Saturday, May 25, 2013

Learning Content Vocabulary

When I first used the online tool, Quizlet, I was impressed for a couple reasons. I loved that I could upload my own words and definitions. More significantly I loved adding images to flash cards. This is a great study tool for word associations and creating an image in my mind as I study a language that is new to me. But the thing that most impressed me about Quizlet was the way others openly shared their cards with anyone who wanted to use them or make a copy of them and then modify to meet their needs. This wasn't just a passing fancy by one or two people using the online flash card tool, thousands of word lists can be found from AP Government, Biology, Psychology to Amendments to the Constitution. Being able to download someone else's cards is such a time saver. Even better is when the teacher creates the Quizlet cards for the class.

That was before Common Core. That was before differentiation, rigor and text complexity. Unknown words represented verbally, visually and with multimedia provide richer connections than using just a single medium. We learn more deeply when we can paraphrase learning to others, make connections to other things we know, and interact with text in some way. 

Let's give students the opportunity prior to tackling rigorous text, to preview and explore the text, identifying words they don't know or words they wonder about. Give students time to define, explain, and share learning with one another. A great tool for documenting learning while sharing it with peers and oneself (for review later) is Twitter. Students could Tweet their findings, all using a common #hashtag. Students can read and reply to one another, adding and tagging images (digital representations/visuals), connections, reactions, and clarifications. Using Twitter is a great way to continue learning, on the bus, at home, in front of the TV. When it is time to review, search by hashtags, search favorites, read your retweets. What a fantastic, real time way to use social media as a learning and collaboration tool in and outside of school.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Conceptual Framework for Student Self-Evaluation

According to Piaget, learning occurs when the brain is challenged in some way. Educators want students to be aware of this process, grow from it, and essentially control it for themselves.  In other words, we expect students to become metacognitive of their learning. I used to hear colleagues preaching to students for them to "own your behavior; own your learning" as if stating the expectation would enable students to make it so. I was delighted when I opened my Kindle app this morning on my iPad to discover Chapter 6, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Author John Hattie agrees with both Piaget and the idea that students should be metacognitive. However, Hattie quickly adds that student metacognition is a "growing ability" and that teachers must encourage students by playing a direct role, by encouraging, modeling and explicitly teaching students how to engage with one another and with themselves. Teachers need to provide multiple opportunities where students are discovering, asking questions, collaborating with peers, and testing theories, but the essential role for the teacher is to intervene, to moderate, to be aware of what students are processing and at what levels.

If we really want our students to 'own their learning' and be motivated and self-directed learners, we need to be mindful to design instruction using a proven process while continually thinking from the perspective of the learner.  Wiggins and McTighe's backward design process helps teachers frame learning in such a way where beginning with the end in mind is second nature. Teachers decide learning outcomes and then work backwards, creating rubrics for measuring acceptable evidence of student learning. Clearly communicating expectations to students, helps learners create and set goals for their own learning. Students must be explicitly taught to set goals and to self-regulate as they work to meet their goals. They must be given opportunities to choose strategies that work best in specific situations and use strategies to monitor goals they've set for themselves. Most of all, students need practice, practice, practice in a safe environment.

Since I started reading Hattie's book, I have been applying my learning to professional learning opportunities I am designing for district educators. Combined with the strategies I am developing from being a part of the Effective Teacher Framework learning community, I use social networks to share my learning. This is a wonderful way to reflect while collecting feedback from others in the profession. When I tweeted my connections to Chapter 6, a peer from Texas shared her PLN's book study Pinterest board with me! Please take a look or yourself; see how elementary students are mindmapping their learning, setting goals, and documenting their progress toward meeting those goals: Glitzy In 1st Grade.

Since learning is a continual process, self-evaluation needs to take place frequently. Teachers should help students develop learning strategies and also realize when a particular strategy is not meeting their needs or goals. Often a student will see that his learning requires more effort and practice to meet his goals. Learning should be rigorus and challenging with multiple opportunities to practice, engage, debate, and synthesize learning, forcing knowledge to deepen, all while encouraging students that they 'can' learn and that you will not give up on them. Using appropriate feedback is a sure way to develop mindsets in students where growth, success and learning are synonymous.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

North Carolina Children's Book Award Winners!

Back in February I posted about the North Carolina Children's Book Award, encouraging one and all to explore the nominees. Did you have a favorite?

The votes from schools and public libraries around the state have been tallied and with 98,087 total votes for the picture book category, here are the results:

Pete the cat: I love my white shoes - 29,598

experiments that failed - 14,207
The princess and the pig - 11,876
Blackout - 8,697
Won Ton - 7,207
Otto, the book bear - 6,421
Why do I have to make my bed? - 6,196
The cow loves cookies - 4,116
LMNO Peas - 3,911
Perfect square - 3,627
Ellen's broom - 2,053
UnBEElievables - 1,278

With a total of  9,651 votes in the junior book category, the results are:

The Candy makers - 1,496

Belly up - 1,481
The roar - 1,415
Out of my mind - 1,130
Pie - 977
One dog and his boy - 747
Balloons over Broadway - 587
A long walk to water - 540
One crazy summer - 489
Younge Fredle - 332
The fingertips of Duncan Dorfman - 173
Peaceful pieces - 145
The absolute value of Mike - 139

Now that your interest in the award has been whetted, the nominees for the 2014 NCCBA can be found at Go forth and read; to yourself, your students, your kids, your pets, whoever!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Where's the Teacher?

We are often asked what a 21st Century Classroom looks like.

Here's my vision.....
Imagine walking in a classroom, and really having to search for the teacher. Students are talking with each other, some sitting on the floor, others gathered around a device of some kind, one group working together on the interactive whiteboard. You look around and you still cannot find the teacher.

As you walk through the classroom, you hear the students sharing ideas with each other, discussing content, asking each other questions. – a vision of student engagement. You ask the students what they are learning and their responses are enthusiastic, with students talking over one another in excitement.

Eventually you locate the teacher working with a small group in the corner of the room. The teacher then finds his way over to other groups of students to ask guiding questions about their learning.

As this class period ends the students talk about how they will continue working with each other outside of class time via Edmodo, Twitter, PBWorks, etc.  

Where is the teacher? Everywhere! The teacher is there when the planning for the learning takes place.  The teacher is there as the students work in groups to meet the demands of the rubric they created. The teacher is there to provide a safe environment for the students to make mistakes. The teacher is there as a facilitator as the students own their learning.

That’s where the teacher is!

Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement

Monday, May 13, 2013

Growing Leaders

Most Saturday mornings at 7:30 AM wearing jammies, I curl up with a hot cup of coffee, an iPad, and several pillows to take part in a fantastic Twitter chat with a variety of highly motivated, witty and extremely engaging and charismatic educators. The #satchat is facilitated by co-organizers, Brad Currie (@bcurrie5) Scott Rocco (@ScottRRocco) and Bill Krakower (@wkrakower). What began as "administrator only" discussions around school leadership has blossomed to include more than 100 educators from around the world, including superintendents, assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals, teachers, technology coordinators, librarians to name a few.

The most recent #satchat focused on hiring and maintaining lead learners/administrators. While the open-ended discussion questions are meant to generate conversation, my first impression excluded me from the topic, being that I am not a school administrator nor do I have plans to become one. But this particular Saturday placed me in the passenger seat of the family truck venturing out on a three-hour drive to my son's rock climbing competition, in Lynchburg, VA.  I figured I would just read and learn, but not really participate in the conversation. I was pleasantly surprised when the opening questions and following conversation took a turn, focusing on hiring and maintaining school-based leadership of any kind, not just principals. 
One of the highlights of the #satchat came from Scott Rocco's blog post from September, 2012, Must Have, Should Have, Could Have & the Deal Breaker, where Rocco recommends using a norming activity to create a common vision for interview committees. The committee should be comprised of a variety of stakeholders, from community members to teachers. The norming activity combines individual stakeholders' expectations to create one clear focus, equalizing individual 'powers' or 'qualifications' while maximizing their strongest skills and channeling the committee's energy to function as a a single entity.

Aaryn Schmuhl (@aschmuhl) shared a most powerful interview question to ask a potential future school leader, "Who was the last person in your school you apologized to and why did you do it?" taking the discussion on a new tangent. It is important for leaders to be willing to take risks, make mistakes and be humble. Humility is a under-utilized trait but one worth highlighting here!

If you would like to fill your Saturday mornings with insightful discussions having everything to do with growing as a leader and a human, please join #satchat on Twitter, Saturday mornings at 7:30 AM Eastern!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Lending a Hand...for Handwriting has a FREE online tool (works on windows - requires flash - didn't work on mac) called ZB FontsOnline Plus. The free version allows users to type in cursive or manuscript, in English or in Spanish and print out the page. There are a variety of templates to type on that include all of the handwriting guides young learners need as they learn to write. This tool has come in very handy to provide an example for my kindergarten son as he navigates his way through the world of wielding a pencil to create written words and express himself. For $32, I may just purchase the full version. Happy handwriting...