My How You’ve Grown!

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.-Benjamin Franklin

growing kidRecently, I saw a former student from my kindergarten class 20 years ago.  Talk about feeling old…she was very sweet and told me I hadn’t changed a bit and that I looked exactly the same.  I’m not sure if you can count some wrinkles, gray hair and a few extra pounds exactly the same but I’ll take it.  However, even if I look the same on the outside, I’m definitely different on the inside.

The way I look at teaching and learning has changed.  Obviously over a career span of 24 years, change is expected.  But some of the most significant change has come in the last 2 years as I moved into the role of a facilitator and my students began taking charge of their learning. Through the systematic implementation of the reading and writing workshop approach and by infusing the classroom with the technology from the iPad, my students learn from each other and from a range of collaborative experiences.

This year, I’ve focused on students creating content through a variety of apps and personalizing their learning by giving them choice in these apps.  What this has done has given my students freedom in  demonstrating what they know.  In addition, because they have freedom of choice, they are more engaged and they are retaining more information. Re-teaching skills has been replaced with students collaborating with each other and learning to problem solve together.

Life is messy and not all problems are solved with a “one correct answer” response.  Part of my change and growth has come in allowing my students to grapple with problems on their own or in a group and having them see that not all problems are solved all at once. Working collaboratively helps develop interpersonal skills.  Having choice in their activities, students are working on self-direction. By having students use iPads to create content, they are constructing new knowledge.

21st century learners need to be able to solve problems, and think critically, creatively, and systematically. 21st century educators have to be able to provide their students with the opportunities to put these skills into practice.  In order to do that, we have to be willing to grow and change with our students.  The following You Tube movie makes me laugh out loud at its ridiculousness…however, don’t we all know someone without a lick of common sense?  This video points out the need for teaching our students how to solve real-world problems…not just ones where the answer is in the back of the book.

How have you grown this year?

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Directions At Their Fingertips

Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction. -Lewis Carroll

compassI know there are a million jokes about a certain gender  *ahem* not wanting to stop and ask directions.  I am one of those people who don’t like to read the directions.  I tend to jump right in and when all else fails, I read the directions….and if Dr. Phil were asking, I would have to answer that hasn’t always worked out so well for me.

Our students need directions all day and they look to us for them.  Sometimes they need those directions repeated once and sometimes multiple times.  It can be difficult to fulfill that need when there are others who also need your time and attention.  Part of personalized learning, however, is giving them what they need, when they need it.

I’ve started recording directions with my iPad for each of my literacy centers and putting them in a book in the Book Creator app. This week we have been learning about the Rainforest.  I created a video for my vocabulary center, journal center, reading center and word work center.  These are then put in Book Creator.  I named it Rainforest Centers and saved it to the Box App.  My kids go into Box and save it to their iBooks.  The directions are there for them whenever they need them.  They can put their ear buds in and listen as many times as they need.  The best part for me is twofold: 1. They don’t have to interrupt me to ask for directions and 2. Once the book is created, I can reuse it next year if I want.

Ultimately, my plan is to create 2 or 3 sets of directions for each center to benefit students working on different levels, high, medium and low.  Each group would have different directions depending on their abilities.  These direction books could also be created for math as well.

I chose Box because this required the fewest steps for my kindergarten students to complete to access the videos on their own. After all, it is meant to be done without my help.  Another ADE friend of mine in Maine uploads her videos to You Tube and creates QR Codes.  However you choose to do it, simplicity for younger students is a must.

So, while I am working on trying to be better about reading directions before doing something, my students can benefit from having directions at their fingertips whenever they need them.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Organizing for Writing on the iPad

Why do anything unless it is going to be great? -Peter Block

We have been learning about the rainforest and my students are excited and engaged in learning all about the animals in the various layers.  Recently, the students wanted to write about the rainforest and they seemed to be having trouble narrowing their focus.  Someone said, “My brain is all busy with so many animals.”

poppletAs adults, it can often be overwhelming as we try to process large chunks of information.  I have to make lists or use sticky notes to keep it all straight.  We all have different strategies for managing the information and processing it.  Young children need to be taught how to organize themselves and their thoughts for writing.

One of the apps we use as a visual organizer is Popplet LiteIt is a free mapping app that allows you to brainstorm and capture your thoughts quickly.  The full version of Popplet is $4.99 and offers many other options, including online collaboration, however, the lite version is just fine for our uses.  The popplet above, was created by a student to help her organize her thoughts on writing about the rainforest.  She saved that to her camera roll and then imported it into Pages to write.  pages and popplet

This is her first page of writing.  She wants to add a new page for each of the animals shown in her Popplet.  By adding the Popplet to her Pages document, she now has a visual reminder of what she wants to write about. She can just continue to refer back to it.

Each child had a choice in how they wanted to share their knowledge.  Some choose Book Creator, some chose Pic Collage and some chose Pages.  They all went on Safari and found the images they wanted and saved them to their camera roll.  They also had a choice to organize their pre-writing thoughts in Popplet or on paper.

Because they have choice in this activity, they are very engaged and excited to share with each other what they’ve learned.  The finished products will be reflective of their creative energies and knowledge gained.  It will be far superior work than if I had dictated how and what they would do…after all, when they have choice, they take ownership.

If we are going to ask our students to demonstrate what they know, it should be in meaningful ways so that in the very act of demonstration, they are extending their learning.  Getting organized is a great place to start!

Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Running Records on the iPad

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.-Harry S. Truman

Powerful teaching happens when teachers take information gained from observations and assessments of children’s literacy development into consideration when planning instruction.  Since observations can be subjective, it is important to include data from more formal observations as well.

We use running records as assessment tools to assess students literacy progress.  A running record is a tool for coding, scoring and analyzing a child’s precise reading behaviors. (Fountas and Pinnell).  Up until recently, I was using forms from the Fountas and Pinnell kit for running records.  While a great way to take a running record, it requires a lot of copies and paper.

running record imageI have found an app called Record of Reading.  It is a great app…not just because it was created by my alma mater, Clemson University…but because it is an electronic means of assessing reading behaviors.  You don’t need a calculator as it has embedded formulas for accuracy and self corrections.  The app even records the child reading while the teacher simultaneously takes the record. When replaying the record, the oral reading and the record are synced.  The record can be saved or emailed.  There is also a user manual if needed.  You are able to type or write directly in the app and it doesn’t have to be opened in a PDF annotator.  Best of all, it is FREE!.

Running records inform our instruction through capturing progress, assessing text difficulty, matching texts appropriately to students, and seeing and hearing reading behaviors directly.  They also help us group students with similar instructional needs as well as provide individualized instruction where needed.  They give explicit feedback to the student and to parents if needed.

readingWatching my students grow as readers is rewarding.  I love watching them go from non-readers to readers over the course of the school year. Creating successful readers requires knowing your students…knowing their strengths and where they struggle.  It also requires that we know our students’ interests so that we can have texts available to stimulate reading.  By keeping track of our students’ reading behaviors through running records, we can inform our instruction to best meet their needs.

Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Using iPads to Transform Teaching and Learning

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.-John Dewey

ThomasOne of the great things I’ve noticed in the last 2 years is how my teaching has evolved with the use of the iPads.  It’s been a gradual shift, but the way I am using them now is different than the first pilot year in 2011.

In the beginning, I was focused on integrating the iPads into our day and was very much “app” oriented.  We had a lot of success that first year and my class data reflected that.

A subtle shift began last year when my students started taking charge of their own learning.  It wasn’t exactly planned, but the environment was supportive and I was open to their ideas.  Soon, they were creating content and not just interacting with apps.  They were blogging, writing, and reading on the iPad. I was thrilled with the student-centered learning environment.

This year, I’ve learned from my students, we’ve raised the bar, and kids continue to create their own content.  They are teaching other students in other classes and other grade levels, and they are articulating their learning in a variety of ways.  They are choosing how they want to demonstrate their learning and I am facilitating their choices.  I indicate what skills we are working on and they decide how they want to learn it and how they want to demonstrate their learning.  Their choices are far more involved and detailed than anything I would’ve imagined.  They are integrating multiple apps to create a finished product.  They can articulate what they are learning and how to demonstrate their learning.

Here is an example from Explain Everything.  This child was demonstrating plant parts.

I have no idea what next school year will bring (and goodness knows, I am looking forward to enjoying my summer break!), but the outlook is bright.  I am excited about learning from the other Apple Distinguished Educators this summer at the institute and bringing that knowledge back to my classroom.

Wherever you are in your classroom journey, it’s important to reflect on where you are and where you’ve been.  It’s important to celebrate your successes, no matter how small, and then be willing to move forward and try new things.  Daring to imagine the possibilities and being willing to change is not just transforming to your own teaching, it will transform your classroom in ways you never thought were possible.

Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Spring Renewal and Renewed Purpose

Renewal requires opening yourself up to new ways of thinking and feeling- Deborah Day

hotdogsSpring Break is over and we are back to school today.  I enjoyed my break, probably a little too much.  We traveled to the upper part of the state to my home town to visit family and enjoyed way too much good food.  These hotdogs are the finest anywhere and I make it a point to get one (or two) whenever I am there.

In taking a break from my daily routines, I spent a lot of time reflecting on where I am and what I am doing.  I talked with some future educators at a college and encouraged them to find their passion as they step boldly forth into student teaching in the fall.  In the process, I reconnected with my own passion and purpose…teaching.

Being passionate about what you do brings vision.  Staying true to your purpose clarifies your vision. Staying true can be difficult when there are so many distractions along the way.  With 138 days into a school year, the distractions are many.  It is easy to dream about the quick passing of the remaining 42 days and slipping into summer vacation.  This is where staying true to your purpose is important.

As I prepare for the upcoming 42 days, I am reminded there is still so much to do.  I am not in a testing grade level so I don’t have those pressures, but we still have standards to master and skills to acquire.  After reading Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen, I am laser-focused on student-centric learning and on true  innovation in the classroom with technology.

Perhaps a little spring cleaning is in order in your educational corner of the world…if you need a proverbial kick in the pants, I highly recommend reading Christensen’s book, Disrupting Class. Whatever number of days of school you have remaining, re-commit yourself to purposeful, focused and student-centered learning.  Let’s start a wave of renewal wherever we are.

I’ve started a Page on Facebook if you’d like to visit and like:

girls working

Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Being an Agent of Change

Any growth requires a temporary loss of security.-Madeline Hunter

IMG_1578I’m on spring break and the most productive thing I plan to do today, besides write this post, is to drink my coffee.  Don’t judge…this coffee isn’t going to drink itself.

I’ve been crazy busy the last few weeks and this week off will provide some much needed rest.  I spoke at an education conference in NC, had an Apple site visit and am preparing to speak to some future educators later this week. Oh, and I was teaching too.  Busy, but a good kind of busy.

As I prepare to speak to these future teachers later in the week, I realize they are preparing to enter into student teaching soon.  They will be going into schools with an excitement about teaching and learning.  In many cases, they will have an arsenal of technological tools, including iPads, at the ready.  What a dynamic time to be entering the education field.

I started thinking about what happens when these young people enter a classroom with a supervising teacher who is less than enthusiastic about the use of iPads…or any technology for that matter.  This can be a tenuous situation. How do you tackle a situation where you are expected to be the “teacher” in the classroom but you aren’t really in charge? How does the veteran teacher step into a role as mentor to this young educator when the younger person has far more technological background?

I was approached by a veteran educator after my presentation last week in NC.  She was excited by the possibilities of iPads from my presentation, but was very anxious about the actual implementation. The big picture looks heavenly, but the devil is in the details.IMG_1537

Whether you are a student intern treading softly in a classroom that isn’t your own, or a veteran teacher feeling like an alien in a world that has previously always felt comfortable, change and growth always require some discomfort.  Baby steps and true reflective practice will ease the transition.  For veteran teachers, you are still necessary and relevant…more so now than ever.  You have invaluable experience and wisdom.  By implementing iPads along with your wisdom and experience, your teaching will be transformed.  For the upcoming educators and new teachers, you are still necessary and relevant…more so now than ever.  Your cutting edge technology skills will serve as role models for your students and fellow colleagues.  You will be leading a technological revolution in your schools.

So, with all of our collective bravery, let’s go forth and be the change we seek.  Y’all go on ahead…I will catch up after I finish my coffee.

Today, we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!