Teaching Screenagers

Teaching Screenagers
My life in the fastlane

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Raised by my Techie Students

So this is the final project of our school year, the famous Sixth Grade Memoir. This week I am sharing the work we have done with the poem Raised By written by Kelly Norman Ellis, and the lesson itself inspired by Linda Christian and her work in Teaching for Joy and Justice.
 First we listened to the poem by   Kelly Norman Ellis


We then wrote our own poems discussing first, "What Raised Us?"
After students spent some time creating their poems and working with partners, we used the app SonicPicslite, and students read their poems and selected images to highlight their work.

I am really proud of their work. We will be having an Author's Tea on June 15th, and now that I have figured out how to download these to our site, I will be posting even more samples. Yay Me and Video Monkey for helping me get our work public.

I think being Raised By my techie students has truly changed me as a teacher. Look what I just did "all by my big girl self" as my kids would put it. Being techie doesn't mean you have to know everything, it just means you have to be fearless, determined and be willing to take risks. What a great thing to model for all our kids. I can't wait to see what we do next!!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Building Bridges with Technology and Poetry

The debate continues this year as to what is crucial in teaching with technology. I find myself agreeing with this video clip: It's a book.

For the past several years my students and I spent the last six weeks of school publishing our sixth grade memoirs. Together students write new stories and poetry, and review work from the year. They compile this work into a hardback book that is read during the last week of school at our Annual Author's Tea. There is value in creating a hardback book. There is something to be said about seeing the student handwriting years later, the creative pictures they draw, and the messages that students write to each other at our group readings. After all, as Lane Smith says, "It's a book."
But this year, we also have our digital world we have created together. We have stories on our iPods, voice recordings in our files, and an online portfolio of work. What do we do to share that work in a meaningful way?

It cannot be ignored that students live in a technology filled world, filled everywhere but our classrooms. Well this year we have pushed the limit to include handheld technology and laptops into our classroom. I continue to push forward and look at lessons differently. Technology is only effective if it significantly changes the learning for our students. Publishing on line is a way to motivate our students to produce work in a timely manner. They look "polished" from the first draft, and it has come to my attention that my students will more willingly and effectively revise if they are working on iPod or computer. For example, this week we are writing poetry. We will be using Judith Viorst If I Were In Charge of the World as mentor text. After we experience the poem together, here is the link to show how my students will create those first drafts, and then a sample on how they too will create a movie or voice recording of their work.

After they publish their work on line, they will have the option to video, create a Storykit book or record their poetry.

If I was in charge of the world

Gone are the days that you go to the computer lab to type your final copy on "the publishing day" of our writer's workshop. Students create on line, from start to finish, and yes, I believe that students still need a place to put that work when all is said and done.
So we will house our work in two ways this year. First, on our Writing for Change website,at students will post their favorite pieces from the year and I will create a page of podcasts and voice recordings. We will create a "This I Believe" iMovie highlighting our best thoughts based on NPR's This I Believe segment.

We will still create hardback books for students to have and to hold. Perhaps it is my ties to the paper past that drives me to continue that method of publishing, or perhaps it is that my students years later bring me their books they created to share with this next class of students. What we put in our paper book is still important, after all, there is value in being able to hold that text in your hand, create it and share with others. I believe there is room for both.
What does technology do for writing? It allows students to publish creatively, using images, sound and words to express themselves. It is a different form of writing and writing instruction, and it has value.
But equally important is the fact our kids publish and produce work on line daily,both in and out of the classroom. There is something instantly gratifying in creating on line, and this need for more instant gratification must also be met.
I look forward to seeing what we create over the next few weeks.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Power of NWP: Inspiring Educators and Students to Reach New Heights

 Sorry for the long delay between posts. Life changes on a dime at times, my father had a serious stroke and I have been focused on my daily classroom and learning about the medical world. It has left me little time for classroom reflection. But this morning, I am sitting in the airport getting ready to go to Boston to share our work  at the National Writing Project Urban Sites Conference. It has been an amazing journey.

With the current budget situation, both nationally and in California, there is little doubt that education is facing a true and real crisis. The National Writing Project lost its funding last month, and project fellows have been blogging for over a month now on the power of this particular program. This is my blog.

Kevin Hodgson inspires me with his blogposts on Kevin's Meandering Mind. He is one of the most creative educators I have run across on my blog explorations, and he has written several pieces on the power of NWP.  Here is an excerpt from his blogpost, he says everything I have been thinking and more.

There was a newsletter email in my box the other day from National Writing Project Executive Director Sharon Washington that began with the line that “We would like to share some good news.” I wondered, is this it? Has funding for the National Writing Project somehow been restored? Has all the lobbying in DC and the hundreds of blog posts and all of those phone calls finally made a bit of a difference?
Not really.
Funding is still gone in the latest budget and the “good news” is only that NWP and all of the other literacy groups that got stripped of federal support can now apply for some competitive grants, which the government has “graciously” set aside from its $3 billion in teacher-quality testing money for educational programs. That amount is apparently just one percent of the $3 billion.
Thanks a lot.
The funding bill (see summary of entire bill) also eliminates a number of other education programs, including:
  • Educational Technology State Grants—$100 million.
  • Literacy Through School Libraries—$19 million.
  • Byrd Honors Scholarship Program—$42 million.
I know we are in the era of competitive spirit (ie, Race to the Top) as a push to enact positive change in struggling schools. It’s an era where “my” program has to beat “your” program in order to keep afloat from year to year. Survival requires lobbying, and political connections, and is anchored on other things that we classroom teachers don’t always “see” because we are too busy working on lesson plans, giving an extra hand to the struggling student or teaching, for goodness sake.
But I do wonder if the officials who set up these competitive elements realize that it may very well be our students — the most vulnerable population out there — who are most impacted. I look at the list of educational programs that are cut and I can’t help but think: so many of these initiatives are reaching under-served populations of students and struggling socio-economic communities, and now they are gone or in danger of disappearing."

 Thanks Kevin for saying what needs to be said so eloquently and matter of fact.

So with that being said, here is what I know. I know that NWP makes a difference. Since becoming a fellow three years ago, my passion for teaching and learning was reignited. I have been part of a revolution of sorts, bringing authentic writing and educational debate back to my classroom. As a matter of fact, as luck would have it, I returned to the classroom from being a literacy coach soon after becoming a writing fellow. I have never been happier in my professional life than being part of this group of amazing educators. No where in my over 22 years of teaching have I found a more dedicated, diverse, and professional group of people. I have been pushed to new limits, this past year exploring technology and the impact it has on writing instruction and kids. Here is the prezi my Writing Project partner Margit and I created (she the technology, me helping with the ideas) that highlights what we will be presenting this weekend.

Writing for Change by Margit Boyesen on Prezi
And my newest website http://www.writingforchange.net 

will go live today. Our work with the EITT grant, my classroom research, and my connection to great educators across the country has benefited my classroom practice and impacted other teachers on my site as well. So when you listen to the daily rhetoric on our evening news, the demise of education, the need for more accountability, do more with less... blah blah blah, know this.
Know that in thousands of classrooms across America teachers are standing up, one by one and teaching not to the test, but to educate the child. We teach to express, to empower, to be passionate. We teach to write with a powerful voice, pay attention to detail, cite our sources, check our grammar and know that words hold power.
So Bring it Boston!! So excited to meet new educators across our county who work with and care about our students and professionals working in the Urban environment. And to our legislators in Washington, I invite you to stop on by. We will accomplish more in 2 days than you will accomplish in your two years in office, we don't talk about it, we do it.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Shift Happens, and Other Classroom Media Issues

Today in my classroom I am bombarded with thoughts about using Social Media as a means of writing instruction. Not just with iPods, but using a multitude of different media options with my students. The iPods have opened the door to a new world of media literally at your fingertips. I shared this video on my own teacher webpage to explain to my families and students how our world is changing from the use of technology.

The second video has also been shared with my students and parents. It has been a difficult journey for me this year because teaching with technology demands not only knowledge of the tool, but creating a climate in which students see this tool as a way to communicate and interact in socially responsible ways. There have been issues with students still thinking this is a toy, a game, a portable music player. How do I inspire students to truly see this as an opportunity to communicate through a new and modern and immediate medium?

The answer is as simple and as difficult as lesson design. When working with this new tool I struggle to find meaningful ways for students to use iPods as ways to create and share ideas that they couldn't on pencil and paper. Is student engagement up when they write the letter to a multiple choice answer using the app Glowdraw? Absolutely, but I have to ask myself is that really any different than whiteboards or finger signals? No, not really, so I pushed forward.

When asking students to summarize notes in history, we used the app Storykit to create summary books on the geographical areas of India. In this case, I felt success in that students took the time to synthesize information, take photos and self edit their work. The struggle is how to publish this work for more than one student to see. There in lies the continuous evaluation of projects. Hopefully I will be able to put some samples on this site soon. My team is helping me figure out the logistics, oh the challenges of the pilot year!

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Continued Debate of the Influence of Technology in Education

This week I continue to marvel at the amount of debate about public education in the United States. There is no doubt we are at a crossroads and it will be a very interesting time in our classrooms over the next few years. This week I think I have been more discouraged over the rhetoric across this nation bashing the work of both students and teachers in public education. We as teachers need to not only stand up for our profession, we more importantly need to stand up for our students and what we feel are the best instructional tools and practices to serve their changing needs.

I think bringing technology into the classroom is a way to bridge the gap between educational practice and real world application. For example, the debate on test preparation. Here is a video from middle school students on the value of studying for class and for the the high stakes test. I shared this with my students in class and on my web page to inspire my kids to write their own raps teaching us how to do something. This week we taught each other poetry terms, and with an average of 87 percent on the weekly quiz, I think they internalized the terms better and got more enjoyment from the process. We are currently voting for the best raps in the class to publish as a complete song for review next week before our chapter test. Would they have been as motivated to learn the terms without this creative opportunity? i sincerely doubt it.

Another thought, Why hasn't technology revolutionized education?

I remember when my first Apple 2E came into my classroom with the 4 inch floppy discs and green screen with the blipping lights across the front. Today my kids held their iPods in their hands and created pages in a StoryKit book while they read about the Ancient Hebrews. Within a couple of lessons, students will take notes, publish and share their work all from the palm of their hand. That is a revolution in instruction, but it is also a change in what we are trying to teach our students.

In Educational Leadership this month by ACSD, the topic is "What Students Need To Learn". I think that is the next revolution in education, and definitely a change in my own classroom even in this pilot program. What do we need to teach and why do students need to know it? The question of revolutionizing education through technology isn't about the tools themselves, but the thought process behind how and why we use them. This is an interesting blog about just this topic, check it out!

Why Hasn't Technology Revolutionized Education? Guitar Heroes, Inspiration, and Technology Adoption

And finally, some exciting news that I think will take us to the next steps in revolutionizing our classrooms. TedTalks is launching a new program focusing just on educational issues. Learn more by joining this exciting discussion on line.

#TED launches exciting new educational initiative! Educators, students, & creatives, learn more here: http://bit.ly/ggUKNN @TED_ED

Next week we continue to create our social studies storykit books and will be publishing our poetry on line.
Looking forward to sharing our progress.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Differentiation: Technology levels a playing field

This week I had the opportunity to team teach with a colleague. It is so rare in the middle school world to be able to teach with another adult in your classroom. Sure, people come and observe, you may be able to catch a lesson or two on your prep period, but it isn't the same as collaborating all day with someone.
This past week over half our students went to sixth grade camp. Holly French and I decided to put our classes together and experiment with a new program using the iPods called Storykit. Our students created Haiku poems, downloaded images to match their work, and then created a 6 page book highlighting themselves as authors, and the poetry they had written. I would put a sample here but I haven't quite figured out how to download and share it yet. That will happen later in the week and I will post some student work.

The project itself is pretty great. Next week students will read their work, building an oral component into the lesson and we will once again use our fluency scoring guide to monitor our progress as performance readers.

But I think the greatest lesson of all this week, was that using technology as a tool levels the playing field. I had my intervention class and my honors class working together on this project. I would defy anyone observing the students working together to declare who was honors, and who needed extra help. In fact, it would have been impossible. All the students were engaged, coaching each other on what they learned about the program as they produced their books, and no one waited for someone to do it for them. By the end of the day, one of my students wrote a ten step list on how to use Storykit so when our classes return they too will be able to use the application quickly.

I read an article this weekend that I have attached to this post. It is called
"Are You Making These Four Differentiation Mistakes?" by Robyn Jackson at ACSD.

Here is a quote describing one of these mistakes:
"Differentiating by achievement level rather than by students' current learning level. Some will tell you that there are three kinds of students - high, medium, and low. But this distinction is not very useful. There are times when a student you consider to be in your high group will struggle with the content. Other time, students in your low group will sail through an activity, outperforming the students in your high group. Because students bring a variety of skills and experiences to the classroom, classifying them as high, medium, and low doesn't really help you adjust your instruction effectively to meet their complex needs. These static groupings also limit students. Once you start thinking about students in these ways, it is difficult to see them any other way. Differentiating by achievement level often results in lowered expectations for struggling students and extra work for advanced students. Lowering the target for some students while raising the learning target for others is not differentiation - it's tracking. Real differentiation takes into account where students are at a particular point in time. It doesn't label kids "low", "average," and "advanced"; it groups students by their current understanding of the content and processes involved in a particular learning activity and then provides students with the targeted supports they need to successfully master that activity."

Are You Making these Four Differentiated Instruction Mistakes? - Washington, DC, United States, ASCD EDge Blog post

This is something that I have always believed, and in grouping our students randomly this week, this was action research proving that exact point. As we look to using technology in our classes, it shouldn't be about replacing core learning, it should be about offering a variety of options for students to use to display what they have learned, and more importantly, how they learn it.

Something interesting to consider til we post next week.

P.S. Check out some of the blogs I am following, and please feel free to suggest some other sites out there that would be helpful as we move forward.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Teaching Screenagers

 This is my new term of the month:


A term that combines two words to describe "teenagers who are online" and who are "always looking at the screen."
Also defined as: "wired teens or the much sought after marketing demographic of 18-24 year olds who grew up in front of a TV/computer screen."
See also : generation Y  mouse potato  

The cover of Educational Leadership 
http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership.aspxboasts  dedicates a full issue of their magazine dedicated to this concept. As I become more and more engrossed in this iPod adventure, I am quickly coming to realize these are difficult waters to navigate. Each day I evaluate not only who I am teaching, what I am asking them to accomplish, but how will technology enhance or deviate from my objectives for the day?

Daily I am inundated with articles about technology in the classroom. Here are links to just a few of the articles that appeared in my inbox this week.

Does Facebook inspire us or stress us?  Read each of these and decide for yourself.

Stressed out by Facebook? Study shows some users experience anxiety

 How schools should use social media to communicate


Is technology expanding or lacking in our countries rural areas?

Digital divide persists as Obama reaches out to tech leaders on innovation, education

Rural districts use technology to expand distance learning
Do we push forward in technology creating 1 to 1 schools or do budget restraints make that impossible?

Report sounds warning bell on implementing education reforms
An iPad for Every Student; Now What?

  What is our role as teachers of social justice and digital citizens? Oh, and by the way while we are at it, lets make sure we cover every standard emphasized on the California STAR assessment. Keep on pace, but innovate, that is the message of the day. And most days I think we do that pretty well.

As the CST looms over the next few months, I am coming to realize more and more that the children I teach and interact with each day are so much more than a single test score. Being part of this project has forced me to put my lessons under an entirely new lens. So the next obvious step, is when will the assessment we use to judge the success of our students match this innovation in instruction? If we put the world in their hands as a resource, and take it all away when we assess on paper and pencil, is that really an accurate reflection on what we have learned together this year?

So one answer is to have multiple assessments. Not wanting to wait for the next big thing to be created, our class has decided to create our own reflection/evaluation.
Each student will still take the  California STAR assessment, however, they will also create a digital portfolio, highlighting some of their best creative work this year. What that looks like remains to be seen, but I am sure I can find some ideas on line! 

Another interesting article and website

Closing the Achievement Gap Without Widening a Racial One - California Teachers Association

http://sdawp.ucsd.edu/  San Diego Area Writing Project

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What is a Digital Footprint?

Working with students in technology is a joy and a challenge. What I have discovered about our journey is that my students don't truly understand the idea of "Digital Footprint" or that your life on line stays with you. This week some students attempted to go to some sites that were not appropriate, and others just wasted time looking up images or information off the topic. I took the opportunity this week to teach a lesson on Digital Dossier. Take a look at this video, it was a great discussion point for our class.

After we viewed this video we discussed our roles and responsibilities we have as Digital Citizens. I find it fascinating that our kids are so immersed in technology, yet they don't know that what they put out there stays out there. Food for thought as we move forward.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fundamental Changes take time... but not as long as I thought

It is important to note that when I began this project I had little to no experience with iPods or apps or even downloading music. What I now know to be true is that it doesn't matter, our kids do.  This has been an incredible adventure. My students use these tools as if they had been in our classroom always. I continually find new ways to enhance instruction using these tools. For example, when we were reading an article on Ancient Egypt, students stopped, pulled up their iPods looked up areas of Egypt on Google maps. Suddenly, those pyramids of long ago were alive and well in the palm of our hands.
When students need to know the meaning of a word as they read, they pull out their iPods and use dictionary.com to look it up then and there. They are tools, not toys and enhance rather than replace what is going on in our instruction. I didn't realize they would be entrenched in our work so quickly.

As I sit here on a Sunday night to plan, my iPod sits beside me so I can test an app, look up something the way my students might, and plan differently, with the goal of bringing technology into the lessons. For example, this next week my honors students are writing for a debate. Tomorrow not only will they read articles and structure their support for cell phone use on campus, they will use the iPods to look up research both for and against cell phones on campus to enhance the work that has already been done in their outlines. It will be quick, and will lead to the next discussion, which is what is credible evidence and how do you know? One important discussion will have to be how to evaluate articles and "facts" we find on the web.

Another cool thing to note, we took our Chapter 6 test in English this past week, and all classes improved in reading comprehension yet again. My classes used to range from 20 percent to 75 percent in this area, and last week the the range went from 68 to 100 percent. I think we are beginning to gather the data that supports students recording themselves and listening and scoring their prosody on a rubric. It seems to be making a significant difference both in their confidence as readers and their comprehension.

Is everything wonderful in iPodland? That would be a "nope". We still have difficulty downloading the student voices, a few students have discovered the camera and have saved pictures that need to be deleted and we still can't get videos on the iPods without some serious tech support intervention, but I am confident by the end of February that will be solved.

Looking forward to creating Egypt mini reports using Storybooklite and to continue to record our voices reading text, this time with a focus on non-fiction. Stay tuned to what will happen next!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

iPods: Making a Difference in Reading Comprehension

The use of iPods has become somewhat routine in our classroom now. Students use the iPods routinely, at least 3 to 4 times per week. We use them as responders by writing our answers on the iPod and sharing with the group. A favorite app is dictionary.com that we use at least twice a week to work on vocabulary development. We have just started creating flashcards using the free app iFlashcards to review key vocabulary and content in history. Just last week, we began to use video. Students partnered up and took a video of each other reading their goal sentences. We read and excerpt from David Pink's book Drive called "What's your sentence?". Students then developed their own sentence defining their goal for a decade from now. We plan on combining this work into an iMovie in our afterschool computer writing group, "Writing for Change." The motivation and innovation continues six weeks into this project.

One of my key questions for this year is "Will increased prosody "fluency" improve student reading comprehension?" Rather than leveling the fluency reading practice to individualized reading levels and completing a quick daily fluency practice, we are looking at something a little different. Students are exposed to the grade level material at least twice through the iPod during the week we explore a text. Here are some notes from the past two selections in Holt Chapter 6, grade level 6.

In two of our periods, students use the iPods to listen to the class story once, then the second time, read along with the iPod to improve their prosody. Students reported that it was helpful to read along with the story, and with everyone wearing headphones, there wasn't any stigma as students explored intonation and pacing or volume. I was able to walk around and take notes on my target kids or pull a student or two to record their voice using the voice recorder. Students have also reported that they like the opportunity to pause the story and repeat a section to clarify something or highlight and answer from the text.

Students then record a selection from the story, this week from the realistic fiction piece Eleven by Sandra Cisneros. They read a short passage from the story and scored it on our Prosody scoring guide to reflect on strengths and weaknesses. I will then pull the student recordings and the student scored guide and give me own feedback. 

Students take a selection test at the end of each story. Students do not use the iPod for this test, as we want to measure what students will do independently. Here is something interesting I am tracking, and that is the reading comprehension scores on these tests.

In one period, most students in the class tested FBB or BB on the STAR assessment last Spring. Students have been using grade level curriculum with support strategies including repeated reading and choral reading. In the past two assessments, students in the class went from a class average of 66 % before iPods to our most recent score of 85.7 percent. A growth of over 20 percent!

In another period, all students scored Advanced on the STAR assessment last Spring. Since using the iPods in class, we have noticed students continue to average 90 percent or better on selection tests.

In my third period, students range from Basic to Proficient on their STAR assessment last Spring. In the past two assessment, students in this class went from a class average of 75 percent to 86 percent, again significant growth of 10 percent.

It will be interesting to study how students will perform on the Chapter tests given every 4 to 6 weeks. We have used iPods this entire chapter so I am hopeful that this progress will cross into that assessment as well.