Category Archives: Literacy

Vol.#92: ISTE 2015 Presentation Screencast [CROSSPOST]

ISTEMy last two posts on Teaching Speaks Volumes have been about the steps to convert student-completed Google Forms to WordPress blog posts and why I use it in my classroom for Independent Reading.

This technology process was developed with my colleague and friend Paul Cancellieri (@mrscienceteach and scriptedspontaneity.com).

We were fortunate enough to present at #ISTE2015 in a Snapshot format on Tuesday afternoon and a Poster Presentation on Wednesday morning about it.

We had lots of positive feedback, and screencasted our ISTE 2015 Presentation to be able to share it with our wonderful, extensive digital PLNs.

 

Check it out here:

 

Related Posts:

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Vol. #91: *How* I Turned Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging [Crosspost]

For the discussion on *WHY* I Turned Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging, read that post here.

The first step for me in creating a custom technology tool that met my needs was to know Paul Cancellieri. Luckily, if you don’t, he has explained the process in detail on his blog Scripted Spontaneity and I am crossposting it here for my readers. The process we have developed is the basis for our two presentations this week at ISTE.



1. Create a blog: The video below illustrates the simplest method (in my opinion) using the free WordPress.com service.  Edublogs is a hosted version of WordPress that is specifically designed for classrooms, but you need their “Pro” level paid service to activate the “post by email” feature that makes this process much simpler.  So, I recommend going to WordPress.com as a free alternative.  After creating the blog, you can customize the site to include a school or district logo, or just tweak the colors to make it more appealing.  Note: Any blogging platform that supports the “post by email” feature will work for this purpose.


2. Create a form: The video below demonstrates how to use Google Docs to create a form that collects the information that you find important.  Keep in mind that some of the collected information will be used to generate the blog post, but other information (e.g., student identifying details) can be kept off the blog and only viewable by the teacher for the purposes of assessment.  Feel free to start with my template, but be sure to go to the File menu and Save a Copy before editing it.


3. Use a plugin to convert the submitted form into an email message: Here I explain how I used formMule to perform this function, including the important step of matching the format that WordPress.com accepts in their Post by Email feature.


4. Create a submission page on the blog: The final step is to embed the Google Form on a page of the WordPress.com site that is password protected so that only your students can submit blog entries.  You can moderate all entries so that no unauthorized submissions get published as blog posts.


Tips and Troubleshooting

  • If the blog posts are not showing up on your blog, start by checking that the form is saving information.  Do this by looking at your Responses spreadsheet in Google Docs.  If entries are found there that are not posted on the blog, move on to the next bullet.
  • Next, go to the Dashboard for your WordPress.com blog and go to the All Posts area.  Check to see if the posts are sitting in Draft form or otherwise waiting to be published.  You may need to tweak the language in the formMule template to get the blog posts to be published automatically.
  • Be aware that the author of the post will be you.  The blog post author’s name will match the name of the WordPress.com account that activated Post by Email.  You may want to adjust the official name on that account to look more like “Student Blogger” or something similar.

Vol. #90: Why I Turned Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging

blog-684748_1280I started Teaching Speaks Volumes in June 3 years ago. Each year in June, I’ve updated the look of the blog and reflected upon its impact as a powerful catalyst for growth and change.

Blogging – writing with a real-world audience – has become an important staple in my reflective practice as an educator, but also in my instruction.  Besides authoring this professional blog about teaching, my students blog about the books they choose to read independently. Reading and writing for real purpose with an open reflection and engagement of ideas with an audience of peers is as powerful for students as it is for professionals.

My students write reviews of books they chose to read on the class Reading Blog. I’d tried many different approaches to independent reading over the years, from traditional book reports and presentations, to book talks and reading logs.  These are very typical of any English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, though I’d always designed my own reading logs, project menus and rubrics. However, for the last several school years my students’ blogging has had a powerful impact for my classroom independent reading.

Publishing independent reading reviews has made my students’ analysis of their reading interactive and authentic in several ways. First, when written on paper as a reading log or project and submitted only to me, spelling and punctuation sometimes seemed an afterthought. However, when published in front of their peers and the world, most students make a genuine and concerted effort to apply conventional spelling and grammatical rules, showing their best work. This has changed the dynamic of my students as viewing themselves as “published writers”.

The “search” option allows visitors to the Blog to search titles, authors, topics, and even friends’ names to see what they are reading. (Students often post comments to each other about the reviews, although this is optional.) Because middle schoolers are social by nature, the ability to see what their friends are reading and reviewing is a powerful motivating force to read.


Several authors have contacted my students about the reviews about their novels by posting a comment directly to the students on the blog. For example, the 2014 Newbery Award winner Kate DiCamillo responded this past November to one of my very own students!  No doubt googling their own book title, authors arrived at my students’ reviews and felt compelled to reach out to the young adults who reviewed their works. For all these reasons, this Independent Reading Blog is the very definition of interactive and authentic work by a middle schooler.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 11.43.01 AM

To reap these benefits and make the switch to paperless book reviews shared to the world, I used the free and open source blogging tool “Wordpress” and I created a blog for my students. The structure of the submission form creates the post. Drop-down menu choices become where each review appears in the blog’s menu. (image) Anyone visiting the site can search all “fantasy” reviews or all “five star” reviews written by my students. The same book may appear in the five star reviews for one student, but another student’s review of the same book might appear with the three-star reviews, if that is how each child rated the book.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 1.17.42 PM

Students can easily research what their peers are reading, and even use that information as a point of inspiration for what to read next. All of the reasons stated make reading interactive with their peers and this social aspect is very important to young adolescents. By designing this blog for my students “from the ground up”, creating a product similar to Shelfari or Goodreads but with my students’ specific needs in mind, it has revolutionized my instruction.

My ever-techie colleague Paul Cancellieri (@mrscienceteach) who blogs over at Scripted Spontaneity was instrumental in my setting up this interactive blog. He has created a how-to step-by-step guide on his blog.

Vol. #82: Read Theory

I set up ReadTheory for my students Friday and I am wondering where this FREE tool has been all my life! It definitely belongs on my list of free reading RTI strategies.

ReadTheory is a literacy tool which tailors itself to the student’s individual performance in reading. It selects a passage and questions for the student at random from the pool of available quizzes at the student’s level:

Students “choose a level to start.” My students were not aware that it meant “grade level” and some assumed they would start on “level 1”. After completing a passage that was entirely too easy, it quickly adjusted for them.

The video references how it adapts to a student’s performance as they go. Here’s how:

Level up: If a student performs outstandingly on the quiz (score 90% or more), then the quiz is never shown again and the level increases by one.
Level unchanged: If the student passes this quiz (score between 70% and 89%), it is never shown again and the student remains at the same current grade level of reading.
Level down: If the student performs poorly on the quiz (score 69% or less), then the quiz is replaced into the pool of available quizzes and the level decreases by one.

The teacher receives data charts and progress reports which are interactive and intuitive. The class average, student start level, current level, average level, and number of tests completed are all shown.

I especially like that students get immediate feedback on the questions they get right and wrong, and that for incorrect passages, they can click to get the “explanation behind the answer”.

There are several ways ReadTheory could be improved:

  • Being able to upload a csv file would have been really nice, although entering  students’ names one at a time didn’t take too long.
  • I would have really appreciated an easy pdf download by class that has the website, default password, and each students’ username in rows to cut apart for easier distribution.
  • I have some parents who would love a parent log in, similar to what Edmodo, Class Dojo, and Class Charts have, so that they could see their child’s ongoing progress.
  • Some of my students have noted it’s a lot like Study Island (which many of them had in Elementary school) but without the fun gaming/reward part.
    • Study Island costs money and I appreciate that Read Theory is free. It does keep “points” in some fashion, but I’m unclear how these are obtained and what they represent. They do not appear to be attached to badges or any type of reward within the actual web App outside of the statement of “You now have X many points.”  As I learn more, I may look to how I can reward them “outside the screen” in my classroom.
  • There’s no “stop”. Our students are trained to look for the stop sign when testing. These passages keep going on until a student chooses or a teacher tells them to stop. Choosing how many passages to do (or a time limit) and having a “stop” pop up would be a nice option.

These suggested improvements aside, I really like ReadTheory so for its ease of use, intuitive data, and personalization for students.

Vol#80: “Using Technology to Personalize Literacy Instruction” #NCTIES15

This post is to:

  • provide attendees of my NCTIES presentation, “Using Technology to Personalize Literacy Instruction” with resources in one place
  • share the resources of this presentation with TSV readers and  PLNs unable to attend but would value the information

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 3.12.22 AM

 

Session Essential Questions:

  • What technology tools are available to support readers at various levels?
  • How can these tools support students as they work to meet CCSS ELA/Literacy standards?
  • How can they simplify and enhance a teacher’s ability to differentiate literacy instruction for classes that have a wide range of reading abilities?

Session Learning Goals:    (The teachers will be able to…)

  • use technology to assess the level of a text
  • embed questions, discussion, and video right into the text
  • enable students to create their own digital book

 

A screencast of the tools I featured is available here:    Vol.#62: Every Teacher a Literacy Teacher Via Technology

 

My own rubric for using Newsela quizzed & leveled articles as Article of the Week can be downloaded for free from TpT by clicking here.

 

Literacy Tools Featured:

 

Other tools mentioned:

Vol.#72: Data Happens (And What To Do Next)

I have  data about literacy – my students’ and own children’s – coming at me on a regular intervals; tidalwaves on the beach of what is otherwise a peaceful school experience.

For my own son, he camScreen Shot 2014-09-21 at 5.08.52 PMe home with an mClass report with all little running men at the top of their little green bars – save one – and a lexile level that corresponds with a 3.6 grade level early in his third grade year.  However, another letter says he’s been flagged as a “failing reader” based on the preliminary standardized test given in the beginning of third grade. This would have perplexed me if I didn’t already know how ludicrous it is to assess literacy of children with these frustrating bubble tests.

For my sixth-grade students, I have access to their standardized test data from the end of fifth grade – the ones with passages that are way too long assessing way too many standards and simply expecting way too much of the poor ten-year-old test takers.

We also give our middle schoolers quarterly timed tests on basic skills in reading and math. Based on these results, students are sorted into green, yellow, and red, with intervention plans written for those in the “danger zones”. Also, there are standardized benchmark tests at the end of each quarter to see if they are on track to attain a passing achievement level for the standardized state test at the end of the year.

demaNdingIf anyone counted, that’s seven tests during the year for students, including the “real” test. But not including any tests given by the teacher. (And that’s just for reading, don’t forget to then add in math. And science. And social studies… But I digress.)

I am not naive enough to think I am going to change the path we are going down right now, but I feel strongly that if we are going to make students do all this, I’d better find a way to make all the resulting data helpful to my instruction.

And therein lies another layer of my molten lava white-hot fury. What has been sorely missing from the dialogue in all these data-sessions is the next steps. Ok, Sally Sue is “red”.  What does she need now?  Or, even more frustrating, she passed one test, but is “red” on the other. So…now what? What do I DO for her? (You know, that I wasn’t going to do anyway? Like…teach her?)

Perhaps this oversight is because those who pushed this agenda only wanted to sell us all the screening tests so they don’t actually know what to do next? Or, maybe their answer is they want us to buy their scripted program to “fix it”, but we are all out of money?

At any rate, here’s where I am with this new normal.  I need pragmatic (*ahem* free) ways to address all this conflicting data. What follows is a list of  strategies I have to that end:

  • Offer the same article in several different lexile levels using Newsela. Some articles have leveled questions as well. (Newsela has a free version and a “pro” version.)
  • ReadWorks “The Solution to Reading Comprehension” offers both nonfiction and literary passages, questions, and units for free. It includes lexile leveling information.
  • You can also check the reading level of any text or website at  read-able.com for free.
  • Offer clear instructions for how you want students to complete a close reading of a text. Here’s mine. Sorry for the shameless plug. 🙂
  • Mr. Nussbaum’s webpage has reading comprehension passages and Maze passages that score themselves for free! It only goes up through grade 6, so it would only help students up through about a 960 lexile.
  • ReadTheory is free, and allows you to create classes and track reading comprehension progress.
  • There are several reading leveler apps you can pay for and they are probably fancier, but I’ve found this one handy, both as a mom and as a teacher. For example, I used to have long conversations with my students who kept picking up books during DEAR time, not an occasional graphic novel, but always a graphic novel, cartoon books, picture book …you know the type? Anyway, scanning their bar code and simply telling them it has a 2.4 grade level has been more effective than the long conversation. 🙂
  • One on my horizon to try: curriculet.com  It’s free and I’ve heard good things!
  • I have also found the following conversion chart handy, because of course the data does not always come in the same format:

4879716These have helped me in more than one “What are you doing for my child?” conference and to complete the required intervention plans based on all the data. I don’t know if they have revolutionized me as a literacy teacher, but I suppose time scores will tell.

Have a strategy, tool, or resource for helping your students as readers? Please share in the comments!