Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series-Embracing Formative Assessment

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. From there we will look at Formative Assessment and how easy it is to do today. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

This post was written in partnership with Acer Education. 

For me, the beginning of the school year was the best time of year. I always enjoyed getting back into my classroom, setting things up and getting pumped for the journey ahead with my students. The beginning of the year was a good reset. I could reflect back on the previous year, examine what I had learned over the summer and plan for a better year coming up.

One area of improvement still to this day I wish I could go back and improve even more was assessment. Mainly, embracing formative assessment.

In my first year of teaching I taught the way I was taught to teach. Delivering content to my students, assess at the end, remediate if necessary. With that cycle, I always had kids who were behind, who never seemed like they could catch up.

I was talking with a teacher friend the summer after my first year and she suggested something simple. Put a large piece of paper next to the door. Give every student a pack of sticky notes. On the way out the door they could put their thoughts about what they didn't quite get or what they were still having trouble with. They could leave their name or not. Either way it gave valuable insight to how the students were learning but also could help shape the lesson for the next day.

What a difference that made.

The following school years that board became an important place for myself and my students. It provided them a way to tell me what they needed and a place for me to reflect on my teaching and give my students what they needed.

Now, as 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are taking over our schools, it's becoming even easier to formatively assess what our students know and for our students to leave feedback as to what they need because of this ready access to technology. This evolution should (and is) cause a shift for all teachers to look to formative assessment as the basis for understanding where students are in their learning.

Here are a few of my favorite devices, apps and sites that can help you more easily fit formative assessment into your classroom this school year.

Acer TravelMate B117-If you are looking at an inexpensive, purpose device that can also help with formative assessment then look no further. The Acer TravelMate is a durable student laptop that does what you expect but also has some cool features. One of the best is the incorporation of multicolored lights built into the lid that allow for the teacher to send a quick question to students and they can respond with these lights, simply and easily. Software is also included so both students and teachers can track their progress over time. Like these other tools, it allows for quick feedback to the teacher on understanding but I don't need anything extra like a different website or cards to hold up. The TravelMate 117B does it all for me!

Online Sticky Notes- Just like the physical space in my classroom there are lots of virtual sticky note sites out there. Two of my favorites are Padlet and Lino. These provide a virtual corkboard for students to leave notes or questions or comments on their learning. Both sites are easy to set up and free. Best part, kids don't have to have an account to leave a note and they can do it any time, anywhere. All they need is the address. (So you don't even have to be a 1:1 classroom or BYOD. The kids could do them from home.)

Backchannels- Hugely popular at conferences and other educational gatherings the backchannel provides a way for participants to share in conversation while participating in learning. In the classroom they can be a way for kids to collaborate without shouting across the room. In terms of formative assessments, questions at various points through the lesson could be posted there and kids could respond. My favorite backchannel service is TodaysMeet. Again, simple to set up (all you need is a room name and to decide how long you want the room to be open). Free as well, it's available any time, anywhere.

Plickers- A tech tool for the non-tech classroom students merely need to hold up a card with a QR code on it. Using the free Plickers app, teachers then scan the room. The app reads the QR codes. The way the student is holding the card corresponds to an answer choice or letter or whatever you want that end to represent. Once the teacher scans the room you can see instantly who answered what and respond accordingly. It's a quick and easy way to use the power of technology to formatively assess without all students needing the technology.

Kahoot- Kids love friendly competition. And Kahoot is a formative assessment tool cleverly disguised as a game. Simply enter questions into an easy to use template and then students, either as individuals or as teams can see who can gather the most points by answering the questions as fast as they can. For the teacher there are dashboards that show who answered what and that, along with the instant feedback when the questioned is answered can be a great way to introduce and use formative assessment.

Poll Everywhere- This is another one of my favorites, simply because of the variety of uses and methods of submitting responses. Similar to the others, the teacher can create a simple feedback poll or leave the question open ended. The students can respond via text message, website or even Twitter. Again, the point here is we can capture the feedback from the students using a variety of methods, almost instantly. Another great feature of Poll Everywhere is the data analysis you get. You can export results to create more ways of analyzing data. (Like if the questions are open ended, you could export the results to put them into a Wordle to see what terms are showing up the most.)

Socrative- This one is quickly become a go-to app for formative assessments for educators everywhere. The teacher creates an account and a room (for, you guessed it, free). Then the students go to the site (either through the app or through a browser), enter the room number and they see a question or a open response question to answer. I like this one a lot because of the variety of choices for questions to answer. One is even called Exit Ticket where kids can quickly summarize what they learned and tell you what they need for tomorrow.

Eight different tools that are quick and easy you can use this school year in your classroom to help improve formative assessment.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series: Non-Educational Books To Read...Over and Over

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through several different ways of extending your learning. We started with Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Then we examined some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. Today move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

Spending lots of time on airplanes and in airports means I have a great deal of time on my hands. If I’m not prepping for a keynote, working on a presentation or compiling some data I’m reading. I keep a constant supply of books at arms length and believe it or not most of them aren’t educational books. I do find time to read content or theory but I find more and more it’s the non-educational books provide more to my learning because it causes me to reflect on how the subject matter c0uld apply to the work I am doing with administrators and teachers.

There are lots of great list of educational summer reading. This one from ASCD is full of texts I find on my own bookshelf. Here is another one. And another one. Some have lots of value others are just there to push books.

The thing to remember is, just like in the classroom, read what provides value to you. If educational books are your thing, awesome. If you are looking for a good beach read to escape, even better. Whatever you read, do it often. Reading is the foundation of learning and we all should be doing it more.

Here are 5 books that I’ve read recently that have seemingly no connection to education but have had influence on my work and my thinking as an educator and learner.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are-This book from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a former data scientist at Google writes about how data, specifically Google Trends can tell us a lot about who we are as people and a society. Comparing the answers given to popular surveys Seth concludes that what we say to our friends and ourselves and what we ask Google are two totally different things. Using that data he can predict presidential elections, relationship habits and more. I have been using many of the data points here to talk to administrators about the use of social media and how data can skew what we know about the world.

Psyched Up: How the Science of Mental Preparation Can Help You Succeed-This was my most recent read and a great one. Daniel McGinn takes us through all the research around getting prepared for major events in our lives. Giving examples from sports, performance arts, medicine and more we learn that there is scientific evidence to suggest that pep talks don’t work, listening to music while you run or work is about the worst thing you can do and how to overcome a fear or speaking or presenting. I found I was doing a lot of things wrong in my own life and especially with my kids. We have to believe we will do well and data suggests, we will.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right-Suggested to me by a good friend I was skeptical of this one at first. I have tried and failed about 1000 times to get organized and this seemed like another one of these books to tell me what I was doing wrong and how to do it better. And while it was that kind of book, it wasn’t my methods, it was my mindset. Since I’ve read it (twice now in 6 months) I find myself taking lots away each time to help me be more productive and how to shift my mindset on how I am organized. A quick and easy read.

Confessions of an Advertising Man-This one might be the most unusual book on my list but it is hands down my favorite I’ve read in a very long time. With chapters like “How To Start An Advertising Agency” and “How To Get Your First Client” it might not seem like there is anything to learn here unless you want to be in Mad Men. But seriously, if you are interested at all in creativity and leadership, you need this book. First published in 1963 it has long been considered the bible for ad agencies. However for me it was eye opening to see how someone who was once called the most creative man on the planet sought out talent, organized teams and was hyper-focused on tasks at hand. I have already read this one again and constantly keep coming back to parts of it to use in my work with administrators.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy- Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook and already an accomplished author. In this book she opens up about the sudden death of her husband and how she found herself a single mother of two children. But she writes of resiliency and how when things don’t always go the way we plan we need to be ready with option b, or c, or whatever. She blends personal story with research on how we all deal with adversity and how it’s a strength we can all build.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series-3 Rules For Attending Any Conference

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through several different ways of extending your learning. We started with Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

As the end of June approaches that means the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology In Education) Conference is around the corner. ISTE is one of my favorite conferences because I get to catch up face-to-face with those I haven't seen in the past year, I get to learn with some incredible educators and I get to see the latest gadgets and must haves for the classroom.

If you are a social media user or a blog reader you may have seen several posts related to getting more out of ISTE. Many who attend have loads of great ideas to maximizing the impact you have while you are in attendance. Before many conferences, there is advice about how to follow the conference hashtag or to drink lots of water because you’ll do lots of walking. All the advice you hear is great and definitely worth a follow.

But I want to go deeper. When I go to conferences, either as a presenter or a participant, I challenge myself and my audiences each day to get the most out of the conference experience. Many will save all year long to attend or travel a great distance. How can we make the most of the conference learning, but still remembering our purpose to extend the learning for others?

I think there are 3 things to remember, not only for ISTE, but for any conference or learning event you attend.

Put Your Thinking Cap On And Push The Boundaries Of Your Thinking
It is easy to attend conferences like ISTE or any conference and only go to the sessions lead by our friends or go to sessions where we already know a lot about a specific topic. While there isn't anything wrong with that, are you doing the most with your conference experience? Push yourself. I am still a skeptic of flipped classrooms. So I make a point to attend at least one session where it’s discussed so I can widen my perspective. Try to find those gems of sessions that you might just walking away thanking yourself for attending. Make a point to attend at least one session where you disagree or are a skeptic about the topic. Go in with an open mind and make the most of your experience.

Reflect, Often
Because you are going to challenge yourself and your thinking, it will be important for you to reflect on your learning. Review your notes at the end of each day and write down your thoughts. I love Evernote for this. I can compile everything there (notes, drawings, pictures and handouts) and have it on all my devices. Many conferences are also creating shared Google Docs so that anyone can add in their thoughts and reflections collectively. It’s also a good idea at the end of the day, when you are exhausted and walking back to your hotel to just take some time and think. What did you see that challenged you? What do you still have questions about? How can you take what you learned and apply it to your students?

Don't Be A Hoarder, Share Your Learning
Think about if you shared what you learned with 5 people and those 5 people shared with 5 and so on. The learning becomes so much more valuable. Find many ways to share both at the conference (social media is great for that) and when you get back to your school/district. Did you go as a member of team? Have your team take 5 mins and share all the resources with those that couldn't attend. Flying solo? Post your Evernote notebooks to Twitter or to your blog. How ever you decide to share, just be sure to share!

Summer Challenge
  1. Do you have a blog? If you do awesome! If you don’t take attending a conference as an opportunity to start one. Make a post (or your first post) about the top 3 takeaways from the conference. Add in your reflection about how you want to grow from here. 
  2. Did everyone from your school attend the conference? Probably not. Arrange a #CoffeeEDU where you can invite colleagues for a coffee or a lunch and share what you learned. Discuss what you saw and how you can begin to implement what you learned. 
  3. Do you have something to share? Of course you do! Begin thinking about how you can add your voice to the conference next year. Brainstorm session ideas and write them down. Was there something that you went to that you can improve upon or add your own spin? Then you have them ready when the Call for Proposals opens up next year. Presenting and sharing with audiences is a great way to grow yourself and others. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series-Making The Most Of Twitter Chats

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. To start we will look in-depth at Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. Then I’ll give you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

Making The Most Of Twitter Chats

If you remember back to my post on hashtags we talked about how hashtags can be great sources of learning. When you begin to look at hashtags you will find some end it "chat." That means there is an actual Twitter chat that goes along with that hashtag. 

What is a Twitter chat? 
In it's simplest form, it’s a set time where folks get together and all post using the same hashtag. Most times there are moderators and set questions. Each chat works a little differently. But the basics are all the same. 

As one of the founders of #edchat I get a lot of questions about the what, where, when and why. So here is everything you need to know (or wanted to know) about #edchat and chats in general. 

The History of #Edchat
#edchat started out of a series of conversations between myself, Tom Whtiby and Shelly Terrell. Tom is a bit of an instigator and likes to push people's thinking about various topics in education. One day he was asking several of these thought-provoking questions and he was getting comments from all angles. He turned to Shelly and I for help. Afterwards, he suggested we needed a hashtag to make sure we didn't miss anything. Shelly suggested a weekly format where anyone could participate and I suggested we have the community vote on what we would talk about. And thus, #edchat was born. We had our first real chat in July 2009. And we have had one every week (except for a break at Christmas) ever since!

The Basics
To participate users need only add #edchat (or another chat hashtgag) to their tweets. We have organized chats every Tuesday. The main chat is at 7pm EDT and lasts an hour. Polls are posted by me (@web20classroom) on Sunday afternoons and voting ends Tuesday afternoons. The highest vote getter is our topic for the week. For other chats the moderators or participants will post the the topic and all the questions ahead of time. 

Following Along
You will need a way to follow the conversations. Many folks use a third-party Twitter client like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite and have a column set up to search for #edchat so they see all the tweets during the conversation. Others use a service specifically for chatting like Tweetchat to follow the chats. These work every well and will auto include the hashtag when tweeting, which can be handy. Another awesome service is the Twitter Chat Dashboard from Participate. But more on that in a moment. 

The archive is usually posted by the next day and it includes all the tweets during the hour time span. Archives of all chats are up here and are viewable any time. (To be honest, I usually have to go back to the archive to read up on everything that happened.) Archives are a great after the chat. Don’t just tweet and not read the archive. You can’t see all the great ideas and resources that are shared when you are chatting. So the archives are there for you to go back to and grab those when you need to. 

You can't follow every conversation during #edchat or any chat really. We average about 200-300 active participants a week and over 500 tweets for the hour. (Most of the time those numbers are much, much higher.) So, following everything is nearly an impossibility. We recommend tossing out an idea or two and see who latches on. Or just engage with someone(s). Everyone, for the most part, who comes to #edchat is open minded and wants to discuss what the topic is and offer up their thoughts on it. So push someone's thinking or better yet, have yours pushed back. 

Summer Challenge

  1. Head over to the Official Twitter Chats Calendar at Participate. There you will find 100’s of chats, broken down by day and time and a description. Before you participate in the chat, check out the archives of these chats. What have they been talking about? Is there anything interesting to you and your learning?  It’s a good idea to do some investigative work ahead of time. 
  2. Find a Chat to participate in. The beauty of using Participate is you can jump in right there from the calendar. Once it’s the day and time of the chat join the conversation. 
  3. Visit the archive of the chat you participate in or other chats that may interest you. Look at past topics and questions. What did they talk about? Can you find anyone new to follow? What resources were shared that you could use in your classroom next year? 

Fast chats not your thing? Looking for something more laid back? Slow chats are gaining in popularity. The concept is the same. There is a hashtag that everyone follows and uses in their tweets. But instead of everyone getting together at the same time folks participate when they can. No need to have a special Twitter client or anything. Just send your tweet when you feel like adding to the conversation. Slow chats are great for busy folks who still want to learn but don’t have the time to take part in the real-time chats. Book talks, reflection questions, planning for next year are just a handful of the ideas for a slow chat. Don’t find one you like? Start your own!

Twitter chats and hashtags hold a tremendous amount of learning that you can’t really find anywhere else. There are so many topics and ideas that anyone can find something that can help with their learning this summer. Take some time and take part in a real-time or slow chat!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Tech-Savvy Educator: 6 Areas Of Development

These are truly incredible times to not only be a learner but an educator as well. The access to information we have is unlike anything we’ve had before. And the tools we have to create a learning environment where all students can succeed are ever increasing. While these are incredible times, it can be quite daunting as an educator to look across this ever-changing technology landscape and feel unprepared.

Using the ISTE Standards for Teachers as a guide, it is important for students to have educators who create learning environments that allow them to innovate, invent and create in ways that are only possible through the use of technology. Educators must also be prepared to continuously move forward, always seek out the best pedagogy and tools to create learning environments students need and deserve.

Being a Tech-Savvy Educator doesn’t have to be either daunting or complex. It doesn’t mean completely changing our practices or abandoning what already works. It means looking to the tools of technology to supplement those strong pedagogical practices already in place.

There are six areas of development every Tech-Savvy Educator needs to focus on:
  • Collaboration with Students
  • Collaboration with Colleagues
  • Innovative Communications
  • Effective Productivity
  • Reflection
  • Formative Assessment
Making improvements through the use of technology in each of these areas can reap huge returns on student learning and understanding and make the overall job of teaching easier, better and more innovative.

The Tech-Savvy Educator: 6 Areas Of Development

The “Why”
Sample Tools

Collaboration with Students
Collaboration with students in and out of the classroom is a building block of being Tech-Savvy Educator. Learning is a social process and should be promoted amongst students. Collaboration comes in many forms from allowing students to work together to solve problems to fostering an environment where students can build off the learning of others.

Collaboration with Colleagues
When educators collaborate it’s proven to:
  • Increase Job Satisfaction
  • Lower Rates of Turnover
  • Promote Positive School Culture
  • Promote Distributive Leadership

Innovative Communications
It is essential for Tech-Savvy Educators to build effective School:Home Communications. Using innovative tools you can meet parents and the community where they are and share the amazing stories that happen in the classroom every day.

Effective Productivity
Tech-Savvy Educators need to work smarter not harder. Having workflows in place streamline the day-to-day demands will only serve to make life easier and better.

Reflection is something Tech-Savvy Educators do on a regular basis. It is also something that is promoted amongst students as well. Reflection comes in many forms and can happen a variety of ways.

Formative Assessment
Tech-Savvy Educators understand the need to know where students are in their learning as soon as possible. Through the use of formative assessment we can best understand not only how students know what they know but how our teaching can respond to individual needs.

There are so many more tools that can fit into each area of development. And some tools definitely overlap. Want to learn more? Grab a copy of the Tech-Savvy Teacher presentation and download the resource guide!

Download The Graphic

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

3 Essentials for Success in a Blended [Literacy] Classroom

This post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

The use of digital learning spaces has exploded in use in classrooms nearly everywhere. Through Learning Management Systems (LMS) many educators are moving to put content online and extend learning beyond the four walls and beyond the school day. This Blended Learning approach is both beneficial but its definition can be tough to nail down. Blended Learning is different than merely integrating technology into the classroom. It provides all learners the ability and opportunity to contribute both openly and differently than they would in a traditional classroom. Simply putting a lecture online and calling it blended learning doesn’t cut it. Students need opportunities for collaborating with peers, creating new ideas, and formatively assessing their knowledge, all taking place in the digital environment.

When done correctly, any classroom can benefit from the blended approach, literacy classrooms especially. Literacy learning is unique in that there are both concrete and abstract concepts that work well in face-to-face teaching and in the digital space. We believe there are 3 essentials for success in any blended literacy classroom.

1. Maximizing Physical and Digital Space - In a blended literacy classroom, success is partly attributed to identifying the “best” practices in both the traditional classroom and a digital space and blending them together. Whole class literacy instruction is best done face to face. From the modeling of the teaching point to the scaffolding of the active engagement, a physical space in which students can gather and learn is preferred. Co-constructing anchor charts and a quick formative assessment during the active engagement provides educators timely information in which to inform instruction. On the other-hand, enrichments for learning, differentiated content, and substantive conversations may be best in a digital space in which the teacher can support student needs on a larger scale and students can personalize learning anytime and anyplace.  When one considers student needs in both a physical and digital space the list looks similar:

Instructional Practices
Physical Space
Digital Space
Whole Class
Purpose: Gathering area to learn and share as a whole class, direct instruction
What it Looks Like: A carpet or rug, open area to accommodate students, transition or movement of bodies/tables for older students
Purpose: Shared digital space by all classmates and teacher(s)
What it Looks Like: A forum or class-stream where everyone can view, post, and comment. A repository of accessible resources, information, and tools that students can utilize during learning.
Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create on their own

What it Looks Like: A desk, table or flexible furniture, storage space, materials

Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create on their own

What it Looks Like: Individual student logins, profile page or virtual “locker” to store materials, information, creations
Small Group
Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group

What it Looks Like: A table; grouping of desks, chairs, or pillows; flexible for student needs and task intent
Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group

What it Looks Like: A breakout room, group room, or other digital space language that designated a spot for students to work together. It may also include a way to assign and share resources peer to group or teacher to group
One on One
Purpose: Area designated for partner work, peer conferencing, or teacher and student conferring

What it Looks Like: Conferring table, flexible seating, teacher moves to student
Purpose: Similar to small group with the addition of private peer to peer feedback, teacher to student feedback, messaging

What it Looks Like: Space used can be similar to small group. Ability to target and differentiate messages and feedback to individual or privately. Private assessment and gradebook

2.  Fostering Collaboration and Communication - Although most of our students do not know a world without the internet, collaboration and communication in a digital space does not come naturally to them. In a blended literacy classroom students are sharing their writing, participating in literature circles, creating multimedia projects in small groups, and providing feedback to each other. A blended environment asks educators to not only support student learning in content areas, it also requires special consideration on how best to grow and support students in a healthy and safe reading and writing community. These skills are often overlooked but essential for success in a blended literacy classroom. To do so, we must foster digital communication and collaboration skills that will impact not only their current learning but their digital footprint as well. One of the best ways is to co-create and establish norms for the blended literacy classroom. Digital space expectations would include communication, collaboration, sharing, messaging, appropriate use, etc. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Communicate effectively when in a digital space.
    • ALL CAPS = Shouting
    • Know your peers/partner/audience, is text lingo appropriate?
    • 3 before Me - have 3 other people read before you publish
  • Recognize all voices in group and peer to peer spaces.
  • Be careful when using jokes or humor online, it is hard to convey meaning through text alone.
  • When providing feedback to peers address them by name, use the PQP Strategy (Praise, Question, Polish), be specific, and sign your name at the end.  
  • During a class discussion on the forum: Be Engaged, Be Active, Be Reflective

3. Accessible Texts and Materials - Finally, recognizing the capability of differentiating content based on student needs in a blended literacy classroom is an essential component for success. With the access to information and support from platforms like ThinkCERCA, blended learning should not limit student choice to one particular text or resource. In fact, through collaboration with the librarian or media specialists, student choice in what they read should increase exponentially. An digital text that is linked to an LMS (Learning Management System) is not blended learning. Blended learning in a literacy classroom includes multiple texts and information that are high interest and available at all independent reading levels. The Common Core State Standards are end goals that are scaffolded and applicable to any content which is see in the expert reader. Expert readers apply similar skills no matter what they are reading. These transferrable strategies are what we intend to fill our students’ toolboxes with and are done so through text in which they can independently access. And just like the fluidity of student interests, so too is their independent reading level. It can change based on prior knowledge, motivation, or interest. When students have endless access to information and texts everyone wins. Fill your blended literacy space as you would a classroom library; full of books, informational texts, articles, media, and audio at all levels and interests!  

These 3 Essentials for Blended [Literacy] Learning help to maximize the digital space to support all young readers and writers. Intentional virtual spaces, scaffolding collaboration and communication, and surrounding students with high-interest, accessible texts promote literacy learning and help to raise student achievement that will last a lifetime.

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth

Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

FAQs For Educational Bloggers

I’ve had this blog since 2009. For nearly 9 years I’ve written about technology, improving school leadership and have shared my personal insights on being a connected educator. For me, blogging has become a part of my learning process and a platform through which I share information.

Whenever I keynote, lead a workshop, or write an article about blogging I always get the same handful of questions about getting started. I believe many educators want to start blogging but they just don’t know where to start or what to do. Blogging can be a highly reflective practice that more educators should do. Not only to share the resources they find and use in and out of the classroom but to look back on our personal practices of both learning and growing as professional educators.

FAQs for Educational Bloggers

I want start a blog. What’s the first thing I should do? Congratulations! You are about to embark on a journey that will bring you great fulfillment but can also be fraught with frustration as well. Don’t let that deter you. Blogging is a practice that can open doors and help you process who you are as a learner. In order to become a blogger you must be a reader of blogs. When you read other blogs you get a sense of what you want your blog to look like, sound like, and to just have a general understanding of what works (and doesn’t).

The best, first step is to spend time each day reading blogs. Try to find blogs that align with your interests. Are you an elementary teacher? Read elementary blogs. Are you interested in Edtech? Read those types of blogs. Who are your favorite people to follow on Twitter or other social media channels? Look at their profiles. Many have blogs that they write. Read those. And don’t just read the new stuff. Go back in their archives. Many times the gems any blogger has written isn’t their last post. It’s buried deep, so go after it. Check out the Teach 100 for a great list of blogs to read. Also this list is a good one to check out.

Ok, but what do I write about? This is probably the most common question I get. Everyone wants to know the magic formula for what to write about. The fact is, there isn’t one. The best advice I have is to write about what interests you. If you have a project that you are working on in your class write several posts about how you got started, what planning went into it, what works and what doesn’t. Much of what educators do can be turned into a blog post or three.

The key is to just write. I carry around several notebooks with me where I can jot down ideas, paragraphs or just free form write whenever the mood strikes. I also use the Notes app on my phone or a blank Google Doc. To find what you are passionate about you have to first write. Maybe what you initially write isn’t for public consumption. Maybe it’s just to get a feel for your voice and your form. The best thing all bloggers do is just write.

Where should I put my blog? Do I need my own domain name? Doesn’t matter and doesn’t matter. I use Blogger. Some bloggers want more control over design and widgets and prefer to use Wordpress. Others use Medium or other services. Some don’t host a professional blog at all and regularly post their thoughts on an open forum such as ISTE Communities or ASCD Edge. The platform doesn’t matter; each has their advantages and disadvantages and they are all about equal.

As for your own domain name, it doesn’t much matter either. If you want a more personalized feel for your blog, a unique domain name can help. It can also be good to have that domain name as part of your larger brand if that is something that interests you. However, in the end, having your own domain or not doesn’t make your posts any more readable.

How often should I write? This is the second most popular question I get. And it’s another that has no definitive answer. The more you write, the more opportunities folks have to read your work and share. But if you write too much it doesn’t give your posts time to have longevity and for others to digest and respond to them. I try to post once per week. But as we all know, real life gets in the way and sometimes I can’t stick to that schedule. Do what works for you. Don’t go so long that people forget you blog. Try to come up with a schedule that works for you and stick to it.

How long should my posts be? Here is another question I get often. If you do a search you will get a wide array of responses from shorter is better to longer is better and everything in between. Think about your own personal preferences. Do you want to sit down and read a novel in one sitting? Probably not. And think about who’s going to be reading your posts. Busy educators. The more detail you can pack into one post and keeping it brief the better. Don’t be afraid to split posts into series or parts. This also gives readers a reason to come back and read more.

How do I get more readers? This is a tricky question. On the one hand we should be writing because in the process of writing and reflecting we are growing. On the other hand you want to have audience. If you look at many of the most popular and widely read educational blogs they will all tell you that when they started they struggled for readers. Growing your audience takes time and patience and it definitely won’t happen overnight. Use your social media channels like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to let everyone know you have a new post. This will help extend your audience. (And remember, having that regular schedule definitely helps.)

How do I deal with negative comments or comments in general? One of the best parts of blogging are the conversations that they can start. Sometimes you will write a post and people will read and share but won’t leave a comment. Other times your comments section will blow up and you won’t be able to keep up. You have to prepare yourself for those that disagree with you too. A little bit of push back is a good thing. We all have different perspectives on things and sharing with each other is how we learn and grow. But there is a difference between comments that push back and those that are just inflammatory. You don’t have to respond to the inflammatory ones. Using a comment service like Disqus can not only help moderate comments but cut down on spammy ones too.

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