Monthly Archives: August 2016

Tips to Integrating Technology and Literacy

When teaching with digital natives in a digital world, one question facing many educators revolves around integrating technology to help facilitate learning: How do you work technology into the pedagogy, instead of just using something cool? That task can be especially daunting in language arts literacy classrooms where reading and writing skill development is the crux of daily lessons. However, as 1:1 technology initiatives roll out, integrating technology into the classroom is our reality.

With hundreds of sites, apps, Chrome extensions, and platforms available, choosing the right ones can seem overwhelming. As an eighth-grade language arts teacher, I’ve experienced this myself. Following are four tools that can help provide immediate formative assessment data as well as top-of-the-rotation feedback to help students develop personal learning goals.

If, like my school, you’re in a “Chromebook District,” these suggested tools will work well because all integrate perfectly when you sign in with your Google ID, limiting the need for multiple passwords. This saves a lot of student confusion, too.

1. Online Annotations via Scrible
Annotating texts is an evidence-based literacy strategy to help students understand and navigate complex texts, and a large part of my district’s schoolwide literacy initiative. Annotating digitally as part of our 1:1 Chromebook program was something that I wanted to incorporate, and Scrible has proved to be a valuable tool for my students.

Registering is quick and free, whether via Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, or your own email account. Upon registration, users should select an educator account, which allows them to create libraries where they save the annotation for future reference. The one drawback is that Scrible doesn’t yet support .PDF files. Among the highlights and benefits:

Students can work collaboratively on the same file.
Students and teachers can share annotations with each other.
Teachers can use annotations as formative assessment and comment back to students, allowing for immediate feedback.
Users can share annotations online via Facebook or Twitter.
With the sharing option, teachers can share any in-class modeling with students who were absent.
Annotating digitally allows for greater student choice as students find their own online texts.
There is a Google Chrome extension that you can add to your toolbar.
2. Video Annotations via VideoAnt
Digital literacy and using video as “texts” can create a myriad of issues for students who don’t take effective notes. Developed by the University of Minnesota, VideoAnt allows users to annotate videos and save them to their own virtual “ant farm.” The benefits:

Users can timestamp important parts of a video, allowing for easy access later.
Users can type notes with the timestamp, creating a quasi two-column note-taking tool.
Users can share video annotations with others.
3. Feedback via Kaizena Shortcut
Formerly known as Kaizena mini, Kaizena Shortcut is a Google extension that allows teachers to provide actionable, detailed feedback in a streamlined fashion. Typing out feedback in Google Docs comments boxes can get cumbersome. Even limiting feedback to three or four items takes time. Also, what happens when you need to address grammar errors? With Kaizena, teachers and students can:

Provide feedback in the form of typed comments.
Record comments verbally so that students can hear their teacher’s voice on playback.
Insert links to grammar lessons.
The last bullet point is clutch for teachers who tire of providing feedback about the same grammar errors over and over. For example, many of my students commit that cardinal sin known as the comma splice. In Kaizena, I created a lesson on comma splices in which I typed a detailed explanation of what they are and how to correct them, as well as a link to a YouTube video about them. This lets teachers provide effective feedback that appeals to students with diverse learning styles. The drawback is that you have to manually create the lessons for each topic. But once you have them, the work is done, allowing you to differentiate grammar lessons based on individual students’ errors.

4. Formative Assessments via EDPuzzle
Teachers of language arts and all content areas try to differentiate learning to reach a diverse group of learners by using video clips. But how do you know if students are really focusing and engaging in active learning during videos? EDPuzzle helps collect formative data that can drive instruction.

Users simply register for an account and then create classes. Each class gets its own code that students use for joining. Teachers can search and upload videos from YouTube, TED-Ed, Vimeo, KhanAcademy, and other sites. Then you create a lesson by embedding questions in the video that provides immediate formative data and allows you to check for understanding. Questions can be multiple-choice or open-ended.

I’ve used this when differentiating lessons, and it has worked flawlessly. For example, when working with theme, I broke the lesson into three levels. The first was for a basic understanding of the definition of theme. The second was for analyzing text to explain theme. The third focused on the crafts that writers use to create a theme. Students came in and completed an entrance slip via Socrative. I then used the data to determine where they were in the process of learning about theme, and assigned them appropriate videos in EDPuzzle.

As students completed the videos, I was able to check for understanding based on the data from their completed questions before moving them to the next level. I could also provide real-time feedback to the questions, explaining concepts further if needed.

While there are hundreds of technology tools out there to help language arts teachers, these four have helped me enhance my use of formative data and feedback to further student achievement in a diverse and differentiated classroom.

The Best Innovative Learning Stations That Get Students Reading

Whenever I would introduce a new novel to my students, I always got the same reaction: Students moaned and groaned about the storyline, expressed their lack of interest in the author’s writing style, and proclaimed their everlasting boredom with the class as a whole. In order to avoid student complaints, I decided to implement book clubs in my classroom—students now have the opportunity to work in groups and choose what book they as a group want to read for a given unit.

In order to make this work, there are a few things you should do. Have the students work together in groups of three or four, and offer the groups their choice of books—you should select options that ensure that students are still following Common Core standards. Next, have each group create a reading schedule.

In my classroom, I use the station rotation model of blended learning. I set up five or six stations around my classroom. With their groups, students walk into the room and look at the assignments listed on the whiteboard. They then pick the assignment that they need to develop and go to the designated station.

I decide which is the most important learning station they need to work on for the week, and I work with each group at that station. That way, I’m able to assist them and make sure they master certain skills. I usually work with one to three groups per day at my station, and after that I’m constantly monitoring student progress around the classroom.

10 Ideas for Engaging Learning Stations
These are learning stations that I’ve had success with. As I mentioned, I don’t set up all 10 every time we work with stations—I’ll use five or six of these at a time.

Annotate the Text: Have students identify important elements of the book as they read. Diigo is an excellent resource.

Character Profiles: Have students create profiles of significant characters. They can use Glogster to build a collage of pictures and details about each one.

Interview the Author: Have your students read about the author of their book. The group then composes questions and answers, and records an interview with one student playing the interviewer and another the author. Students can use tools like Snapchat and WeVideo to record themselves.

Tone/Mood: Have students identify the tone or the mood in different passages throughout the text, and then have them record themselves reading quotes in that tone or in a way that evokes that mood.

Theme: Have students identify a major lesson the author is trying to teach. Create a movie poster that portrays that lesson. This can be done on paper or using Google Drawings.

Movie Adaptation: If there is a movie adaptation of the book, have your students watch clips on YouTube. They can take notes using and compare the clips with the book.

Plot Development: Have students create a timeline or Google Docs presentation of major events in the story. Tiki-toki is a good resource for creating timelines.

The Bigger Picture: Have students relate a major issue in the book to something going on in the world today. Newsela is useful for this.

Video Blogs: Instead of answering a traditional journal question about the book, have students record themselves talking about the book. Flipgrid works really well.

Goodreads Chat: Have your groups participate in a chat about their book with the community at Goodreads.

I have discovered that allowing my students to pick from a variety of task options creates student buy-in and valuable opportunities for academic growth. They enjoy having the choice of books and activities to complete, and take advantage of the opportunity to explore their creative side. Students often approach me and ask me if they can use a certain program or do something different for an assignment, and I’m always eager to see what they end up doing.

New Ideas for Using Minecraft in the Classroom

Minecraft is no longer a new tool in the field of game-based learning. Because Minecraft has such open possibilities and potential, teachers have been experimenting with different ways to use it in the classroom for a while now. Some teachers use it to teach math concepts like ratios and proportions, while others use it to support student creativity and collaboration. (Minecraft Education Edition, which launches on November 1, 2016, has additional features for collaboration.) Here are some great ways to use Minecraft in the classroom:

Make History Come Alive
There are many already-created three-dimensional replica structures, like the Roman Colosseum and the Globe Theatre in London, that you can import into the game and have students explore. Many teachers have students create experiences (an update on dioramas) to show their knowledge of historical places and times. Students can also use Minecraft to create stage performances.
The Globe Theatre in London
Focus on Digital Citizenship
Minecraft is a collaborative game, and students actively work in competitive ways, but they can also work together to solve problems and challenges. I’ve watched many students play together, and I will say that they really want to do well when they play, but they sometimes struggle to communicate with each other in ways that are polite and safe. Teachers can use this as an opportunity to build digital citizenship skills. As students play, teachers should observe and give feedback with checklists and rubrics. Teachers can also facilitate discussions and reflections to support each student in effectively communicating and collaborating.

Add a Tool for Writing
Minecraft can be used to tell stories with characters, locations, choices, motivations, and plots. Teachers can use Minecraft as a tool for students to write and create stories based on their character. Perhaps students might create a backstory for the world they create, as well as for their character. Students can also create a story with different plot elements using the game they play and add more creative elements.

Aid Visualization and Reading Comprehension
One of the best ways to have students display their reading comprehension is to ask them to create a visualization. They can reconstruct various settings from a text, and even re-create scenes and plot events. They can also use these recreations to give a presentation or make predictions on what might happen next, and then actually create those predictions in the game.

In addition, many standards we have focus on close reading and critical thinking skills. Readers must make inferences, examine point of view, interpret words, and analyze how a text works. Although games may be light on reading, students must use the same kinds of skills in Minecraft and other games. Games like Minecraft have “domain-specific” words students must know. Students as players must also consider point of view and make inferences based on the world and situations. Teachers should play the game, and reflect on the skills needed to play it, and make connections to transfer these skills when students read complex texts. Minecraft is complex, and students must “read” it carefully and thoughtfully.

Address Problem Solving and Other Math Principles
Like reading standards, math standards call for complex problem solving and critical thinking. Teachers can use Minecraft to build skills needed for math competency. One example is persevering through solving problems. Minecraft requires this, and students can create different challenges for each other. Another skill we seek to develop in students is using appropriate tools in a strategic way, which is exactly what students must do when playing Minecraft. Teachers can examine their math standards for other related skills and use Minecraft to facilitate growth.

Increase Student Choice in Assessment
One of the easiest ways for teachers to use Minecraft in the classroom is as an assessment option. When students have voice and choice, those who enjoy Minecraft can choose it as an option to show what they know. Whether it’s used for a demonstration of knowledge of ratios and proportions or a simulation of a historical event, Minecraft can be another tool to create engagement in the assessment process.

As you consider using Minecraft in the classroom, make sure to have specific objectives in mind for implementation. Don’t forget to take time to set norms and expectations. Have students teach each other. Have them teach you if you need help. And if you’re worried about how parents might feel about the game, invite them into the classroom to see the work students are doing.

There have been so many great experiments with Minecraft in the classroom, and we can learn from each other how to use the game to better support student learning. How do you already use Minecraft in the classroom? How might you use it in the future in new and innovative ways?

Some App for Your Coursework

A few years ago, I wrote about creating an edtech ecosystem. Each ecosystem contains different tools and apps, and deciding which is best depends on your devices and infrastructure as well as what best supports your students. Within this ecosystem concept, each piece of technology provides a different functionality. A given piece might allow teachers and students to transport information, create new learning artifacts, or communicate, collaborate, and share.

As educators, we often seek out not only one ecosystem but also one app to solve all of our problems and meet all of our needs. For example, over the past several months, I have engaged in a number of conversations about technology with educators that began with an either/or question:

Should I use Google Drive, Google Sites, or Padlet?
Should I use OneNote or Google Classroom?
Should I use SeeSaw or Office365?
My reaction to each line of questioning is: What do you want your students to do?

Although I understand these teachers’ concerns that they not overwhelm their students (or their colleagues) with too many tools, that single solution does not really exist. Depending on the tasks that students may need to complete, and the skills that you may want them to gain, a variety of options may be required. Choosing the best options can seem daunting. To start figuring out which tools to bring into your ecosystem, consider these essential questions to guide your thinking.

Where Do I Want My Students to Save Their Work?
This may be the most fundamental question, as well as the most critical: When students share devices, storage becomes a significant challenge. Your school may choose Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple’s iCloud Drive (especially now that iOS 9.3 supports Apple Classroom), or the new Dropbox for Education as a storage option. Students can then access their files from anywhere and any device. As an added benefit, providing a central platform across all grade levels and classes helps to give students some organizational consistency.

Additionally, when schools supply Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and Google Drive, Office 365 and OneDrive, or iCloud and iWork, teachers can share resources with students and/or colleagues, encourage real-time collaboration on documents, and support students as they compile learning artifacts.

Do I Need to Streamline Workflow for My Students?
Getting content to students and collecting it from them poses a significant challenge to teachers in a digital environment. Over the past few years, teachers have designed a number of creative solutions ranging from posting content to class websites to using learning management systems like Edmodo, Schoology, or Canvas. However, two platforms have emerged that have significantly streamlined the process for educators in Microsoft or Google environments.

When teachers use Google Classroom, it essentially creates a virtual inbox/outbox system for students. As teachers create assignments in Google Classroom, it automatically names and distributes files, organizes content, and provides students with an assignment calendar. Google Classroom can also provide them with a single location to find information, links to online resources, and digital conversations with their classmates.

On the other hand, OneNote and Class Notebook solve many of these challenges as well as support students with digital note-taking. From any device, students can organize virtual binders and also access shared resources from the teacher. Older students might use both Classroom and OneNote.

Do I Want My Students to Share the Story of Their Learning?
To develop their critical thinking and creativity skills, students need an opportunity to share not only what they have learned but also how they learned it and why. To meet this need, many schools have looked to tools such as Google Sites, Seesaw, and Kidblog.

Consider these blogging and journaling tools as an opportunity to reflect, share, and co-create understanding among students. They can also be viewed as a portfolio of work as students choose what they want to share with their classmates or a broader audience from their storage solution while simultaneously adding to the collective knowledge of the class.

What Else Do I Need?
Do students need to collaboratively create a gallery of projects to share with parents? In this case, a web-based tool like Padlet might be perfect. Would they benefit from a digital canvas to support their brainstorming and planning for a large research project? RealtimeBoard can provide them with a host of tools and allow them to easily insert documents from Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox.

Depending on what your students need and what you would like for them to be able to do, it may be time to consider a both/and mindset when it comes to digital tools instead of engaging in an either/or debate.