="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 0 512 512">

4 Chapter 2 Supporting Student Content Learning


Because content knowledge is seen as fundamental to what schools do, the standards in every subject area list, sometimes explicitly, what content students should grasp to be considered knowledgeable. Words like “understand,” “identify,” “memorize,” and “recognize” are used to describe the content that students should be able to work with. The key to content learning is to understand how content is learned, including what skills are needed and how technology can help.


Content knowledge is essential for students in order to meet student learning goals such as problem-solving and effective communication. Teachers should first understand the importance of content learning and then how it can be learned and supported by technology while students work toward learning goals.

What Is Content Learning?

There are two parts to the question “What is content learning?” The first, what content is, seems rather basic, but the second, what learning is, can be fairly complicated. A look at how content knowledge is acquired can help to answer both parts of the question.

Researchers and educators typically divide knowledge into three categories: declarative, structural, and procedural. Declarative knowledge consists of discrete pieces of information that help us identify things and events (Wignall, 2005). For example, declarative knowledge includes the definition of “democracy” or the names of all the U.S. presidents. Declarative knowledge forms the basis for all other types of knowledge and is essential for students to achieve more complex goals such as creative and critical thinking, communication, production, and inquiry. It is often learned through memorization, drill, and practice, although a variety of scaffolding strategies such as mnemonics, concept mapping, and metaphoric techniques support the acquisition of simple facts. Software packages from NASA and other agencies,in which specific facts are the focus, can help students to acquire and practice declarative knowledge. However, students must also have structural and procedural knowledge to carry out the functions in these software packages.

Structural knowledge is an understanding of how pieces of declarative knowledge fit together. When students have pieces of information among which relationships are created in their minds, this information has been contextualized and/or schematized. Another way to describe structural knowledge is as information that has been developed into a mental model. For example, structural knowledge includes the understanding that a toothbrush is necessary to brush teeth, or that evaporation is related to liquids. Structural knowledge can be represented through, for example, concept maps, categorizations, and classifications, and it is supported by concept-mapping software such as Inspiration or Kidspiration (www.inspiration.com). When learners focus on relationships among pieces of information, they acquire structural knowledge. This leads to the ability to use higher order thinking skills.

Procedural knowledge is the knowledge of action, or the knowledge of how to do some- thing (Williams, 2000). Examples include how to speak Spanish, how to teach with technology, how to drive a car or use a cell phone. It is based on declarative knowledge but learned through the relationships in structural knowledge. Teachers often access procedural knowledge through student performance, having students construct a technology-enhanced product such as an essay, a presentation, or a graphical representation of a concept.

Traditionally, many educators have thought of declarative knowledge as “content,” and some of the older standards reinforced this view by listing discrete pieces of information that students should know; this is no longer the case. The majority of standards now list procedures that students should be able to carry out, so simple declarative knowledge is not enough to say that students “know” something. Students must also be able to do something with the knowledge/content to show that they have mastered it.

Educators have mixed views of when students can be deemed knowledgeable about a subject—and legislators and tests often determine the current understanding. For example, some claim it to be when students have memorized the names of the scientific elements and others when they can use the periodic chart to make statements about living things. In other words, while information-knowing is the goal set for some students, knowledge creation is the goal for others. Teachers who do not go beyond declarative knowledge teaching and testing, however, are doing their students a disservice by ignoring students’ needs to be able to make connections and to use knowledge to act.

It seems a rather simple matter for students to learn content, but it is far more complex than most people think. Some content, and the relevant skills needed to learn it, is disciplined-based; for example, science uses a different form of exploration and expression than English literature, and the way that math is presented, used, and produced is different still. This implies that different ways to learn and teach content might be necessary across disciplines.

FIGURE 2.2 Simple Model of Knowledge Acquisition

In addition, although brain science is making great strides in providing information about how and why people learn, the factors that make students learn in different ways are still not entirely clear. It is clear, however, that individual sets of factors such as culture, economic status, first language, educational background, and age can affect learning on a person-by-person and day-by-day basis (Norman, 2004). In addition, brain research has also shown that stress hinders learning (Willis, 2014) and that “emotionally important content learned in school is very likely to be permanently remembered” (Erlauer, 2003, p. 13). That means that content that is tied in some important way to learners’ lives will have more impact on their learning. Clearly, both internal (i.e., learner characteristics) and external (i.e., environmental) factors contribute to knowledge acquisition. Teachers can consider all of these ideas as they plan content lessons supported by technology. Figure 2.2 presents a simple model of the relationships among these knowledge types.

Physical Contexts for Technology-Supported Learning

Among the external factors that affect learning, the classroom environment, focusing on the arrangement of technology, is important to discuss. Although some external factors are not under the teacher’s control, the teacher often has choices in setting up technology in the classroom and school.

The physical arrangement of the classroom, including placement of desks, whiteboard, and other resources, can affect how students learn because the roles that these resources, including technology, can play vary by how the classroom is designed. Most teacher education programs address the physical environment in their classroom management course, but the importance of the location of technology, particularly computers, is often overlooked. As Wade (2016) asserts, classroom design can support good teaching by facilitating the use of the equipment or removing barriers to good use.

Technology can be configured in many ways. Typical designs are a one-computer classroom, multiple-computer classroom, and lab, and all of these configurations can be used for different activities at different grade levels.

One-computer classroom

Although not typically the optimal situation for all students to receive maximum benefit from the power of computing, a lot can be done with one computer. For example, the teacher can use the computer to provide pre-reading exercises, focus whole-class discussion, or lead teams through a game or simulation (other examples are provided throughout this book). However, the computer must be accessible to all students; in other words, it should have a high-quality projector or large monitor attached, and there must be room for all students to sit, view, and participate. In addition, students with special needs must have access to tools that help them to participate. These include special keyboards, screen readers, and other tools described later in this chapter.

Excellent content software and resources for K–12 that make effective use of the one-computer classroom are available from Tom Snyder Productions (http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/tomsnyder.htm) and Sunburst (http://www.sunburst.com). For example, in Tom Snyder’s Decisions, Decisions series, the software presents a scenario and then offers students choices of how to proceed. With the teacher facilitating, the students discuss the issues and come to a decision as to which choice is best based on the information they have. The software shows the consequences of that action and presents students with another choice, and the task concludes after several additional decisions.

Multiple computers

In a classroom of 25 students, three to five computers do not seem like much help, and they are not if they are relegated to a corner of the room and only used for free time or remediation. However, separated into activity centers, they can blend into the daily workings of the class and be integrated into classroom goals. For example, in a classroom where students are producing books, one center could be used for research, one for development, and one for printing. Or, where students are studying ancient Egypt, each team of students could work with their topic in a different area of the classroom.



There are all kinds of designs for computer labs. Unfortunately, the most common is still computers in separate carrels or in rigid rows that create physical barriers between the students and teacher or the students and their peers. This makes it difficult for students to collaborate, use other spaces for learning, and observe modeling by and receive feedback from the teacher. Even though, as Theroux noted in 2004, the “most difficult and least effective way to integrate technology is to consistently take all students into the computer lab to work on the same activities at the same time” (p. 1), this very thing still happens in many schools. The problem is that the individual nature of the lab setting is a barrier to working with the teacher or other students, and the activity conducted in this setting probably does not consider differences among students in technology skill or content knowledge.

A variety of effective alternative arrangements can make a lab setting a more flexible and useful space. These arrangements include furniture such as hideaway desks into which the monitor can be completely recessed (shown in Figure 2.3), groupings such as pods of four to six computers, and tables where students can work offline. These arrangements can all contribute to making the computer classroom a place where instructional goals can be met.


FIGURE 2.3 Hideaway Desk

Source: Used with permission of Computer Comforts, Inc.



Another useful layout, and a quickly-growing trend, for schools that do not have a critical mass of computers is a laptop cart, or a set of computers that rotate among classrooms. Students use the computers for a day to several weeks to participate in technology-intensive projects, and then the technology moves on to another classroom. Many schools use mobile labs (moveable carts that store 20–30 laptops) to provide computers to classrooms when needed.

Equal access

Whichever layout is chosen, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and state and local regulations require that all students have equal access to the technology. To make sure that there are as few physical barriers as possible, teachers, students, and school staff can make it a point to make sure that:

Pathways in classrooms and labs are wheelchair accessible.

One or more desks allows for wheelchair access.

The printer and other peripherals are located in easily accessed locations.

Any tables or other work spaces are at a variety of heights.

Assistive devices such as screen glare reducers, alternative keyboards, and screen readers that might be used fairly often are immediately available.

Any important documents are available in a variety of formats and prints so that diverse users can access them.

Web sites and other technologies are accessible.

For more information about equal access and free tools to support it, visit the CAST Web site at www.cast.org.

To determine the technology’s layout and design, we must consider what students need to do with the technology and what design allows them to do it. Many technology experts recommend that administrators and teachers view other classrooms and expert designs before making decisions about the layout of technology. Some ideas are available in photo shots at www.fno.org.

Other technologies

The availability and accessibility of cameras, handhelds, microphones, tape recorders, document cameras, printers, and other hardware tools also need to be considered for effective student learning. How will they be accessed? Where will students need to and be able to use them? Wade (2016) suggests that teachers ask students how they use classroom tools and plan accordingly. Make sure that school administrators know that tools that are locked in a closet on the other side of the school or can only be checked out on Thursday morning provide little support for content learning.

Other considerations in the physical space

Educators suggest that a computer is needed for every 3–4 students for all students to have the access they need to participate in effective technology-enhanced tasks; other educators are convinced that 1-to-1 programs, in which every student has a computer, are the most effective. In the end, how much technology is needed depends on what the technology will be used for. Not all the computers need to be the newest; rather, students can draft assignments on lower-end computers and use better ones for more advanced tasks. An important consideration is that students have storage space on the network so that they can move from computer to computer on the network and even access their files at home through Dropbox or Google Docs and not be tied to one computer.

There is no one right way to design the layout of technology to support student learning. Whichever layout teachers and technology coordinators decide on, they need to understand the implications for learning. This goes for other tools as well; sometimes electronic technologies do not provide authentic information and sometimes the information is not exactly what students need. Therefore, the physical space assigned to desktop computers should also provide access to other basic resources such as books, films, and a variety of other tools that might be more reliable, easier to access, and easier to carry.


Characteristics of Effective Technology-Supported Content Learning Tasks

Teachers teach from different philosophical standpoints, and students learn based on many different variables—such as the arrangement of the classroom, as noted above—many of which are discussed throughout this text. However, there are basic principles of teaching and learning that support all of the learning goals. Following these principles in task development can help teachers to support all students, including those who are often underserved, such as ELL, gifted, and students with special needs.

In general, effective content learning tasks

Engage students. Students are motivated and find the tasks meaningful. Work does not always have to be “fun,” but it should be interesting and meaningful and take place in an environment where they feel safe.

Help students become responsible for their own learning, in whole or in part. If students are engaged, teachers can use a gradual release of responsibility to move students toward independent learning (see Fisher and Frey, 2013, for an explanation and ideas; an excerpt from their book is available at http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/113006/chapters/Learning,-or-Not-Learning,-in-School.aspx). To do so, tasks must allow students to investigate some of their own questions rather than having them supplied.

Encourage students to be strategic. During effective tasks, students make systematic, thoughtful choices of how to meet learning challenges. They decide which strategies, resources, and tools will help them complete the task.

Require collaboration. Effective learning takes place through interaction with others, so tasks must require that students work together, share information, and contribute to the understanding of others (Vygotsky, 1978).

Focus on essential questions. Rather than just gathering information, students need tasks during which they frame and investigate important questions. Such tasks are more likely to use technology well, engage students, and lead to gains in learner achievement. Lists of sample essential questions exist around the Internet, including those by Crockett (2016) at https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/100-awesome-essential-questions and “A Giant List of Really Good Essential Questions” at http://www.teachthought.com/critical-thinking/questioning/examples-of-essential-questions/.

These questions integrate the need for declarative knowledge, or data, with a requirement to consider, transform, and make decisions that result in insight. Instead of content knowledge being only the forbearer of other types of thinking such as problem-solving or creativity, gains in content knowledge are also a result of those types of thinking. Examples of student research with essential questions can be found at http://questioning.org/. A more thorough explanation of the research process can be found in Falk & Blumenreich (2005).

In other words, content can be learned before, throughout, and as a result of working toward learning goals such as critical and creative thinking, communication, production, and inquiry. Students who learn content as procedural knowledge can also perform well on tests of declarative knowledge and on performance assessments. On the other hand, learning content solely through information gathering can result in students handing in hundreds of pages of data printed directly from the Internet and not understanding a single page.





Figure 2.2 showed relationships among declarative, structural, and procedural knowledge. Although the exact biological and psychological mechanisms that lead to the acquisition of declarative knowledge, and in turn to the other types of knowledge, are not known, it is fairly clear that new content is attached to old content in the brain in some way (see Sousa’s fascinating book, “How the Brain Learns,” for findings from recent educational neuroscience and how to apply them in classrooms); therefore, for tasks to be meaningful they must activate students’ prior knowledge.

Although we do not yet know the specifics of how the brain processes content, teachers can still teach and observe student outcomes to help understand how these links are made in classrooms. Content learning in classrooms occurs through general stages of planning, engaging, and evaluating. During an effective content learning process, students:

Understand where they are supposed to go. Goals and objectives are clear and accessible to all students, including those who speak different first languages and others who access information in diverse ways.

Assess their current knowledge and skills and the level of each. Students should reflect on how they can reach the goals and what knowledge and skills they need to get there. Planning is facilitated by the teacher, peers, and others.

Engage in activities that help them to acquire the knowledge and skills they need. Students must find and be given resources that directly apply.

Evaluate how they did. Feedback from the teacher and others, self-reflection, standardized tests, comprehension questions, and interviews contribute to an understanding of the extent to which goals were met.

This outline does not really speak to how each step in the process is carried out specifically—teachers have to make that choice knowing their students. For example, in a diverse class of first graders, the teacher may decide that both a teacher-fronted discussion and cooperative group work will help the students understand their task. After she has worked with her learners for a while, she may skip the teacher-fronted discussion and go right to the cooperative group format for task instruction. In eighth grade, one English teacher may use a spontaneous writing task to evaluate the level of written proficiency for her class; another English teacher may decide to give both a standardized test and interviews because she knows that her students perform differently on different tasks. Figure 2.4 presents an overview of the content learning process.

FIGURE 2.4 Overview of the Technology-Supported Content Learning Process

Student Stage

Ideas for Technology-Supported Implementation
Understand Make overall learning goals and objectives clear. Present them in many ways—text, audio, graphics— and refer back to them during the process.
Assess Help with personal goal-setting and current understanding of content knowledge. Use Inspiration and other graphical organizers to describe declarative, structural, and procedural knowledge.
Engage Provide appropriate resources and make sure that tasks work toward learning objectives. Give students access to Web sites, book lists, content software, and experts.
Evaluate Provide feedback through test scores, interviews, and other assessments and allow opportunities for self- reflection. Students can use a word processor to create knowledge summaries and digital sound recorders to record observations and ideas.








Teachers and Technology-Enhanced Content Learning

In any classroom, the teacher’s role in the content learning process may change from task to task, and task-specific challenges may arise for both teachers and students. Understanding both possible roles and potential challenges is crucial for teachers.

The teacher’s role in content learning

To help students move from declarative knowledge to structural and procedural knowledge, teachers can guide students to make connections, test hypotheses about how things work, and explore how ideas go together. Realistically, for expediency and to meet some student needs, the teacher’s role must sometimes be to model, demonstrate, or lecture to the whole class. At other times, the teacher can facilitate and support as students explore.

Challenges for teachers

Because content teaching often occurs while students work toward the learning goals of critical thinking, problem-solving, communicating, and so on, many of the same challenges are present whether electronic technologies are used or not. However, computer use presents some particular challenges. For example, plagiarism (discussed in chapter 6) can be particularly rampant with Web-based research or content-gathering projects. However, by asking students to answer essential questions rather than just having them gather information, plagiarism can be controlled to some extent.

A real challenge for teachers using technology is to first learn the technology; teachers cannot help students with technical issues if they do not understand the software and/or hardware. Tips and guidelines throughout this text suggest ways for teachers to overcome this barrier, and resources are offered in chapter 9.

Time, always an issue for teachers, is an especially relevant challenge in content teaching and learning, especially with pressures to cover the curriculum, having to teach students research skills, and competing with other teachers for resources. The use of expert teacher or student groups that have mastered a concept or technology and can teach it can help with time issues. Additionally, resources such as Kids Click (http://www.kidsclick.org) give teachers a list of Web sites that have already been evaluated for use by students. Other useful resources that are prefiltered or otherwise appropriate for students include visual search engines such as Kiddle.co (http://www.kiddle.co/), KidRex (http://www.kidrex.org) and Awesome Library (http://www.awesomelibrary.org/AwesomeLibrary-Languages.html), which uses the Google Translate application to translate results into a variety of languages. For older students, Google has a safe-search setting that can set and locked in the Firefox browser.

Learning to use and integrate technology with educational goals, especially specific content, does take time and effort. However, it can be made easier. Start with the essentials as presented in this book—an understanding of how students learn, what the goals of education are, what steps can be taken to help students achieve, and how technology can help. Then, by applying strategies mentioned throughout this book, learn more about what technology works in your specific contexts. One very effective and often overlooked resource is the school library media specialist, who is specially educated to support learning with technologies of all kinds.


Content teaching is the focus of many teacher education programs, but more important is to understand how to make content learning most effective. The guidelines in this section focus on how to give all students opportunities to learn.

Designing Opportunities to Learn Content

All students can and do learn something, regardless of how they are taught. However, to focus that learning in productive ways and maximize learning gains, teachers can follow these guidelines:

Guideline #1: Incorporate principles of just-in-time teaching. Just-in-time (JIT) teaching is teaching that occurs just when it is needed (Prince & Felder, 2006), but it is more planned than what educators call a “teachable moment,” or a spontaneous opportunity to introduce a new concept or idea. As a complement to an ordered, standardized series of lessons that accomplish the curriculum, JIT learning delivers skills and information when students can best use, learn, and remember them. For example, an ELL who is working on reporting a historical event needs to know how to form and use the past tense of verbs, and JIT presentation of this grammatical concept will occur effectively during the broader task. When the teacher observes that the student needs this information, she can tutor the student, provide resources for the student to check, or assign another student to explain the concept. As another example, during the study of an abstract scientific concept in the textbook, some students might need a JIT lesson in finding the main ideas, particularly if their preferred learning style is visual or kinesthetic. The teacher can meet with the small group and teach a lesson on main ideas, have students use a computer program such as Tom Snyder’s Reading for Meaning (Scholastic) to practice finding main ideas, or assign class “reading experts” to work with those who need help.

Students do not often grasp the utility of a concept or the connection of ideas when they are first presented if there is not a true need to know. JIT learning necessitates careful observation by the teacher so that she can provide help and scaffolds when needed. It also requires teachers to have resources ready, or train students to access them, for potential areas of need, and to guide students in whatever way they need through the information. Technology can support JIT learning and teaching in many ways; for example, the vast amount of information that is accessible in various formats and languages on the Internet means that ELLs and other students can find help on just about any issue. When the student asks the teacher for help with a grammar topic or needs a more simplified explanation of a science topic, the student can probably find something on the Web to help. However, the teacher’s guidance is still central to ensuring that students find the information they need and use it in appropriate ways.

Guideline #2: Differentiate instruction. One of the chapter 5 tips recommends enriching the classroom environment through the use of materials that appeal to students’ different senses and intelligences. From that discussion it is clear that students respond to different kinds of enrichment. Differentiated instruction is another way to provide enrichment for students’ abilities, interests, and learning needs. In differentiated instruction, the goals and concepts are the same for all students, but the challenge varies. Teachers can differentiate instruction by giving students several different options in their work; some students will take different options at different times, depending on varying interests, subject-area ability or readiness, and learning preferences. Teachers can start out slowly by varying the content, process, product, or tool, or they can provide choices in any or all four at different stages of an activity.

Technology can help differentiate instruction by providing a variety of tools for different tasks at different times or for the same task by different students. For example, in a unit about bugs, one group of students may access information about how bugs communicate by using the videos and games in the Sidewalk Science program “Bugs” (Scholastic), while more proficient students might use a Web site such as http://insectzoo.msstate.edu/. Less proficient students might use another tool that is suited to their level. For all students, but particularly ELLs and students with diverse needs, differentiated instruction can provide opportunities to access the content and language they are learning, an essential component of learning. Find out more about differentiated learning from Edutopia at https://www.edutopia.org/blog/enhanced-learning-through-differentiated-technology-julie-stern.

Guideline #3: Teach in a culturally responsive manner. Research shows that students whose lives are addressed and supported in classrooms learn better and achieve more. Teachers can make sure this happens by teaching in a culturally responsive manner. This means using materials that are culturally relevant, or that celebrate the lives and heritages of all students and reflect the contributions of all groups (see, for example, Egbert & Ernst-Slavit, 2017). Being culturally responsive empowers learners and makes learning meaningful for them, whether they are from another country, a different religion, or a minority group. For example, many groups throughout history have contributed to our current understandings of math, from the discovery of zero (see an overview at http://www-groups.dcs.st- and http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/HistTopics/Zero.html) to contributions by women and people of many ethnicities. Teachers can access culturally relevant information both on the Web and through software such as Culturegrams (http://www.culturegrams.com/). Teachers can also find lessons on the Web that suggest different ways to be more culturally responsive. Additionally, by connecting with families through software such as Podkeeper (http://www.podkeeper.com/), the school-based PowerSchool (https://www.powerschool.com/), or the local communication software, teachers can find help in understanding and integrating learners’ cultural resources.

Guideline #4: Adapt materials to be accessible for all students. Teachers can adapt, modify, and enhance materials in many ways to make the content more accessible to students. Adaptations can include:

Using graphic depiction

Outlining the text

Rewriting the text

Using audiotapes

Providing live demonstrations

Using alternate books (Echevarria & Graves, 2002)

However, it is important that adapted materials not sacrifice academic content for simplistic understandings. Adaptations allow ELLs, students with various physical impairments, and students with different learning preferences to have equitable chances to access the materials.

As Egbert (2005) notes, teachers do not have to make all of these changes themselves—they can enlist more proficient students to help, work in teacher groups and share materials, and find these materials on the Web.

Guideline #5: Balance content and tools. When computer technologies are adopted, learning the technology tools often takes precedence over learning the content. Teachers can help students find a balance between the two. For example, a student’s first PowerPoint presentation does not have to include audio and video. In addition, make it easy for students to save their work in the cloud (e.g., in Dropbox or Google Docs); losing work that then has to be redone not only frustrates students but wastes considerable time and energy. Given the extra learning time that technology use might add to a project, plan more time for projects that involve technology, including technology down times and problems. Teachers can decide not to use digital technologies in favor of traditional content learning. However, striking a balance between the two often leads to achievement in both. Figure 2.5 lists the guidelines from this chapter.

FIGURE 2.5 Guidelines for Content Teaching
Suggestion Ideas for Technology-Supported Implementation
Understand Make overall learning goals and objectives clear. Present them in many ways—text, audio, graphics—and refer back to them during the process.
Guideline #1: Incorporate just-in-time learning. Have mini-lessons ready to go on topics

relevant to the lesson. Bookmark Web sites ahead of time.

Guideline #2: Differentiate instruction. Vary content, process, product, and/or technologies to give students a variety of possible challenges.
Guideline #3: Teach in a culturally responsive manner. Connect with parents to better understand students’ home cultures. Send technology and the products of technology home to share with parents.
Guideline #4: Adapt materials. Find, create, and share materials that have been modified to work with different ability levels but the same content. Set up a database by grade/topic/curricular goal that all teachers can access.
Guideline #5: Balance content and tools. Use the simplest technology that serves the purpose when starting out. Add features as projects and activities warrant and extensions for those capable.




Most teachers have a pretty good idea of how to teach content, but they may not understand as well how technology can help. Of course, students can get facts and information from software and Web sites, but how does technology help content learning result in more than declarative knowledge? For one, it can offer students multiple representations, opportunities to learn connected ideas, ways to learn in meaningful contexts, and support “rich and connected knowledge,” people, and tools (U.S. Department of Education, 2014, p. 5). For example, students may understand that towns need people and that people need schools and so on. However, until they use the simulation SimTown or MySims (Maxis) to create their own towns and watch their towns succeed or fail, they may not understand how a complete town system really works.

In addition, students can obtain all kinds of raw data that do not have meaning until they transform the data in some way. For example, the National Center for Educational Statistics (nces.ed.gov) compiles data on education trends across the nation. Until students transform and apply the statistics to look at how the numbers are affecting their lives and communities, they may not understand the impact of demographics on their lives.

Many Web sites emphasize content learning, such as the Student Page of the global Cable News Network site (http://www.cnn.com), the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration site (http://www.nasa.gov), and sites like Jeff Whitlock’s Online Zoo (http://www.theonlinezoo.com/). In addition, professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the National Science Teachers Association, and the International Reading Association suggest many useful sites for content learning. Students can also use office software such as PowerPoint, Excel, Google Docs, and other multimedia development packages to compile and report their findings. ELLs can use these tools successfully if their use is carefully planned so that the language and content are made accessible to the students. Teachers can add external documents, as described in chapter 4, and provide any necessary organizers, prompts, or adaptations to make the content and language relevant and authentic. Free office tools with many of the capabilities in the ubiquitous but often expensive Microsoft Office Suite include the Google Apps for Education suite of Docs, Sheets, and more. All Google apps have the capability to be saved in alternative formats such as .doc and .xls, and student work is automatically saved. In the classroom, teachers and ESL students can also use native language-specific and bilingual Web sites as interactive tools for content learning.



New and “improved” content-focused tools for ELLs, special needs, and traditional students are introduced in the market all the time. These tools need to be carefully evaluated to justify the cost and to ensure they meet learning goals. Although having one teacher evaluate the tool is better than purchasing it without a review, it is better to use it in a classroom for its intended purpose to see how well it helps meet learning goals.

How should software and other tools be evaluated? Multitudes of Web sites and books suggest evaluation schemes and usability tests (i.e., an observation of the actual use of the product by a target user). Excellent resources can be obtained from ISTE (http://cnets.iste.org) and on Kathy Schrock’s amazing Web site at http://kathyschrock.net/. Most of these resources suggest that tools must be evaluated according to the context in which they will be used. Because schools and programs differ widely, this means that evaluations should be adapted to each situation. In many cases this can work, but in others it is not feasible due to personnel, time, and budgetary constraints. Some software companies will lend software to teachers for a free 30–90-day trial, and time extensions are often granted. Otherwise, demonstration or short-term versions of software are almost always available from publishers. If the Web site or package does not mention these options, teachers can contact the publishers for information and help.

The diversity of context and other situational features means that teachers and IT coordinators often use a general, premade form that has a broad fit with the school’s purposes. However, teachers who need to evaluate software tools can also rely on others who have already done some of the work. Many software review sites exist, and a check of multiple sites might help teachers eliminate a software package from their list or decide to try it in their own classrooms. In addition to comments on sites such as Google, iTunes, and Amazon, free sites that can save time and money include:

EdSurge’s comprehensive site at https://www.edsurge.com/product-reviews

Graphite, from CommonSense.org, which also has a searchable database for digital support for the Common Core Standards (https://www.commonsense.org/education/standards/common-core)

https://edshelf.com/, which also features a searchable database and comments from educators at every level.

Some of these sites even suggest software that a school or program might not have considered. Also, to save time and energy, ask colleagues for their thoughts on software they have used.



In addition to effective content-based classroom learning, students need to participate in activities that help them to understand the foundations of technology use, including concepts of ethics. Integrating technology throughout the curriculum may seem like an overwhelming task. As described above, there are many technologies to help teachers present content. The problem is how to get started. McKenzie (2004b) believes that we can “invent curriculum rich lessons that take students half an hour but engage them in powerful thought with considerable skill.” He says this can happen through “tight lesson design, no waste, no bother and no wandering about.” He calls these short, structured, Web-based lessons “Slam Dunk Digital Lessons.” Slam Dunks are tasks that focus on content learning through essential questions and Web-based resources. Teachers can integrate Slam Dunks into larger lessons or units (see http://fno.org/sept02/slamdunk.html for a brief, clear explanation) or use them as a starting point to develop lessons that integrate technology.

The basic format of the lesson consists of these six parts:

The essential question and learning task: The important question that students will have to work to answer, along with any other preview of the material and a picture if appropriate/ available.

The information source: A picture and information about the site(s) appropriate for your students that they will use to answer the essential question.

The student activity: What students will do with the information, typically completing some kind of graphic organizer using the links provided.

The assessment activity: The performance or product that will show what students understand.

Enrichment activities: A brief list of extra sites that have been checked for appropriateness.

Teacher support materials: Helpful hints, standards, instructions, and objectives.

For more details and examples, go to http://questioning.org/. McKenzie recommends building the lesson from the foundation of one or more content standards. The learning activities that follow adapt the basic Slam Dunk outline to demonstrate how digital tools can be used in different content areas to meet specific content standards. Each activity can be modified to make it effective for older or younger learners. As you read, think about the kind of content learning (declarative, structural, or procedural) each activity is designed to help students achieve.


Question: Why do we need to understand fractions?

Source(s): Math is Fun, https://www.mathsisfun.com/fractions.html

Activity: List all the ways that you use fractions during your day.

Assessment: Write a summary of your answers and share it with peers.


Kahn Academy, https://www.khanacademy.org/math/arithmetic/fraction-arithmetic/arith-review-fractions-intro/v/fraction-basics

Identify with circles, http://www.visualfractions.com/EnterCircle.html

Fresh Baked Fractions, http://www.funbrain.com/fract/

Support: Understand commonly used fractions (math standard)


Question: Which body system is the most important?

Source(s): Human Anatomy Online, http://www.innerbody.com/htm/body.html

Activity: Chart the parts of the main body systems and their roles in the body.

Assessment: Write a brief position statement based on the data that answers the question “Which body system is the most important?”


The Virtual Human Body, http://www.ikonet.com/en/health/virtual-human-body/virtualhumanbody.php

Interactive Body, http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/body/index_interactivebody.shtml

Atlas of the Body, http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/7140.html

Support: Describe the basic structure and functions of the human body systems. Students will learn what the body systems are and the roles they play (science standard).


Question: If you had to eliminate one of the rights in the Bill of Rights, which would it be? Source(s): The Bill of Rights: Evolution of Personal Liberties (CD-ROM from socialstudies.com)

Activity: Create a chart with pros and cons for each original amendment.

Assessment: Work in groups to choose one amendment to eliminate and defend your choice.


The National Archives, http://www.archives.gov/national_archives_experience/charters/bill_of_rights.html

ACLU Student Rights, http://www.aclu.org/ (search “students”)

The Bill of Rights, http://www.billofrightsinstitute.org/

Support: What is the U.S. Constitution and why is it important? (social studies standard)

The approach in this lesson involves the same content as a traditional overview of the Bill of Rights but requires students to understand the issues more deeply and to make an untraditional choice.


Question: Your school has money to purchase one piece of art by an American painter to display in the main hallway. Which piece of art should it be?

Source(s): Inventories of American Painting and Sculpture, http://americanart.si.edu/research/programs/inventory/

Activity: Choose five pieces of art from different genres. Create a table that includes the art’s “message,” its defining characteristics, and reasons why it should be displayed in the school.

Assessment: Peers from around the school vote on the choices.


Whitney Museum of American Art, http://www.whitney.org/

National Gallery of Art, http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/education.html

Support: Students know the differences among visual characteristics and purposes of art; students describe how different expressive features and organizational principles cause different responses (art standard). As a follow-up, students can make interpretive versions of the artwork chosen.


Tasks like these that provide structure and appropriate resources and clearly meet standards might be the ideal tool for teachers who are just starting to integrate technology into their teaching. The tasks above are also useful to help students understand how to frame essential questions that include why? how? and which?



Because content knowledge plays an important role in meeting other learning goals, teachers must assess content in ways that help them understand what students know and can do. As suggested in this chapter’s learning activities section, students can be assessed through technology-supported summaries, retellings, and debates. Content knowledge can also be assessed through rubrics (chapter 3), tests (chapter 4), and a variety of performance assessments (chapter 6). The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) suggests that in addition to assessing students, teachers should evaluate their own instructional design and assessment process. To do so, they can employ scoring guides. Scoring guides are like rubrics, but they are used to evaluate learning in a broader sense than more local rubrics. The three functions of scoring guides are:

To help teachers and evaluators evaluate student learning in a relatively objective way based on predetermined standards

To identify and assess not only student learning but also instructional design

To serve as models for teachers in developing their own rubrics for a wide variety of assessment purposes. (NCREL, n.d.(b), p. 1)

Figure 2.13 provides an example of one way to evaluate technology use in a lesson plan.




The teacher comments below address issues from this chapter.


This year at my school the staff has focused on differentiation of instruction to ensure all students reach the standards. All students are involved in the same goal, but how the teacher helps individual students reach the goal is different. Using differentiation in my class has helped more students master benchmarks versus having modified lessons for different students. My ELL students need to learn to write a persuasive paper—at the computer is a template that “guides” them through the process, prompting them with specific questions to answer in their paper. Other students may be working at their desk brainstorming, drafting, peer sharing [w]hile other students may be using a graphic organizer to organize the content of their writing. When lessons are modified—some students are then not necessarily working at reaching a standard. The technology available in the classroom helps develop differentiated learning opportunities. (Jean, sixth- grade teacher)


We have all heard the advantages and disadvantages of these tools. The concern I heard most often—how will they ever learn (math facts, spelling), students are too dependent on the tools and don’t try on their own first. Teachers need to remember: What is the goal or objective of a lesson, how can the goal be reached—strategies/skills/tools needed to reach the goal, what support does a student need—scaffolding, language, drill. And, remember the assessment must be integrated in the learning. I prefer that my students first try to solve problems using their thinking power—then use the tools available—spell check, calculator, resources, each other, teacher. (Jean, sixth-grade teacher)

In regards to students using [chat] with friends, has anyone noticed a decline in students’ abilities to write correctly with grammar and spelling? IRC has given rise to an entire new subculture language that kids are using for hours on end. I actually had a middle school student turn in homework with IRC lingo. To her, the word “for” is spelled “4,” and that’s how she turned in her paper. Is anyone else seeing evidence of this in the school setting? (Barbara, third-grade bilingual teacher)

Content Tools

I’m locating Web sites for students and although it has taken me a long time to find some quality sites, I have finally found some that I can’t wait to share . . . I found a cute site called Word Central. It has a lot of fun activities such as a rhyming dictionary, great kids’ dictionary, games/activities, and message encoding/ decoding. Check it out at http://www.wordcentral.com/. Okay, one more. Kidshealth.com is awesome too. If you ever teach health or the human body, you’ve got to go here because there are cute videos, songs, and lots of informational articles for kids on all sorts of health-related issues: http://www.kidshealth.org.

(Jennie, first-grade teacher)


Key Points

Explain how content learning takes place.

Learning occurs when new information is attached to other information in the brain. If this information is isolated pieces of data, this process results in declarative knowledge. When declarative knowledge sorts into different webs of meaning, structural knowledge is the result. Procedural knowledge is the result of understanding connections among pieces of data. Procedural knowledge is the knowledge that allows students to take action. Teachers can and should support learners in every aspect of knowledge acquisition. Technology can help, but only if it is used wisely and arranged to fit the goals.

Explain the role of content learning in meeting other instructional goals.

Problem-solving, creativity, and other instructional goals depend, to an extent, on student mastery of content. However, content can also be learned through the process of reaching these goals.

Guidelines and techniques for using technology in content learning and teaching. Teachers must prepare their lessons in culturally responsive ways and use techniques such as differentiation and material adaptation to help all students access the content. They must also be flexible and observant enough to understand when students need a just-in-time lesson.

Analyze technologies that can be used to create opportunities for content learning for all students.

Teachers and students can employ a variety of electronic tools to support content learning, but they must also be aware of the content, nature, and viability of the tools that they use.

Describe and develop effective technology-enhanced content learning activities. Effective content learning activities are those that consider students’ backgrounds and needs, are designed on the basis of how students learn, and use technologies that are appropriate, relevant, and necessary.

Create appropriate assessments for technology-enhanced content learning activities.

In order to create appropriate assessments, teachers can evaluate the design of their instruction and their evaluation measures through the use of scoring guides.



Echevarria, J., & Graves, A. (2002). Sheltered content instruction: Teaching English language learners with diverse abilities (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Egbert, J. (2005). CALL essentials: Principles and practice in CALL classrooms. Alexandria, VA: TESOL.

Egbert, J., & Ernst-Slavit, G. (Eds.) (2017). Voices from within: Language, culture, and schooling for K-12 teachers. Charlotte, NC: IAP, Inc.

Erlauer, L. (2003). The brain-compatible classroom: Using what we know about learning to improve teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Falk, B., & Blumenreich, M. (2005). The power of questions: A guide to teacher and student research. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2013). Better learning through structured teaching: A framework for the gradual release of responsibility (2nd ed). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Goldman, S., Cole, K., & Syer, C. (1999). The Secretary’s conference on educational technology—1999: The technology/content dilemma. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 452821).

Johnson, S. (2004). Mind wide open: Your brain and the neuroscience of everyday life. New York: Scribner.

Jonassen, D., & Wang, S. (1992). Acquiring structural knowledge from semantically structured hypertext. Proceedings of selected research and development presentations at the Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology and sponsored by the Research and Theory Division. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED348000).

McKenzie, J. (1998). Creating technology enhanced student-centered learning environments. From Now On, 7(6).

McKenzie, J. (2004a, Summer). Five types of slam dunk lessons. From Now On, 13(9).

McKenzie, J. (2004b). Making good lessons quickly. Available: http://questioning.org/module2/ quick.html.

NCREL (n.d.b). Using scoring guides vs. rubrics. Available: http://www.ncrtec.org/tl/sgsp/ rubguide.htm.

New Horizons for Learning (2002). Teaching and learning strategies. Available: http://www.newhorizons.org.

Norman, D. (2004). Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. New York: Basic Books.

NWREL (2005). Culturally responsive practices for student success: A regional sampler. Available from:


Pearson, D., & Gallagher, M. (1983, July). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8(3), 317–344.

Prince, M., & Felder, R. (2006). Inductive teaching and learning methods: Definitions, comparisons, and research bases. Journal of Engineering Education, 95(2), p.123-138.

Riel, M. (1998). Education in the 21st century: Just-in-time learning or learning communities. Paper prepared for the Challenges of the Next Millennium: Education and Development of Human Resources, 4th Annual Conference of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, 137–160.

Sousa, D. (2011). How the brain learns (4th Ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Publishing.

Theroux, P. (2004). Differentiating instruction. Enhance learning with technology. Available: http://members.shaw.ca/priscillatheroux/differentiating.html.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

U.S. Department of Education (2014). Learning technology effectiveness. Washington, D.C.: Office of Education Technology. Available: https://tech.ed.gov/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Learning-Technology-Effectiveness-Brief.pdf

Wade, M. (2016, March 29). Visualizing 21st-century classroom design. Edutopia. Available: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/visualizing-21st-century-classroom-design-mary-wade

Wignall, E. (2006). Media, minds, methods: Linking online instruction and media for maximum effect. Paper presented at the 21st annual conference on Distance Teaching and Learning, May, 2006. Available: www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/Resource_library/proceedings/05-1898.pdf.

Williams, P. J. (2000, Spring). Design: The only methodology of technology? Journal of Technology Education, 11(2), 48–60.

Willis, J. (2016, July 18). The neuroscience behind stress and learning. Edutopia. Available: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/neuroscience-behind-stress-and-learning-judy-willis

Yatvin, J. (2004). A room with a differentiated view: How to serve ALL children as individual learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.







Creative Commons License
Chapter 2 Supporting Student Content Learning by jegbert is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *