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.

What Stylus Should I Get For My iPad?

I was asked this question recently. Steve Jobs would probably say, “You have ten already”, referring to our fingers. But I would humbly disagree. For me, the stylus has been a great addition to my iPad.

For selecting a stylus, I would first consider what I wanted to use it for. Do I want my students to create content? Am I looking to annotate documents? Or handwrite large amounts of text? The type of investment you make matters on your purpose.

Here are the apps that I have found work best with a stylus on the iPad:

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And here are my three suggestions for styluses (styli?), depending on how they might be used.

Classroom Creations: AmPen Hybrid

Value here is the key. This stylus is very receptive to the iPad screen within Explain Everything or one of the Doodlecast apps. They are very reasonably priced, less than $10 per unit. I outfitted our entire kindergarten wing with these to help the students form letters and numbers during center time.

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The tip is made with conductive fiber + rubber, providing a smooth writing and drawing experience. This model also has a stretchy cord band on it. The end of the cord is inserted into the headphone jack so the stylus stays with the iPad.

Annotating Documents: Bamboo Stylus and Pen

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I used to have this stylus. It has an ink pen on one side and a rubber-tipped stylus on the other. This served me well as a principal when transitioning between digital walkthroughs and signing paperwork. Notability is a great annotation app that integrates well with the Bamboo. Also, the weight of the stylus gave it that real pen feel. I wouldn’t recommend for student use, however, as the tip can wear out and it is twice the price as the AmPen.

Handwriting, Drawing, and Heavy Use: Jot Script

If you use a stylus just about everyday, for taking digital handwritten notes or drawing, then the Jot Script may be worth the $80 price tag. The fine point on the stylus is a first of its kind. It is also battery-powered, providing a signal to connect with your iPad via Bluetooth to eliminate wrist contact. I have read some reviews of the pen not always staying connected, or that Penultimate’s drifting feature when writing is not user-friendly. That has not been my experience, but I will investigate more.

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It was developed in partnership between Adonit and Evernote. Although it is designed to pair with Penultimate, it works well with other handwriting apps such as Notability. What I like best is I no longer have to upload any documents to Dropbox. When I conduct a walkthrough in a classroom, I simply open up the teacher’s notebook in Penultimate, write my observations, and it automatically syncs with Evernote. Sharing with staff afterwards is a snap.

What stylus do you prefer? Please share in the comments.

Passion-Based Learning, Day 2: Hello Passion! Meet Frustration…

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In my second entry on passion-based learning for the Powerful Learning Practice blog, reality sets in for our after school computer club. Our goal is to balance students’ interests with activities that could lead to meaningful learning.

One thing I’m learning quickly: access alone is not enough. When handed technology with little guidance or supervision, students tend to use it at the lowest common denominator, cognitively speaking. Maybe this tendency was related to the fact that my observations took place in school, where expected outcomes are, well, expected. Would posting goals that connected their interests and relevant projects to specific digital tools be the answer to unleashing the students’ passions?

Click here to check out the rest of this post and witness the ups and downs of our attempt to explore what’s possible with digital tools.

Passion-Based Learning, Day 1: Probing Minecraft’s Appeal

In a post I wrote for Powerful Learning Practice, I explore the reasons why Minecraft is such a hit with kids. I plan on sharing weekly reflections as I co-facilitate an after school computer club with one of my teachers. Just like we expect ourselves to be familiar with the books our kids read, we as educators should become acquainted with some of these 21st century tools our students are so passionate about and engaged in. Who knows, we may even find pathways to high achievement that we had never considered!

Here is how I ended the post:

Passion-based learning should start with our passion, whether student or adult. It’s what we care deeply about, what we value, and how it augments the skills and strategies we use in our pursuit of new learning.

Are we too quick to dismiss these digital games as a waste of our students’ time? Is Minecraft, and related digital games, a significant part of the future of students’ learning experiences? How can collaboration, creativity, and other 21st century skills be enhanced with Minecraft? Click here to read the rest of the post, and add your thoughts in the comments section.

Use Post-Its + Evernote For Ongoing Literacy Assessment

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Evernote has partnered with Post-it notes. How could this apply to the classroom? Primarily, it can allow a teacher to digitize any notes they might write about their students on a Post-it into an Evernote notebook. You take a picture of the note with Evernote, and it is saved within your web-based account. This can serve as a digital portfolio, to show both the process of learning in a student’s individual notebook, and the progress students make toward achieving their personal goals. In this post, I describe one way a teacher could use the three different sets of Evernote-integrated Post-Its within readers’ workshop. Note: I did teach for several years, but now serve as an elementary principal. I am confident current classroom practitioners will find various other ways to use these tools for ongoing assessment in the literacy block.

Modeling and Shared Demonstration

For a mini-lesson, I would use the Post-it Big Pad. A teacher could write and sketch out what strategy they wanted students to apply in their independent reading under a document camera.

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I tried a mini-lesson with my son during one of our days off from school due to the cold spell in Wisconsin. After much cajoling, including a promise to buy him another book on his Nook eReader, he agreed to let me teach him. He is a good reader for his age, but I have noticed that he tends to read quickly and possibly miss important meanings in the words and phrases of his books. So, I selected “Use Illustrations to Understand Text” as my focus for my mini-lesson (from The CAFE Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser).

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For the mentor text, we chose the poetry anthology A Poke in the Eye by Paul Janezcko. As you can see, I used multiple strategies to show my son how the illustration helped the reader understand the concrete poem. We sketched this out together, so I wasn’t the only one talking. If this were a classroom situation, I am sure I would have posted this mini anchor chart under the “Expand Vocabulary” section of my CAFE board. I could also scan this into Evernote to refer back to as review in future instruction.

Guided Practice

I gave my son a regular sized Post-It note and asked him to try and apply this skill in the same text. These are lime green, just like the big ones.

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To help him experience success, I scaffolded his response with a sentence starter. He was directed to place the Post-It under the line of a poem where a visual helped him understand it.

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After a minute or two of reading independently, he was able to apply this skill to another concrete poem. However, in reading his response, he associated the shape the poem was in with its meaning. While this is an important skill when reading concrete poems, it seems like he has not yet generalized how illustrations and text can collectively support meaning for the reader across many texts.

This example of his thinking was scanned into his process portfolio. With several of these pieces of evidence saved in his digital notebook, I would have a cornucopia of information about his reading ability to inform my future instruction for him.

Independent Practice, Future Instruction

We discussed the strength of his response, along with a goal of slowing down in his reading a bit in order to more closely observe all elements of what is on the page.

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If this were a goal he would post in the classroom, we would have worded it more briefly. Just for my benefit, I scanned it into a pre-assigned notebook for Expanding Vocabulary. You can assign one of four Post-It note colors to a notebook within Evernote. This allows the user to digitize the note without finding the notebook first. Evernote knows where to put it for you.

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There are four assignable colors for Post-Its in Evernote and four categories in the CAFE assessment system.

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Perfect! As a classroom teacher, I would continue to jot notes about students based on the strategy I felt they could grow in. When I would later plan for future literacy instruction, I could look into each progress portfolio to determine who needed support in each area.

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What’s nice about these Post-Its is they come with one month of a Premium subscription to Evernote. This means you can search your handwriting within the notes you write and scan in. This is the best part of the service. If you are looking to use flexible grouping and work with students at different reading levels, type in a keyword or phrase, such as “stop and think”, and those students that have notes containing this will pop up. How’s that for responsive teaching?

In Summary

As 21st century educators, we don’t have to be tethered to technology to reap the benefits. By using digital tools such as Evernote and Post-Its to support quality instruction, instead of the other way around, we can stay focused on the learner and their needs.

Teacher to Learner

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photo credit: Wellington College via photopin cc

My son and I take Tae Kwon Do together now. He joined before I did. This was purposeful. I wanted him to be one level above me as we progressed together through the ranks. He will be green belt while I am at yellow belt. When he attains blue belt, I will be at green, and so forth. I felt it was important that he see himself as more knowledgable and expert than me in something. He now has the opportunity to also be the teacher, and me to be the learner. For example, as we warmed up last night, I asked him to watch my form that I would be tested on. This is a test that he had already passed. As I went through the motions, he carefully watched my every move. When I was done, he gave me a thumbs up as feedback. By seeing a grown up follow the same pathway of instruction that he took, I hope that he sees himself as an agent of his own learning narrative and in charge of his future.

Relating this example to our school learning environments…

How can we set our own students up to be the experts and teachers in our classrooms?

What would it take for us as educators to be seen as learners in the eyes of our students?

Why is this important?

These are honest and genuine questions I pose, because I know there are many avenues to essential outcomes. Any thoughts you have on this would be appreciated.

Why My PLN is Like a Haystack

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photo credit: ClifB via photopin cc

In the novel Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), the main character, Clay Jannon has discovered an ancient organization that may hold the secret to eternal life. During this process, Clay ends up at a small art exhibit currently hosting a 1st grade classroom on a field trip. In his desperation for any lead, he asks one of the students, “How would you find a needle in a haystack?” She thinks, then replies, “I would ask the hays to find it.”

Brilliant! This is one of my favorite quotes from the book, described in a review on Goodreads as “a love letter for books, bibliophiles, but also for technology.” So why do I like this line? Because it so aptly and succinctly describes my feeling about my personal learning network (PLN). If I have questions, or need support in an area, I know where to turn. No longer do I have to float around online, hoping to strike it lucky with a web-based resource I need. Each person in my PLN is like a piece of hay, and one of them is bound to know where to locate the needle that I seek.

Or, as Clay Jannon reflects on that 1st grader’s wise words:

It’s easy to find a needle in a haystack! Ask the hays to find it!

The Most Critical Skill for Being an Effective Educator

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photo credit: [auro] via photopin cc

Right now I am knee deep in learning about the Teachscape classroom observation system. By the end of my training to evaluate teaching staff under the Wisconsin Educator Effectiveness System, I will have watched over 100 videos of classroom instruction. Without actually having applied this observational tool in the classroom, I have found lots of positive aspects about it. There is a common understanding of what good instruction looks like. All instructional leaders will be in their school’s classrooms on a more regular basis. Authentic pieces of evidence of progress toward professional learning outcomes will be expected in this process. Charlotte Danielson’s framework for instruction is well represented within Teachscape, such as I can see so far.

After reflecting on this training, along with my fourteen years as a teacher and administrator, I believe empathy is the most critical skill for educators to be highly effective in teaching children.

Some educators refer to the skill of “perspective-taking”. Ellen Gillinsky, author of Minds in the Making, defines perspective-taking as “figuring out what others think and feel” (http://mindinthemaking.org/article/category/perspective_taking/). Peter Johnston, in his book Opening Minds (Stenhouse, 2012), uses the term “social imagination” to describe how a person can “mind read” by closely observing a learner’s language and actions (76). I like both explanations, and the core of each of these concepts is empathy.

I define empathy from an educator’s point of view as the ability to inhabit a student’s situation, thoughts, and feelings. This skill, to mentally place ourselves within a student’s circumstance, can bear many opportunities for responsive instruction. Empathy gives a teacher pause when a student is not working as they should (“Is he sick? Hungry? Upset?”). Empathy allows us to prepare our lessons based not on what we want to cover, but on what each individual needs. Empathy clues us in to what our students’ parents are really saying and feeling, and not necessarily on what we hear and see. Empathy allows educators to teach with confidence, because they know their words and actions will have a profound impact on students’ lives. I believe empathy is the foundation for all that is possible within instruction.

Matt Renwick’s Top Ten Takeaways from The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2013)

Matt Renwick:

This is a post I wrote for the Nerdy Book Club last week. It highlights important information from The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease. My parent group and some staff will be hosting a book club around this resource.

I have been asked a number of times how our parent-teacher book club will go. To start, we received a local grant to purchase several copies of the Read Aloud Handbook along with many of the titles Jim Trelease recommends. Every first Tuesday of the month, we will facilitate a conversation about this resource. Our group will gather during our monthly PTO meeting. I plan to moderate the conversation with questions from the two chapters we read before the meeting. I will also post the questions on Twitter using the #ptchat hashtag so anyone can join us from home. Parents who attend will get to take home different titles to read aloud to their kids. At the next book club meeting, they can bring back those titles and exchange them with other parents for new ones. We hope this dialogue about books and the benefits of reading aloud will extend beyond our monthly gatherings.

Once our book club has ended, we will put these titles into Little Free Libraries in the area (also grant-funded). They will be installed in our surrounding school community. Families will have more access to books regardless of their current living situation or available resources.

Please join us every first Tuesday of the month at 5:30 CST on Twitter at #ptchat to engage in some great conversations! (Special note: School was cancelled tomorrow, so there will not be a chat on January 7. Stay tuned for when the January chat will be rescheduled.)

Originally posted on Nerdy Book Club:

Starting in January, parents and staff at Howe Elementary School will join me in reading The Read Aloud Handbook, 7th edition by Jim Trelease (Penguin, 2013). Our goal is to create more awareness of the importance of reading aloud both at home and at school. At each meeting, we will also be taking home some of Jim’s suggested titles to try out.  In preparation for our monthly conversations, I have listed my top ten takeaways from this resource. These conversations will take place every first Tuesday of the month at 5:30 P.M., both in person and on Twitter at #ptchat (thanks to Joe Mazza for encouraging us to use this hashtag). We hope you can join us!

  1. Being a proficient reader is the best indicator of success in school and in life. This seems to be a no-brainer. But Jim Trelease is not just referring to K-12. He cites findings…

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