Vol.#89: Pondering Interactive Notebooks

As a year-round school teacher, I still have a month of school left whilst also planning my next school year’s start. My students take the state standardized tests next week but my new year starts in July. Some in year round call it the “bend” (beginning + end), others the “clopening”. It’s always a crazy time.

This week, teachers at my school need to post their supply lists for next year’s students and for the first time in fifteen years, I think I will not be asking for that 1″ binder and five tab dividers. I will be asking only for one marble-top composition book and Elmer’s glue.

Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks ~ Literary Elements for Common Core 4-8 by Erin Cobb @ TpT
Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks ~ Literary Elements for Common Core 4-8 by I’m Lovin’ Lit @ TpT

I am considering using Erin Cobb’s interactive notebooks for my students next year.

Since becoming part of the TpT community, I’ve become a huge fan from afar of Erin Cobb whose TpT store,  blog,  and Facebook Page  are all titled “I’m Lovin’ Lit.”  A fellow 6th grade language arts teacher, she is able to create student engagement and interactivity where I have not: using paper.

Digital student engagement and interaction? Sure, I’m your girl. My students interact on Edmodo, collect group efforts in Padlet, and get instant feedback on their reading in ReadTheory. They complete questions on a story by scanning color-coded QR codes I’ve created on QRStuff to arrive at a Google doc which, when completed, are scored and results are emailed to students with Flubaroo. Need iPad apps for language arts? How about FREE iPad apps for language arts?  No problem.

But my notebooks… Well, I rarely “give notes”, and if so it’s usually a flipped lesson. However, the real usefulness of the notebook I ask my students keep for my language arts class? Dubious at best.

I initially considered going completely paperless. While I could do that, I think some students are tactile and need some “tangibility”. Also, parents often expect something they can touch, see, and feel that students are completing and for reference to help their child study. (And I don’t issue the literature textbook.) Creating a custom permanent reference is appealing.

In addition, I like the division this gives me. If it’s something they need for reference (content, test goals, logins, etc.) it becomes part of the interactive notebook. If it’s work generated by way of practicing a skill, its completed in a google doc, with an App, on the Edmodo wall, etc.

notebook-738794_1280

Hard-copy content.

Paperless practice.

Both interactive.

…I like it.

This is especially an important decision for me, as it’s not only a shift from old habits, but material management it such an issue in sixth grade. Students come from the elementary school “classroom with a cubby” and have to now travel to multiple classrooms and deal with lockers. Asking students to have different binders per class means they always forget or have the wrong one at home or in class. One big binder with everything it it is hard to organize. My students have had the most luck with large Case-it binders, but they’re too expensive to require in my opinion. Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 2.30.25 PM

Come July, we’ll see how it goes.

How do you use interactive notebooks, technology, and/or other tools to help students stay organized? Please place your tips and tricks in the comments!

Vol.#88: A New Principal Wish List

I am in my fifteenth year of teaching. In that time, I have had eight principals, including two interim principals. That current, eighth principal, who just hired me this school year, has been named a high-school principal in a neighboring county.

girl-619689_1280Part of the process in my county of employment is for the area superintendent to come and speak with the staff about their wishes for the new principal before they begin interviews. I’ve attended four of these meetings before. Each one has been distinctly different, but also had some recurring themes.

The Media Specialist at my school wrote the following about what she wants in a principal. She posted it on her blog, The Keeper of All Wisdom, Folly, and Knowledge, and also allowed me to share it here with you.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

What I want in a future principal

I want a principal who will take the time to understand and truly appreciate the culture of positive learning that has been created at our middle school.

I want a principal who loves middle schoolers with all their quirkiness and hormonal energy.

I want a principal who listens to her students when they want to share a problem or concern, or just updates about what television show they watched last night.

I want a principal who lets her teachers take risks, allowing her teachers to try innovative instruction.

I want a principal who empowers her teachers to take on leadership roles and who supports their professional growth.

I want a principal who is well respected in the community, who makes connections with parents and business leaders.

I want a principal who is a teacher leader first and foremost, never forgetting what it takes to do the hard stuff of teaching on a daily basis.

I want a principal who stands up for her teachers and students when the time comes.

I want a principal who listens to her teachers when they have a concern or a problem or a solution or they just want to share some personal news.

I want a principal who is seen on the campus, in the classroom, in the media center, in the cafeteria, on the athletic field.

I want a principal who implements strong teaching and learning programs that will impact student achievement.

I want a principal who makes the most of her dollars, imploring sound financial abilities to effectively and efficiently provide the materials and resources to run our school.

I want a principal who recognizes, appreciates, and supports all levels of learners from special needs students to academically gifted students.

I want a principal who understands and can effectively assess the data to make important instructional decisions and support successful teaching practices.

I want a principal who is honest, tenacious, caring, professional, vibrant, personable, organized, savvy, accountable, objective, and positive.  I want a principal who is “real”.

I want a principal who is a cheerleader, recognizing teacher and staff professional achievements and student academic, behavior, and athletic achievements.

I want a principal who communicates her expectations to her teachers, students, and parents.

I want a principal who asks questions.

I want a principal who realizes that this is “our” school – it belongs to all of us– the staff, students, parents and community — and we are all vested in our future.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Here’s to number nine being all this and more.

Something you’d add? Please post it in the comments.

Vol.#87: Thoughts On “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate”

I really love kinetic typography, and if the video is about education, all the better.

So I came upon this video this week:

I sent it to about a half-dozen other educators to see their take, because I really wrestled with the message.

On one hand, I really relate to the message that 17-year-old Suli Breaks passionately delivers, refusing to be reduced to a number on a test. I’ve written in both prose and poetic forms that students are “more than a score”. The insanity over standardized testing was even featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (You should really watch if you didn’t catch it, and if you’re not offended by some salty language.)

Anyway, back to Mr. Suli Breaks. I found much of what he said to be powerful, relatable, and certainly fair.

And yet…

There seemed to be a hint of devaluing academics in general; a playing down of the importance of one’s education, which made me uncomfortable. Several of the teachers I sent it to felt the same.

I posed this question: How does he show he values education, if he understandably does not value the testing, and that’s all he’s known education to be? How do we expect him to separate the two?

The conversation that ensued had me thinking deeper about this and how it relates to educators. I think it is similar to the crux of the problem those of us opposing the current state of standardized testing face:

  • How do we demonstrate our willingness for accountability when it has become synonymous with standardized testing?
  • How do teachers convince the powers-that-be that we value criticism, but not uninformed critics?
  • How do we explain that we value high standards, but not high stakes?

Vol.#86: Facebook vs. Twitter 

From colleagues to family, some have asked why I use both Facebook and Twitter. What is the need for two different social media venues? How much can I possibly have to say?

While there is no one way to use any digital tool, for me there is a stark difference between how I use Facebook and how I use Twitter. Simply put: Facebook is personal, and Twitter is professional. This again is certainly not the only way they could be used, but it is the way that has worked for me. I find myself often explaining how my use differs using a metaphor, and some have told me the analogy helps them. I’ve described it here in case it helps you or perhaps someone you know.

pool-115850_1280Facebook is your own personal swimming pool. You decide who is allowed to come and socialize and swim. You need to monitor your settings to know who is able to see into the windows of your establishment. You can mark people as “close friends” to follow them as a VIP and keep in closer contact with them. Your resort style might be an intimate gathering, a large vacation spot with many friends and family, or a wild spring break party hot spot. It’s a social time, fun with friends and family. And while you can’t control the conversation of all your ‘guests’, you can decide whom to invite.

niagara-218591_1280Twitter is the social media Niagara Falls. There is no controlling the deluge of information and tweets that flood the stream of social media on Twitter. You can choose who to follow, and people can choose to follow you, but essentially it’s a free-flowing river of information and you are simply targeting which ‘water’ you are more likely to sip.

When I want some ideas in the classroom, I search the key word or appropriate hashtag (#). I won’t catch everything in that topic or every tweet from someone I follow (unless they tag me in it with my @teachingspeaks name or direct message me). I just fill my cup as needed, and send out other links, images, and tidbits that I think may quench someone else’s thirst.

Cybraryman has a list of all educational chats. Following a chat is much like a chat-room of the 1990s about that topic. Following a chat is a great introduction to Twitter, since it has a structure and time parameters. It’s also a great way to find people to follow who are interested in similar topics. Of course, education is far from the only topic in Twitter. From politics to crafts, famous tv shows to obscure books, whatever your passion, there’s a feed and folks to follow.

tl,dr: Facebook is learning what’s going on in the lives of people I know, and Twitter is learning about topics I’m interested in, mostly from people I don’t.

I’ve recently added a Teaching Speaks Volumes Facebook page, which is a huge departure from the approach I’ve used for years described here. It’s an experiment still unfolding.

How do you use Social Media?

Vol.#85: Toil & Trouble

As testing season soon approaches, visions of #edreform dance like sugar plums in teachers’ heads…

Bubble Bubble

Just one of those that’s been dancing in mine.

Carry on.

Vol.#84: “Is This A Grade?”

They say there is no such this as a bad question, but, “Is this a grade?” makes me think otherwise. This is one of my least favorite questions of all time, and teachers are asked this by students often.

It reveals a student’s thought process on if a learning experience is important and worth their time or not.

I have tried several approaches to this question. I have tried to ban  the question from the classroom without success. I have tried consistently using the vague response, “All things in life are assessed.” They have been undeterred.  My students have even gotten savvy enough to know to ask, “Is this formative or summative”?

I decided I do not want to answer this question again. To that end, I have created a flow chart to post on my wall:

Is this a GRADE-

PS: I love you Piktochart.

If you would like it for your classroom as well, it is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store here.

What habits of your students do you try to break?

Vol. #83: Continued Professional Evolution

concrete

Just some recent tweets and thoughts about the importance of continued learning and collaboration for educators.

Essential Questions:

  • How do we fight the urge to become complacent?
  • How do we encourage reluctant colleagues?
  • How do we get funding for professional development reinstated?

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.#81: Nuggets of Wisdom from #NCTIES

Two days of networking, presenting, and learning. I’ve tried to capture a few #NCTIES nuggets wisdom into this one location.

The session resource page: has resources, presentation slides, and more.

I felt there were the following central recurring ideas around the  “Make IT Personal” theme:
personalize learning
technology personalizes instruction
make personal connections with students
 .
A few other gems I didn’t want you to miss when digging through the resource page…
  • Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) shares all session notes & his presentation slides here >
    • One of his cool quotes:  “Learning is very social. If no one had ever shared anything with anyone ever, no one would know anything now.”

Life of an Educator: 10 images to share at your next faculty meeting. via Justin Tarte

This video was shared in one session. Loved it…

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:

Writing Volumes About Teaching Whist Learning Volumes About Teaching

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