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...)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Even the Smallest Moments Count

As teachers, we go into school with a million things buzzing in our minds; there's the plan for our teaching, the students we want to focus on for the day, the books we plan to read, the language we want to use, the change of schedule because of an assembly, the meeting we need to attend during our planning time, the parent we need to contact and so much more.  Across the years I've discovered there are many things for which I'm responsible, but perhaps it is the little things that matter most - the things I might not even have a true awareness of on a day-to-day basis.

Such was the case at the end of last year.  The last day of school was an emotional day, more so than usual as I was changing positions and would be leaving my home school.  Though I was excited about the opportunities ahead, it was hard to leave a community that had become such a part of who I was (truly #teacherheaven).  The day was full of kind words, sweet cards, small tokens of appreciation that filled my heart with much joy.  After the bell rang, students and families buzzed around the school.  I was putting the final load of items into my bag when a student walked into my door, her mom stayed in my doorway as she entered.  I hadn't had this student in class, hadn't supported her in reading, hadn't had her in any of my after school groups, but recognized her face from around the building.

The girl, one of our older students, was holding a blue piece of paper, but she was obviously a bit uncomfortable.  I smiled and greeted her, unsure of what she might need.  I started to talk about the last day, and her mom soon interjected, "My daughter stayed up last night writing a note for you.  She wanted to tell you what a difference you have made."  I looked into the young girl's eyes as she handed me the note, her face began to relax and her smile grew.

As she handed me the note her mom added, "We can't stay, but she wanted you to have it."  I sensed the girl didn't want me to read the note with her there so I thanked her and we said our summer goodbyes.  After she walked out, I read the note.  In it she wrote about those little moments she saw me:  in the hall, in the cafeteria, working with her friends.  I was surprised by how much she had noticed about what I did from day to day in our school.  She thanked me for talking to her as we passed.  I could tell she felt noticed in these times; these times that were such a small part of both of our days.  "I will miss you.  A lot of people will miss you.  The staff, the students, and even the parents love you and will miss you."

The letter from this student really meant so much to me.  It was completely unexpected and such a kind, heartfelt gesture.  It serves to remind me now that it's the little moments that matter.  We don't always know we're making a difference, but perhaps every moment counts more than we realize.

(You've probably already seen this video, Eye-Opening Video Will Make Adults Reconsider the Way They Talk to Kids.  It speaks to these little moments...but make sure you watch it to the end.)

Friday, August 19, 2016

First Things First

Our district has been working to be intentional about our culture.  As a community, we are continually talking about our commitment to being our best for one another.  In this conversation, we talk a lot about choosing our response to an event based upon the outcomes we want.  Nowhere is this more important than during the beginning of our school year.  It's easy to get caught up in the requirements for assessment, to worry about students who may need to make large gains in a school year, to want to make use of time by diving in quickly to challenging learning, or to teach in ways we think might help students perform better on tests though in our hearts we know may not be what is best for the children sitting in front of us each day.

These are the days we have to put all of this worry aside and attend to first things first.

I was reminded of the importance of staying focused on building learning communities today as I chatted with an old friend.

At the end of the day today, I stopped by one of our elementary schools for a meeting.  While I was there, I decided to wander into the primary hallway to chat with some of the teachers.  As I was walking down the hall, I ran into a colleague whom I've known for some time.  She and I took classes together at Ohio State University and have had many discussions about learning across the years.  I always learn so much talking with her.  I admire her love of literacy, her creativity, and her gift for keeping children first.  

"How's the first few days been?" I inquired.

"Great," she smiled and began telling me about all they had been doing.  Though she had to be exhausted from these first days of school, she didn't show it.   

We talked as we walked toward her classroom; immediately I found her space welcoming.  There were frames outside the door for their learning gallery, a space to celebrate their steps along the way.  The wall inside was lined with letters from the previous year's class positioned close to the new students' first day of school writing; their proximity reminded me how much second graders learn in a year.  

There were other parts of her room that welcomed young learners.  The library was brimming with carefully selected picture books.  If a reader walked into the space, she/he would be surrounded by books.  Along the wall colorful large squares of warm earth tones had been hung to display the learning students would soon do as conversations grow in their community.  There was a large meeting area on one side of the room which was surround by books, learning tools, and a chart stand.  There was a place on the wall that would soon feature a timeline that would tell the stories of their days.

Her room called me in, but it was her conversation that warmed my heart.  As we chatted she told me about the way they were focusing on finding happiness. The books around the carpet were about finding your happiness.  Their morning meeting had started with a suggestion that students look for the happiness in their day and they ended the day by writing about the happiness they had discovered.  These were just some of the ways she was connecting her community.  She told me how they would grow their library and make it their own.  She showed me how they would celebrate the reading they do together all year.  She walked me to the wall that would highlight their learning journey and the books students would use to individualize that story.  Everywhere we walked she talked about the intentional plans she had for these first days of school.   

"I want them to leave my room loving learning," she said finally.  I had to smile.  I didn't know how they could do anything but love learning in this room so thoughtfully prepared for their next steps.  

The outcome she wants is a classroom where students love to learn and take care of one another.  It is obvious that all voices are valued here.  These first days matter in the days we cannot yet see.

Links to Keep First Things First:  

(If you have favorite beginning of the year posts, I hope you'll share them in the comments.)  


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Picture Book Lessons for Teaching #pb10for10's the day.  Each year, on August 10th, picture book lovers from near and far join together to share favorite picture books.  Classroom teachers, librarians, parents, authors, and other book lovers join the #pb10for10 community to share their favorite titles.  Stop by the community to share your favorites and to discover new titles you won't be able to resist.  Enter at your own risk!

My Past 10 Collections

My 2016 #pb10for10:  Stories for My Son (The Student Teacher)
Determining my focus for this year's picture book celebration wasn't hard.  You see, this year our son will be completing his education program.  We're pretty excited for him.  He is an early education major and will be doing his student teaching in the coming school year.  These next months will teach him much.  My #pb10for10 collection this year has him in mind.  I'm sharing ten books his young readers will love, but titles that will also help him to remember some important things about growing a community of learners.  In no particular order....

"Love them for who they are."
Some kids like to do new things, want to talk, and enjoy being the center of everything.  Other kids like the quiet, prefer working by themselves and aren't as eager to volunteer.  Get to know your students and their preferences...and respect them for who they are.  Help them to feel safe in your learning community. 

I Love You Already by Jory John and Benji Davies (2016):  Bear is all settled in for a quiet day.  Duck has a different idea.  Duck comes over to Bear's house to get him to come out and do something.  What happens when two friends want to do completely different things?  Readers will fall in love with these characters who help us to understand you can be different, but still be friends.

"Let them move."
Kids need to move.  Books are one way to give them opportunities to let them move around.

Is Everyone Ready for Fun?  by Jan Thomas (2011).  This book has never let me down.  Kids love to join the cows as they dance and move on chicken's sofa.  The repetitive pattern in the text, bright illustrations, and fun characters make this a book that is loved by all.

"Make them laugh."  
Kids love to laugh.  Yes, books with titles like this one will surely get a laugh.  There will be so many opportunities to laugh with your students.  Enjoy them.

Whose Butt?  by Stan Tekiela (2012).  Yes, I'm sliding in an informational text, but how could I resist?  There's nothing like laughing with students, and kids won't be able to resist a laugh with this one.  The author shows photographs of the back end of animals and readers have to try to guess the animal.  He includes interesting facts that will surely get kids asking questions.

"Every problem is an opportunity."
We can see problems as problems or we can view them as opportunities.    

What Do You do with a Problem written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom (2016):  In this story, the boy is given a problem.  He didn't want a problem, but he had one anyway.  He tried to get rid of it with no luck.  What could he do?  We can learn a lot from this character as he works his way through this challenge and finds a way to begin to fix it.  The illustrator starts the story with little color as the problem takes over.  Illustrations are brown (or maybe dark gray) and white.  As he begins to work through it, the illustrator begins to add color and the situation brightens.

"Mix it up."  
While routine and structure can make it easy for students to work and learn, there are times to mix it up.  When the pace of the work seems too slow or the enthusiasm wanes, mix it up.  

The Blobfish Book by Jessica Olien (2016):  This book is so much fun.  This book is supposed to be an informational book about the ocean, but Blobfish is sure he should be a part of it.  He walks across pages campaigning to be a part of the story.  The author has used ocean photographs that cover the page from top to bottom which often include ocean information.  A caricature of Blobfish is imposed on each page.  Through speech bubbles, Blobfish interrupts the story to tell his part.

"Help your students find their stories."
Young writers often don't know the power of their stories.  Though a lot happens in their daily lives, they don't often realize the significance.   

My Dog Spot by Jack E. Levin and Norma R. Levin (2016):  In this story, the authors write about their dog, Spot.  Each double page spread tells us about Spot's looks, life, and activities.  This book, with its simplistic structure and illustrations, makes a great mentor text for young writers.

"Learn to walk beside your students."  
Help students to see all that is possible by modeling.  Showing students how will help them to take next steps.  

Lion Lessons by Jon Agee (2016):  When this student tries to earn his lion diploma, things don't go quite as planned.  Being a lion isn't easy work.  His teacher patiently models lion technique and shows him how to do all the things a lion should do.
"Get to know your students and their families."
Learning is a partnership between us, students, and their families.  The more we take the time to communicate with families and get to know them, the easier it is to meet the needs of our learners.  

Hello, My Name is Octicorn by Kevin Diller and Justin Lowe (2016):  Octicorn isn't your ordinary octopus.  His mom is an octopus and his dad is a unicorn.  Octicorn tells readers about his life and his family.  He also shares how hard it can be to fit in when you are an octicorn.  This book could help support conversations about differences, fitting in, acceptance, and family diversity.

"Be ready for surprises."  
Sometimes you'll be unsure of next steps, but if you listen carefully the kids will tell where you to go.  They'll throw out the perfect gem at just right the moment.  

It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton (2016):
Liam loved to get mail.  The problem was, he wasn't getting any.  Though he patiently waited and waited no mail came.  Liam decided he'd have to write a letter if he wanted to get something in the mail.
"Teach like an explorer."
Remember that every day is an adventure.  Learn from those around you, both students and other educators.  Climb the biggest hills, dig deep into the dirt, discover new paths, and take a few risks.  As Atkinson reminds us in this book, "Explorers are prepared for everything."

Explorers of the Wild by Cale Atkinson (2016):  This picture book,  from the author of To the Sea, is one of my favorite new finds.  In this book, a young boy goes out to explore.  He's pretty excited about his upcoming journey into the woods, but he knows there can be danger in the wild.  When he runs into a bear he is, at first, a little frightened, but Bear is an explorer too.  Together exploring is even better.

This story inspires curiosity, exploration, and could help begin the discussion about being willing to try new things and take risks.  While the story is well worth a read, the illustrations add to the adventure.  These full page illustrations and double page spread help to tell the story of two explorers.    The brightness of the illustrations and detail of each page make this a book children will love to hear.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Meeting Students Where They Are: DIY Literacy Ch 5-6 #cyberPD

It's the final week of #cyberPD.  Our community is reading DIY Literacy by Maggie Roberts and Kate Roberts.  This week we're discussing the final chapters:  chapter 5 & 6.  These two chapters helped me to solidify my thinking around using these tools to "tailor teaching (p. 71)" and to effectively shape the tools we use with students.

In both my time in the classroom in large learning communities and then in supporting readers reading intervention, I continually worked to differentiate for learners.  No two learners are ever the same, and as Kate and Maggie remind us this can be challenging to balance in classrooms.  Using tools like charts, demonstration notebooks, micro-progressions, and bookmarks help to not only make learning more concrete for students but also allow for greater differentiation and personalization.  These tools help to develop "a sustainable practice that meets kids' needs (p. 72).  Working to meet the variety of needs in a classroom takes thoughtful practice.  The authors help us to see how tools can not only support students who need help, but they can also extend learning for students who need more push.  

These chapters reminded us to:
  • Look for signs tools are working:  use, struggle, shifts, growth, engagement
  • Look for signs tools can be removed:  automaticity, awareness
  • Build effective tools:  co-create; use popular culture, metaphor, kid language, space, color, branding
  • Be intentional about location

Thinking About Tools to Support Learning
I created this visual representation of key points from the reading.

In Closing
I can't thank the #cyberPD community enough for all they have shared during this event.  I'll be weeks browsing through the posts and will return throughout the year for the many ideas that have been shared.   

My Past Posts
Becoming Strategic Chapters 3-4
DIY Literacy Tools Chapters 1-2