#DigLitSunday Digital Voice


When I think of “voice” in writing, I think of actually “hearing” the author speaking as I read their work. Student voice often comes through to me because I envision a conversation. I wish I had more time with my students to work on writing, but I am only “officially” a reading teacher for 3rd and 4th grade gifted students. With only one hour a day to spend with my precocious 8-10 year olds, I pack in everything I can.  So how do I integrate digital voice?

I take teaching discussion techniques very seriously. Children need to be taught how to have discourse: face-to-face and digitally. While I could write another post on ways I model face-to-face communication skills, I’m going to focus on digital discussion, and therefore how I promote students having a digital voice in my classroom. (On a side note, I explicitly teach 9 elements of digital citizenshipScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.17 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.31 PM

As a Level 1 Certified Google teacher, I love the commenting features of #GAfE. However, when it comes to discussing text, my “go-to” tool is NowComment! NowComment is a free web-based application that allows teachers to turn documents into conversations! Let some former students show you how it works! Here’s an infomercial they did:


It is pretty easy to use! I love that I can not only work on response to reading skills but also teach digital citizenship.  Here’s a collection of helpful set up videos to help ‘convince’ you and get you started!


(The collection includes a lesson plan as well from ISTE’s Project ReImagined Library!)


Stay tuned… I’ll add more as NowComment is about to release some exciting new features very soon!


#DigLitSunday : Crafting Digital Media

DigLitSundayCreating is the highest level of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised). It involves combining parts to make a new whole and producing new or original work. One of my goals has always been to show my students how to not just be “consumers” of information, but “producers” as well. For this reason, I have tried each year to encourage them to “show what they have learned” in ways that they choose.

Last year I launched some new options for my 4th graders, focusing on using mostly Google tools. I gave students their learning goal, let them choose the resources (texts) they read and then they would analyze and evaluate their resource sharing their thinking with the tool of their choice. I got many slide decks, drawings, docs, and sheets to compare/contrast texts. The focus then became on the learning…not on the technology and yet students were learning so many tech skills through their creative products of learning.

This year I look to continue this but will add a few other tools to the list of choices: notably Educreations, audio recording/podcasting, and sketchnoting (both ‘analog’ and digital’). These are tools my students have explored in the past with specific projects, but now I look to open up accessibility. This is part of my plan for students to ‘level up’ and unlock more exciting classroom privileges.

The pinnacle of creation in the opinion of my 9-10 year olds however comes in the form of video production and website building/design. A few years ago I started experimenting with having students create videos when we did virtual field trips. Students worked in small groups to explore a virtual destination and then were invited to create a video sharing what they learned with others. There were some hysterical interpretations, including a Jeopardy match, an ‘interview’ broadcast, performing of a song (written to teach others about bioluminescence), and more (see 2014 on the site). We shot these using a standard video camera but the uploading process to the host site wasn’t strong so they are not so easy to access :0(

Year two I learned how to use a green screen and we had a great time exploring it. We learned some valuable lessons however…like if your classroom is designed to be ‘green’ and you have lighting that casts green, people in your videos look ‘transparent’! I also started to upload to YouTube for better streaming when videos were shared. Videos were recorded on an iPad (I found a WONDERFUL iPad tripod stand that made it easy for students to record themselves) and thanks to Donors Choose, we had a MacBook for students to do their own editing on iMovie. Students had a great time sharing what they learned with videos (see 2015 on the site). I learned so much about my kids as I watched them practice and record their videos. The process was more educational for them than the product!

As I headed into my 3rd year of gifted reading, I took advantage of Donors Choose to get puppets for even more creativity when making videos. As my 4th graders completed “must do” tasks, they started helping me ‘re-do’ some videos on figurative language. (I had some ‘flipped lessons’ that served the purpose but lacked interest and creativity). The puppets inspired some great scripts and nice videos for teaching others. (Check out these student creations: Oxymoron, Personification, Similes, and Onomatopoeia)

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.07.46 AM.png

By the end of the year, we were pretty comfortable with our video creation capabilities and so our video products in our virtual field trips were the best yet (see 2016 on the site).

One thing I had floating around in the back of my mind to explore is having students create digital portfolios with websites.  I knew the potential, but wasn’t so comfortable with the tools available. I use Weebly to build sites regularly and find it user friendly but couldn’t figure out a way for my students to really “own” their own (too much supervision required for 9-10 year olds; I am a HUGE believer in digital citizenship). Google sites at the time was hard (love the new updates…BTW). Still I had a few 4th graders who were eager and so I let them explore (hopefully the links work…sharing settings may need to be adjusted as the sites are owned by the students):

Ally and Reagan: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/the-learning-club/

Ben: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/pastandpresentsports-com/

Max: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/allaboutsp/

Ryan and Aaron: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/cool-sports/?pli=1

Ellie: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/ellie-s-experiences/ 

From Ellie’s site: Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.30.56 AM.png
Now fast forward to a new year… as I consider all that I’ve learned with my students, I look forward to helping my students really create more of their own digital media. The emphasis will be on ‘showing what they learn’ and my role will be to provide support and facilitate their creative processes as they craft their own digital media for others to view!

#DigLitSunday : Revisiting Digital Reading

DigLitSunday.png First I want to thank Margaret Simon for inviting me to join her #DigLitSunday community! I am always eager to learn with other passionate educators!.

With a new school year on the horizon, I once again find myself excited about implementing fresh ideas from my own learning. This summer was filled with so much more, as an unexpected foot surgery resulted in an excessive amount of time to read, learn, read, reflect, read, write… I am almost overwhelmed with all of the new learning I have to process and implement into my classroom.

However, an important part of the process for me is improving upon ideas I tried that need some refinement. That is where Digital Reading (Bass/Sibberson) from #cyberPD 2015 comes in. As I picked the book back up for a quick review, I found three things I considered last year that I am looking to pump up: (1) Digital Reading Survey to start the year, (2) Digital Reading Walls (and idea I took from Cathy Mere), and (3) Print vs. Digital views.

Starting with the survey, I adapted questions from page 89 to set up a Google form for students. The goal was to consider what they already knew and to get them thinking about digital reading. It was a great way to get to know new students and for parents to gain insight into types of reading that they did not consider. For instance, one of the questions is about audiobooks. Check the survey here. Last year I sent this to families before the year started and had a nice return on responses, but what I didn’t do was follow up with those that did not participate. This year, I will have students who didn’t participate from home add their thinking in class. I am also going to use it as a start to work on educating parents more on digital citizenship as their children start to venture more into exploring digital reading.

Next I am building “digital reading walls” for my new 3rd graders. Cathy Mere wrote a post last year about Creating a Reading History Archive for her students. While my student population (3rd/4th grade gifted readers) differs from her population, I loved her idea for using Padlet to create a wonderful visual archive of texts students read. My situation is a bit unique…I will see 90 8-10 year olds next year each day…that is a ton of children! Having only an hour with them is not much time to really get to know them as readers. I have shared texts we read for discussion and higher level analysis, evaluation, and thinking. I have them write responses to self-selected texts each week in a “letter” to me. But this still doesn’t give me the full picture of all of the reading my students do. Therefore I asked parents to start sending me pictures of their child holding books they were reading at home (ideally, snap a photo while the child is holding the book and reading it…) Then I put the pictures on Padlet to create their child’s digital reading wall. This is Trevor (whom I get to have as a 4th grader this year!)Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 9.39.35 AM.png

Trevor’s wall is a bit of an exception, as his mother was very much into sharing photos; I did not do a good enough job in reminding parents and students to keep up with the photos all year, so I plan to do that. I’m excited that I already have one incoming student wall started and just got an email yesterday from another incoming student filled with pictures! What I love about this is that it helps me gain insight into my student personalities and sharing the walls with everyone lets students see what they might have in common. Another benefit… my parents often ask me about how to get their children reading more “challenging” texts; that is they are not fans of some of the selections they see their child making as they consider them to “low level”. These walls gave me a chance to open dialogue…gifted learners often have asynchronous development and while my 8-9 year olds might be “able” to read at a high school level, they are emotionally no where near that. Those texts about characters that use “potty humor” are what many of my kids still relate to and so parents should let their children pursue these texts for independent selections.  In any event, I have a goal to really use the digital reading walls as a tool for assessing what my student interests are.

Finally the idea of “print vs. digital”; this was a topic that I really considered last summer during the book study and even made a video for my students and families “comparing” the benefits of a print resource and a digital resource. Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 9.50.40 AM.png

In the video I use the same text but show what I like about the print version and what I like about the digital version. Doing this as a learner myself allowed me to realize that we should not view use of materials as “either, or” but rather “and”. Print and digital sources need to be used simultaneously in our classrooms, AND we need to be mindful of the need to explicitly teach our children strategies for reading digital text. (In Digital Reading, Sibberson told a tale of two 3rd graders: Marissa and Julia and stated that she had “come to learn that merely reading on a computer does not make a digital reader.” pgs. 1-3). This year I am more determined to be intentional in my use of both print and digital texts side by side and would like to spend some more time teaching how to read a digital source…it is easy for us to assume that our young learners know how to use a hyperlink and how to navigate back!

And so while I have many new ideas to implement and try this year in my classroom, I’m intentionally revisiting a few to improve digital literacy for my students!

Nonfiction Reading: Stances, Signposts, and Strategies #5

READ podcast
Discussing educational topics of Reading, Enrichment, Acceleration, and Discourse

This podcast continues to reflect upon Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies text. Here I will be examining 3 signposts: Numbers and Stats, Quoted Words, and Word Gaps.

DIY Literacy ch. 5-6 reflection

DIY ch 5-6(This is the script from the podcast I did).

This summer I am participating in cyberPD, a virtual book talk that takes place each July. CyberPD is in its 6th year and it is a great way to connect educators across distances to have conversations about professional texts. The founders Laura Komos, Cathy Mere, and Michelle Nero have set up several ways for teachers to join in and participate, including a Google+ community, Twitter chats, and a website. This summer we are discussing DIY Literacy by Kate Roberts and Maggie Beattie Roberts. The ideas have been flowing and learning is transcending all expectations. For example, as everyone shares their reflections new tools and strategies are being used. I’ve been introduced to some great apps and ideas that I cannot wait to try! Teachers in the group are experimenting with sketchnoting, screencasting, and more.


One thing that I personally love about the cyberPD community is the variety of ideas shared. Educators in the group represent a wide range of grade levels and subjects taught, from Kindergarten to those that work with pre-service teachers at the collegiate level. I may have a very different teaching situation but I always am inspired by the interpretations, ideas, experiences, and creations of others. I encourage anyone to check this community out! Just search #cyberPD.


Now part of the experience is doing a weekly reflection on designated chapters. I’m wrapping up the book in this podcast with my reflections on chapters 5 and 6. The whole book centers around the creation/use of 4 tools that teachers can create themselves to foster the “stickiness” of learning… that is ways we can help our students remember skills and strategies we teach, help them “work harder” and customize learning to fit individual needs.  These tools: Teaching charts, demonstration notebooks, micro-progressions, and bookmarks can help us personalize learning and help students gain “footholds”.


In previous chapters, Kate and Maggie show us how the tools can help with memory and rigor. In chapter 5, they show us how these tools can help us differentiate learning. When we differentiate, we are looking to meet the student where he or she is. Tools help us help students work at the right level without having to wait for us; that is when we create and use these tools, students can access them as needed. For example, students can use teaching charts to trouble shoot when they are stuck; this of course is most effective when charts are created with students. I especially love the idea of creating an “IF THEN” chart with students.  One that lets them become armed with ideas for what they can do IF they find themselves unsure.


Bookmarks when created by students are truly individualized tools. Students can customize a bookmark with the strategy or skill reminders they need.  Teachers can also use micro progressions which target a specific skill into smaller steps, so that regardless of where a student is, she/he can find themselves in the range represented. Micro progressions are great tools to show students how they can essentially “level up” to improve. These tools allow us to scaffold learning for students in ways that empower students to take charge of their own learning and be more self-directed. When they access and use tools independently, they are in fact problem-solving… and isn’t this an important life skill?


Now as students are problem solving on their own and accessing the information they need independently using charts or bookmarks, teachers are able to meet with smaller groups or individuals to reteach using demonstration notebooks. Collecting ready to go mini-lessons in a notebook allows teachers to be armed with what students need when they need them.


Of course matching these tools to student needs requires our assessment as we look for growth and monitor how things are going. It also means that we need to know when to remove, revise or change the scaffolds we are providing. Our goal is to have these tools be temporary supports and as we gradually release responsibility, the need for the tool should eventually fade away. When see a student uses a strategy or skill with automaticity, then we know the tool is ready to be removed.  If that isn’t evident, students can tell us when they are ready to move on… so we should ask them if they are ready to give the tool up. If they are unsure, watch for agitation or signs that the student is ready to move on.  Sometimes misbehavior is a big sign that a tool is no longer effective or needed.


When creating and using the DIY tools, Kate and Maggie have some important tips to keep in mind. Ways to help interest and engage students more include infusing “pop culture”, connecting with metaphors, and using kid friendly language. I’m thinking about current trends such as the Pokemon crazy to hook students…then there is always Minecraft… Getting to know what students are following can help give teaching tools power.


Things to remember when creating a tool include “less is more”. We can pack more punch with key words or phrases or even images and icons. We definitely need to find the right level but should also teach a few new things too. Perhaps reinforce a new literary term when creating a teaching chart? Apply alternate vocabulary to stretch understanding of a strategy? Rather than searching Pintrest or hunting on Teachers Pay Teachers, we can create our own custom learning tools that speak specifically to our own unique students. I think students appreciate the customization more and are more likely to use when they have ownership.


Of course it can be easy to become overwhelmed with so many tools. Knowing when to remove a tool is important but what can we do to ensure we have a “tool-friendly” classroom? Well Kate and Maggie give great tips such as “mix it up”. Sometimes relocating a tool can keep it fresh, although to be most effective, tools should be clustered by subjects and current tools grouped in common meeting areas for easiest access. Having students go on “scavenger hunts” for tools also promotes awareness of where to access a tool so they know where to look when they need it. Even better…have students do it themselves… make their own tools so that the process of creating the tool gives that kinesthetic reinforcement!


Other tips include planning time to create tools with students. Students are of course more likely to use tools when they are part of the process. This can be challenging if we teach multiple groups of students. I know I see 4 groups of students per day and could be creating a tool 4 times. I do think it is important to go through the process with each group so I tend to do things like create a tool with students digitally. This way I can later synthesize ideas from each group for one to display but can also give each group their own custom tool. This may not work for everyone…but what does work is being intentional and planning time for creating tools with students. In doing this however, Kate and Maggie remind us that student voice is important. As teachers we should act as conductors or as I prefer a ‘facilitator’. I want my students to do the work…I’ll be the guide. Getting everyone involved is also a way to ensure students have a voice. I’m a fan of having students “do” something to be involved. We might be coming up with ideas together, but I like to be sure students are creating their own resource in some way. Finally, give students voice by letting them become the ‘experts’. My kids love to teach each other and honestly when they can teach each other I know their learning is strongest. Learn by doing… that is always a focus in my room.


So through cyberPD and the reading of DIY Literacy I’m discovering some great ways to help my students with fantastic teaching tools! I know these tools will help my students as readers and give me ways to continue accelerating and enriching our time together!


Nonfiction Reading: Stances, Signposts, and Strategies #4

READ podcast
Discussing educational topics of Reading, Enrichment, Acceleration, and Discourse

This podcast continues to reflect upon Kylene Beers and Robert Probst’s Reading Nonfiction: Notice and Note Stances, Signposts, and Strategies text. Here I will be reflecting upon the power of signposts and most specifically the signposts of “contrasts and contradictions” as well as “extreme or absolute language”.