D.E.A.R. – Drop Everything and Reflect

As a teacher, I instituted D.E.A.R. in my classroom: Drop Everything and Read. I joined in on the activity and silently read myself. Sometimes this classroom practice is referred to as S.S.R. – sustained silent reading.

Looking back, I now know I made mistakes in my teaching. I didn’t do anything harmful – I gave kids time to read, which is good. But I didn’t give every student the support they needed while reading independently. I could have been conferencing with students (I taught 5th and 6th grade, mostly). These assessment opportunities would have looked different for each student: personalized and student-driven, based on where kids were and where we wanted to go.

I am not going to engage in retroactive guilt. It’s not worth it. My penance is this post and others like it that I have written previously. Still, I do value some quiet space in a classroom, some time for students to be in their own minds about what they are reading and not worry about what others think.

So what if, instead of “D.E.A.R.” as we have known it, we instituted “Drop Everything and Reflect”? Reflection, the practice of considering our actions through writing or thinking, is not something that is given a lot of time for in classrooms. But we do know how important this is for processing our experiences and digging deeper into learning.

What might this look like in a literacy classroom? A few thoughts:

  • Each student has a reading notebook in which they record the title and author of the book they are reading, as well as write any surprises, questions, and observations they uncovered. They could share their reflections with a peer. Students could also blog about their reading using Kidblog or another digital tool to encourage visibility with our reading lives.
  • If a student is done with a book, they could write a book review (instead of a book report) for the classroom or school library. It doesn’t have to be long; a paragraph might suffice as long as the recommendation entices another student to want to read the book. Biblionasium is a digital platform for this type of work.
  • One student could get together with other students to discuss the books they are reading in informal literature circles. Teachers could limit the amount of time students would have to talk about what they are reading. Roles would be unnecessary. A learning management system such as Edmodo could be utilized to develop online book clubs around a title, series, or author if students wanted to discuss their reading beyond independent reading time.

The purpose of this post is to point out two things: 1) D.E.A.R. and S.S.R. are traditional activities that deserve an upgrade with more promising practices such as independent reading, and 2) students can be offered independence in their reflections on their reading and how they choose to reflect.

If you have traditionally used reading logs and/or emphasized 20 minutes of reading per day, I think you will find these ideas might be a better approach to improving student reading achievement and instilling student engagement in reading for a lifetime.

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Learning Management Systems: Who are they for?

A learning management system, or “LMS” is defined as “a digital learning system” that “manages all of the aspects of the learning process” (Amit K, 2015). A teacher can use an LMS for a variety of classroom functions, including communicating the learning objectives, organizing the learning timelines, telling the learners exactly what they need to learn and when, delivering the content straight to the learners, streamlining communications between instructor(s) and learners, and providing ongoing resources.

An LMS can also help the learner track their own progress, identifying what they have learned already and what they need to learn (Amit K). There are many options for learners to share their representations of their understandings within an LMS, including video, audio, images and text. In addition, discussion boards and assessment tools are available for teachers and students in most systems.

This definition and description of your typical LMS leads to an important question: Who is the learning management system for?

If an LMS is for the teacher, then I think they will find the previously listed features to be of great benefit to their practice. As an example, no longer do they have to collect papers, lug them home and grade them by hand. Now, students can submit their work electronically through the LMS. The teacher can assess learning online. The excuse “My dog ate my homework” ceases to exist. Google Classroom, Schoology and Edmodo fall into this category.

Also, teachers can use the LMS tools to create quizzes that could serve as a formative assessment of the lesson presented that day. Data is immediately available regarding who understands the content and who needs further support. This quick turnaround can help a teacher be more responsive to student’s academic needs. There are obvious benefits for a teacher who elects to use an LMS for these reasons.

If, on the other hand, an LMS is for the students, then we have a bit more work to do. With a teacher-centric LMS, not much really changes regarding how a classroom operates. The teacher assigns content and activities, the students complete it, and the teacher assesses. The adage “old wine in new bottles” might apply here.

With students in mind when integrating an LMS in school, the whole idea of instruction has to shift. We are now exploring concepts such as personalized learning, which “puts students in charge of selecting their projects and setting their pace” (Singer, 2016), and connected learning, which ties together students’ interests, peer networks and school accomplishments (Ito et al, 2013). In this scenario, it is not the students who need to make a shift but the teachers. Examples of more student-centered LMSs include Epiphany Learning and Project Foundry.

The role that teachers have traditionally filled looks very different than what a more student-centered, digitally-enhanced learning environment might resemble. I don’t believe either focus – the teacher or the student – is an ineffective approach for using a learning management system. The benefits in each scenario are promising. Yet we know that the more students can have ownership over the learning experience, there is an increased likelihood of greater achievement gains and higher engagement in school.

References

Amit K, S. (2016). Choosing the Right Learning Management System: Factors and Elements. eLearning Industry. Available: https://elearningindustry.com/choosing-right- learning-management- system-factors-elements

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., Schor, J., Sefton-Green, J., Watkins, S.C. (2013). Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design. Media and Learning Research Hub. Whitepaper, available: http://dmlhub.net/publications/connected-learning- agenda-for- research-and-design/

Singer, N., Isaac, M. (2016). Facebook Helps Develop Software That Puts Students in Charge of Their Lesson Plans. The New York Times. Available: http://nyti.ms/2b3LNzv

The Global Read Aloud

I recently had the opportunity to take part in the Global Read Aloud this fall. It is facilitated annually by Pernille Ripp, a teacher in Madison, WI. Leading a group of 4th graders, we joined many other classrooms online who were also reading The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. It is the fictional story of a gorilla named Ivan in captivity for almost 30 years, told from the perspective of Ivan. It is loosely based on a true story (the real Ivan recently passed away).

What was unique about this experience was technology was used to support and enhance the story as I read it to the students.

Edmodo

Every classroom involved received a code to join The One and Only Ivan group on Edmodo, a safe social networking site for students and teachers. As you can see, it has a similar look to Facebook, which helped us make sense of how it worked regarding posts, links, tags and other terminology.

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We visited this site every time we read. However, we spent a lot more time actually reading than posting and responding. My purpose was to show students that social media can be a great tool for learning, as long as it is used responsibly.

Google Docs

While we linked with other classrooms on Edmodo, we also created a KWL on Google Docs. In it, students identified what they thought they already knew about gorillas, what they wanted to know, and what they had learned. I showed students how to bookmark this document in the browser so we could quickly go to it when needed.

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Yes, feces was something they wanted me to write down.

Students developed an understanding through the use of a Google Doc that learning is not static, that it is ongoing for lifelong learners. For example, we would revise information once we learned that it was not entirely accurate. In addition, we were able to post our doc on Edmodo as a link to allow other classrooms to view it and even make comments if they wanted.

Wallwisher

One technology tool we discovered from another classroom through Edmodo was Wallwisher. This is a virtual paperboard, where people can post responses to a question or suggested topic. The question we posed to ourselves was, “Is it better for an animal who has lived in captivity to go back into the wild?” Here are their responses.

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I was impressed with how thoughtful and thorough their answers were to this question. What facilitated this impressive display: the technology, the question, or the book itself? It could be a combination of all of these that created a more authentic learning experience.

Skype

Some people have a lawyer in the family. Others know a plumber. I have a primatologist.

My cousin (pictured in the screenshot below) spent a substantial amount of time studying primates in the jungles of Africa. Now an environmental scientist at the Field Museum of Chicago, she wholeheartedly agreed to visit our classroom and answer questions about silverbacks through Skype.

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Prior to Skyping, I shared our questions with her by emailing our Google Doc link. She provided some excellent information for us, knowledge that we just could not have easily accessed without the aid of technology. The students also had an opportunity to ask her off-the-cuff questions, such as “Are you drinking coffee?” and “How did you get that Howe shirt?”.

In Conclusion

The Global Read Aloud was an excellent learning opportunity. It enhanced our read aloud experience and modeled for students how to draw upon a variety of resources and experiences in order to become more knowledgable and responsible citizens. The technology tools were great, but they only facilitated what was more important: The connections we made with other people from around the world. Thanks go to Mrs. Ripp for making this happen.