21st century “exceptional” teaching…

I came across something today… (http://www.literacyinlearningexchange.org/support-innovation)

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…which I LOVE! “We must support and encourage educators to be DESIGNERS and INNOVATORS rather than relying on prepackaged programs and solutions.” I’ve never been one to follow a “script” when I teach; and honestly doing so goes against every ‘best practice’ principle I hold dear. Kids are not predictable and they have a range of needs that a script cannot possibly guide a teacher to meet. It is like what we say for using technology…it is a TOOL and the content should be the focus. So too are these “programs” that are pushed upon teachers… they are TOOLS. If we want critical thinking students then we should have critical thinking teachers. If we want students to be creative, then we need teachers to be creative. If we want students who can collaborate, then teachers need time to let them collaborate (I haven’t seen a packaged program yet that doesn’t give a script that can possibly be met in the minutes they suggest anyway!) If we want students to communicate, then teachers need to communicate (how can we call reading a ‘script’ communicating?!)

Of course designing and innovating don’t just happen. But it is time to embrace the notion that we have to foster that in our teachers that which we desire in our students…

This leads me to my next “ah-ha”: Essential Habits of an Exceptional Educator via Edutopia. This gave me a great deal to reflect upon. I’m heading into my 17 year teaching. There are many things that I feel confident in, but I always feel that I am never doing enough and have plenty of areas to improve. By no means do I consider myself exceptional. However this part resonates with me: “Simply put, the habits of an excellent educator are that they have positive habits, and students are usually the central focus. When I become intentional about my own habits, I level up my performance.” I try to keep positive habits, always put students first and am intentional in everything I do. Feeling validated that I’m on the right track, I want to keep coming back to this list to make sure I’m selecting goals that propel me forward. I could easily take on every item on the list! But for now I think I’ll begin with “workflows”. Just how do my procedures and routines work? How can I make them most effective? And above all, how I can teach them with intent so they are mastered in a way that students run the classroom and are in charge of their learning?

Always learning more…



#cyberPD Digital Reading Ch. 6-7

Chapter 6 brings assessment into focus through a literacy lens. Chapter 7 explores the home-school connection. In my opinion both are intertwined. We assess to drive our instruction and we want families involved/invested as partners in the process. So why shouldn’t we view assessment and the home as connected pieces?

I particularly loved the idea of starting the year with a reading interview as a pre-assessment. In fact I LOVED it so much I decided to put it into a survey as a Google form to have students fill out at the beginning of the year. Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 4.54.23 PM Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 4.54.32 PM What I love even more about using this survey as a pre-assessment is that it gets my students already expanding their idea of what ‘text’ is. I also think asking families to take the survey too helps open their minds to the idea that reading is more than just working with print. It is an interaction between words and thinking. Expanding what we think of as text to those ‘non-traditional’ sources. This includes audio and video because these functions still invoke an engagement with words. Spoken or written, language that is taken in through our eyes or ears to be considered, connected to, clarified, questioned, synthesized… Meaning is constructed either way.

Again through the gifted lens, I believe pre-assessing students is the key to determining whether acceleration, enrichment, both, or neither is the best fit. Teachers cannot assume gifted learners already know content, understand a procedure, or possess a skill. Nor can they assume that a gifted learner will figure it out. Gifted learners still need instruction; whether it be pointing them in the direction of resources that can be accessed independently, a quick mini-lesson, or scaffolding a skill that may not yet have been mastered, pre-assessments are my nuts and bolts. Thankfully digital tools have been a blessing in this respect because I think gifted learner needs are extremely complex. (I have a soapbox to stand on about gifted learners being just as diverse as students at the special needs end of the spectrum… let’s just say that too many believe that the term “gifted” describes one type of learner when nothing could be further from the truth!)

Most of the assessment I use is formative and drives my instruction. My students for the most part do well on grade level summative assessments, so my instruction aims to continue moving them upward. I might have a student with on grade level skills in writing but can read texts 4+ years above their grade level. Tests, quizzes, and such that come with published programs do not tell me what I can learn through samples, observations, and conversations with students. Thus digital tools such as Evernote let me collect and curate these things and tag them by student. I can take a picture of work a student has done; I can jot down notes (or use speech to text to take them), and can use audio recording to capture a conference. Audio recording a conversation with a student or small group discussions are priceless (especially when the memory isn’t what it used to be!)

What is poignant about assessment is that it used to move students along their learning journey. Again, working with gifted students means that you do not have a ‘ceiling’ to reach. My students know that if they have scored at the top level of a rubric, it is time to adjust the criteria to meet their needs so that they can grow. That is, once they have climbed a mountain, it is time to find a higher mountain to climb.

Of course a key component to assessment for gifted learners is self-assessment. This is important for these reasons: (1) some gifted learners are perfectionists and they need guidance on how to keep this in check, (2) some gifted learners are used to school being easy and accustomed to getting everything ‘correct’ or being on top, and (3) gifted learners need to realize that they are not trying to reach a finish line but rather moving along a never ending journey.  When a gifted learner assesses himself/herself, they should be evaluating against their personal bests and not comparing themselves to others. Self-assessment forces them to evaluate their work against set criteria; not how a classmate did. When using a rubric to self-assess, a gifted learner can see what s/he needs to do to continue improving (assuming that the rubric used gives students something to work for.) Giving a gifted learner a rubric that pushes and challenges their abilities gives the student something to keep working for; thus the journey. Self-assessment not only lets a gifted learner monitor his/her own progress but also aids in the setting of goals. I like to do this through conferring or chatting with the student.

Digital tools then make it easy to share the assessment with families at home. I think of it as being transparent. Parents should be viewed as partners. They look to us to be the ‘expert’ when really I think a parent is the expert on his/her child. How great is it when a child can have many experts working together?! Digital tools let me do this. When collecting samples or notes on what I observe with Evernote I can (and have!) email these to parents. When having a conference, I can (and have) pull up all of the notes I’ve taken over time because I’ve tagged them. Technology lets me record conversations too. While I can do this in Evernote, I have found iTalk or Recordium a better fit for the longer files. Most often I have students record the conversations they have in small groups. This helps me assess their speaking and listening skills but when shared with parents it provides a window into their child’s world that they don’t otherwise have. (In our classroom we turn book discussions into podcasts; this requires permission and some editing on my part at times, but WELL worth the investment!) Delve into Discourse and Listening Station Archives

Other digital tools make assessment so easy. Google is my new best friend. I love that most of my students have latched onto using Google documents for assignments. I can easily give detailed feedback using the commenting feature and…wait for it… I can share the document with parents too! (No more ‘they didn’t bring it home so I didn’t see it…”!) I am a FIRM believer in meaningful, targeted feedback.  Teachers who only write “good job”, “awesome”, etc. with a smiley face aren’t helping a student improve. (That’s another soapbox…) I strive to tell a student something they did well for affirmation, but then try to always find a nugget to suggest for improvement.  Keeping this limited to one or two suggestions mind you. Then I hold my students accountable for making that improvement. Here’s where technology makes that possible! I can check my notes to see what I suggested and then make sure that suggestion was applied.  Meaningful feedback that is put to use.

Finally, my big “to do” more of after reading chapter 6 is to harness the power of a digital portfolio. Working with 8-10 year olds means that growth occurs over time. A digital portfolio would help the student, myself, and the family document the journey. What better way to feel accomplishment than to see a ‘before’ and ‘after’. Furthermore, I see a digital portfolio as a tool that the student and family can own so that the learning continues after me. I’ve got some ideas with Google, but for my younger students I’m leaning heavily towards the SeeSaw app…

Reflecting upon just chapter 7, I am considering more ways to help families with digital reading at home. My survey for one to help change thinking about digital reading. The other ‘biggie’ is on having my students be digital creators. Last year I started exploring the idea of my gifted students moving beyond the concept of being consumers of information to being producers. We got a Mac Book (Donors Choose) and I amped up our video studio with a green screen and some photography lamps. I really push the Bloom’s Taxonomy with my gifted students. They know I want them working mostly at the top 3 levels of analysis, evaluation, and creating. When students learn and then process that learning so they can share it with others it is more meaningful. And let’s face it, digital tools make production more fun. I further motivate my kids with publishing their productions on websites I created with Weebly. We have one for our independent study “passion projects“, one for our virtual field trips, one for our picture book projects, and one for ‘creative response to reading‘.  Tell them it is going on YouTube and they are all over it. (FYI…I obtain all necessary permissions and teach my kids about being responsible digital citizens!)

This brings me to my bit about digital citizenship, which I do take time to explicitly teach and share with parents. My students should NOT be on social media yet, but they know all about it. Anything I can do to start that education before they jump into those waters is important. Thus I teach the 9 elements of digital citizenship to students and parents. We practice and reinforce it.  (As a side note, we used Digital Learning Day to learn about hashtags and using Twitter responsibly; see #DLDay) Bringing parents into these discussions and lessons is critical. To quote the text, the Internet has a ‘dark side’. Making sure we help parents know how to teach and reinforce how to go into the light is our duty and responsibility.





#cyberPD Digital Reading Ch. 3-5

These chapters focus on WHAT REALLY MATTERS: Authenticity, Intentionality, and Connectedness. These are the “anchors”.

Starting with authenticity, “keeping reading a meaningful experience that extends beyond the classroom”, I think this is the core of what I do as a gifted reading teacher. Most of my kids are voracious readers. But often they are consumers of fiction for pleasure (which is great mind you) but I want them to also love and appreciate all kinds of reading. I also find that my kids love digital tools and want to “play” so I have to bring things back to the importance of the learning task. For example, when I discovered the Chatterpix app, I began to think of how students could use this tool to examine a character’s point of view or perspective by speaking as if they were the character. This task would require truly understanding that character’s traits.  At first my kids thought they would just play with the app to look cool and sound funny. Once we really re-evaluated the learning goals, my kids came up with some extra-ordinary things. I loved that the assignment had them carefully thinking about how another person might think and feel based on his/her experiences. Being understanding and empathetic of others is an important authentic life skill. Another example with http://www.ifaketext.com… a student read a picture book and wrote a ‘text dialogue’ for two characters. He spoke as if he were the two characters having dialogue. What was “authentic” about this task is the role social media plays in our world today. Any chance I can introduce and practice digital citizenship with my students BEFORE they are old enough to get access to these things WHILE teaching learning content, I’m all over it.  Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 4.27.17 PM

Also important in authenticity is using tools that fit the task. I’m a fan of reciprocal teaching; the fab 4 strategies of predicting, questioning, monitor/clarifying, and summarizing. There are digital tools that lend themselves well to building scaffolds and releasing responsibility of these skills to students. For instance, I like Blendspace to set up predicting practice with short video clips, InstaGrok for questioning; I use Educreations for monitor/clarifying, and Popplet is great for summarizing (and determining importance). Of course there are many other tools that do the same things, but the point is that I like helping my students learn to be flexible with the tools they use. I don’t want them dependent or locked into one device/app/platform. I want them to go to the resource that best fits their needs.  This is perfect for gifted children as it promotes choice. It gives them control and ownership of their learning. I love Ann Marie Corgill’s “Technology Tips and Techniques” idea; I want to create my own version of this with ‘help and how to’ video tutorials or clips (so students can get the help they need when they need it and because I see 4 separate groups a day for only 1 hour). I’ve already started creating this using Augmented Reality with Aurasma. I have a short video clip as a reminder or tip and I connect it to a ‘trigger image’. When students scan over the image, the video plays. They find the help they need if/when they need it. This lets me have my gifted learners be more independent and self-directed so that they don’t have to ask me or find someone else (not that I won’t encourage that, but sometimes my class size can be smaller and my kids like to be self-sufficient when they can).

Chapter 4: The first thing that struck me as I read more about intentionality, or “making meaningful choices as readers”, was the ‘debate’ between print vs. digital texts. I loved a tweet posted yesterday from Octavia Spencer at ILA’s end keynote stating that print and digital literacy can and should coexist.  I completely agree. This clip really speaks volumes to me:

This then led me to considering how I would explore this ‘dilemma’ with students…so I made a video about how I feel about print and digital texts by comparing the same magazine article both in print and digitally: 

Now I love “just as we fill our classrooms with great children’s literature, we must also fill our classrooms with great online resources for students to read and explore”. I could write volumes on this (since I’ve really invested in ‘putting content on a screen for kids’) but some quick ideas to consider are using QR codes to direct students to specific content quickly or through engaging students in digital discussions with sites that allow them to read and respond to text and each other such as nowcomment.com. As I think about my gifted readers, keeping up with their varied interests and abilities can be a challenge (and could get expensive if I tried to stock my classroom with only print sources) so turning to free or inexpensive digital sources is sort of a ‘no brainer’ for me. (Inexpensive in that I can purchase an electronic book or magazine once and load it on several devices for the one time price.) Figure 4.1 has a nice list of websites that I would like to add to:

Finding a great article on any of these sites and making a QR code out of it is super easy.  There should be a video (oh wait, I made one!) 

I LOVED the gem form Julie Johnson (All About Explorers website). I should shout out to her as I just used this site in my ILA presentation… teaching our students to look for credible sources is so important. I have used ads. Here’s a screen shot I took from the Tervis site on April Fools Day: Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 5.12.11 PM Looks real doesn’t it?!

Connectedness as “finding and creating connections between texts, readers, and experiences” is probably what I find I need to guide my gifted readers into doing at higher thinking levels the most. I’m not sure why but it seems that they think connecting means ‘oh this book is about a boy and I’m a boy too’. Ok Captain Obvious… now let’s dive deeper (and yes I really say that…one of the perks of working with gifted kids who get sarcasm!) I haven’t taken advantage of student blogging yet, but last year I had my kids do weekly ‘delve into discourse’ sessions (they love the alliteration and more formal vocabulary…) Every Friday I would randomly put them into small groups to discuss a chapter of a novel. They recorded their discussions and we turned them into podcasts (Delve into Discourse-Podomatic and GREEN ROOM Listening station-podcast archives). I think gifted students often need extra ‘social’ coaching on just listening to each other and responding thoughtfully. They often can be a bit inflexible in their thinking so learning to appreciate and empathize is important. (But then this could be a whole different post…)

Chapter 5 on connectedness has me thinking about some other things to explore with my kids. I have been considering how to build collections of texts/resources on themes. Last year my students and I really got into texts that were about slavery and civil rights issues (Henry’s Freedom Box, My Brother Martin, Through My Eyes, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, to name a few). They discovered on their own that the common thread was inequality or injustice. So now I’m thinking of ways to curate resources digitally to explore these ideas.  I’ve already started with the Great Depression (as we read Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm in the fall; it is set in Key West, Florida during the depression.) I’m finding PBS LearningMedia invaluable for this! (Have to get a plug in for that too as a 2015 PBS digital innovator…but seriously PBS LearningMedia is amazing!)  What I’m doing to foster independence and more self-directed learning for my gifted readers is create a learning “module” where they can access all of the digital resources they need for a month centering around our learning goals and topics. I’m still playing around with it, but… if interested check out the webmix: http://www.symbaloo.com/home/mix/aug-septmodule4thgrade).

Next on the list of ‘to do’ for fostering connectedness is get more into RSS feeds…

Always learning more…

#cyberPD-Digital Reading Ch. 1-2

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 10.33.29 AM Late to the party…

So excited to be added to the #cyberPD community as they read and reflect on Digital Reading by William L. Bass II and Franki Sibberson.  Here are my thoughts on chapters 1 and 2:

Chapter 1 is about “Defining Digital Reading”. Well it certainly is more than just reading something on a screen. I joked about the idea of “Put it on a screen and readers are hooked” (which was actually the title of my presentation just yesterday at #ILA15). Putting something on a screen certainly doesn’t make it digital reading.

The comparisons of two readers “Marissa” and “Julia” were particularly poignant for me, especially as a gifted intervention specialist. Many of our gifted learners are actually like Marissa…they look like they “play school” well and pick things up quickly and easily.  BUT our gifted learners still need to be taught explicitly how to do many things. Teachers cannot ever assume that a gifted learner already knows something or possess the skills they need. While my gifted students do not need the repetition, I still have to make sure that I teach them the skills. And so my mission this school year is to really observe and guide my students into being more like “Julia”.

On page 4 the authors state: “Digital reading experiences must be part of the opportunities we give students on a regular basis. If not, we’re discounting much of the reading they will engage with in the future.” This really struck me. I think about how I start my day (before my feet hit the floor) by grabbing my smart phone and checking email, Facebook, Twitter, texts, and the news. Before I turn on a light… The fact that I am so dependent on digital resources speaks volumes. I think most of the parents of my students are like me too, and so I need to make sure they realize that so that they can model at home more mindfully. I teach precocious 8-10 year olds, so while the parental instinct is to shield and shelter their young kids from the digital community, my parents need to model how to access and use safely and appropriately (which is why I’ve incorporated digital citizenship learning into everything.)  In any event, perhaps the future is much sooner than we think…

On page 6, the discussion of tech use is key. I attended ISTE a few weeks ago and just returned from ILA. I loved both experiences, but have to admit that while ISTE was amazing, I was more engaged at ILA. Why? Well ISTE was about the tech…the bells and whistles, the “cool tool” aspect mostly. ILA was about the learning.  I’m in love with both, but the learning is always first and foremost. ‘Digital readers must have to be able to navigate the digital texts they will encounter.’ Period. It is not about the coolest platform or application, and quite frankly I use so many with my kids because I want them to be flexible. I don’t want them to feel locked into one app or site alone. Because it isn’t about the tool…

This brings me to the 4 types of digital texts listed on page 8: linear texts in digital format, nonlinear texts with hyperlinks, texts with integrated media, and texts with response options. As I considered this, I immediately categorized all of the digital texts I’ve already used. This made me realize that I should be explicit in teaching my students this. (I’m feeling another video lesson in my future…) My gifted learners will definitely benefit from my making this connection visible.

As I moved on to the considerations on page 11, scaffolding came up. My favorite “word” so to speak. I teach my gifted learners that my job is to continuously scaffold learning for them. They tend to feel they need to be at the top and stay there. I have to remind them that if they already climbed one mountain, I have to find a higher one for them so they can continue to grow. There scaffold never ends. (I also have to remind them that their scaffolds are in different places, because when you have a classroom of 15-20 kids together who are used to being the top in the class, they learn quickly that they may not know it all as they thought…) Scaffolding digital use is equally important. Again it is why I use SO many tools and platforms. It is why I want my kids to digitally access texts and assignments in a variety of ways. Digital texts are embedded constantly into my classroom in even the most simple ways, such as scanning a QR code for a great Time for Kids online article.

Finally, the part about ‘video literacy’ (page 13) struck me. Our kids are bombarded with media. For this reason media literacy is important. (I actually picked up Media Literacy by Frank Baker at ISTE and have already devoured that book too; it connects heavily with this book!) We have to teach our students to be critical of media literacy; that is a life skill they are going to need as adults!  I love the quoting of students saying things like ‘We watch videos for fun. We don’t actually watch them for information.” If only they knew the truth… Want to know how many of my students come in bursting to tell me about something they saw on Discovery or the History channel? How’s that for ‘not learning’?!

Chapter 2 on From Reading Workshop to Digital Reading Workshop was my ‘affirmation’. I certainly do not proclaim to have it all figured out, but reading this chapter made me feel great about the direction I’ve been heading. I spend 1 hour a day with gifted readers (that is I see 4 groups of less than 20 students at a time) teaching Reading with Enrichment, Acceleration, and Discourse (READ…get it! Ok…maybe I am not as funny as I think!) In any event, while I do not focus on fluency or decoding, my role is comprehension. Deep and deeper comprehension. The Bloom’s Taxonomy permeates my room (literally too.) In my one hour with kids I have to pack as much in as possible, so my goal is to get my kids self-directed and independent in order to conference, coach, and facilitate. While time is what it is, the idea of ownership (choices) is HUGE. My kids work from a “menu” of options. Response whether it be in 1-1 conferences, or great discussions (typically smaller group) is critical. I still need to squeeze in some strategy/mini-lesson work, because again one never assumes gifted learners know, understand, or are able to do something already. But knowing that gifted learners are ‘poorer listeners’ (need to confirm this with research to be sure, but I think my theories on this stand up…check #2 here), I rarely give direct instruction any more. I have flipped this part of my class to video lessons for my kids to access independently while I confer or meet in groups to ‘talk about text’; we call our reading groups TaT groups.

As I look at the bulleted list on page 22, I reflected on what I currently do and what I will keep working on. Mini-lessons I mostly ‘flip’ with videos of myself. Independent reading- student directed options embedded in our menu ‘side dishes’ where they pick and chose content. Individual conferences – the more independent my kids become the more freedom I have to do this. Small group instruction- TaT groups. Share session and opportunities for response- we have weekly ‘discourse’ Friday and response in many ways with exit tickets and respond to text letters. Assessment that informs instruction- for me this connects to individual conferences, student work where I give specific, targeted, and explicit feedback, and observation.  Validation that I am on the right path! And I say path because I am always learning more!

Starting a writer with a sketch to plan

As part of a great discussion on an NCTE message board recently, I had a chance to re-reflect upon why I am a fan of using a simple “sketching” process for prewriting…

One of the keys I’ve found for creating strong, eager writers is to use “sketching a plan” to get them started. It is a great pre-writing activity that starts as an initial scaffold and eventually can be scaffolded to where writers think more internally. (In fact my gifted students now use it for simple notes on ideas they want to write about…they have moved beyond the pictures.) I’ve found it really helps pull details out and get writers past the “I don’t know what to write”. I am a visual person, so here’s a video demonstrating: https://youtu.be/-R3zehA0Whs (I did this with a 1st grader I tutored one summer, but have used this in the classroom.) While there are tons of wonderful graphic organizers to use, I have found keeping this open at first helps all students. Later we integrate sketching an organizer. I think too many kids become dependent on a specific organizer and often don’t know what to do when they don’t have one. A plain planning space (I like to use large index cards) teaches kids that they can plan ideas and be flexible (my kids were able to sketch something in a margin during a test later.)

Getting kids just planning and drafting comfortably is always my 1st step. I usually focus on getting the ideas to flow. I don’t focus on targeting specific needs until they just writing. Then I start targeting one specific need at a time. Say it is just spacing between words…

This clip is working with a 3rd to 4th grader (whom I had been tutoring for awhile so she was already efficient with planning and her planning was simple.) Her scaffolding need was checking high frequency words for spelling, which we did through a revising/editing process. https://youtu.be/IwV7wGOvbu4

Sometimes it is hard to just focus on one thing at a time for students, but I think it is most effective. One of my goals is to establish a continuum of skills for reference. I started this work with a group of colleagues last year across 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, so hopefully we can finish this year. As soon as I uncover my notes, I will share what we have so far!

Using Symbaloo, PBS LearningMedia, and Blendspace for self-directed literacy learning

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Using Symbaloo to set up a “webmix”, I am working on helping my students become more self-directed as they access learning resources for our classroom. This webmix includes a set of lessons created with PBS LearningMedia as well as Blendspace collections. We read the novel Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm which is set during the Great Depression in Key West, FL. Both the time and place are “foreign” to my students so supplemental resources for learning include PBS lessons about the Great Depression and related links for exploration (blue marker) as well as bonus materials to extend the experience such as maps (green marker).  Also included in this webmix are my special custom “video lessons” for students to build resource notebooks (black marker) and Blendspace video collections (red marker) for primary/secondary sources and point of view/perspective.  The yellow marker area contains the discussion guides for the first 5 chapters of the book. Finally websites that we use for asynchronous discussion and response tasks are included: NowComment and Edmodo (gray marker) as well as our own custom “Listening Station”.

The goal is to help students access their own learning materials so that I am free to conference with students individually or in small groups.

the GREEN ROOM 4th grade module for Aug/Sept