Thursday, December 31, 2015

My Favorite 2015 Posts

Yesterday I shared the reader favorites of 2015.  Today I thought I'd highlight my favorite posts of 2015.  Here are a ten posts you might have missed:

Growing Independent Learning Time with Our Youngest Readers:  How do we grow the amount of time our youngest readers are able to sustain independent reading?   This post discusses some ways we can work to grow this time for primary readers.

Close Reading with Primary Children:  I always catch my breath a bit when someone says "close reading with primary children."  I'm continually wrestling with whether this is an appropriate practice for our youngest of readers who still need to feel the words singing in their ears.  I'm continually wrestling with how much we slow reading down for those who are still trying to make figure out print.  We have to be careful with our youngest readers who are still finding their way into the world of literacy.  What do these readers need to know about reading closely?  What does it look like for our youngest readers?

Shared Reading in the First Days and ALWAYS:  Sometimes in our busy teaching worlds, we can overlook the power of shared experience.  Shared reading still has much possibility and provides new opportunities for supporting readers.

Reader's Workshop:  Listening for the Gems:  Ever start a lesson and you weren't really sure where you were going exactly?  Ever think, I want students to know this --- but what is the language we need?  When this happens, I like to throw things out to the students who seem to continually come through with the gems that help us to continue to move forward.

Intervention and Classroom Instruction:  Side by Side:  Supporting readers in their classrooms has opened new doors for students, but it also comes with many new questions.  What does working side by side in classrooms with students who need intervention look like?  What works?  What do we need to remember?

Keep It Moving:  Moving around our classroom during learning times is essential.  This post talks about the benefits of teachers moving to students instead of having students come to them.

Before They Arrive:  This post might be worth a reread as we come back from a break.  What are the things we need to think about --- and maybe rethink about --- to set up strong learning environments?

Digital Tools:  New Possibilities for Assessment:  How has assessment changed because of digital tools?

Have a Core of Apps:  Getting started with technology?  Choose a "core" of apps to help take those first steps.

Keeping Small Group Notes in Evernote:  I'm still working through the challenge of keeping small group notes in Evernote.  Here's one way I've discovered to keep track of small group instruction.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Building Reading Cultures: Our Reading Ambassadors

November books we were reading.
C looks at me and inquires, "Can I make a book recommendation for the news?"

"That's a great idea," I agree wondering how in the world we will accomplish it.  To make matters more complicated, we had less than fifteen minutes left in our meeting.

I can tell by the look in her eyes that C, a quiet fifth grader, already has a plan.  Walking to the computer I log into my VoiceThread account.  C sits down, pushes the video button, holds up her book, and records a recommendation for The City of Ember by Dallas Middaugh.

Before the meeting is over, she has placed her review in the news and helped two younger students create their own book recommendations.

Reading Ambassadors
Since moving from a classroom to working as a reading intervention teacher I've had to rethink community.  I've had to move from thinking about my classroom community to considering the school community.  Last year, I hosted a Slice of Life club in March for first through fifth grade writers who wanted to step up to the challenge to write everyday for a month.  I joined the first grade team in hosting Poetry Place for our school community in April.

This year I decided our school needed a group of students to inspire readers.  Students applied for the position of Reading Ambassador.  I wanted a group of students that would keep the book buzz going around school.  I also wanted a group that had readers who were already committed to reading and a few that were on their way.  From our applicants, I selected one student from each class in grades 1-5 to represent their peers.  We meet two times each month after school and help with reading events in our school.   Our meetings always begin with --- you guessed it --- reading.  We read for a few minutes, share our books, and then get busy with the business at hand.

Some of our projects include:

  • Growing our reading lives (talk about books we're reading, keeping book lists, etc.).
  • Building the buzz about books.
  • VoiceThread book reviews for our school news.
  • Creating reading posters.
  • Making book trailers.
  • Building a blog with our sister school for book recommendations.
  • Recommending books in our library for other readers.
  • Supporting our "free little library" in front of our school. 
  • In January we'll be working with our media specialist to get ready for the upcoming Caldecott Award announcement.

Readers as Leaders
During our first meeting in October, I decided to ask the students what they thought an ambassador should do and their ideas were amazing.  They had much better suggestions than I would have ever thought of myself.  In a recent blog post:  Going Schoolwide with Reading Engagement, Matt Renwick, reminds us that students have to have ownership in these groups.  His metaphor, "I know what to do with the new marker:  When ready, hand it over to students," is essential to remember.  

When C took over the computer I had no idea how we would make recommendations work, but in the push of a button she was able to lead us through the tricky part.  I'm looking forward to seeing where our ambassadors will lead us this year.  

Sunday, December 20, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Thinking About Screen Time

It's DigiLit Sunday.  Today I'm pondering screen time...

Recently I was leading a session around technology in the classroom when a teacher inquired, "Don't you worry about screen time?"  It's a smart question.  One I think a lot about.  However, I'm not sure the question is "How much screen time?" instead I wonder if we should be asking, "What kind of screen time?"  For example, yesterday was a day with a lot of 'screen time' for me.  I woke up early and wrote a post for this blog, read a book on my phone as my husband drove us to Bowling Green, and spent time creating a list of meals for break.  The reading and writing I could have done in paper formats, but I prefer to do both digitally.

As a classroom teacher I think there are different kinds of screen time.  Even pediatricians are rethinking screen times as our world changes.  When I see students work to make video book trailers, digital responses to their reading, or share their process in solving a math problem, I see that as a different kind of screen time.  When students are creating a digital composition, reading an eBook, or connecting with experts around the world, I see that as a different kind of screen time.  In my mind, tasks that could be done on paper and pencil, but the learner has chosen to work digitally as they learn, are a smart use of screen time.  Digital tools create new opportunities for us to create, connect, collaborate and work purposefully in new ways.

When I'm asked this question, "What about screen time?" I do pause.  What about it?  Recently someone forwarded an article about student learning which included an image of every student working on an iPad at the same time.  I wondered about choice when I saw the photo.  These were young children, and while there may be times everyone is on a device, I couldn't help but wonder:  What were they doing?  Was everyone completing the same task?  How long did they spend each day on devices?   Did they have opportunities to work with paper, markers, scissors, and paints?  Did they have choice between a variety of tools across their day?  Did they have time to collaborate and talk together about their learning?

I'm excited about new digital possibilities.  As someone who uses digital tools to create, learn, collaborate, and connect, I continually find new ways to work purposefully that weren't possible years ago.  However, I want digital tools to remain a choice.  I hope to create opportunities in which students can determine their purpose, choose their tool, and work with intention.  However, I'm thinking the question is less about "How much screen time?" and more about creating balanced learning opportunities for our students.  When thinking about technology use with my students I think about:

  • Who is deciding when technology will be used?
  • Is technology one choice among other tools in the classroom?  
  • Are students using technology to work in ways that weren't possible before?
  • Are students working with intention as they make choices about their learning?
  • Are students using technology to connect with others and create new learning opportunities?
  • Is technology growing their learning community?  
  • Are students using technology to amplify their voice? 
  • Are students using technology to create and grow their thinking?  
  • Who is doing more work:  the device or the learner?  In other words, who owns the learning:  the teacher, the application, or the student?
  • Is technology balanced with realtime conversation, play, and other activities necessary for continued growth and development?  
What are the questions you consider when thinking about screen time?  How do you help balance opportunities for your students?  

You Might Like:
Technology's Impact on Children's Brains
Debate Continues as to How Much 'Screen Time' Kids Should Have with Devices

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.  

Sunday, December 13, 2015

DigiLit Sunday: Sketchnoting in Evernote

It's been awhile since I've had something new and exciting to say about Evernote, but today is the day!  This week, while in a meeting, I once again noticed the small pen icon at the top of my note.

I gave it a click to discover it would be possible for me to handwrite notes while working in Evernote.  That's going to be big news for some of my friends who prefer to handwrite their notes.  It was pretty exciting news, but honestly my handwriting is sometimes hard to read; it's often reason I type in the first place.

However I've been playing a bit with sketchnoting.  Though I'm not an artist, I find the way sketchnoting requires me to think visually to be a fun challenge.  I decided to give sketchnoting a try during the meeting.  Creating a sketchnote requires much more synthesizing of information.  It really requires me to listen in a much deeper way.  I'm not sure as teachers we would find a student drawing to seem like they were truly listening, but I promise if you try it yourself you will begin to realize the challenge involved.

Here's a note I created:

The handwritten information or sketchnote then lives within the Evernote note page that has been created.  You can reopen the note to add more information.  

What I liked:
  • ease of use (much easier than using the Skitch app embedded EN)
  • palette had several color possibilities
  • I could change the width of the pen/marker
  • dots on page make it easier to add lines and consider space
  • saves within a note in the same way images do 

What I might improve:
  • the bumpiness of some parts  (That could have been my stylus.)
  • a way to enlarge parts of page for more detailed sketching
  • a way to share just the sketchnote or writing page without sharing the entire note or taking a screenshot (Maybe it's there and I haven't figured it out yet.)
  • I missed the ability to pull up the shield that allows you to place your hand on the iPad while  you work
I'm so excited about the possibility of this new tool within Evernote.  If you love Evernote, you'll want to give it a try.

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.  

Saturday, December 12, 2015

When Lessons Bomb, What We Can Learn

Last week I chose a book for one of my first grade groups.  Because I needed a bit of time after our lesson to check in with a few readers, I chose a book I thought would be on the easier side.  The text had a repetitive language pattern with only two lines of print per page.  It had a core of known words students would be able to use.  The pictures supported the print.

This group of readers was having a hard time building reading strategies.  When things were tricky they would just stop, unsure of what to do.  I was trying to help them to learn to reread when they weren't sure.  Rereading gives readers an opportunity to think about what makes sense and take a closer look at print.  It seems to give the powerless power, and give just enough time for extra thought to solve the problem.

They started off doing quite well.  The pictures helped them to figure out the pattern of the text.  In the story, a witch sneezes and blows everything away.  Page after page she blows something away.  They struggled a bit when the picture began to show more than just the one thing she was blowing away, but most worked through that.  When the story took a turn, they fell apart.  In the pictures at the beginning of the story each page shows something getting blown away and everything is a mess.  In the end, she sneezes one last time, but blows everything back into place.  The picture shows the chaotic scene has now become a beautiful house with flowers and calm.

A book that should have taken three minutes felt like it took at least fifteen.  I was caught off guard to say the least.  When lessons bomb, we have to ask ourselves why.  Why did they have such a hard time with that book?

Here are the questions I asked myself:

  • Was today's lesson just a poor book selection or should I be asking bigger questions?
  • Was today's introduction appropriate for the book or have I been giving too much support in book introductions?
  • Have I been using too many books that are structured in a particular way (this book had more of a problem/solution structure and most books we have read have been quite story-like in form)?  Do students have a sense of possible text structures?
  • Are students using their picture walk to begin to focus on the meaning of the text?
  • Do students have a true sense of story?  
  • Are students reading for meaning or just trying to get words right?  

Had that lesson gone well, I would have packed up our supplies and gone about my day.  However, the lesson taking such a turn made me slow down and wonder what I might need to be doing differently.  It made me ask myself new questions about what I might need to do to better support these readers.  It made me realize I need to take a closer look at their strengths and needs as readers.  Do I really know everything I need to know about them?  

We've all had lessons that haven't gone as planned.  I might be as bold as to say that most of our lessons don't go exactly as planned --- sometimes they go better and sometimes they flop.  It's not the fact that lessons don't go well that matters nearly as much as what we do about it.  When lessons bomb, we have to ask ourselves some questions to help us get back on track:

  • Where did the lesson take a turn?
  • What did students know that might have helped them?
  • Where did they get confused?
  • How could I have changed my language to better support students?
  • How could I have made my lesson more visible (modeling, visual charts, etc.)?
  • What would I do differently next time? 

This lesson was a reminder that I can't become complacent in the daily structures of our lesson.  I need to continue to watch, listen, take careful notes, and be thoughtful in my decision-making.  For these students, every day matters.