Curriculum and Instruction Blog

This is the official blog of the VCOE Departments of Curriculum and Instruction.

Blog articles provide insights on the activities of schools, programs, grantees, and other education stakeholders to promote continuing discussion of educational innovation and reform. Please note that references to specific curricula reflect the experiences and/or opinions of the authors/commenters and are not endorsed by VCOE.


Tech Tools for Academic Conversation

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Tech Tools for Academic Conversation

Integrating technology to strengthen literacy and language learning as part of the daily classroom learning routine:


Literate 21st century students, who are prepared for career and college success, are able to read, write, and confidently communicate with competence. Strong literacy and language skills can be learned across disciplines and mediums. Technology tools can be used to strengthen and transform learning, which supports all learners and English Language Development (ELD).

Academic conversations through Storybird 

Have you ever thought about using visuals as discussion prompts? Many teachers use visuals for discussion prompts, but having the time to find (or create) the resources may be cumbersome. Using Storybird can spark academic conversations.

For example, if a second grade student is learning about weather and clouds, the teacher may have students use their new vocabulary and knowledge in a creative story by having them discuss with partners the various ways to complete the sentence(s) to create a story. (Click here to view example in Storybird).

How might teachers use the above example as a discussion prompt? Perhaps the discussion might start like this:
  • Teacher: We've learned an extensive amount about weather recently, and have expanded our vocabulary with new understandings. Do you think you could use some of your new vocabulary and knowledge in a creative story?... The story says, "If I lived in the clouds, I would feel ... because ..." How would you feel if you lived in the clouds? What do you think it would feel like to be in clouds? 
  • Class: (Have students think on their own first, pair up to discuss, then share with whole group.)
  • Student: I think it feels cold and wet.
  • Teacher: Why do you think that?
  • Student: I think that because water is in the clouds. Plus, it's really high up in the sky and I think it would be cold up there.

Optional: The teacher could decide to fill in the sentences with ideas from the students either at the time they are creating the story, or later on.

How do you create a story via Storybird?

After creating a Teacher Account, follow the directions listed in the image below.

Tips for using Storybird

  • To create story prompts for academic discussion for offline viewing or in a PowerPoint, you can use screenshots for your slides with attribution to Storybird as long as it's for classroom/educational use. (Click here for tutorial on creating screenshots).
What else might I think about regarding Storybird?
  • Storybird does not include advertising on the site. 
  • When it comes to creating a student account, it asks for age spans (0-7 years old, 8-12 years old, 13-18 years old, or adult); a username; email is optional; and a password. If I was going to create a student account, I would not use the email, and I would make sure the username does not identify the student by last name. In fact, I would rather use something like, "Student1Watanabe" for the username.
  • Whenever creating accounts for classroom use, it's imperative to make sure the app/site is COPPA, FERPA, and PPRA compliant, and meets state legislation. (See section below for information on this).

Creating digital stories through Little Bird Tales

Little Bird Tales is a fabulous tool for creating and publishing stories. This tool allows students to create their own artwork, import images, narrate the slides, type text, and publish for a larger audience to view. Here's an example:

Em's Duck Tale from Em Canvas on Vimeo.

Support from the classroom -- Storyboard

What took place in the classroom to help guide this student to create her story? I took a simple approach of guiding the student(s) through a storyboard through these steps:

1.   Who is your main character? Where does the story take place?

3.   Now that the character and setting are established, I purposefully skip to the problem of the story next because this is what makes the story interesting. What interesting problem could this character experience?
  • After modeling with the kids how to critique through a Wow and a Wonder, I slowly release students to provide their own Wows and Wonders. (A Wow is stating a strength and a Wonder is a statement starting with, "I wonder..." to promote further thinking and improvement. 
  • For example, "Wow, I really like how you have an interesting problem. I'd be very upset if I couldn't find my family. I wonder what the duck would say to share what was going on?"
4.  How could the problem be solved? Or, what would happen right after the problem?

2.  After the main ideas (character, setting, problem, solution) are established, I go back to the piece I skipped -- right before the problem, to help get them started and to keep the story succinct. To start your story, what would happen right before the problem? 
graphic organizer story by Tracy Watanabe

How do you create a story using Little Bird Tales?

After creating a Teacher Account, follow the directions listed in the image below.

What else should I think about when using Little Bird Tales?

  • Again, there's no advertising on this product.
  • With the free Teacher Account, the teacher can add up to 20 students without email addresses. To stay compliant with FERPA, COPPA, and PPRA, and meet current state legislation, it is recommended to not use student real last names but instead using your own last name. For example, I would name my students generic names like, "Student1Watanabe" for first and last names. Then I'd keep my own list of which students were using which accounts. 
Choosing apps/sites in general 

There are some amazing products that I've taken students to in the past but are no longer feasible options due to issues with privacy, security, and/or advertising. Here's my quick test to see if I'll use the app/product:
  • Am I concerned about student safety with using this app/site? If so, I have no qualms with finding a different app/product. 
  • Does it have advertisements on the site? If so, I'm shying away from using that site.
If it passes the aforementioned questions as a safe site that doesn't advertise, then I ask myself: 
  • Can I log students on without giving away their last name, email address, or other personal information? If not, and I can't work around it by logging in as me, then I'll need to find another product.
  • How does it protect, store, and secure student data? 
  • Is it compliant with FERPA, PPRA, and COPPA, and meet state legislation?

The bottom line is I'm shying away from some great products until companies rethink what data they need to collect and their use of advertisements.

Final thoughts

  • Current legislation can support and establish best practices to ensure compliance. Please refer to your district's policies for direction.
  • Students can engage in deep learning, meaningful literacy experiences, academic conversations, and utilize 21st century technology tools on a daily basis.

Contacts: Curriculum & Instruction Technology Integration Specialist, Tracy Watanabe at, (805) 437-1394. Cathy Reznicek, Technology Specialist at, (805) 383-9326. Dana Greenspan, CTAP Specialist at, (805) 383-9325.

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