Brushes with Greatness…

Wow, it has been far too long since I have added to this educators’ blog. Now I know what my New Year’s Resolution will be!

Let’s catch up, shall we?!

I’ve recently presented with the New York State Reading Association (NYSRA), Niagara Frontier Reading Council, and Diocese of Buffalo. I’ve met so many impassioned educators around me, and made some wonderful professional connections. I was also fortunate to have my administrators attend the 2016 NYSRA conference, where I presented to a standing-room only crowd! I had conference attendees listening from the hallway! It was an incredible honor, and so affirming to the work I do in sharing my love for pedagogy, educational technology, and intrinsic motivation as an educator.

One of the highlights of my fall was meeting THE Nell Duke. She was a keynote speaker during the closing luncheon of NYSRA. Luckily, I had a spot up front and was able to hear her approach to usage of text in project-based learning, as it fits across curricula, and supports literacy skills.

After her keynote, she was gracious enough to let me have a moment with her. Here I was, rubbing elbows with a figurehead in education/literacy research… someone I quoted/referenced in many of my graduate school papers! We even managed a selfie and she asked me to tag her so she could retweet it! (And she did!)

Dr. Nell Duke is definitely someone I look up to as a source of knowledge and inspiration. There are two of her articles that particularly speak to me. One is regarding all the USELESS literacy instruction practices we should abandon. The other is in regards to vetting websites as viable informational text resources.

As a literacy specialist, the former particularly resonates with me. Having students look up words in a dictionary and write them out is a skill they should have, but only if the vocabulary is in their zone of proximal development. I use Words their Way (WtW) to fulfill the phonics/word study component of my Readers Workshop, and differentiate word lists and tasks based upon individual students’ needs.

(And I’d like to shout-out my son’s first grade teacher for giving me a treasure trove of WtW resources beyond the commercial materials!)

There is so much high-quality, research-based, accessible and useful information in Duke’s work. I savor it as much as I can! As a person, I found her so authentic, sincere, and dedicated to making sure the time we are spending with our students is being used as efficiently as possible. I know I have been inspired to use as much of my time in the classroom for instruction, discovery, and growth!

Happy Holidays to all of you. Thank you for continuing to read my blog, and I wish all of you a happy, healthy, productive 2017!

– Kirsten

Ed Tech: “Translated” to Teachers of Foreign Language (Pun Intended)

SUNY Binghamton Conference on Foreign Language TeachingSummer and Fall 2015 1002

At the beginning of October, I had the pleasure of travelling with a colleague who teaches French and Spanish to SUNY Binghamton. We attended the 3rd Annual Binghamton University’s Conference on Foreign Language Teaching. The two-day conference was headed by Dr. Chesla Bohinski. My colleague attended the conference sessions, garnering lots of ideas to add to her LOTE (languages other than English) pedagogy. I was fortunate to sit in on the keynote addresses, several breakout sessions, and present an hour-long breakout
session on educational technology.

The Five C’s of Foreign Language Instruction

During my time at the conference, I learned a lot about foreign language instruction  – namely the “5 C’s.” They are communication, cultures, connections, comparisons, and communities.

6a0192ab445fcc970d01a5103f0c1c970cForeign Means Foreign

I gained a great deal of respect for teachers of foreign language. Teaching foreign language goes so far beyond vocabulary, conjugation, grammar, etc. Aside from teaching many aspects of literacy, in many cases having completely alternate grammar rules, these teachers work hard to build cultural schema. The whole idea of a language being “foreign” assumes that students do not know much background knowledge into the language, life, and cultural identity of the learned parlance.

What Could I Offer?

There are so many layers to what all teachers do within their four walls, but I realized more specifically about what some of those layers exactly are, and how different they may be from my instructional obligations.

My concern at the conference was that I wouldn’t be able to relate my expertise in literacy and educational technology. This ended up dissipating as soon as I had a computer lab full of eager participants. Using Nearpod, I was able to give a brief overview of the “Do’s and Don’ts” of educational technology integration. Then I was able to explain the tools that can elevate any pedagogical approach: Learning Management Systems, formative assessments, note taking, app-smashing, classroom management, etc.

PBS Learning Media for Different Cultures within Same Language Groups

I also shared the free, vetted, high-quality cultural archives on PBS Learning Media. The content available on PBS Learning Media is second-to-none.masthead-lm-bubbles-plain

One of the Spanish teachers asserted that in order for her to deliver high-quality instruction, she had to make distinctions to her students about the various Hispanic/Latino/Spanish cultures that all speak the same language. It “wasn’t on my radar” before this conference how important of a task that is for foreign language learners, but made perfect sense. (Especially for me, because I grew up on the Canadian border listening to CBC Radio in French Canadian, and I got to college only to conscientiously distinguish it from Parisian French.)

In the end, I was able to show her how to narrow language and cultural references based on geography, dialect, etc. on PBS Learning Media. Since it’s as easy as online shopping, one can narrow down archives and media types based on grade level, standards, etc. I feel I was able to offer foreign language teachers a value-added experience to amp up their classroom technology integration.

Again, thanks for having me, Dr. Chesla! And thanks to all the great, dedicated foreign language teachers out there!

Thank-You-message

Musings on the First Year in a 1:1 iPad Classroom

Over two years ago, the faculty at my school were all given iPads. We had several professional development sessions to help integrate technology into our repertoire. But that was only the “amuse-bouche.” For educational technology enthusiasts such as myself, I was anxious to see how a 1:1 program would push my instruction.

I also knew there would be a learning curve. Looking back on the first year, I put together my thoughts on what worked and what didn’t. So here are my thoughts on last year – my first full year with 1:1 iPads.

I teach ninth graders. They often have one foot in middle school, and one foot in high school. The students they are in September are vastly different than the students they are by the following June. Some of them are extremely tech savvy, and blow me away with their ability to administrate their high school courses electronically. Others strugedutech-green1gle with the distraction the iPads present.

Although distractions are inevitable, the past year taught me how to manage and minimize them.The following are my reflections on the learning curve for the past school year:

Musings on My First Year in a 1:1 iPad Classroom

  1. “The Honeymoon Phase”
  2. Engagement vs. Distraction
  3. Learning Styles
  4. The Case about Handwriting
  5. Classroom Management
  6. Fostering Engagement through Rigor + Metacognition
  7. Assessment
  8. Selecting Programs and Applications

#1 – “The Honeymoon Phase”

If you decide to embrace educational technology, which I certainly did, there is definitely a “Honeymoon Phase.” You feel like you have been given tools to connect/engage your students to the content like never before. Then, you spend a year in the classroom with an iPad in everyone’s hands.

If you are an educator that cares about constantly improving your instructional practices, the learning curve that ensues over the course of a year with 1:1 devices is tremendous. You quickly learn that iPads are not a panacea for the disengaged. There are so many other considerations a teacher must employ once each student gets a device into their hands.

Probably one of the biggest take-aways:

Even though we are teaching students who are “digital natives,”
this does not mean they know how to use technology in an academic/scholarly way.

#2 – Engagement vs. Distraction

When technology is engaging, it is powerful! Students can be engrossed in a task, and one idea can lead to another. The world is at the students’ fingertips, if they are aware of it. It is important for teachers to frame expectations. Teachers in a 1:1 environment are not only teaching content, but showing students how to own their learning.

While technology is a limitless tool when used correctly, it is easy to use it incorrectly. Anyone can be distracted by habits of checking social media, emails, or simply doodling. Using tech devices in the classroom can be equally distracting.

Q: What’s the solution?

A: Everything in moderation. Choose tech over other methods when it is the most appropriate solution, but do not make it the only solution.

#3 – Learning Styles

We have all heard of Howard Gardner’s “Intelligences.” As an educator, it is important to remember that devices may cater to some learners, but still do not offer something for every learning style. Opening our awareness to this will help us diversify tasks and how we use tech in our classrooms.

#4 – Handwriting

Evidence points to connection between handwriting and learning. Most annotation apps allow students to write with a stylus or their finger (E.g. Notability, Evernote).

At the end of the year, I had my students evaluate my course via a Google Form. I was surprised how many said they still preferred pen-and-paper for certain tasks. Looking back, there were activities that I could have offered more choice in how the students’ work could be executed/demonstrated.

Again, students who are supposed “digital natives” can also be resistant to educational technology. I suggest training them on the technology in your classroom first with everyone else.

Although most students liked storing all their notes and information for their classes in digital folders, a surprising number still prefer taking notes on hard copy.

Once students have tried various methods for note taking, annotating, reading text, research, etc., they should still be allowed choice in what works best for their learning style. If they can tell you how they learn best, why wouldn’t a teacher capitalize on that. Right?

#5 – Classroom Managementteach-rebrand-ipad

Classroom management with 1:1 devices is the key to successful implementation of a 1:1 program. This is still an area of great development, that is quickly trying to catch up to the technology itself. You may have noticed that it is a topic of great question and debate at many conferences and online professional chats.

This is one of my favorite articles about classroom management with 1:1 technology. Here’s the gist:

  1. Establish expectations with your students and be clear and follow through with them
  2. Let the kids play a bit with the technology to “get their giggles/wiggles out” so they won’t do it when they are supposed to be on task. It will eliminate temptation.
  3. Only use tech if the task is engaging and the pace can be solid. It is not meant to be “babysitting” or “entertaining” your students
  4. YOU are the best app on the kids’ iPads! Use the “the two eyes, two feet app” – keep  circulating around the room. Once they know you are stationary – they will know they are being babysat and will start to go off task.
  5. Technology is not an all-the-time tool, and meant to be put away too.

Another helpful hint, which I am actually including this in my course syllabus this year:

Make it a rule that student devices should be flat on their desk. When not in use, tablets should be closed, stored, or flipped over. If students are using laptops, have them put their computers to a 45 degree angle while you are talking, or while not in use.

#6 – Fostering Engagement through Rigor + Metacognition

“Edtech” is not innovation. In the same way, difficulty is not rigor. Metacognition is the other piece I have learned to add into each task, in order to increase engagement and rigor. (See my previous blog post for more on this.)

Taking a moment to show students how to think about the task, open their awareness, and create a mindful group of learners makes each lesson I teach more successful than it would have been without the metacognitive piece.

Discussion, and having students explain things back to me are intellectually stimulating. Pulling ideas out into the “big picture,” pushing into the micro level, applying it to their experiences in life to ignite relevance all have shown to help relate to what my students are learning.

Increase of rigor is not guaranteed by these approaches, but more possible.

Choices About Process Elicit a Better Product

  • Choice within the content material is also an accelerator of engagement, in my opinion.
  • Giving students options on how they present what they know has shown to foster engagement in my own classroom.
  • This gives a confidence boost to the students who like to “swim upstream” – and allows them to shine.
  • As confidence goes up, so does one’s commitment to learning, and rigor is the by-product.

#7 – Assessment

Because of a large number of students, and the ability to quickly shift from one app to another, I did not allow electronic summative assessments. Instead, unit tests were completed on paper.

On the other hand, I fully embraced formative assessment on the devices. I included online quizzes for each unit on Schoology (our school’s chosen LMS). My students really took advantage of these self-checks. They were ungraded, and allowed students to review material covered, and check for reading comprehension.

#8 – Selecting Programs and ApplicationsiStock_000017827226Small

  • Play with a number of different apps that do the same thing, so you can find what is best for you (Notability vs. Evernote)
  • Download free apps and play with them, or have students evaluate them!
  • Get on board with what other teachers are doing, and share best practices. When multiple teachers use the same platform/apps, students are better versed on the program and can use it much more comfortably.

To Sum it Up:

  • Invest in the time and energy to get “up and running” with the technology
  • Know that you will need to reserve some class time for unknown tech issues
  • Give students choices
  • Novelty and diversity in tasks are key
  • Never exclusively use one methodology monotonously
  • Set clear expectations about tasks, and circulate to see that students are on-task
  • Make sure students lay their device flat
  • YOU are the best app there is! ☺
  • Engage with colleagues about how they use tech in their classroom

As always, thanks for reading! Let me know what you think, and have a great school year! back-to-school-hero

Best,

KBS

Rigor = Motivation + Metacognition

I’ve been thinking a lot about “rigor” lately. It is a big buzz word in education right now. Last June, I was fortunate to attend the Model Schools Conference, where Dr. Bill Daggett showcased his Rigor-Relevance Framework. It was inspiring and motivating to me as an educator.Rigor_Relevance_Framework

Recently, I read a great Edutopia blog on rigor by Brian Sztabnik. You can read it here. His words and reflections resonated with me. I was especially intrigued by this statement:

Rigor is the result of work that challenges students’ thinking in new and interesting ways.

Sztabnik explains how the great novelist David Foster Wallace would not use stereotypically “classic” works of literature in his 100-level college class. Instead, Wallace chose more contemporary, culturally-popular books. He warned not to write off the books as “easy” or “blow-off” books.

In his own genius, Wallace was selecting books that were more accessible and not teaching a difficult book, but increasing the students’ ability to articulate informed opinions/reasoning of their reading responses.

This is where real rigor lies.Rigous

It is not always what we are teaching, but it is definitely how we teach it. Utilizing any tool for instruction in a way that ignites a student is where the real magic lies.

I used to have a notion that rigor meant difficulty. As I continue to try to improve my own instruction, I know that rigor does not mean “harder.” It means that students are motivated to accomplish, and that they are aware of themselves metacognitively. Rigorous learning allows students to choose to turn on their thinking.

In terms of STEM, Melissa Marshall has a great 4.5 minute TED talk here. She speaks along the lines of rigor, motivation, using Tier 3 vocabulary (she says “jargon”) in a specific, and high-level of content geared to anyone. She discusses great communication and states:

Making your ideas accessible is not the same as dumbing it down.

Edutopia also has a great infographic about what learners pay attention to here. Also worth a look.11227582_820462477989673_8302552304208145496_n

I find that the more I differentiate my instruction, the higher the overall engagement. If tasks are more creative and open-ended, students tend to let their imaginations run wild and get more immersed in the task. Immersion is actively diving into something more deeply. In my book, that is what rigor looks like.

Choice within the content material is also an accelerator of engagement, in my opinion. Giving students options on what they read, or how they present what they know has shown to foster engagement in my own classroom. This gives a confidence boost to the students who like to “swim upstream” – and allows them to shine. As confidence goes up, so does one’s commitment to learning, and rigor is the by-product.

A Year Later

So, almost a year later – how has rigor been focused on within my lessons? What have I changed? What have I eliminated? How has rigor been increased/decreased by the inception of our 1:1 iPad classrooms?

I teach 9th graders. They often have one foot in middle school, and one foot in high school. The students they are in September are vastly different than the students they are by the following June. Some of them are extremely tech savvy, and blow me away with their ability to administrate their high school courses electronically. Others struggle with the distraction the iPads present. Although we have been vigilant to minimize the distractions, they are inevitable.

I have learned not to use iPads for every task. Although I have created a paperless classroom this year (sans summative assessments), I need to allow students choice in what works best for them. For example, some prefer reading in their paper textbook, others like viewing the pdf of their textbook online.

Novelty and diversity in tasks are key. In my previous post, I discussed how “edtech” is not innovation. In the same way, difficulty is not rigor.

Metacognition is the other piece I have learned to add into each task, in order to increase engagement and rigor. Taking a moment to show students how to think about the task, open their awareness, and create a mindful group of learners makes each lesson I teach more successful than it would have been without the metacognitive piece. Discussion, and having students explain things back to me are intellectually stimulating. Pulling ideas out into the “big picture,” pushing into the micro level, applying it to their experiences in life to ignite relevance all have shown to help relate to what my students are learning. Increase of rigor is not guaranteed by these approaches, but more possible. i_heart_rigor

What do you think?

Have a happy, inspired day!

-Kirsten 🙂

Motivation to Read in the Age of Common Core

I had the pleasure of attending the Niagara Frontier Reading Council Spring 2015 Brunch on Saturday April 25th. Linda Gambrell from Clemson University spoke.

Here were my take-aways:

  • Spoken language and text language are two different languages
  • There is a second grade slump being observed – a decrease in motivation as students become aware of their proficiency
  • Reading success isn’t necessarily about ability, but opportunities to read. By increasing opportunities to read, we are increasing a student’s chances of reading success.
  • Ybarra et al (Feb 2007): Social interaction and mental exercise both increase cognitive functioning. Intellectual conversation positively affects working memory. What students talk about, they learn best and remember the longest.
  • Have students engage in a conversation about the material you are teaching: “What are the 3 most important things a person ought to know about _____?”
  • In read-alouds, give students a preview of several texts and let them vote on what they’d like to hear. This will increase student interest in the read aloud.
  • When given book choices, there are “flippers” and “wanderers.” This might be due to some readers not knowing how to properly choose a ‘just right’ book.
  • In Self Selected Reading (SSR) – students should have a NOW book, a NEXT book, and a QUICK read in their book boxes/bins. This encourages sustainability and alleviates a student being stuck with a text that doesn’t engage them.
  • The volume/amount of silent reading in schools is directly related to gains in reading and achievement.
  • All good readers know the next book they are going to read.
  • Instead of books labeled easy-medium-hard, have books labeled hard-harder-hardest!
  • Bless the Books: give snippets of books available to get students interested in picking them
  • Have a sign in your classroom the tells what you are currently reading, to ask you about it, what you are going to read next, and an invitation to share what the student is reading
  • Students LOVE hearing “I know a book you would love…”

Overall, the Niagara Frontier Reading Council does a fabulous job providing a community for professionals and educators. The professional development they offer has definitely helped me become the passionate, motivated teacher I feel that I am. Check out their website, and feel free to engage with them on social media: http://www.thenfrc.org/

Here was a poem Linda Gambrell also shared, that I thought was clever:

Confession

BY BRUCE LANSKY

I have a brief confession
that I would like to make.
If I dont get it off my chest
I’m sure my heart will break.
I didn’t do my reading.
I watched TV instead—
while munching cookies, cakes, and chips
and cinnamon raisin bread.
I didn’t wash the dishes.
I didn’t clean the mess.
Now there are roaches eating crumbs—
a million, more or less.
I didn’t turn the TV off.
I didn’t shut the light.
Just think of all the energy
I wasted through the night.
I feel so very guilty.
I did a lousy job.
I hope my students don’t find out
that I am such a slob.

Have a great day!

Kirsten

Nearpod: Triumph from Tragedy!

It has been a solid two months since I had an operational SmartBoard in my classroom. The projector decided it had enough of this world, and went to “projector heaven.” This was probably the most inconvenient time for this to happen too, as it was right before our January 2015 midterms when I was really combing through the curriculum with my students.

I felt like a fish out of water. Maybe I had become too reliant on one teaching mechanism? I don’t know.  All of a sudden, I felt like I had to improvise to teach with both arms tied behind my back. It was a crisis.

Despite the fact that I had been running a paperless classroom that utilizes 1:1 iPads for all my students, I still felt myself scrambling with no presentation device to deliver/review material with all the “tech” around me.

Enter: Nearpod

188_1070x490We have a technology “guru” named Eric that visits our school about once a month, and sets up a quasi-help desk for teachers in our faculty dining room. He travels to several independent secondary schools in Buffalo, and his role is to offer, training, support, and ideas for anything pedagogical and/or technological.

Broken and dejected, I approached Eric with my dilemma. He suggested I look into Nearpod. He explarocking06ined that it was a presentation tool where I could broadcast a live, interactive session onto the devices in the room. Each student could have the presentation right in front of them, rather than glaze over while staring at the SmartBoard. He told me that I can embed interactive questions to check for understanding, polls, and other items to turn the iPads in the room into a “clicker system.”

I’ll admit, change is not easy. But the moment I logged into Nearpod, it was as if a whole new realm of opportunities presented itself. It was so easy to import my PowerPoint presentations. It also didn’t take me long to get the hang of adding what Nearpod calls “activities.”

The first time I presented this with my 137 students, they clamored for more. “Are we going to use this again?” said one student. “I really liked going over stuff this way!” said another.

Clearly one app or website is not the cure-all for all instructional needs. But Nearpod saved my life, in this case. It came at a time when I needed it most, and I could not have been more grateful for the opportunities it is now creating for me as a teacher. My lessons are interactive, and I can take formative assessments from my students as they are learning. Students are not passive learners, but interacting with the curricula as they learn/review it. What a wonderful thing!

How It Workstumblr_inline_n7oj9rHrLA1syjobe

Nearpod can be used for free. Only the teacher needs a login. Students/participants can go to http://www.nearpod.com and type in the “Join Session” box on the top right to access a presentation. Once the teacher allows a presentation to be “live,” the teacher then controls the flipping of slides across the users’ devices.

The learner/participant doesn’t necessarily need to create a login to participate, although Nearpod has added a note-taking feature for students, so I would assume they would need to log in to do that. I’m also not sure if that is available on the free or paid access to the site. In general, students can access presentations and interact without a login.

(In the sake of full disclosure, I will admit that my adoration for this website has prompted my school to purchase 5 subscriptions to their full-access service. I haven’t tried it yet though – only used the free features. In a future post, I can update my thoughts about what additional features I found in the paid site and find useful.)

Classrooms, Conferences, and PD – Oh My!2. Nearpod (7)

Since discovering and testing this tool out in my own classroom, I’ve also used it at a faculty professional development day and a teaching with technology conference. In the tech conference, I was assigned to a computer lab – so everyone was facing all directions. Using Nearpod, everyone was able to see my presentation clearly without craning their heads to see a screen/SmartBoard. My conference break-out session was over capacity as well, which was a blessing of riches! Since I didn’t have enough computers in the room to correlate with attendees – I simply asked the participants to find Nearpod on their own personal device – so no one was without a screen! It worked fabulously.

Uses

If you think about the bigger implications for a tool like this, it is also quite exciting. Students who struggle to see the board or have visual/auditory impairments will benefit from seeing the screen right in front of them. They will have instant feedback to check their understanding of the material. Real-time feedbacnearpod1gettingstartedk of student learning can be indispensable: not just for students but for teachers.

More Fabulous Service

I reached out to Nearpod on Twitter and received an enthusiastic, personal response. They shared several other Twitter handles with access to other teacher-created materials, lessons, etc. They offered personal service and availed themselves for whenever I need support. Isn’t that wonderful?!

Tell Me What You Think

I have heard rave reviews from not only students but colleagues about how Nearpod can elevate the quality of their instruction. I plan to continue to use Nearpod in my classroom, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on it too! Feel free to check it out and tell me what you think.

Happy Wednesday,

Kirsten