How Should Keyboarding Be Taught in Elementary Schools?

In this recent article for Ed Tech magazine, I share our district’s process for bringing keyboarding back into the K-5 setting.

Yes, this was prompted by the upcoming computerized tests next year. But what about the benefits we can gain from these mandates? For example, our fifth graders and their classroom teachers were introduced to Google Drive. The keyboarding teacher infused many tips and tricks for using Google Apps in the classroom while teaching this skill. By the end of the year, our students had greatly improved their keying skills. It most definitely helped that they learned this skill within the context of authentic literacy work, such as collaborative writing.

If you are at the K-5 level, how have you addressed keyboarding in preparation for these tests? Please share in the comments.


Google or Evernote: Which Tool Do You Prefer for Capturing Student Learning?

This question, in so many words, was asked by Cathy Mere. She is wondering about the same thing that I am, and maybe you are too. Here is my response:


photo credit: melenita2012 via photopin cc

I have three reading interventionists in my building. One of them started using Evernote with her iPad this year. Her goal was to capture her students’ learning both with audio and images. She had a couple of challenging learners, and was looking to help them identify their own progress through self-assessment. She had her students listen to themselves read after recording them. This teacher also shared her students’ notebooks with our district’s lead interventionist via Evernote as an accountability piece.

She used Evernote because, I believe, that is what our building is using. Several training sessions were provided for all staff on this tool. When she shared a note with another teacher, everyone was using the same tool. I share this because when thinking about a digital tool to capture student learning, I believe it is important that the collaborators are at least familiar with the medium. However, we also have to use the tool that works for us, especially when trying to document learning in the middle of instruction.

I like Google; don’t get me wrong. It is such powerful technology for professional collaboration and documentation. Our whole staff uses Google Drive for meeting minutes and for our digital data wall. Many of the 4th and 5th graders also using Google for writing and presentations.

But I think the efficiencies only go so far with Google. Great for storage, creation and collaboration, but does it provide a way for teachers to methodically go back through student artifacts and find themes and patterns? Evernote does, because of it’s ability to tag notes and to put several related artifacts within one note.

At the same time…

I felt like our digital portfolios were really helpful with students assessing their own work, and parents seeing their work throughout the year, but what about staff being able to use these artifacts for their own learning?

To sum up, whatever tool we use to collect, organize, analyze, and reflect on student learning has to be meaningful and essential for all those involved in the process. This includes teachers. Our goal as reflective practitioners is to become better at our profession. It happens when we become students of our own instruction.

Four Middle Level Books I Would Like to Read This Summer


This title won the E.B. White Read Aloud Honor in 2011. It chronicles the friendship between a group of mice and a cat during the time of Charles Dickens. In fact, the author himself frequents the inn where this novel takes place. An initial listing of characters with names such as Pip alludes to the possibility of many Dickens references throughout the story. My favorite so far (on the back cover): “He was the best of toms. He was the worst of toms.”


I see this title frequently mentioned on Twitter by other educators. After picking it up at my local book store, I sent out this tweet:

It resulted in at least half a dozen replies, all highly recommending it. This fantasy novel pits four orphans against each other in a deadly competition to impersonate the king’s missing son, in order to avoid civil war. After an initial preview, I get the feeling it is The Hunger Games meets Crispin: The Cross of Lead. The False Prince is part of a series, like the other two books mentioned.


My kids have checked out this title as an audiobook on Playaway a few times from our public library. Their frequent laughter while listening has piqued my interest. A girl’s “hippy” parents have been kidnapped by foxes. She hires two rabbits (hence the title) after learning she can speak animal. Also fun is that the author, Mrs. Bunny, has a blog.


Although I cannot say for sure, this second book in The Sixties Trilogy appears to combine primary historical documents from that time period with a narrative of kids experiencing the Civil Rights Movement. It almost has the feel of Brian Selznick’s books The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Thunderstruck. The difference: The artifacts and photos support the story with both imagery and facts.

What is on your reading list for middle level titles this summer? Please share in the comments.

Learning is Messy


Learning is Messy

My son and daughter, ages seven and five respectively, wanted to help me put together this garden last night. My son’s job was to assist me in stacking and sliding the cedar boards together. My daughter distributed the screws to me, one at a time, when I was ready to drill the boards together.

This set up worked fine, until my son decided to chop off the tops of some of the bee balm growing by the house with his toy sword. This led to my daughter, in her attempt to redirect her brother, dropping one of the wood screws. My wife saved the day, finding it in the grass later that evening.

It would have been easier if I had just built this raised bed by myself. I really didn’t need the help. But then again, my son would not have been exposed to 90˚ angles or dovetail joints. My daughter would have been deprived of appreciating the initial fruits of our labor, even if they would result in “yucky” zucchini. In the end, we did achieve our goals. It took a little bit longer than anticipated to get there, but we arrived together.

Three Ways to Use Evernote in Action Research

We are very familiar with Evernote in our school. Our staff collects, organizes and shares out student work in the form of digital portfolios with this application via iPads. Parents can see their son’s or daughter’s progress as it is happening. Our portfolio night in April has now become a Showcase Night. Evernote’s ability to easily capture images, audio, and text makes it a necessary tool for ongoing assessment, student reflection, and responsive instruction.

But what about our own learning as professionals? Can the data and artifacts we collect help us become even more reflective about our practice? These are some of the questions we are trying to answer, in lieu of Wisconsin’s new Educator Effectiveness Plan. While teachers’ Student Learning Objectives will be measured by local and state quantitative assessments, the Professional Practice Goal is based more on qualitative data.

I was introduced to the book The Reflective Educator’s Guide to Classroom Research: Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn Through Practitioner Inquiry, 2nd Edition (Corwin, 2009) by Nancy Fitchman Dana and Diane Yendol-Hoppey from the Connected Coaching course I took last summer with Lani Ritter Hall. The authors provide a clear template of how teachers can become students of their own practice. They include several reasons for action research, such as being a powerful tool for professional development and expanding the knowledge of teaching in important ways.

In addition, Dana and Yendol-Hoppey see action research as an important vehicle for raising teachers’ voices in education reform. “While both the process-product and qualitative research paradigms have generated valuable insights into the teaching and learning process, they have not included the voices of the people closest to the children – classroom teachers” (3).

To measure one’s own practice and make improvements, several pieces of artifacts are needed to reflect on the day-to-day instruction. The authors offer several strategies for capturing our own instruction and student learning. The first strategy, Field Notes, involves scripting dialogue and conversations, recording questions the students and/or teacher asks, or noting what students are doing at particular time intervals.

Where Evernote Comes In

For scripting dialogue and conversations, I would use a Moleskine Evernote notebook. The advantage is, once you have scripted what you hear, you can scan in your notes into a specific Evernote notebook. Your handwriting is then readable if searching for specific terms. These notebooks can be assigned to a student, or to a subquestion from a teacher’s main wondering in their action research.

Evernote Snapshot 20140528 075017

The second idea from the authors when taking field notes is to have some sticky notes on your lanyard with a pen. If you want to capture student learning while teaching and don’t have a notebook around, write down what happened on the note. Evernote and Post-It have teamed up to create scannable stickies. When using an iPad or iPhone, there is an option to take a picture of a Post-It Note within Evernote. Just like the Moleskine notebooks, what you write becomes readable and searchable.

A final strategy for field notes is recording audio of students having a conversation and/or of yourself teaching.

Evernote Snapshot 20140528 075025

The authors recommend that whoever is being recorded is comfortable with the process. When this was written, iPads were not in the picture. That is why this tool, along with Evernote, can be so powerful. Students are very comfortable with these devices. Plus, the microphones are hidden.

For a more comprehensive field note, a peer observer could record audio of student conversations, while he/she also scripted specific parts of the dialogue, such as coding the level of questions asked by each learner.

How do you see technology such as Evernote augmenting action research in the classroom? Please share in the comments.

Note: All notes derive from the aforementioned resource and were written in a Moleskine Evernote notebook. All doodles are from yours truly.

Guided Reading within the Daily 5 Framework

I was filling in for a 3rd grade teacher, who needed to attend an assessment meeting on behalf of one of her students. When I walked in, she had me start the third of four rotations. She uses the Daily 5 framework in her classroom, so students not meeting with me were engaged in tasks such as reading to self or working on writing.

Our goals for guided reading: Expression; fluency; decoding; self-correcting. A tall order!

The group coming to me was reading a Time Warp Trio title. The students seemed motivated to dig back into this authentic text.

Not having taught guided reading in some time (I have been a principal for seven years now), I relied on what I know now – the Ongoing Cycle of Responsive Teaching:

OLM Cycle

I started the group by modeling what strong expression and accurate reading looks and sounds like. After I read a page aloud, I asked the students to tell me what I did well.

Student A: “Your voice went up and down.”

Me: “What do you mean?

Student B: “When there was a question mark at the end of a sentence, your voice went up at the end.”

I could have very well told the students that this is what readers do, to change the pitch of their voice based on the type of sentence. But I decided to let them arrive at this conclusion. In this manner, they own the learning and have a better chance to apply it to their own reading.

Instead of having the students each read aloud a page from our common text, I asked the group to read the next two pages silently and identify a part where expression was needed to best understand what the author was trying to convey. They read without a peep for the next couple of minutes.

When we were ready to share, I didn’t have them simply point to the line that evoked strong expression. Each student was encouraged to read aloud the text that demanded a specific tone and pitch. If we felt that the student read the part with accurate expression, we gave him or her a thumbs up. If there were corrections to be made, I briefly pointed out how they could improve, but only after I noticed what they did well.

All of this occurred while the other students were working independently. We got through two groups in my brief time there. While I asked one group to read the rest of the chapter independently, I met with another group that still needed some scaffolding. While the scaffolded group was working independently, I snuck a few minutes back to meet with the first group and check their understanding of the remainder of their reading.

Teaching is a very complex task. I have no doubt that it is one of the toughest and most rewarding jobs out there. Yet I feel that we can sometimes make our positions more difficult than necessary. By setting up a structured system, such as the Daily 5, during our literacy instruction, we give ourselves the opportunities for specific and tailored teaching for those students that need our support the most.

Turn Your Keynote into a Screencast on your MacBook Air

Save your money on screencasting apps by using Keynote on your MacBook Air.


photo credit: John Pastor via Flickr cc

1. Prepare your slides in Keynote.

2. Under “Play”, select “Record Slideshow”.

3. As you speak, use the arrows on the keyboard (instead of the TouchPad) to reduce noise.

4. Once done, under “File” select “Export to”, and then “Quick Time”.

5. Upload the video into YouTube.

Yes, it is that easy. Here is what I produced last night, on how to create digital student portfolios: