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Guest Post by Laura McDonell@lmcdonell14

A look at What Actually Worked for Me

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Reading is one of those things that I go to the wall on.  Growing up, reading was something I struggled with. As a teacher, I see how critical it is to overall success as a student.  Today, one of the reasons my life is so incredibly rich has to do with the books I read. As a parent, I am determined to give my kids opportunities to find success with reading. As with everything in life, some days everything comes together, connects and makes a beautiful picture.  However, there are other weeks or years where the struggle is real and seems like it is never going to end.

It doesn’t matter where my kids are starting from (I can still remember checking out different copies of the Dick and Jane anthology because it worked, and my middle son needed repetition.  While all three of my kids have grown up in the same environment, they have all been unique in regards to what works best for each of them as readers.  Overall the key is persistence, and never giving up no matter how challenging it might seem. I have found success as a parent by visiting the library often, allowing them to change their minds about what they like, becoming their personal assistant, reading and talking about books in front of them, using audiobooks, hosting a book tasting and celebrating accomplishments.

  1. Visit the Library Often.

jaredd-craig-HH4WBGNyltc-unsplashLibraries might seem dated, but they are in fact one of the best-kept secrets.  We got library cards for our kids as soon as they could write their names. Today, cards can be used to check out everything from audiobooks to new release movies.   Apps like Hoopla and Overdrive are amazing. With a library card, these two sites offer thousands of books, movies, and music. Giving kids the opportunity to borrow a stack of books without any cost is ideal for many families.  Taking advantage of MEL, the state’s interlibrary loan program, allows people to request books from all over the state of Michigan and have them sent right to your local library. Showing someone how to use the library unlocks a world of possibility.  Anything can be learned by using the public library. And, using the library saves a lot of money. Surrounding kids with books is one of the best things you can do to get them reading. The library makes reading an inexpensive activity. I am not alone when it comes to using the library.  Several financial enthusiasts highly recommend it.

2.  Allow them to Change Their Mind Often. 

When my middle son was in first grade, he loved the Nate the Great series. The books were right at his reading level, and I thought I had struck gold since there were several of them in the library.  I requested every copy I could find. After reading about 10 of the books, one day he said, “I don’t really want to read Nate the Great anymore.”  At first, I was a little sad since there were still books to be read, but after thinking about it, I was excited that he was willing to be honest about what he wanted to read.  Minutes later, I realized had a new challenge. I had to help him find his next book, and do it quickly so that he did not lose momentum to continue reading. Humans are always evolving.

matthew-fournier-G971e4EFKtA-unsplashA few years ago one of my boys really got into hockey. We found all of the Matt Christopher books about hockey in the library, and he eagerly read each one cover to cover. Last summer my daughter was obsessed with learning about swimming.  We raided the library for any nonfiction book we could find on the topic. During the winter it was graphic novels, and today she loves to dive into anything related to fairy tales. Even though I have a pretty good idea about what each of my kids likes to read, I had experiences where I selected a book or two I thought might be perfect, only to have them not show an interest in what I picked out.  I do not take it personally, since there is no cost associated with it, and know that as a reader I don’t read every book I take home from the library.

3. Be their Personal Assistant.  

Kids need to be taught skills to thrive on their own. However, when they are starting out, they need someone to guide them:  like a coach, or a personal assistant.  The personal assistant does not do the work but instead sets a person up for success.

If we want to raise a reader, the more times children can be successful will improve the overall possibility of them sticking with reading early on, and then eventually becoming adults who are drawn to books.

Personally assisting a child, looks like helping him or her find books, help them find books that are just right for their level, challenging them, suggesting new authors, reading a chapter aloud, placing books in their path, and helping them organize their schedule to support reading time. As an adult, I have read a lot of books and heard hundreds of titles and authors, and because of it I am in a great position to offer guidance.  Scrolling through Bestseller Lists helps me to find current and high-interest reading material.  As my kids get older, I have started to transfer this responsibility. However, it is still important for young adults to have help in selecting books. My husband even enjoys it when I pick out a book for him tailored to his interests.

Reading aloud the first chapter of a book can help a child get into a story.  I knew my middle son would love John Grisham’s Theodore Boone Kid Lawyer books.  I was also aware that some of the terminology, setting, and background given in the first chapter could be very new, and confusing.  So I offered to read the first chapter to him. After hearing and then talking about the chapter, he was hooked and settled in for a great series of books.

4.  Read in Front of Them.  And Talk about Your Books.

dan-dumitriu-3w1XBUGj4ds-unsplash.jpgWhen I first started teaching, I would ask the parents of my really motivated readers who seemed to always be reading, “Tell me how you did it?  What do you think has made the difference in getting your child excited about reading?” Almost every time I was given the same answer, “I suppose he just sees me reading all the time, and it just seemed like the thing to do.  My nose is always in a book”.

If you expect your kids to read, you have to also be a reader.  You gain credibility when you pick up a book on a regular basis.

It is also important to be a “Real reader”, and model what it is like to struggle with something in a book, fall in love with a new series, or make the choice to abandon a book because you cannot get into it.  It is helpful for kids to know that they are not alone in how they think about books.

5.  Use Audio Books

When my kids were really little, I would get audio CDs with the corresponding picture book from the library.  It helped me to team parent with myself, as I could catch a break where my kids could listen to a story and follow along with the words.  As my kids have grown older, they continue to enjoy audiobooks. We listen to them on vacation in the car, and two of my three kids absolutely love hanging out in their room listening to a book while putting together Legos or doing chores.  We have found that they are awesome for the kids to fall asleep listening to.

Lastly, as a Spanish student, I remember being able to listen at a higher level than I could read or speak.  One of the coolest things about audiobooks is that students can comprehend at higher levels than they can speak or read.  Plus, audiobooks give kids practice listening to correctly pronounce words, perfected grammar, and give them the opportunity to work on fluency as a reader.

6. Do a Book Tasting.

hannah-busing-0BhSKStVtdM-unsplashExposure to good literature and authors is one of the best gifts we can give our readers.  I absolutely love sharing some of my favorites with kids. Just as we could taste cheese, wine, sauces, desserts, or other menu items, book tastings are a great way to try new things.  I typically put a book in front of each place setting. Each child will get a chart to list the title he or she tasted along with the author, genre, and the likelihood that he or she might read the book.  The tasting is timed to keep it moving. And so after a total of several, ninety-second tastings, kids are able to walk away with several new titles that could be considerations for future reading. This activity can be adapted to any size (I have had great success with it in the classroom).

7.  Celebrate Success as a Family.

daniel-olah-VUGAcY35Ubw-unsplashThere are times that I find my kids book hopping, and not finishing titles.  I have also seen my kids plateau as readers. It is fun when we all work together and focus on completing a challenge that encourages reading and celebrating the success of others.  It works well for us to keep a running list of books read on the refrigerator. We set a goal for a number of books to be read and immediately start brainstorming how to we will celebrate our success.  It is nice to focus on working together and cheering each other on.

Maybe some of these ideas will work for you. What works well one day to encourage reading, might not work as well the next.  Plus, reading is personal. Everyone is motivated differently. But, the important thing is as a parent or teacher, you never stop trying.  Persistence is so important. Sometimes it is really tough to find the perfect author or series for a child. But, there is always one more book, genre, author, or method to try.  It won’t necessarily be easy, but it will be worth it.

 

Read more from Laura: Her blog site

***Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

bit.ly/Pothbooks

 

Guest Post by  Laurie Guyon, @smilelearning

If you have met me at a conference, a workshop, or in a school, you would consider me an extrovert. I’m friendly, always smiling, and comfortable talking to anyone.  Even as a self-proclaimed chatterbox, I get anxious in certain social situations. One on one conversations makes me nervous. My mind reels with thoughts like “will I talk too much” or “will I overshare” or “will I say something stupid” or “what if there is a lapse in the conversation’.  These thoughts have caused me to avoid what might have been a wonderful conversation. I try to step outside my comfort zone and engage in these moments more often. I know that these thoughts and ‘what ifs’ are part of being human.

“I restore myself when I am alone.” – Marilyn Monroe

While reflecting on these moments, I thought about my teenage daughter.  She is a self-proclaimed introvert. Her anxiety in social settings is completely the opposite of mine.  She is fine one on one, but crowds get her inner thinkings reeling. She hates public speaking and will avoid group situations whenever possible.  She once told me that my teaching style would give her hives because I like a loud and active classroom. She prefers quiet and independent work. In our classrooms, we have students with all different communication abilities and fears.  How do we foster an environment that can support all learners and communicators?

 

In the TED talk about introverts by Susan Cain, she defines shyness as fear of social judgment.  She states that introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation.  In the classroom, there is a multitude of stimulation. These can be visual noise, people, and expectations.  How each of our students responds to this stimulation tells us if they are comfortable or not. We may even discipline students based on their behaviors.  But, what if we are pushing students outside of their social norms?

 

Bob Dillon and Rebecca Louise Hare ask educators to make sure that there are spaces for all learners in their book, “The Space: A Guide for Educators”.  They mention creating areas that give students a chance to learn and work so they can thrive. When I taught 6th grade, I created a variety of learning spaces.  I then asked my students to choose the spots in the room where they feel they could learn best. I learned so much about my students by giving them the agency to choose.  I utilized choice boards to give students autonomy. Students were more likely to create quality work when given a choice on how they would showcase what they learned.

Have you ever gone to a presentation or a workshop and the presenter asks you to do something you don’t want to do?  For example, I was in one recently where they asked us to do charades. I am not a fan of playing that game for a variety of reasons, but we had to.  I did everything I could to be the guesser and never have to act it out. Then, at ISTE I lead a mini engagement session with the amazing MCE Melody McAllister and Nearpod.  In the session, we had to lead the participants in a rousing game of charades. Once again, I was outside of my comfort zone. The energy of Melody, the Nearpod team, and engaged educators allowed me to participate in the activity.  It was the support and encouragement that allowed me to be successful.

“The greatest art is to sit, wait and let it come.” – Yogi Bhajan

To reach all learners, we need to think about our learning spaces.  We need to think about the amount of agency we give our students and give them a chance to be inside their own heads.  We also need to encourage them to try and do what may not be in their wheelhouse. We can support them with encouragement and time to build on their comfort level.

We want to maximize talent and success for all our students.  This does not need to always be group work and active activities.  Sometimes, the best activity is in speaking softly or to work alone in silence.  But sometimes, it’s using our talents as part of a community that can make us successful.  Finding this balance is what will help us reach all learners.  

 

Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Books available

bit.ly/Pothbooks

 

Guest Post by Kristen Koppers, @Mrs_Koppers

Educator and Author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession 

The movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one movie that brought together friendship through hardships. But a single pair of pants (no matter the size of each of the girls) fit perfectly to where they would wear the pants, write on them, and send them to each other throughout the summer.

We all know that wearing a pair of pants in one size does not mean that another pair of pants will fit even with the same size. The fact that one pair of pants can fit four different girls ‘perfectly’ who all have different body types is not realistic. Although the movie focused on the jeans, it was more about the friendship of the four girls during their personal problems they went through without each other.

The same idea goes for teaching and learning. While we hope that one size pair of pants (learning styles) would fit more than one student, we know that is not the case. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, schools, and learning abilities so we cannot think that one curriculum or one “pair of pants” can fit all. This goes the same for purchasing a Halloween costume or outfit where the tag says “one size fits most.” Someone who weighs 120 pounds wearing the same costume that a person who weighs 30 pounds more won’t fit the same way. While the outfit will fit both sizes, the look will be quite different.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL – What many forget is that teachers come from all backgrounds, cultures, educational institutions, and ethics. We cannot expect one teacher to teach the same way as other teachers. This is the same for students. It would be a perfect world if one style of teaching will reach all students. However, this is not the case. Differentiating work can be difficult as well to meet the needs of all students. In order to have that perfect pair of pants to fit all students, teachers must be willing to put their ego and pride aside and stretch the pants just a little wider so that not one size person but multiple sizes can fit.

The struggle is real. We all know how it is to try and fit into a fresh pair of washed jeans. The jeans that fit you the day before now feels tighter 24 hours later. If we think about how that one pair of jeans fit the day earlier and then the next day they don’t, this is how many students feel. One day they feel like they understood the information and then the next day nothing makes sense.

Using Differentiated Instruction is not about separating all students or creating one lesson plan for many. It’s about assessing student needs throughout the year. While one lesson plan will help several students at one point, another lesson plan may not work for the rest. Assessing students needs does not need to be cumbersome. It can be as simple as noticing non-verbal clues in the classroom to written work.

Recently, we were reading a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Students were intrigued by the reading and began to focus on the plot. It wasn’t until they were to share out what they learned to the class that everything unfolded. When I moved around the room, most groups were able to explain what they were thinking. However, between the individual group discussions and the informal presentation, something went wrong. This is where I used differentiated instruction. We discussed the lesson, the assignment, and guidelines. It was the connection from what they read to their knowledge that seemed ‘not to fit.’

As an educator of 16 years and instead of taking it as an insult to my teaching, I swallowed my pride of experience and began to learn how to fit into a pair of jeans that did not fit me. After a large group discussion, I was able to use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all the abilities in my classroom. Students were given the choice to keep their grade or complete one of the two alternative assignments to replace the previous grade. Instead of making this decision, I let the students choose because, after all, they are the ones who truly know their own learning ability.

When one pair of pants does not fit, we shouldn’t just give them away and buy a larger or small pair, we need to stretch them a little to fit.

Follow Kristen on Twitter and Check out her book! Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession

This post is sponsored by Listenwise, all opinions are my own.

Back to School with Listenwise

The start of the new school year brings excitement for new opportunities and is often a time when educators are looking for new ideas and digital tools for enhancing student learning. For many educators, having extra time in the summer is great for reflecting on the prior school year and exploring digital tools and their benefits for students. Simply using technology because it is available without a true purpose will not benefit student learning much at all. However, when we implement versatile digital tools that provide students with innovative, more personalized and real-world learning experiences, we empower our students with amazing opportunities. Listenwise is a listening skills program that offers more than 1800 podcasts for students in grades 5 through 12 (with plans to expand further into Elementary content in 2020). The content is updated every day with new stories including daily current events from NPR.

Improve Listening Comprehension Skills With Listenwise

Listenwise is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to foster improved listening skills, reading comprehension, and create a more personalized learning experience for students. Listenwise is beneficial for increasing participation in discussions and promoting student engagement. It creates a virtual space where students can build listening and reading comprehension skills, confidence, as well as develop their own creativity and storytelling skills. Using Listenwise, teachers can better differentiate learning for students and promote more cultural and global awareness through access to more meaningful, real-world stories.

What makes Listenwise stand out?

The first thing that I noticed about Listenwise is how easy it is to navigate in the platform. There is also a robust teacher support center which offers the basics for getting started, teaching resources, hot topics, and more support to get started with Listenwise.

When making decisions about which digital tools to use, especially those that offer as many features as Listenwise, there may be a concern about the learning curve. However, a key feature of Listenwise is in its simplicity and visual design.

It is easy to locate Lessons, whether by selecting a content area, exploring all of the lessons available, or searching based on a specific word or current event. A great feature of Listenwise is that teachers can also search for lessons based on grade level, the level of language challenge, and even the type of resources (lesson plan or current event). Being able to locate resources quickly enables teachers to find something more personalized for students and their specific interests and needs.

Enhance Collaboration Through Digital Learning Spaces

Teachers can provide students with access to current and relevant resources and news, create more authentic assignments, and promote student agency through the Listenwise platform. There are a variety of teacher materials available to enhance each lesson including comprehension questions, prompts, lesson plans, graphic organizers, tiered vocabulary and more. Finding time to create class activities and provide enrichment can be a challenge, however, Listenwise helps teachers to reduce planning time and instead have extra time for interacting with students. It is a platform that can be used in multiple ways for different forms of instruction. It is a great option for using a blended learning model with station rotations in class. Whether used for individual students or an entire class, or at home as a way to promote more family engagement, Listenwise offers many options for amplifying student learning potential.

Using the different lessons and current events available, we can extend learning, reinforce the content that we are teaching and in the process spark new discussions. We will then build upon student skills of critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and promote creativity.

It is easy to navigate the site and set students and create classes. Listenwise provides an excellent way to help students stay informed of what is happening in the world around them and to connect with content that they are interested in and to take more control in their learning.

Foster Better Class Discussions

Listenwise provides a way for students to build skills and become more confident as they explore real-world topics and interact more with the content. Students also build digital citizenship skills as they navigate in the digital world, exploring global issues and making connections with their own community.

Key Features of Listenwise

  1. Content: Listenwise offers more than 1800 podcasts from NPR and other podcast providers. Students have access to the audio as well as an interactive transcript, vocabulary resources and an opportunity to work at their own pace.
  2. Teacher resources: There are many resources available through the Teacher’s Guide. Within each lesson, there are listening comprehension questions, discussion themes, vocabulary words, Socrative integration, additional related lessons, and multiple graphic organizers. There are also external materials provided which may include resources such as interviews, drawings, maps.
  3. Interactive transcript: A great feature where students can listen to the audio while reading along with it, and if needed, pause to take notes or to process the information. While the audio plays, the text changes color and moves at the pace of the audio. Students can replay sections by clicking a word in the story, and the audio will re-start on the word they select. This is a great way to have students focus on listening more closely and also being able to make a visual connection with the text and build their reading skills.
  4. Auto-scored quizzes: Each lesson offers listening comprehension quizzes which are embedded in the lesson. Students have the option to replay the audio and listen more closely, helping them to continue to build their skills at their own pace. Students receive their results and if needed, can retake a quiz once the teacher clicks “reset” on the report.
  5. Progress monitoring: There are eight types of listening comprehension skills that are assessed such as main idea, inference, and vocabulary. Teachers have a detailed view of student results, can download the class report and see schoolwide data. Having access to this data
  6. ELL and Scaffolding: Through tiered vocabulary and the option to play audio at a slower speed, students can work at their own pace through the lesson. Students also have the texthelp toolbar which offers options such as Spanish translation, word definition through text or picture, and the ability to read aloud any text from the page.
  7. Standards-aligned: Lessons are aligned to state standards for ELA, science, and social studies. Through the Teacher’s Guide, each grade level band contains the related standards and explanations, making it easy to refer to the standards.
  8. Custom assignments: Teachers can create custom assignments for students, which works very well for a blended learning environment or for schools which are 1:1. Assignments can be customized to include listening comprehension questions, interactive transcripts, short responses, graphic organizers and more depending on the needs of each student.

Listenwise helps to promote better communication, student success, and family engagement. Implementing digital tools like Listenwise promotes learning that can take place regardless of the time and place, also helping to globally connect students with authentic, real-world resources. Providing these learning tools for students makes a big difference in student growth and engagement.

Ready to get started?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Choose one of the lessons for a new way to introduce a unit.
  • Select a theme for Project-based learning (PBL) based on one of the lessons.
  • Teach students about global issues by informing them about the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and task them with finding events related to these goals. Opportunities like this promote student inquiry and lead students to more meaningful, personalized learning journeys.
  • Search for a recent current event and use it as a conversation starter!

Guest post by Dave Schmittou, @daveschmittou #LastingLearning

via Teachers matter more

I am all about improvement. At the end of every year, I spend some time reflecting on what my strengths and struggles are so that I can make a plan for progress. At work, I spend time evaluating programs, processes, and people. One thing I have noticed recently in schools is that far too many of us say teachers matter more,  that the people make the difference, yet we spend so much of our time focusing our improvement efforts on programs and processes. We think of ways to circumvent those who matter more instead of diving deep to develop the real difference makers. We know teachers are the drivers of learning, but we pour money and time into software, classes, textbooks, and schedules instead of into the people who make it all happen.

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As a sports fan, I often use athletics to try and illustrate my points, so I may as well do so again. Lebron James is considered by many people as one of the greatest basketball players of this era. He is dominant, he can shoot, dribble, pass, rebound, and play defense (when he chooses to). Pretend for a moment that you are a general manager of a team Lebron plays on and you have the task of making the team better. Your goal is to get wins and championships. You can do this by upgrading the concession stands at the arena. You can do this by bringing in new players to circumvent Lebron, players who will not pass him the ball or expect him to be great, or you can do this by bringing in players that complement his game and allow him to dominate. Each of these strategies has been tried on his teams. Some owners and GMs have attempted to distract the fans from what is happening on the court by upgrading the arena. Some have attempted to save Lebron by bringing in others to take the pressure off, and some have brought in players to complement him and make him even better. Only the latter has resulted in championships, however.

Often times in schools we get ourselves distracted by things that don’t matter at the expense of those that do. As a leader who has had the opportunity to help lead turn around efforts in a few schools and districts, I have learned that no program, no paint job, no software will ever impact a child like an amazing teacher. If you are a leader, all of your focus should be on making teachers better, not working around them.

If you have struggling students in your school (we all do), do not go on the hunt of the newest tech gadget to give to the kids. Look for ways to help a teacher work with those students more. If you have accelerated students in your school (we all do) do not look for activities and classes to fill a schedule. Look for ways to have teachers inspire and motivate innovation. Stop looking for ways to work around teachers and begin looking for ways to support teachers.

Support does not simply mean increasing pay. Support means, if you have the option between a new textbook or staff professional development, invest in the teachers. If you have a choice between painting a hallway or developing a teacher, choose the teacher. Always, choose the teacher/

Every research study available describes the effects that matter most for student learning point to teachers as the difference makers. Teachers matter more. Teachers provide feedback, establish the culture, set the expectations, develop the assessments, and plan for progress.  If you are a leader, spend your time building capacity in teachers and you will be amazed at the learning that results from your students.

Check out the podcast on this topic at https://anchor.fm/david-schmittou/episodes/Episode-12-Teachers-Matter-More-e2n3c4

Feel free to also check out Dave’s book:

It’s Like Riding a Bike: How to make learning last a lifetime

 

Want to write a guest blog for my website? Submit an idea here!

Image Credit Pixabay

Guest Post: Jenn Breisacher, Founder of Student-Centered World (www.studentcenteredworld.com)  

Twitter: @StuCentWorld, Instagram: @studentcenteredworld

 

Somewhere along the way, teachers got scared.

I don’t mean scared in the traditional sense. Yes, sometimes there are heart-stopping moments for one reason or another, but teachers aren’t scared of their climate.

Teachers became scared of today.

As long as we can remember, teaching has been about this technique or that in the classroom. We are sent to learn about different methods and spend hours of professional development learning about different ways to help our students be successful. Some teachers take this in stride while others sit back and roll their eyes, knowing that when they go back to the classroom, they’ll just stick to “what works”.

It always has, right?

But what happens when an entire generational shift occurs? What happens when an entire generation doesn’t know what life was like before September 11th? That landlines used to be the only way to call somebody? That “likes” and “follows” used to be a phenomenon that was done in person?

Folks, that generation is here…and “what works” doesn’t work for them.

Generation Z has entered our classrooms and they are different than any other group that has been taught in traditional education before. They are hands-on, tech-savvy, and need to know that what they are learning will help them make a difference. Simply put, traditional methods of instruction will not allow them to perform at their best. 

Let me say it again, “Traditional methods of instruction will not allow Generation Z to perform at their best.”

I’m not saying they can’t learn with traditional instruction. Sure, by osmosis they may learn by sitting and listening to a lecture or taking notes from a PowerPoint…but this is not how they will learn best. As educators, we don’t want to simply go through the motions. We don’t want to know our students learned the bare minimum to pass and move along. We want them to have a thirst for knowledge, to want to know more, learn more, do more. Yes, they may “learn” in a traditional classroom, but there will be multiple layers of potential that simply does not get tapped.

 

The world our students are entering is so competitive, but not in the ways we remember. Jobs used to be industrial, but now they’re turning entrepreneurial. We need to give our students the power to head into that world with confidence. We need to help give them an edge so when the going gets tough, they know what to do. We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t yet exist, which is a scary thought. (Don’t believe me? How many of you recall friends who wanted to be social media managers while you were in school? That’s just one example). The only way we can ensure their success is if we train them now to think outside of the box and to be willing (sometimes quite literally) to get their hands dirty and think like no one else.

This is the scary part for teachers.

Yes, throughout the years, life has changed. Every generation of students who have come to school has had different needs and interests than the ones before them. However, the birth of the information age and the worldwide connections that are now made in an instant are things that have never been seen before. We can debate for days whether or not this is good for society…whether or not “these kids” are being helped or harmed because they know how to function a Smart Phone by the time they’re 2. While those debates are fine, they’re not changing anything regarding what clientele we have in our classrooms right now. These changes to society aren’t going anywhere…at least not for a long time…and it’s our job…our duty…to make sure we are adapting in the classroom so these kids are learning in a proactive way for the world that awaits them, not the way it’s always been done in a world that no longer exists.

 

Change is scary for everyone. It takes us out of our comfort zone and makes us dabble in ideas that may be foreign to us…but remember, those ideas are not foreign to our students. If we want them to be as successful as possible in life, we need to help prepare them for the world that awaits them, not the world that awaited us.

 

 

 

Communication is Key

One of the things that I enjoy the most about the summer is having more time to reflect on the different tools and resources that I am using in my classroom and to explore new ones. Summer is also the perfect time to participate in professional learning, whether by attending conferences, taking classes, or meeting with other educators. This summer, I have been involved in several presentations and conversations that are focused on finding a way to enhance better communication between home and school. It is critical for classrooms today that we find a way to increase family engagement in the learning experiences of their children and make sure that everyone has access to the school information and resources, especially those that are time-sensitive.

Finding the right tools

There is no shortage of tools that we can use to form a connection between home and school, whether we want simply to send messages and class updates to students, or we want to focus more on including parents. Because teachers have so many different responsibilities, finding the time to explore tools can be a little challenging at times. This is why it’s beneficial to share what we are doing in our classrooms to help other teachers get started and to make those connections that we know are so important for student success today.

Several years ago I noticed a disconnect and I resolved that by finding a digital tool (Celly, then Remind) to connect with my students so I could share resources and class updates with them. But I soon realized that I needed to go beyond simply connecting my students with the class, I needed to include parents. That’s when I moved to using an LMS, Edmodo, which enabled students to get the materials that they needed, and also keep parents informed about our class.

The benefits of one platform

Although these tools worked just fine, the concern was that teachers were using multiple tools. This meant that parents had to keep up with multiple apps, some of which may not have been accessible on their devices. When I was using the messaging app and the LMS, I had to keep a good routine of posting on both platforms and keep reminding myself that I needed to do so for each class that I was teaching. After a short period of time, I realized that there were too many being used. Being able to effectively communicate and collaborate is easier when everyone uses the same platform. There is consistency and parents won’t have to worry about which teacher uses which app, or whether or not their device is compatible with the apps being used.

Making the shift

Thinking about the different communication tools available to teachers, moving to something that offers more than two-way communication and the sharing of photos, videos, and files, makes sense. We have many responsibilities that could require multiple apps or forms of communication. However, notifying parents about student attendance, scheduling conferences, asking for volunteer sign-ups, or coordinating class fundraisers, are a few added benefits when teachers use a platform that provides all of these options housed within one.

Enter ParentSquare

As teachers adopt free communication tools, districts are looking at alternatives. One such tool is ParentSquare. What does it have to offer for teachers and how does it compare to Remind and other teacher-adopted tools?

Teachers use ParentSquare for:

  • Communicating with families and students
  • sharing pictures
  • scheduling conferences
  • sharing class calendar
  • asking for class and project supplies/class party items and food
  • requesting chaperones and volunteers
  • collecting payments for field trips
  • Providing/Collecting forms and permission slips

In addition to the teacher uses, there are many other benefits for school- and district-based usage such as attendance and lunch balance notifications, bus delays, sharing grades and assignments, delivering progress reports securely, and emergency notifications. Having these capabilities makes ParentSquare a single hub for all school-home related communication for parents.

I have had the opportunity to explore ParentSquare over the last six months, to get feedback from other educators and to compare the ways that I used other messaging tools and apps in my own classroom. Besides the time factor, sometimes educators get pushback because there is just too much technology. Too many things to worry about, too big of a learning curve, and too much to figure out to get started, so it’s easier to stay with the tools that have been used for years and that are more comfortable.

Easy to join

When using a platform like ParentSquare, teachers have a lot less to worry about when it comes to sending messages and inviting parents to become part of the group. ParentSquare automatically integrates with the SIS, making it easy for parents to join because it’s done automatically for them, without the need for a join code like with Remind. Parents who don’t register will still receive messages because their information is pulled from within the school rostering system.

Comprehensive and consolidated

Parents will feel more connected to the school by having one consolidated platform, which resolves the problem of knowing where to find information or keeping up with multiple apps for different classes and yet more apps and tools used by the school and the PTA. ParentSquare combines all into one. With tools like Remind, the options are limited as to the types of information that can be shared.

Privacy

It is important to first guarantee that any tool or platform used is in compliance with COPPA and FERPA. Compliant with both, ParentSquare takes all precautions when it comes to the safety and security of students and their families. ParentSquare is a signatory of the Student Privacy Pledge and the company signs a contract with the district to ensure student privacy. While Remind is also compliant with COPPA and FERPA, it has not signed contracts with the district or school in most cases.

Delivery of messages

At times I also heard that some parents were not receiving my messages. When I used Remind, I could see that messages were delivered, however, the students or parents were not necessarily reading them, which presented another problem. Perhaps because of the use of multiple tools, which is why it makes more sense to have one comprehensive platform. ParentSquare automatically delivers messages using the right modality – email, text or app notification and the right language as is in the school records. Reports show reach and deliverability of messages, making it easy to identify who has or has not been contacted.

Consistency is important

Personally, I have used anywhere between four and six different apps and websites to complete these tasks. However, with ParentSquare, you can facilitate faster and better communication and collaboration between home and school. ParentSquare enables schools and families to engage more in conversations by providing multiple options for communicating in less time through direct messages, polls, and the option to post comments all in one platform. It offers a consistent and reliable way to communicate within the school and school district, fostering and building the relationships that promote better communication, student success, and family engagement.

In many schools, administrators are potentially asking teachers to use platforms that are a paid platform rather than selecting the tools that they feel most comfortable with or prefer to use based on their role or content area. Making the transition from a tool like Remind to that of ParentSquare does not require any extra time, in fact, it is very user-friendly and easy to navigate. And if there are any questions there are many resources available including online self-paced training modules, extensive knowledge base, 24*7 support for teachers and parents.

Sign up for a demo today

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Key features: Also check out the video here.

Key Features  
Privacy Available, updated 2018
District Level Oversight
Messaging to and between parents
Messaging between teachers and staff
Individual/Group Messaging
Notifications as text, email, app
Send/Schedule reminders
Language Translation 100+ with Real-time translation
Class/School Calendar 2-way Sync with Google and iCal
File and Photo Sharing
Conference & Volunteer Signups
Single Sign-on
Unlimited Message Length
Coordinate Events/RSVP
Permission Slips
Devices: iOs, Android, Web
Attendance Notifications
Grades and Assignments
Report Card Delivery
Attendance Delivery and Excuse Notes
Truancy Letters
Cafeteria Balance
Payments and Invoices Recurring & one time
Polls and Surveys

Guest post from Rachael Mann

As Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “…but in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”, to which I would like to now respectfully add, “and technology.”

The dreaded circle of death can take many forms. My love-hate relationship with technology is relatable with everyone it seems. We’ve all been there- the projector isn’t working, the internet is stalling, or in my most recent scenario, repeated laptop failure. While working on the final chapters for my new book earlier this Spring, a message popped up saying that my power was low and to reconnect to a charger before my laptop went to sleep. I quickly went to plug in my laptop only to realize it was already plugged in. I tried a different outlet, but the message persisted. After trying different outlets in another room, I realized I was going to have to make a quick run to the Apple store to purchase a new charger.

The person assisting me at Apple suggested that I set up an appointment for later in the day to troubleshoot the problem and see if there was another underlying issue. The technician assured me that it was a routine check and that there was nothing to worry about after I expressed my fear that I would lose the data that wasn’t backed up. The “routine check-up” escalated to three technicians working to solve the problem as now the login screen wouldn’t take me back to my home screen. Five anxiety-ridden hours later, I was finally able to leave the store with my MacBook working like a brand new computer again.

The following Monday, due to a teacher shortage, I received a request to do a presentation on one of our campuses. Since most of my work is with teachers, I jumped at the opportunity to spend the afternoon in a high school classroom working directly with students. I rushed over and arrived at the same time that the students were piling in. I quickly set up my laptop and connected the projector, only to see that the dreaded message that had popped up at the Apple store only a few days earlier was once again on my screen.

Fortunately, the students had assignments to do for their IT class and were able to work independently. The IT specialist for the campus came to my assistance, but when he saw the message and realized that it was a personal computer, not one of the school’s devices, he could not offer his services after all.

With the students still working on their own, I took the window of time as an opportunity to call the Apple hotline. After 30 minutes of troubleshooting and still no progress, I resolved myself to the fate of spending another full evening at the Apple store. As I walked away from the laptop to see if any of thee students needed assistance, but a student who had been observing my challenge piped up and said, “Miss, I am a certified technician, can I look at your computer?”.

Several students protested, saying don’t let Peter work on it, he breaks everything! At this point, iI figured it couldn’t get any worse, and I was intrigued by this student’s curiosity and confidence, so I agreed to let Peter help me.

After a few clicks, other students began to gather around. What started as a failed attempt on my part had spontaneously turned into a class project. Some of Peter’s classmates began looking up solutions while others were yelling out commands. At one point, multiple kids were saying, “No, not the Kernel!. I thought this was a new slang word from this younger generation and told them to keep it down, later learning that “the Kernel” was actually a term for a code that he was using. They were speaking a foreign language to me!

As Peter continued to troubleshoot, another screen showed that it wasn’t bootable. From the other student’s expressions, I knew this was a bad thing.

At this point, I began mentally preparing myself for purchasing a new laptop and hoping that I had saved my presentation for Pennsylvania, where I was traveling to the next day, in iCloud. After a short time, Peter asked me to log in. He had finally fixed what the tech specialist at his own school, Apple phone support, and several Apple techs in the store, could not accomplish. My evening was once again free and my trip to Pennsylvania would not incur the price of a new computer to deliver my presentation.

This is what Career and Technical Education is all about. Giving students real-world experiences and skills that will serve them as they decide to move forward on their career path.

I asked Peter about his plans after graduation and he shared that he may get another certification, join the military, or pursue a career in cybersecurity. I have since learned that he was offered a job by one an advisory council member from the program and is now employed locally by Code Ninjas.

Regardless of the paths that his classmates choose, at its’ very core, nearly every career imaginable is a technology career. While it may seem that I am overstating, as Peter Diamandis said in Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, “Right now, there is another asteroid striking our world, already extinguishing the large and lumbering, already clearing a giant path for the quick and nimble. Our name for this asteroid is “exponential technology,” and even if this name is unfamiliar, its impact is not.”

To be successful in any field now requires having a strong technology skill set. This program will equip students with that critical tool.

Early on when the internet was just beginning to explode, it was common to hear professionals typing away on their trusty typewriter and stating, “this internet thing is just a fad”. Fast forward to a mere two decades later and “this internet thing” has not only proven that it is here to stay, it has now become a way of life. Technology will advance, whether we agree to join or not. Those who decide to keep pace will own the future.

Now, the greatest challenges facing the world can also be viewed as the greatest opportunities for our students in classrooms in every corner of the world. As educators, it is our privilege, as well as our responsibility, to give students the opportunity to start tackling big problems now, problems that could lead to initial failure, but ultimately lead them to their own success – which in this case, became my success as well.

 

Buncee: More than just a presentation tool!

There are a lot of great digital tools out there for educators to bring into their classrooms. When it comes to deciding on a specific tool to use, we must always think about our purpose and perhaps ask ourselves a few questions, such as: why are we looking for a digital tool, what are we hoping to accomplish by using it and how will it benefit students and learning? I’m often asked by colleagues either to recommend a new tool or direct them to something specific based on their requirements, such as video, audio, text and more. Because Buncee is such a versatile tool and offers so many options all-in-one, I find myself recommending it a lot. It is easy to get started with and full of choices for teachers and students.

Educators want to use tools that promote student choice and student voice and offer more than just one purpose. The reason I recommend Buncee is because it offers much more than simply being a way to create presentations. In addition to all of the wonderful things that can be created using Buncee, there are additional benefits for educators and students that might be overlooked or simply not thought of when getting started. For example, educators can meet the ISTE Standards for Students and Educators. By having students create with Buncee, students become empowered learners, creative communicators, innovative designers, knowledge constructors and engage in learning that meets each of the ISTE standards. With technology, we want to make sure that it is being used in a way that amplifies student voice and choice in learning.

However, Buncee does more than that. Beyond addressing the ISTE standards and providing students with more authentic and personalized learning experiences when creating with Buncee, there are other skills that are being addressed. In my own classroom, we have used Buncee for many different projects and even for project-based learning (PBL). My students created Buncees to share with their global peers in Argentina and Spain. Creating an “About Me” Buncee enabled all students to develop a more global understanding and become aware of cultural differences, as well as to develop empathy in the process.

Students enjoy creating with Buncee and even more than seeing their own creations, they really enjoy seeing what their classmates create. I have noticed that students become more comfortable with one another in class and start to build closer connections while working on their Buncees. Even the quietest students begin to ask questions, interact more and have been more engaged in creating when using Buncee than they had with other tools before. Students tell me that they enjoy teaching one another, learning about their classmates in unique ways, and feel like they are part of a classroom community.

Knowing that students are picking up on this has been a great way to foster the social-emotional skills (SEL) students need now and in the future. Buncee is so invested in providing a lot of options and opportunities for students and educators to enjoy learning, creating and growing together. Now Buncee has templates available to address SEL.

What is Social-emotional learning?

CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning), formed in 1994, is an organization which actively works toward promoting the importance of developing SEL skills in education. SEL is focused on five competencies: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. The development of these skills can benefit the level of student engagement as well, leading to higher academic achievement and reduce discipline issues in the classroom.

Providing opportunities for students to interact through the use of digital tools and activities in the classroom promotes the development of social-emotional learning skills. Using some of the Buncee templates and emojis, students can comfortably express how they are feeling, provide a quick check-in based on their level of understanding, share personality characteristics or likes and dislikes, or respond to questions in class, for a few options. Buncee is “giving a voice to the voiceless.”

In my own experience, I have seen students who have preferred to not speak out in class or who voiced that they were not creative or would not be able to do a presentation, design amazing Buncees and be excited to share with their classmates. Students build confidence while creating and the benefit is that they become more engaged in and excited to share their learning and interact with classmates. It helps to foster the development of skills such as problem-solving, working with different layouts, visualizing and displaying student learning.

It is always a good idea to ask students for feedback. I want to know what their thoughts are, if the tool or strategy is making a difference for them and if so, how. Here are some student thoughts about Buncee.

“It helps me to express my ideas more easily and make presentations which are much more interactive for myself and for my classmates.”

It is made in a way that allows students to make it really personal and specific to what they need. If students are enjoying their work and are able to make it their own, then they will be more willing to learn and will improve because of using Buncee.”

Hearing from students is important and making sure that all students feel comfortable expressing themselves is even more important. With Buncee, students have many choices to find what interests them and to express themselves in a way that is authentic, meaningful and personalized.

 

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When people find out that I am a teacher, one of the first things they say is “it must be nice to have your summers off.”  Yes, it is, but in all honesty, I would be fine if my school switched to year-round schooling. I enjoy being in the classroom and look forward to each day and what it brings, even the challenges that might pop up. More than anything, I love working with students and learning from them. My reason for loving the summer is not because I don’t have to go to work; it’s because it is an opportunity to have more time with family and friends and to take part in professional development and reflection.

Time for Reconnecting

Life gets so busy sometimes that before you know it, weeks and months pass by and you might find that you haven’t had a lot of time to spend with family and friends.  Of course, technology helps us to stay connected more than we could before. Whether we use text messaging, different apps, FaceTime or even a hangout to see our family and friends, it’s not the same as time together in person. More days at home means more time for family and friends.

I’m also excited for conference season to be here and to have time to spend with some of my closest friends learning together and relaxing. It was an amazing week at ISTE 2019 in Philadelphia and it is hard to believe that it has already passed! Time to start prepping for ISTE 2020!

I presented several sessions while at ISTE, which is such a fantastic conference that brings so many educators from around the world together every year.  We had so much fun and some of these pictures totally capture that well. It is great to spend time with my 53s and the 4OCFPLN and meet some PLN for the first time in person.  I loved getting to finally meet (in person) Elisabeth Bostwick, Rich Czyz, Tamara Letter, Scott Nunes, David Lockett,  Annick Rauch, Stacey Roshan, the Gimkit team of Josh and Jeff, and a few members of the 4OCFPLN that I only knew through Voxer!

Now I am prepping for the next learning adventure which is coming up in 2 weeks. I’m fortunate to be part of the EdWriteNow Volume 3 group of authors who will meet in Boston to write the book together. An added bonus is that I will get to spend extra time with my good friend Jennifer Casa-Todd while there. After Boston, a few of us are going on a writing retreat to Nashville. While each of us will be working on our respective books, it will be nice to spend time together!

Knowing that I will spend time with my core groups, the 53s and the #4OCFPLN, plus meet other members of my PLN for the first time, in real life, is one of my favorite things about the summer.   

 

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Time for Recharging

Summer is a time for a lot of things, one of the most important is self-care and recharging. So doing some normal summer things like sleeping in late, catching up with friends and family, going on vacations, ditching our devices and not worrying about setting the alarm are important for our self-care. Summer is also a valuable time for teachers to do even more on a personal and professional basis like think about their practice and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there for personal and professional development and growth. Attending conferences like ISTE give me a renewed excitement for the work that I do. My energy rarely dips when I am at these events, surrounded by friends and learning.

Time for Learning

A more flexible schedule for the summer means more time for attending conferences or webinars, joining in book studies or Voxer groups, or connecting within different learning communities. It might be easier to get involved in a Twitter chat, whatever it is during the school year that just doesn’t seem to fit as part of your routine, make it part of your summer routine.

 

There are lots of opportunities out there and my advice is to decide what is best for you. Do you want to be in one Voxer group or join one book study? Then make that your focus. Or maybe you want to start a blog or create a  new website. It’s up to you because it is your time to decide how to spend your summer break. I’m thrilled to be part of the summer BookcampPD book study with my book In Other Words. Looking forward to discussing the six books included in the study and of course, the two weeks in July (July 15-28), when we get to talk about my book and share ideas and takeaways from it.

 

Enjoy yourself

Each summer gets better and better, and it’s not because I traveled and spent hours on beaches, or to the contrary, kept idle. It is because I have used the time to learn more, to read, to connect, to reflect and to prepare for the next year.  My summer goal is to work so I can start stronger and be better than I was the year before. Whatever you do this summer, make time to recharge, connect and learn. And don’t set the alarm 🙂

 

 

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