Strengthening Student Voice and Choice as Knowledge Constructors at Union Avenue Elementary School

Strengthening Student Voice and Choice as Knowledge Constructors at Union Avenue Elementary School

By Saul Duarte, Instructional Technology Facilitator, Union Avenue Elementary School
MacArthur Park Community of Schools, Local District Central, Board District 2

This year educators at Union Avenue Elementary School have implemented ISTE Standard for Students 1.3 Knowledge Constructor to help all students achieve academic success. Students are motivated to create/construct their own books and share authentic work utilizing the Book Creator App. Open-ended platforms for creativity such as Book Creator logoBook Creator are applicable to any subject area and they address 21st century learning skills. Teachers can create differentiated teaching resources: textbooks, study guides and interactive learning content. Students who are reluctant writers can demonstrate learning using a range of multimedia tools to communicate such as text, images, drawings, audio and video. (

Student utilizing Book CreatorWhen we think of books, we typically think of paper, colorful pictures, or chapters. As we leverage digital tools to promote learning, the very notion of what a book should be is being reconstructed and reimagined. In the same way that the Gutenberg press changed the way books were created, our students are now experiencing a significant leap into the future and towards a new way of understanding what a book is, through having the ability to make their own. we simply want you to know that L.A. Unified teachers and students have access to this tool using their Single Sign On (SSO). The program allows teachers to share a library with their students via a code. Once students log in with their SSOs and enter the code, their book is visible and shareable with their teacher. ISTE Standards descriptionElections Book 1) The Book Creator digital tools allow students to construct their own books to create meaningful, creative ways to communicate their learning for a particular academic purpose. In essence, they become Knowledge Constructors.

In our 3rd grade classes, implementation of the ISTE Standard for Students has had a transformative impact on student learning. In alignment to ISTE Standard for Students - Knowledge Constructor 1.3.c: students utilized Book Creator to curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.

Student created a digital bookStudent created a digital book

Students started by creating books to tell their own stories and representing their learning by creatively communicating a self campaign to become class president. Working on digital books allowed students to begin the use of digital tools in the classroom in person.The assignment to make a digital book was simple. Students were to present three (3) reasons why people should vote for them. (Elections Book 2 and Book 3)

The topic of elections originated from our Benchmark Universe 3rd Grade Unit 1, with its emphasis on government and officials. We used the third grade Benchmark Universe Opinion Writing mini-lessons, checklists, self-reflections, and rubrics to determine ways to state opinions and to connect opinion to reasons. Yet, throughout the process students had a voice and a choice to how they wished to represent their learning by using Book Creator digital tools. Our third graders learned to represent themselves via multimedia and to think about opinion and leadership skills. As we became more aware of the potential to integrated digital tools into ELA reading and writing, ELD speaking and listening (through speech to text and audio/video recordings), the capability to create a digital book went beyond the flat and 2 dimensional expectations of creating a book with paper and crayons or to substitute pencil and paper for a word processor.

picture of an anacondaUsing the ISTE Standard 1.3 Knowledge Constructor 1.3d, students also built knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions by utilizing the ability to create digital books to explore, research, and to demonstrate their understanding of specific animals and their habitats adaptations based on their Benchmark Universe Unit 3. Beyond simple reading and writing in paper about an animal, BookCreator allowed students to construct their own foundational knowledge of what their chosen animals needed to survive, thrive, and live in real life and real world issues, problems and solutions. Rather than telling students how and what to think about information presented by the Benchmark curriculum, the teacher gave students the opportunity to explore, research, and derive their own representations and presentation of what they learned about a particular animal’s environmental needs. Students had the choice of what animal to focus on and what information was relevant (Animal Research and Reporting Book 4 and Book 5)

Picture of wild dogDigital tools allow us to move up in the SAMR Model (substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition) levels while keeping the rigor of academic instruction through a TPACK (technology, pedagogy, content, knowledge) integration framework (PowerSchool, 2021) (, 2022).

Multimedia allowed students to explore enhanced ways of discovering their own story-making abilities which add voice and choice to their own learning. For some students, having the capacity to use speech to text tools opened a world of opportunities. As one of our teachers quickly realized, in her class where students’ academic levels are many, advanced and gifted students can go on to use their insight and creativity while students struggling with reading and writing can use speech to text, video recording, and multimedia to also gain a higher degree of learning of both digital tools and academic content.

TPACK Diagram SAMR Model Diagram

In 5th grade, the lesson was aligned to ISTE Standard for Students: Knowledge Constructor 1.3.d, Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions. Students acquired a way of developing their own ideas, answers, and solutions to scientific concepts. Through a project called the Water Encyclopedia, students first interacted with their Amplify Science study of Water through traditional methods.

Picture of water drops Sample digital book created by a student

Development of hands-on and experiential activities contributed to learning content and experiences but to knowledge construction by the students themselves, happened only when they had the ability to construct meaningful connections of their own understandings of what they learned through the making of a digital book. The use of local curricular resources, digital media, and their own exploration of the real-world issues and solutions, all promoted a deeper dive into the learning of what “water” is and why it is important in the context of the science curriculum. A digital tool became not only the catalyst to learn how to implement instructional technology but also the medium by which curricular and personal knowledge became consolidated and represented by students. (Water Encyclopedia Book 6 and Book 7)

Most impressive of all, it was our Special Day Class students in 5th grade who gained the most from being able to use digital tools like speech to text, text to speech, video creation, and multimedia to represent their learning and deeper understanding. Using the ISTE Standard for Students: Knowledge Constructor 1.3a, students planned and employed effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits. By providing a simple topic of their interest like explaining how to do an activity like cooking or playing a video game, students found themselves involved in exploring, researching, narrating, and creating digital books.

Learning disabilities usually limit a student’s ability to write, to demonstrate what they really know, and what they have learned. While teachers usually know when students with disabilities have learned a great deal, the products students create do not always emphasize their true learning. Yet, by supplying them with resources that leverage digital tools in their favor by augmenting access to learning skills beyond traditional representations in which typically students with disabilities tend to fail, we now can provide them with opportunities to show their abilities and capabilities. For example, students leveraged digital tools for writing using speech to text. Other students with speech disabilities overcome their limitations through video and text to speech tools. While the books seem simple at first, after understanding that each one of the students represent disabilities in speech, cognition, dyslexia, and others, the produced books represent milestones of academic achievement. (Directions Book 8, Book 9, Book 10)

Student using topics that they like - Fortnite Students using video and audio - Videop games Students narrativing they stories

In conclusion, students had a voice and choice of what they wanted to work on. Our students built their own knowledge by actively exploring the curriculum as well as digital resources which they evaluated and utilized to construct their own digital books through digital tools that facilitated access to alternative ways for students to show their deeper insights about what they had learned, rather than being limited by language difficulties or learning disabilities. As educators, our goal is to place in the hands of students the opportunity to construct their own knowledge. Implementation of instructional technology through the ISTE Standards has the potential to enhance student creativity and to assist students to overcome academic and personal challenges.

References:, (2022). TPACK Explained

Edutopia. (2020). SAMR Model: A powerful model for understanding good tech integration