Sunday, November 27, 2016

Connected Leaders: Tools to Grow Collaborative Conversations

Last week I attended NCTE, and couldn't escape the power of social media in growing my professionalism. As soon as I arrived I was happily catching up with colleagues from across the United States that continually push my thinking.  Gone are the days when we have to feel isolated in our classrooms.  While I still learn so much from my colleagues next door, my professional community has grown exponentially as a result of social media networks, blogs, and connected communities.

What do connected leaders need to consider?

As our district's elementary literacy instructional leader, I have come to also appreciate the power of social media and other digital tools to grow collaborative conversations across our fourteen elementary buildings.  While we are still finding our voice as a collaborative community, here are a few tools I find essential in communicating and growing a collaborative conversation.

Three tools I can't live without:

1.  To Share Our Story:  A Blog.  Every group needs a hub.  A digital hub helps us connect our community, curate resources, and build our narrative. Our literacy coaches are working to grow a literacy website.  On our site we share links, professional development opportunities, resources (still growing), as well as a weekly blog post.  (Need a space?  Try Weebly.)

2.  To Connect Our Community:  Twitter (or some social media outlet).  Our district has a growing number of classrooms on Twitter sharing their stories of learning and connecting with others.  We use Twitter to share professional learning opportunities, tweet blog updates, and pass along information helpful to teachers.  Additionally, we use Twitter to tell the story of literacy in our district by retweeting the celebrations of classrooms across the district.  Twitter allows us to learn from one another and step inside each other's classrooms.  (Our account:  @HCSDElemLit)

3. To Curate Links & Information:  S'more.  S'more works in a way that is similar to a newsletter, pamphlet or brochure.  I find S'more to be perfect for sharing resources around topics or for particular groups.  It is easily shared on social media or via email.  Often I create a S'more for a group conversation and then as others contribute ideas and resources we can easily add them to the original S'more.

More Possibilities:


Saturday, November 5, 2016

Professional Books for New Teachers

I'll never forget my first year of teaching.  I had planned to teach elementary and was given the opportunity to work with six graders.  To say I was unprepared would be an understatement.  There were no supports in place for teachers, but thankfully my husband taught eighth grade and the teachers in our small school were always happy to help.  It's still quite easy to remember how hard that year was for me.  I can remember telling myself that certainly by year three I'd have this teaching thing down to a science.  Of course, that didn't prove to be true as even over twenty years later I find I'm always working to change.

The first years were hard.  Thankfully there were professional books.  It wasn't long after I started teaching that Nancie Atwell wrote, In the Middle:  Writing, Reading and Learning with Adolescents now in its third edition.   To this day, I consider this book to be one of the professional books that helped shape my work as an educator and honestly may have kept me teaching.

Authors of professional books about education continued to improve my work when I moved grade levels, noticed parts of my teaching that I needed to grow, or joined groups of educators hoping to study teaching in greater depth.  Authors like Gay Su Pinnell, Irene Fountas, Debbie Miller, Franki Sibberson, Katie Wood Ray, Ralph Fletcher, Shelley Harwayne, and Troy Hicks all played a part in important shifts in my teaching.

Professional Books for New Teachers
I've been doing a lot of our work with our newest teachers.  I've found their conversations engaging as they work to take what they know and solve new questions they're finding as they work alongside children each day.  In addition to working with new teachers, my son is doing his student teacher this year.  All of these conversations have me thinking about professional books I'd recommend to new teachers.  Here are a few titles I recommend as teachers begin:

Primary Teachers

Guided Reading:  Responsive Teaching Across the Grades
by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell

About the Authors:Writing Workshop with Our Youngest Writers
by Katie Wood Ray with Lisa Cleveland

Reading with Meaning:Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades
by Debbie Miller

For Intermediate
Still Learning to Read:Teaching Students in Grades 3-6
by Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak

The Reading Strategies Book:
Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Readers
by Jennifer Serravallo

Amplify:  Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-8 Classroom
by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke
Teaching with Intention:
Defining Beliefs, Aligning Practice, Taking Action K-5

by Debbie Miller

There have been so many books written that it was hard to narrow to these titles.  These seem to be the books that help when thinking about the foundations of our work.  If you have favorite recommendations for new teachers, I hope you'll share them in the comments.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

When They're Not Beside Us

As a classroom teacher, one of my favorite questions has been, "Who owns the learning?".  I first heard the question asked by Patrick Allen in Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshop when he asked, "If someone walked into our classroom, who s/he say owned it?".  The question was put back in the forefront of my thinking several summers ago after reading:  Who Owns the Learning, Fires in the Mind, and Making Learning Whole.  It's a question that made me look at the walls of my classroom, listen more intently to the voices of our community, pause a little more often in a conference, and be more thoughtful about who was shaping the learning for students.

Lately, I've been thinking about a new question, "What are they doing when they aren't beside us?".

Early in my teaching career, I realized the power of being intentional when students were beside me. Whether in a guided reading lesson, conferring with a reader or writer, or leading some type of small group instruction, I have come to understand the power of sitting beside students to guide their next steps.  To have time to sit beside students, we create structures of learning to allow us more opportunities for targetted support and instruction.  Of course, at their best, these structures allow students to take ownership of their learning giving time to learn new strategies, make discoveries, and work toward new goals.  At their worst, they are elaborate structures that keep students busy so we can do the work we need to beside students.

So what are students doing when they aren't beside us?  I've come to learn that what they're doing when they're not beside us may be more important than what we do when we're sitting beside them.  How do we set students up for meaningful learning as we support learners in our classroom communities?   In my career, I've seen teachers move from sage on the stage to guide on the side to coach on approach (sorry, I just had to continue the rhyme, but you get my point).  As we move toward environments that value student ownership and agency, our role has changed.  This isn't always comfortable for us as we are used to managing and controlling.  It isn't easy to trust children to lead and to learn, to be flexible on our feet.  It's a different kind of planning where we know what we want students to learn, but we allow them to find their own path to get there.

It's messy...and it's powerful.  (Debbie Miller talks more about this here:  Letting Kids "Dig In")

For simplicity sake, let's consider for a moment that a teacher may spend forty-five minutes in small group reading lessons.  During that time a student might be beside the teacher for fifteen minutes.  That means the student spends thirty minutes on her own in the workshop.   Let's say that student is seen three times in a week; that equates to forty-five minutes with the teacher during that block for a week and three hours and forty-five minutes on her own.  Now think about that across the day.  The week.  The month.  The year.

So often we measure student success by the time a teacher is beside a student, but what if it is exactly the opposite.  What if students make the most progress when they drive their own learning?  What if the ways we help build agency in our classroom are more powerful than the time students spend in explicit instruction?

If we're going to send students off on their own, we want to set them up to use their time to learn.   These structures have to allow continued learning and move beyond creating opportunities for us to teach.

Here are a few considerations I've found help set students up for learning opportunities:

  • Allow students opportunities for real work.
  • Have a community learning focus.
  • Be intentional in focus lessons.
  • Create charts that make learning visible.  
  • Take time for a reflective share.
  • Allow students to set their own learning goals.   
  • Be willing to adjust when things get messy.
  • Trust them.  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Texture: The Netflix of Magazines

As a digital reader, I've missed magazines.

There's something about a magazine I enjoy.  Maybe it's the relaxing nature of its content.  Maybe it's the gloss and shine as I turn the pages.  Maybe it's the shorter reads tucked within its pages.  I do enjoy magazines but, honestly, as I've become more digital I don't read them as much.  I just don't seem to have the interest in picking up a paper magazine, carrying it around, having it clutter up our house, and then having to properly recycle it.  Additionally, I'm deterred by the ever increasing cost of picking up a magazine in the grocery store checkout line.

Though I've been a converted digital reader for some time, I still want a magazine to seem like a magazine when I read it.  I've tried to order magazines on my device, but haven't found that to be easy enough that I have continued the practice.   

Recently, however, all of that changed!  A few weeks ago I stumbled upon Texture and have found myself once again spending time with magazines, a guilty pleasure.  I began my subscription about two weeks ago, and have found Texture to be like finding a seat near the magazine rack at the local Barnes and Noble.  I've been so excited about its content.  

  • allows me to read from a variety of popular magazines.
  • brings popular articles from different magazines to my attention.
  • allows me to download magazines so I can read outside of a wifi network. 
  • allows me to create a "favorite" magazine shelf for quick access to the magazines I want to read most.
  • maintains the look and feel of a magazine when I read from my tablet. 
  • can be placed on up to five devices. 

While the perks of Texture are obvious for the magazine lover, I've recently discovered a perk as a teacher as the service has several children's magazines as part of its collections including:  National Geographic Kids, Sports Illustrated Kids, Cricket and Ladybug.   These titles are sure to be useful in providing digital shared reading opportunities with students.

Texture may well be the greatest thing since Netflix!  

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Going Digital with Our Youngest Learners

It always makes me smile to walk into the classrooms of kindergarten children with spaces set up for learning and discovery, interactive writing hanging on the walls, as well as tools of learning placed carefully in areas for our youngest students.  These classrooms are always filled with math manipulatives to solve problems.  There are picture books around the room to help students take their first steps into our literate world.  These classrooms are full of markers, crayons, pens and a variety of styles of paper for our youngest learners to draw and write to tell their stories.  In addition, you'll find a variety of other tools for students to use to grow as learners.  Our youngest learners benefit from these concrete experiences, from being able to physically hold items and move them, from being able to test out their hypotheses, and from opportunities to learn beside friends.

What does all of this mean as we add iPads and digital tools to the classrooms of our youngest learners?  When I'm thinking about ways to grow digital opportunities for our youngest learners I like to consider applications that allow students to do the same things they like to with other tools found in a kindergarten classroom.  I look for tools that allow students to create, discover, talk, and solve.  I also consider how applications work across platforms and ease of sharing.

Here are a few of my favorite applications for our youngest learners:

What It Does:  This is one of my favorites for the K-2 learner as it allows students to take pictures, create video, and use audio.  They can talk, write, or draw in VoiceThread.  This tool works best when wanting to share creations and connect with other learners.  Students can ask a question, as well as share a book, creation, or picture on VoiceThread.  Students can talk about what they are sharing, and then publish it to get comments from peers.

Benefits for Our Youngest Learners:  It's easy to create and navigate using VoiceThread.  It allows students to talk to share their thinking, build oral language skills and helps our youngest learners share all they know with greater ease.  You can create identities within the teacher account.  This was a game changer for me.  When Deb Frazier showed me how to put all of the students under my account I was then able to use this during our whole group lessons and small group lessons for students to share their thinking around topics as we talked together (and sharing this with parents was helpful).  This was a great way to begin before giving students their own VoiceThread accounts.  (Having district accounts is an additional benefit for our learners.)

This Tool Allows:  Creation, Connecting, Collaboration, Commenting, Curating, Embedding other media, Sharing

Here's an example of a VoiceThread I created for first graders as a geometry preassessment (nothing fancy, but it shows how the tool works):  

What It Does:  When we think about blogging, the first thing we think about is writing --- and let's be honest, writing isn't all that easy for our kindergarten students in the first weeks of school.  However, I like to think about Kidblog as a box as it can hold a variety of types of media.  Students can use Kidblog to share their creations with others.  Kidblog provides a place for students to share writing, video, images, and so much more with an audience.  When my K/1 students would begin to use this tool to write, I worked to maintain appropriate developmental expectations for their writing.  A K/1 blog will look like a K/1 student wrote it.

Benefits for Our Youngest Learners:  Kidblog allows students to share their thinking, work, and creations with others.  It is very intuitive and easy for our youngest learners to navigate.  Teachers can moderate posts and comments, and have the ability to set the preferred privacy for a class.  Students accounts stay grouped as a class, making it easy for young learners to find their friends' posts.  Kidblog gives our quietest learners space to share, and commenting helps to build community.

This Tool Allows:  Creation, Connecting, Collaboration, Commenting, Curating, Embedding other media, Sharing

Made in Kidblog:

What It Does:  Pixie is one of my favorite applications for our youngest learners.  It's versatile allowing students to draw, take pictures, write, type, and use audio.  It is possible to put multiple pages together in Pixie to create a story or connect ideas.  When sharing creations in Pixie, it is possible to share as an image, a video, or a Podcast.

Benefis for Our Youngest Learners:  It is easy to use and has a variety of tools available for creation.   Students can create in a variety of ways.  It's an application that grows with students.  As they gain control over greater abilities to write and draw, Pixie will allow them to work in different ways.  Of course, I appreciate the ease of audio for our youngest learners.  Creations from Pixie can be shared in Kidblog or VoiceThread.

This Tool Allows:  Creation, Drawing, Typing, Writing, Inserting Image, Adding Audio, Making Multiple Pages and so much more.

Made with Pixie:

There are so many things that can be done using these three applications that they might be all a primary classroom would need.  Taking the time to use these applications in shared and interactive learning experiences before moving toward independence is a smart way to begin.  Just like shared reading and interactive writing, using these tools as a class to share thinking and to connect with others will help students begin to understand, not only the tool itself, but the significance of purpose and audience in selecting which tools to use.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

On Real Innovation: What Digital Literacy Brings Us #immooc

"I'm defining innovation as a way of thinking that creates something new and better."    ------ George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset (loc 374)
For the next six weeks, I've decided to join the community conversation around The Innovator's Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros.  This conversation is being led by George and Katie Martin.  You can join the conversation at the #immooc event hub, the Twitter #immooc hashtag, or the Facebook group.  

Recently I was gathered around a table of educators discussing our district's move toward 1:1 in our elementary schools.  I'm continually reminded how fortunate I am to work in a district that values this shift toward new opportunities for our students.  We have always had people working toward the vision of growing the possibilities afforded through digital technologies.  There has been careful planning of devices, applications, and professional development, complemented by the side-by-side support of technology coaches to help us through these new steps.

As I've moved from building to building in conversations around these blended learning opportunities, there is a mix of excitement and caution as we take these new steps.  Many are excited about the new possibilities that 1:1 will allow our students, but I also sense a bit of caution as educators try to balance this possibility with pedagogy.  As I dig deeper into the shift toward digital learning, I realize that it is less about the tools and more about our instructional practices and the opportunities students have as a result of these new tools.  Couros reminds us, "Technology can be crucial in the development of innovative organizations, but innovation is less about the tools like computers, tablets, social media, and the Internet, and more about how we use those things."

As educators, we work to do what is best for the children that sit beside us each day.  It's the how (his emphasis) that I've been thinking a lot about lately.  For me, this shift isn't as much about digital learning as it is about digital literacy.  It isn't as much about completing tasks, as it is about intentional decision making.  It isn't as much about working independently as it is about connecting to other learners, growing your community beyond your classroom, and having a voice today.  It isn't as much about using digital tools as it is about purposefully selecting from a variety of tools, digital or otherwise, to intentionally create and compose a message.  It isn't as much about learning how to work digitally as it is about learning to live in the new culture created by the availability of digital technologies.  It isn't as much about being a student as it is about becoming a global citizen.  It isn't about schooling; it's about education.

These two tweets were among my favorites this week for showing how students can own their learning process and make intentional decisions (note the digital and print decisions):

Shifting Our Thinking 
The how requires a shift in our thinking.  I'm going to push Couros's definition for innovation in education one step further by saying that innovation creates "something new and better" and raises the level of learning for students - they own it.  Technology allows us to do all kinds of new and better things, but not all of those are best practices.  One of my friends has a new saying, "Just because they can, doesn't mean mean we should."  If the innovation isn't growing the opportunities and understandings of our learners, if it isn't developmentally appropriate, if it doesn't take our learning to new levels, if it doesn't connect us, then perhaps we need to push ourselves to go deeper.

One of my favorite quotes about change is from Troy Hicks in The Digital Writing Workshop, "When we simply bring a traditional mindset to literacy practices, and not a mind-set that understands new literacies into the process of digital writing, we cannot make the substantive changes to our teaching that need to happen in order to embrace the full potential of collaboration and design that digital writing offers (p.2)."  As we move toward 1:1 learning environments we need to be patient with ourselves in this journey, but we also need to ask ourselves the hard question, "What could be different?".

Expanding our definition of literacy to include digital texts, tools, and networks, is one step toward innovative change.  However, it is also requires us to work in "new and better" ways that lift the level of learning.  Perhaps innovation is quite simple.  Perhaps it is just about turning the decision making over to students.  Perhaps it is just about valuing questions over answers.  Perhaps it is about connecting learning communities.  Perhaps it just about being willing to take the first steps.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

Innovator's Mindset #IMMOOC

"Change is an opportunity to do something amazing."  -George Couros
For the next six weeks, I've decided to join the community conversation around The Innovator's Mindset:  Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity by George Couros.  This conversation is being led by George and Katie Martin.  You can join the conversation at the #immooc event hub, the Twitter #immooc hashtag, or the Facebook group.  

What happens when you are asked to revision school?  A few years ago our school community was asked to do just that.  At first, there's an excitement in the air.  What teacher hasn't dreamed of starting their own school with all the pieces of education they value?  Dreaming and reality can be two different things.  Trying to really think about changing school is harder than one might think.  When you've known school to be one thing, it's hard to really see it as another.  It's hard to look past what is known, to get to what is new.

Since that time, schools across our district have been asking that question.  What could school look like for our students?  Many have started down a path toward revisioning school.  We've begun to work toward environments that allow for more personalized learning, utilization of technology, and empowerment of students to truly own their own learning.  We're more intentional about creating communities that ask questions, seek new possibilities, collaborate and connect.

It's hard for us to make these changes, but students are living in a different world and our schools need to reflect that world.  There are challenges in innovating education.  As educators, we're uncomfortable with taking a risk to move toward change.  Rigid testing requirements push against authentic learning opportunities.  Schedules tie us into routines and make it difficult to flexibly provide innovative opportunities for students.

Perhaps some of the challenge is that we remain focused on content over ways of thinking and learning.  We place great value in tasks, over real-world literacy.  We focus on achievement over growth, and answers over questions.    Couros reminds us, "If schools are only about content and information, that reality poses a threat to educational facilities (loc 170)."  He goes on to say, "Although we say we want kids to think for themselves, what we teach them is compliance (loc 190)."  How could our schools look different?  How could they better prepare students for the world they live in today?  When I struggle to know what is right, I push myself to think beyond barriers, beyond schedules and routines, beyond the school I have always known, to my students.  What is truly best for the students that sit in front of me each day?

We have the opportunity to begin to change the system for our students.  We just have to be brave enough to step forward.

I'm looking forward to this opportunity to revision my thinking with the #immooc community as we discuss innovation in our schools.  To begin to innovate, I know I will need to:

 Innovate from Cathy on Vimeo. (made with Haiku Deck)

Here a few favorite quotes from the introduction:
  • "Change is the opportunity to do something amazing." (loc 149)
  • "We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them." (loc 190)
  • "If we want to 'innovate students,' we will need to 'innovate educators (loc 213).'''
  • "The focus on compliance and implementation of programs in much of today's professional development does not inspire teachers to be creative, nor does it foster a culture of innovation (loc 213)."
  • "We must make time for our teachers to grow (loc 213)."
  • "We need to develop shared vision, align expectations, and provide pathways to ensure that all teachers have the resources to learn, create, and innovate to meet the needs of today's learners (loc 213)."
  • "The goal isn't to change for the sake of change but to make changes that allow us to empower our teachers and students to thrive (loc 234)."
  • "What you can do is create the conditions where change is more likely to happen.  As a leader, you can create those conditions by taking a strengths-based approach for learning and leadership and unleashing the talent in your organization (loc 256)." 
  • "Create school cultures in which values such as originality, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge are the norm of our students, our teachers, and ourselves (loc 297)."
(Yep, that's just the introduction....can't wait to read on...)