(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!