Examples of Practice: Using the iPad to Model Writing

In a recent post, I wrote about using everybody books to teach content. The example I provided focused on hurricanes, a timely topic right now. I ended the post by suggesting the classroom could use their new knowledge and summarize their learning through writing.

Since then, my very efficient technology specialist installed the Reflection app on all of our classroom workstations that are connected to the SmartBoards. This allows the teachers to mirror what is on their iPad to the screen. Excited, I decided to try out this new technology and model how to use it for the students and the teacher.

Model It

After finishing reading aloud a book on hurricanes, I wirelessly connected my iPad to the computer through Reflection and opened up Notability. With this app, I was able to use a stylus and write important information they suggested about hurricanes. Then the students asked more questions they had about hurricanes. We highlighted which questions we thought we could answer with another print resource.

Here is what we developed today.

So how does using the iPad augment this activity?

I can face the kids while teaching. I don’t have to go between the paper and the students. This would be true even if I was writing under a document camera. In fact, I could have sat with the students on the floor while writing, maybe even allowing them to do some of the writing and make it interactive. I believe combining the technology with my proximity to the students enhanced my instruction when compared to writing on chart paper or the board.

I am also finding that just using the technology while teaching increases the engagement level of the students. It’s not the novelty of the device either; this teacher has had an iPad in her classroom for almost a year. For instance, as I wrote today, the second grade students were very quick to tell me when my writing defaulted to my native cursive. I have had similar experiences when reading aloud a book that is digitally projected on the SmartBoard. Why they clue in a bit more when technology is part of the instruction is a question I am still trying to answer.

Celebrate It

After we were done, I emailed a copy of our writing to the teacher. She can print it off and post it in the room, or make several copies and put the writing in their book boxes to reread later. I have noticed students really enjoy reading text they created themselves or as a group.

I also want to recognize the teacher for being a learner along with me. One way I do this is sharing what they are doing in their classrooms in my Friday Focus, a weekly staff newsletter initially developed by Todd Whitaker.  For example, tomorrow I will describe the second quarter writing goals the second grade team is developing with their students to personalize their learning…

…and tie in how we took our instruction to the next level with the help of technology.

Second grade team is working with their students to set personal writing goals. This can help them become more self-directed learners. I even got involved in their studies, by using the iPad and the Reflection app to model writing.

Examples of Practice: iPads in the Primary Classroom

In a recent post in Education Week, Justin Reich (@bjfr) strongly encourages teachers who have iPads in their classrooms to make their teaching visible. He recognizes that schools are quickly adopting this tool for instruction, but is concerned that teachers are not sharing what they are doing with others through social media. Justin goes on to say that in order to develop a vision of how iPads can be effectively used in schools, we need to see how other teachers are augmenting their instruction and then discuss these strategies.

I couldn’t agree more. Even though I love my iPad, I have been somewhat hesitant to just throw them in classrooms and see what happens. (I recently wrote a post about my experience piloting these devices last year.) We are somewhere in the middle on technology integration; our school is not 1:1, but all teachers have an iPad and more are possibly on the way for students in the form of a mobile lab and classroom workstations. The approach I have taken in my school is to teach the teachers first on how to use them, in addition to encouraging them to explore the possibilities. You could break this learning process down into two categories: Model It and Celebrate It.

Model It

I recently discovered the app Felt Board and instantly recognized the potential it has in the primary literacy classroom. I could share this app through email, or even download it specially for teachers whom I think would benefit from using it in their instruction. However, the best approach I have found for introducing technology tools to teachers is through interactive modeling.

For example, I recently used part of my regular read aloud time in my kindergarten classrooms to recreate a part of a story I just shared. I used a document camera and asked students to help me develop the scene, incorporating both visuals and words. Once completed, I snapped a photo of it to the Camera Roll. Then we used iMovie to record one of the students reading the text from the board. Picture and audio were uploaded to Vimeo and we were then able to share it with parents at home through the web link. Here are three we created so far.

I Must Have Bobo! by Eileen Rosenthal
Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
I have also used iMovie on the iPad to create book trailers. Here is my son sharing one of his favorite books and why he likes it.

For more information, Matt Gomez (@Matt_Gomez) wrote a post about Felt Board and how he uses it in his kindergarten classroom. Like the app, it is well worth a look.

Celebrate It
My staff are starting to use these devices in highly effective ways, without a lot of support from me. It is exciting to see what they come up with. For example, when I walked into my school’s library this morning, I saw a display set up by one of my second grade teachers, Mrs. Heyroth (@MrsHeyroth). She and her students wrote a classroom book based on the story There Was an Old Lady Who Wasn’t Afraid of Anything. Better yet, she used GarageBand and iMovie on her device to create a digital version of their book. Each student was recorded reading one of the pages. I recognized her efforts by pulling some pictures together and sending her a collage using Frame Magic.
I also plan to share this with the rest of my staff. They can see what is possible with mobile devices such as iPads and apply this example to their own classroom.

Why I Became a Principal

I have been asked why I became an elementary school principal, by educators in the classroom and by prospective administrators curious about my position. Here are a few reasons off the top of my head:

1. I Didn’t Have to Leave the Classroom

When I began teaching, I fully intended to end my educational career as a teacher. That is, until my principal read aloud in my classroom. Watching him share his favorite literature with my students, interacting with them not as the authority figure but rather as a knowledgeable and caring adult, opened my eyes to the concept that a principal isn’t necessarily a suit sitting behind a desk. It was an “Ah ha” moment for me, probably similar to when students see their teacher at Wal-Mart and realize he or she doesn’t live at school. I am proud to say that I continue this practice of reading aloud to students on a regular basis.

2. I Had Some Great Principals

I am very fortunate to have had three terrific administrators to work for, as an intern, as a teacher, and as an assistant principal. All three had a unique way of leading, which helped me determine what kind of principal I wanted to be. What did they all had in common?

  • They put students first.
  • They made decisions based on what was best for student learning.
  • They didn’t lose their cool when problems came up.
  • They always had time to listen.
  • They were honest and forthright. I knew where I stood with them at all times.

I definitely was not the perfect staff member; I made several mistakes along the way toward my current position. However, they allowed me to deal with those situations and help reflect upon how I could have done things differently, rather than step in and try to prevent struggles. I was allowed to learn from my mistakes.

3. I Was a Good Teacher

One of my former administrators once asked me, “What type of teacher is most suited for the principalship?” I didn’t know, I said. “The best teacher in the building,” he replied. At first, I questioned this logic. Why would a great teacher step out of the classroom and give up the opportunity to make an impact on kids? As I found out, I continue to make a difference. I do this by falling back on what I know great teaching looks like. I use this knowledge to guide my staff on the path of constant growth.

I believe I was successful as a teacher, and I became better every year. This gives me the experience, validity and respect to observe in any classroom and determine the effectiveness of the instruction. If I wasn’t a good teacher, how could I ever possibly be an instructional leader in my school? If you are a teacher, I encourage you to find out what your principal did before his or her current position. You may be surprised. Most if not all administrators do not let their teaching licenses expire. Many continue to teach, even if it isn’t always in the classroom.

4. It Is a Challenge

I am not saying that teaching is any less challenging. It is just a different type of challenge. Instead of keeping 25 students focused on the activity for the day, I am expected to help that one student who doesn’t want to participate to turn it around and get back into class.

One of the first ways I experienced this new kind of challenge was when I participated in building and district committees. These activities gave me the opportunity to see what it was like to lead an initiative and work with teachers on buy-in for an upcoming change. I found that I enjoyed collaborating with adults in this capacity, even if it was sometimes a struggle. The success we achieved together validated the effort and made the process that much more rewarding.

5. It Is a Change

One colleague of mine described entering the principalship as taking on an entirely new profession. This is very true in many ways. For example, no longer are you beholden to the almighty school schedule. For the most part, I am able to allocate time that I feel best benefits my students and aligns with my building’s goals.

I started to feel the urge to venture out into new territory in the latter part of my teaching career. I was very happy in the classroom, don’t get me wrong.  At the same time I saw the opportunity to become a building administrator as a way to make a positive impact on student learning in a broader sense.  I am able to be a part of more learning endeavors and participate in the entire school experience with everyone in the building.

For current principals, what would you add to this list? For prospective principals, how are you learning more about this great profession? Please share in the comments.

Beliefs vs. Values

My school is at a point of transition. We are nearing the completion of a three year professional development plan involving the Reading-Writing Connection, developed by Regie Routman. We have seen evidence that the instructional framework we have incorporated into our classrooms, the Optimal Learning Model, has helped increase student achievement. Our core literacy beliefs grew from only two the first year to eight this year. The staff participated in many different professional development activities over the three year period to arrive at this point.

So where do we go from here? Are beliefs alone enough? These were a few thoughts that have recently come to mind.  As a leader, I think it is okay to sometimes have more questions than answers. To seek more information and consider the next steps, I started learning more about professional learning communities. Over the summer, I read Professional Learning Communities at Work by Rick DuFour and Robert Eaker. This is a great place to start the journey toward developing collaborative teams with a singular focus of student learning.

However, one section of the resource touched on beliefs in a way that was different than what I had previously understood. The authors stated that beliefs alone were not enough. You needed to have values. The authors define values as core statements that clarify how a shared vision, or a list of beliefs, becomes a reality. It was made clear that as leaders, we need to focus on behaviors, not beliefs.

Okay, this is a problem, I initially thought. How can two highly respected educators such as Regie Routman and Rick DuFour be on opposite ends of the spectrum on this issue? Confused, I went back into the resources my school team received at a literacy and leadership institute.

I found my answer. Judy Wallis, a literacy consultant, explained that beliefs and values (also called “practices”) are part of a continuum for a school in change. She explained that schools can develop their shared beliefs first. These are the principles that, as Judy put it, you would be willing to fall on your sword for. An example she shared was, “We believe students should have wide access to books they can and want to read.” Would any educator worth their salt disagree with this belief?

Once beliefs are established, schools can then consider their practices, or values. Judy defined these practices as beliefs in action. Reading the previous paragraph, a value for the example belief could be, “A sufficient amount of time will be allocated for independent reading every day”.  This makes sense to me now. You cannot have one without the other. A common language is required if we are expected to implement common practices. This is especially needed in today’s educational world where the initiative du jour can cause a school to lose their focus on best practices and student learning.

Does your school have a set of common beliefs and practices that you all adhere to? How did you get to this point? Please share in the comments, as my school is very much still on the pathway toward becoming a community of learners. If your building has not started discussing your shared beliefs and you are not sure where to begin, I highly recommend Richard Allington’s Educational Leadership article Every Child, Every Day. My staff read it and discussed it briefly, but we only touched on a few aspects. I believe a school could take this one article and spend an entire year discussing the six elements and how they fit with current literacy practices.

Our School’s 21st Century PD Plan

After much thought, lots of professional reading, and many conversations with practitioners and experts, I felt ready to put together this coming year’s professional development plan. I find it helpful to create a visual of the goals. Using Grafio on the iPad, I was able to develop a snapshot of what this year’s learning will look like:

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What I Feel Good About
“Year 3” in the middle just signifies that we are in the third year of our three year professional development cycle. We are using the Regie Routman in Residence series Reading-Writing Connection. The Optimal Learning Model (OLM) is a framework of instruction similar to the gradual release of responsibility process. (Last year our main focus was implementing the OLM; the year before was an introduction of the OLM).

The three main components of the plan are continuations of where we are at and where we want to be. Example: Last year half the staff had iPads for instruction and intervention; this year all staff will be using them. If we don’t set aside time to learn how to effectively use these powerful teaching tools, we aren’t tapping into their true potential.

I also like that all learning is supported by our foundation, the Optimal Learning Model. Anything we set out to learn as a staff, as a grade level team or as an individual comes back to this framework. It is the coatrack that we can hang our instructional hats on. Teachers have autonomy within this framework to pursue specific interests they believe will best address their students’ needs. At the same time, we all move together toward the same vision of ensuring students receive the best learning experience possible.

The Unknown
At first glance, it looks as if this plan does not address some of the pressing topics out there in education, such as Common Core and Response to Intervention (RtI). However, as Prego states, “It’s in there.” We will address the new standards when we agree as a group what is essential to see in the classroom during instructional walkthroughs. Likewise, RtI is embedded in our plan, whether through PBIS or strengthening our core instruction.

A new shift to note is giving technology as much of a focus as it has, being one of the three main goals for the building. We have allocated a significant amount of our Title I dollars into purchasing iPads and apps. It’s a bit scary when I think about investing in this yet-to-be proven tool for instruction as we have. However, the potential that this technology has to engage students and make the learning tasks more relevant for them is too strong to ignore.

What are your thoughts? Have I missed anything, or have I given something too much focus? Your feedback is appreciated.

Summarizing a Book Study with Prayer Cards

If you are Catholic, you may have recently noticed the changes in our prayers and responses. To help remember these changes, my church created double-sided laminated cards with the revised language.

In one of those rare moments when I was not totally focused on the homily, my mind began to wander back to these prayer cards, thinking, “Would something like this be useful after reading an educational resource?”. Everyone is different in how they curate the important information they glean from a worthy text. Some educators like me write in the margins while others highlight. A few people I know are so careful about leaving the book as they found it that you would not find one underline or a note in the entire volume. The difficulty I find with all of these methods is teachers have limited time to go back, look in a book and pull out what is needed for their instruction and planning.

What I believe matters most when doing a book study, either school wide or in a small group, is that we are applying what we learned as a group directly to the classroom. All staff should be making a concerted effort to improve as a whole building so that students receive consistently effective instruction year after year. As chance would have it, my school just recently finished the book Teaching Essentials by Regie Routman. Using my church's prayer card as a model, I lifted the most important/talked about/thought-provoking/necessary statements from Regie's book and put it in these cards. Much of what I took is based on the staff book discussions I observed, along with concepts we needed to keep at the forefront of our minds.

At one of our last staff gatherings, I distributed these “Prayer Cards” as a way to celebrate our learning.

I see a number of benefits to providing this document as part of our professional development book study. First, everyone has the important concepts at hand so they can be transferred from mind to action more easily. Learning lost is nothing gained. Second, staff know it is expected we apply this knowledge to the classroom. It's not enough to sign off on a plan saying we completed so many hours of professional development; we as educators need to put our plans into action. Lastly, I believe it is important that kids see these cards in the classroom. As an example, some of the teachers taped them down to their desk, while others posted them on their personal bulletin board or made bookmarks out of them for their lesson plan books. However they are visible, students seeing a product of their teacher's growth sends a strong message about how learning never stops.

 

I Read (and Wrote) to the Principal

When I moved into my new office last August, I found approximately 800 green pencils with “I Read to the Principal” printed on them, left for me by my predecessor.

Save that thought.

In my last blog post The Principal as a Writer, I wrote about how I modeled writing for my students and staff using Moleskine notebooks and a document camera. The modeling component of instruction is essential, but so is giving students the opportunity to practice their skills. As I have learned, student work should be authentic and relevant to their own lives.

I hoped that the students would be as motivated as I was to write about books I enjoyed. With that, I purchased one Moleskine journal for each classroom in which I regularly read aloud. Once they had seen me write a review, I handed off their classroom journal, with the following expectations:

1. They only put books in the journal that they truly enjoyed (four out of five stars or better).
2. They had to write to an audience, namely their classmates, their teacher and me.
3. They had to include their name as the reviewer. The idea behind this is classmates would presumably read the book review journal looking for their next great read. When they found a book that interested them, they could talk to the reviewer to get more information.
4. When students completed a review, they were encouraged to read their review to me in my office. Their purpose was to convince me to read the book they liked, as I had limited time to sort through all the literature out there.

Moleskine journals were now available in an opportune place in the classroom. Student book reviews commenced! Some classrooms used them more often than others. When I had not recently received a visit from a room, I again modeled a book review for that class in my own Moleskine journal, then encouraged the students to do the same.

Here is a third grader reading aloud his book review to me back in April.

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This is the book that he was trying to convince me to read through his review.

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He had me at “gruesome”.

After sharing, I gave each student one of the “I Read to the Principal ” pencils. What was nice was that they read to me their own writing. This practice corresponds with a number of my building’s beliefs we unanimously agreed upon as a staff, including:

Young children do not need to know all their letters and sounds before they can write stories and read back their own writing.

Shared writing text involving common experiences are often the easiest text to read.

A Couple of Reflections

– Writing for an authentic purpose is so critical. I couldn’t imagine writing this very post if I didn’t think I had an audience to read it or an opportunity for some constructive feedback. I imagine students feel the same way.
– Book reviews are a form of persuasive writing, an essential skill for students and for informed citizens.
– The reading-writing connection is a concept stressed by Regie Routman and other literacy experts. Reading makes better writers, and writing makes better readers.
– As a principal, this is another opportunity for me to visit with students in a positive context.

“Making meaning is good. Doing meaningful things is better.”- Peter Johnston, Opening Minds