Reflections on Technology and Literacy

Notes from the Classroom


As I think about literacy in our classrooms and what I have observed this year, a few things stand out.

A big one: We must teach our children keyboarding skills.

Though we have a program that students can use at any time, we must be intentional about regular practice if our students are going to become proficient typists. This is important not only because they are now assessed as writers by the state through typed text, but also because we are living in an increasingly digital world. Moreover, when students struggle to type, they are not able to fully express their thinking and often give up before they have written all that they have to say.

The Benefits of Google Docs and Classroom

When students have the ability to use Google Docs with ease, multiple things happen.

  • They are able to receive feedback from their teachers easily and respond to it accordingly.
  • Collaboration with peers is instant.
  • They have a digital portfolio of their writing that will follow them year to year.

Teachers can use Google Classroom for assignments, which makes assigning and collecting student work both organized and incredibly easy. (I so wish I had known about this amazing tool years ago!) At the end of the year, teachers can “return” all assignments to their students, which removes the files from the teacher’s Google Drive. The original assignment stays with the teacher, so it can be used in the future.

Capturing Student Voice with Digital Portfolios

Our district has been working for the past few years on using portfolios as part of telling the story of student learning. We have teachers who have been using just binders, others using just digital tools, and still others a combination of both.

The platform that we have chosen for digital portfolios is Seesaw, and I couldn’t be happier with what this offers students. Within Seesaw, students can upload a piece of digital writing; take a picture of a piece published with paper and pencil; or even use Shadow Puppet to capture multiple pages of published writing (great for our lower elementary students).

The best part is this: They can record themselves reading and reflecting on their writing. Adding a student’s actual voice to a piece of writing is incredibly powerful for both parents and teachers. Suddenly, you can hear inflection and enthusiasm that doesn’t necessarily come through otherwise. When students are asked to reflect, they will often say more than they would if they were writing.

Portfolios Help with Reading Fluency, Too

Similarly, we have used the record function for reading fluency. I have had students ask if they can practice before uploading a recording–a teacher’s dream. Parents hear fluency checks throughout the year, and thus conversations at conferences are easier.

We also use Seesaw for student reflection at the end of texts. These can take any form the student wishes, and often students will take a picture of their books and simply talk about their thinking.

In tandem with Seesaw, we used Screencastify with 5th graders, who were able to create book trailers using Google Slides and then upload the files to Seesaw. (We used this to publish personal narratives with pictures as well!)

Where We Go from Here

We are already busy planning for next year: keyboarding, blogging, Google applications, and more. There are so many possibilities.

But at the heart of this are our students. Our driving question will always be: “How we can help students move forward and be the best readers and writers that they can be?” The answer is complex but we will keep striving to put all of the pieces in place. Technology + good instruction is a nice place to start.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Putting the L back in PLC

Notes from the Classroom

PLC–this acronym is known (and often not loved) by educators far and wide. For most, PLC time is a once-a-week meeting with their subject area or grade level that usually becomes consumed with to-do’s and data; very little professional learning is actually happening during these times.

As a result, teachers often walk away feeling like they have more to do and less time in which to do it.

So where does learning come in? This can happen during professional development offered by the district, through book studies at the department or building level, or through teachers’ attending conferences or trainings on their own. But this usually takes away the community aspect of PLCs. We all know how important it is to think and toss around ideas with other educators; it is this process that truly makes us grow.

This year I am in a new position and while we have a PLC time every week, I find that our time does not always lend itself to study and discussion. What I have noticed is that, to fill the gap, I find myself spending more time reading online, following twitter feeds and blogs, and engaging in both face-to-face and virtual dialogue with others to push my thinking. Even though I am just getting started, I am creating my own PLC and I love it.

Building a Community with Twitter

Twitter is an amazing resource to get you going on creating your own PLC. Be intentional. Find someone that you admire in education–from educators to researchers to authors such as:

With these feeds, you’ll find links to blogs, resources, and articles to stimulate your thinking and connect you to like-minded educators. This is also a great way to find materials to take back to your team to begin to create the PLC that you would like to have. I only use my Twitter account for professional content, so I only follow people or groups that are going to enrich my feed.

Finding the Time with Twitter

On top of everything else, it can be hard to think about work when you are not working. (Actually, work is pretty much all teachers think about when they are not at school!) I know that I will spend time on social media when I have a few minutes of downtime in the evening. There are usually posts on Facebook that I might save for later that are related to school, but when I click over to Twitter, I get posts of substance that elevate my thinking.

These Twitter posts lead me down paths to resources that I can apply to my practice and share. The beautiful thing about this is that it doesn’t take up hours. I suppose it could, but given the concise nature of Twitter, I have a pretty good idea right off if I’m going to click more or not.

But what about People?

While all of this is great, I have still found that the best collaboration and growth comes from face-to-face interactions. I have been able to work this year with our subject area coordinator for Social Studies and Science, and we have shared incredibly rich conversations and thinking. I attended Design for Deep Thinking at the Whole Mind Design Studio with a teacher from our junior high school, for instance; the event broadened my understanding of her work and the implications for our work at the elementary level.

If there are people in your district whom you respect, want to learn more about, or who make you think “Yes!” when you hear them speak at meetings, reach out. Make connections. You will grow and be happier. I promise.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Bringing Warmth into These Last Cold Weeks

Notes from the Classroom

Here in Michigan winters are long–seeming to last well into spring. And in the classroom winter can feel eternal. The grey outside is often reflected in the moods of the students, and to be honest, ours too.

How to combat the cold-month blahs? Here are a few ideas to help you through:

Pull Out Poetry

One book that I use all year long, but which is especially effective this time of year, is Red Sings from Treetops, by Joyce Sidman. This book is wonderful for teaching the power of language, and for inspiring kids to think outside the box.

I use Red Sings as a mentor text and have kids write poems inspired by it. We brainstorm, choose a color to focus on, do some quality writing, and then spend some time working on our illustrations. If you have time and patience, true collage is a fun way to go. We usually use colored pencils, and I am always pleased with the result. We hang these in the hall and it is so nice to be greeted by springtime images every morning.

Share Your Favorite Books

There are always books that I don’t have time to read to my students but want to share. So, it’s important to set aside a few minutes each day to book talk your favorites.

If you have them available, hold them until the end of the week and have students enter a lottery to check them out. Pull names and make a big deal out of it. Let students put their names on waiting lists too–they will badger their classmates, which just might inspire them to keep reading!

This is also a great time to talk about realistic time frames for finishing a text. I have a colleague who does this with new books from book orders. It generates a ton of excitement and puts some life into conversations about books.

Check Out “Breakout”!

If you are not familiar with Breakout EDU, the educational-gaming platform, you must check it out! Most people won’t have the resources to create actual breakout boxes, but you can use the concept and create a “breakout” with clues in envelopes, forcing students to solve clues in order to get to the end.

There are many breakouts already created that people have shared online. Students work in small groups, so we make six sets of clues for a classroom. You can create a breakout around any content: I have designed them around books, social studies content, and math. We are also creating them for March is Reading Month and Leader in Me. Students apply what they know to solve clues, and they love the challenge! This is a great way to extend the content and get kids excited again.

Whatever you do to get through the last cold weeks, remember to focus on what you love and what brings you joy. Your students will feel your enthusiasm and they will catch it too!

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Fostering Social Justice in the Classroom

Notes from the Classroom


“The function of education . . . is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically . . . . Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

It used to be that every February, we broke out our collection of books celebrating the contributions of black Americans, our videos of Ruby Bridges and Martin Luther King, Jr., and we felt satisfied that we were doing a good job including this critical content in our teaching. Thankfully we have come to realize that this is not enough.

Social justice and equity demand more of us. This definition of social justice, which my district is using, reveals why:

Social justice is evident when an institution or a society tries to expand equal opportunities and outcomes for all members of society; challenges inequities and discrimination; and promotes participation of all people.  

It’s a broad challenge, and one that many people struggle with. So, where can we begin when teaching for equity?

We can start by using texts that reflect our students’ experiences.

A few years ago I had two students of Chinese heritage in my class. They were so excited to see The Year of the Dog in my regular classroom collection; it helped me realize how powerful it is to have books that reflect students and their experiences, and how it is critical for students to see themselves in the classroom texts.

While this can be a challenge, the payoff is huge for our students. That’s because having texts that reflect our own story validates our experiences, and communicates that we are valuable–and important enough to write about.

Our classroom lessons should also focus on a variety of people and experiences.

This is critical for the texts we choose, and during read alouds and mini lessons. We need to bring in the people that are often left out: women and minorities in science, history, and mathematics.

A treasure trove of primary resources, music, images and documents are available online. To find these materials, you can use the links listed at the bottom of this post.

Still, it’s not just about text selection. To foster social justice and equity, we also must foster critical thinking in our classrooms.

The authors of Rethinking Our Classrooms argue that teaching students to think critically is key to developing citizens who question, analyze, and ultimately make change.

One of the finest resources I have used comes from Ron Ritchhart and his “Cultures of Thinking” resources. His thinking routines uncover student thinking and push students to deeper understanding. Some routines that would be particularly effective for digging into ideas and issues of social justice would be:

  • The Story Routine: Main, Side and Hidden
  • Unveiling Stories
  • Step in, Step Out, Step Back
  • Beauty and Truth
  • The 3 Ys
  • Making Meaning 

Remember to keep moving forward.

The resources below are truly just a beginning. Teaching for social justice begins with creating a learning environment where students’ cultures are not just celebrated, but made relevant in the context of the learning. It continues with the purposeful inclusion of resources that give a broader context, and it finds its peak when students can critically analyze content, ask questions, and plan and effect change.

This is a never-ending process and one that we must always be cognizant of so that we do not become complacent.

Resources

Social justice in the classroom: teacher and classroom resources

  • This short excerpt from Volume 2 of Rethinking Our Classrooms explains beautifully what it means to teach for equity and social justice.
  • These 25 short films from The New York Times help students explore race and bias.
  • The Anatomy of an Ally toolkit helps social justice educators develope their identities. The toolkit comes from Tolerance.org, which includes a wealth of resources (and goes well beyond just tolerance).
  • “All that we share,” a video on YouTube, reveals that people can have much in common, even if outwardly they seem very different.

Multimedia resources

  • Digital History: I have used this site often to bring social studies to life in my 5th grade classroom, and I share it widely with everyone I can, as the resources span K-12.
  • Women in mathematics, from Agnes Scott College, provides many female mathematicians’ bios.
  • This article, from Smithsonian.com, details five accomplished women in mathematics.
  • This article, also from Smithsonian.com, details ten accomplished women in science.
  • Discovery Education provides numerous classroom resources about women and minorities in STEM fields.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

How to Combine Service Learning and Persuasive Writing

Notes from the Classroom

In this season of giving, it can be challenging to get students to think beyond themselves and their list of wishes.

That’s why an Academic Service Learning project is one of my favorite things to do. This project, part of my district’s initiative to connect learning and community service, allows me to combine persuasive writing with student choice, in a way that produces lots of great ideas for a class project–and guarantees family involvement from the start.

Our Service Learning Begins with Reading

I start by reading students several books over the course of a week, asking them what they notice, and charting their thinking. At the end of the week, we start to look for common themes that emerge. This helps to launch the conversation about our project. Books I have used include:

Some other books that may be helpful are:

Students Propose Actual Service Projects, via Persuasive Essays

After we have read the books and discussed themes, I reveal the assignment to the students: they must come up with an idea for our class ASL project and write a persuasive essay about why we should do their project.

I send home a letter to families asking them to have a conversation with their child, and to help them come up with some ideas for our project. Students bring back their ideas and then they choose one to use as the basis for their persuasive essay.

This makes the writing so much more purposeful. Students know that they have to convince not only me, but also their classmates, in order to do their project.

Then We Vote

Once all essays have been submitted, I begin the task of choosing five to six for the students to vote on. (Side note: if you haven’t used Google Classroom before, you should try it for writing assignments! Life changing!) I try to find a nice variety of ideas as well as essays that are well written.

After this is done, I read the finalists out loud to the class. I always stress that they are not to tell who wrote what; this needs to be about the project and the writing, not a popularity contest. Once the votes are in, we begin the process of planning and implementing our ASL project.

And Finally, We Take Action  

This project has been a great way for me to get kids engaged, help them find passion, and get them to think outside of themselves. We have raised money for local animal shelters, sent money to WWF for elephants, made blankets and games for children in local hospitals, and purchased books for children in a nearby school. The reward of seeing my students feel so successful goes far beyond what I could have imagined. I will never teach persuasive writing any other way.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Still Looking for Holiday Gifts? These Books are Perfect for ELA Teachers.

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

The holidays are upon us, but don’t despair! It’s not too late to find that perfect gift for an ELA colleague–or even yourself.

To help with your quest, our bloggers have put together an easy holiday-shopping list full of award winners. Now go get them!

If You’re Looking for Picture Books

With the holidays coming, teaching curriculum in any cohesive fashion can be challenging–at best. That’s why taking a break with a Mock Caldecott unit is the perfect way to have some really meaningful conversations about books, while exposing kids to some of the best picture books of the year. I did this last year and it was amazing. The kids really got into it and even my reluctant readers engaged because this was about the pictures, not the reading. (Sort of.) There are so many resources out there once you start to Google: book trailers, videos about the making of the books.

Some standouts from last year that I would give as gifts:

Shy, by Deborah Freedman

It Is Not Time for Sleeping, by Lisa Graff; illustrated by Lauren Castillo

The Airport Book, by Lisa Brown

The Night Gardener, by The Fan Brothers

They All Saw A Cat, by Brendan Wenzel

-Beth Rogers

If You’d Like Page-Turning Nonfiction that Deftly Tackles Social Issues

I’m not even finished reading The 57 Bus, by Dashka Slater, and I can’t wait to give it away. As each chapter passes, I see more and more power and potential in this engrossing nonfiction narrative, and I want to get it into the hands of students and teachers everywhere. Whether you give it to teens or teachers, there are a lot of reasons to put this book under the tree this year:

  • Its mentor text opportunities are endless. If nothing else, check out that first chapter. If that doesn’t model an engrossing strategy for hooking readers, I don’t know what will.
  • It tells stories of those whose voices often go unheard–because #representationmatters.
  • It honors the complex nature of social issues, and respects its audience’s ability to wrestle with them. It’s too easy to treat social issues as black and white and ignore the gray areas, in favor of teaching teens a lesson. One of the things I love most about the YA lit that’s been coming out lately is that it honors the gray areas. Slater respects her teen audience enough to let them grapple with multiple perspectives and difficult questions.
  • It uses the power of story to make an argument, allowing readers to explore issues that they now feel connected to.

-Megan Kortlandt

And if You’d Like a Page-Turning YA Novel That Deftly Tackles Social Issues

The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, is the beautiful story of Starr, an African-American teen who’s caught between two communities: the community where she lives and the community where she goes to school. When I read the novel, I knew that it would be my first book talk of the school year, because I could see many of my students in Angie Thomas’ characters.

When I shared the book with a class, I explained how the title was inspired by Tupac. Later when I saw a student from the class, she asked to borrow the book. I can never turn down a student who’s asking to borrow a book–even if it is a crisp new hardcover edition. Even though I made her promise to return it, I had a quiet feeling that it just wasn’t my book anymore.  

My premonition was right. Recently, she withdrew from our school. But something tells me that the book is right where it belongs–with someone who may read it and see herself, her friends, and her family in the book. The Hate U Give was not my book to keep, but to give.

– Lauren Nizol

A Novel that Can do Double Duty in a History Unit about Katrina

Regulars on this blog are probably betting all the money in their bank accounts that I’m going to suggest a graphic novel (just kidding–what teacher has money saved up in a bank account?!). I’m going to branch out in a new direction, though, and recommend a tough but beautiful read by Jesmyn Ward called Salvage the Bones. It’s gorgeously written and tells a compelling story of a poor African American family struggling to prepare for the devastation that readers know Hurricane Katrina is going to visit upon their home and community in mere days.

The book is a tragic masterpiece, whose dramatic irony relies on our awareness of the storm, stacked against the doubt expressed by many of the story’s characters. But I also love sharing it with my classroom readers because of its beautifully rendered portrayals of the adolescent perspectives. It’s definitely a book for more advanced teen readers, but that’s exactly why I thought to highlight it here: I’m often so devoted to finding the next gripping story for my reluctant readers that I completely neglect to challenge (or even engage!) with my eager ones. This book offers readers not only a diversifying worldview, but a context that is at once modern and foreign to them; we don’t realize sometimes that events like Katrina that feel modern to us are somewhat distant (and meaningless!) to our current HS students.

And if you were REALLY betting on me to give the gift of graphic novel recommendations, check out Ta-Nehisi Coates’ reimagining of Black Panther ASAP. Happy Holidays!

– Mike Ziegler

How District Staff Can Best Work with Schools

Notes from the Classroom

This year I’ve begun to work in a new role, as an instructional technologist. This is not only a new job for me, but it’s also a new position in my district. I am lucky, though, to be part of a team. I have others with me as we figure this out. We also have a great boss, who understands that the following are key when you’re working with schools.

You Have to Build Relationships  

This is our #1 goal this year. There are seven of us and twelve buildings, so this is definitely a challenge. We all have buildings where we are the “key people,” but we also all go where we are needed and where we have experience to meet the needs of the staff.

Not only do we work with teachers to help them effectively integrate technology into their teaching, but we are also responsible for delivering Information Literacy curriculum to all students K-5. This means we are getting to know people, and they are figuring out who we are, what we do, and how this is going to work. It is critical that the staff see me as helpful, reliable, flexible, and useful.

That’s a tall order! We all know that working with technology comes with lots of hiccups along the way, so having a good relationship is key when the inevitable happens and the technology doesn’t work.

Learn, Learn, and Learn–and Let It Be Known

I knew going into this job that there was a lot I didn’t know. Yet, until I was in it, I didn’t have any inkling just how much I didn’t know!

So I’m learning. Every. Single. Day.

I love it, which is the good news. I’m super excited about so many things, and I know that the teachers I am working with can see my excitement. I am very up front about not knowing everything, and most people are good with that. They are learning that if I don’t know something, I will find out, or I will bring in someone who does. I’m participating in lots of professional development opportunities (yes, some on my own time) because it’s what I need to do, and I’m loving what I do. (That loving-what-I-do thing is really important to me, and it’s what I tell my students: love what you do and it will never feel like work.)

Give Yourself a Break

For me, this is both figurative and literal. It is very hard to be on a tech team with people who have better tech skills than you; teachers as a rule tend to never want to admit that they don’t know something in the professional realm. I’ve had to embrace this reality and stop beating myself up about it. Instead, I am using it as motivation to learn. There is something very freeing about saying, “I have no idea, but I know who does, and I’ll find out.”

The literal part of taking a break is pulling myself away from the computer at night, when I need to be spending time with my family. Of course, this is the life of a teacher–always doing school work at night, after working eight, nine, even ten hours at school during the day. Go figure.

I know that this year will continue to be a year of amazing learning, foibles and falls, and lots of triumphs. It is a new, crazy journey, and I am so happy to be on it.

beth Beth Rogers (@bethann1468) has taught in the elementary setting for the past 11 years. During this time, she earned her Master’s in Educational Technology from Michigan State University. This year, she is in a new position: Instructional Technologist K-12. This gives her the unique opportunity to work with teachers and students, district wide, to incorporate technology into their teaching and learning, in ways that engage, enhance, and extend the learning. She has already already begun to work with multiple classrooms to engage students in blogging, and to help teachers understand the power of this platform. At home, she lives with her husband, sons, and an anxiety-ridden German Shepherd who requires inordinate amounts of time and attention.

Why Interdisciplinary Units Are So Powerful

Notes from the Classroom

Examples of students’ character cutouts

I have a love/hate relationship with this time of year.

We’re in full swing with the end-of-year craziness. Yet this also is the time when I teach the American Revolution in social studies. I’m able to combine the content with our historical fiction unit in reading, and our opinion unit in writing. This is a wonderful opportunity to combine content areas and provide a truly immersive experience for my students.

It is so nice to have a seamless day of reading both fiction and nonfiction texts around this topic, and having conversations that span reading, writing, and social studies. I find that I am excited about teaching, and students are excited about learning. It’s no small feat at this time of year!

What The Unit Looks Like

Right now in the hallway are cutouts of characters from our read aloud and our book club books. Within the cutouts are character traits and reflections about critical choices, power, and how these characters were shaped by the times in which they lived. Connecting all of the characters is a red string, and tomorrow students are going to spend time reading the cutouts and making connections. Then we will write them on paper that will hang from the string, making our thinking visible. This is a new project but one whose outcome I am super excited to see.

Another project that I always do during this time of year is a thinking routine from Ron Ritchhart called a “step inside.” This writing project combines the best parts of narrative writing, yet allows students to use their imagination to step inside the life of a slave from the 1500s. As students examine the three phases of slavery as outlined in our text, they attempt to step inside and develop empathy for the experience of these people. This is a lengthy writing assignment and yet one that is incredibly powerful. I have had students tell me it is their favorite writing assignment of the year.

I find that students actually are able to bring more elements of narrative writing in this assignment than they sometimes are able to do in their own pieces. I think this is because of the scaffolding required for the assignment. Also, the assignment requires that they pay attention to a number of details, which enables them expand their normal writing habits.

Integrating Opinion Writing

The opinion writing comes very late in May and in early June. This is when students have to take a side in the American Revolution. They are assigned either the Patriot side or the Loyalist side, and they have to defend their side based on evidence from their historical-fiction text. They also rely on the supplemental reading we do with nonfiction texts.

The opinion pieces have to include a counter argument acknowledging the position of the other side. Yet they also have to defend their own positions and attempt to persuade the reader to agree with them. All of this is used in a real-life debate with a student moderator, and the kids absolutely love it!

As I write this we are at the end of an unusually warm (86 degrees!) day in May. I have a huge to-do list and yet I am still excited about all that is going on in my classroom. All of this gets me wondering how I can channel this same type of integration and excitement into the rest of my year. Perhaps this will become my summer project: examining my curriculum to find better connections and texts that will lend themselves to this cross-curricular type of integration. My wheels are already spinning.

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. 

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.