5th Grade Adventures in BLEND

Today’s Contributor: Veronica Burke

My name is Veronica Burke and I am the Reading Specialist/CALT-in-training at Blanton Elementary. I’ve been at my campus for 11+ years as a student teacher, substitute, teacher and specialist.  This is my 3rd year as the CIC and I’ve become the campus cheerleader for BLEND and all its awesomeness.

When the year began I felt like I was pretty well versed in BLEND. Last spring I built a short module for my 5th grade reading intervention group, and I had also attended several PD courses where content was presented exclusively on BLEND. So, when I was asked to take some 5th graders at the end of the day for a 30-minute enrichment class, I saw an opportunity to put my tech expertise to good use. I was excited about letting the students access BLEND and create diverse products through technology. Since I had to also borrow a classroom for my group, utilizing online content meant that setup for each session was quick and painless. All my students needed was a laptop and we were ready to rock and roll. I thought I’d discovered the secret to a fun, innovative, and easy-to-manage class session. Here are a few of the lessons (good and bad) that I learned along the way.

Logging in takes time.

Most of my 5th grade students understood how to log in to the Student Portal, which was a great start. However, locating BLEND on the Portal and logging in to Chromebooks was a bit of a challenge. Students kept using Kiosk mode when starting up their Chromebooks. This was okay, until we started utilizing Google Read & Write for some written assignments. I had to be patient with the constant complaints of “I already logged in. Why do I have to do it again??” Eventually, they got the hang of it, and we came up with a system where each student was assigned their own Chromebook for class and remained logged in to their Google account.

Discussion boards can be disasters.

The first BLEND tool I wanted to experiment with was Discussion boards. Our class content was going to be presented in Spanish, so I figured this was a great way for students to practice some basic conversational writing. My students, on the other hand, saw it as a social media wall for side conversations and emoji randomness (#EpicFail). I quickly realized that I needed to have an explicit talk about what was an appropriate response for school vs. a social media response. It took time, practice, and a lot of deleting irrelevant comments for my students to understand the true meaning of a discussion board. Once these norms were established, it became a good quick response tool and collaborative work space.

Students choose the tech tool, the tech tool doesn’t choose them.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I have go-to tech tools. Piktochart has been my bread and butter for creating school fliers, posters, and cute bulletin board graphics. So it wasn’t a surprise when I let my students create an About Me collage using Piktochart. I was surprised at how little direction I had to give them about editing and formatting. Less than 2 minutes into my prepared, step-by-step tutorial lesson, I realized that they had tuned me out and were busy adjusting backgrounds, fonts, and graphics. I even invited my awesome TDC to drop by and do a short presentation on Canva, since I had never used it and wanted to give them a repertoire of tools to choose from. We tried out WeVideo, Google Docs, and Padlet. As I created assignments, I realized that the option to respond using different tools was powerful. Some students loved Piktochart while others gravitated to Canva. Some, who felt more comfortable with standard essay responses, stuck with Google Docs. I loved the variety in their responses and how thoughtful they were in utilizing their chosen tech tool.

Varied products have power.

Allowing students to respond through varied methods is empowering. You really begin to notice student strengths, voice and personality. This has to be the biggest takeaway from my 5th grade group this year. Letting go just a little bit and allowing your students to choose their product can help keep them engaged and focused on the task at hand. It is a lot easier said than done, but just try and remember Student Choice = Student Voice.


  1. When reading this .. I found myself agreeing on alot of it. Yes, yes and yes. It is crazy the things we forget to discuss with students and realize right away .. “oh, let me take a step back”. I too, had to discuss with my students how to respond via discussions. I was also surprised how slow my students are at typing – so I had to take that into account when asking them to do anything on the computer. I love giving the students the choice in the way they create something – it really does make a difference.

  2. Thanks for sharing about the problems with discussion boards. I am also surprised, but not really, about how slow students type. I have been trying to do much shorter typing assignments so we can get through a task, and hopefully later they will develop typing skills. I’m making a note about how to respond to discussions as well. I’m using a Blend for book clubs for 3rd and 4th just so they can get their “toes wet”.

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