When Technology Isn’t Necessary (and maybe not even nice) #edtechchat #educoach #cpchat

For the past three years, I have made a point of conducting instructional walks in classrooms on a regular basis. The purpose of my walks is to provide feedback for the teacher about their practice, as well as to get a sense of the overall instructional level of the school.

I’ve tried a number of iPad applications and styluses in which to conduct these walks. For a while I used Notability with a basic stylus. I liked both tools, but found the uploading of my observations to Dropbox to be cumbersome and inefficient. Plus, I had to print off my observational notes and hand them to the teacher afterward.

The next iteration was to purchase an Evernote Jot Script stylus and start using the handwriting application Penultimate. This solved the syncing issues, as Penultimate is an Evernote product. What I wrote in that app automatically uploaded into the teacher’s notebook within Evernote. I could now email my digital observation directly to the teacher.

Image source: blog.evernote.com
Image source: blog.evernote.com

But something was missing. After surveying my staff, I realized that it wasn’t that something was missing. It was that I had added too much to the process.

First, there was the tallies I kept. In between writing observational notes, I would also mark where instruction was at on the minute, in accordance with the gradual release of responsibility. Our school has adhered to the Optimal Learning Model, an update by Regie Routman of the gradual release of responsibility, as our instructional framework. I would note how often teaching and learning was occurring along the demonstration-shared demonstration-guided practice-independent practice continuum. Then I would take that data and upload into a spreadsheet, which provided an output of our levels of instruction.

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Very techy! I could quickly see where we were at in our collective instruction. At least I thought I could. What the survey revealed was that I was only catching small snippets of instruction. Plus, I was not intentional enough about coming in at different times of the school days. Both true. This numerical feedback helped me, but not the teachers.

Second, I found out that teachers really appreciated having a paper copy of my informal observations. It’s not that they didn’t mind receiving a digital copy of my notes. In fact, some of my teachers actually wanted an electronic version so they could save them online as future artifacts and examples of strong instruction. But there is just something about having that immediate feedback, written out on paper, that made my visits more concrete and tangible. Because my instructional walks are strengths-based and not evaluative in nature, they could physically come back to these notes, reread what I noticed, and take pride in the quality education they provide for their students.

This is why I have come back to a paper-based and unformated process for my informal and unannounced instructional walks. I still observe instruction through the tenets of the Optimal Learning Model, but within a more holistic view of teaching and learning. In addition, I have a ruled notebook on which I write my observations, ten minutes at a time. I tear out the paper copy of my notes and leave it on the teacher’s desk. If the opportunity arises, I’ll have a brief chat with them about what I saw and appreciated. If not, I catch up with them later.

The power of technology can have a firm grasp on how we conduct business, even when it is not always helpful. Case in point: I have played with a Livescribe pen that transcribes my writing onto an associated app which I can save to the teacher’s Evernote notebook within my account. A nice tool, but even this has some minor challenges. After writing an observation, I have to go into the Livescribe app and upload the note into Evernote. The pen allows me to record audio connected with my writing, which is really helpful when talking to a student about what they are learning and why it is important to them. But I can do the same thing with Evernote, by just hitting the record button on my iPhone or iPad, and then scanning my paper notes into the same note that contains the audio before sharing it out.

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This is why I ordered several Moleskine notebooks for my future walkthroughs. The kind that I can tear out without a lot of noise, that I can easily scan into Evernote and hand to the teacher in a manner that doesn’t disrupt instruction. Technology has taken a back seat to the process, enhancing it instead of leading it. I don’t know if I would have come to this conclusion if I had not asked my faculty for input about this process and how it benefits their instruction. Without their feedback, I may have tried to fix a communication problem caused by technology with more or different technology, instead of questioning whether I needed technology in the first place.

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My ASCD Arias book 5 Myths About Classroom Technology is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Makes for a great stocking stuffer for that teacher in your life! 🙂

Evernote Smart Notebook – Is it Worth it?

I just received my Evernote Smart Notebook from Moleskine. I have been wanting to try this paper/digital tool for a while. The Evernote technology is able to “read” your handwriting and make it searchable within your notes. As a principal, I could document meeting notes electronically and not having to lug around technology all the time. Students could also potentially use these notebooks to curate their writing and create digital portfolios.

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I tried it out by copying down some information from Richard Allington’s book What Really Matters in Response to Intervention. I took a picture with my iPad, then searched for the word “lesson” within that new note. Here was the result:

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Pretty cool, right? My handwriting is not the best, yet Evernote still managed to capture the appropriate word.

When I showed my notebook to my office assistant, she asked if Evernote could read handwriting in any Moleskine notebook. To find out, I used my read aloud Moleskine notebook containing notes on different books I like to share with students. Picture taken and new note created, I searched for “audio”.

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As you can see, it does work.

This bears the question: Is the Evernote Smart Notebook worth it?

I would say yes. You need Evernote Premium to be able to search within images and PDFs. Three months of the Premium subscription comes with a Smart Notebook ($30). In addition, these specialized notebooks have different stickers you can put on a note (see second image). Each sticker can be customized to digitally associate with an Evernote notebook and tags within your account. These stickers could be a real time saver.

Even though a regular Moleskine notebook is half the price ($15), the Evernote Premium is nice in that you get a lot more storage – 1 GB a month instead of 60 MB. It’s a nice way to try out Premium and the sticker technology. However, if you already subscribe to Evernote Premium ($45/year) and don’t mind taking a few extra steps to organize your handwriting, the technology appears to scan either type of page.

Have you tried the Evernote Smart Notebook? What has been your experience? Please share in the comments.