Technology in the English Classroom
July 19, 2000
Technology in the English Classroom, 2
Technology has been an integral and problematic part of education since its introduction. The role of computers in society demonstrates the necessity for their use in the classroom as the need for com puter‑I iterate graduates increases each year. It is now becoming the job of more teachers than just those in computer science to give students this knowledge. While many people think that the "abstract" style of an English class and the "concrete" style of computers do not mix, the opposite is actually true. The combination of these two styles allows for innovative lessons that can reach a wide variety of students. On the whole, most schools are becoming connected to the Internet and have "computers in every classroom;" the key now is to use those computers effectively. It is time for teachers and students to move beyond looking at computers and their programs as games to play and to begin seeing them as instruments of learning.
There are many obstacles to overcome before technology can be integrated effectively into the curriculum. The process of integration is time consuming and, at times, frustrating. To integrate technology into the curriculum, teachers almost need to learn a whole new field of study. Software companies are not very supportive of higher‑level learning with their programs, and the Internet is very slippery ground'on which to base lessons because of its unreliability and the freedom of access it provides to unmonitored sites. If used functionally in the classroom, computers can increase student understanding of many high‑level concepts, not just computer based ideas, and increase their level of engagement. Although these difficulties may seem insurmountable, or
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worse, not worth the effort of trying, success is possible, and the results can be beneficial to both teacher and student.
History of Computers in America
In 1969, Richard Nixon "charged the National Science Foundation (NSF) with developing a plan for national computer literacy" (Hughes, 1996, p. 4). When the group designated with this task reconvened eleven years later, they could not even agree on a definition for the term "computer literacy." Some members of the committee felt that it should include full programming skills, while others felt it should include a basic awareness of computers and how they affect society. Thirty‑one years later, President Clinton is still calling for a computer in every classroom.
Bureaucracy is partly to blame for the slow progress of integrating computers into society; but, the computer producers, namely IBM and Apple, are not blame free. When personal computers first entered the market, the two major competing platforms were the same as today, IBM and Apple. Apple computers fought hard for the education section of society, working under the assumption that if students were using Apples in school, then they would want to use Apples at home. At this time, IBM was sweeping the business market. Unfortunately for Apple, ¡×ince the parents were buying the computers for home use, they chose IBMs rather than Apples to coincide with their office computers (Hughes, 1996, p. 4). The competition between the two platforms is still present today, but at this point, most schools have chosen whether they will have Apples or IBMs in their classrooms. The problem that arises now is not the provision of enough
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computers for the students to use, but the provision of enough support for these computers. There is more to computers in the classroom than physically having them there; teachers must know how to use them and teach with them effectively.
In the 1960s, when Skinner's operant conditioning was at the forefront of psychology, "teaching machines," were being used for drilling specific concepts. Through the repetitive exercises, students could learn objective information very easily. As computers were introduced, the drill and practice method continued because it made it easy for teacher to keep track of the students with printouts of records being available at the end of class showing the students' progress (Niederhauser, 1996, p.71). While drilling‑style assignments are not as common today, they are still in use in many classrooms, especially in math, where specific concepts can be used to solve a multitude of problems. Another advantage of these programs was that they required very little training for the teacher to understand how they worked. This lack of understanding has been the cause of many teachers not using computers in their classrooms.
In 1991, the Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS) report "What Work Requires of Schools" and again in 1994 the "Goals 2000" agenda introduced the idea of requiring new skills for graduating students.
Percent of Schools with Computers
Percent of Schools Students per
that used computers computer
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The emphasis was taken off rote learning of knowledge and encouraged students to "become independent lifelong learners and critical thinkers, to use a variety of technologies proficiently, and to work effectively with others" (Niederhauser, 1996, p. 3).
Should we even be using computers
The Rudiments: Spelling and Grammar
There are many places where computer software and technology help increase understanding in subjects. Unfortunately, computers can also be used to minimize the effort a student must put forth towards learning the basic rudiments of writing. This conflict follows the same path as the long debated calculator. Some countries, including China and Japan, do not allow students to use calculators until much later than other countries and they score much better on exams than Americans. Most American schools allow students to use calculators starting in grade school. Despite scores dropping 10% at one Kentucky school, the principal reassured the populace by saying, "Drilling addition and subtractions in an age of calculators is a waste of time"(Gelernter, 1994, p. 14). Contrarily, in Japan, "calculators are not used in elementary or junior high school because the primary emphasis is one of helping students develop their mental abilities"(Gelemter, 1994, p. 14). Learning the basics of arithmetic is key to understanding higher concepts, like geometry and calculus. In English the same can be said for grammar and spelling.
Today, with most word processors and even Email programs having spelling and grammar checks, the foundation of an English education is being
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threatened. Students are reluctant to learn grammar because they know that their word processor will check it for them. When asked how he edits for grammar, one Penn State Senior admitted, "I just fidget with the sentence until the squiggly green line goes away." Instead of learning the basic structure of the English language, students rely on programmed rules. Spelling checkers are not much better. While there is certainly a group of people who cannot spell well, the literate ones can usually tell that they are misspelling words, and just don't know how to correct them. Often they are aware of usage issues as well. Spell checkers do not notice usage errors (their/they're/there), but the student assumes that all words in the paper are correct because the spell check didn't catch any problems. Students are not learning how to use words in the English language properly, instead they are rearranging words until the computer accepts their sequence. In the same way that calculators can destroy learning the basic rudiments of math, grammar and spell checkers are crutches that are preventing students from learning the basics of English. It is not just the rudiments of English education that are being affected, but also higher level processes learned in English classes. Literacy and computers
,5ome critics worry that overuse of computers in the classroom will destroy higher level processing as well as the basics. David Gelernter, a computer science professor at Yale University states, "While we bemoan the decline of literacy, computers discount words in favor of pictures and pictures in favor of video. While we fret about decreasing cogency of pubic debate, computers
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dismiss linear arguments and promote fast, shallow romps across the information landscape" (1994, p. 14). First books competed with videos and television programs, now they must keep pace with the interactive capabilities of computers and the Internet.
If the students are learning the material, why does it matter where the knowledge comes from? Books provide more than a plot line; they also require the reader to use his imagination, follow multiple plot lines, and jump through time and space. With the introduction of hypermedia, a way of presenting a subject without imposing a linear structure to the piece, computers are now more appealing to students because they require less processing on the part of the student. "Teaching children to understand the orderly unfolding of a plot or a logical argument is a crucial part of education. Authors don't merely agglomerate paragraphs; they work hard to make the narrative read in a certain way, prove a particular point. To turn a book or a document into hypertext is to invite readers to ignore exactly what counts ‑ the story" (Gelernter, 1996, p. 14).
The use of computers can undermine some of the basic ideas in an English education, but, by being aware of this, teachers can teach their students to use the computer as a way to expand their minds, not as a way to avoid work. While the basic programson computers, such as word processors and the Internet, do pose problems, finding software that encourages higher‑level thinking poses an even bigger one.
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Integration of technology is so difficult in higher grades because teachers must develop their own "software packages" by using web sites and basic software to create lessons for their students. The lower grades have numerous computer packages available to them. There are two main reasons for this. First of all, in the lower grades, the skills that are being taught can be reinforced through some drill and practice lessons. Learning how to add, subtract, and spell all are clear‑cut situations. This kind of software is much easier to develop than open‑ended question software. It also allows for the teacher to easily keep track of students' progress.
The second reason why there is little software for the older grades is that the software companies do not know what sort of software to make. There is no communication between school and industry. In her article Screening for the Best, Mary Ann Zehr examines the difficulties teachers and engineers have had with software in the higher‑grade classroom because of lack of products: '"I don't think that schools have been using their whip enough to tell people like us [software companies], "this is what we want and what we need,"' 'Companies like ours and publishers are left shooting in the dark guessing at what schools want or need"' (1999, p. 12).
From 1996 to1998, sales for online materials and computer software increased 21 percent, from $473 million to $571 million. While this increase suggests the schools' desire to enter the computer age, many teachers and parents are still worried about the content of the programs being sold.
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The first problem is finding good software, software that will teach information, and not just have lots of fun graphics. Even once good software is found, the question of its value in school has critics complaining. Irt a survey carried out by Education Week, more than one third of the responding teachers called software in general a "big" or "moderate" problem. Many times, the content provided was no better than that found in a textbook (Zehr, 1999). Despite the access to web and multimedia, if the program does not exceed what a textbook can supply, then it really isn't doing its job. There is a bright light however. As more computer literate students enter high school, there will be more demand for higher‑level programs. Software companies are examining this demand and they are planning for this future need. There are many problems that need to be overcome for computers to be used effectively in the classroom, but the benefits that can come from their use are great. Communication Connecting with Parents
The Internet is probably the key aspect of computers that can benefit the largest number of people. One major benefit of the Internet is its capability to connect people who are worlds apart. With schedules becoming more hectic and time apore precious commodity, the ability to communicate through Email and web pages is invaluable. Email allows conversations to take place over an extended period of time‑, it alleviates the necessity for a parent to leave work at odd hours in the day, just so they can meet quickly with a teacher in her free period. With Email, a parent can ask a question at 8‑00 a.m., get a response from
the teacher over her lunch at 11 ‑.30 a.m., and respond to it at 3:30 p.m.. All this and no one has to rearrange plans extensively. While Email should not replace face to face meetings over serious matters, it does allow parents to keep in contact about assignments and attendance without major inconveniences to either the teacher or parent.
Web pages are another way to communicate information to large numbers of people. For example, in 2000, the Grade Nine Team 1 at the State College Area High School had a web page that contained weekly agendas for the classes, access to a message board for the students, links to student work and information on team projects. All of this was accessible to parents whenever they wanted it. This can alleviate the need for small, but time‑consuming, questions such as‑ "When is this assignment due? My child won't give me a straight answer." Mass communication of this sort also allows the school to share work with the community.
A strong school is one in which the community is part of the education system. By presenting work and ideas in a publicly accessible space, the community of businesses and organizations is invited into the academic setting. By increasing communication between the school and the outside world, everybody, student, teacher and‑ parent, benefits. Connecting with Teachers
Teachers' workloads are increasing yearly. Not only do teachers need to learn new technology and follow new education laws, but schools are growing in size, increasing class sizes and the amount of paperwork. Such time consuming changes mean that teachers are hard pressed to find time to meet and discuss ideas. This often leads to a feeling of isolation. With the Internet, it is much easier for teachers to communicate outside of school and the classroom. Ideas can be shared with one person or with a whole group, but all on the individual's own time. While some face to face contact is desirable, using Email and the Internet is one way to remove the isolation of the classroom.
The major problem surrounding computers that needs to be overcome is the fact that many currently‑employed teachers are not trained in their use. While in7service days and weekend seminars can help this problem, it is nearly impossible to keep up with the ever‑changing world of technology. For a computer to be effectively used in the classroom it should be an added component, not a replacement. "A teacher, for instance, might use Power Point to project key lecture points onto a screen instead of writing those same points on the chalkboard" (NEA Today, 1999, p. 29). While this use of software is a benefit for any teacher who has messy handwriting, or who hates to turn her back on the class, this method is still simply a replacement for standard techniques, not a supplement to them.
Another problem with training teachers how to use computers is that they are being thrown too much information at one time, and have no way to learn how to apply it to their classes. NEA Today gives the following suggestions for training teachers:
Offer on‑site training; do not send teachers to a one‑shot off‑site training session.
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2) Provide real person, real‑time tech support, and not some computerized emailing system that sends all questions to a clearinghouse of sorts.
3) Teach those who are ready to learn. While computers and technology in general are an important new part of the classroom, not everyone is ready to leam, or able to learn at the same pace. School districts should train those who are eager to learn and all the other colleagues can catch up later.
Communities are so concerned with having computers in every classroom, that they are overlooking the need for teacher training. Jamie McKenzie, editor and publisher of From Now On ‑ The Educational Technology Journal, says that teachers need thirty to sixty hours yearly in computer training to effectively meet the needs of their students (2000). This requirement is rarely ever met. In the State College Area School District, new technology competencies are being written into the curriculum because of new state regulations. Yet, teachers are only being offered two four‑hour sessions over the summer to prepare them for the use of this new software.
One way to increase a teachers knowledge of computers is to pair her with a more proficient teacher for lessons. Collaboration is one way to increase knowledge of a subject matter, and two teachers in the classroom is almost always beneficial to the students.
]n my recent student teaching experience, I was placed in charge of a technology unit that dealt with web pages and page layout. My mentor teacher had been exposed to the programs needed for this unit, but still did not feel comfortable using them. After spending two weeks in the computer lab with two regular English classes per day and one week in the lab with two Advanced English classes per day, she told me that she would feel comfortable teaching with this program next year. We spent a total of thirty hours in the computer lab. The time spent benefited us both; while she was learning about the program, I was learning about teaching techniques and assessment. Collaborative teaching is a form of professional development that allows teachers to increase their knowledge while remaining in the classroom and is key to the integration of technology in the classroom.
How can all this help students?
As we strive to adapt our teaching styles to teach students who have grown up in a technological world, the need to find different ways to reach those with short attention spans, fewer academic goals and more social ones increases. Computers are a perfect way to increase the attentiveness of normally reluctant learners and teach them skills needed for life. Nancy Traubitz, an English teacher in Silver Spring, Maryland, researched this exact subject‑ "How do we get technology into average level English classes? What strategies using technology appeal to students in English classes?"" (Traubitz, 1998, p. 73) Silver Spring, Maryland
Traubitz found that the students in her advanced classes were eager to use technology. Most of thern had access to computers and the Internet at home and transferred their knowledge to their work at school. Students in her regular classes, on the other hand, were reluctant to use computers‑ "They expressed strong feelings that the technological revolution had left them behind, and they resented it" (Traubitz, 1998, p. 74). Traubitz, with the help of her student teacher, took on the challenge of integrating technology into her school's English curriculum while supporting the content already found there. While the final results were positive, Traubitz found that she had to fight her department, her school and even her students to achieve the results. "On paper [the school had] almost enough computers to allow every student to use a computer for every assignment" (Traubitz, 1998, p. 74). She campaigned to make the three computer labs that were assigned to the English department available to all English classes, not just ones with a writing emphasis. She secured Internet access in one of the labs and had all the computers in a second lab loaded with presentation software. When the English department computer labs were unavailable, she used labs assigned to other departments. (1998, p. 74)
Traubitz's troubles did not end when she had the computers hooked up in the way she wished. She had to fight the belief of other teachers that "even word processing [was] a luxury, a frill in English class, allowed but not required" (Traubitz, 1998, p. 75). Even within the department, disputes were common, with "writing" teachers claiming priority for the computer labs. Staff support was also a problem, six weeks into the project, Traubitz and her student teacher decided they needed someone else in the classroom to help out with attending to all the studerl.ts' needs. The district had such people, called "composition assistants," available, but they refused to help since this was not an official writing class but a "genre‑based senior English class" (Traubitz, 1998, p. 75). It was only through rewriting the job description for these "composition assistants" that they could help her in her classes.
Software and training also caused problems. Who was responsible for knowing how to use the imaging software housed in the English department? What software was she responsible for knowing how to use? How was she supposed to learn how to use it ‑ in‑service time, specific training time or personal time? Also, what would happen if the software failed? One major benefit of books is that they don't become inaccessible because a system is down or a power outage occurs in the city where the server is based. With all these problems, the question remained: was the curriculum supported by the use of technology and did the students benefit? Traubitz used technology in many different ways.
[F]or instance, web writing assignments had to be word processed, desktop publishing assignments required the use of graphics, group presentations demanded hypertext and other non‑linear formats, researchers surfed the World Wide Web, assignments encouraged scanning images, using digital and video cameras.
Traubitz, 1998, p. 74 Through the use of this technology, good things did happen. The amount of student writing increased. Many teachers questioned Traubitz's desire for her students to write outside of class because then what would the students do in class. But, she found out that "[t]hey wrote during class lab time and before school and during school and after school and at home and at work and wherever they could find a computer" (Traubitz, 1998, p. 74). Along with the increase in student writing, class attendance and attentiveness increased. Also, students retained more information. The biggest success was that previously uninvolved students became determined to finish their computer‑based projects.
Traubitz's work demonstrates that determination to introduce technology into the curriculum can lead to success.
The major factor that led to her successful use of technology was the way she used it to support her curriculum. Never was her goal to teach students how to use certain web page or word‑processing programs, she used the software to enhance her previously designed curriculum.
I understand how difficult this integration can be. During my own technology unit, I also tried to integrate technology into the curriculum. What I found myself doing was teaching bells and whistles and not focusing enough on the content that the students were meant to gain from the experience. The project was based on an online bulletin board on which students were to post reactions to their choice novel from the unit we were pursuing. Students had fairly easy access to computer labs during the day, and my room (with Internet access) was open at 7:30 a.m. before school and didn't usually close until 4:30 p.m.. The assignments were not graded, mainly because the program was not used to its full extent.
The benefits of using the lesson were definitely technological and not literary, as I had intended: The students gained access to web forms they hadn't met before, such as Internet registration forms and bulletin boards in general. While this method of sharing information was one of the initial uses of the Internet, it is now often abandoned for Email and chat programs. My students had great difficulty understanding how posting to this message board was
different from writing an email. The idea of communicating to a group was new to them, and, in that regard, the students did learn something.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons why the bulletin board program did not succeed in the way I intended it to. I created it in order to encourage the discussion of literature among my English classes and not for them to be limited by class time which was being spent on other projects for the unit. Because of the time of my arrival in the class, I was not able to start the program until too late in the year for the students to become comfortable with how it worked, and to work all the kinks out of it. Again, because of time constraints, there was not enough time to allow for true conversation to happen. Also, the participating group was too large, with around 70 students hopefully writing in.
The main problem was that I had not decided how /, the teacher, hoped the program would benefit the students and how I could evaluate their learning. Since I was unable to express the purpose of using the bulletin board, how could I hope for my students to understand its purpose?
All this inexperience on my part did result in learning though. I learned a lot about integrating technology so that it can support a curriculum, how much effort and time it takes and how clear lessons and objectives need to be. Using technology can never be haphazard or thrown together at the last minute, it must be carefully planned and executed for true learning to take place. Technology does not have to be a hindrance to teaching, and even through mistakes in its usage, learning can take place.
Web Pages A major part of my student teaching was the Web Page project. For this assignment, my mentor teacher and I combined writing, audience awareness skills, media literacy and technical skills. Technology was used as a replacement for standard teaching practices as well as a supplement to them. Working in the computer lab allowed me, the lead teacher, to use kinesthetic, oral and visual teaching techniques at the same time. While having written step‑by‑step directions for the overhead projector, I used the screen projector to demonstrate for the students the technical parts of the lesson.
The result of the project was very satisfying. 92 students produced web pages that reflected their personal and academic life (http‑//www. scasd. k1 2. ps. us/ developers/ehcl 1 /names. htm). Because of the novel aspect of the assignment, many students, who were normally reluctant to write, produced many pages of exciting material.
The primary reason for the success of this lesson is that it integrated technology into the classroom for extra benefits. It was not just replacing existing material. The computer allowed me to use multiple teaching techniques, which allowed the students to be more receptive and to process the instructions more easily._The technology also appealed to the interests of the students who spend much of their free time playing web‑based games. Despite lasting seven days, the students were regularly working on their pages for all this time.
Using Technology to Support the Curriculum
Technology should play an important role in a standard English curriculum. It can be used to teach skills such as writing and critical analysis. For example, there are many aspects to the teaching of writing, such as audience awareness, expression of ideas, and organization, that can be taught using computers. The basis for good research writing is accurate research. Analyzing World Wide Web resources to assess their credibility can be just as useful as looking at print sources. Not only does this allow students a chance to decide on the credibility of their information (the WWW being a lot less reliable than hard copy sources), but it also teaches them how to use search engines.
Using search engines may seem like a simple task, but they can be used for lessons on audience and focusing of topics, important aspects of writing. To make an effective search, students need to learn about key words and synonyms. They need to learn how to find information that will be useful to them. Ninth graders may be able to find information on the author Thomas Mann, but, if it is written by a university‑level scholar, they may not be able to understand the information, and therefore the site will not be useful to them. Also, students need to learn how to narrow their searches by focusing their ideas. In my experience, when students search for‑information on the Internet, they find generic information, such as they might find in an encyclopedia, but nothing very specific. When students in the Advanced English classes I worked with were searching for information on Antigone, they were excellent at finding copies of the play, but they could find nothing on criticism or analysis. Both of these skills, searching
and focusing, can be transferred to writing. In good essays, writing needs to be focused and clear. For this to happen, research sources should be appropriate for the author. Computer programs could provide a different means to the same end.
Technology as Curriculum Reform
As with any kind of curriculum reform, the use of technology is slow to be adopted. Teachers are reluctant to institute new teaching techniques into their classroom because the future is uncertain. This reluctance has been seen in curriculum reform since the study of curriculum began. Some examples of major reforms have been the changing from teacher‑centered to student‑centered classrooms, from rote practice and response to critical analysis, from individual responsibility' to group work and cooperative learning. Each of these examples is present in our school system to some degree or another; and, while there are some teachers who will always stick to the old, "reliable" methods, there are others who will always be investigating and implementing new strategies into the classroom. For change to be accepted, it must take place slowly and carefully. Support is needed at all levels: administrator, teacher, community and industry.
The integration of technology is a slightly separate entity from these other examples. For technology,to truty work, teachers must learn a completely new subject. Not only must they learn it, but they must feel confident enough in it to share their knowledge with other people who rely on them for accurate information. This represents a huge pressure that is very different from teaching the same material in a different manner, as illustrated in the examples above.
Because of this pressure, it is not surprising that technology has been introduced to the classroom in top‑down methods ‑ by politicians and community members calling for the technology. However, it may end with teachers using this technology for no more than their daily schedules and plans. Computers need to be integrated slowly and with a great amount of support if success is going to be achieved.
There are many obstacles to overcome if technology, and specifically computers, is to be used effectively in the classroom. Because of the lack of programs made foe students in higher grades and designed to promote higherlevel thinking, it has become the teacher's responsibility to design lessons that incorporate technology effectively. There are many abilities that students need when using computers that can be transferred to the English curriculum, especially when it comes to research and critical analysis. Also, computers are an effective way to reach reluctant learners who may not be engaged by standard teaching methods. Using computers intrigues these students who have grown up with Nintendo and Sega. The abilities needed to use computers should be transplanted to the English classroom and vice versa. While integrating compu,ters into the English classroom is very time consuming, the skills learned
will provide a long‑term benefit to the students.
List of Work Consulted and Cited
Alvarez, Marino C. (1997). Thinking and Learning with Technology.. Helping students construct meaning. NASSP Bulletin, 81(592), pp. 66‑72.
Computers in the Classroom. (1997, September). Policy Review, pp. 57‑8.
Computers‑ The secrets for classroom success. (1999). NEA Today, 18(2), p. 29.
Cuban, Larry. (1994). Computers Meet Classroom; Classroom Wins. Education Digest, 59(7), pp. 50‑53.
Gelernter, David. (1994). Unplugged‑ The Myth of computers in the classroom. New Republic, 211(12‑13), pp. 14‑15.
Hughes, Randall T. (1996). What's New in Computers in the Classroom. Clearing House, 70(l), pp. 4‑5.
Kinnaman, Daniel E.. (1999). The Wrong Goal. Curriculum Administrator, 35(2), p. 100.
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McKenzie, Jamie. (2000). Making Good Change Happen. From Now On.The Educational Technology Journal. 9(10), 36 paragraphs. Available: http://www.fno.org/junOO/goodchange.htmI [2000, June 18].
Meltzer, Julie, (1997). 10 Commandments to implementing technology. Education Digest, 62(8), pp. 56‑61.
Niederhauser, Dale S. (1996) Using Computers in an information age classroom: What teachers need to know. NAASP Bulletin, 80(582), pp. 71‑80.
Sullivan, Michael. (1999). Internet can be Reform Education with Personalized content and Assessment, NOT Frills. Curriculum Administrator, 35(2), p. 100.
Traubitz, Nancy. (1998). A Semester of Action Research: Reinventing My English Teaching Through Technology. English Journal, 87(l), pp. 73‑77.
Zehr, Mary Ann. (1999). Screening for the Best. Education Week [Online], 19(4), pp. 13‑22. Available'' http‑//www.edweek.org/sreports/tc99/articles/screening.htm [2000, June 18].