Thursday, March 20, 2014

Personalized Learning in a 1:1 Classroom: A Tour Through My Inbox

I know there is a lot of buzz about personalized learning these days. Lots of it comes at a cost where some service will assess your students and provide just-in-time learning. It is tempting to purchase one of those and feel comfortable that the curriculum is being covered at a pace that is right for each student. Although I do use many tools and apps,  that's really not what personalized learning looks like in my 1:1 language arts classroom.

So, what does it look like?

I don't think I can answer that question in a short post. However, I believe that a little tour through my email inbox may provide a glimpse. It hit me last night when I opened my school email.
Literacy= communication, and I do use email as one tool for communicating with my students. 

We read. We write. We edit.  We discuss. We think. We reflect. We create. Why would this look identical in a group of unique individuals?

What follows represents a sample from my current inbox. These are waiting for my reply, feedback or next steps. I have not chosen anything on purpose. I'm just sharing the process. This represents the ongoing learning conversation between my students and me. 
A 5th grader emails to tell me what salary he would like for the documentarian job. He also suggests two new jobs.
A 5th grader shares his updated narrative writing with me. Below is a short snippet of  an 8 page story

Another  5th grade narrative
a 4th grader shares a link to the book quiz he wrote on Goodreads
A 4th grader wrote an epilogue to Wonderstruck using Book Creator

5th grade character trading card
4th grade "visual vocab"
This conversation and creation, this journey, is why I love my 1:1 iPad classroom. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

5 Things I Wish Everyone Understood About Educational Technology

1. The technology isn't the point
Still….STILL….all these years later (it's 2014 and the internet is 25 years old) when we all know that technology isn't the point in education, there is still so much talk about the technology, the apps, the devices, the new shiny stuff. True, if it's new and shiny and cool it might enable me to redefine a task, that is if it's not too expensive or too difficult to learn or to manage.

2. The technology isn't the lesson
The students in my 4th/5th 1:1 iPad class do not need lessons on using their iPads. They are faster and more adept than I am at using most of the apps. However, they are young and still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to using these devices in a balanced, useful way. They have a lot to learn to become literate users of these powerful tools. They need guidance in understanding and creating work that represents quality in a time of anything goes.

3. The technology isn't the problem
When the kids use social media or chats in ways that hurt others, the technology is not the cause of their mean spirited behavior.

4. The technology isn't the answer
Technology is wonderful and amazing. I love my digital devices and appreciate all the ways they have changed my life for the better.  It's hard to imagine teaching without Google, Pinterest, Twitter, Wordpress, iPads, etc., and I believe that being a connected educator has helped me grow into a better teacher.
However, technology has its dark side. Many people are becoming distracted and unbalanced, spending less real time with real people. There are some serious human health, safety and environmental consequences caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of these devices we love so much.

5. The technology isn't going away
Whether you or I love or hate technology matters not one iota. The world is changing in ways we can barely imagine. Hang on for a wild ride!

Book Whisperer Wannabe

Once in a while I read a book that I wish I'd written. It's like seeing myself in the mirror and thinking, "Hey, I look alright." This was the gift of reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. I am so grateful for this wonderful book. It should be required reading for anyone who teaches or will teach reading.

There are plenty of reviews of the book (see Karin Hallet's great review and infographic). My purpose for writing is to reflect on what this book made me think about and the changes I might make as a result.

I am a lifelong reader who reads any time, any place. Literacy is my biggest educational interest and the desire to share my love of reading was the motivation that brought me to this career in the first place. I believe so strongly in authentic literacy and learning through practice.

I am doing everything in my power to make reading real and enjoyable, to match readers with that perfect book, to lead the way by modeling and sharing my own reading experiences. I still have those few students who view reading as a school thing, not a life thing. Reading Miller's book, I wonder if all of her students truly found pleasure in reading. It certainly sounds as if she created an amazing reading community.

Reading in the Morning
One thing I have already adapted is to use that time first thing in the morning, when students are still arriving, for reading. I used to allow conversations and other activities. I only have my students first thing in the morning twice a week, and I love having that as reading time.

There are so many things I dislike about AR and just a few things I like. Our school uses AR school wide, and compared to other practices I think it's not the worst. It uses real books, and it gives me a type of numeric data that many parents seem to really want. What the various numbers actually mean is a whole other blog post and something I have spent quite a bit of time trying to understand this year. What I dislike about AR in a nutshell is the low-level recall questions that determine comprehension and the fact that kids (and parents) sometimes become overly focused on the levels and points.

Using Goodreads instead of reader's notebooks is another whole blog post. I have struggled to get everyone to make Goodreads a habit, but I am going to stick with it. It is authentic, serves the same purposes as Miller's notebooks, and I like it.

Book Projects Vs. Reflection Letters
I love the weekly, written reflections! Stealing this! We may still do book talks and reviews and such, but I am going to rethink the structure.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Teacher's Ode to Read-Alouds

One of my main goals this year as a language arts teacher is to build a community of readers, writers and thinkers. I am employing several different strategies in pursuit of this aim. One of the most exciting and pleasurable is class read-alouds. A few months back, I read Principal Joey's post "Stop Trying to Make Your Kids Read." It really struck a chord with me, and I left this comment (which I am only partially sharing here because it was SO LONG)
I completely agree with you about reading aloud. In fact, I devote a LOT of time to read aloud with both my 4th and 5th grade classes, and that time is probably having the biggest impact of anything I am doing in my quest to create a true community of readers.
Some of the reasons I think that read aloud is so powerful in my classroom are:
•I give the students choice. I keep an ongoing list of recommended middle grade books that I am interested in reading. I choose about 5 of those and have the students privately vote via Google form. This way, each student can choose the one they really want, and no one knows who voted for what. This creates a feeling of ownership and excitement before we even begin reading.
•I am an avid, lifelong reader. Not only do I read very fluently, but I know where, when and how to stop and teach. I do not pre-plan my read aloud “lessons.” However, I use read-aloud to teach almost everything, from literary devices to vocabulary to reading strategies. I am able to do this because of the confidence I possess from being a real reader.
•The more we read together, the more shared history we have as a reading community. We naturally make text-to-text connections, and no one is left out.
I ended that comment with:
I have much more to say on this subject…I think I will write a post about read aloud!
I have so much to say about this I don't know where to begin!!!!

As a Teaching/Learning Tool
In my experience, reading aloud is a vital tool for teaching everything and anything about reading. I recommend reading the classic Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene to understand how the act of making our thinking transparent during reading aloud helps children become better thinkers and readers. I also like the book Constructing Meaning by Nancy Boyles. These signs, which hang on the wall all year long, are from that book and we refer to them frequently during discussions.

We also have great opportunity to discuss vocabulary strategies, and often students will request to add an interesting new word to our growing word wall. 

My Non-Lesson Plan How-To
I do not write lesson plans for my read alouds. They evolve spontaneously. I attribute this to the fact that I do not "teach" reading so much as I share a genuine love of reading with my students. We choose, together as a class, books that no one (including me) has already read. I get recommendations from our fabulous school librarian, as well as some amazing members of my PLN who are avid readers and reviewers of books for this age group. 
The student librarians for each grade add the book to our read-alouds wall, and tag it "currently reading." After we finish the book, we go around the circle, and each student rates the book 1-5 stars, saying why they gave it the rating they did. The librarian keeps notes of each rating, figures out the class average and adds it to the wall. 

Most activities during or immediately after reading are focused around discussions and written responses. 
We have Skyped with other classes who are reading the same book, which has been a really fun experience. We have taken visual notes, written blog posts from the point of view of a particular character, written reviews on Goodreads, watched the movie and compared/contrasted book and movie, and in two weeks we will be Skyping with Holly Goldberg Sloan, the author of our latest read-aloud, Counting By 7's
We have discussed author's purpose, genre, metaphor, symbolism, word roots, and how authors sometimes "break the rules" of formal writing (which they are allowed to do because, presumably, they know the rules really well). 
We use these books as "mentor texts" for our own writing, which is getting better and better as we grow our understanding of and appreciation for the craft.  

What Do the Kids Say?
As much as I adore read-alouds, they do take time. And, like every teacher, I worry that there is never enough time to do everything. As a student-centered teacher, I value the input and opinions of my students, and I use surveys to gather this data. So I recently surveyed my classes to find out THEIR opinions of read-alouds.

Of my 30 students, I had one student say no and one say yes, after a short break. I also asked them to explain, in writing, their choice. Here are some of their responses:

I love read-alouds! I don't even want to think about stopping them, even for a short period of time. When you read aloud, you and other classmates help me understand things that I wouldn't understand if I read that book on my own. - Julia, 4th grade

I love the fact that I have been exposed to different genres that I wouldn't even think of checking. I think we should keep it going and read more. GO READALOUDS!!!!!!! - Jagger, 5th grade

I want to continue read alouds because when we finish a book, we want to read more books that are related to that book. I think it really helps people find the right books for them. -Nahila, 4th grade

I think we should keep doing read-alouds because it's a chance for everyone to settle down and get comfortable. For me, it helps write in different types of ways. -Arin, 5th grade

I would like to continue because they are fun to listen to and the story is always good. -Evan, 5th grade

Communities Share Stories
If you are still may be as passionate as I am about this topic. So you may enjoy this story that illustrates how reading aloud connects us as a community in special ways. I just finished reading Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick with 4th grade.  This incredible story is told partly through illustrations and partly through words. Towards the end of the book, the characters in the two stories meet up and the words and illustrations combine to tell the rest of the story.

When we got to this picture, I stopped reading for the day.

I challenged my students to use their iPads and what they knew to see if they could find out where the characters were. Several of them were excited that they were able to figure out that the characters were at the Queens Museum.

A few days later, I flew to New York for a conference. As the plane was landing at LaGuardia, I looked out the window to see that we were directly over this sight! My seatmate must have thought I was crazy as I scrambled to find my phone so I could take this photo for my students.

Further Reading

How a Reading Promise Can Forge Families and Shape Lives

Read Aloud: Why 15 Minutes a Day Matters

Matt Renwick's Top 10 Takeaways From the Read Aloud Handbook

The Warmth of a Shared Experience