K-5 Literacy Apps: A Deeper Dive

Notes from the Classroom

An image of Osmo, in use. Photo courtesy: Osmo

I love books. I love holding them in my hands and turning the pages myself.

However, I also love technology. I’m trying to find the balance between using it in my classroom to enhance literacy, and keeping things traditional.

I’ve written about some of my favorite K-5th grade apps, but I want to dive a little more into the ones below.

Osmo

Through the generosity of my district’s Foundation for Excellence, I was awarded a grant that allowed me to purchase Osmo for my students. (Thank you FFE and all who contribute to make the grants possible!)

Osmo requires an iPad, and through apps and tangible materials, it makes the iPad a tool for hands-on learning. Osmo has many applications to enhance literacy, math, coding, and the arts.

I’m using the Words app to enhance literacy. Students are provided upper and lowercase letter tiles, and are asked to complete words. The words may have missing letters or a picture to name, and you can create your own word lists for students to interact with. What’s helpful, too, is that Osmo provides students with instant feedback.

With the Masterpiece tool, students can choose a picture they would like to draw on paper.  The image is then shown on the screen, along with the paper you are drawing on. Students can draw something and then label it and/or create a story using the images.

Scratch

Scratch is a coding website. We are currently using it in our after-school Coding Club, and the students are enjoying learning how to code games. My kindergarten students have also been exploring coding with Scratch and Scratch Jr., along with their 2nd and 3rd grade buddies.

It’s never to young to start learning to code! But, what about literacy?

To help enhance literacy skills, students could choose sprites (characters) and backgrounds, and then code them to retell a story they have read. They could even make it interactive, and code the sprites to ask questions about the story. Students could also create their own story by coding different sprites and backgrounds.

Seesaw

My students and parents absolutely love Seesaw. Right now I use it to communicate with parents about what we are doing throughout the day. It’s a perfect window into our classroom for those who aren’t able to make it in person.

But my students love it because they are able to post pictures of things they are working on or have created. These can be shared with parents.

Next year I would like to implement a weekly literacy challenge to my students. I would like them to write a letter, draw a picture or video themselves, and tell parents about what they have been doing in school. Parents will be able to write back to students and give them instant feedback. I think this would be a great way to avoid the “nothing” answer when asked what they’ve been up to at school.

Raz Kids

Learning A to Z has a product called Raz Kids, which offers online books at students’ levels. Students are able to listen to stories being read to them, read the stories themselves, as well as answer comprehension questions after. There is also an app that allows parents to use it at home. Teachers are able check what students are reading, as well as how they are doing with comprehension.

In with the Old and New

Nothing will ever replace holding a book or pencil in your hand. However, with the plethora of resources and the changing times, we need to adapt in the classroom as well. Building in small doses of technology, and challenging yourself to try something new every so often, can help inspire your students to do the same!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

The Importance of Joy

Notes from the Classroom

Joy, Inc.I don’t generally read “business model” type books, but when one of our Board of Education members began passing Joy, Inc. out to anyone and everyone who would take a copy, and my fellow curriculum coordinator was texting me passages from the book, I thought it was time to move it to the top of my “to read” list. 

Joy, Inc., by Richard Sheridan, details Menlo Innovations’ journey to build joy into every facet of their company culture–from how they organize themselves, to how they delineate responsibility, to how they work with clients. Fluffy sounding, I know. But the more I read, the more I started to think about how this concept of joy can–and should–be part of our classroom, building, and district culture, and how, too often, it isn’t.  

When you look at the table of contents, you might actually think you are reading a book meant for educators, with chapter titles like:

  • Freedom to Learn
  • Conversations, Rituals, and Artifacts
  • Rigor, Discipline, Quality
  • Accountability and Results

Although this is a book written for companies, it’s really a guidebook for how any organization might rearrange its culture to allow for more freedom, learning, quality, and ownership–all things we want students to possess.

How Classes are Organized

Many classrooms today look the same as they did 50, even 100 years ago, with rows of individual desks facing the teacher’s space at the front of the room. The desks are cumbersome and hard to move when we want students in a different configuration. Additionally, we generally expect that students will be quiet and work independently on the task.  

The same can probably be said for many office spaces: employees are working mostly independently from one another in cubes or offices, and it is often quiet, as the general thinking goes that people need this to be productive.  

Joy, Inc. turns these ideas on their heads. At Menlo, they have purposefully torn down the walls. This allows all of the employees to work in one giant room, at easy-to-move tables that are often rearranged. This “reengerizes everyone and builds [their] mental capacity for flexibility” (41).  

As we think about what classrooms should look like, we begin imagining flexible seating choices that are easy to change, depending on the task at hand, and that naturally create a culture of collaboration and creativity.

Embracing the Noise

The lack of walls at Menlo also means that the room is not silent; it’s actually quite loud because “the noise you hear […] is the noise of work” (45).

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard teachers with an apologetic tone saying, “They’re noisy, but they are working,” as if they were ashamed of the “noise of work.” It’s time we embraced that noise as evidence of learning taking place.

Towers of Knowledge

Richard Sheridan, Menlo’s CEO, and the book’s author, doesn’t have a huge, closed-off corner office; his desk is right in the middle of the room, where he can hear the conversations of the programmers–and they can hear his. Sheridan often cautions against what he calls “towers of knowledge.” These are the people who have a vast knowledge of something that no one else in an organization has, making it feel like they are indispensable. These people become burned out, and others feel like they won’t survive without these people.

In some ways, teachers have traditionally been the “towers of knowledge” in their classrooms, dispensing information that students don’t have in lectures. This is no longer a sustainable way to teach if we want students to thrive in a world that values innovation, collaboration, and creativity.

All schools and school districts are involved in continuous improvement processes, and all too often, building joy into the culture isn’t a priority with everything else we are required to do. But as Richard Sheridan and Menlo Innovations prove, joy and all of the other work we have to do are not mutually exclusive. In fact, building a culture of joy can actually help make those other things work better.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PM Jianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District. Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher. She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and is an Oakland Writing Project Teacher Leader. Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.

Turning PD into Action

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_400996306‘Tis the season . . . for professional learning! Conferences, early releases, and late-start days; inspiring speakers, intense conversations–and then we return back to our students and apply the lessons. It’s one last big push to propel us to the end of the school year.

However, the challenge becomes how to thoughtfully take our new learning and strategically act on it, in order to change practices and meaningfully impact our students. My team of teachers and I recently had the opportunity to attend a national literacy conference. We wanted our investment in time and travel to pay off, so we committed to collaborate in a variety of ways.

How We Solidified Our Learning

  1. Talk, talk, talk! We had conversations when the presenters encouraged us to “turn and talk.” We talked in between sessions and we talked our way through dinner and adult beverages. All that talk helped us to deepen our understandings and reconcile new ideas with current practices.
  2. Write. A lot. We took notes in a variety of ways. Some of us took pictures of slides and inserted them into notes and apps on our iPads. Others used composition notebooks, highlighters, and sticky notes. Many took notes and then made annotations of our thinking in the margins. Some e-mailed, texted, or connected using social media (Twitter, Facebook).
  3. Take quiet time. It seemed overwhelming to consider the richness of all these new possibilities, and time was needed to prioritize our thinking. Quiet time was the answer to the questions, “What’s next?” and “What do we need to rethink in regards to current practices?”

Steps that Led to Action

  1. shutterstock_437390470Consolidating big ideas and notes into a Google Doc. Learners’ block! We were paralyzed and couldn’t decide what was important to tackle first. We agreed to wait a week and then to revisit our notes. Additionally, mid-year reassessments were in full swing. And so with data in hand, it was much easier to focus and prioritize what to put into action. This also meant we would have to let some things go for now.
  2. Commit to change. We all committed to putting new learning into action. There is power in working with a team, because once we said it out loud, it was real! We were accountable to each other.

Actions We Took

  • One teacher committed to making a video to share with our classroom-teacher teams.
  • Others agreed to add new procedures to lessons. They would report back on how students’ processing changed, by sharing running records and students’ writing with our team.
  • We set up a new Google Docs folder where we would post pictures of student samples and lesson plans.

Other Takeaways

A need emerged. It was partly due to our collaboration. It also resulted from the formative assessment process with our students, as well as the speakers who inspired and showed us new ways to connect with our students’ next learning steps. The need was to be more intentional with our teaching. Intentional teaching equals “accelerative” learning.

  • We would study how to intentionally design word-work lessons that assist students to problem solve words effectively and efficiently while reading and writing.
  • We would continue to be conscious of our teaching interactions and language, so that we’d be teaching for tomorrow, not just today.
  • Our collaborative work would continue, and it would also be imperative to include our classroom teacher-teams by sharing concrete examples of how lessons look and sound. Together we would assist the students’ transfer of new learning to independence.

Resources

Here are a few of the resources and speakers that pushed our thinking, as well as resources we revisited as we renewed those valuable “friendships” with our long-time mentors.

Who’s Doing the Work?, by Burkins & Yaris

Finding Versus Fixing,” by Anderson & Kaye

Dr. Laura Tortorelli, Michigan State University

Interventions that Work, by Dorn & Soffos

Apprenticeship in Literacy 2nd Edition, by Dorn & Jones

Literacy Lessons, by Clay

updated Lynn Lynn Mangold Newmyer has been an educator for 42 years. She is a Reading Recovery Teacher Leader and an Elementary Literacy Coach in the Walled Lake Consolidated School district. Lynn has presented at state, national, and international conferences and has taught graduate classes at Oakland University. She currently teaches her students at Loon Lake Elementary. Lynn emphatically believes that you can never own too many picture books. You can follow her on Twitter at @LynnRdgtch.

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. 

 

 

Let’s Talk about Talking

Notes from the Classroom
A view from the author's classroom.

A view from the author’s classroom.

At my school, we have found that by working on oral language confidence, we can help lower-elementary students build up their reading and writing skills. When students are comfortable speaking in front of others, they start to feel more comfortable trying new things or taking risks to build reading and writing skills.

Below are some ways I have incorporated oral language skills into my classroom.

Student of the Week

Each week, one student is chosen to be student of the week. Students have to bring in a poster board decorated with pictures of themselves, family, things they like, and so forth. They present it to the class and talk about each picture.

That week they also bring in a toy and read a book to the class. After each activity, the other students are encouraged to ask questions of the student or share connections.

These activities give the presenters an opportunity to build oral language and presentation skills, in a fun, non-threatening way, since they know a lot about the topic and they choose what they are sharing. It also helps the audience learn to ask questions and practice sharing in front of a group.

Writers Workshop

At the beginning of the year, “writing” lessons focus on oral stories with picture illustrations. The students learn about stories’ components, without focusing on the stressful act of writing. When they have a more solid foundation of letter writing and sound skills, we move into the act of writing.

Most my writing lessons still start with students’ orally telling a friend what they are going to write about–before going off to work. This helps the students completely formulate the thought they want to write about.

Flipgrid

An app, Flipgrid, allows students to record videos about "how to" writing.

An app, Flipgrid, allows students to record videos about “how to” writing.

Another idea I recently tried, inspired by an app discussed in this blog post, was to have students present one of our writing assignments using Flipgrid.

My latest writing unit was on “How To” writing. I had the students choose something they wanted to teach someone to do. Then they drew an illustration of each step. Using the illustrations, they each created a video in Flipgrid.

My students were so proud of themselves and loved doing it. And though we could use some video-skills practice, we’ll get there! I am excited to find what other lessons will easily lend themselves to using the app, and I know my kinders are too.

Work Activity Time–AKA Free Choice

I briefly touched on the power of play in a post last year. Play is such an important part of the day, not only because of the creativity that students are allowed to demonstrate, but because of the conversations, problem solving, and pretending they engage in.

In February our school participated for the second time in Global School Play Day (mark your calendars for the fourth annual event, on February 8, 2018). This is a day dedicated globally to promoting the positive aspects of play. On this day, our upper elementary teachers shared how students that never speak out in class were really getting into the games they brought in. The student groups mixed together and brought out shared interests, as they had conversations while playing a game. This was a site to see! Students became more comfortable with their classmates, and in turn more comfortable speaking out in classroom discussions.

Bringing It Home

This year I have been sending home a “choice board” to parents instead of “homework.” It has things on it like, “Write thank you notes for holiday gifts,” “Jump up and down counting by 10s,” and “Read a nonfiction book.” I also added things like, “Go for a walk and talk about the signs of winter you see,” or “Talk about the different animals you see and what you know about them.”

All together, these activities build students’ speaking skills. And in doing so, they help lay the important foundations for students’ reading and writing skills. To get students talking–it’s something we as teachers should keep talking about.

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.

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. 

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. 

Video Raised the Revision Bar

Notes from the Classroom

toplogo2xThis post’s title is better if you sing it to the tune of “Video Killed the Radio Star,” but I suppose that’s true of almost anything ever typed. Anyway, if you’ve followed my rantings for any period of time, you’re probably familiar with my efforts last year to modernize the writing feedback process via audio feedback to students. Despite some hiccups from the technology itself, the experiment has been a reasonable success.

At least, when it’s used as intended.

The site I use (Turnitin.com) for providing feedback has another feature–it allows me to track which students have actually listened to said feedback in order to, you know, become better writers and whatnot. It probably won’t surprise you to hear that not all of them are tuning into my dulcet tones–and it would probably surprise you even less to learn that the students most in need of supportive, growth-mindset feedback are the demographic least likely to listen.

Sing It Again, Zig

This leaves me in a bit of a bind. The students really need to absorb the feedback on their paper, and I’ve invested a lot of time into restructuring the feedback itself into something friendly and positive (it’s like the Fireside Chat of paper grading). I can beg them to play the audio, or try withholding their grade itself until they do, or even demand that they summarize my thoughts in their own words, but none of that really feels like learning so much as a grumpy middle management technique.  

But two things have occurred to me, prompted by the discovery of an app called Flipgrid. First, struggling students are unlikely to do much with feedback if they aren’t invested. Second, the best way to get them invested is to let THEM use technology to express themselves, not just the other way around.  

The logical conclusion of those two premises seems obvious: Students should be shooting 90-second video clips, wherein they explain their own revisions based on my feedback, and then share them in a public space and use them as models for their own future writing!  

Sometimes it’s the most obvious things that we overlook.

“Flip Mode is the Greatest” (I Hope)

Busta Rhymes said that, but I’m pretty sure he was referring to his record label. I’m hoping it’s true in this case too, though, because Flipgrid is the centerpiece for the next phase of revision work in my class. My students just got back their audio feedback from me. In the next few days, they’ll have time to digest it and revisit their own writing, along with their rubrics (which also have feedback from me).  

Then the real fun begins! All of my students will be choosing one paragraph (or 200-ish word section) of their narrative and making revisions to it based on the audio feedback I provided them. They will have time to workshop the revisions in class, conferencing and all.  

After that, I’ll be modeling for them a Flipgrid video. The app allows them–from their phones or computers–to create exactly 90 seconds of video and submit it to a “grid” that I have already created for this assignment. The videos get pre-approved by yours truly, and then they become a part of a communal online space (“The Grid,” which Flipgrid should totally copyright so they can sell the movie options to Hollywood later).  

unnamed

A screenshot from my revisions grid–note the model video I made at the bottom. Click to enlarge.

I’m hopeful that this high-tech approach to revisions will have a two-pronged impact on students. Foremost, I’m hopeful that making revisions a performance-based activity will encourage greater effort from reluctant writers. It’s a challenging task to create exactly a minute and a half of video narration that sounds polished and conveys everything you need it to. I tried it last night to create a model: by my fourth try I was getting frustrated, and by my final cut I had to leave several pretty great one-liners on the “cutting room floor,” so to speak, just to hit the time window. I’m hoping that there’s something about staring into a camera lens that will make kids a little more invested.

I’m also hopeful that when students suddenly have a shared space, where they can openly watch one another’s writing processes visualized and narrated by their own peers, that they will discover in that space both models for improving their own writing and reassurance that they aren’t alone in the frustrations and limitations they sometimes feel as writers.

Time will tell! Tune in for part two of this blog in a few weeks–I’ll let you know how it went and alert you to any tweaks that you might want to make if you’re feeling similarly ambitious. Who knows–maybe we’ll discover that all it takes is a bit of amateur video footage to make good writing “go viral” in our own classrooms.

Michael Ziegler

Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

A Nanobot of Sugar

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_116283283Our annual return-to-school professional development this year was a lovely buffet of technology-themed mini-workshops to help us navigate the ever-expanding realm of ed tech. The PD was well received, and it also got me thinking.  

I’ve never been a technology skeptic, nor does technology make me uneasy.  That being said, I’ve also rarely been the type to let any particular app or site or device really transform my classroom in any particular way. I adore Google Classroom and the entire suite of Google work tools (Docs, Slides, etc.), but I still think of them as supplements to my normal curriculum and pedagogy, as opposed to transformative additions (though Google Docs comes close with regard to writers workshops).  

A Nanobot of Sugar

Lately, though, I’ve started to realize that tiny doses of technology here and there have a pretty transformative impact on how we help our kids. I’m not offering this up as a revelation, but it’s worth thinking about what kids need in an English class and how we deliver it to them. Virtual and augmented reality are knocking at the door–Pokemon and PlayStation have already invited them in!–so we’d do well to think about what roles technology has performed well in inside our classrooms.

I’d encourage you to slow down your busy lesson planning routine to take similar stock of how and where you’re implementing technology.

To Infinity and Beyond: Traditional Assessments

Here are a few tech forays I’ve made into advanced approaches to very traditional English stuff.

Reading comprehension. My old failing in this arena was my continual insistence that students demonstrate their comprehension in written form. As I began to trust graded discussions more, I discovered how many students actually had a rather robust knowledge of the texts we were reading. These students, though, lacked the writing sophistication to express that knowledge in the only way I had been allowing them to.  

Oh, the irony, technology, you sly dog! It turns out, given a “safe space” where kids are typing (also known as “writing”) to each other–instead of to me–they suddenly reveal that very sophistication in their writing that I had found lacking.  

Technology is the key. In class I’m really fond of GoSoapBox, which allows for things like instant polling in addition to longer responses. It will also provide a printable transcript of any conversation the class produces. Google Classroom has similar features, but apps with a polling feature allow for some very interesting on-the-spot data: turns out kids get pretty honest when they’re provided a formative (absolutely key) and anonymous virtual space to share their thoughts.

Writing Feedback

I’ve written at length about the joys of audio feedback, which I began exploring last year using turnitin.com. This year I may explore other apps that provide kids a verbal walkthrough of their writing. My frustration has been that technology in this case was only addressing one side of the process–it’s great that I can talk to kids about their final product, but it seems almost MORE important for them to talk to ME.

toplogo2xEnter “Flipgrid,” a new app I discovered at a conference recently (thanks, AssisTechKnow!) that allows students to respond to a prompt with 90 seconds of video. If I can give them three minutes of summary about what I thought of their writing, it seems reasonable that they could give me half that amount in reflection on some area of the rubric I ask them to consider more closely. We’ll see how this turns out, but I’m surmising that speaking into a camera lens might have a sobering effect that traditional forms of reflection (“Fill out this self-reflection sheet–and be honest!”) simply do not.  

Exit Slips

Exit slips involve a bit more application of the same technology I’ve mentioned above, at least for now. I think Join.Me will play a role here too, eventually, allowing my students to share to the classroom’s center screen right from their seats. For now, though, I’m looking at smaller ways to gather fast, impactful formative data from my kids.

Right now it’s mostly online discussion or polling spaces, but there are apps out there that will allow kids to, say, take a photo of a page in their book and then annotate it with a drawing tool before submitting it to me on their way out the door. Imagine the usefulness of snippets of focused annotation from a struggling reader in response to a question–without having to photocopy a thing!

Like I said–nothing groundbreaking. Worth thinking about though: Are you using technology to fill gaps or to rethink failures…or are you just using it because it’s all the rage? I, for one, welcome our robot overlords…but that’s because I feel pretty good about all the toys they’ve brought.

Michael Ziegler

Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

A Virtual Conference on Data Literacy

Critical Literacy Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning
Virtual PD on my patio

Virtual PD on my patio

One day over the summer, I was scrolling through Twitter and saw a post for the 4T Virtual Conference on Data Literacy.  As someone who has presented at the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing, I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t heard of the data literacy arm–and it was coming up in two days! I quickly clicked the link and signed myself up, ready for two days’ worth of virtual PD about teaching students data literacy, and which I could access from my patio.

If you’ve never attended a virtual conference, they tend to work like this: once you sign up, you are sent a link to a virtual room, which you enter a few minutes before the session is slated to begin. Generally, there is some kind of introductory task that allows people to get to know one another. This task also allows a moderator to introduce the presenter and troubleshoot along the way.

Whatever the presenter is talking about is the main reason people attend the session. But the running chat (which move so fast!) among all of the participants often yield tons of great, practical ideas for teachers, too.

The Info on Infographics

I attended multiple sessions, on topics ranging from an introduction to data literacy, to data literacy in the content areas, to action research in the classroom. For this conference, I was most looking forward to the sessions about data visualization and infographics, though. I’ve dabbled with making infographics and have always wanted to have students create them, but I was never sure how to go about doing that, because I didn’t feel that I had a design background.

As the presenters were speaking, something that one of them said really struck me: think of an infographic like an argumentative essay.  The infographic itself is the overall argument. The images, design, and information are the evidence and reasons.

Thinking about infographics in this way was like a light bulb going off in my head. Writing arguments with supporting evidence is something students are well versed in, and moving from a traditional essay to a different argumentative form seemed like a great next step.

Get Visual

visualize this In addition to seeing infographics in a new light, I also learned, from participants in the chat, about two books that would expand my understanding of data visualizations. The books are Visualize This: The FlowingData Guide to Design, Visualization, and Statistics and Data Points: Visualization that Means Something, both by Nathan Yau. While the books are sometimes heavy on programming language, they greatly enhanced my understanding of how data might be visualized, and why you might visualize a particular data set. They also offered tons of practical (and often free) resources for visualizing data.

As I was reading these books over the summer, I had planned on using with students what I learned. But now that I have moved into the role of curriculum coordinator, I know this learning will be very applicable to my new work.

Screenshot 2014-09-26 at 12.44.07 PMJianna Taylor (@JiannaTaylor) is the ELA/SS Curriculum Coordinator for the West Bloomfield School District.  Prior to this role, she was a middle school ELA and Title 1 teacher.  She is a MiELA Network Summer Institute facilitator and member of the OWP Core Leadership Team.  Jianna earned her bachelor’s degree from Oakland University and her master’s degree from the University of Michigan.  She also writes reviews of children’s books and young adult novels for the magazine School Library Connection.