Falling Back, to Reach the Present…

I hope everyone has settled into a great new school year. By now new routines and schedules have been established, new relationships and bonds are beginning to form, and students are beginning to grow under our tutelage.

Fall reminds me of the shedding of last school year, and the beginning of redefining ourselves once more. Not everyone loves autumn, but in Western New York State, we have some of the most beautiful foliage. The air has a crispness to it that seems to break the cycle of a not-so-spectacular summer weather cycle.

New things are seemingly always on the horizon, but lately I’ve really been trying to stop worrying about the past or feeling anxious towards the future. I really want to images-3focus on enjoying the present. Being in the moment is becoming so important to me. Call it “growing up,” but the concept of mindfulness is my unofficial theme for this year… and hopefully for life.

There is this beautiful Lao Tzu quote: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”

Isn’t that beautiful? Don’t we all need more peace in our lives? The world outside of ourselves is one thing, but we have the ability to partake in self-care. Moreover, we have a responsibility to make self-care a priority. I always denied that I needed self-care. I convinced myself that being strong and capable meant proving you needed less time for it.download

But how wrong I was. Enjoying the little things, taking moments to breathe and refocus, and shedding the frenetic energy that envelopes us in our quest to “have it all” is more compulsory the “older and wiser” I get.

How about you? How do you rebalance your energy?

Namaste,

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

 

 

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

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 🙂

Technology is NOT Innovation

There was a great Twitter discussion last night entitled “Using Technology vs. Innovating with HiResTechnology.”  facilitated the discussion, which focused on technology integration, and what it means in terms of being an innovative educator. As a PBS Digital Innovator, I thought the discourse was very thought-provoking. There was a general consensus that the use of digital technology was not indicative of an “innovative classroom.”

In other words, any student can be handed an electronic device, but that doesn’t mean the student is learning or engaged. I see examples of this in my own 1:1 iPad classroom. Always looking for ways to be a better teacher (hence, using Twitter for my own professional development), I noticed that technology and engagement are not hand-in-hand. It is how I frame the edtech that counts.

Lessons have to be crafted carefully to minimize distractions beyond that of a paper-and-pencil classroom. I also have to change up apps or tasks on the iPads to make sure I am introducing novelty and increasing chances of student interest. For example: when I’ve used Nearpod, I need to change up my embedded activities, questions, and seek out deeper thinking. I have to remember to stimulate my students’ metacognition. zpmetacognition

 

 

 

One teacher’s comments particularly struck me:

“A4 Innovation means letting go of traditional constructs and being open to letting go of some control to change thinking”
“A5 Communicate the learning goal clearly w Ss, then let THEM choose the tools and tasks they’ll use to discover. Innovation.”

EdTech Professional Development

The Twitter discussion also highlighted a need for better/more edtech PD for teachers. I would agree with this. I think there is a lot of PD out there, but it has a glass ceiling. In my building, I am asked to help facilitate professional development in edtech with my colleagues, but there is often a lack of PD left for my own further development.

For teachers that want to explore their lessons and how to use tech to bring the students’ experiences to the next level, we don’t need a book of possible apps or to hear about how one innovationspeaker applied their knowledge of tech in the field. We don’t need to hear about one or two project-based learning (PBL) experiences.

Ok then, what do we need for great tech PD? In my opinion, we need to get our hands in it. We need to take our lesson plans and amp them up. We need access to and guidance from experts…mentorship. We need a PBL expert to offer us support. It is great to listen and be inspired by others, but if we are not actively practicing and honing our pedagogical and engagement skills, then the PD can only be effective to a point.

#edtechchat

If you use Twitter, I encourage you to check out the hashtag above. It will connect you with a great series of posts and discussions about making ourselves better users and innovators of technology!

LMK what you think in the comments below, and have a great day!

-Kirsten