Monday, October 30, 2017

Looking Back and Planning Ahead

Quarter One Recap

Over the summer, I spent some time reflecting about the changes I wanted to make to my instructional practices this school year. I set two very large goals. First, I decided move to a math workshop model for daily math instruction. During our first quarter, we successfully settled into the daily expectations and flow of learning. My co-teacher and I have seen huge student benefits using this model including small group instruction, daily differentiation, and greater student motivation. With teaching about six or seven students at a time, we also have a much clearer understanding of each student’s progress toward mastery. At the end of quarter one, we started moving toward blended learning by incorporating technology into our workshop. We are excited to move forward with our workshop model next grading period.

My second large goal for this year is to incorporate at least one student project inspired by my graduate school learning each grading period. During the first quarter, my students used their Chromebooks to record video book talks and provide peer feedback as a performance assessment for our first language arts unit. My students learned important language concepts and technology skills while boosting their confidence when publishing work online.

Quarter Two Projects

There are two projects that I think my students are ready to take on this grading period that I’m pretty excited about!

Visual Literacy and Graphic Novels

I recently had a Donor’s Choose grant funded by some very generous donors to supply my class with sets of graphic novels. I learned all about the importance of visual literacy for our 21st century students this summer. I studied the benefits of graphic novels in teaching visual literacy, and now I plan to apply those concepts during small group instruction.

Some educators and parents are probably skeptical about using graphic novels and comics to teach reading skills and concepts. I used to agree with the stigma that comics and graphic novels aren’t “real reading” because I thought you need lots of text in order to engage in deep comprehension and improve reading skills. I’ve learned, though, that graphic novels are actually quite sophisticated. They require readers to practice abstract skills like making inferences, understanding symbolism and metaphors, and using point of view. What better way to engage reluctant readers to analyze text for deeper meaning?

Graphic novels also provide our students with practical and motivating ways to interpret information in different ways than traditional prose. More and more, student are acquiring information on the internet through videos, graphic depictions, models, and interactive learning modules. Learning to analyze and understand images through reading graphic novels is both relevant and beneficial for our digital learners.

If you’re interested in reading more about using graphic novels in your reading instruction, I recommend these two quick resources: NCTE’s Using Graphic Novels in the Classroom, and Scholastic's Comic Books.  

Student Blogging

There are so many potential learning benefits with student blogging. Not only can student create content for an authentic audience, they also have ownership and purpose for their writing. This quarter, I am having my students complete a weekly blog post to reflect on their learning for the week. They can post about anything they learn about as a way of processing their learning and setting goals for the following week. Classmates can comment and make connections to their peers, and parents can track their student’s weekly reflections and support their learning at home.

I have chosen to have student blogs center around reflection because I think it is a valuable learning task that is currently lacking in my classroom. Mindshift’s writing, What Meaningful Reflection On Student Work Can Do for Learning, says that in order for reflection to be meaningful, it must be metacognitive, applicable, and shared with others. I think it will take time to coach my students toward this type of reflection and away from simple summarization, but I think it will be incredibly beneficial for their learning.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Success with Video Book Talks

When setting my personal goals for this school year, I decided that I wanted to incorporate at least one new technology project per grading period. For the first quarter, I implemented a performance assessment that I created last year in which students use technology to create video book talks.

I expected that this project would give my students opportunities to practice 21st century skills and create genuine content for an authentic audience. The implementation of this assessment far exceeded my expectations, though. During our reflection time together, I realized that my students took risks, overcame fears, and grew as a community. Wow! What a powerful and worthy use of our time!

Video Book Talks

The performance assessment I’m implementing follows our first fiction unit in which students learned summarizing, inferencing, story elements, supporting ideas with details from the text, and the writing process. The assessment I created requires students to analyze story elements and apply summarizing skills in order to create a video book talk for a peer audience. Students must use writing skills to compose an organized script along with speaking skills to clearly communicate their ideas to the audience.

The benefit of adding technology allows students to produce genuine work that their peers will benefit from. Students can view multiple book talks for a variety of purposes: discover a new book to read, practice making appropriate comments in a discussion, provide feedback for peers, and compare or contrast various book talks for the same book. Moreover, the natural accountability of performing for a peer audience is great motivation for students to do their best work.

Here is the task I presented to my students:
The local library is creating a collection of book talks to introduce students to interesting books. As a librarian, your job is to write a script and create a video book talk explaining the main events and elements of a story without giving away the ending.

Creating Student Projects

Creating our book talks took about a week, including investigating elements of effective book talks, modeling, and student work time. I allowed students to choose their own picture books from our library to read and discuss.

I was expecting it to take a while to help 33 students record their book talks, especially because we cannot record at the same time due to noise levels. What I didn’t consider is that it would take us about an hour of recording time. As it was, my co-teacher and I were joined by our friend and instructional coach, Laura. She joined us so that we could better meet the needs of our students while recording. My co-teacher lead whole-group activities in the classroom while Laura and I helped students to record their book talks in a smaller setting. I know it will be a bit quicker in the future, because students will be familiar with the process and each student won’t need quite so much support.

There are so many options out there to use for a project like this like Padlet and Flipgrid. Instead, I decided to use the learning hub, our learning management system. I simply made a class discussion where students could record their book talks using the built-in recording option within my online class in the hub. Once students submit their work within our discussion, the class has instant access to view and comment on everyone’s work. There is no need for any additional software, and it’s easy for my students to navigate.

Student Responses

I was also surprised by how nervous my students were. They were very excited throughout the week with the promise of making videos. So, when it came time to record, I found myself reassuring many- MANY- students that they were going to do a great job. It was a nice reminder for me that my students were taking a social risk with this project. In the end, each student completed their book talk and published for our class.  

Here are a few highlights from our class discussion when reflecting about our work for the day:

“I was nervous, but I’m glad I did it because now I know I can.”
Wow! What a powerful statement. I didn’t consider that this assessment would be a way for my students to build their confidence in this way. I knew they would be trying something new, but they had such a sense of accomplishment. I am so proud of them for taking a risk and learning just how great they can be! I even had one student say, “It was fun to see myself on TV. I like me!”

“I don’t want people to see my mistakes.”
This led to a really great discussion about our classroom community being a place where our best work doesn’t have to be perfect. We talked about how we make mistakes with each other every day when reading, solving math problems, and building friendships. When I asked students to raise their hand if they made a mistake in their video, every single student raised their hand. Relief swept through the room when students realized mistakes were a common occurrence.

“I wasn’t so good at it yet.”
Yet. I love that little word. While this student was critical of her work, she has the expectation that she can grow in these skills. She has a growth mindset. Hooray!

My students were also able to give me valuable feedback for the next time we make video recordings. They want to be able to record in private, so that others aren’t watching or walking through their recording in the background. They’d also like more time to record multiple takes so they could pick their best video. Finally, some students would like the choice of doing an audio recording rather than a video. I think this is a wonderful option to offer for students who are feeling too nervous to be on screen.
Small group recording

Following some modeling on specific feedback, my students also provided each other with valuable comments. After our comment session was through, students took time to read through their comments and then verbally compliment their peers in class. You should have seen my kiddos shine! Our final step was to write comments on our own threads stating goals for our next book talk assignment. I’m really looking forward to how my students will grow the next time we do this.

Listening to peer book talks

Providing feedback for peers through comments

A Note on Performance Assessments

In a time in which achievement measured by standardized tests is a priority, my goal is to provide an alternate assessment tool that can assess the application of skills identified as critical for success in society today beyond typical paper and pencil tests. In my opinion, our standardized approach to assessment doesn’t fully measure the complex skills our students need for success. If students can practice and demonstrate higher order thinking, creative problem solving, and other 21st century skills, they will be better prepared for their futures.

As I was creating various performance assessments last year, I chose to start with the skills that real scientists, writers, and other professionals apply in their work because I want my students participating in genuine learning experiences. The types of products these professionals create were a starting point as I began upgrading my assessments.

Moreover, I want my students to be engaged and motivated by authentic and challenging learning activities, so I created the assessments to be situational. Each task gives students a specific role and authentic challenge that adults and professionals could be found engaged in on a daily basis.  This way, students can fully experience the content they are learning about with real-life application, rather than simply reading about it.

I’m so pleased that I used this assessment with my students. I can’t think of a traditional test that I’ve ever given that challenged my students personally, socially, and as a community. This assessment not only checked student learning, it extended it. That’s a win!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Blended Learning & Math Workshop

We are wrapping up quarter one and I could not be more pleased with our math workshop.One of my personal goals for this year was to begin math workshop with my students and eventually incorporate blended learning. We are well on our way, and I’m pretty convinced that I never want to teach whole group math again!


The original plan for math workshop was to have students work with a teacher each day (either myself or my co-teacher) and rotate through three other stations. With 33 students, we felt like we were losing too much time in transitions. To solve that problem, we decided to simply list independent tasks to complete for the day and allow students work through the daily list from their seats.

An added benefit to this update is that our groups are much more fluid. We are not confined to a timed schedule so that all students have equal time for each task.  If one group of students only needs a few minutes of review, then we can spend more time with students who need more time with us. When a student missed days instruction due to illness, we were able to keep him with a teacher for two rotations and skip independent work for that day.

We typically group in one of three ways. First, we have our general math groups based on how quickly students typically master math content. We also group students according to specific skill data from pretests and quick checks. Finally, we sometimes group students so that they have a partner to work with independently. Partners are chosen so that students who need coaching are paired with a peer who can provide support while working away from the teacher.

Heading Toward Blended Learning

We have been using our Chromebooks to practice math skills during independent time through xtramath and iXL all along, but last week we took a major step toward blended learning in our math workshop. The difference between blended learning and tech integration is the connection between online learning and face-to-face learning. Initially, we integrated technology to allow students to practice math facts and review previously taught content. Now, however, we are able to connect our online learning content directly to our small group lessons.

With the use of my new document camera provided by a grant through Donor’s Choose, I started creating simple teaching videos for my students who are working independently. So far the videos I have created provide additional guided practice for my students. I work through a series of problems while my students follow along by solving problems with me. The connection between online learning and face-to-face learning is strengthened when we use data to determine student needs and respond accordingly.
This student is practicing mixed number and improper fraction conversions.

I saw a handful of benefits last week including students working at their own pace- pausing and replaying the video as often as they needed. Students could also choose to work with me on the video, or pause and solve the problem, then watch it to check their work. Looking forward, I’m really excited about a few added benefits like students being able to access these teaching videos from home. Parents will be able to see how we are practicing in class and better support their learners. Also, students who are absent can review material from home, or after they return during independent time, meaning they miss less instruction.

Every student said that they enjoyed practicing through video. They commented that it was like working one-on-one with the teacher because other students did not distract them. They also commented that they liked working at their own pace. Some students said that they liked not feeling rushed, while others said they appreciated that they could practice independently when they no longer needed help. Many of my students challenged themselves to solve problems on their own, and they felt so accomplished because they could see their progress.

A Moment of Perfection

My co-teacher and I were amazed at the efficiency of our math block after just one day of incorporating teaching videos with our students.

We used a quick check to determine which students needed more support with certain skills. Some students didn’t meet with a teacher at all that day because they didn’t need to. All the other students had the opportunity to work on the same skill in three different ways: face-to-face with a teacher, blended learning through videos, and digital visual models through iXL.
These learners are using visual models online through iXL.

She has paused the teaching video to take a moment to
think about how to solve the next problem. 

Here's the most amazing thing. The group that I met with second had already worked through the teaching videos before I was ready to work with them. I asked them to solve two quick problems when they came to me, and only two of the seven students in that group still needed my face-to-face help. Five students met proficiency from the digital practice and self-reflection they participated in online. Automatically, my group of seven was reduced to two, and those kiddos were able to have all my attention for intense intervention.

Seriously, I’m never going back to whole-group teaching during my math block. While we have a lot of room to grow in the variety of online content we provide for our students, we are certainly heading in the right direction!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Art in Our Digital World

Kelly is our art teacher. She sees about 800 students a week ranging from Kindergarten through sixth grade. With only 45 minutes with each class, Kelly faces a time crunch to teach content, provide adequate time for her students to create art, and clean up at the end of each class. Lately, Kelly has been using digital art tools for some of her lessons with her third through sixth grade students.

Using technology tools in art class has many benefits. First, students are naturally motivated to explore and create digitally. Some online tools allow students to create projects relatively quickly, changing colors, shapes, and overall designs almost instantly. This allows young artists freedom to explore with less risk. Students are also able to create new work or continue working on their art projects even when they are not in Kelly’s studio because they can access their work online.

Digital technology tools also solve a great deal of problems related to materials. Just imagine the materials needed for 800 students to participate in art each week. It’s staggering! Digital tools don’t require additional materials, and students don’t require much time to clean up at the end of art either, meaning they have more time to be artists. Finally, using digital tools allows students to explore and create art in a variety of mediums. It’s also a great way to teach graphic design and media creation skills. Combining digital tools as well as traditional art projects allows young artists to experience many different aspects of art.  

Kelly has created some really interesting and engaging lessons to help her students learn how to use the art tools needed for various projects. Her fourth graders explored Sketchpad and learned how to use their webcam while also learning about a famous artist. Students used the webcam to take a picture of themselves and then imported it into sketchpad, where they drew a mustache to match the artist they read about.

Last week my fourth graders finished a digital project in the art studio with Kelly as a performance assessment for the unit “Elements of Color.” Students used Sketchpad, a program allowing artists to paint, draw, sketch, and manipulate graphics, to create an image inspired by nature. Students were expected to demonstrate their understanding of complementary colors and saturation levels.  

There are many benefits of using Sketchpad for this project. Students were able to better focus on the concept of color because Sketchpad offers a variety of shapes and images they can choose to include. Color saturation is easily manipulated digitally, and students expressed that they liked having infinite colors available to use. They weren't limited by what materials were provided, like they may have been with a traditional assignment. They liked creating art in new and different ways from the traditional art projects they made so far this year.

Check out these works in progress!

Kelly has also been using these art apps with her students:  is a great website that allows students to plan their own buildings. Students can create the shape of their building, make floor plans, and decorate the interior. This interactive website is a great way to help students see how architecture and design are forms of art.

Jacksonpollock is a famous painter known for his drip paintings. With this website, students can imitate his style without flinging paint around. Everyone wins! I made this digital painting in about 2 minutes. Give it a try! Just click to change color.
My Jackson Pollock inspired art

Kidstate is a website with numerous art applications. Kelly had her students create their own street art after learning about murals.

This is sand is an interactive sandscape website. Artists can pour digital sand in a variety of colors. Kelly challenged her students to make pictures using sand. Look at these impressive pieces! Don't be fooled- it's much more difficult than it looks.
Landscape by Melany
Minion by Elian
America by Alex

What great ways to use technology with art. Thanks for sharing your ideas, Kelly!