Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Setting The Stage For A Great School Year

Back when I was in the classroom this was the most exciting time of the year for me. I always enjoyed heading back to school more than any other time. Getting back in my classroom and getting things set back up, buying new supplies and planning for all the great things I learned over the summer were just some of things that excited me. I couldn’t wait for kids to get back in school and for learning to start again.

While back to school can be a fun time it can also be a challenge. It should be a time where we set the stage for a great year. However, there is always so much going on and so many things to do it’s easy to get bogged down in the weeds of endless meetings, paperwork and lesson planning.

There are many things you can do to help yourself and your kids at the start of school to have a great year. Here are just a few.

Get Connected
-One of the most important ways an educator can grow and learn is to get connected. Reading blogs, contributing to an online community or checking out a Twitter Chat are all ways that you can hear about the good things that are happening in other classrooms/schools and learn from others. These places can also serve as a virtual sounding board when you run into a problem or need a solution. Coming up in October is Connected Educator Month so there are many opportunities to learn how to be a connected educator including book studies and free webinars. And speaking of books (shameless plug) you can check out my book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning that can help guide your connected learning.

Create A Virtual Classroom-My school website was the way that I let the world know what we were learning in our classroom. I could post notes from class, any files students needed, use the calendar to post homework and curate a list of resources for students to use outside of class. It’s important today to create a virtual space for your classroom. Some districts provide a website for educators to do this, while others allow them to create their own. There are a wide variety of products out there (like Edmodo or Schoology) to do this so spend some time finding one that suits your needs. You’ll also want to examine how you can extend conversations from your classroom to the virtual spaces as well. Taking your classroom into the cloud allows you to create a private space to post questions, comments, blogs and more. These online spaces allow learning to happen not just in the schoolhouse but after hours as well.

Set Goals And Reflect Often-As an educator it’s important to reflect on the previous years, the high points and the low points. Use those reflections to build personal and professional goals for the new year. Maybe you want to learn a new technology skill or challenge yourself to grade differently. Whatever your goals, make them actionable and reachable. Students can do the same. Set aside time to have students create learning and personal goals they want to accomplish throughout the year. Develop a plan to check in regularly and report back. Using something like Google Docs or Forms makes collecting and sharing those goals easy. Or if you want to take it to the next level, using Recap, students can record those goals through video as part of a larger portfolio to keep track of their learning all year.

Add Something New To Your Technology Toolkit-Odds are over the summer you learned about something new to try in your classroom. The beginning of the year can actually be a great time to think about new ways to integrate technology into learning. One of the tools I learned about this summer is EdTech Software. This is a textbook ebook solution for the classroom. If you use any kind of adopted textbook the EdTech Software can organize all those companion ebooks into a shelf for students so they can access them easily. But it’s much more than that. We know many textbooks aren’t all that flexible. With Shelfit you can supplement with videos, links and other resources to extend the ability of that static textbook and provide a customized learning experience for students. You can check out what it can do here and sign up for a free trial.

Establish Relationships-Getting to know my students was the first thing I did every year I taught. There was always that pressure to get started with the content but I found that if I made connections with my students, I could more easily teach them. I understood who they were, their passions, and their interests. Take the first few days to learn who your students are. The time taken will pay off in the end. And keep those relationships going. Schedule time to talk with students 1-on-1 as often as you can. Even a simple conversation in the morning or in the hall can prove to be beneficial.

Remember, this really is an exciting time of year. Take time to enjoy it!

What are your favorite ways to get ready for a new school year? Leave some thoughts below. 

photo credit: Homeschool Supplies via photopin (license)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Recap App: 3 Back-to-School Ideas for Student Videos

Last time we co-authored a blog post, Shaelynn Farnsworth and I shared Blab. It was so much fun and such an easy app to integrate into the classroom we wanted to share another favorite of ours!
Recap is a free video response app created by Swivl which allows students to reflect, respond, and demonstrate through video. Recap is easy to use as both an educator and as a student. It is also an excellent way to model and use digital literacy modes in the classroom! Simply create a class and assign a Recap to students. Questions or prompts can be teacher-created in the forms of text or video, and can be assigned to individual students, small groups, or whole class. When completed, teachers can share the whole “Review Reel”, or each individual child’s video. Share options include email or weblink!

Here are 3 Back-to-School Ideas that will have your students (and parents) Recapping through video response:

Reading Interest Inventory - At the beginning of the year, giving students a “Reading Interest Inventory” provides valuable information about each students’ reading preferences and how they view themselves as readers. It also provides a launchpad to place the “right book” into their hands that may hook a reader for a lifetime. Using Recap, students could record themselves on their computer or ipad. These video responses would provide valuable insight to climate and culture of literacy in the classroom. Here are a few of unique questions to include on a Reading Interest Inventory: What is your earliest memory of reading or books? How do you choose a book? What do you notice adults reading? When should a person leave a book? What two books or magazines do you wish we had in our classroom library?

Student Goals and Reflection - Another way Recap could be used at the beginning of the school year is to capture a student’s goals for the year. Part of educating the Whole Child is helping the student see where they are with their learning and where ultimately they want to end up. We know that learning is a continuum. So using Recap students can record where they’d like to see their learning be at the end of the school year. Maybe they want to be a better math student. Or perhaps they want to be able to read more proficiently. What ever their goal they can capture it. Then throughout the school year they can refer back to it. Use it as part of their own personal reflective practice. How are they progressing? What do they still want to do. Have they met their goal and maybe it’s time for another. These videos can become a part of a larger learning portfolio where students examine their learning throughout the year.

Parent Involvement - At the beginning of each school year, many of our youngest learners attend a back-to-school night or an open-house in which they meet their teacher, unpack their school supplies, and explore their new surroundings in the safety of their parents. It is also a time that many parents and family members come to the realization that their child is growing up and “leaving the nest”. What a perfect time to have a “message station” set up for parents or family members to leave a Recap for their student. Imagine the joy in a child’s eye after receiving a message from their parent or family member on their first day of school. Recap classes can be accessed through a pin number assigned to the class, so those parents or family members unable to attend can record their message from anywhere. It is also a great way to demonstrate to parents how you will meet the digital literacy demands in the Common Core State Standards, as well as how technology can be used in a meaningful way even with our youngest learners!

Recap is an engaging and creative way for students to share their understanding through video response! Recap is a free app and is available via the web (so perfect for chromebooks), as well as an iPad app. Coming soon - a  phone app, Recap from anywhere at anytime!

Monday, July 11, 2016

We Are All Teachers Of Literacy

"If we talk about literacy we have to talk about how to enhance our children's mastery over the tools needed to live intelligent, creative, and involved lives." -Danny Glover

At ISTE 2016 I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel, sponsored by Samsung Education, with other educators and industry experts, spending an hour talking about literacy in the age of technology. It was an engaging discussion that looked at how one district in Tennessee leveraged technology to improve reading in the middle grades and also how literacy instruction is being impacted by the use of technology. My role in the discussion was that of a former District Technology Leader and what I’ve seen when implementing district technology programs centered around literacy.

For me this discussion really hit home. As a Father of a 2 daughters I see on an almost daily basis how computers, tablets and apps are impacting their literacy skills. For my 7 yr old she uses her tablet to find books she wants to read and also is able to practice her skills through read aloud and other features in the books. For my 3 year old she is able to use her manipulatives and other apps to practice her letters and letter sounds. It’s truly incredible to watch both of them using the technology and its power to learn.

As I’ve reflected on this panel a lot there are some important themes to remember when it comes to literacy and technology that we need to remember.

We Are All Teachers Of Literacy-Something that gets lost on many teachers is that, in addition to our role as content experts, we are also teachers of literacy. In the lower grades this idea is more embraced because of the single teacher model. But as students progress through the middle grades and into High School the idea of every teacher being a literacy teacher gets lost.

Each content area has it’s own special language that kids need to understand. For example in my science classroom we had our -ologies, chemistry terms and others that I needed to make sure my students understood. In addition there was reading in the content area that is also important. So regardless if we teach World History or Advanced Calculus or Biology we are all teachers of literacy.

Be A Skeptic When It Comes To Technology And Literacy-As we talked about in our panel there is a lot of technology out there that can be used to improve literacy with students. Look at my girls. They, like many other kids are using it. But we have to be careful. In my time as a District Technology Leader I saw plenty of schools waste many dollars on software that promised to improve how kids read or recalled what they read when really the technology was a babysitter.

We’ve probably all heard of someone looking for the “next big thing” when it comes to technology and literacy. We need to be careful and we need to be skeptical. Ask yourself, is what the technology trying to do really going to improve how kids read and comprehend what they read? Or will the technology just get in the way? Don’t just use technology to help kids read because it’s new or flashy. Focus on the technology that can actually help them improve.

Literacy Is More Than Just Reading-Another important theme from our panel discussion was, that while the literacy skills of reading, decoding and comprehension are all important, literacy is more than that. We’ve entered an age where the definition of what actually makes a person literate is shifting and evolving. The introduction of technology into learning is changing the ways that students communicate information. These “technoliteracy” skills that students need employ to communicate, no matter the technology. Blogging. Vlogging. Podcasting. Snapchating. As long as students have this comprehensive set of literacy skills it won’t matter the technology or app they use. They will be able to communicate their learning most effectively.

In this age of anytime access to technology and information kids need the other literacy skills too. Those of content curation, information evaluation, and the use of various, appropriate technologies to communicate information. For example my good friend Shaelynn Farnsworth teaches how students can use something simple like infographics to improve specific literacy skills and to convey a tremendous amount of information in an engaging way. In order to make literacy more whole we have to look beyond just the skills of reading and look at literacy as multimodal, especially in this age of technology.

So perhaps it’s the definition of literacy that needs updating or maybe it’s just our perception of it that needs changing. Either way we have to look at literacy differently. Literacy is an entire set of skills that enable all of us to engage with information differently. Literacy today is taking on a whole new meaning and many years from now it will mean something entirely different. Therefore, we have to look at literacy through a new lens and expand on our definition of what makes kids and all of us literate and examine how technology supports our ability to do so.

photo credit: The future of books via photopin (license)