Learning as I go: Experiences, reflections, lessons learned

Rachelle Dene Poth @rdene915 #FUTURE4EDU #QUOTES4EDU #THRIVEinEDU

flippedlearning

Thanks Adam Schoenbart  and The EduCal for the opportunity to share what a great event this was for everyone.

summerspark2016

The Summer Spark Experience

By Rachelle Dene Poth

What is the Summer Spark? In the words of lead organizer, Chuck Taft, it’s a conference with the goal to “set the the stage for all participants to innovate, collaborate, and connectate (Chuck’s word) and set the stage for exciting summer PD, renewed enthusiasm in the profession of teaching, and get fired up for their best ever year of teaching.” I can tell you that the Summer Spark delivered all of this and much more.

The Summer Spark was held at the University School of Milwaukee on June 13-14, 2016. I discovered the event through Twitter, and I am excited to share my Summer Spark experience from this year’s event.

A Great Start to Summer

If you are looking for a great way to kick off your summer learning, I highly recommend joining Summer Spark next year! Mark the dates on your calendar now: June 12th – 13th, 2017. Learn more about the event here and start planning your trip. No matter where you live, traveling to USM is well worth it!

It was two days full of learning opportunities which included keynotes, networking time, tracked sessions, workshops, unconferences, fabulous food and a ton of fun. The days included presentations led by authors including George Couros, Jason Bretzmann, Kenny Bosch, Shelley Burgess, Don Wettrick, Julie Smith, Michael Matera, Matt Miller, and Quinn Rollins. Each day kicked off with a fabulous keynote speech, inspiring all of those present to seek more opportunities for themselves and for their students and calling on all education professionals to take action and expand their learning possibilities. #USMSpark was trending, and Twitter was full of inspiring posts and pics to share the experience with those in attendance and people everywhere. Check out the Twitter feed for quotes, pics, and inspiration.

Summer Spark 2016 Begins!

It started with a welcome breakfast, which was fantastic, and time to meet and greet. For me, it was the opportunity to finally meet a friend in person and learn together in the same place, rather than learning virtually, as we had for the past few years. For many, it was an opportunity to reconnect with friends from last year’s conference, to meet “tweeps” face to face, and to make new friends as well. For everyone, it was the start of what would be an inspiring and invigorating two days of learning and growth. No matter where you looked, people were engaged in conversations, smiling, laughing, taking photos, posting tweets and having a lot of fun together.

The Summer Spark conference had sessions organized into strands for learning which would help attendees to select a particular learning topic and find sessions most relevant in their area of interest. There were so many opportunities for networking and personalized learning with the great offering of presentations, so many in fact it made it hard to narrow down to just one choice for each time slot. However, with so many opportunities to sit down and talk with one another, plus the availability of presentations and collaborative notes through the conference site, there were alternate methods of gaining new knowledge and ideas, even if you couldn’t attend all the sessions you wanted at the same time.

And at the end of Day 1, there were 25 teams racing against the clock in a Spark Treasure hunt, frantically trying to solve various puzzles and tasks, engage in “tomfoolery” to unlock the box. Congratulations to Team Typewriter! A thrilling end to the first day, fueled by innovation, collaboration, and “connectating.”

Day 2 was no different, kicking it off with another motivating keynote by Don Wettrick, with the message to “accept the challenge: I don’t care if you teach 20 years, just don’t teach the same year 20 times.” The keynote was followed by “unconferences” in the traditional EdCamp style, and attendees were called on to come to the front and pitch a session (which also gave you some extra tickets for those great raffle prizes). There were a lot of great topics ranging from alternate assessments to Google Classroom, infographics and interactive lessons, gamification, elementary apps, creating an innovative genius hour, getting started with Twitter, and so much more.

There were additional presentations before and after another tremendous lunch buffet, some trivia games and the day was rounded out with 90 minute workshops allowing for a deeper dive into the morning’s topics. It was a fantastic two day learning experience that drew to a close on Tuesday afternoon with the raffle and announcement of the dates for next year’s Summer Spark.

My Takeaways

It was such a phenomenal event, led by the host Chuck Taft and his team who provided everything and more that you could possibly want. The welcome, the students helping the attendees, the tech support, the staff and everyone at the school made this a truly outstanding experience for everyone. There were lots of highlights throughout the two days, new connections made, friends meeting face to face finally, and lots of fun and excitement.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend Summer Spark and be able to share some of my knowledge, but more importantly, to meet and learn from so many others. The trip from Pittsburgh was well worth it and I look forward to attending again next year. Conferences like this connect people, enable Twitter friends to meet face-to-face, or to make new friends and to walk away at the start of summer with some new ideas and new directions to go. I’m thankful to have left energized and excited for the future.

Thanks Chuck Taft and all of the Summer Spark conference planners for a truly amazing opportunity and I am honored to have been able to be a part of this experience.

Thoughts from Attendees

Here are some thoughts from other participants about their Summer Spark experience:

  • “The atmosphere was electric” (Nick Davis)
  • My brain won’t stop thinking about all of the amazing ideas I got from #USMSpark. I dreamt about it last night! (Neelie Barthenheier)
  • “Already going through withdrawals after a 7 hour drive home, missing the magic, excitement, and connectedness of the conference. I know the magic of being around so many teacher authors/ entrepreneurs was empowering“ (Dean Meyer)
  • “I was blown away by @USMSpark! Thank you so much for an amazing 2 days of learning and growing!” (Rebecca Gauthier)
  • “You knocked it out of the park! #USMSpark was a fabulous conference!” (Tisha Richmond)
  • “Truly humbling experience to be surrounded by so many passionate, visionary educators. I wouldn’t miss #USMSpark” (Brian Durst)
  • “Can’t say enough about the hard work, dedication, positive, encouraging, energizing nature of the the heart & soul of #USMSpark “ (Jason Bretzmann)
  • “A big thank you to a terrific host @Chucktaft at #USMSpark. So many new friends, ideas, and passion as a result” (Mike Jaber)
  • “So much learning and working together…this is what it’s about. Getting better so WE can make education better!” (Brit Francis)
  • “Wanted to make sure I told you how awesome #USMSpark was & loved meeting you in person! I’m excited about coming back next year :)” (Mandy Froehlich)
  • “Thank you for your passion, commitment, enthusiasm, & humor. Thanks for igniting the spark” (Yau-Jau Ku)
Learning Together Finally!
Thanks #usmspark!

Rachelle Dene Poth is a Spanish Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. She is also an attorney and earned her Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law and Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne. Rachelle enjoys presenting at conferences on technology and learning more ways to benefit student learning. She serves as the Communications Chair for the ISTE Mobile Learning Network, a Member at Large for Games & Sims, and is the PAECT Historian. Additionally, Rachelle is a Common Sense Media Educator, Amazon Educator, WeVideo Ambassador, Edmodo Certified Trainer and also participates in several other networks. She enjoys blogging and writing for Kidblog and is always looking for new learning opportunities to benefit my students. Connect with Rachelle on Twitter @rdene915.

A New Challenge For My Classroom: Creating Interactive Video Lessons

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A New Challenge For My Classroom: Creating Interactive Video Lessons

Thank you Terry Heick and TeachThought for posting this on June 27, 2016

In my prior blog posts, I talked a lot about taking steps into integrating some type of technology into your classroom. I started with some general ideas about what you might consider and questions you might ask yourself to determine what might benefit your classroom.  Thinking about the best ways to help your students is the first step, and also an important way to focus on what you can do that will also benefit your practice as a teacher.

The underlying premise is that all involved have to take some sort of a risk. The teacher has to risk trying something different and new that perhaps is way off from the traditional practice of their classroom or perhaps it’s just a minor change in how they deliver instruction, with a learning target in mind. The students have to take a risk because they are the ones that will be using this new technology.  They will be trying a new tool, creating a project with a new presentation style, communicating and collaborating outside of the traditional classroom. And maybe even more importantly, stepping outside their comfort zone.

So it comes down to not only a change in thinking but also a willingness to expand one’s comfort zone and through collaboration, work on building something that can lead to many benefits for students and teachers in the learning environment.

The reason I decided on this topic is that while I have been talking about things I’ve been using in my classroom and how I got started, I also decided that I needed to branch out and try some new methods of delivering instruction. And even more important than my own risk in trying these things was the risk in getting the feedback from the students and learning what the impact was on them as well.

One of the things I love most about Twitter chats and reading blogs is that you get a lot of great ideas and feedback and I very much value the perspective of others.  So when trying something new in my classroom, I truly want to know what the students think about it. Did they like it? Did they have problems accessing it? Did it enhance their learning or did it take away from something that would have been more beneficial? In other words,  could it have been considered a total waste of valuable learning time.

Getting Started

A few months ago I decided to try Educanon (now Playposit). I have wanted to try it for a while, and since it was available as an app with Edmodo, I definitely wanted to try it with a group of my students. Over the past few years, I have been using some tools to flip my classroom and provide more blended learning experiences for my students.

In doing this, I also wanted a way to make them accountable for the activities that I was having them do outside of class. Without specific interactive tools, it can be difficult, aside from actually giving students a test or other assessment, to have proof that they watched a video; this was a risk for me.

I’m fortunate that my students are interested in learning new things and tolerant of the fact that I like to try new tools in our classroom and work to find a variety of engaging ways to help them learn. Playposit is integrated with several different Learning Management Systems, making that part easier.

I decided to take a small step and have Spanish II try it out first,  chose a YouTube video and created a lesson. There were some initial glitches, most of which occurred because students did not follow my instructions and I had to troubleshoot, however the feedback was very positive and the students really enjoyed it. Another area which was challenging for me was that I would not necessarily be able to answer their questions, because it was new to me as well.

I had researched and learned as much as I could before assigning the first “bulb” which is a lesson.  Other concerns I had were whether it would it be accessible to the students, would it indeed benefit their learning and how would they respond to yet another new tool.  My goal was to find another way to connect the learning and engage students, and even more, transform their roles from learners to leaders in the classroom.

How Does It Work?

It is very user friendly to create your own “bulb.”  You can select your video from YouTube, Vimeo, SchoolTube, TeacherTube, and Google Drive, and simply paste the URL into your lesson.  You then can add a variety of questions, discussion, audio, images, equations and more for your lesson, even explanations and descriptions. Once you are finished, assign the lesson and the students can begin.

There are a lot of choices for analytics to see how the students are progressing, their answer selections, see if any questions were skipped or that students found confusing, and look for trends across the class. Several ways to share the lesson, either by having students sign up, upload a roster, or have it integrated with your LMS.  There are diverse ways to create the lessons that will help to engage your students more and deliver lessons which provide more personalized learning experiences and give you the means to provide feedback to the students.

I have encouraged students to create presentations using tools like this, because I think it really helps them to learn the material, they can personalize it, it is interactive, they build on their technology skills, and they can see what it is like to be the teacher, to have the power to drive the learning in the classroom. Feeling valued and having input into the classroom, engages students more and enhances the learning opportunities for all.

As the teacher, I take part in their lesson and enjoy learning from them as well.

 

Conclusion

The nice thing about Playposit is that there are premade “bulbs” or public lessons already available, so if you don’t have a lot of time right now to build your own, take a look at what is already made and try it in your classroom. Talk to your students and see how they like it and how it impacts your learning environment.

There is nothing wrong with trying it out and seeing what others have done. Sharing leads to new ideas and it is all part of the growth process. The important thing is to just start somewhere, start small, and work your way up.  It may go really well and it may not go as hoped, but it is an opportunity to learn, expand skills and involve students in the process.

Thanks to Edutopia for this recent post on June 20, 2016

Blogging

As a foreign language teacher, I constantly look for new, engaging ways for students to work on their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills in and outside of the classroom.  It is also very important to me that they develop confidence in expressing themselves with the language.  Confidence is sometimes an issue because of the fear students have of making a mistake, either writing something incorrectly, or pronouncing a word wrong. The fear exists and often it causes students to be more hesitant before responding and not participate as much.   The fear of mistakes is not something that is specific to students.  Teachers have this same fear, as do all people.  I have noticed more this year, than in prior years, that students struggle with this and as a result, it limits their learning potential.  So I have worked on finding ways to encourage them to use the language and be creative, and to leave that fear behind.

I took some opportunities to ask students why they did not answer a question on an assignment or a test, or respond in class, and before hearing their response, I already knew what they would say.   They “figured it would be wrong” or they “didn’t know the whole answer” so they left it blank or did not complete the assignment.  Sometimes the students would even write on their papers that they were wrong, or would draw a big X or a frown next to a response.

Seeing these responses, or hearing their reactions, made me want to find ways to help build their confidence levels and to keep them learning.   I tried encouraging them to speak more in class, emphasized that it was more important to try and express themselves and create with the language, rather than worry about being wrong.  I thought that by providing opportunities for them to choose a topic, to know that they were not being graded based on perfect grammar, but rather receiving points for having made the effort and created with the language.  The way to do this was through blogging.

Blogging helps students develop content area skills and confidence

I thought that blogging would be a good way for the students to have a more meaningful and personalized learning experience because they could choose a topic and write about something that they wanted to.  While I emphasized the importance of using the related vocabulary and verbs, I also made it clear that I was more concerned with them using the language, expressing their ideas, and then taking time to look at mistakes and learn from them. Reading their blogs was a great way for me to focus on their individual needs but also to learn more about each student.  It is helpful as a teacher to understand where the students are coming from, what their interests are, and their learning styles, and blogging is a very beneficial method to accomplish these tasks.

Some students initially were not in favor of blogging and at times, seemed almost pained at the idea of having to “blog”, however it is really not any different than filling in a worksheet or making up sentences for class.  It took a little time, but in the end, many students enjoyed blogging and made their blog posts a very creative and personal space, but also were able to look at their growth over the course of the year, and see the progress that they had made.   Blogging is a great tool  for practicing language skills and many others, but also a way to look back and see how you have improved.   The ease of sharing ideas and creating with the language, plus the increase in confidence, are some of the reasons why I think blogging is beneficial for any student or teacher, but also why it will be a practice which continues in my classroom next school year.

Thanks Terry Heick and TeachThought for publishing this recent post on June 20, 2016.

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The end of the school year can be challenging with so many changes occurring: the weather, spring sports, weeks of standardized testing, field trips and other activities lead to oftentimes, chaotic schedules.  These changes can decrease motivation in students and in some cases, teachers as well, and result in a feeling that the school year is over before it really is.

I notice this gradual transformation each year, and do my best to mix things up, to keep learning going, and to stay strong until the end.  This year seemed to be a more challenging year, although I cannot pinpoint why, but as I mentioned in my prior post, I decided to do something about it. I made the decision to try some new methods, reevaluate how I have been doing things in my classroom, and what could I be doing better.

The last grading period has been a time to test out some new tools, give students new opportunities, more choices and be a little less structured, allowing for some spontaneity in our learning.  So as part of my “staying strong till the finish”, after mixing up the seating arrangements and receiving positive responses, I shifted my focus to a new area:  Homework

What Is Homework, Anyway?

Recently I have been giving a lot of thought to homework.  My focus has been on really looking at the types and the frequency of assignments I give.  Over the past few years, I have changed my thinking and tried to move away from a “one size fits all” assignment and move toward a more personalized, authentic assignment.  There have been several reasons for this change in thought.

Hearing from other educators at conferences, input from my students, and as a language teacher, also having to find ways to avoid student use of translators for assignments. These experiences, in addition to a little frustration from homework not being completed, have led me to really try some new methods in this area.

Some of the areas I considered when thinking about homework were: the types of assessments I use in my classroom, my students, the frequency of homework completion, the type of homework, and even more closely, a look at the individuals within each group of students that I am teaching.  My goal is to continue to reflect on whether or not the type of instruction and the strategies I am using, are beneficial to them and if the homework I assign truly has value and builds their skills, or is it just busy work. A lot of the discussion out there now is about getting rid of homework assignments and traditional grading.

Why I Decided To Do Something Different

I have been teaching foreign languages for almost 20 years, and I notice how quickly time has passed, when I find myself teaching a concept and I feel like I just taught the same thing the day before. This “déjà vu” experience leads me to think about the progress I am making with the curriculum in the current school year, and how I have paced my instruction throughout the year. But what I have come to realize more this year than any other, is that it should not be the goal to be at the same point at the same time each year. In my mind, that simply should not be how it goes.

I think a lot of people consider teaching as a profession in which the same plans are used, lessons are taught at the same pace, the same assignments and tests are given each year. If we truly did that, then the profession of teaching would seem to be a rather easy and predictable one. However, that is not the way it is.

I had a conversation with someone that thought teachers simply used the same exact materials each year, with each class, and that teaching was a really easy profession.  This conversation bothered me, and the last part about it being “easy” really hit me. So this inspired me to think about my teaching practice.  What materials I was I using in class? How was I providing instruction for my students and was I using the same resources each year with each class?  Had I been doing the same thing in my classroom every year?  Did I simply pull out a folder to make copies or open up a computer to reprint what I had used each of the 19 years prior to this one?

Honestly, sometimes yes. I had. I had used the same worksheet, or a document for a part of a test over the years.  I hadn’t done this because I was lazy.  In some cases it was for providing a quick activity or assessment, and others it was because I thought the materials were valuable and would help the students to learn.

Thinking About Homework In Your Classroom

Ask yourself these same questions.  What do you come up with?  If you have been doing the same thing, then maybe it is time to make a few changes.  Think about what would work best for and help your students.  This means more than just looking at each individual class, it means really looking at the needs of each individual student.  To do this requires that we get to know our students, and to know our students means we have to build relationships and understand where they’re coming from and what they’re interested in doing in class.

What helps them to learn the best?  What do they want and need from us?  So I decided to use this as an opportunity to take a bit of a risk and try some new methods during this final grading period. It made sense because then I could really think about it over the summer and start fresh in the fall.

The first homework experiment

Students have a lot of homework and I do believe in the value of homework.  It is the way we help students to practice and figure out what they know and what they don’t know and how they can become better. It is one of many ways teachers can assess students and learn about their needs, provide instruction and valuable feedback.  But I’ve changed my thinking about homework.  I used to think that I had to give students homework every day.  And I also thought that homework had to be the same for each student and each class. In part, my methods were a result of the experience I had as a high school student.  I decided to change the daily homework assignments and make things more personal,  let the students determine for themselves what they could do for homework, and have choices.

Just as a start, I assigned each student to be the teacher for the next class period.   With a partner for example, we are working on the past tense in Spanish and in pairs, I let the students decide which verb tense they would like to teach their partner.  The homework was to simply come to class the next day with a way to teach their partner the verbs.  I said it could be something tangible in the form of a worksheet or any activity that they found, a website, a video, a game, or another resource. It really did not matter to me as long as whatever they had they could use in class and they could teach.

I believed that in the process the students would learn more and also develop collaborative learning skills.

What Did The Students Think?

While they taught, I moved around to interact with each group to see what it was they had prepared. There were worksheets found online, worksheets that students created, handwritten pages of notes, flashcards, some had found websites with games and others had found videos or had created a Kahoot or Quizizz game for their partner to play. But what was most important was that they sought out resources, they had an opportunity to teach someone else and their homework was personalized not only for them, but also for other students. It went well and they were enjoying it and learning.

I will admit that I was nervous about doing this.  Not requiring a specific form or product for each student to show in class, and being open to any format the students brought in, was very different. It was a risk. But I was amazed at how creative they were, how engaged each group was, and the variety of “homework” that had been done.

Student feedback is very important for me and I value their input and regularly engage them in informal conversations or will have them complete a survey.  I want to know their thoughts. What did they like?  What did they not like?  Did they learn? Was this an effective way to practice the material we were covering in class?  We spent two days doing this first assignment, so each person could teach.  And then I had them switch groups, and teach again.  The end result was that students were teachers, the learning was personal, they were engaged, felt valued, and the experience was meaningful and beneficial to their learning.

It is a risk and when you don’t necessarily have the whole plan set out, and you just kind of go with it, you might be surprised at the results.  Giving the students control, seeing their interactions, and knowing that this homework was the type that was beneficial to each of them, encouraged me to continue to find new ways to give more classroom control to the students.  Giving up some control is not always easy, but in doing this, it opens up more opportunities for facilitating learning, providing individualized instruction and building those relationships which are the foundation of education.

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Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning

 

by Rachelle Dene Poth

Technology provides ways for students to learn anywhere and at any time, and affords the possibility of providing learning at a pace that is comfortable for each student.

Teachers can teach students from inside the traditional classroom, “the brick-and-mortar” as it is called, or from other places anywhere around the world. Lessons can be pre-recorded and shared or streamed live, and students can access these types of tools at any time and refer back to them as needed. The availability of tools which lend themselves to more interaction between the teacher and the students–and the content can continue, in the mind of the student, to grow.

There are many options available and the best part is that with so many choices, it is possible to find something that meets the needs of each class and each student. Using digital tools provides more differentiation and personalized learning, and can provide opportunities for the students to take on the role of teachers and to create their own lesson and lead. Students can create with these tools and share lessons with the class, thereby increasing the resources available to all students. Or simply use the opportunity to become the creator, as a way to help them learn the material in a more meaningful and authentic way.

They Can Learn Anytime, Anywhere

The use of technology can mean that learning is no longer confined to the traditional time and setting of the classroom. In this way, it opens up the learning environment to anytime, anywhere–and at a pace that is comfortable for the students as well.

Teachers and students can access so many resources to teach the content and to help understand and then apply the knowledge they have gained. And when students are given choices in how to show what they have learned, they are more likely to be engaged and excited for learning. They will feel valued, and the lesson and learning will be more meaningful because it has been made personal to them. Given support, students can find resources that meet their needs, and teachers can also use these resources to find out what the student needs are.

With the multiple ways to assess students using digital tools today, teachers can have the data instantly, through live results, and can provide feedback to students when they need it the most. Students can take this information and then build on their own skills, and when they can’t or choose not to, you know where to start when helping them and their families growing as master learners.

It Give Them Choices

The timing and quality of learning feedback is critical for growth to happen. Students can also make choices about what types of activities they want to use and therefore are more empowered in their learning and can self-direct. If you give some of the control and leave the decision making to students to choose how to show what they have learned, or let them design their own homework assignment, they have the chance to be more empowered, and build momentum that can endure after the unit is over.

Giving students opportunities to work with each other and take on a new role, such as that of a teacher, enables you to also provide more one-on-one feedback. Teachers can become more of a facilitator and move around the classroom and learn more about the students and their needs, and also build relationships in the process. Relationships are key to student growth, and choice can be a significant boost here.

It Can Help Them Find Resources More Relevant To Them

One of the advantages of digital tools is that it can make some things more accessible; anytime, anywhere access to information, past work, groups, experts, and more are not the only benefit of technology. The resources and materials have more of an opportunity to stay up-to-date, and there are many so choices that each student can find something that is relevant to them.

 

Using Technology To Help Students Lead Their Own Learning; adapted image attribution flickr user sparkfunelectronics

Assessing Student Growth Over Time

@CESMediaCenter Ana works on KB post about buddy bench

Blogging is an effective classroom tool used to exceed learning objectives beyond traditional methods. It offers more than just a platform for writing and sharing ideas. It is a means for teachers to assess, connect, empower, and understand their students. For students, it is a way to to find their voice, while continuously learning more about their interests, strengths, and areas of growth.

There are many innovative ways to use blogging in the classroom to meet these goals. As a teacher, you simply need to be open to new ideas, implement creative lesson plans, and relinquish some control by offering the students a chance to choose their own inspiration for writing.  These choices, this freedom in writing, lead to higher student engagement, more meaningful learning, and an enhanced classroom experience for both teachers and students.

Within my classroom, blogging has become one of the best tools to promote literacy skills, while building students’ confidence to express ideas without the fear of making mistakes. Additionally, it has become a way to learn about my students and create a deeper teacher-student relationship. Blogs offer teachers the ability to learn about students and for students to learn about themselves. Yet, what I have found most valuable is blogging’s ability to foster an engaging learning environment, personal to each student, while providing a means for student growth to be tracked and to promote student reflection in the process.

With Kidblog, we have an opportunity for assessing students in multiple areas of communication. It provides a unique, personalized environment for encouraging students to convey their thoughts, demonstrate understanding and make meaning out of content material. Because of Kidblog’s ability to be used class-over-class, year-over-year, students can begin blogging at a young age and continue into higher grade levels. At each phase, they further develop their skills, find comfort sharing knowledge and ideas freely, and continuously develop their content-rich digital portfolio. This ever-growing content can later be used as a focal point to help students see their progress and reflect on their work. They are able to review their first blog posts, compared to their current blog posts, and acknowledge their progress as writers throughout the year.

This progress is built upon the ability to engage students in the writing process through student collaboration and the opportunity to reach an authentic audience. In my class, students are asked to review the comments, to re-read their work, and to consider how they have developed over the year.  It has proven to be an effective way to provide feedback to students, to teach them to reflect and work on goal setting, but in a way that puts the control in their hands.

Students often surprise themselves. They develop skills in ways that are personal to them, and they can use this to track their own growth throughout the year. Even those students who initially were not the biggest fan of writing have been motivated after realizing their progress throughout the year.  Additionally, by taking a look back at where they started and where they are now, students will be inspired to take the next steps to keep moving forward.

 

Current Kidblog members: If you’re a teacher with multiple colleagues using Kidblog in your school/district, Admin Pro is simply a better plan for you.  Email membership@kidblog.org to learn about benefits and volume discounts.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I am a Foreign Language Teacher at Riverview Junior Senior High School in Oakmont, PA. I am also an attorney and received my Juris Doctor Degree from Duquesne University School of Law, and I will receive my Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Duquesne University in May 2016. I have presented at several conferences on technology, including PETE&C in Pennsylvania and four sessions at ISTE in Philadelphia in 2015. I look forward to presenting at these and other conferences again this year and enjoy sharing ideas and collaborating with others. I am an officer for ISTE Mobile Learning Network and Games & Sims Network, the PAECT Historian, and fortunate to represent several communities working with educational technology. 

Empowering Students To Find The Best Resources For Them

May 23, 2016  – Shared on the Formative Community Forum

By Guest Author Rachelle Dene Poth

HS French and Spanish Teacher Rachelle Dene Poth argues for more student voice, choice, and leadership when finding the right materials for every student. One of her students, Cassy, a 9th grader in Spanish I, reflects on what she’s learned from that experience.

Resources Are Everywhere: Where Do We Start?

Teachers work hard to find diverse resources to help students learn. Supplemental materials can be found in textbooks and other resources, through a quick search online or implementation of teacher-created or student-made materials.  An online search will result in a tremendous list of resources which includes webpages, images, documents, videos, and other media formats for a teacher to choose from. It seems simple enough, but it really isn’t quite that simple.  The challenge is finding the right resource for each student.  Being able to do this requires more than just conducting a simple online search. It requires that we truly know our students and understand their needs. Students do not all respond the same way when it comes to learning and feedback and developing these relationships will help teachers to provide the best learning opportunities.  Finding something that will enable each student to have an opportunity to grow, receive personal feedback, to experience learning multiple ways, is something that teachers strive to provide for their student.

Choosing Tech Tools For Students Is A Good Starting Point…But What’s The Next Step?

Technology offers many ways for teachers to differentiate instruction through digital tools. The number of tools and the features available changes every day. Finding something that works for everyone may take a little bit of time, and it involves some risk taking, flexibility and reflection to truly find what works best for each student.  And while teachers are good at determining what might work best for their students, it is important to hear from the students themselves.  Asking the students directly what helps them to learn better, stay engaged, and feel challenged will enable teachers to differentiate instruction and provide appropriate opportunities for all students.  Student voice in how they learn and their opinion of tools used in the classroom offers the teacher valuable information and different perspectives.  So it is worthwhile to take the time to investigate some tools, ask the students to try new things and then see what they think.

Rachelle's students drawing a watermelon with our "Show Your Work" drawing tool!

Rachelle’s students drawing a watermelon with our “Show Your Work” drawing tool!

Give Them Choices And Let Them Lead

So I wanted to know, what do students get from the choices they are given? Does it make a difference?  What helps the students to learn?  A few years ago I started giving the students different options for how to complete a project or an assignment. Other times,  rather than assigning a worksheet for  homework, they had other options such as creating a game, participating in a classroom discussion online, or even the use of blogging, all which made learning more personalized and meaningful for each student. I value the feedback that I receive from the students and when I try something new, I always want to know what they think of it. In order to learn more about student needs, I decided to have one of my students become the teacher, create a lesson using Formative, and share their thoughts about the new experience and the benefits.

Student Perspective On Edtech: Cassy Becomes The Teacher

Cassie getting ready to show tech tools that help her learning "catapult".

Cassie getting ready to show tech tools that help her learning “catapult”.

Cassy: I believe technology is an important part of learning and is a great asset to teachers and to students. Technology allows students to have the freedom to choose how to do projects, homework assignments or other classroom activities. This freedom allows students to thrive and do the best they can. I know that I love the process of finding a new website, game, project or teaching tool that I can use to help my learning catapult. It is also fun to explore the possibilities of technology and what it offers me. I can be creative and innovative. Classes which integrate technology are completely different than those which do not, because they provide more opportunities for students to learn.
Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers.Documents, websites, pictures, questions and drawings are integrated into this program which allows for differentiation and creativity in various ways. Also, many people can participate in one formative assignment. The teacher or creator of the formative can see individual responses and work with the student one on one and provide personal feedback. Formative creates an effective learning experience while keeping a fun atmosphere.
On May 16th, 2016, I participated with other students in the PAECT (Pennsylvania Association for Educational Communications and Technology) student technology showcase, where students from Pennsylvania showed how they use technology to its fullest potential. I made my own Formative and allowed others to try it, and highlighted all of the different uses and how effective it is for education. I enjoyed sharing how a digital tool like Formative can provide different learning activities, enhance how students learn and how teachers can teach.

"Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers."- Cassie

“Formative is a great example of the infinite possibilities technology can offer students and teachers.”- Cassie

Why Having Tech Available In The Classroom Matters

I feel that making students turn off their phones or computers is not fair and is not smart choice. Teachers do that for their benefit, not for the students. The current  generation of students is extremely involved and knowledgeable about technology. If all teachers could dive into the world of technology and understand its importance, significance and benefits, and then take the time to explore new ways to integrate some technology into class, it would make a huge difference in a student’s learning experience. I don’t know why more teachers don’t use technology to teach because it is a way to get the students more involved in the learning material.

What Do Students Want?

I want teachers to empower, engage and inspire me. I want teachers to give me the freedom to be creative while I am learning. I want teachers to make learning relevant to my time, and my life experience. Technology is the way to do that, to get students involved. It allows me to have my own voice and learn in the way that is best for me. I do not want to be held back from the infinite possibilities that technology offers any longer.

Student Voices: Listen To What They Say

Rachelle: It is clear that students have opinions about technology and its benefits.  Having choices in how to learn, being exposed to different learning tools and styles, and receiving feedback are all benefits of technology integration and ones which positively impact students.  When they have opportunities to work with technology and choose how they learn, including them in the conversation and asking for feedback empowers students even more. Since students are the group most affected by the technology used in the classroom, we need to hear what they have to say.

Keeping Students Engaged: A Teacher’s Quick Guide to Quizlet Live

News ·

This is a guest blog post by Rachelle Dene Poth, a teacher who uses Quizlet Live with her classes.

As a teacher winding down the school year, it seems we need something extra to keep students motivated and engaged. Fortunately, in today’s learning environment there are a lot of great resources available for use in classrooms that are tremendously beneficial for both teachers and students. The use of digital tools like Quizlet have introduced new methods for teachers to deliver instruction, personalize learning, and engage students in and outside of the classroom.

I frequently use Quizlet with my foreign language students to help them practice vocabulary and verb conjugations. Since Quizlet makes learning more personalized, I typically create study sets related to the chapter we are covering in class, or track their progress through Quizlet by creating sets dedicated to terms that my students are struggling with. What’s most helpful is the variety of activities Quizlet offers students to do at any time, ranging from flashcards, practice tests, audio activities, and playing a game of Scatter or Gravity. With countless ways to use Quizlet, I’m excited to share my experience with Quizlet Live, which I had the opportunity to beta test with my students.

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My first game!

With the recent addition of Quizlet Live to my classroom, students have been more engaged and eager to learn new material with this interactive game. When I first tested the game, I let students figure out how to answer questions as a team, which improved their focus on selecting the correct answer. Although students typically sit with their respective teams when playing Quizlet Live, my students decided to remain in their seats and call out their team name, or in Spanish (i.e. “tengo” or “no tengo”), to signify whether or not they had the right answer. I noticed that when students chose not to sit with their team, they were more mindful of their own answers, working through each choice. As the game progressed, they learned the mechanics more quickly and wanted to play over and over again.

Letting students learn on their own

Not only did I enjoy seeing their excitement and desire to keep playing the game, it was rewarding to see them truly learn the material and work through the activity on their own as well as on a team. My foreign language students told the other class about Quizlet Live and it was great to hear them so eager to share their experience. Without much delay, the second class started the game and I shared a few pointers that I learned from the previous group. I knew how to guide students with the second beta test and wanted them to figure out how the game worked on their own. My involvement was briefly as a facilitator, then as an observer. This helped me assess what they could learn on their own and also encouraged students to help each other. I could work with them individually or within the groups, be involved in their thought processes and problem solving, and ultimately use this information to guide my next steps in the lesson.

Since testing Quizlet Live, my students have asked to play Quizlet Live every day and they tell me that it really helps their critical thinking skills since they can retain vocabulary better with the repeat practice.

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Key tips for getting the most when using Quizlet Live

  1. Pick a study set with at least 12 terms for the students to practice. Give a brief explanation of how the game works, then let them figure it out on their own and use their experience to guide the next game.
  2. Have at least 6 players since the game will generate 3-4 players on a team. Each team is assigned an animal name and you can see the progress of each team as you go through the 12 questions. The first team to answer 12 questions correctly wins, but if an incorrect answer is selected, the team starts back at zero and has to earn points again to clear their board. As questions appear, each student starts with 4 possible answers on their screen. One member of the team has the right answer, the other members can only see blocks below each team member’s name. As answers are used, the blocks below each member’s name show a checkmark. Players can only see their their answers and the game continues until one team reaches 12.
  3. Shuffle the teams after a few games to provide new opportunities for students to collaborate with each other, and shuffle the card sets to get new terms and practice as much as possible.
  4. Make sure to complete the review with your students, which can be done with Quizlet Live’s feature. Once the game is over you can review the study set to assess and give feedback, and the students also see the correct answers on their screens during the game.
  5. Collaboration is key! Teamwork truly makes learning successful and I’ve seen my students become more engaged with their peers as they work together to master new material. In addition to providing new learning experiences, giving valuable feedback to the students helps them grow.

Quizlet Live is free to all teachers, and just requires signing up for a Quizlet account to start. Inject a new study activity in the classroom and see the positive effect it has on your students!

Rachelle Dene Poth teaches French and Spanish at RIverview Junior-Senior High School in Oakmont, Pennsylvania. She can be reached at rdene915@gmail.com  @rdene915 or through her website: www.rdene915.wordpress.comquizletlive

EdutopiaApril19

An updated post from a prior blog I wrote for Edueto Magazine.

Integrating Technology: Getting Started with the First Steps
RELATED TAGS: Technology Integration,Classroom Technology,All Grades,All Subjects
More Related Discussions

Rachelle Dene Poth
Posted 04/19/2016 9:36PM | Last Commented 04/19/2016 9:36PM

Every day, there are tons of discussions to be found through social media, online resources, conversations with colleagues and more. Becoming involved in Twitter chats or being a member in a Google Community or other Learning Network, are ways to access some of the resources that describe the best ways, the best tools, and the best ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. Educating oneself about the tools available and best strategies for integrating technology into the classroom is never a bad idea. But the most important thing is that there has to be a first step. Teachers have to take a chance and find some way to integrate technology into the classroom. Not all teachers may feel comfortable with the idea of technology integration, and may find themselves on varying ends of the spectrum of what I will refer to as being technology savvy.

Teachers who have taught around 20 years or were 80s children like myself, have seen many changes in the world of technology from the entrance of Apple computers and programming in the early 1980s to the start of the Internet in the nineties to cloud computing and other emerging technologies today. There will continue to be more tremendous and innovative changes in technology available.

I was an 80s child and I have grown up in the age of computing, fascinated at the opportunity to program computers in 7th grade. Because of this fascination and continued interest in learning about the tools available, incorporating technology into my classroom was not something I was afraid to do nor would I consider that it has been a seamless process either. Risks are always involved when trying something new such as integrating technology. With any new venture comes many questions such as where to begin, how to begin and what is the best way to use the new tech so it does not interfere with the learning process.

Getting Started

So where to begin? This is the most difficult question when first starting. There are some things that you have to ask yourself. How comfortable are you with computers and web 2.0 tools? For several years, I had been using technology with my students in the form of some online language learning games and activities, or occasionally had students’ complete projects using word processing or some other presentation software. Besides these occasional activities, other than audio and video resources for my course, the technology use in my classroom was limited. Although at the time, I thought that I was really providing a variety of technology opportunities for my students.

The Changing Point

I had attended a national conference and realized that there were so many possibilities out there for enhancing learning experiences and new ways to engage students, so I reflected a bit to figure out what I could add to my classroom that would benefit my students and bring about positive changes.

I also asked myself, what is it that I am not offering my students, and also, what is something that the students could do as well, to enhance their experiences.

For my classroom, it came down to what I have referred to as a “disconnect” between my students, our class and their access to the vital resources. I focused on finding something that could make a difference. I decided to start with finding a way to facilitate communication.

Communication Resources: Why We Need Them

We have all experienced this in our classrooms. How many times have your students come in to class after a long weekend, with questions about the homework, that they did not complete because they did not understand it? And then there are the times when students missed class and appeared the start of class, wondering what they missed in their absence. These situations led me to find Celly. Celly is a messaging tool that can be used in many ways. When I started, it was simply a way for me to send reminders to students, to be accessible for their questions, to provide helpful resources and to be available when the students needed, which often was later in the evening or during the weekend when they were working on their assignments and had the questions appear.

So how did this impact my classroom? It quickly helped to solve the problem of the “disconnect”. Integrating Celly into my classroom was the first step in a series of changes that I made to my classroom procedures that has brought about many positive changes in the educational experiences I provide for my students. Most importantly for me, it provides the students with a way to get help when they need it. If this sounds like something that could benefit your classroom, try one of the many great messaging tools available. There are many choices and it simply takes starting with one, working with it and seeing how it can impact your classroom and students. Once you feel comfortable with your choice, then start thinking about another way that you can add to the learning experience in your classroom. Just remember to find what works best for YOU and your students, that is an important aspect to keep in mind. Integrating technology is great when it adds to the experience and provides new opportunities and extends learning and communication. But the important thing to remember is that it has to be beneficial for your classroom.

Another Step for Communication and Collaboration.

After some time had passed and new ways for using Celly had been found, I started looking for something else that I could improve in my classroom. This would be the next step for you as well. It might be finding a way to keep your class materials organized and accessible for students or find the requirements for a project that’s due the next day. Or maybe you post some many web tools and review activities that you have shared with them. If these sound like some areas that may be beneficial, then what you need is a Learning Management System or a classroom website. For myself, this was the next step and after some research I found Edmodo.

I have made presentations at conferences and my message is the same, which is this: There are many wonderful learning management systems available and options for creating websites, and depending on where and what you teach, Edmodo may or may not be the best choice for you. But I believe that each classroom should have a common site. For my classroom Edmodo has been a great choice. I have worked with many of the other options and I can tell you what you might want to know about them. I have continued to use Edmodo because my students stay with me throughout their Spanish studies, and it makes sense to keep them in the system, so they can see their growth, so I can track their progress and have access to the materials which then become a part of their digital portfolio. Maybe an LMS is not what you want but instead you choose to create a website, for example through Google sites, Google Classroom, Weebly or even use Wikispaces as a way to post resources and links. No matter what you choose you can’t go wrong. Creating a space online for your class materials and to communicate with your students is a great idea and you will see the benefits of this.

Making the Decision

In my experiences, referring back to that feeling of “disconnect”, I hope it is clearer now how these two tools really helped to solve that problem. By choosing a messaging tool or creating a class websites or using an LMS, either would serve to promote the communication and collaboration with the students, have class materials and resources readily available, but in my classroom, having both of these in place enhances the learning experiences and support I provide for my students. I have new options for ways to communicate with students, different ways to assess their learning, and students have more support available through these communication and collaboration tools.

So now it is your turn. Think about your students and your classroom. Ask yourself, what is something that could help make the learning experience better? Is there something that you would like to change? Think about it and when you figure out what that one thing is, do a bit of research, find a tool, start small and build. Try it within your classroom and give it some time. You may decide that it is not working as you had hoped, and that is part of the learning process. Give it some time. It is a risk to try something new and different, but well worth it. Sometimes we are successful and other times we are not, and this is something that as educators we need to experience as well. We have to model challenges and struggles for our students, to show it is okay to try something new, to set goals, and that there will be challenges along the way. It is part of learning, reflecting and continuing to grow.

If you have wanted to integrate more technology into your classroom, now is the time to start. Find something, work with it and keep going. It is an ongoing learning process and well worth it for you and your students.

So keep wondering, taking risks, and be persistent.

But more than that, be patient. Learning has no time limit.

Build Confidence Through Blogging

Regardless of the course one teaches, or the content being covered, it is important to provide opportunities for students to practice their literacy skills. As a foreign language teacher, I continually seek new, creative ways for my students to practice their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills and in the process, to become more confident in their language usage. Students today often struggle with a fear of speaking in class and of making mistakes. As a teacher, I try to support the students as best as I can by reinforcing that it is natural to make mistakes and it is part of the learning process. I share my own experiences to help build a connection with my students.

But even with these supports, the fear of mistakes continues to limit the willingness of students to participate in class activities. They are afraid to be wrong. I have noticed this is very common among students today and even in my own experience, as a teacher and even now as a graduate student, I experience this fear as well. As a teacher, it is important to provide support and model risk-taking for our students. We must work to find different ways to encourage them to use the language and express themselves, without worrying about mistakes.

So how do we do this?

A great way to involve students in expressing themselves and also to provide valuable feedback to them and to help boost confidence in the process, is through blogging. I decided to try this with my students as an alternate homework assignment, to provide some differentiation and to learn more about the specific needs of my students in the process. Blogging was something that I had recently started and so I thought I would give it a try with my students, as a way to help them be more comfortable in expressing themselves.

Because it is critical for students to practice their language skills, I focused on providing some unique and creative writing prompts that would be a comfortable way for them to start writing and blogging. I set some requirements, such as that they do not use translators, that they simply write their response, cast aside any worries about making mistakes, to just write in Spanish and do their best. I continued to emphasize that making mistakes is a normal part of the learning process and how we improve as a result of having made mistakes. It is important to also share stories of our successes and failures with our students, so they can relate and have the support that they need. So when I started assigning the blogs to my students for homework assignments, I encouraged them to focus on expressing their ideas, to write freely without worrying about the grammar and language accuracy, but rather to focus on using and creating with the language.

The first assignment KIDBLOG

The decision to integrate Kidblog as my blogging platform, and to use blogging as a way to encourage my students to write, and create with the language, has had great benefits on their language skills. The tools available for blogging today are similar to what I had done many years ago, with students in my Spanish IV course, who had paper journals. At that time, I set aside ten minutes in class, a few days each week for the students to write a response to a prompt I had written on the board. I tried to come up with a variety of interesting, fun, content related prompts, to help with comfort level but also to have them practice the related vocabulary and verbs we had been studying. While they wrote, I also took the time to write because I wanted to be involved in the process, and it is beneficial for me to work on continued writing as well. Most of the prompts were created by me, but there were days that I left it up to the students, and their fun, creative ideas, led to even better prompts than those which I had created.

I would collect each of their notebooks on Friday, read their responses over the weekend, provide feedback and comments, but they were not graded based on grammatical correctness. I wanted to assess their skills, use the information to guide my instruction, and also quite importantly, use it as a way to understand the students and their interests. As teachers, it is critical to work on building relationships with our students, to better understand their needs and interests, and the journal writing was a great way to accomplishment each of these goals.

On Monday, I would return the journals, and the students would read my comments and try to implement some of the corrections or feedback that I provided into their work for the new week, and build their language skills.

Blogging: What are some of the benefits?

Blogging is a means for teachers to encourage students to express themselves, to be creative, to build literacy skills, to become more confident in their writing, and focus more on sharing their ideas without fear of errors. Blogging helps students to develop their creative side, to have a choice in what they are writing, to become more expressive and to have some individualized instruction. Paper is fine for students to being blogging and the most important thing is that students have the opportunity to blog and use the experience to build their skills in the language or in any area.

But rather than using paper, students and teachers can benefit by using a tool such as Kidblog. The blog can be written using any device for access. Students can personalize their blog by choosing from different templates, fonts, and more. The use of digital tools for blogging is great for tracking student growth and having the writing available, longer than a piece of paper would last. As teachers, and with our students, we can watch the student’s growth and track their progress in writing skills and more, over a period of time, and provides opportunities for self-reflection.

I enjoy creating new prompts for the students to blog about and I encourage them to find blogs of interest to read as well. Reading their entries provides me with valuable information to help guide my instruction, to give them feedback, but more importantly, I can learn more about the interests and needs of each of my students.

If this sounds like an area that might be of benefit to your classroom and your students, then I recommend trying it out. It is a risk, but it is worth it. Blogging might just be the way to open up communication, collaboration and enhance creativity in your classroom. Find your blogging tool and get started. Good luck!

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