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Student learning is no accident!

Teaching with Online Discussions

I decided early this year that I have a responsibility to improve the quality of online discussions. As a teacher, I often feel responsible to improve the world I live in. Knowing each year, that I will spend so many hours every day with so many impressionable, mold-able citizens of the future- can sometimes feel like a lot of pressure. I know my time working on digital citizenship is well spent though, because my students have digital footprints that are growing faster than they are!

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Teaching students to have respectful, productive academic discussions online follows the same construct as teaching anything else. Students need to be taught explicitly. Students need clear, timely feedback. Students need to play an active role in creating/ designing the expectations. Students need to be exposed to and evaluate samples of the work they are being asked to create.
My students used Edmodo a great deal this year to have online discussions. Sometimes we discussed a current event, other times a shared novel. One reason I liked using Edmodo was that I had the ability to give students feedback on their posts. I also liked that I could create small discussion groups. Here is a snapshot of a reading group discussion.

Edmodo Screen Shot
I found this threaded discussion rubric online and love it! It came from Educational Origami, a blog and wiki dedicated to 21st Century Teaching & Learning. You’ll want to bookmark their page!
Based on this rubric, threaded discussion posts should:

  • Refer to posts and thread
  • Enhance the discussion
  • Be clear and concise
  • Add own opinion based on thread
  • Develop an argument (supportive or opposed)
  • Develop suitable questions
  • Critique other posts
  • Answer questions and defends stance or position

If I could go back in time, I’d have this list in mind as my goal, as I elicited student ideas about what threaded discussions should look like. We revised and narrowed our expectations as a group this year, and ended up with a similar list, but starting with the end in mind always helps!

Do you have any advice for teachers who plan to dive into online discussions this year? Have a rubric to share?

7 Ways I’ll Work Smarter in my Next 1:1 Classroom

After using a class set of Chromebooks for the whole second semester of the school year in my sixth grade Humanities class, my brain is spinning with all of the “next time I’ll…” ideas. Here are a few:
1. Simplify & standardize the creation of students’ usernames and passwords. If students are creating an account that is linked to their Google account (GAFE), having them sign in with Google was great! No password or username needed. However, it wasn’t until we had dealt with the annoying, “Um… Mrs. Sullivan, my password’s not working” too many times that one of my students mentioned that there’s a  rule in the library. My school’s amazing media specialist had already trained my students that when creating any online account they had to use their email prefix for the username (complete w/ a sequence of numbers, so no one ever got a message that their username of choice was already taken) and their lunch number for their password. As often happens in middle school- once my students walked out of the Media Center and into my classroom, they disconnected the part of their brain that they used in the Media Center. Luckily, someone had a moment of clarity… followed by a collective, “Oh yeah…” from her classmates!
2. Collaborate in product and credit. Very often I’d assign students to work together on a digital creation. As a partnership or small group they’d present their analysis of a character or pitch a new idea. While working, the students would be using one person’s account, which meant that later if one of the group members wanted to access that product they wouldn’t be able to log in and see it. This really didn’t pose many problems, however at the end of the year it occurred to me that we could avoid problems with a simple procedure. Each time students work collaboratively, they sent an email with the link and embed code to me and all group members. In the subject line, they wrote the assignment title. This was helpful because many students wanted to embed a Powtoon or Amimoto video on their blog or in their digital portfolio, and would need the embed code to do that. Note: this was not an issue when working in Google Docs, as students can easily share access.

3. Classroom Jobs: Technology Managers pass out and collect Chrome books and manage easy to tangle plugs. Help Desk Staff- These are students you can go to for help and who manage a Help Desk webpage to answer Frequently Asked Questions through text/ video tutorials.
4. Have students create and keep a Digital Portfolio Page on their website as a place to display (and reflect on) all of the digital creations they make throughout the year. I wish I had done that along the way, instead my students added it at the end of the year. I’m sure they missed some of their creations.
5. Comment on each others blog posts more often. Next time, I think I’d establish a time frame to keep this going all year. This year on a few different occasions I grouped students (across classes) into groups of 4 students. Each was responsible to comment on each of their fellow group members posts and respond to a certain number of comments. They LOVED doing this and I wish I had done it more. It increased the pride students took in their own published work when they knew they would actually have an audience, and they loved checking the stats to see how many visitors they had, which posts were most popular etc. The possibilities are endless here!
6. Encourage students to be each others’ editors more often. Here’s a rubric that students used to peer assess websites. Here’s a digital presentation rubric that my students used to both peer and self-assess their Genius Hour projects. (I adapted these from others that I found somewhere on the web… sorry that I don’t remember where! If you are the original author- thank you! I love your work, please get in touch so I may credit you!)
7. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Essay questions make great platforms for digital creations. Instead of adding an assignment, try replacing one that’s tried and true. For example, I love this assignment that I’ve been giving for a few years now, where students have to take the perspective of either the North or the South the day after the election of 1860. They used to write an editorial that would have appeared in the local newspaper. At the end of the unit, my students would also find a similar essay question on their test. I still love the assignment, the thinking and the discussions! This year though, they worked in groups… and instead of writing an editorial, they created a video that would have gone viral in either the North or the South the day after the election. They still found the same essay question on their test. This was by far- my favorite assignment of the year.

What advice do you have for someone ready to take the edtech plunge?

Got a Case of Website Amnesia?

I frequent a Sunday night Twitter chat, #edchatri, where amazing educators from all over the US help me approach the coming school week with the right attitude. During these chats, I discover amazing resources shared by fellow educators, who I now consider to be my colleagues, despite the geography that separates us. There are some Sunday nights that the quantity of resources shared can be daunting, especially if you battle web-amnesia or web-déjà vus like me. I find myself wondering “What was that page? Was it a .org or .com…” or thinking, “wait, I’ve seen this before!” much too often.

It was during one of those more resource-heavy chats that my relationship with Learnist began, and my world of organization changed forever. I remember it like it was yesterday. We were chatting about Response to Intervention (RTI in teacher-speak), one of the many current educational initiatives with which teachers all over the country are wrestling. I knew that I would certainly lose track of some of the resources being shared. I had no fewer than 8 windows open between the two browsers running  on my computer, each window holding tight to the web address of one more resource I was sure I couldn’t live without.  As I clicked and Tweeted, I kept a legal pad on my desk for extra insurance. I scribbled the URLs that seemed most important and a brief description I hoped would help me remember why I wanted to visit again later.

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As I scrolled back through the Tweets I had missed while scribbling, I saw my first ever Learnist link. Dawn Casey-Rowe had Tweeted, “#edchatri I’m making a learnistboard to summarize RTI links from chat. Helps me use later. Will finish. Here’s link http://bit.ly/SUPSWp.” Clicking on Dawn’s link helped me find the courage to close those windows, stop writing on my legal pad… and actually think about the discussion we were having.

In the coming weeks and months I would use Learnist to support the beginning teachers I was coaching, teachers I supported through Professional Development workshops, and later in my own sixth grade classroom. Read More

Let’s Get Blogging, Kids!

Getting my sixth grade students set up with their own individual blogs was a lot getting myself in the water for the first time on a beach day. The worst are the days I never make it into the water- I regret it all the way home! And just like when I finally take the plunge at the beach, once we set up our blogs, I wished I had done it sooner.

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What worked? To start, I really wanted printed out step by step directions to hand students. In order to make them as accurate as possible, I created a practice web page using my dog’s name, and took notes throughout the process. These tangible directions seemed to be valuable. Many students were able to help themselves, as Read More

The Wait is Over

What a productive week it has been… in terms of my thinking. I feel like I have made incredible progress, even though nothing tangible has happened… yet! I knew before this school year began that I wanted to get my students blogging. I also knew I was in love with the idea of Genius Hour. Here it is, January- and I cannot check either off of my To Do list. I feel confident though, that all of that will change for me this week. And the best part is, that once we begin, forward motion will ensue no matter what. What happened in the last week to push me forward from dreaming to doing? Just right collaboration, and faith… that’s what! A couple of months ago I brought my nagging “I really want to have a genius hour” plea to my high school teacher friend, who was further along in the process than me. I listened to her stories, her “what I’d do next times” and gained confidence as she reflected. Read More

Phew! They’re Chatty!

One of my biggest take aways from a New Teacher Center Mentor Academy last year was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” The focus of that academy was Coaching for Equity, and we spent timing thinking about Conditions that Support Students with Exceptionalities. Early on in that academy, one of my amazing colleagues suggested that all students are exceptional, and that became our platform as a group. We had previously agreed that the strategies that best support students in Advanced Placement classes, provide similarly rich learning experiences for students who might struggle… so this was not a huge leap for us. I spent the rest of the year seeing opportunities everywhere I looked to get kids talking! If I reflected with teachers about one idea last year it was, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.” We thought hard in kindergarten, third grade and eighth grade about how to make the most of that statement. And we all watched the videos on the NTC Oral Language Development site together.

As I get to know my new community of sixth graders this year, I find myself reflecting on these ideas daily. We often spend a great deal of energy as teachers, doing what we can to diminish students’ chatter. “If not in September, then when?” we rhetorically ask each other as we defend our systems of consequences. This year, a nagging voice in my head keeps reminding me that, “the ones who are doing the talking are doing the learning.”

Now, I know that the kids who are talking about what happened in PE instead of setting up their desks for my class, are not (in that moment) doing the learning in my classroom. Believe me, I’m not proposing a ban on silent homeroom (how could I survive?), silent moments or organization, or silence anywhere else that it benefits student learning. I am wondering though… how I can capitalize on the fact that these students like to talk.

What I am proposing is that we take the chatter and grow it into academic conversation. Let’s turn these talkers into active listeners! I recognized on Tuesday that I am sharing a room with some very social 11 year-olds this year. Today, after a 60 second turn and talk responding to the prompt, “what do you know about a seed story or a watermelon story,” I was sure this was the right move.

One student raised his hand and said loudly (in a lunchroom voice), “Zachary suggested that a seed story was a story about one small thing that happened, but was really important.” He then turned and looked at Zachary for approval, who nodded, and added, “and I agree.” Next, I did 3 internal cartwheels and I calmly provided specific feedback about the way he used his partner’s name, and how actively he must have been listening to provide such a response, and smiled.

This was amazing positive reinforcement for me! And, this incredible moment was no accident… I know, because I’ve been carefully dissecting the moments leading up to what I now realize was (drum roll please) my most successful moment of the entire school year. Here’s what I found supported this amazing moment:

As I gave the turn and talk prompt, I told the students I would be paying close attention to how actively they would be listening to each other. I told them I would not be asking them to share out their own ideas, but instead a partner’s. I listed some sentence stems on the board as they talked like, “My partner______ said…” and “Talking with ___ changed my thinking  because ____…” and “_____ suggested.” I will continue to encourage the use of these sentence stems in my classroom as evidence of active listening during collaboration.

How will you harness the strengths your students arrived with this week? What amazing moment of teaching and learning happened in your classroom today… and what did you do to engineer it?

Looking Forward to Celebrating Successes Together,

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New Year’s Resolutions & Goal Setting Success

As a student, I always saw September as an opportunity to rewrite my story. I could make a good impression on my new teachers. I would keep better track of my materials and assignments and maybe even be one of those kids that seemed to “have it all together.” These days, I still find myself resolving to do better every September, and… I’ve gotten much better at actually making progress toward the goals I set!

One goal at a time. I am more likely to make progress toward my goal if I focus on one at a time. This is really hard for me, but I remind myself that it worked the year I vowed to “use a classroom website in a meaningful way” as well as the year I hoped to “involve families in academics.” The years I pledged to significantly change my assessment methods, overhaul reading conferences and exercise every day, I did not feel nearly as successful.

Share with a supportive colleague. This makes all the difference in the world for me! Having the opportunity to share my goal and talk through it with someone is valuable, especially if we schedule time to reflect on it regularly, and check in on each other. Having a partner prevents me from getting stuck and giving up because we can trouble shoot together and provide support and encouragement. Feeling responsible to someone else keeps me focused and decreases the likelihood that I will get so busy I completely forget that I set a goal!

Know Success. I am much more likely to be successful if I decide in advance what achieving my goal will look like. The year I set a goal to “be more organized” (always a much needed goal for me) I never felt like I had achieved it. I definitely made positive changes in planning and tried out a binder system an amazingly organized colleague showed me… but, I wasn’t clear with myself from the start. Now, I like to brainstorm what success might look like and revisit it and revise it as I work to make progress. (Here are my ideas about what this year’s goal might look like in action.) This way, once I’ve achieved my goal I can think clearly about moving on to another or expanding my work in the same are.

Self-assessing followed by goal setting is a process that supports me in developing or changing my practices. What goal are you working toward this year?

image from doblelol.com

image from doblelol.com

 

 

PD or Infomercial?

After hearing/ reading the unrelenting enthusiasm of my colleagues who have attended ‘edcamps’ and ‘unconferences,’ I determined I needed to experience this phenomenon for myself. Could it really be that everyone who attended these events got exactly what they wanted and more? People who had experienced unconference-style events reported feeling professionally satisfied, respected and invigorated.
My attitude is generally pretty ‘glass-half-full…’ maybe even mostly full. This however, seemed too good to be true. I’ve watched enough late night infomercials to know that when something sounds like a win-win, and costs only 4 easy payments of $49.95 (a much better deal than $200)- your best move is to change the channel.

products as seen on tv

I’ve tested that theory a few times just to be sure, and my juicer, food dehydrator and wavy hair-maker all insist- my theory is correct (too good to be true). In the name of research however, I thought I should look a little more deeply into this idea of no-cost, participant led, free-learning that everyone was raving about.
My research told me that the closest edcamp event to me wasn’t until August, so I needed to get creative if I was going to get to the bottom of all this hype.
I decided my colleagues’ constant quest for knowledge, might provide an opportunity to bring the research specimen directly to me! Some of my (amazing) colleagues had been exposed to a variety of tech tools while coaching around the state this year- and their interest was peaked. “I just need time to sit and let someone show me this without pressure,” said one coach as she was getting to know Drop Box. Another asked again, “Can’t we just put some time aside so that the people who are using Twitter can help the rest of us get started? They’re learning so much!” The teacher in me heard: “I am ready- teach me now!” The conspiracy theorist in me wondered, “did someone pay them to ask that? Are they like the live studio audience at the taping of an infomercial?” Nevertheless, my wheels were turning!
The teacher in me won out. I networked with two other coaches to explore how we might utilize an unconference style format to meet the very diverse learning interests of our colleagues. We took our cues from David Wees, who has posted valuable details about Edcamp Vancouver, and linked to Kristen Swanson’s TED talk about organizing Edcamp Philly.

Shawn Rubin, who organizes EdCampRI (which is coming up in October-yes!!), was also key in supporting the event by sharing his insight and reflections, as we found ourselves looking for answers. It’s so helpful to talk to someone who has done something before, pick their brain about the logistics you just don’t read about in an article or blog post, and breathe a sigh of relief, realizing it’ll all work out. And it did!
Our unconference was small- about 35 participants in all. But, it yielded some serious learning. You can see pictures and comments Tweeted that day on our Storify.
Upon reflection, it seems like those educators who told me how great their experiences at unconferences were telling the truth… I guess they weren’t paid actors, like I suspect everyone in the studio audience of an infomercial is. I shouldn’t be surprised. Educators are dying to learn new strategies to engage students and families… on their own terms! Engagement at the unconference was high- really high. At one point, we tried to interrupt learning to transition to the next session… and it just didn’t happen. No one wanted to stop their learning conversation for a minute. For me- that was the highlight of the day! My brain was fried when the day was over. I learned SO much. And, I’ve been playing with the new tools and tricks I picked up that day…a lot.

Brain map

Unfortunately, not everyone who wanted to attend was able. In fact, a few people who we really wanted to share this experience with, couldn’t make it on June 26- which was kind of a bummer. Then, though people started asking, “when’s the next one?” which led us to wonder if there might be a next one. Maybe my research isn’t done yet. Maybe June 26th is a little like the first month I had my juicer, before it was relegated to the way back of the cabinet to collect dust. I should probably experience more unconferences before I draw any conclusions. And maybe, I should dust off that juicer in the meantime.

Juicers

Reflection: Ain’t nobody got time for THAT!

For the last two years I have been welcomed into many classrooms as a coach, or as my favorite mentor Jan so accurately describes: a thought partner. When she used that language two years ago during our first New Teacher Center Mentor Academy, I had no idea just how connected I would feel to that phrase today. I have partnered with some incredible thinkers over these two years. Some of these thinkers have been my fellow coaches, the teachers I support and their administrators.

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Teachers Respond to National Tragedy

Dear Teachers,
This morning I reflected once again, on the important roles we all play in the lives of so many children. This past week was an emotional roller coaster for so many of us. Glued to the news, many of us saw images and scenes play out that seemed more like clips from a film (set anywhere but here) than breaking news.
As educators, we do our best to control our students’ experiences… to set them up for discovery, inquiry, and success. One variable that remains out of our control is our students’ experiences outside of school.
Many of us tomorrow, will return to our students and to our schools after a week away.
Know that each of your students, and each of their families experienced this week Read More

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