Encourage collaboration.

It’s a beautiful thing, the excitement of learning alongside a peer. The trust and community that develops by believing in one another.  True for adults and children, staff and students.

Shared learning experiences build community and relationships.  The beginning of Regie Routman’s Literacy Essentials focuses on developing trust, “Get to know students, and help them get to know each other” (p. 14).  Without prioritizing the establishment of trusting relationships, teaching efforts are likely to fail. Not only on the first day of school, or when welcoming a new student into the room- throughout the year, trust matters.  By creating opportunities for students to work collaboratively together, they will support one another as learners, help one another as friends, and respect one another in the community. There are many names for the topic of this post: Peer learning, collaborative learning, cooperative groups, shared learning, buddies, partner work.  Whatever you call it, I hope it fosters joy, trust, and engagement in your classroom.  Continue reading “Encourage collaboration.”

Going Schoolwide with Reading Engagement

Two years ago we sent our 4th and 5th grade teachers to CESA 5 to hear Donalyn Miller speak. Familiar with both of her excellent books, one of the hallmarks of her work is allowing the students to guide their own reading lives. This happens when the teacher provides opportunities for structured choice and exposure to quality, high interest literature in school.

One of the ideas gained from Donalyn that has entered our school is the reading graffiti board. A teacher created one in her classroom. The kids took off and took it over. They added quotes from their current books they were reading independently. The students also pulled memorable lines from the read alouds the teacher started facilitating on a regular basis.

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Students proved themselves to be very adept at selecting quotes from the texts they were reading. That is why we tried it out on a schoolwide bulletin board. It is one way we are modeling literacy engagement, our building’s goal. Specifically, we are attempting to increase questioning and student discussion in order to realize increased engagement, in both our students and teachers.

Using the companion book to Wonder by R.J. Palacio, 365 Days of Wonder provides one quote a day, as curated by Mr. Brown, a teacher from the story. He refers to these quotes as “precepts”. We call them “Word We Live By” in our school. Many of the quotes come from well-know figures of past and present. Others are from fictional students in his class.

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I would select one quote and read it over the announcements. Then I used a metallic marker to write on the board. The board is located next to where students line up for lunch.

As we have filled up the board, there have been signs that others want to participate in this activity. For example, one of our reading interventionists shared an anthology of quotes “collected” by Pete the Cat. See image. Whenever possible, I’ve included an illustration. Students and staff have shared that they like hearing me on the P.A. system daily.

Good Intentions

As our quotes filled up our board from left to right, I noticed that the marker was wearing out. The silver just wasn’t as bright. In normal teacher mode, I would have gone out and purchased a new marker. But recognizing that reading and writing are participatory activities, I decided to retire my marker.

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My hope was that a student or teacher would “carry the torch” and start offering thoughtful quotes of their own. I even offered a rubric for what I believe makes for a quote worth sharing.

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No such luck! I guess this is a good lesson in teaching: No matter how much we model, we have to include the learners in our demonstrations at some point. This concept comes back to the gradual release of responsibility, reframed as the Optimal Learning Model by Regie Routman.

Scaling Down, Not Up

With that, I have “inducted” a few 5th grade students to find important phrases within authentic literature. I was previously meeting with a small group to discuss questionable behaviors in our school and how to solve them together. Ever the teacher, I had donned my instructor’s hat and requested that they journal about how school and life in general was going for them. Lots of giggles and little depth in their responses told me that this wasn’t working for anyone.

How many times does it take for someone to understand that when we tell learners to learn, it is often met with indifference and resistance? For me, I’m still counting. I’ve put the notebooks away for now. In it’s place was a preview stack of high interest fiction for a different composition of two interested 5th graders to choose from and read together. We came to consensus on The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (Yearling, 2004). I think I had them at “underground city” during my brief book talk.

It was their suggestion to bring in a third student for our Monday book club during our lunch. We agreed that a more visual example of The City of Ember might help with comprehension when reading the book later. I found the graphic novel adaptation of DuPrau’s book in our school library and on iBooks. The three students could pick which text format in which they wanted to read the graphic novel in the classroom.

The next week, all three students came ready to discuss The City of Ember. I let them do most of the talking and asked a lot of questions, some of which I didn’t know the answer. These inquiries were mostly about their opinions about the text, and how the graphic novel might be different than the original we would be reading next. Our conversation lasted five minutes about the book before it evolved to their plans for the week outside of school.

First Signs

At our most recent meeting, one of the students commented, “Time goes by so fast during our book club at lunch.” Promising. Around this same time, a 2nd grader brought a new metallic marker from home and gave it to me as a holiday gift. She had noticed the dried out one taped to the reading graffiti board while waiting in the lunch line.

I know what to do with the new marker: When ready, hand it over to the students.

How Should Social Media Etiquette Be Taught in Schools?

An adapted version of this post can also be found at Ed Tech Magazine’s website here.

Before we ask how, I think we should be addressed why social media etiquette should be taught in schools. (I am answering this question through the lens of literacy, which encompasses all K-12 content areas.)

First of all, even though students may appear to be comfortable using technology, it should be not be assumed that they already know how to use it appropriately. In a 2012 article by Baiyun Chen and Thomas Bryer from the University of Central Florida, they found that many students are not using social media for learning purposes. At the same time, the majority of young people are connected with others online. With this in mind, teaching students how to appropriately use social media is a school’s responsibility, to help ensure they are safe online as well as leveraging its potential for learning.

Second, social media can provide two things that are critical for student engagement in a literate environment: audience and purpose. Audience refers to those who will see what students create and share. With the possibilities social media provides, no longer are students writing for their teacher or peers alone. For example, they can post a project on a classroom blog or on Edmodo, a safe social media site for classrooms. Students, family members and teachers across the globe can now view their work and even comment on it. This type of feedback is valuable for student growth. It also teaches students the importance of revision and being appropriate when posting online.

Purpose is the reason students are doing the work. Social media can help facilitate their own growth and as well as their audience’s learning when the purpose is to teach others. Before sharing occurs, essential questions should first be considered before students post their thoughts and work online. Is my project original and creative? What will my audience gain from what I am presenting? Will it make a positive impact on my community? The world? Can others add to what I shared and collaborate with me, potentially making it better?

Once the why has been established and engagement is built with students, teaching the how should be much easier. What educators bring to the table are a strong understanding of pedagogy – the art, science, or profession of teaching (Merriam-Webster). The instructional framework my school subscribes to is the Optimal Learning Model, sometimes referred to as the gradual release of responsibility.

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Adapted by Regie Routman from Teaching Essentials: Expecting the Most and Getting the Best from Every Learner, K-8 (Heinemann, 2008)

In this framework, the teacher first models the concept or skill to be learned. Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli value this framework within the context of social media, stating in their book Personal Learning Networks (Solution Tree, 2011) that “the ability to model your own learning networks in front of your students might be your most important pedagogy of all” (12). To start, the teacher and students could share one thing they learned that day on a classroom Twitter account or Facebook page. They could also explore other classrooms’ blogs to read how students at their age level write online. Once a level of comfort navigating online has been established, the teacher can do an interactive writing activity on a classroom blog. Interactive writing is an example of shared demonstration, when the students and teacher share the responsibility for the work.

This concept that “we do it” is critical when trying to build student confidence in order for them to eventually learn independently. When the teacher believes the students are ready to work on their own, he or she can set up blogs for each one of them. I recommend KidBlog as a great place to start. As the website describes, it is a safe and simple blog for students. They can now be encouraged to write for their own purposes, while consistently being reminded that their potential audience is anyone in the world.

At this point, the sky is the limit. Students can curate digital portfolios that show their own learning growth over time. They could also collaborate with students in other communities on school projects and facilitate conversations with their audience in the comments. And I am only referring to blogs. Skype, wikis, and podcasts are just a few of the many other available social media tools students can utilize for learning. What is important is the teacher is there as a guide, helping his or her students create a safe and positive digital footprint while immersed in authentic, purposeful learning for the world to see.

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.

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.

Observations
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.