Easing M-STEP Stress

Notes from the Classroom

M-Step-Logo_473059_7While all eyes are on spring break, just behind it lurks the dreaded, gray fog–the time when the use of technology in our building becomes dedicated to one purpose: M-STEP.

Our online standardized testing begins right after we return from a much-needed respite. However, as we are frantically wrapping up our informational unit of study and preparing for parent-teacher conferences, who has time to prep?

Thankfully, most of the “prep” for my students has already happened, thanks to our use of online reading and writing resources. Still, though we’re just two school weeks out, there is much that can be done in terms of online practice.

Reading 

Early in the year I created an account at ReadTheory for all of my students. This is a great online program that provides students with an experience that is very much like the M-STEP format: students read a passage and answer multiple choice questions.

What I love about ReadTheory is that it is computer adaptive when students pretest. It also gives them an explanation as to why an answer is incorrect. ReadTheory also offers free, printable assessments that can be used in the classroom if paper-and-pencil practice is needed. (Blogger Jianna Taylor describes how Edulastic addresses many of these goals as well.)

Newsela is another great resource for leveled passages. With Newsela, students can read passages online and answer questions. There are abundant resources on this site, which is also searchable by topic and grade level. (For more on Newsela, check out Amy Gurney’s post from 2016 about the site.)

Often, I find inspiration on other teachers’ sites. Mr. Nussbaum is one of them. His site is full of resources, and the reading passages are not only leveled, but they look very much like the screen that students view when taking the M-STEP.

Between these three sites (and in addition to the actual M-STEP prep site) students should be well prepared for the format, and comfortable with reading and answering questions in this online format.

Writing 

These days, there are many resources available for online writing. Many students at the elementary level are using Google Docs–sometimes even in kindergarten. Other online story creation sites have exploded over the years as well.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hOne of my favorites–and, for my students, most beneficial–is blogging. Blogging is something we do all year long, but in the spring we also participate in the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Classroom Challenge. This challenge changes the game because now there are real people–not just teachers and classmates–reading our writing. Students begin to care more about how they write, what they write, and what other people think of their writing.

This lends itself very well to M-STEP. I tell my students to imagine they are writing for their blog audience. The feedback, I tell them, will come from your score. So use everything you know about good writing.

Bottom Line

I am so fortunate to teach in a district that does not place great emphasis on these tests. Our superintendent is very clear that this is one score, on one day, and does not begin to tell the story of who the child is as a learner. We all know that the true “prep” is in the good teaching that we do day to day.

However, ease of use with technology will allow my students to relax and get down to the business of showing what they know, the best that they can. To me, this is the perfect combination.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

 

 

Student Portfolios: A Proposal

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_422892943Student portfolios are a buzzword in education right now. The idea isn’t new, as many educators know. What is new is the idea of digital portfolios. Many software companies are jumping on board and offering some user-friendly options, which are perfect for many classrooms and families (these include Seesaw and Sesame).

As a fifth grade teacher, I am focused on providing my students with a tool that they can use and manage independently throughout their school career. Enter Google.

As a district, we use Google for all of our email and applications. Each student has a Google account that is assigned in elementary school, but for which the ability to use email is turned off. Students are still able to use Google Docs and the other applications in their Google Drive, and beginning in kindergarten, they create docs and save them in a folder.

My vision for my students’ portfolios extends beyond this, into a format that I used during my graduate program: a website.

Though this may sound daunting, I actually teach my students how to create a basic website during our informational unit of study. Google allows us to download a template and edit from there. This works extremely well and helps to engage, enhance, and extend student learning. (See Triple E Framework for more information.)

Students are more engaged in the task; the use of technology enhances the learning (takes it to levels paper and pencil could not); and they are more likely to extend their learning beyond the school day. That is, they work on the task at home, when they don’t have to, but want to!

These websites are all shared with the teacher “as owner,” which ensures that anything that may need to be edited can be done quickly, by an adult.

The Vision

If students were taught to create a website for their portfolios, the possibilities would be endless.

Students could have a page for each subject area. There, they could upload their best pieces of writing, pictures of projects, and even videos of presentations and performances. The site could grow with them throughout their school career and into college and/or work applications. Students could easily capture community service and extracurricular activities, with pictures, reflections, and uploaded certificates. The site could be held “in house” to address privacy concerns until the student turned 18.

Considerations

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Theme selection in Weebly. Click to enlarge.

Of course, Google is not the only platform students can use. There are many great options out there (Weebly, Wix, and WordPress are a few of the top ones). There would be several factors that would need to be considered for those, including: management (ease for teacher), cost (upgraded sites cost money in order to have certain features), and privacy (having sites as part of a district account allows for greater overview).

Still, no matter what the vehicle, online portfolios increase student agency and have the potential to transform student learning. If our students were constantly thinking about how they could demonstrate and capture their best learning, and they had the power to design and showcase that learning, how powerful would that be?

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

The Words We Carry

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_323200592Sixteen years ago I wrote a book.

I was inspired by my then-three-year-old son, who asked the innocent question, “Won’t the school be lonely this summer?” That question sparked something in me and I quickly drafted a story about a new school being lonely over the summer. My children enjoyed it immensely.

A few years later, I went to a children’s book writing conference and I paid extra to have an editor review my story. I will never forget sitting across from her as she told me that the concept of a school with thoughts and feelings was “creepy.” She told me perhaps I should rewrite it from the perspective of the school’s friend, the janitor. I never did. It didn’t feel right. I put the book away in a drawer and deferred that dream.

Two weeks ago I began to gather books to do a Mock Caldecott unit with my students, inspired by a teacher’s blog I found through a Twitter post. Imagine my shock when I came across School’s First Day of School, a story about a new school that has thoughts and feelings. A new school who talks to the janitor.

I was dumbfounded. I thought, “This could have been me. I could have gotten my book published. But I quit trying.”

The takeaway for me was immediate: the power of our words. I let someone’s negative words stop me. I knew all of the stories about authors who were rejected many times. But there was something about her words that struck me and made me feel so bad about my writing that I just quit. As a teacher, it made me think: have I done that to a student? Have I ever said something carelessly, even jokingly, that has caused a student to quit writing, quit trying, to defer his or her dream?

I hope not. But I know now I will not.

The Power of Negative Thinking

Coincidentally, last week my principal showed us a video from Tedx, where Alison Ledgerwood talks about getting stuck in the negatives. The research is absolutely astounding about the power of negative thinking, and how negative experiences are often stronger than, and not offset by, positive ones. Wow.

I believe this experience came to me for a reason. Multiple reasons perhaps. But the biggest for me is this: I must always, always, find something good to say to my students. I must encourage them as writers, as readers, as people, so that they never defer any dream. I must find ways to help them not let the words of others get them down, as I did.

Perhaps I should blow the dust off of another manuscript I have in that same drawer and send it out into the world. Then keep sending it, no matter what. For now, I will pledge to myself and to my students to be the voice of encouragement and praise in their heads, one that will hopefully shout louder than any critic they will ever hear.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Improving Peer Feedback in Blogs

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_535675201In the beginning of our blogging year, I always tell students to wait to comment on each other’s writing. There are always those who ignore me and add all sorts of silly comments with emojis. What they don’t realize is that I have to approve all comments first. I control this intentionally because I want to teach them how to comment.

This may sound super controlling, but there is a reason for this. I teach my students to comment on what the author did well as a writer — focusing on the lessons we have worked on in class. I tell them to leave the constructive criticism to me — that’s my job. They need to read for what was done well and highlight that. The results have been more than I had hoped for.

The Benefits of Positive Feedback

My students’ comments are truly insightful:

  • “I really liked how you put show not tell in your intro because it really helps me understand how she is feeling.”
  • “I love how you made a connection to your real life with your family and Judah 🙂 I also like your choice of words and detail because you can really picture your story.”
  • “There were some pleasing turns in this story that I really enjoyed!”

Students love getting comments from their peers, and when the feedback is positive, I see them more excited to write and to revise their writing. I can still leave private comments about things that need fixing (spelling is my #1) or I can have a one-on-one conference if there are larger issues.

My students let me know if I am behind on approving comments because they love to see their names in print in an “editor” mode. It also allows for good conversation if I choose not to publish a comment. Usually it is because they either were critical or forgot to comment about the writing. Keeping their focus on what the author did well as a writer helps them leave meaningful feedback and also shifts their mindset for their own writing.

The biggest benefit from intentional commenting is that it has made my writers more aware of their own use of craft and more aware of good writing as they read. Students are coming up to me to show me good passages in books. Some are starting to notice when stories are not well written. This is something I could not teach and if I tried, I probably could not achieve.

I am excited to see how commenting will continue with this group this year. I may experiment with allowing them to add craft suggestions and see what evolves. I’ll keep you posted!

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Early Choice = Engagement & Excitement

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_375784555So it’s November, and it may seem odd to see the title “early choice” in a blog post. It’s not early in the year, and yet for an elementary teacher whose students are blogging, it is.

It takes time to get students used to the blogging format, establish procedures, teach digital citizenship, and truly begin to use the blog purposefully. I’ve been blogging with my 5th graders for a few years now, and there are certain things I always like to do in the first few months of school. But we all know that life throws us curve balls and sometimes you have to improvise.

One lesson I always do on Halloween is based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. After reading the book to the students, they each choose one story from the book to complete. The story starters all lend themselves to heavy fantasy, which is a genre students don’t get much class time to enjoy in terms of writing.

The day after Halloween, I was unexpectedly out of the classroom (but still in the building) and decided to have the students spend their Language Arts time blogging their stories. (In the past, we had only published these on paper.) The excitement was palpable. Several students asked if I was serious. (“Yes.”) More asked if they could work on it from home. (“Yes!”) A few even asked if they could write more than one installment. (“Yes! Yes!”)

As I read through my student’s stories, I saw them using italics, bold print, and different font sizes, colors, and types of font, all for emphasis. These are things that would not be as easy or evident in regular paper or pencil writing:

I was in a dome made of green leaves and flowers. Then I stepped out and looked up. There were tree houses made of sticks, weeds, and bark. I saw little heads poke out of trees and windows. But there was something odd about the place. There was shimmering dust everywhere. And there seemed to be no end. The land seemed to grow bigger, like there was no end to it.

Giving Students a Reason to Be Excited

The ability to easily add emphasis inspired my students to be more creative and I think, in some cases, to write more. I have students who ended their posts with cliffhangers and promises to the reader that more would be coming. Writing in a digital format ensures them an audience and makes them feel their writing is purposeful, which inspires them to write more, even when it is not an assignment.

Moments like this remind me why I love teaching. It’s easy to become bogged down and overwhelmed by all of the demands on our time these days. But seeing how technology can inspire my students and transform the writing process inspires me to constantly push myself to let go a little more, trust my students, and let them fly.

I have a new post-it note at the bottom of my computer screen now: “Build in more choice.” In a child’s school world of “have to,” choice is freedom. Choice is fun. And from this teacher’s perspective, choice just might be the key to getting my students to new heights.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Ending with a WOW

Notes from the Classroom

makennaaddibookA few weeks ago I wrote about giving students choice in end-of-year reading and writing projects, in an attempt to maintain enthusiasm for learning into mid-June, which is a challenge no matter how motivated your learners are. I’d never done this before, but I decided to jump and gave the students a “Purposeful Reading and Writing” assignment.

Students had to design their own project that had to involve both reading and writing at a 5th grade level or higher. They were allowed to work with a partner, in a small group, or alone. I had no idea how or if this was going to fly. Idea sheets were submitted for approval, and then my students were off and running.

For the past two weeks I have monitored progress, given feedback, and watched as students navigated peer, technology, and learning issues–the scope was too broad, they needed more information, they were in over their heads, etc. There were days when I doubted what we were doing.

But last week, on a hot Thursday afternoon, someone walked in my room and said, “Whoa, what’s going on?” I asked what they meant. “Look at them–they are all engaged.” I looked around and realized they were. Without me, without any fun distractions, they were all engaged with their own projects.

It was beautiful.

Students’ Soaring Ambitions

Monday was our peer showcase. Projects were laid out and students were instructed to go around with post-it notes, leaving positive, specific feedback and wonders, which is a nice way to say, “I’m wondering about this and didn’t see it in your project…could you tell me more?” I was (for the most part) incredibly pleased with the results and, in some cases, completely blown away.

loyalopProjects ranged from Google Presentations on the Holocaust to a 175-page book, complete with a companion text of biographies of the characters. There were board games about topics of interest, and there were poetry anthologies. The students were proud and so was I.

This is definitely something I will do again next year. Of course, I will tweak it and have more scaffolds in place to bring up the quality of projects for those students who can’t manage an independent piece on their own.

I learned a lot from the past few weeks, but the most important lesson is this: when students are ready to take on their own learning, when they have the knowledge and tools necessary, and when they are passionate about what they are doing, amazing things can happen.

Happy end of the school year to us!

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Student Design Yields Great Results

Notes from the Classroom Uncategorized

shutterstock_300056177After writing last month about giving my students a “free day,” I began to contemplate the end of the year. It is always such a crazy time: special events, end-of-year celebrations, and unexpected happenings inevitably interrupt instruction so that anything we are doing does not seem to be done well. Students lose their enthusiasm and often their ability to focus.

To counter this trend, I decided to try to harness the excitement of the free day and allow my students to design their own end-of-the year reading and writing project.

Taking a Leap

I told my students what I was thinking: you design a purposeful reading and writing project for the end of the year. You may work alone, with a partner, or in a group. Each project must contain a reading and writing component. If you are using mentor texts, you have to write at least a paragraph explaining how the text helped you with your writing. You also have to design a rubric, using previous class rubrics as a model. Finally, if you can’t come up with anything, I will assign you a text I think you’ll love, and you can read it and write a literary essay about it.

We brainstormed lots of options on the board and then they had time to think. I have to say, I was a bit nervous, but so far I’ve been pleasantly surprised and, in some cases, astounded.

I’ve had parents tell me that their children have come home saying this is going to be the best end of the year ever. They are excited about their projects and are taking ownership of their learning. Every day they come in ready to get to work, asking me about new aspects of projects, and digging for more information. There is energy and excitement in the room . . . in late May. Wow.

Project Ideas

The best ideas are coming from the students, of course.

One of my favorites comes from three girls who are working on writing fantasy. Two of the girls have been working for a while on a book outside of class. They wanted to bring in the third girl and decided that she would write a companion text, creating biographies of the characters and maps of the worlds in which they live.

shutterstock_392389606Two other students are working on a poetry anthology, analyzing mentor texts and trying copy changes–all the way down to abstract concepts and syllabication. Students are creating board games, informational picture books, and websites. It is a bit chaotic, but totally worth it.

Capturing the Power

I want this kind of excitement and energy all year in my classroom. But how? How do I meet the needs of my learners, deliver the required curriculum, and have the same level of student engagement? I’ve learned a little about Project Based Learning, which seems to fit, but I need to learn more.

This will be the question that sits in my mind all summer as I read and plan for next year. Rather than the best “end of school ever,” I want every year in my classroom to feel like the best learning ever. I suppose that is the never-ending quest of all teachers. Right now, I’m going to enjoy these last few weeks as I watch the thinking and learning in action, and allow this to inspire me for the future.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Finding Joy in a “Free Day”

Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project

shutterstock_358897601It’s that time of year here in Michigan: the dreaded standardized testing window we now call M-STEP. My 5th graders just endured five days of this testing over a two-week period. The first two days were ELA tests–hours of online reading and writing. Needless to say, after the second afternoon my kiddos were in need of a break.

We did a little bit of our read aloud, which is something that even at 10, 11, or 12 years old my students still truly love. We had a conversation and then it was time for independent reading and writing.

They’d already had hours of it that day, so I decided to let them be in charge of their literacy that day. I told them they could read and/or write in whatever way they chose–they just had to be involved in literacy in some way. The result was not what I expected.

Questions came firing at me:

“Can I write poetry?”

“Can we write a story together?”

“Can I write fiction?”

“Fantasy?”

“Can I do more concrete poems?”

“May I quietly read in the hall?”

Yes, yes, and yes. Then I watched something I haven’t seen in a while: true joy.

Enjoying Literacy

My students were happily engaging in worthwhile activities throughout the room. Even those who are usually off task found this freedom liberating and inspiring. Books were being created (and are now several chapters long). Concrete poems have been published in large numbers and are hanging in the hallway.

shutterstock_344859035This day really got me thinking about workshop and curriculum. We power through what we need to teach: mini lessons, teaching points, big ideas. We give kids lots of independent practice within the unit we are teaching.

Yet there are always those kids who don’t like the genre, who don’t really engage during independent time, who are just going through the motions waiting for the time to be over. This “free day” was just that for my friends: freedom. They weren’t constrained by what they “had” to read or write or do. This freedom allowed them to enjoy literacy.

Clearly, this is something I need to build into my year, not just at M-STEP time, but all year long. Though I’m not sure how to make it happen, I will. The evidence is clear. This is the outcome we want for our students: to find joy in reading and writing.

Now, when my students ask if we are going to have a “free day” soon, I think back to those smiles and enthusiasm and answer, “Yes.”

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Building Digital Portfolios

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_170012141For the past several years I have been having conversations with different people in my district about having our students create digital portfolios. This effort is finally gaining some ground, though the way has been painfully slow from my perspective.

As a classroom teacher, I have been talking with my students about this, and having them create pieces of digital writing in different formats that they can retrieve in future years.

Why Digital Portfolios?

Ever since earning my Master’s in Educational Technology, in 2009, I have had a passion for the power of technology and its ability to transform teaching and learning. I have also recognized the untapped potential for our students in having digital archives of their learning journey. My vision is that our graduating seniors would have a website that they could use for job and college applications, one that would contain documents, videos, recordings, and other artifacts from their K-12 years.

While this vision is far from being realized, we are making some gains. The Media Specialist in my building has been working with our Music teacher to store voice recordings of our students from each year in elementary. She has also begun to have students store Google Docs in a folder that could someday be tapped for a full portfolio.

What Can I Do Today?

Here in my world of 5th grade, it might seem frivolous to have students thinking about digital portfolios. Not so, I say. There is such power in students’ revisiting their work from the beginning of the year and seeing growth, or revising a favorite piece to make it even better.

Every year I tell my students that when they go to middle school, they can show their teachers their websites that they created for informational writing. (I’ve had teachers e-mail me, so I know they do this.) Often, these students will be a bit embarrassed by the lack of content or the mistakes they’ve made, but this is evidence of growth!

shutterstock_118599142This project has also inspired students to create other sites about personal interests. Seeing the application of this skill in their personal life is exactly the kind of transfer we hope for, and the kind of artifact that students can highlight down the road.

Because I have my students blog on a platform that I provide, I have to archive the class blog each year. Before I do, I tell them to copy and paste their favorite pieces into Google Docs, so they can access them later. This causes them to really evaluate what writing is their best and what is worth saving.

An Eye to the Future

These are small steps toward a full portfolio—a vision I’m not sure will ever be realized. However, I can plant the seed of the idea and have my students begin collecting and archiving their best work. The more that technology integrates into our students’ lives, the more inclined I think they will be to continue creating their portfolios. At least I hope so.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

Online Writing: Beauty and the Beast

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_348905468Each year I have my students engage in a variety of online writing experiences: blogging, Google documents, websites, and presentations. At this point in the year, I find that there are two sides to online writing, and finding a way to balance them is my greatest challenge.

The Beauty

I love having my students write online. Online writing is easier to edit, I can leave comments, and I don’t have to lug tons of notebooks back and forth. I can sit with my computer in my lap at night and toggle through a wealth of student writing. It is by no means faster (sometimes I feel like it takes a bit longer digging through my links) but I do love not having to worry about whether assignments were turned in, or if I left papers at school, or somehow something got lost.

Digital archive

Online writing allows me to have a digital archive of my students’ writing, which is invaluable at parent-teacher conferences in the spring. It is amazing to see the growth—or sadly sometimes the lack thereof—in student pieces. Because I give lots of craft assignments early on, I can easily show parents my assignment posts and their student’s writing in response. This allows for easier conversations about why a child is beginning, developing, or secure in his or her writing skills.

This encourages revision. With this kind of online portfolio, some students have asked to go back and revise and edit—a teacher’s dream! They actually want to do this? Sometimes I take screenshots of the “before” piece, so that I can have them to compare to the revised and edited work. This helps me when I confer with both student and parent.

Authentic audience

Establishing partnerships has been a beautiful thing as well. This year we are blogging partners with two 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h5th grade classes in Maine and we are participating in the Two Writing Teachers Classroom Slice of Life Challenge. My students are excited to log on each week to see what their long-distance partners have written, and to leave and receive feedback. In the classroom challenge, they are looking at writing from classrooms around the globe, which makes their own writing more purposeful. They grapple with their subject matter because now that they have an audience, they want it to be interesting.

Without fail, I have at least two or three students from each class who ask me what to write about. Convincing some of my students that they have moments that are writing-worthy is a constant challenge, but in spite of all this, I am finding every student engaged to a greater degree than they would be if they were only writing in their notebooks. That is beautiful.

The Beast

Of course, this all sounds great. What could possibly be a problem? Well…

Greater responsibilities for feedback

If I had the time each and every night to read and leave private comments on students’ blogs, life would be grand. But I don’t. So, I let the posts pile up, and pretty soon I am harassed by my students enough that I sit and power through countless blogs in one night.

I’m still not able to allow my students to comment freely on one another’s blogs, which means that I have comments to approve as well. All of this can become a monster to manage, and I confess that this year I have not done as well as I would like. Now that we have blogging partners, the SOLSC, and the interface on our blog has changed … it is very time consuming and at times, downright annoying.

Problems with technology

Every year, I have my students create individual Google Sites for our informational reading and writing units. For the units, we take notes, do our writing in packets, and then transfer our writing to the pages of our sites—my attempt to help them avoid plagiarism. Again, this allows for easy conferring on my part. It also unleashes a whole new animal.

Ten-year-olds often believe that they know more about technology than the adults around them. While this is frequently true, their tech confidence becomes a nightmare when working with certain programs. No matter how many directions I give, there is always that group of students that thinks they know better. (Or the group that totally misses the directions.) This leads to a lot of time spent undoing, re-doing, and re-teaching. Grr. My students discovered the hard way last year that copy-paste doesn’t work all of the time in Google Sites, even though someone had told them that. This resulted in many hours spent finding, downloading, saving and uploading pictures, not to mention having to create the citations all over again.

Happily Ever After?

At the end of each project, I find that I’ve learned something new that will help me (and my students) in the future. I also find new challenges with technology and the individuals who are in my classes. This is truly a never-ending journey, but one that I am still happy to be on.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University.