Twitter for PD? Yes! Twitter to Replace PD? Not so much

I see these types of posts once in a great while and I just shake my head:

To be transparent, the article itself nicely details a process for helping staff become more connected. I suspect the tweet was used to grab attention. Well, you got me, hook, line, and sinker…

I like Twitter. A lot. In fact, I take purposeful breaks from it (see: tech sabbaticals) just so I can clear my head and reflect on all that I have discovered from my personal learning network. It’s an awesome resource because of the number of educators on it, all sharing specific areas of expertise and conversing about best practice. I wish I had Twitter when I was teaching – I would have been so much better than I was.

But Twitter replacing professional development? No. I am surprised that I keep hearing this line. There are just some things that cannot be left to chance.

When moving a building forward in their collective instructional capacities, the only method I have found to have a profound effect on student learning is when everyone is speaking the same language. The proof is in my school. The last three years, we engaged in a reading-writing connection residency. This series of modules and activities have put us all on the same page with respect to the best ways to teach and to help students monitor their learning. This year, we are engaging in specific writing strategies for informative/explanatory texts. No one opts out. Our kids deserve the very best in what we can offer.

This would not happen via Twitter because I believe you would have a hodgepodge of practices implemented at extreme levels of fidelity, with limited ability to have deep conversations with colleagues. Everything shared in this forum is not top notch. In addition, I very much doubt that every educator would engage in professional learning via Twitter at similar levels of depth. Some educators aren’t interested, and we have to respect that.

When a community of learners participates in strong, evidence-based training, it builds trust and raises expectations. It says, “If I am going to implement this in my classroom, I want to see results, both now and in the future.” This only occurs when students get strong, consistent instruction year after year. As John Hattie found in Visible Learning for Teachers (Routledge, 2012), there are five practices that expert teachers use to profoundly effect student learning (pgs 28-32):

  • Identify the most important ways in which to represent the subject that they teach.
  • Create an optimal classroom climate for learning.
  • Monitor learning and provide feedback.
  • Believe that all students can reach the success criteria.
  • Influence surface and deep level outcomes.

While I agree that there needs to ample room for personal learning, it shouldn’t come at the expense of ignoring what the research shows. It’s not fair to kids.

A while back, a teacher on Twitter asked what digital resource is a must for all educators. I replied that the tool doesn’t matter – it is who is on the other end of the connection and the types of conversations that occur that make the difference. This led to more conversation about the power of Twitter, how it connects the world, how you can follow anyone, etc., etc. Preaching to the choir! But what if Twitter went defunct a la Google Reader? Are we versatile enough to apply the concept of connected learning to other tools, such as Google+? If we truly are life long learners, then the answer should be yes.

Recommended iPad App: Session Time Remaining Awareness Clock

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I purchased 20 copies of Session Time Remaining Awareness Clock for my teachers. It might by the worst title for an app I have seen yet, but it works like a charm.

Elementary students struggle to measure the duration of an event. My building purchased visual timers a while ago, but they are starting to break. This app, for only $1, shows how much time has passed in red, and how much to go in green. The app has fast forward and rewind buttons. It also plays chimes when time is up. I could see it being used for a math fact quiz, to measure stamina during Daily Five, or for a science experience.

What possibilities do you see? Please share in the comments.

Do We Need to Lock Down When We Power Up?

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While most secondary schools have had to wrestle with the influx of technology coming with the students, elementary schools have been mostly immune to these changes. But it is coming our way. I am sure some elementary schools have already had to address this, especially in more affluent areas where there may be more access to these resources. Kids receiving eReaders and tablets for birthdays and holidays are becoming more the norm than the new. The most notable rationale when I speak with parents about these purchases is, “I have one now, and so does my husband/wife. We thought he/she should have one too.”

I am finding myself agreeing with their reasoning. My wife and I have even discussed purchasing a simple eReader for my son. He’s an avid reader, and the idea that a book is only a click away would seem like a great way to encourage this essential skill and habit. It would be a part of his larger literacy diet of both paper and digital text. But once the technology starts coming in to school, how do we ensure that these tools are safe from damage or theft? In my school, we don’t lock the lockers. Thankfully, theft isn’t an issue I deal with often in my K-5 setting. But we are not talking about securing nominal items. These devices are significant investments, financially and in their child’s learning.

Some schools have a form that families must sign before bringing the tech. It absolves a school of any liability in case of lost or stolen items. With more families requesting that their kids bring their digital tools to school, this is something I am going to have to employ pretty soon. But they are also requesting that these tools stay secure, including putting locks on the lockers. My biggest issue I have with this is the message this sends. Locks on the lockers may convey a lack of trust. We are in an elementary school! This is not considering the more practical issues, such as how to conduct a locker search in a timely manner. A rare occurrence, but something else to consider.

As you can see, I have many more questions than answers. With technology continuing to become cheaper and subsequently more ubiquitous, I’m sure other elementary leaders have similar concerns. I hope that any readers here might share the wisdom of their experiences in the comments.

Where Do Learning Targets Come From?

Where Do Learning Targets Come From?

After reading Learning Targets by Moss and Brookhart (ASCD, 2012), this graphic represents my current understanding. We take a standard and break it up into smaller learning objectives. Then we distill the learning objective into a kid-friendly phrase, visual, or action. This is what we would share with our students in our day-to-day instruction. Not the learning objective. Not the standard. The learning target– what students should be aiming for in their performance of understanding. (I offered two learning targets for each objective only as an example.)

Let me know if I am way off base on this.

Apps for a 2nd Grade Teacher’s iPad

My wife just rejoined the teaching ranks. Upon her induction, she received an iPad. She promptly asked me if I would add any apps to it that I thought a 2nd grade teacher might use. Um…sure!

Here are screenshots of the apps that I downloaded for her. They are mostly in alphabetical order. My wife already gave a thumbs up to Mo Willem’s Pigeon app, which she used with her students during a transition.

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imageimage-1image-1Would you have downloaded any additional apps on this iPad?

Creative Journaling with Blank Notebooks

Superior test scores do not result in more creative entrepreneurs. On the contrary, it may hamper the development of entrepreneurial and creative activities.

– Yong Zhao, World Class Learners (p 115)

This year I elected to use some grant money to purchase journals for each student in the building. I want to give my classrooms the tools to help students be reflective learners in all content areas. While I hemmed and hawed over which type to buy, I came across this short video titled “When There is a Correct Answer”:

After watching this video, I realized that I was attempting to control the students’ learning. I was worrying about whether the lines were far enough apart for students, when I should have been wondering if lines were even necessary.

With that, I bought two copies of the Moleskine Volant Notebooks with plain paper. My son and I would be the guinea pigs. Our purpose was to see if the lack of lines would improve our notes and reflections. As the video stated, “What if there were no right answers?”

Here is a sample from my journal. I took notes while reading Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson. A requirement of myself was to add a visual component to each note.

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Although I couldn’t say for sure, I believe I remembered more from this book than from other resources I have taken notes on.

Here are two samples from my son. As you can see, he was into Chima and spooky stories at that time.

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Permission was given by the author to reprint his work.

This mini action research project convinced me to go with blank paged notebooks. The possibilities are limitless when we remove the barriers to creative thinking. I could see some concern being expressed over the kids not having lines to help keep their writing in place. However, as a friend of the family and teacher stated, “Kids who need lines will make their own lines”. Hopefully the kids won’t spend their whole reflection time making the lines!

How do you see these blank journals being used in school? What discipline areas could really benefit from some time to reflect? Please share your ideas on this (blank) wall.

Why I Take Class Size Research With a Grain of Salt

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photo credit: dcJohn via photopin cc

John Hattie, in his book Visible Learning, found through his synthesis of many research studies that class size has only a .21 effect size on learning. According to his findings, class size is slightly more effective than charter schools and slightly less effective than comprehensive teaching reforms. Hattie considers the hinge point for a practice to be strongly associated with student achievement at a .40 effect size. Class size does not make the cut.

I can understand these findings. Poor teachers will use poor instruction regardless of the number of kids in their class. Great teachers can move a group of students forward regardless of the odds stacked against them. So why do so many teachers and parents believe class size is crucial to the success of students? Because class size does matter. I am not talking about the research from thousands of classrooms. I am talking about a classroom on any given year.

Calling back to my teaching days, one of my best years I had was with 28 5th and 6th graders in a multi-age classroom. We were a cohesive group of learners. We could have in-depth conversations about the books we were reading or the math problems we were working on. Conversely, there was a year where 21 students gave me a run for my money. The combination of certain personalities made that year a lot more challenging. That classroom of 21 students felt more like 31 students on some days.

You read this and maybe think, “That’s proof that class size really doesn’t matter.” However, I think my example is the exception that proves the rule. First of all, Hattie’s research takes into account hundreds and thousands of studies. This is where social science research is limited; the human factor. As most teachers can attest, one person can change the entire dynamic of a classroom setting. Second, the more students you have, the more closely you follow a script. Group work becomes both physically and socially more difficult when class size gets larger. Hattie acknowledges this (p. 87). He goes on to point out that class size research could largely be based on the fact that teachers don’t readily change their practices when class sizes fluctuate.

The final reason for my skepticism is the research doesn’t acknowledge the long term effects on the teacher. There is a difference between conferring with 20 students and conferring with 30 students. Grading 30 papers is a lot more time consuming than grading 20 papers. Getting 30 students to walk orderly in the hallways is more of a… okay, you get the idea. These little differences, all of these stressors, can add up to larger effects on a teacher’s health and well being. I would wager that there is research out there that shows teachers who regularly have large class sizes are more likely to seek employment elsewhere.

This post is not to question Hattie’s research, but to point out what could happen when people only look at the numbers. My biggest fear is that administrators and school boards will look at this data and say, “You know what? We don’t need that extra teacher. The research says it doesn’t matter all that much.” It does matter. I’ve been there. I suspect that those who disagree have never had to teach in a classroom with 30 students.