From Engagement to Equity: Bridging the Digital Divide

For many students, school is the only place where they can be on even ground with the rest of their peers. When implementing digital tools to learn, it becomes more than just a question of engagement and participation. How is digital learning an equity issue?



Grant Puts iPads in Hands of English Language Learners – National Writing Project

Grant Puts iPads in Hands of English Language Learners

Date: January 26, 2012

Summary: North Dallas High School is undergoing a $6 million grant-funded restructuring. At the heart of the work is North Star of Texas Writing Project teacher Janelle Quintans Bence, whose English learners will be using iPads to support their literacy development.

Janelle Quintans Bence

Janelle Quintans Bence

Janelle Quintans Bence, a teacher-consultant with the North Star of Texas Writing Project, helped write a successful Texas Title I Priority Schools (TTIPS) restructuring grant for her North Dallas High School. Now, part of that three-year, $6 million grant will be used to put iPads in the hands of her English language learners to support their literacy instruction.

The iPads, with their applications and easy-to-use functionality, Bence said, would act as an invaluable language learning tool for the students she works with on a daily basis. As Language Proficiency Assessment Committee Chair, Bence is also responsible for tracking the progress of 400 or so students to make sure they receive additional supports when needed. She’s excited to see how the three class sets of iPads purchased under the TTIPS grant will be used by this wide range of learners.

“Even just being able to use the Internet so quickly to find whatever word and have a mobile experience, like `here’s this word,’ `here’s this concept,’ that’s going to help them remember the language much quicker,” Bence said.

Bence credits the “digital heroes” that she follows on Twitter, many of them fellow National Writing Project teachers, as mentors in helping her develop her own digital literacy knowledge—knowledge which has helped her as she has worked with colleagues as part of a Digital Literacy Team. The TTIPS grant calls for the development of sudents’ digital skills and the Digital Literacy team is charged with determing how best to egnage in “meaningful tech implementation.”


The overall goal of the grant is to aide in the improvement of student academic performance. There are, according to Bence, seven critical success factors named, including increasing teacher capacity, improving school climate, and broadening leadership.

The grant seeks to improve academic writing across the curriculum generally, and improve academic writing for the school’s English learners specifically. To help implement the grant, North Dallas High School has turned to the North Star of Texas Writing Project. Capitalizing on the writing project’s long work in the area of culturally-mediated instruction and reflective practice, the grant has led to the creation of an advanced institute, led by North Star, in which seven North Dallas teachers are conducting action research related to improving academic writing for their English learners. Additionally, North Star is acting as the university partner in the grant.

“They are guiding us to use strategies and put practices into place that will meet our grant goals,” Bence explains about North Star’s overall role in the process.

“It’s a big responsibility to turn the school around,” Bence said. “It’s kind of a scary thing—because clearly we have to do it—but it’s also exciting, something that should come along with transformation.”

Bence credits her school’s principal, Dinnah Escanilla, for having the vision and foresight to lead a group of the school’s teachers in considering restructuring and then writing the grant.

Looking Ahead

Bence will be transitioning into the role of “master teacher” as part of the grant. In year one, her teaching load will decrease as she spends more of her time assisting other teachers in English Language Arts. Then, in future years, she will shift her focus to teachers across content areas to increase their capacity to reflect upon and improve instruction in order to meet the needs of students.

While the school is still at the beginning stages of the transformation process and has many more months to go, Bence said she and the rest of her colleagues look forward to seeing the effects of their efforts and helping their students succeed.

“We’re all very excited,” Bence said. “We came in from summer vacation feeling like we’ve been on the starting line for a very long time, and it’s now gaining momentum that we’ve got to continue throughout.”

Related Resource Topics

So much wonderfully challenging work to be done. We are ready!!

No Literacy Left Behind: Why use digital tools in literacy instruction?

It’s common sense. We have to meet our students where they are. We have to know our students and the cultural wealth they bring to our schools. Using what they already know as a method of mediating new learning is just good teaching. So why not meet our students in a mileu that they already know?

Using digital tools, thus, capitalizing upon a student’s digital literacy, will facilitate literacy instruction.

How do we do this? How can we make this a campus-wide practice? How do we sustain it?

A Whole New World: Addressing the Literacy Needs of the On Demand Generation

“That’s how I was taught, and I turned out okay.” 

Who hasn’t heard that before in schools across the country? Well, that’s not going to work. Or more truthfully, it might work for some, but teachers will lose multitudes of teachable moments with that type of mantra.

Instead, we would better serve today’s students by really considering their cultural wealth. What differences and simiarities do they bring with them to the classroom that can be supported by learning? What types of practices do they have in other areas of their lives that may need addressing and mediating for meaninful learning to take place? What role does identity play in literacy instruction?



Creating a Community of Readers and Writers

Digital Learning Day is February 1, 2012. Although I will also be exploring the best way to get my students to write/read digitally for that day, it dawned on me that we, as educators, need to continue to learn in the digital milieu. In response, I have decided to take a step back and blog about what literacy instruction means to me in hopes that these posts serve as resources for other classroom practitioners. 

This activity has also enabled me to revisit what I believe in as an educator. I have been able to reflect what pieces contribute to the whole of my teaching. In doing so, I am able to become reacquainted with some of the principles that keep me motivated. I’m able to articulate what I do, not only to refocus my practice but to also share it with a wider audience. At the very least, this may invite others to revisit what shapes their teaching.



No, this is not just a test…

I’m assisting our testing coordinator during our Assessment of Course Performance (ACP) week. That’s semester exams for all of you on-Dallas ISD folks. It’s four days of two 2-hour tests per day. 

It got me thinking. I know students should be assessed in a timely manner, frequently with effective feedback. I get it. But this is four entire days of district tests… it just reminds me of what is to come for our students. We have state assessments, state assessments for English Language Learners, state assessment retakes, and before you know it, it’s time for the second semester district exams. 

Does this seem like an inordinate amount to anyone? When chatting with our testing coordinator, she said there are at least one month of testing days. Granted, these are not all full days of classes missed for tests, but the students are at least, missing a couple of periods a day.

My question is this: at what point do we admit that there is too much testing? And even if no one is bold enough to say it, when are we going to admit that the feedback from these is not the most effective way to motivate a change in either teaching or learning? And even if the previous two never are discussed, when will we admit that maybe, just maybe, between the feedback from the previous round of testing and the next administration of assessments, there just isn’t enough time or energy to effectively plan how to create an environment for students to improve in targetted areas?

I could go on and on and on. I might later, but for now, that is all.