Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Evernote Presentation for Conferences!

Oh, Evernote.  It just keeps on making me smile.  Who knew conference prep could be so easy?

Recently I heard about Evernote presentation mode.

From Evernote:


Since I use Evernote for just about everything, I wondered how I could use presentation mode....and then it was conference time.  (cue the music)

How to use Evernote presentation mode for conference time?

First I created a structure for my time in conferences.  I thought about what I wanted to share with parents and set up a structure like this:
  • student commentary
  • shifts in books since the beginning of the year
  • reading growth 
  • writing growth
  • assessment information
  • reading calendars 
  • strengths
  • next steps
  • helping at home *
  • class links *
* same across all notes

I then made topic headings and pulled in the pieces I knew would be consistent across conference notes.  When the note outline was created I then duplicated it and created one for each student.  Finally, I added examples of student responses to questions about their growth as a reader using audio, attached pictures of snippets of text and writing samples, created post-its listing strengths and next steps, and then linked to assessment and calendar information.  

After completing the note I was ready for conference conversations.  In the conference I just pulled up the conference note, switched to presentation mode, and began to chat.  It was easy to stay on track in the conference.  Smooth.

Here's how it worked:

Evernote.  Love it!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Digital Literacy: Important for Young Learners?

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learningMargaret Simon hosts a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche (today's link-up) to read, discover, and link.  

This week has given me much to think about in relation to digital literacy with young learners.  A few recent posts have popped into my feed in the last week:
In addition to these posts supporting or questioning the use of technology with young learners, I recently attended our district's professional day:  Hilliard University.  This day was full of energy as educators shared the work they are doing in public education and the possibilities for our students.  There were discussions of blended learning, literacy, student voice, and collaboration.  There were discussions of learning beyond the four walls of our classrooms and connecting learners to larger networks.

Finally, like every week, I've had opportunities to work side by side with young learners.  It is this work that most often shapes my thinking about whether young learners should use digital devices.  All of these opportunities and conversations have been swirling as I've considered what is best for the young learners I work with every day.

The Problem with All or Nothing
The questions aren't easy.  There are many things to think about when making decisions for young learners.  There are important considerations for their development, learning, and growth.  My grandma used to say, "Everything in moderation, nothing in excess."  I often think of her when these conversations of all or nothing begin.  We seem to be this way about many things in our society.  Left - right.  Only phonics - no phonics.  Banned books.  Digital books - no digital books.  Digital tools - no digital tools.

Perhaps it is when we begin these conversations of all or nothing, yes or no, that we need to step back to wonder if we are asking the right questions.  This is the case with this, "Should young learners have digital tools?", conversation.  Perhaps the question is, how can we best utilize digital learning for young learners?  How do we help young learners navigate new literacies?  What is worth their time?  What is not?

Let's begin with the conversation started by Nancie Atwell.  In her recent post, Nancie stated, "I have concerns about them [iPads] in the younger grades. In fact, I think the trend of iPads in the primary classroom is a mistake."  I have much respect for Atwell, but as a primary teacher I see the use of technology in young classrooms much differently.  One of the first professional books I remember impacting my teaching was Nancie Atwell's, In the Middle.  At the time I was teaching sixth grade and trying to find a way to develop the readers and writers in my classroom.  Atwell transformed my teaching.  She made me see the value of a workshop and I began finding ways to create time for the students in my classroom to write.  It would take years for me to feel comfortable in the workshop and to this day I constantly work to improve my practice.  Yet, without a workshop students wouldn't have ownership of their learning.  The workshop she told me about years ago has evolved over time.  The workshop is now part of a digitally connected learning community.

Now let's consider the conversation of Troy and Kristin.  Like the two of them, I have found digital literacies to be opening new doors for my students.  Lately my workshop, inspired many years ago by Nancie Atwell, has been transformed by the digital world that has stepped into my classroom.  As a teacher of primary children, when I first began trying new tools and technologies I wasn't sure my students could or should be using them.  I found blogging to be a simple place to begin to step into the world of technology and what I saw pushed me further especially because my students were so engaged by the writing on a blog.  Most importantly, I became less necessary in the classroom.  Students found their voices.  They discovered their messages mattered to their friends and to others beyond our classroom --- beyond our school.  It wasn't long until my students pushed me past blogging and into other tools for composition.

What Digital Learning Is and What It Is Not
I'm not sure the question is a "yes students should have tools" or a "no students shouldn't have tools" question.  In her article, Ziemke states,  "We want kids to be intentional about how they choose the tool and think about how the tool enables them to revise, alter the layout and share the writing." Our responsibility as educators has always been to develop the literate lives of our students (see NCTE 21st Century Literacies:  A Policy Research Brief).  In today's world, being literate in print isn't enough.  We would be doing a disservice to ignore the digital media that surrounds us every day.  Let's be honest, our news, information, financial decisions, and communication are driven by digital technologies.

The challenge we must rise to is asking the right questions and making thoughtful decisions.  I often hear from those resistant to technology that children need to play, to discover, to create, to communicate so they shouldn't use technology, yet that is exactly what technology allows when used thoughtfully.

When I become concerned about technology:
  • When students are using it to learn rote tasks.
  • When students are using it to answer multiple choice questions or complete, what I'll call, "digital worksheets."
  • When technology is used to keep kids busy.
  • When children are only playing video games.
  • When children are unsupervised.
  • When the time on devices exceeds the time to play.
  • When children are not given choices about technology.  
  • When children do not have fluid access to technology.  

What technology can be:
  • ONE way to read a story.
  • ONE option of many possibilities.
  • A place for children to create.
  • A way for children to share their thinking with others.
  • A way to connect with other learners.
  • A way to collaborate and build something together. 
  • A way to find answers to questions.
  • A place for students to have a voice TODAY.  

New Opportunities for Literacy
For me the question isn't "yes technology" or "no technology" but, instead, how do we utilize technology to leverage learning?   I don't have all of the answers to this question or the other thoughtful ones we should be asking.  What I do know is that some of my students prefer to use technology.  For some students technology allows them to find ways to share their thinking when capturing their complex understandings, within the stages of beginning writing development, can be hard.  That being able to draw, write, and talk about a topic can help them to think deeply about books, concepts, and ideas.  That being able to share their thinking gives them power now.  That listening, reading, commenting, and considering the work shared by friends can help them learn to consider new perspectives.

A few years ago I had a young learner in my class who found writing tasks very difficult.  He was receiving reading intervention services and didn't see himself as a reader or a writer.  As students shared at the end of our workshops, he never shared.  He didn't want to take his books home from his intervention teacher.  One day, he wrote a post on his blog about Jan Thomas.  He shared one of her books with our learning community.  Students loved his post and began wanting her books in the classroom.  Across the year, he would blog about books and became the expert.  Friends wanted his advice and asked about books he was reading.  He became a reader, not because of the skills he was learning, but because of the opportunities created through digital literacies.  I don't think this would have happened for him without these digital opportunities.

Since that time my students have continually pushed my thinking about digital literacies.  They've helped me to see that digital learning can:
  • develop oral language
  • allow opportunities to purposefully create and compose for a real audience
  • make learning play-like
  • ease the challenges of writing for young learners
  • grow the complexity of writing for young learners
  • provide alternate reading opportunities for beginning readers
  • broaden our perspective
  • develop our empathy
  • strengthen a community
Ultimately, no matter the age of our students, it isn't an all or nothing question.  It's about choice.  Digital tools are one way students can participate in our literate world.  It isn't all or nothing, one or the other.  Some of my students prefer a book, some a pencil, some markers, and some an iPad.  The opportunity to make those decisions with purpose will remain a part of our classroom.

To me, it's not



It's this AND that.  It's about choice and opportunity for both.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Changing Our View

Every day I'm reminded of how fortunate I am to be teaching and learning with the colleagues in my school.  In my new position supporting readers, I'm continually in and out of classrooms, taking time to talk with teachers, and seeing the work they do with students.  I'm continually humbled.  I'm also continually challenged to keep up and adequately support the work these educators do every day.

Recently I've been reminded of this again.  Imagine my joy when I received these emails from the classroom teachers of a few of the students I support showing me new steps of learning in their classrooms.  I'm used to sharing next steps with parents and teachers via Evernote, but I haven't really ever been on the receiving end of these joyous celebrations until recently.  These emails celebrated where students were as learners and honored the ways they were growing.

This sample of student writing shows how this student is growing her understanding of story.  It also demonstrates shifts in her oral language and confidence.  I was thrilled when her teacher, Deb Frazier, sent this to me!

Click HERE to listen to the conversation. 
This next example is one sent to me of a student we have been supporting to think of his message before getting started with tools to create.  He wasn't just expected to make the change, you can see in the picture the way his teacher has been supporting him before he got started with his work.

This is a picture of one of my students leading a book talk about Danny books she has been reading in her classroom.  Her teacher, Marie Nixon, made my day by sharing it with me.  She's quickly becoming a reading leader in her community.

When Pete the Cat and His Magic Glasses was published, I fell in love with its message.  Sometimes just changing our view makes everything better.  How lucky these students are to be in classrooms where teachers recognize and celebrate these new steps as they grow as literacy learners.

In my new position had a few questions I had started my year asking:

  • How do I support readers in a way that works for each child?  (In other words, children's needs before system, teacher, my own needs.)  
  • How do I advocate for children and celebrate the steps they make as learners with them, their teachers, and their families?  
  • How do I help these readers connect to their reading communities?
  • How do I connect the work we do to their independent reading and daily learning in their classrooms?  
  • How do I support teachers without giving them one more thing to do?

It's easy in teaching to fall into a "what needs fixed" mentality.  Our systems are often set up to make us look as deficits instead of strengths.  We have to work hard to keep our thinking and conversations focused on what children can do.  I'm grateful to these classroom teachers for their persistence in finding the little steps to celebrate and supporting these young learners in their journey.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Finding a Place for Little Books in Early Elementary Classrooms

A picture of a student I support leading
a book talk with friends in her classroom.
(Shared with my by her teacher.
Yep, that made my day.)
A Step Inside
As teachers we spend days, weeks, months, years, growing our libraries for the readers who live in our learning communities.  We find deals at bookstores, visit book sales, and max out our library cards.  We work to fill our libraries for young readers with picture books readers will want to read again and again.  This week I was reminded that we need to remember little books as we grow our shelves for young readers.

When I entered Marie Nixon's first grade classroom the room was abuzz with activity.  Students were just arriving for the day.  Friends greeted one another, read the morning message, and began to read books at their tables.  I walked to the small table where students were seated to read with a student I support.  I'd brought a Danny book for her to read during our time together, and the boy beside her smiled longingly at the book.  She's a big Danny fan so I've been peppering our reading with this character.  I wished I had another copy, but I had only brought one.  We started to read.

The boys sitting beside us began to talk excitedly about We Like Fish.  "I love this book," one boy said to the other.  The other nodded in agreement, pulled another little book out of the basket and began to sell a favorite to his friends.  This conversation excitedly continued as titles were passed back and forth between students.

Honoring Little Books
When I walk into Marie Nixon's room each day, I know her class loves books.  I'm greeted constantly by books I really must check out, reminders to visit family Shelfari shelves, and excited chatter about titles going home.  I've already noticed how their talk has evolved from loving books to knowing some authors and characters; the way they've started to talk about what is happening in the story without giving away an ending.  I've already noticed that her students love books - all books.  They love picture books and digital books.  They love big books and little books.  They love funny books and serious stories.  All books hold equal weight in her classroom.  What has stood out to me is the way little books, often a good match for these young readers, are loved and enjoyed by all readers in this room.  Little books are treated as equals in her classroom, no more or less important than the other books resting around her room.

As a classroom teacher, I spent years building a library that allowed my students to move beyond little books as I searched for picture books that they could read and enjoy.  Thankfully, there are many authors who have helped young readers to grow by writing books they can pick up and read.  Where would be without authors like Mo Willems, Jan Thomas, and Eric Carle?  These are a few of the authors who've helped children step into picture books.  These picture books have helped us to grow our libraries and introduce books to young readers that are easily found in the library and bookstores they visit.  Picture books with language patterns, strong picture support, and accessible vocabulary can help support young readers.  Marie's room is filled with picture books for her young readers.

What has caught my attention in her room is the way her students love little books equally.  They're not considered something they have to read or something not as interesting.  It's easy to move little readers to our closets. These texts, often leveled for the benefit of teachers to make it easier to match books to readers during instruction, are often overlooked for independent reading.  We know they help us with our small groups as we work to match text to our teaching points, but sometimes it is easy to forget how much they help all emergent and early readers get off to a good start.  Additionally we sometimes forget how much our readers working hard to catch up to peers need these books and need to feel they are just as important as the more challenging texts in our classrooms.

In my time in this classroom, I've admired the way this community honors little books.  Students aren't picking out leveled books from a numbered/lettered tub, they're finding the books around the room.  They're not being handed the books they need to read, they're selecting the books they want to read.  I can tell Marie has selected titles that most of her readers in her room can read with success.  I can tell she's thoughtfully sprinkled them around the room so they are always within reach.  Most of all, she's supported conversations about these books and helped students to see the deep thinking needed to really understand their messages.  Marie has reminded me of the importance of honoring little books in our classroom.

Ways to honor little books:
  • Include little books in library tub collections.  It's easy to add them to collections of books about friends, family, dogs, cats, being brave, and other topical collections.    
  • Find little books that match shared reading books available.  
  • Read little books aloud in focus lessons, in extra minutes discovered in the day, and for enjoyment.  
  • Place little books on tables or within easy reach of students.
  • Have book talks about little books.
  • Allow opportunities to create in response to little books.  
  • Remember there is big thinking in the little books.