About Matt Renwick

Matt Renwick is a 14-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th grade teacher in a country school outside of Wisconsin Rapids, WI. After seven years of teaching, he did time as a junior high dean of students, assistant principal and athletic director before becoming an elementary principal in Wisconsin Rapids. Matt blogs at Reading by Example (readingbyexample.com), tweets @ReadByExample and writes for EdTech magazine. His book about digital portfolios will be published by Powerful Learning Press in the coming year.

An Interview with Chalkup: Classroom Technology and Digital Portfolios

Originally posted on Theory and Practice:

I recently connected with Chalkup to talk about classroom technology and how I’ve seen digital portfolios win in classrooms.

Big picture, what’s your philosophy on classroom technology?

Classroom technology, especially mobile and cloud-based, is still in its infancy. It seems like these devices and apps have been around for a long time, but it really has been only a couple of years. So, my philosophy right now is to select one or two things to try regarding technology integration in classrooms, and then do it really well. Introduce it to students, provide lots of modeling and guidance, share your celebrations and frustrations with colleagues, and then reflect on and refine your practice.

With everything being so new, just trying something out and modeling the innovation process is a benefit not only to you, but everyone around you and connected with you. They learn from your learning.

How does collaboration play a…

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Close Reading is a Conversation

I cannot proclaim to be an expert on close reading, nor would I want to. Although the skill/strategy/idea (?) of close reading is only briefly mentioned in the Common Core State Standards, it has become a staple in discussions among educators. It is listed first in the anchor standards for reading, if that counts for anything:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1
Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

I explored this concept of close reading a couple of years ago in ASCD Express, titled “Reading Like a Leader”. You can see from the image shared within the article that what our leadership team read was covered in highlights and annotations. This worked for us, because we passed around one article and relied on asynchronous dialogue for learning.

But what about when it is just you and the author, mano a mano? Should learners highlight anything and everything relevant to their purpose for reading?

This has been a very ineffective strategy for me. When gathering information for my first book, there wasn’t a detail that I did not like. There are entire pages in some of the resources I explored where there is literally more text highlighted and annotated on a page than text left alone. Yet when I tried to apply said knowledge to my book, I found myself going back to those same passages I had so diligently marked up and ended up more confused. My additions to the text were really subtractions to my understanding. I was distracted by my contributions, because they interfered with my comprehension.

I have learned my lesson, so to speak. In my current writing project, I am eschewing all of my previous attempts to “cite specific textual evidence” and to “determine what the text says explicitly”. Instead, I am trying to have a conversation with the author as I read. One thing that has helped me is using Thin Strip Post-it G18044_7675notes. If I find a passage in a text I want to remember, I place the note next to the passage and write either a question or a statement on it. The question is sincere; it is more of a wondering than anything. When writing a statement, I am trying to come up with a sentence that could surround that passage or quote, as a way to summarize it or transition toward it within my own writing.

Below is an example of what I am talking about, from Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle (2011):

We make our technologies, and they, in turn, shape us. So, of every technology we must ask, Does it serve our human purpose? – a question that causes us to reconsider what these purposes are. Technologies, in every generation, present opportunities to reflect on our values and direction. (19)

Here is my annotation on the Post-it Thin Strip attached to this passage:

Whenever we add something to our plates, something else is pushed off.

I cannot say for certain if this passage from the text will be a part of the final draft for my project. What Turkle shares is profound, but it may not be applicable. This is one of the challenges of close reading – learners assume that whatever they highlight and annotate must be regurgitated verbatim in their written responses to the text. I know this, because it took me a whole book to realize it. I hope today’s students are faster learners than I am.

What I am doing with the above example is not documenting my learning, but rather holding on to a new idea. By responding to the text in my own words, I think I am more likely to come back to the reading and response as I am writing. This is how a conversation works: A back-and-forth discussion around topics that are important to both the author and the reader. I have devoted meaning to my responses, instead of assuming that the text will just naturally mean something to me. I am reading this book because I care about the topics and find the text both informative and entertaining.

There is purpose in my Post-its that extends beyond the room to write my thoughts down. By not highlighting and annotating the text itself, I am not smothering the author’s writing with potential distractions for me as the reader. If I want to reread the passage that I responded to, I am now forced to reading a paragraph or two to locate it. Subsequently, I am revisiting the context in which I found the original passage that struck me as important. In other books I have read for informational purposes, I have been gone as far as simply leaving an asterisk next to the passage I found important, with no response. My thinking might change when I came back to it.

As the title states, close reading is a conversation. It is not extracting every essential bit of information from a text, like you were squeezing a lemon to make lemonade. Reading a text closely is about determining why you want to read a text, evaluating whether the text before you is worth your time, and then finding evidence within the text to hold onto for future reference. It is a partnership in understanding and appreciation between the writer and the reader. Anything less is a recipe for reducing engagement in meaningful inquiries.

Recommended Series: Tom Gates by Liz Pichon

This review is by Brendan and Finn, 2nd grade students in Mrs. Akey’s classroom at Howe Elementary School, Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.

logo-homeThe Tom Gates series is totally amazing. It is one of our favorites. The drawings are good and there are tons of funny parts.

The books were amazing because there were many things that happened to Tom Gates that seemed unbelievable.  For example, he saw his teacher, Mr. Fullerman, outside of school at a concert … and he was wearing LEATHER pants!  Wow!!!

The books were full of funny events, like the time Tom had to wear his friend, Derek’s, swimming trunks.  The funny thing was that the swimming trunks had teddy bears on them, and they looked like Derek had worn them when he was four years old!  Way too small!!!

The drawings in the books are great!  We liked that they are pictures that we could draw ourselves.  It actually looked like a kid drew them!  There are also A LOT of drawings on each page.  Most of them have some sort of label, and that makes the books easier to understand.

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Three Ways to Provide Feedback for Digital Student Writing

No discipline has experienced a greater impact from technology than writing.

Photo credit: Unsplash

Photo credit: Unsplash

Blogs, tweets, multimedia timelines, posts, texts…all of these short forms of writing have come about through new digital mediums. Classrooms that adopt these tools during literacy and content instruction are providing learners with more ways to express their thinking and convey information more creatively. I could not imagine schools without them.

Once they are embedded in practice, the next logical step as a teacher is to ask: How can I provide feedback for students through these mediums so their writing improves, as well as to celebrate their work? Here are three ideas.

Google

Recently I have received invitations from our 4th and 5th graders to comment on their writing via Google Docs and Slides. I really like the Comments and Suggestions features. Located at the top right of the file, you can highlight a section of the text and provide feedback for the owner. What the students have shared with me so far are finished products. Therefore, I have made general observations and asked thought-provoking questions to let them know that I read their work carefully and valued their effort.

WordPress

For younger students without a lot of experience in digital writing, transcribing what they write down on paper and posting it on a blog is a great way to model the writing process. For example, my son and a friend gave me a handwritten review of the Tom Gates series by Liz Pichon. I typed up their thoughts, saved the post as a draft, and then emailed their teacher with specific questions about the books they read. This feedback request was done through WordPress, my favorite blogging platform (see arrow).Screen_Shot_2015-04-08_at_8_25_32_PM

I actually sent the request to their teacher, who will hopefully help them write a bit more about why the Tom Gates series is such a good one to read.

Evernote

I was on a mission to a classroom when a 4th grade student asked me to read her writing in the hallway. How could I say no? I compromised by taking out my smartphone and scanning an image of her writing with Evernote. This student’s writing was then saved as a note in her teacher’s professional portfolio, which I keep for all of my staff.

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 8.40.17 PMWhen I had time to sit down later, I opened up her note. Having downloaded Skitch, a native Evernote application, I was able to annotate right on her scanned work. This was also a finished piece of writing, so I celebrated what she did well and offered my thinking on possible ideas to consider for the future. This updated note was emailed to her teacher.

What digital tools do you find effective for offering feedback for the author(s)? How do you use them? Please share in the comments.

8 for 8: Eight iOS Apps You Can Learn to Use with Students in Under Eight Minutes

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photo credit: iOS7 Homescreen blurred (DSC_0719) via photopin (license)

1. Nutshell Camera (Prezi)

This app is like Vine, in that you can take a quick video of a subject or action. The difference is that Nutshell is a whole lot easier to use. With your iPhone, take three shots of any scene while the camera rolls. Add text and clip art, and Nutshell creates a professional-looking video clip to share. Great for creating visual summaries of learning.

2. My Story – Storybook and Ebook Maker for Kids by Teachers (HiDef Web Solutions)

After Naomi Harm tweeted out that this app was free, I let my entire staff know about it. Students can draw pictures and words, add clip art, type text, and insert audio of themselves reading their own writing. In just a few minutes, I was able to show a student how to use this app. He was able to create an original book independently.

3. Scannable (Evernote)

This app has been the best thing to come to Evernote since…well, Evernote. Scannable allows you to scan in several documents at one time, and then create one PDF of the content saved. This is really nice for students that have a multiple page story to put in their digital portfolio in Evernote. Educators can use this for saving lengthy meeting handouts.

4. Decide Now! (CafForce Studio)

Formative assessment is easy to talk about, but harder to apply in the classroom. One way to check for understanding during a lesson is to cold call on students. Decide Now! gives the teacher an easy way to do this. Input all of the students’ names, and then push the button in the middle. This way, every student is expected to respond to a question.

5. YouTube Capture (Google, Inc.)

Want to capture video, edit it, and upload that content right away? This app by Google will allow you to do that. It certainly isn’t a replacement for iMovie, but if you are a teacher looking to share student learning via a private classroom YouTube channel, this app seems to be the best way to accomplish that.

6. Canva (Canva)

If you need to mix things up when teaching students how to summarize their thinking, check out this app. Canva is built to allow users to create visual posts for Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Images, text, and templates are provided. Using this graphic design app in the classroom can be a way to integrate art concepts into content.

7. Animoto (Animoto, Inc.)

Put together a 30 second video that includes your images and/or video, a sound track, and text, and then publish for the world to see. Animoto has been around for awhile (relatively), yet still remains as an essential digital tool to consider when students want to represent their learning in dynamic and visual ways.

8. Marble Math and Marble Math Jr (Artgig)

These apps are more about consumption than creation, but the Marble Math series is worth mentioning. Kids take a marble around a maze and touch the numbers that complete the equation posted. Every problem posed changes in operation, which causes the student to think before solving it. Concepts covered are tied to the Common Core.

Three Great Writing Apps for the MacBook Air

The MacBook Air changed my life. I’ve written everywhere, including some very strange places.
– J.K. ROWLING

Day One ($10)

This app is perfect for journaling and getting writing ideas down as they appear. When you install Day One on your MacBook Air, a bookmark appears in your drop down menu on the top right of your screen. I use this option to quickly jot down a quote or catchy phrase before I lose it.

Byword ($17 with in-app purchase)

I sometimes take what I write in Day One and expand upon it in Byword. It is a similar app – distraction-free screen, iCloud storage – but also allows me to post my writing on my WordPress blog. Blogger and Tumbler are also supported. In fact, I wrote this post in Byword!

Scrivener ($45)

Purchase this writing software with the intent on putting a project together to publish. You can move sections around within a project while working on it. This offers a distinct advantage over Word or Pages: No more going back to try and rearrange ideas. Scrivener is built for writers.

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photo credit: Macbook Air 13″ via photopin (license)

Do you know how I know my son read his book?

  1. He was asking about the next book in the series before he was halfway through the first one.
  2. The thickness of his book doubled while reading it, due to spilling his drink on the pages while eating and reading.
  3. Creases regularly appeared on the spine of his book while reading it.
  4. The book’s covers were bent because he fell asleep on top of his book one night while reading.
  5. The book’s corners were frayed because my son shoved his book in his backpack every morning.
  6. My son wanted to watch the movie about his book before he was finished.
  7. His classmates wanted to read his book once he finished, after seeing him immersed in it.
  8. My son continued to think and talk about his book, long after he finished it.
  9. My son can identify a related series to his book that he might want to read next.
  10. My son’s love for reading increased after reading his book.

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