SAMR: Substitute, Augment, Modify, and Redefine Digital Worksheets with TeacherMade

Ron Farrow, Guest Blogger

Technology integration is certainly not new. 1:1 integration in schools, known as the “digital conversion,” really gained steam with the strategic plan of Mooresville School District in 2006. They looked at the direction technology was headed, and its potential impact on education, and decided that technology tools were going to be as relevant to every student as a notebook and pencil. Regardless of one’s belief in how deeply integrated technology should be in a child’s education, there is no doubt that we are now in a learning environment where technology is a need, not a luxury. A simple look at the modern workforce can show that skills from basic word processing to advanced coding are commonplace in almost any job environment. Even fast food companies such as McDonalds have apps for ordering, and farmers are using drone technology to survey land, crops, and animals. So how do we take a century of pedagogical study in effective instruction and learning, and incorporate technology into practice in such a way that it enhances and even redefines the learning? 

To start, it’s important to understand that not every lesson calls for the same level of technology integration. There are some learning activities that simply need basic recall to spur academic growth. Just like not every lesson has a Depth of Knowledge (DOK) level of 4, which would represent creation of new ideas independently and high levels of critical thinking, not every lesson requires deep integration of technology tools. This is why SAMR continues to be a successful model for technology use in the learning environment.

SAMR is a framework for evaluating instructional technology usage that includes four levels of integration. These levels include Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition. Rather than thinking of these levels as a ladder, they really are more of a spectrum. Just like our DOK levels, not every lesson is most effective at the Redefinition level of technology integration. There are moments when Substitution is the right mode, and other moments when Augmentation or Modification is called for. What SAMR provides is a curricular-agnostic framework for deeply and successfully integrating technology into your instructional design. Let’s take a look at each level and how this can have a positive impact on your instruction and learning in the classroom.

SAMR – Substitution

Substitution is just as it sounds. It represents substituting the same activity you would do in the analog (or paper and pencil) realm in a digital realm. Instead of students filling out the answers on a paper worksheet, they are typing their answers into an online worksheet. Substitution does not change or modify the lesson’s original intent. It simply allows the activity to be done in a digital environment.

So how does this impact learning? Well, even simple substitution can have a major impact on teaching and learning. As we all experienced in 2020 and 2021, there are times where students must learn remotely. We all were placed in situations this year where we had to design and develop learning structures in an online environment due to COVID closures. Districts with very little experience in online learning had difficulty with this process, and often relied on canned curriculum programs to quickly adapt. SAMR allows a framework where these schools could have looked at starting with basic substitution of their current learning assets, and gradually applying the SAMR framework as continued training and comfort in technology use for both teachers and students developed.

Substitution can allow students to continue the same work they would do in a classroom seat at home on the family computer. It can also provide additional supports for some students without additional modifications. Just the ability for some students to type can be a learning support. Many students with deficiencies in fine motor skills, especially at the elementary level, can be more successful in typing responses, or even using basic speech to text tools now included in programs such as Google Docs and Microsoft Word. This allows the student to not only continue to learn in a remote environment, but to be more successful by having tools that help them overcome specific learning barriers.

Substitution, as seen by clicking on the S image,, is taking an activity done on paper and adapting it for an online experience. Here, the child is still completing the same learning activity of reading and identifying the main idea. This “Substitution” to a digital environment allows the student to complete this online. Here in Teachermade, this is done in minutes using open answer response boxes placed directly over the response lines on the paper. With the addition of text boxes for the Name at the top, we now have a full digital replication, or substitution, of the analog worksheet.

SAMR – Augmentation

Augmentation in the SAMR framework begins adding some functional improvement to the learning activity. As seen in this example, I have taken an Animal Cell diagram and redesigned it for the digital environment. Using the TeacherMade tool of short answer, I have simply covered up the correct response on the diagram with a blank for the students to complete the diagram on their own in a digital environment. In order to Augment this activity further, adding additional functionality, I have added a drop down box example for one label. This shows that you can now give some answer choices for the students to select, rather than open responses. Here, students with an IEP (Individual Education Plan) that may have this accommodation, can now have that met on this worksheet. While this would be a more major adjustment on a paper worksheet, this can be easily done in a digital environment through the use of the TeacherMade tools. The Augmentation begins using the power of technology to enhance what can be done on paper.

SAMR – Modification

Modification begins redesigning the task using technology. Instead of just modifying this worksheet for a digital environment, we have added some new components that not only add functionality, but raise the rigor and redesign the task. Here, students are now clicking to identify text evidence within the passage. Using the hotspot feature in TeacherMade, we were able to quickly highlight specific sentences that make them selectable by the student. The student can then select these to identify the text evidence needed for the modified questions. With the capability in TeacherMade to select correct responses with hotspots and short answer questions, these can now be autograded. Now we are not only redesigning the task, but we are adding efficiency to our work by having TeacherMade grade it for us!

SAMR – Redefinition

With Redefinition, we are redefining what is possible with technology. Now, we are using technology tools to do things that just weren’t possible with paper and pencil. With these examples, we have added audio of the story being read. We have added music examples, and the ability for students to record their own responses. These features are simply not possible in a classroom setting without a 1:1 session with the teacher. Now, all students can do this in any setting. Using the TeacherMade tools of audio recording, adding images, links, and video, we can transform the way we present, teach and learn these concepts both in the classroom and at home.

SAMR is a framework for technology integration, but it is not a solution for improving instructional design or pedagogy. Just like TeacherMade, it only works with what is being inserted and used. Your original content and lesson design is still paramount in quality instruction. SAMR, however, along with the powerful tools provided in TeacherMade, can truly be a game changer for redefining the instructional possibilities in a digital world.

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