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The Tech-Savvy English Classroom

reviewed by Todd Finley - 2004

coverTitle: The Tech-Savvy English Classroom
Author(s): Sara B. Kajder
Publisher: Stenhouse Publishers, Portland, ME
ISBN: 1571103619, Pages: 150, Year: 2003
Search for book at Amazon.com

Notwithstanding the book title, there is no such thing as a Tech-Savvy English Classroom, just technologically aware teachers who will appreciate reading a how-to resource that advocates integrating technology with constructivist language arts curriculum.  For several years now, a number of authors (Esteras, 2003; Firek, 2003; Sorenson, 1990; Howard, Benson, Gooch, and Goswami, 1999; Lemke and Coughlin, 1998; Downes and  Fatouros, 1996; Higgins, 1995; Moore, 1986; Standiford, 1983;and Kelly, Kamala and Kelly, 1982) have seized on the potential for classroom technology to accelerate and enrich learning in the English classroom.  However, much of the previous work 1) overlooks the various technology literacy levels of readers, 2) inappropriately prioritizes learning computer skills over integrating technology with language arts content, and 3) grows quickly obsolete as digital advancements outpace printing deadlines. The manner in which Tech-Savvy successfully negotiates these issues suggests that the text has much promise for the lay and experienced technology-using middle and secondary language arts teacher.


Throughout its 150 pages, Tech-Savvy never forgets that most English practitioners possess disparate abilities and levels of apprehension. The author tries to meet a range of needs, from novice to expert, by cleverly locating icons in the margins: a flashlight marks strategies for “survivors,” a scroll indicates “becoming a master,” dynamite labeled sections are for those “ready to create an impact,” and a light bulb indicates that paragraphs are for “innovators” (p. 16-17). Here are some examples of learning and teaching strategies related to each of the aforementioned categories:


¡       Flashlight - During a writers workshop, ask students to keep two documents open and on-screen at the same time: the piece being written and a writer’s journal to reflect on their work. (p. 70)

¡       Scroll: Have students create a database of effective leads and transitions. (p. 71)

¡       Dynamite: Develop “a bank of interactive game-like tutorials and mini-lessons using PowerPoint or Flash. This allows students to explore and learn at their own pace, selecting lessons that are often recommended or required based upon their performance on specific writing tasks.” (p. 72)

¡       Light Bulb: When designing a collaborative online project, ask yourself, “Does using the technologies collaboratively in this project allow me to challenge, enrich, extend, and empower student learning? (p. 113)


Some strategies seem impractical, such as freewriting for 5 minutes with the monitor off to aid concentration (p. 67). How many students completing the exercise would turn their monitors on only to see yjsy yjrotu gomhrtd ertr pm yjr etpmh lrrud (Translation: “that their fingers were on the wrong keys.”)?  I was also disappointed to locate only one light bulb strategy. Yet, I’m tremendously impressed with the number of clever tips offered that have great pedagogical potential. For example, on page 38, Kadjer recommends having students annotate poetry, using PowerPoint or Microsoft Word:


[Students] begin with a typed copy of the poem, selecting the lines, words, or phrases that they want to respond to. These are then converted into links, taking the reader to other windows or slides offering an interpretation, connection, related text, or other idea.


The challenge for Kajder in this book or any print based texts that focuses on technology is creating materials that retain their value when advancements are made. For example, there is no mention of blogger technology—one of the hottest trends in online literacy. To stay current, however, the reader can visit Tech-Savvy’s companion homepage (http://www.people.virginia.edu/~sbk8q/techsavvyenglish/), a web site that mentions several English teaching blogs.


In the 1990s, many books on computers consisted of gee-whiz abstract theorizing or were written like technical manuals on how to assemble a wet bar. By serving as an English teacher and technology staff developer in Maryland, Kajder knows enough to avoid wide-eyed technology worship. Tech-Savvy plainly addresses instructors’ desire to align computers and curriculum to ISTE standards (http://www.iste.org/standards/) and also “learn with the technology rather than from or about the technology,” (p. 9).


As the table of contents indicates, the book emphasizes assessment and constructivist language arts practice.


1.     Starting Points

2.     Where Are You?

3.     Tech Boot Camp: Where Are Your Students?

4.     Hypertext in the English Classroom

5.     Reading the Web: Information Literacy

6.     Going beyond Word Processing

7.     Going on a Web Quest

8.     Creating Community: Telecommunication and Teleinformation Tools

9.     Your Class.com

10.  Cyberspace, Innovation, and Imagination


I particularly enjoyed chapter one’s description of Kajder’s technology boot camp and the discussion of managing a computer classroom.


The chapters have a clean design, usually beginning with two or three epigrams, clear headings, graphic organizers, and related readings listed at the end of the chapter along with a handful of good online resources.  The appendix alone is worth the price of the book.  It includes materials for evaluating students’ levels of technology knowledge, ISTE standards, a betting game for teaching discrete material, a rubric for assessing search engines, and a scoring rubric for assessing Web page credibility. Teachers will appreciate Majder’s thorough index.


Overall, Tech-Savvy is a well thought-out book from an author who—I am relieved to say—subordinates educational technology to integrating computers into a sound secondary English language arts pedagogical model. I highly and unequivocally recommend Kajder’s excellent book and web site to all practicing high school and middle school language arts instructors.




Downes, T. & Fatouros, C. (1996). Learning in an electronic world computers and the language arts classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Esteras, S.R. (2003).  Infotech workbook: English for computer users. Third Edition.  New York: Cambridge University Press.


Firek, H. (2003). 10 easy ways to use technology in the English classroom.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.


Higgins, John (1995).  Computers and English language learning.  Bristol, England: Intellect.


Howard, T., Benson, C., Gooch, R, and Goswami, D. (1999). Electronic networks crossing boundaries/creating communities. Portsmouth, NH:  Boynton/Cook.


Kelly, J. T., and Anandam, K.K., (1982).  Teaching writing with the computer as helper. Washington, DC:  Community College Press.


Lemke, C., and Coughlin, E. (1998). Technology in American schools: Seven dimensions for gauging progess. Milken Exchange on Education Technology. Retrieved August 1999 from http://www.mff.org/publications/publications.taf?page=158


Moore, P., (1986). Using computers in English: A practical guide. New York: Routledge Kegan & Paul.


Sorenson, S. (1990). Computers in English-language arts. Bloomington, IN:  ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, & Communication.


Standiford, S.N. (1983). Computers in the English classroom: A primer for teachers. Washington, DC: National Council of Teachers of English.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 8, 2004, p. 1663-1666
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11306, Date Accessed: 12/7/2021 9:14:52 AM

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About the Author
  • Todd Finley
    East Carolina University
    E-mail Author
    TODD FINLEY is Assistant Professor of English (English Education) at East Carolina University, is certified to teach at the elementary level and 7-12th grade English. He has earned an MA in English and Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Finley has over 15 years of experience teaching K-18, researching and publishing in the field of curriculum, instruction, and technology.
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