4 Ways Education Should Look More Like Google

Notes from the Classroom

Technology has certainly exploded between the time I started preparing to become a teacher and now, but lately I’ve been thinking about Google–and the ways that education can, and should, mirror the company’s ubiquitous technology.

We don’t need to focus on memorization.

We have to confront our fascination with facts and memorization: Why bother if you can Google it? In the age of information overload, we’re finding that it’s far more important to teach our students how to analyze multiple sources, determine credibility, and read around a topic to gain a deeper understanding of it.

That’s true for vocabulary, too. Vocabulary in English classes used to consist mostly of looking up definitions in dusty dictionaries and, if your teacher was really on top of things, using the word in a few different sentences or drawing a picture of it. Now, the standards call for students to flexibly use a variety of strategies to determine meaning when they encounter unfamiliar vocabulary; the last strategy involves looking it up in reference materials (ahem, Googling it). 

Let’s prepare our students to collaborate.

There is inherent value in teaching the collaborative skills that will prepare our students for success beyond their high school walls. We design projects and lessons so that students will bounce ideas back and forth, develop questions, and seek answers together.

In many ways, this mirrors the Google Drive platform. On Google Drive, you don’t just create documents inside your own software, then print or attach to share. Instead, you have control over how and with whom you share your folders as you’re working. Sure, you can still choose to keep something private and then share it only once you’re ready for the work to get into others’ hands. But now we have the opportunity to collaborate on our work as we’re drafting–in real time–and it’s changing the face of how we work.

It’s been less than a year since I fully switched over to Google as my primary mode of doc creation, but I already have a hard time imagining drafting something without hitting that little comment button to get feedback from my colleagues.

Tech companies update their software. We should update our practices.

We all know that feeling when our favorite technology company updates something. It’s almost like we go through Kubler-Ross’ seven stages of grief each time our tech changes. But the thing is, we do reach acceptance and adapt to the changes–and we do it quickly. 

Part of this has to do with semantics. Google has been telling its users about some upcoming changes to its Drive services and apps. But they aren’t just adapting, changing, or revising: they’re upgrading.

I hear teachers say all the time that “X worked for me when I was in school…” If I applied that logic to my tech life, I’d have to accept being completely okay with only a house phone and a dial-up internet connection. Isn’t it only fair to our students that we upgrade our teaching like we upgrade our technology?

Employees in the tech industry feel valued. Shouldn’t teachers?

I’ve never been to Google’s headquarters myself, and I’m sure there’s more than meets the eye, but still: the company ranks at the top of employee satisfaction surveys year after year. In an interview with Fast Company, Karen May, Google’s VP of people development, explains that the company believes that focusing on their employees’ health and happiness is what ultimately determines their success.

I think we are all realists and know that our funding sources are vastly different from Google’s, so I don’t think too many teachers expect field trips to exotic locales. But in our current climate, I think we’d do well to take a step back and think about how we can support the health and happiness of our teachers, our administrators, and ultimately, our students.

Megan Kortlandt (@megankortlandt) is a secondary ELA consultant and reading specialist for the Waterford School District. In the mornings, she teaches at Durant High School, and in the afternoons, she works with all of Waterford’s middle and high school teachers and students through the Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment department. Every time Megan goes grocery shopping, her cart makes her appear to be exceptionally healthy, but don’t be fooled. The healthy stuff is all for her pet rabbit, Hans.

Want to Do a Staff Book Study? Here Are 4 Books to Get You Started.

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom


I sometimes like to think that I am a fully developed, 100-percent-complete human.
I know who I am and what I stand for, both personally and professionally. This means my professional identity is fully formed and solid as a rock, right?  

The truth is that our identities, especially as professional educators, are always shifting. We’re confronted with new theories, technologies, and trends. And as I’ve found with a fellow group of teachers, who together are part of a professional book study, the drive for constant learning is a component of every great teacher’s professional identity.

Over these few years, we have read some thought-provoking, conversation-starting books. Here are four titles that can inspire a professional book study in your school.

How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character 

Our first book study, and probably my favorite to this day, How Children Succeed, got our group talking about non-cognitive skills. These are skills like grit and conscientiousness, and the kinds that impact classroom learning and the overall success of our students.

The book’s findings were eye-opening–yet also confirmed some mutual understanding that we felt we had gained after years of teaching teenagers. Author Paul Tough’s stories about students’ overcoming adversity with these traits were also hopeful and inspiring, feelings that are occasionally lacking in educational texts. And for me, reading this book with a 5-month-old baby at home not only changed my outlook on teaching, but on parenting too. 

How Children Succeed will remind you just how much our students go through as people, and of how resilient they can be.

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got that Way

Amanda Ripley, in The Smartest Kids, conducts extensive interviews with three American high school students who study for one year in some of the world’s highest-performing countries: Finland, South Korea, and Poland. For our book study, Ripley’s research opened up passionate conversations about teacher preparation in the United States, and how additional opportunities, like sports and clubs, can be double-edged swords in our schools. As a bonus, this book works as a student text too, and has been adopted by some of our teacher participants into their classroom curriculum in courses like AP Language and IB Theory of Knowledge.  

The takeaway: The Smartest Kids in the World will help demystify some of the chatter about education in other countries, and will reinforce the extent to which a system of education is influenced by culture.

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Make It Stick focuses on the phases of learning and memory-making, and the necessary steps and strategies to move information from short-term to long-term memory, and then to keep it there. In our book study, a particularly hearty, and still ongoing, conversation formed around the “illusion of mastery” concept. We touched on the importance of revisiting key concepts, and how understanding can be measured in a standards-based grading model. Of the books we have read so far, this one had the most obvious and direct applications for classrooms, and has revolutionized the way one of my colleagues teaches.

The takeaway: Make It Stick will send you straight to your desk to start revamping lesson plans in order to revisit content.

The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults

The Teenage Brain brought us heavily into the world of brain science. The book looks at how the teenage brain responds to stress, intoxicants, digital devices, and mental illness, subjects that have given our cohort conversational fodder that will last for years. I’m also finding strange comfort in knowing well in advance some of the strategies that I can apply when my own children become teenagers, the thought of which already keeps me awake at night even though neither of them is school-aged.

The takeaway: The Teenage Brain was a great reminder that while it is easy to think of our teens as mini-adults, they have not developed to the point that we can expect to see consistent adult behavior.

Blogger’s Note: I may never have gotten around to reading these books if they hadn’t been recommended by my colleagues and friends, Brian Langley & Lauren Nizol, and if I didn’t work, read, and discuss with such a wonderful & curious group of teachers. Thanks to all!

pic of meBethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School and was the recipient of the 2015 Michigan School Librarian of the Year Award.  She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group.  She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education.  She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne State University.  Bethany is strangely fond of zombies in almost all forms of media, a fact which tends to surprise the people that know her.  She has two children below age five, and is grateful at the end of any day that involves the use of fewer than four baby wipes.

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 We’re Thankful This November

Notes from the Classroom

A wise, literacy-loving turkey reflects on gratitude

The world may be full of strife, but this November, our ELA bloggers spent time reflecting on what they’re thankful for.

From generous colleagues to a twist in parent-teacher conferences, these are the reminders that we need–the reminders that can’t help but lift us up this time of year.

Our Lasting Impressions on Students

Driving into work on Halloween, Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue” was playing on the local classics station. (Some mornings, I listen to angry rap music–but that’s another piece for another time.) As I heard the intensity of the opening organ chords, I suddenly remembered my seventh grade music history teacher, Mrs. Moyes. I only had her for twelve weeks, but ever since that class, nostalgia would always wash over me when I heard those chords. Mrs. Moyes taught us a greatest hits of classical music, and to this day, my learning remains lasting and vivid for these songs. Every time I correctly identify one of these songs, it’s the same feeling I have when I know the final Jeopardy question. And every time, I smile to myself and think of Mrs. Moyes. As teachers, we only have our students for a small window of time. By early November, most of us are fatigued and counting the days to our Thanksgiving break. Sometimes I even question if all that I’m doing will make a lasting impact on my students. I’m thankful for this gentle reminder that my first twelve weeks with students is almost up. What will their “Toccata and Fugue” be? – Lauren Nizol  

What We Build as Teachers

I am thankful
for time spent building a culture;
a connection with my students,
my colleagues,
my family.
For in this time, we
build a community of respect,
responsibility, and reflective
peoples.
We build a place where individuals listen to understand,
not listen to respond.
We are in pursuit of more.
We work with purposefulness.
We are risk takers.
For this time,
I am thankful. – Tina Luchow

A Surprise in a Parent-Teacher Conference

I’m thankful for failing technology. At the start of this year’s parent-teacher conferences, as I rushed to log in to my grading program, I realized that I’d grabbed a Chromebook that wasn’t charged. No grades. Rather than waste the parent’s three-minute, pre-scheduled conference looking for a new computer, I opened up my workshop notebook and shared my notes about her student. We talked about the independent novels she’s read, the writing pieces she’s working on, the struggles I’m noticing she is having, and the successes she has had so far. It was one of the loveliest conversations I’ve ever had at conferences. The parent left knowing more about her daughter as a writer and reader, and we talked about her learning, rather than discussing a grade report that the mom can access anytime she wants. I never went back to get a new computer that night, and I don’t think I will ever use one at conferences again. I’m thankful the technology snafu forced me to talk about my student rather than just my students’ grades. – Hattie Maguire

How Educators Lift Each Other Up

I am writing this reflection after a whirlwind few days at the National Council of Teachers of English Convention and the National Writing Project Annual Meeting. First, I am incredibly thankful for this network of brilliant, dedicated, inspiring educators who offer so much of themselves to this profession. Once again, I have returned home with a pile of half-baked ideas, free books (!), and, most important, lots of hugs and joy to carry me through the months ahead. It takes a village to support an English teacher, and I am very thankful for my NWP and NCTE Village. I am also thankful that I can learn beside the incredible educators of Oakland County, especially the bloggers who share their stories here, who teach me and encourage me to continue to learn, question, and push for excellence in all opportunities for our learners. I leave work exhausted every day–in the best ways, because of the ways you inspire me to do better. If I had one wish for all you it is this: I wish you could set aside the grading for the long weekend and enjoy a well-deserved break! Happy Thanksgiving. – Andrea Zellner

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.