Ch-Ch-Changes

So I’ve made a shift. From intermediate to primary education. I stepped into a great first grade team with three incredible teachers. Two have varying levels of special education “consultant teacher” rooms, the other is an ENL/ELL room. My room is general education, first grade. However, the vast majority (13 out of 18 students) are reading at a Fountas & Pinnell/Guided Reading Level “B.” Since my background and passion is literacy, I take this as a formidable, personal challenge.

If I was continuing in third grade this year, the wheels would have been in motion a lot more reflexively. However, I had to “dust off my first grade mojo” and jump back to primary with both feet.

Noto Bene: There were a lot of changes district-wide with how classrooms were structured, and many veteran teachers found themselves placed in entirely new grade levels they have never taught in before. I was originally supposed to change buildings AND grade levels, but in the end I was able to shift from the intermediate hallways of my building to the primary building. I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a scramble to unpack with the amount of changes to my ultimate placement this year, but every day I feel a bit more settled in.

I did one of my student teaching placements in first grade, and always hung onto the materials that my cooperating teacher gave me. Thank goodness! It is like the Holy Grail! I was also fortunate to sit in on a presentation by a former colleague who teaches in a Montessori classroom, to refresh myself on some pedagogical techniques that I can translate to my gen-ed classroom. (More to come on the Montessori ideas later….stay tuned!)

So, I’ve done my running records, sight word assessments, primary spelling inventories, and I’m off to the races! I am slowly guiding my students toward independently accessing educational technology on our 1:1 iPads, and seeing how I can pair up tasks with our New York State first grade curricula.

So here are my “elite eight” thoughts for my first quarter back, which are going to be topics for further blog posts:

  1. First graders respond much more to positive behavior management systems. Negative reinforcement directly damages their self-esteem and self-worth.
  2. Walking down the hallway in one straight line can be really hard, especially in the advent of The Floss and The Shoot dances!
  3. I need a tattle monster to take up residence in my classroom.
  4. Flexible seating is really tricky to establish with super-wiggly kiddos.
  5. Parent communication in the primary grades is even more critical for students’ success. Finding the right streams of communication with each parent/family is equally as critical.
  6. STEM/STEAM/STREAM offers engagement that “sage on the stage” pedagogy can’t always offer.
  7. Primary education requires a modicum of cuteness that intermediate-level students don’t subscribe to.
  8. Teacher blogs, Pinterest, and Teachers Pay Teachers have become such fantastic resources for teachers – albeit most are not vetted and one should proceed with caution!

Thanks in advance for coming on this journey with me! Stay tuned for more fun… and as always, please share/follow this blog! Your comments, questions, and discussion ideas are welcome too.

Kirsten

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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

Long Time No See!

Hi everyone! images

It has been a while since I posted. I thought I would check in with you on the “latest and greatest” from my end.

Literacy: My Other Specialty

In January, I accepted a position as a literacy specialist (i.e. reading teacher) in my hometown district. It has been an incredible change, but one I was ready for and feel blessed to have been offered. In my role, I serve a kindergarten to fourth grade population, and assist struggling readers. The groups of students I “pull out” are mostly third and fourth graders, although I see a couple second graders. I also have a very lively trio of kindergarteners. Several times a week, I also “push in” to help support ELA activities for elementary classrooms.

My building has a 1:1 iPad program instituted, and I try to infuse my love for educational technology in with intervention strategies. Having recently taken a one-credit course in Digital Strategies in the Inclusive Classroom, I think edtech and literacy work very symbiotically – especially to engage and motivate elementary students.

RtI

In a very short period of time, I have adapted and grown so much in the practices of Response to Intervention (RtI). Everyday I come to school, I hope to inch every student along their path toward seeing themselves as readers. I am very direct about expecting them to make progress, and encouraging students to find their “sea of strengths” in order to decode and comprehend texts.

imagesDecoding and Comprehension

One thing that has been amazing, that my graduate training did not necessarily touch upon, is finding students who are not strong at decoding words (deciphering them) but can understand the gist of what they read. Luckily, I had some wonderful graduate professors (whom I still have contact with) that taught me how to diagnose and create strategies for attacking some of the problems struggling readers face.

Stay Tuned

Overall, I am right where I need to be, and I am loving it! I hope you will stay tuned to experience this journey, and help me create a dialogue in pedagogy of literacy and technology integration!images-1

All my very best,

Kirsten

A Kahoot and a Half!

kahootI’ve decided to try out Kahoot as a fun, engaging way to review material, and bridge into the “gaming” realm of digital technology in the classroom.

So far, so good!

My students’ competitive energy ignites every time they hear the “intro tune,” and they seem to focus on knowing the content in the game more because of their determined natures.

kahoot-Small

What is Kahoot?

Description (from web): A Kahoot is a collection of questions on specific topics. Created by teachers, students, business-people and social users, they are asked in real-time, to an unlimited number of “players,” creating a social, fun and game-like learning environment.

What Can Kahoot Be Used for in the Classroom?

  1. Assessment – Formative Assessment can be elicited through games, discussion, or polls.
  2. Behavior Management – I have seen Kahoot engage some of the harder-to-reach students in my classroom.
  3. Collaboration – because it works like a “clicker system” – Kahoot can be used individually or in teams.

Benefits of Using Kahoot:

  • Students don’t need a login. They simply go to kahoot.it and enter the “game PIN” to join the fun.
  • Kahoot seems to be a great tool for real-time formative assessment.
  • Teachers can gauge student understanding, and notice if certain students/populations are not grasping material.
  • The tool is simple and colorful, so students with certain types of disabilities may find it easier to use than other tools.
  • It can be adapted for quizzes, discussions, and polls.
  • The polling/discussion features can especially be beneficial for non-verbal students in inclusive classrooms.
  • Kahoot can be used for a broad range of grade levels.
  • You can adjust the time given to answer each question. This is great for kids who might need more response times.
  • You can manipulate or eliminate points scored.

Drawbacks of Kahoot:

While extremely engaging, I want my students’ comprehension of the material to be deep and thorough. There are facts and details to memorize in a rote manner, but in general I want to employ the highest order thinking as possible. Therefore, I won’t be using Kahoot is to review the same material over and over. It becomes a counterproductive edtech tool to do that.

Even if I jumble up the questions and answers, students become quickly savvy to look for the clue word to the answer once they’ve gone through the same Kahoot more than 2 or 3 times per unit.

Videos of the Kahoot in Action:

What do you think??? Happy Kahooting!Kahoot_colours-35

– 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

Short and Sweet

back-to-school-heroHopefully the school year is in full swing, and you are settling into a nice group of new students. I have 129 new students this year, including two international students from Hungary. They offered me a very interesting perspective on the Syrian refugee crisis, from families once dominated by Communist rule.

After teaching my 9/11 curriculum, and being reminded how we are all connected, I then braved another “Back to School Night.” I met numerous parents. Many parents have a neighbor, friend, relative, or otherwise know me in one IMG_3271capacity or another.

As the 9th graders stay the same age, I get older. For once, it feels refreshing to “catch up” in age with the parental cohort. I feel more confident in my own instructional capacity, as well as my ability to relate to a parent of a school-aged child.

I feel very fortunate to be a teacher, and to affect young women’s lives everyday. I hope I can be a good role model, and empower them to confidently stand on their own two feet as I have learned to do. I hope I can show them that being a compassionate person does not mean one is weak, but instead is courageous to show heart and vulnerability.

We really are all connected, literally and figuratively. Life is very short, and each day counts.

Need a little inspiration today?  I encourage you to watch this. We are all bred for connection, and in choosing it, are daring greatly.

Peace,

KBS

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