What I am Reading Right Now: 9/27/14

  • The September 22, 2014 issue of Time

I try to stay up to date on my magazine subscriptions, but I often fall behind once the school year starts. This issue, however, I have made time to read. The cover story “Never Offline” by Lev Grossman and Matt Valla was exceptionally well written. They profile the new Apple Watch within the larger context of how technology is consistently creeping closer toward us as wearables. What’s next? The future is both bright and disturbing. The related articles are also worth reading.

  • The New York Times

I started subscribing back in July. They have an educator’s discount for digital editions Monday through Saturday, and the paper edition on Sunday. The local and state papers were fine, but I felt like I was missing out on a larger conversation, both informatively and culturally.

  • Educational Leadership, “Instruction That Sticks” (October 2014)

To be honest, I have just perused the titles of the articles when time has allowed at school. Every one looks excellent. Another principal in Wisconsin uses grant money to provide subscriptions of this educational journal for all of his staff. I can see why.

  • Teacher Rounds: A Guide to Collaborative Learning In and From Practice by Thomas Del Prete (Corwin, 2013)

This resource provided the template for visiting staff last year when they came to observe our teachers as part of a grant we received. Now I am reading through the entire text, before we move forward with our own teachers observing each other. Getting to this point has been a process, but the destination would not be attainable without building relationships and developing a culture of trust with staff first.

  • The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, 10th Anniversary Edition by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2007)

Our first meeting for the school year was facilitated by two Courage to Teach trainers. We didn’t look at new curriculum materials, discuss the assessment calendar, or introduce technology into our busy lives. Instead, we gathered at a shelter surrounded by woods and lake, wireless gladly absent, and reflected on why we became teachers in the first place. This led me to start reading the book this program was based on. With everything coming at us as educators, I cannot imagine a better time to remember why we do what we do.

  • Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan (Penguin, 2013)

I wish Michael Pollan cared as much about education has he does about gardening and food. He has a true passion for his subject – he lives it. When he writes about gardening, he gardens. When he writes about cooking, he cooks. Today’s educational journalists would be wise to emulate Pollan’s approach and actually teach a class or two before writing about what it is like to be a teacher.

  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown, 2012)

You may have noticed that I read too much nonfiction. With that in mind, I have decided to try this title and recently read the first chapter. My wife highly recommended it. I can see why. The opening immediately sets the tone for the entire book (I am guessing, anyway). With the movie coming out soon, I will be interested in comparing both versions.

  • Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue: An Origami Yoda Book by Tom Angleberger (Harry N. Abrams, 2014)

I read aloud the first title in this series to my son. What a great story! He has proceeded to read all the subsequent titles up until this one. We were informed by a friend that there is a chapter that has some content that I may want to preview first. My son is only a second grader and reads about grade level, so he might not be ready for this content yet. I’ll have to determine that before letting him move on.

Top Ten Signs You Might Be an Avid Reader

This post is inspired by Peter Johnston when he spoke at the Wisconsin State Reading Association conference this year. He suggested we measure student reading engagement with questions that identify what happens when someone truly is a reader. I left the last three slots open. What would you ask?

Top Ten Signs You Might Be an Avid Reader

  1. Do you get upset when a teacher or parent tells you to stop reading and go to another activity?
  2. Have you ever accidentally walked into something while reading? (Johnston)
  3. While reading, did a large amount of time pass without you realizing it? (Allington)
  4. Have you purchased both the print and digital version of the same book, just in case you need to reference it at any time?
  5. Are you reluctant to mark up the pages, for fear that the person you lend the book to will not appreciate it?
  6. Do you sometimes refrain from reading before bed, because you may stay up too late?
  7. Do you have at least two books on deck?

I Say Let Them Read

This post is actually a comment I left on Annie Murphy Paul’s blog, on her post titled “Teens Are Choosing Books That Are Too Easy For Them”.

Where I agree with the concerns of this report is that secondary students do need more guided instruction. By guided, I mean the teacher conferring with readers on a regular basis, asking them questions about the text and giving support in the form of strategy instruction. And I am not against reading the classics and being challenged as a reader from time to time. But the job of the teacher is to scaffold the students’ experiences with the text so they are successful, with strategies such as questioning and graphic organizers. It shouldn’t be left to the parents.

That said, this report fails to cite any research that would give any validity to these concerns. What research says about reading text that is “easy” for students is very clear:

- The most effective teachers provide text for students they could easily read (Allington and Johnston, 2002; Keene, 2002; Langer, 2001)
– High levels of reading accuracy produce the best reading growth (Ehri et al, 2007)
– Reading comprehension predicts reading volume and reading comprehension performance (Guthrie et al, 1999)

You can read more about this research in the excellent resource What Really Matters in Response to Intervention by Richard Allington. I also recommend his article Intervention All Day Long, found at http://goo.gl/lTWuH. In the article, Dr. Allington actually goes into a secondary school and concretely shows the fallacy of matching readers with text that is too difficult.

Where some seem to see a problem in students not selecting challenging texts, I see this issue as a success story. Students are reading! Who here reads books because they are challenging? I don’t. I choose to read text that is interesting, engaging, and meaningful to me as a reader and a person. Sounds like this is what these students are doing. For the most part, I say leave them alone and let them read.

Questions Readers Ask Other Readers

In my school, reading intervention for 4th and 5th graders very much resembles a book club. There are a) lots of books that the readers are interested in, b) not a lot of tests or assignments, and c) lots of time to read. In fact, we call it “Howe Book Club”. The word “intervention” is not in the students’ lexicon. It takes place both during the school day in the afternoon and after school twice a week. It was designed this year based on a post from the Stenhouse blog.

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Now in full swing, we are tweaking things here and there to keep the kids reading. Example: Students were becoming less engaged in the paperbacks we had purchased for them. In response, we allocated some funds to purchased eReaders and allowed the students to choose the digital books to be downloaded on the devices.

Another area identified for growth is to encourage better conversations between the students about what they are reading. In her book The Reading Zone (2007), Nancie Atwell provides some excellent openers kids can respond to as well as questions they can ask each other. On page 83 in Chapter 7 (One-to-One), she suggests some of the following prompts:

I liked the way the author…

This book remind me of…

I’d say a theme of this book is…

I couldn’t understand…

Why did…?

She also shares many questions she asks her students as she “roams among readers” (92). I think many of these would be just as applicable when students talk to their peers about what they are reading:

What page are you on?

What do you think so far?

How is it so far, compared to his or her other books?

What genre is this one?

Why did you decide to read this one?

Where did you find this book?

Is this one worthy of a book talk?

What are you planning to read next?

The plan is to put some of these questions and prompts on a handy reference card and on a poster in our library where the intervention takes place. This skill will first need to be modeled by the interventionists, which consist of current and retired teachers. They could do this at the beginning of each session, where time is set aside for the adult to read aloud a favorite book to the group.

Once the students get the hang of speaking like readers, they can facilitate conversations both in person and online. There is time built in for each student to share something that resonated with them from what they are reading in their small group. We will also have them set up in a class on Edmodo. This will allow students to continue their conversations beyond the official intervention time.

These activities we are facilitating for our students are authentic and engaging. They are doing what real readers do – read books, write and share about what they read, listen to others talk about their experiences, and then find more books to read.

A Takeaway from the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention

This is part of a post I shared with my teachers this week on our staff blog. It is a summary of what I took away from the excellent WSRA Convention in Milwaukee on February 7-9, 2013.

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The Wisconsin State Reading Association conference was an excellent experience. I attended very informative sessions and had great conversations with other educators. You can read all of the tweets associated with five of the keynotes and sessions on my Storify page. I plan to share more both formally and informally.

One of the common threads during the conference was the Common Core. But not in the way I expected. Instead of hearing how schools should be addressing these standards in everything we do, the presenters encouraged us to take it slow. Focus on the students. Consider what engages them. If we can continue to make school a place of joy and allow students to achieve their personal learning goals, the Common Core will take care of itself.

Not to say that the CCSS should be relegated to the sidelines. Many well known educators and researchers such as Jeff Wilhelm and Regie Routman encouraged everyone to use what is laid out in the Common Core, but as a resource instead of a focus. These standards are not what students come to school for every day. They attend to our instruction and their learning because they want to become better readers and writers, and they believe you can help them along the way. Let’s stay the course and not get too excited about what is coming. What we know to be best practices will carry us through.

Feedback After an Evernote and iPad Workshop

I recently hosted a one hour technology session for district staff. The topic: Using Evernote on the iPad to Confer With and Assess Readers.

Afterward, I emailed each participant a survey via Google Forms to gather feedback. The last question I posed was, “What is one way you see using Evernote with the iPad in your current teaching position?” Here are their responses:

“I plan to have students read and record them, then play back. I am working on fluency with a lot of kids and I would like them to hear themselves. I’m not sure on the conferencing part/note taking yet, but we’ll see as I mess with it. With things like this I don’t make plans, I just jump in and see where it takes me.”

“I plan on recording students’ one minute reading fluency assessments and then embedding a picture of the actual passage they read with miscues and self-corrections marked. I am also going to take a pic of a page in their independent reading book and record them reading as part of my ‘running records on the fly'”

“I plan to record running records and allow students to hear themselves read, both immediately after reading and later on in the year (to show growth).”

“Photograph and save student work samples using hash tags so that I can easily access them later.”

“During running records: record students’ reading of the selection in order to score/check the record at a later time. This allows for me to focus on fluency during the assessment as well as have documentation of the students’ reading at that point in time.”

“I plan to use this when I conference with my students. It is my hope to try this today!”

“I could see myself taking a picture of what a student is working on and sharing it with the classroom teacher.”

“In Reading Intervention, I could record a students’ reading of a passage and replay it for them to hear. Together we could discuss strengths and weaknesses and set goals for improvement.”

“I plan to use Evernote by making notes as I meet with students during guided reading groups. Each group is reading a different book that they were able to choose. I will use it to create a notebook for each group. – Jot down their predictions and record audio of students reading and/or our group discussions at the end of each chapter.”

“I don’t have my own iPad, so I don’t see myself continuing with this. Maybe having your own iPad should be a requirement for this course.”

“I find this to be effective for my guided reading. I can keep all of my notes together instead of having a post-it here and a post-it there. I can view my notes from home too without having to bring my notes home with me.”

“I started using Evernote the next day. I took pictures of student tradition writing and them recorded their voice reading it. Next I am going to use volunteers to display on reflection and go through the process of editing on the SMARTboard.”

I am scheduled to run this workshop again for Central Wisconsin reading teachers in January. This information is invaluable to me as I think about how I will change my instruction to better meet the needs of the participants.

Examples of Practice: Using iPads and Evernote When Assessing Readers

All K-12 teachers are reading teachers. The school, grade level and content area we work in does not matter. In every classroom, a random group of students will come in with varying degrees of reading ability. And their levels of ability can and do differentiate based on which skill we choose to focus on. That is why it is so critical that teachers have sound understanding of where there students are at in their ability to decode and comprehend text. When we know them as readers, we are better at helping them choose books for themselves, we tailor instruction to meet their specific needs, and we know when to release the learning responsibility to the student so they can become independent readers.

I share this because in a few days I am going to make a case to approximately 20 or so K-12 teachers that using Evernote on an iPad can enhance their abilities to better assess their students’ literacy skills. Two things I have learned through exploring technology is that a) the “why” needs to come before the “how” and the “what” (Sinek, 2010), and b) the technology should support best practices in the classroom. Form follows function.

The “Why”

Dr. Ruben Puentedura developed a framework to help educators understand the place of technology in the context of learning and education. It is titled SAMR, which stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.

SAMR_model
(Image retrieved from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/)

This framework shows how the various levels of learning can be raised with the appropriate integration of technology. This bears the question: Is a student not able to reach their potential in the absence of these tools? I don’t know that yet. However, if there are ways to enhance learning in the classroom and we choose to not leverage it, this may be irresponsible of us as educators.

The “How”

The iPad is a computer in the loosest of terms. Yes, you can use it to type a letter, email a friend, and post something on Facebook. What separates it from other computing devices such as the desktop is its mobility, the engagement factor, content creation and integration.

Mobility
Any teacher can use tools such as Evernote to store student information. What makes the iPad (and other mobile devices) a better fit is it can travel with the teacher. No longer do students always have to come to the bean-shaped table for small group and one-on-one instruction. The teacher now comes to them. If you think about it, this is big. The student is not singled out, the conferring and assessing can happen anywhere the student feels comfortable, and the technology allows the teacher to teach and assess concurrently.

Engagement
I don’t know what it is about these devices that just captures the students’ attention. An example: I was using the Reflection app to mirror the iPad screen to the whiteboard. Second graders and I were using Notability to compare and contrast the book and eBook version of The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. I started the Venn diagram, then handed off the writing responsibility to the closest student. With the iPad on their lap and stylus in hand, he wrote one of his ideas down on the screen. There was no hesitation on his part. This might have been different had I asked him to go to the board and write in front of peers. What was also interesting was that the entire class was reading the words as this student wrote them.

Content Creation and Integration
The compare and contrast notes the second graders and I made together could be a start to other projects. We could use these notes to write a persuasive essay on Pages and then publish it on a classroom blog. We could create illustrations on Drawing Pad and then use them in an iMovie to highlight the elements of a story. I could go on and on. The possibilities that come with the iPad are multiplied because so many of the applications work in concert with each other. With a simple multi-finger swipe, I can switch from one app to another as I put together a project.

The “What”

Here is how I see teachers using Evernote on the iPad to assess readers. For a framework, I am using the “Assessment to Instruction” steps outlined in The CAFE Book by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. After each step I also identified the step’s level on the SAMR ladder, based on how the technology would be used to enhance practice.

Two things before getting started:

  • I recommend setting up an Evernote account prior to using it in the classroom. Create a notebook for each student. Also, find out what your Evernote email address is so you send information to a specific notebook with ease.
  • With each step, put the step’s description in the title of the note. Create a new note for each step of the assessment process.

1.  Assess Individual Student (Augmentation)

Take a running record of a student. Then take a picture of it with the iPad and email it to Evernote using your Evernote email account. To put the image of the running record into that student’s notebook, put the notebook title in the subject line of the email message preceded by the @ sign (i.e. @Mike). To add tags, use the same process, only put a hashtag in front of each key word (i.e. #September #BB16 #GR18). If your assessing skills are a little rusty, I highly recommend Peter Johnston’s Running Records as a quick resource.

For older kids or when a running record is not enough, Janet Allen offers a variety of ideas that could also be used to assess readers in her resource Yellow Brick Roads, such as surveys, observations, checklists and sentence completions.

2.  Discuss Findings with Students (Modification)

What Evernote provides is the ability to record audio while taking notes. A teacher can go back to this recording and listen again for what the student said. The student could also be given an opportunity to listen to your discussion of the findings later in the year. Seems like a great opportunity for both teacher and student to reflect on their growth as a reader.

3.  Set Goal and Identify Strategies with Student, and

4.  Student Declares Goal on Menu (Augmentation)

With a copy of The Literacy CAFE Menu in front of you, create a new note to document this information. If the strategies and goal are also included as tags in the note, they will be more easily accessible when needed. Also, as a teacher plans for guided reading, he or she can quickly search among tags for a specific strategy to work on. This could greatly enhance the concept of flexible grouping. The same process might take a bit longer with a three ring binder. In addition, snap a picture of their goal and add it to the note for a visual component.

Quick iPad tip: Tags are added by selecting the circle button with the “i” in the middle, located on the top right.

5.  Teacher Fills Out Individual Reading Conference Form (Augmentation)

Again, using tags to note the students’ strengths, goals and strategies will make his or her information easier to find later. Once conferring commences, I could see a teacher using this one note six times before creating a new one. This would involve adding the categories outlined in the CAFE Reading Conference template each time (date, touch point, observation and instruction, next steps).

6. Teacher Fills Out Strategy Groups Form (Modification)

If a teacher is looking to start strategy group instruction based on similar skills (found through tags), he or she can pull students together based on need by creating a Notebook Stack. As far as I can tell, this can only be done on a PC. Just drag one student’s notebook over another and a stack is created. Once a student has shown proficiency in that strategy, he or she can be pulled out of that stack to another group.

But where do the strategy group notes go? My suggestion would be to create a whole new notebook within the stack to house these notes.

7.  Instruction (Redefinition)

This is where Evernote can be a real game changer. The whole point of assessment is to inform instruction in order to impact learning. If I were still in the classroom, I could imagine pulling up my students’ notes as I planned for future literacy instruction. Instead of hunting for each student’s individual goals and strategies, a quick search in Evernote will pull up what you need to know in a matter of seconds. Groups are quickly formed. They aren’t based on reading level either; instruction is tailored to meet specific needs. Students can receive guided reading instruction at the appropriate complexity level without feeling like they are in the “low” group.

Embedding formative assessment in the planning of instruction tends to get lost in the process when everything else needs attention too. Evernote and the iPad are tools that have the potential to both increase productivity and enhance the instructional practices of teachers.

Resources Cited

Allen, Janet (2000). Yellow Brick Roads. Stenhouse: Portland, ME

Boushey, Gail and Moser, Joan (2009). The CAFE Book. Stenhouse: Portland, ME

Johnston, Peter (2000). Running Records: A Self-Tutoring Guide. Stenhouse: Portland, ME

Puentedura, Ruben (2012). Building Upon SAMR. Slideshow retrieved from http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/

Sinek, Simon (2010). Start With Why. Video retrieved from http://www.ted.com/speakers/simon_sinek.html