the tech skills they want their students to practice. Everyone is getting started in some way, shape, or form it seems. I admire the willingness that many teachers have to dive in, get a little messy, and find their way with students.

So while the rest of the world seems to struggle with the naysayers who fear that every friendly avatar disguises a predator in waiting, the challenges I’m currently facing tend to be different ones. Ironically, they are sometimes complicated by the enthusiasm that teachers have for technology. This ethusiasm is something that I work to generate to be sure, but not if it means abandoning other practices that serve kids well simply because we’re eager to enthrall them. Often, I find myself inviting teachers to think about the word integration. It implies something larger than technology, you know? It implies that there is more to effective practice than getting jazzed about a couple of nifty tools and the resources we all give and take on Twitter (which I love doing, don’t get me wrong). Integration requires using these things with thoughtful intention.

Skilled teachers and professional development providers are curriculum, instruction, and assessment specialists. I envision technology as a common thread that runs through each of these domains, and the shape of it shifts in response to what students need as consumers of our work and creators of their own. If we don’t know how to figure out what those needs are and we don’t know how to help kids choose the technologies that will help them best…if all we long to do is enthrall them all the time….we’re going to fail them in the end.

Tech integration can’t be offered on the heels of the main course or as an enticing side dish. Too often, we serve it up like dessert or we pour it all over the less appetizing parts of our curricula, hoping that kids will swallow it easier as a result. Done well, tech integration brings out the very best in what we do and all we have to offer our students. It’s truly integrated.

As I think about the role that technology plays in the work of literature circle groups, it’s tempting to link to sites that provide lesson plans, project ideas, and other “pre-fab” resources. I don’t feel good about doing that though. They are easy enough to find, and more and more often, I begin to wonder if directing people to specific places cultivates a textbook-users mentality about the web in general. It’s not about the stuff. The work to be done is so much greater than that.

The learning that unfolds within literature circles can and must transcend classroom walls. The web allows this to happen in powerful ways. It’s not about the tools. It’s about the conversation. It’s about the connections that need to be made. It’s about welcoming kids to the world outside their doorways—their world—not the one we grew up in.

Eager to make that connection? Check out these great examples of connected learning. There are so many more. Somebody help me out here–what have I overlooked?

This post is the last in series focusing on Literature Circles:

1. Launching Literature Circles

2. Circling Around Essential Questions

3. Engaging All Students in Literature Circles

4. Coaching Effective Literature Circle Behaviors: A Guest Post by Linda Clinton

5. Approaching Assessment



  1. I like what you’re saying. I think it takes careful planning to merge the technology skills and applications into the curriculum. I liked your phrase ‘thoughtful intention’, surely not an easy task. My first graders and I just started our class blog. I am easing in with familiar territory for them… reading and discussing books. From there we are branching out to post about our selections within the theme of the Diversity Rocks! Challenge. (Links to the challenge are posted on our blog). Thanks for your wise thoughts!

  2. You’ve got a great way of expressing these important things. “It’s not about the tools. It’s about the conversation.” And that’s not the only phrase I’ve highlighted in my new love-affair with Diigo!
    You’ve got me thinking about whether what you’re saying about technology (a tool to make something else richer, not an end in itself, or a garnish) can also be said about reading and writing? Aren’t they, too, tools? Is the conversation about readicide which is going on elsewhere on the net also suggesting that we kill reading and writing when we fail to connect them to real-world inquiry & exploration?

    • Steve–so much of what I’m doing this year is growing out of teachers’ desire to really engage their kids, and so often, it’s difficult to balance that priority with the curricula that needs to be covered and the test scores that need improving and the four hundred other initiatives that everyone is working hard to forward. I so agree with what you are saying here. Not only that, but I honestly think that when we BEGIN there—by grounding what kids do in “real-world inquiry and exploration” it is actually EASIER to meet standards, engage kids and yes….even improve scores. Perhaps it’s when we emphasize “stuff” of any kind over process and skills, we end up burning out and losing kids along the way. Thanks for dropping by!

  3. I strongly agree with what you say about the link between real learning and standards. And scores too? Would that depend on whether the scores were really linked to the standards? Is there any research about this that you know about? (I’ve just come from a teacher meeting that was all about scores and not at all about learning and standards. Ugh.)
    Can you say some more about “Perhaps it’s when we emphasize “stuff” of any kind over process and skills, we end up burning out and losing kids along the way.”

    • The teachers that I work with often feel swamped by new “stuff” to cover or “fit in.” I don’t know whether it has to do with state, district, building or self-imposed “mandates” or whether it has to do with our approach in how we introduce new discoveries and share expectations around implementation with teachers (or both).

      This could probably fit into an entire post, but in short, when teachers are led to believe or come to believe on their own that curricula is made up of resources that need to be covered and standards that need to be checked off and best practices that need to be poured all over the top, soon enough, it becomes absolutely impossible to fit it all in. Overwhelm ensues, followed by frustration, and then by anger toward anyone who suggests that more “stuff” be added.

      I think I’ll post on this…just starting to work out my own thoughts about it, but it’s making more and more sense to me as I write. Thanks again!

  4. Angela and Steve,
    I am definitely in that place where I feel like there is so much “stuff” I need to be doing in my classroom. This year alone has brought about initiatives from my district that I myself am learning and trying to implement into my classroom at the same time, and has also exposed me to so many great new teaching methods and resources that I am so excited about. Yet, I struggle with being overloaded with TOO MANY resources, finding the time to sift through and read them all, and then finding a way to make it fit into my classroom. Then, when I finally feel comfortable, another five things come my way and I start all over again!

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