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.

Instructional Walkthrough Template v. 2.0

In a previous post, I shared an instructional walkthrough form for my school. It is based on three different forms and an instructional framework, the Optimal Learning Model. This tool allows for the collection of both numerical and narrative information.

When I presented this form to my Instructional Leadership Team, they had a few suggestions to alter it. For one, they wanted to be able to write comments on the bottom after the walkthrough, not just me. We changed this section to “Reflections” and clarified that this space is now usable for both the teacher and the observer. Related, they wanted to expand this area and create more space to respond to the observations.

With the walkthrough form ready to roll, there was nothing left to do but try it. Five staff members agreed to be guinea pigs and allow me to observe their classrooms. Using Notability on the iPad along with a stylus, I started visiting classrooms ten minutes at a time.

I started by noting where I saw the learning occurring and quickly made tallies.

At the same time, I wrote observations and posted questions in the narrative space, such as:

The students worked quietly on the task at hand.

How did this activity promote this level of engagement?

As I wrote, I would notice a theme in my observations and highlight it on the left side.

Once I had completed my observation (no more than ten minutes), I politely interrupted class and let everyone know what impressed me about their learning. This experience could be nerve racking, especially in the beginning. I wanted to be sure that my visit was viewed positively.

After I emailed my completed form to the teacher through Notability, I entered the tally mark totals into a Google Form in my office. The spreadsheet is set up to automatically tabulate what percentage of instruction is either shared, guided or independent as a whole building (this data is anonymous).

To finish up, I wrote my own comments about what I saw in class in the Reflection box. This was more summative in nature, based on the evidence I had just collected. If the pilot teachers wanted to see my comments, I encouraged them to stop by and chat. I am hesitant to provide my summary, at least initially, because it can shut down the thinking of the teacher. I am making a judgment about their instruction instead of allowing them to arrive at it through professional reflection. This process is not intended to be an evaluation.

The next step is to collaborate with the teachers I am trying this with and continue to tweak the form as needed. It may involve completing a walkthrough as a group while watching a teacher’s lesson on video.

Overall, I am happy with the progress we have made in assessing whether our instructional framework is truly embedded in our classrooms. I know we will continue to make changes, which is part of the growth process for all of us.

Consider Rigor, But Focus on Relevancy and Relationships

My district just hosted a professional development morning for all K-5 staff. It was very well received. One of the sessions provided a nice overview of the Common Core State Standards along with the work that our teachers have already done with regard to mapping these benchmarks of knowledge.

The expectations are high. The next question is, how do we get there? My district addressed this by purchasing 200 copies of Pathways to the Common Core for teachers. Even though I have only read the first half on reading, I am impressed with the ideas the authors provide on connecting our instruction to the CCSS. It is a very practical and down-to-earth guide for classroom teachers.

However, if we only focus on high academic expectations, or as Bill Daggett refers to as “rigor”, we disregard two equally important components of teaching he also encourages: relevance and relationships.  My current understanding of the latter two is how we connect what we teach to our students’ lives and how we connect with our students as people. I have perused the Common Core many times. From what I can tell, relevance and relationships are either rarely addressed or nonexistent in these new standards.

I am not the only one concerned about the lack of a comprehensive plan. The Marzano Center recent published a series of posts asking similar questions. In the first post, a recent study was cited that found that, over the last twenty years, increasing the rigor of standards has little if any evidence of increasing student achievement. What the posts go on to say is educators are encouraged to understand their students’ needs (relationships) using formative assessments in order to provide more tailored instruction (relevancy).

So where does one start? In my humble opinion, it all starts with relationships. I think back to my days in high school. Even though most of my teachers had high standards, the ones I worked hardest for were the ones who got to know me as a person and went out of their way to make class engaging and meaningful. They said things like, “Your class average is one of the highest. That is where you should be.” Or they just took the time to share their thinking process while reading Lord of the Flies or Flowers for Algernon. Putting themselves out there like that let the students know that trust was implied due to the relationships they built with us and their awareness of our needs as learners.

As the Common Core becomes common place, a lot of the work on making the standards understandable will be done by us and for us (or to us, depending on your current outlook). We will have rigor coming out of ears. But it is going to be the relevancy of our instruction and the relationships we build with students that will make the difference.

Six Credits Shy

As soon as I sat down for the session at an administrator conference, I knew I was going to be disappointed. The PowerPoint was all words and no visuals. The presenter, although a knowledgeable educator, informed everyone that he was going to “talk to us” about his experiences. There was no website or handouts in which to access the information being presented, either at that time or in the future. Within five minutes, I had left the session. The only thing I found out was the wireless in that room was pretty spotty.

I bring this up because I am undecided about going back to graduate school. I have been six credits shy of my Director of Instruction license for over a year now. There is nothing holding me back, except the concern that I will have the same experience as I did at the conference. Another textbook published by Pearson to read, providing a general overview of everything. A prescribed schedule that is not conducive with my personal and professional calendar. Slideshow upon slideshow to sit through, something that I could easily read online prior to the class on my own time. I think I can empathize a little with students in today’s world. Too many of them are 21st century learners still stuck in a 20th century learning environment.

Since becoming a connected educator last October, I feel like I have become spoiled. I can direct my own learning based on my interests and my current needs. If I have a question, I don’t have to wait until the next class to try and get it answered. Information can be accessed at a moment’s notice in resources that take a specific topic to a deeper understanding. This way of learning is in stark contrast to digging around in a textbook that is a mile wide and an inch deep. Yes, there will be times where I need to buckle down and read what is handed to me. At the same time, I can enhance these assignments by tapping into my personal learning network.

For your students lucky enough to have been immersed in instruction that is problem- and interest-based, that allows for direction of one’s own learning using the best tools available, how would they react if you told them tomorrow that you were going back to lecturing and the one-size-fits-all method of teaching?  It is not that I believe I have little to learn within the traditional method anymore. The university I attended had great professors who brought a wealth of experience to discussions. I just feel like the genie has been let out of the bottle and it is not going back in, even if I wanted it to.

Instructional Walkthrough Template

(This is what I am sending to my Instructional Leadership Team to discuss on Tuesday. We previously had discussed measuring levels of instruction occurring in classrooms with a simple tally sheet.)
I have given some thought to tallying how frequently components of the Optimal Learning Model are observed in classrooms. First, my understanding of how we are being assessed in 2014 has changed. Narrative feedback is welcomed. Also, I think I might feel like a bean counter, breaking down the teaching process into a series of boxes to be checked. And I don’t know what you would get out of it as a teacher. Therefore, I am proposing a second draft. Here is a snapshot of it: Tally
I will still try to track how often a teacher is using different levels of the Optimal Learning Model. As you know, one of our goals is to make sure the students are doing the work and therefore the learning. The difference will be, I will spend more than just a minute in each classroom. This should allow me to see a more comprehensive slice of instruction.

I will enter the data in a spreadsheet. The data we aggregate and share with the building will be anonymous as planned. My initial goal is to observe around three to four teachers per day as unplanned visits.

I want teachers to be able to receive immediate, formative feedback that helps them think about their practice, recognize what they do well and consider how they can continue to grow as educators. Right now, I plan to choose one or more areas of focus on the left and circle it/them. In the blank space, I will write a narrative of what I observe in the classroom. It will be objective in nature. I may also post open ended questions about the instruction. The purpose of the questions would be to help the teacher reflect on what they do and why they do it. This process should be positive and constructive in nature.

My Comments
After I email each teacher the completed instructional walk form and then touch base with them afterward, I plan to make a few comments on the bottom for myself and what I saw. This would be similar to how you might write down observations after conferring with a reader. I don’t plan to share these in the form I email to the teacher. These are primarily for my reflection process. However, if a teacher ever wanted to see what I had written in the comments box, I would be happy to share what I wrote with him or her.

Where to go from here? I suggest you take a look at the form through two different lenses: That of the teacher being observed and the observer. Let me know your thoughts on Tuesday.

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.

Best Read Aloud You’ve Never Heard Of: The Whispering Cloth by Pegi Shea

My school’s population is approximately 8% Hmong American. When I select books to read aloud in classrooms, I am intentional in choosing literature that accurately reflects my school’s diversity. If I only shared stories that primarily featured one race or culture, I would not be giving my minority students quality opportunities to put themselves within the context or characters of the book. Also, students from a different culture can add unique perspectives to these types of stories that would otherwise be undiscovered. It allows them to be the experts in the classroom.

One of my favorite books about the Hmong culture and their history is The Whispering Cloth by Pegi Shea. Here is how I have shared this story with 3rd graders in the past.

Before Reading Aloud

I begin by sharing the backdrop for this story. One of the first pages has a small map of Southeast Asia. I explain that America went to war with Northern Vietnam, fighting alongside the Southern Vietnamese. I do my best to explain the concept of “communism” when I answer the inevitable question, “Why were they fighting each other?” I finish the one minute history lesson by concluding that American troops eventually pulled out of Vietnam, leaving the Southern Vietnamese at the mercy of their enemies to the north. This led to many being forced from their homes to find another place to live, namely America. When I consider whether this may be a little over their heads, I go back to a quote by Regie Routman: “I have never been in a classroom where the expectations were too high.”

During the Read Aloud

This historical fiction everybody book is about a girl and her grandmother in the 1970s, both refugees living in a camp. To pass the time and to make money in order to purchase plane tickets to America, they make story cloths called pa’ndau. This is their culture’s way of sharing their history.

As I read, the story switches from the present day to the past, when the main character dreams about the death of her parents. At this point, the illustrations switch from watercolors to stitching, just like the pa’ndau. I ask the class, “What do you notice on this page?” If the students don’t initially see it, I rephrase with, “What is different about this page when compared to the previous pages? Why do you think the author make this change?” 3rd graders’ typical responses are a) the setting is now in the past and b) the main character is starting to think about her own story cloth.

After Reading Aloud

If there are Hmong students in the classroom, I try to solicit some responses from them. They usually have at least a little knowledge about what a pa’ndau is. They may even share their experiences observing a story cloth being made. At this time, I point out that we has a story cloth in our school.

I encourage the students to take a few moments at a later time to “read” it and see if they can understand this family’s journey from Southeast Asia to America. To extend the story, I could take this photo and post it on the SmartBoard. We could zoom in on different aspects of the pa’ndau and jot some ideas down about what we think is trying to be conveyed. From there we could do a shared writing activity that tells this story in words based on our observations. If you are trying to address the Common Core, using primary resources like this is a great way to go.

Related recommended read aloud: Dia’s Story Cloth by Dia Cha