Tools for anywhere learning

Each year I like to take time and think back to the digital tools that we used in our classroom, what the benefits were, and how I might find new ways to use them. When I look to use technology in my classroom, I always start with the purpose behind it. What do I think it will help me to do better as a teacher? How can it help students to learn in more personalized or authentic ways? And what are the skills that students will build as a result that traditional non-technology methods might not afford?

There are tools that I continue to use each year because they have added new features or they have integrated with other tools that we are using in our classroom. Here are twelve tools that made a difference for my students and some even helped me to stretch professionally this year.

  1. Gimkit, a game-based learning tool has continued to be a favorite with my students because of the potential for increased content retention through repetitive questions, and because of the different ways it can be played in the classroom. It enables students to develop strategies and have fun while learning. Some of the updated features in Gimkit 4.0, include being able to search and use pre-made kits, multiple ways to look at the student data, and now you can even make flashcards.
  2. Buncee is a versatile tool for creating multimedia and interactive presentations. It provides multiple ways for students to learn and to express themselves, promoting student choice and voice, offering many choices for creation in an all-in-one tool. Buncee has an Ideas lab, where teachers can explore lesson ideas and templates to use in the classroom. Two months ago, Immersive Reader was added, which increases accessibility for students and offers more robust ways to learn, especially for language learners.
  3. Synth provides an easy option for recording a podcast and building communication skills. It can be a great tool for speaking assessments and extending the time and space of classroom discussions. We use Synth with our project-based learning and students were able to ask questions, respond to discussion threads and communicate with students from Argentina and Spain. Synth includes options to record audio or video. It is a great way to encourage students to share their ideas and build some in speaking.
  4. Anchor, another tool for podcasting, is one that has helped me to finally create my own podcast to share my ideas with other educators. But it’s also a popular tool that can easily be used with students to create their own podcast, adding in transitions and even creating a hook to advertise a podcast they create. Using a tool like Anchor would be good for launching a school podcast to share what’s happening in the school with the greater school community.
  5. Wakelet is a content curation tool and so much more. It has gone from simply being a space where I would curate blogs, videos and other resources that I wanted to have access to quickly, to being a powerful tool for student learning.  With Wakelet, teachers can provide blended learning experiences, use it for station rotations, have students create a digital portfolio, post-class projects, create a scavenger hunt and many other possibilities. It even offers the capability to record a Flipgrid short video right within the Wakelet collection. Educators and students can collaborate in a Wakelet collection.
  6. Nearpod is a multimedia, interactive presentation tool that enables teachers to create engaging lessons which can include virtual trips and 3D objects. It offers lessons on topics such as digital citizenship, social-emotional learning, career exploration, English learner lessons, and professional development resources for teachers. Educators can create lessons with many options including quizzes, polls, drawings, matching pairs, audio, video, and content from PhET Simulations, Desmos, BBC, YouTube and more. Nearpod lessons can be done live in class or student-paced and there is also the option for use as sub plans.
  7. Adobe Spark is a presentation tool that can be used to create an infographic, a website or a video. Using the apps, it is easy to create with Spark Post, Spark Page, and Spark Video. This year my students chose Adobe Spark for a project about their family and narrating their childhood. It was not only a more authentic way to create with the content and build other vital skills for the future, but it led to the creation of something more meaningful, the students could share with family and friends.
  8. Voxer is a walkie-talkie app that can be used for educators to collaborate and avoid the isolation that can happen at times. It is a tool that I have used for four years, in many ways including connecting with educators to discuss a book, focused on specific topics, or for small groups as part of a Professional Learning Community (PLC). We have also used it for project-based learning as a way for students to share their ideas and reflect. Because time is something that teachers never have enough of, Voxer is a great tool for learning and finding professional support on any schedule.
  9. Flipgrid is a social learning platform where students and educators can record a video response and include additional content. It has helped with global collaboration by creating a way for students to connect with classrooms and experts around the world. With the summer updates, the addition of augmented reality with Flipgrid AR would be a fun way to have students record their thoughts or do a short presentation and then have a QR Code for others to scan and see their video pop up in AR! With Flipgrid, my students shared videos with students in Argentina and learned more about life and school, which took their learning to a whole new level.
  10. Remind is a messaging app that enables students and parents to stay connected with access to information and resources. Being able to send a quick reminder, to answer students’ questions, to inform parents of upcoming events, and to have a space where students can get the help they need when they need it, has made a difference in my classroom. It also helps with building digital citizenship skills as students learn to interact in a virtual space. Remind can also be used to share a lesson from Nearpod, or a game through tools like Quizizz or Quizlet.
  11. Quizlet is a learning tool that offers students many different ways to practice content. There are thousands of flashcard sets available for educators and students and with each set the activities include flashcards, learn, write, spell, test, match, gravity and Quizlet Live! When playing Quizlet Live, students are placed in teams and can collaborate as they play. Only one member of the team has the right answer. It is a good tool to get students moving in the classroom and building those peer relationships.
  12. CoSpaces EDU is a virtual reality platform that became a favorite for some of my eighth-grade students this year. Whether creating a space in 360, designing a game, an interactive story, or an experiment, students will enjoy creating in VR and developing coding skills too. Another benefit is the Merge Cube add-on, which enables students to hold the space they have created in their hands! Students can even collaborate by working on teams to create a space together. With MergeEDU, educators can use the cube as an interactive tool to further engage students in learning about the earth, dissecting a frog, exploring a volcano and more.

While this is how my students and I have used these tools in our classroom, there are definitely a lot more ways that these tools can be utilized. Think about some of the tasks that might be taking up a lot of your time, or consider some issues or challenges you might be having. A few years ago I noticed a decrease in student engagement and I was looking for opportunities to open up more choices for students to share their learning. Any of these tools can be good for addressing those concerns. My Advice? Start thinking about your own personal goals and start with one thing. Try it and see how it goes, ask students or colleagues for feedback, and then make adjustments as needed.

 

 

**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  

 

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5 Ways to Build Collaborative Learning Skills In and Out of the Classroom

Developing skills for collaboration is a critical component for our students for their future. It is so important that educators provide opportunities for students to work together in our classrooms so that they can develop the necessary skills for working on a team which will also enable students to build social-emotional learning (SEL) skills. As we think about the importance of social-emotional learning and its role not only in education but in the future, this is why we must be intentional about finding ways to engage our students more by learning from one another in their classroom and beyond.

There is so much potential for having students work in teams or in small groups in the classroom. Technology can be an important component of these collaborations by creating access to more resources. There are many great opportunities for students to use digital tools available that help to create extra time in the day and offer various ways for students to collaborate beyond the time and space of the classroom, by fostering connections with other students in classrooms around the world.

When and Where to Collaborate

I think that the most critical piece of this is realizing that learning is no longer confined to the instruction that happens in the classroom during class. Unlike years ago when I was a student, our learning took place in the classroom and then we took time at home whether in the evening or weekends to complete homework assignments and projects. But for having opportunities for collaboration, it was far more difficult to work with partners and find a common time to meet beyond the school day. Meeting required physically going to a place to work together and have discussions. With access to new digital tools which bring innovative and more interesting ways to collaborate, these constraints on how, when, and where learning can occur exist minimally today. The biggest factor is whether or not our students and schools have the right access to the resources that are needed.

Just as students need opportunities to collaborate, as educators, we also need to find ways to work with colleagues and members of our Professional Learning Network (PLN), often beyond the school day. We also need to build our own skills and share our skill-sets and methods with our colleagues and PLN. by actively engaging in this right along with our students. We must model lifelong learning and the importance of asking for and offering help to others. Our goal is to construct a supportive foundation where we can all grow from.

Five ways to collaborate wherever and whenever

Here are five ways to promote collaboration both in the physical classroom setting as well as the virtual learning space. With each of these ideas, teachers can have students working together using different digital tools or teaching strategies. Beyond the content involved, students will build their communication, collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and develop the SEL skills at the same time.

  1. Learning stations when used in the classroom open up more possibilities for personalized learning, for social interactions, and the building of relationships between students and between the teacher and students. Using between three and five stations in the classroom, depending on class size and grade level, teachers can have students work together through a series of learning activities. Selecting a mix of digital tools, hands-on learning activities, and teacher-directed instruction creates a good mix of ways for students to engage with the content. For some, giving students the option to collaborate and design their own way of practicing the content can lead to new ideas for the whole class. Encourage students to team teach and take more of a leadership role in the classroom.
  2. Cross-curricular collaboration: How about working with another curricular area or even grade level?  Find a connector between your class and that of a colleague. Create a task where the students in both of your classes must collaborate on the same project while you do the same. Maybe you use project-based learning (PBL) in your class and you want to share that framework with a colleague or it is something that you are hoping to learn from a colleague. Find a common bond between your courses and start collaborating. I connected with an eighth-grade science teacher and our students used Buncee to create their presentation. This past year, my students connected with students in Spain and shared backgrounds, interests and other facts about their lives by leveraging technology tools to exchange information. Working together with colleagues to create these opportunities for students and helping students to engage in more meaningful learning makes a
  3. Beyond Classroom Discussions: Have you had a great discussion going in class just to have it interrupted by the bell? Or have you tried to encourage students to share their ideas but have not been successful? How about getting students to share ideas on important topics, by using some of the digital tools available for curating material or gathering feedback. We have many tools available that when leveraged with purpose, can add great benefits for student learning and student confidence. Some of the options are using things like Padlet to create a wall for discussion where students can post comments and respond to classmates. Try Wakelet to post an idea or a theme and ask students to share and create resources. To get students speaking more, use Flipgrid to create short videos as a prompt for students to discuss. Or try having students create a podcast using tools like Anchor or Synth. Which enable students to create on their own, and using Synth, students can ask and answer questions asynchronously. These are just a few quick digital ways to promote collaboration.
  4.  Collaborative Creations: When it comes to having students do more creating in the classroom, we have a ton of resources and materials to choose from. Giving students the option of using traditional formats versus digital formats is something that I do a lot in my own classroom. I want my students to have choices, however I also want them to build some other skills like online collaboration and designing. There are many tools that are adding features for students to create together. Beyond the collaborative options within Microsoft and Google, students can now work with emerging technologies. Using tools like CoSpaces and 3DBear, students can work together to create augmented and virtual reality spaces for digital storytelling. With either of these options, students work together in ways that build collaborative skills while also connecting them with more authentic and meaningful learning experiences.
  5. Blogging and Website Design: Blogging offers so many benefits in addition to building literacy skills and helping students to share ideas in a more authentic way. It also offers an effective way to build relationships between students as they exchange ideas, offer peer feedback and engage in more conversations in the classroom and online. Teachers can learn more about students and their interests, and use these ideas to create additional opportunities for collaboration within the classroom and with global peers. Tools such as Kidblog or Edublogs are good options. Creating a group project can be done using many different presentation formats, but one which helps students to build skills transferable for the future is in designing a website. Students in my school created websites for History Day and had a great artifact of learning to share and developed skills which will benefit them in the future.

Beyond these ideas, reach out into your school community and find local organizations that are open to working with students. It would benefit our students by connecting with real-world learning experiences and building skills beyond those covered in the curriculum. It benefits the school community by learning about what education looks like for students today. Providing options through place-based and experiential learning opportunities will open new possibilities for student interests and future career explorations.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my Rdene915 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  

5 Ideas for Building Communication Skills for the Future

My prior post on Getting Smart

Looking toward the future, as we consider how to best prepare our students for jobs that may not exist yet, what are the skills that will benefit them no matter what they decide to do? If we look at the research, trends over the past five or ten years of the top skills required by employees, there are a few that have stayed in place if not shifted toward the top because they are becoming increasingly more important. Looking at the shift from 2015 to the projections for 2020 and beyond, what do students need?

We’ve been talking about 21st century skills for a long time, often referring to how we are addressing the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration within our respective content areas and/or our roles. I have even heard mention of the “5Cs” and “7Cs,” with the addition of character, computational thinking, and citizenship included in the “C’s” of 21st century learning. With the increased use of technology in our classrooms and  daily lives, we can leverage some of these digital tools to help our students build the vital skills that will benefit them in the future, regardless of where their learning journey or careers take them.

As a Spanish teacher, I am always interested in finding ways to help students communicate their ideas, to express themselves in the language of study. Beyond language skills, I also want to help them learn how to communicate and collaborate with one another in various settings and contexts and in different media formats.

What are some tools that we can use to help our students become better communicators and to build confidence and promote student voice in learning?

Here are five different platforms or ideas that I think can be very beneficial for student learning and will help educators to implement some digital tools into the classroom without taking too much time to get started.

Written Communication

Students need to do a lot of writing to build their skills although this does not necessarily need to involve technology. However, the benefit of using digital tools for written communication can enhance student learning by creating more meaningful connections and providing different formats for students to convey their thoughts. Blogging is an effective tool to promote writing skills and literacy, to build digital citizenship skills, and to help students create a digital portfolio where they can track their own growth and build self-awareness as a result. Using tools like KidblogBlogger, or Seesaw offers students a space where they can take more ownership in learning, track their progress and growth over time, and become more comfortable and confident as they express themselves in a space where they can truly develop their ideas. It also promotes collaboration and fosters relationship building and getting to know our students.

Video Response

We also want to promote oral communication and give students opportunities to engage in speaking, especially if students tend to be shy in the classroom and prefer not to speak in front of their peers. We can leverage the video tools available to give students a comfortable space to begin building their speaking skills. In the past, I used Recap (now Synth), and students expressed how much it helped them to feel more comfortable to share their ideas, to reflect on project-based learning, and to be able to record their thoughts wherever they were and in a way that was comfortable. Flipgrid with its updated features offers more than just recording videos, it also promotes the opportunity for students to become global collaborators, and explore different ideas and perspectives from students in their classes. We can also use these tools to more easily connect our students with classrooms and experts around the world.

Podcasting

There are a lot of educational podcasts and platforms for creating them, depending on the amount of time you have, the age of your students and access to these resources. One idea is to start one podcast for the class, post a question for discussion and have students respond by creating a thread of their own to each question. Perhaps students can create their own podcasts or listen to the podcasts of their classmates, to focus on listening comprehension skills and also use it as a way to further expand conversations in and out of the classroom. We can build relationships between our students as they begin to better understand their classmates and make connections with one another. Students could work together to create a podcast to share within the class or to create for the school community, which would be a great way to facilitate that home to school connection to share the work being done by students in our classrooms.

Infographics

Having students work on conveying information, communicating ideas, even advanced or complex concepts, is sometimes more difficult if limited to writing a report or sticking to solely traditional methods. However, by using infographics, students learn to break down information and sort and share the most important facts or the data and determine how to best convey it to someone else. We meet the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Standards for Students by using activities like this because students are creative communicators, they develop computational thinking skills, problem-solving, and become empowered in their learning as they choose how to convey their information. We connect them more authentically with the content. Some digital tools to try are Adobe SparkBunceeCanva, or Piktochart. However, it does not have to involve technology.  It’s not about using tech, it’s about the activity itself and how that can benefit students. Giving students the choice to use a digital tool or simply use paper and do something like a sketchnote or other visual representation, will still develop their skills in this area.

Videos and Vlogging

If these options have been tried, educators may try out vlogging to take learning to a higher level or simply to just build upon each one of the other ideas. Even if these are simply created for use in the classroom and not shared publicly, having students create and experience the power of video for communicating and being able to create these products, will no doubt benefit them in the future. Whether students create a screencast or do a short talk about a topic of study, they are engaged in project-based learning, teaching a lesson and recording it so it can be used for other students in the class. Some digital tools to explore are WeVideo and Educreations.

There are many options out there; it just takes thinking about what we’re already doing in our classroom and making one slight change to do something a little bit differently. Or as I have done in my classroom, offer all of these possibilities for students. At times, this initially felt a little uncomfortable  because it was so open, but it had huge benefits for student learning and engagement. I want my students to build their skills with technology and connect with what we are learning in the classroom, but I also very much value the power of choice and making sure that students feel comfortable. For this, I sometimes start by offering choices and then letting students decide what will work best for them. When they do, I’m there to support and encourage them to take the next step.

 

**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  

An In-Home Learning Strategy for Busy Quarantine Families

Guest post byAndrew Easton: teacher, edu-blogger, podcaster, and future author for Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. Follow him on Twitter @EastonA1, on Instagram @andrew.d.easton, or at andrewdeaston.com/

 

In our household there are two teachers and two primary-age students, and during our first week staying at home, we had a problem. As adults, we still have work responsibilities, and at ages 5 and 8, the kids need help navigating the five subjects of schoolwork they receive each day.

Our first thought was to set a schedule so that routines would be established. In that way, designated times would kick-start certain subjects and tasks. 

Fail. 

What we quickly realized was that sometimes the kids needed support with certain tasks, and if there happened to be a Zoom staff meeting or any other commitment that prevented us from supporting them in that immediate moment, the structure fell apart. The schedule needed more flexibility.

Then, we tried a checklist.

Fail.

Next, we tried using a checklist. I mean, who doesn’t love the feeling of crossing things off your to-do list?!? Well, the answer to that is my children. Even though a checklist does not have to be done in a specific order, don’t try telling that to them. The checklist was frustrating, and stopping a task to take a break routinely killed all their motivation to continue on with their work.

 

Finally, an answer.

Recognizing the shortcomings of our initial attempts, we felt optimistic about using a “To-Do, Doing, Done” board. The idea was that each day we would write down each item on their to-do list on a separate post-it note. Those post-its get placed in their “To-Do” column, and then as they start a task, the post-it moves to the “Doing” column. Once complete, it gets moved to “Done” and five completed tasks earns a sticker that is worth 30 minutes of free time.

Success.

Here’s what’s happened since we started. The kids now wake up each morning and run to their board to search through their list for the day. We intentionally scatter the post-its so that there is no implied order, and we like to put a fun, surprise activity on a post-it and hide it in the mix. 

Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, chores also go on post-its.

The “Doing” column has also been a godsend. There are times throughout the day when our responsibilities as adults make us momentarily unavailable to lead them through a portion of their work. The kids now know that they can leave a task in the “Doing” column and start something else if an adult is busy.

The “Doing” column has also been great for motivation. When the kids choose to stop mid-activity, we ask them to reflect on how close they are to finishing and to move that post-it to the place between the start/finish lines in the “Doing” column that reflects just how close they are to completing that task. Last week, my daughter had stopped her writing earlier in the day, but she was bent on moving the post-it to done. Seeing just how close she was to finishing, she, unprompted, wrote for an additional 30 minutes later that night.

 

Overall, this board has made our household happier and more productive. It’s helped us to maintain a more positive learning dynamic during these stressful times, which is why I wanted to share our story. I hope this strategy can help you! 

 

So from our family to yours, please know that we are thinking about you all and are sending our best wishes your way.

 

 

**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  

The “A” Word

  @deidre_roemer 

The first time I heard the word Autism I was teaching Early Childhood Special Education at an elementary school in Kapolei, Hawaii. It was very early in my teaching career, and I moved from teaching students with significant Emotional and Behavioral Disabilities in a self-contained setting at a middle school to teaching three and four year olds with various special needs in an inclusive setting with a Head Start class. Some of you may be thinking, why in the world would anyone move from Hawaii back to Wisconsin? That is an excellent question that I have asked myself regularly from November through February each year since, but my family is in the midwest. Family is more important that constant sunshine and living a few blocks from Waikiki Beach (at least that is what I tell myself :)).

As I reviewed the records of the students I would serve that year, I read about a young girl who was diagnosed with Autism. This was 1996, so it was long before Autism was as well known as it is now. It was also my first encounter with a learner who had the diagnosis. On our first day of school, her mom explained that she had echolalia (a new term to me at the time) and was a runner (another new term to me at the time). I quickly learned that echolalia meant that she repeated everything that was said all day long. Now, if you can get a picture of how much talking you do to a room of three and four-year-olds, you can see where someone following you around all day and repeating every word that you say is problematic. I also quickly learned that being a runner meant she takes off without warning and runs to anywhere and everywhere in the school and even out into the street. I had done all of my student teaching and my first couple of years of teaching working with older children who had a lot of mental health issues and behavior challenges, so this experience was certainly going to be a challenge.

I went home the first day beyond exhausted and started doing my research. This was at the time of dial-up internet, so getting access to information was not as easy and quick as it is now. I read lots of books and went to conferences. I used everything I had learned about shaping and helping learners control and change their own behavior to apply whatever strategies I could. I did not realize what I was doing at the time as there was not as much research available then about the science of the brain, but since I have learned about brain mapping and how you can create new neural pathways that make sense with where we found challenges and successes that year.

After the first few weeks of school, I realized that one of us was not going to make it through the school year if something did not change, and the four-year-old was winning. I started working closely with her parents, her doctor, other staff, and anyone else I could ask about strategies to help. We made visuals for everything and eventually trained her to follow cues to tell us what she needed instead of running away. The key to success was being more consistent in my practice than I had ever been before and making sure as a team we all used the same language and the same cues whenever we worked with her.

We ended up having a great year. She learned how to respond to real questions instead of repeating others, she told her mom she loved her for the first time (That was a great day!), she was able to play with others at recess with laughter, and she taught me a ton. I learned new ways to problem solve and how to see behavior as communication in a different way. I always understood that behavior was communication, but I was used to a lot of angry, acting out behavior. This was new stuff for me and helped me to see learners from an asset-based lens. This little girl, who happened to have Autism, had so many incredible gifts to offer the world; she just needed us to look for them in really unexpected ways. Although I went back to the mainland at the end of that year and back to working with older students, I have never forgotten all that she taught me that year and still talk about it almost twenty- five years later in sessions about how to work with children with unexpected behaviors in the classroom.

Since then, I have worked with many students who are on the Autism spectrum and their families. I know even more now about the communication, academic, and behavioral needs of these learners and have continued to learn so that I can help our teachers and leaders have the best skills to include them in every setting. I’ve learned about the entire spectrum and how varying the needs are across it. I know that if you know one learner with Autism, you know one learner with Autism and that what works for one rarely works for all. When I served as the Coordinator of Special Education for our school district, we started one of the first Autism specific programs for high school students in our area. We worked with grants and research organizations to get additional training for all teachers in understanding how to connect to and include students on the spectrum in meaningful ways. I have been able to support amazing teams of teachers and speech pathologists to develop a high school course based on the work of Michelle Garcia Winner in Social Thinking. Since then, our speech pathologists have expanded the work to running groups at most of our schools for students with special needs. Over the last two years, they have also trained many regular education teachers and school counselors to work with ALL learners on lessons in Social Thinking combined with the Zones of Regulation strategies from a very early age. Our goal is always that ALL of our learners can see their own place in a group, learn how to identify their needs, and learn strategies to feel empowered. When they understand their own social interactions and emotions, they are more likely to find a sense of belonging within a group and therefore want to contribute and create.

With all that I know now, you might be surprised to find out that it took me almost three years to use the word Autism in reference to our son, Nick. Our Nick has Autism, ADHD, and Dyslexia, which has turned out to be an opportunity to learn everything that is important in the world. Although professionally I knew a lot when we realized he was on the spectrum, you forget everything you know as a mom. It took me a long time to accept his diagnosis and talk about it with others. In a class for pre-service teachers at a local university, one of my students recently shared that one of her learners has “no support from home. His mom didn’t even come to his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.” I have been really open about Nick, his diagnosis, and why school getting it right is so essential in our class. My response that it took me three years to say the “A” word when it came to my son shocked her, and it made me realized I should talk about that more.

I have been open about sharing many of our success stories and what we have learned in the last several years both at work and with my family and friends. I don’t always talk about the time when we lived in a world of grief for what he might not become or denial that others just didn’t know him well enough. If that is how I felt with years and years of professional experience, how does someone feel who is trying to navigate an impossible system of medical care with no background or connections to resources to find the right support within the system? If I find IEP meetings ridiculously intimidating when I ran them for many years, how does it feel to be a parent without that background knowledge in a room full of experts talking about what is wrong with their child and our plan to help? I have the support of family and friends who stick by me even when I am not in a place to receive that help. I have access to resources through my professional networks and the privilege of being able to get him to multiple therapies and services each week with the support of my husband and extended family that not everyone has. We recognize that and are thankful for it every day. We certainly don’t have it all figured out by any means, but we have found some alternative therapies that are game-changers and were able to move him to a school that we thought was a better fit for him where he is thriving.

When I think about why I was so afraid of the “A” word, it comes down to not wanting him to be seen as his disability before someone gets to know him as a person. I had accepted that he has special needs for years, but I was really fearful of the “A” word because many people want you to know everything they know about Autism before they ask you or him one question about Nick as a person. He has this amazing, gentle spirit and sees the world in a really beautiful way. He just doesn’t show that side of himself to many people, which also took me a long time to realize as I have always been one of “his people” and made some assumptions that others were having a similar relationship with him to the one that I have.

My fear that his relationships would be defined by his label impacted me and kept me from teaching him to own who he is and express how he thinks differently about the world, why, and what he needs from others for a long time. I feared that others who have sympathy for him instead of empathy and therefore not hold him to the highest standard or simply ignore him if they didn’t understand the disability and that he is more than his label. He has made me a better educator and leader, as I am much quicker to try to see everyone and every situation from an empathetic lens. I don’t always need to be able to understand why someone feels a particular way to recognize that those feelings are real and take that into consideration with a response or some support. In the role I get to serve in now, our experience in supporting him helps me to know why every classroom needs to be a place where every learner feels embraced as part of the community, appreciated for the gifts they bring, and given opportunities to create in ways that connect to who they are even if who they are is different than what we would typically expect.

At the end of the day, we all have to remember that we are each doing the best we can. We each have different levels of education and life experience that contribute to who we are and how we respond to the next challenge life throws at us. People expected my acceptance to be different based on my experience, but it was not. I love my children as much as my parents loved me and as much as the parents we serve love their children. Those without the skills to navigate the system or the background to know what to do to support their child who learns differently in school love them just as much and really do want the best. They may just have a harder time showing it and being vulnerable enough to share their story with us. Given how long it took me to share mine, I get it.

Pushing Ourselves Professionally: 5 Ways to Share Our Educator Talent

Previously posted on Getting Smart

As educators, we need to actively take part in the reflection of what we do in our classrooms and schools, our interactions, and make sure we are intentional about setting aside time to think about each day as we plan for the next. As humans, we need to reflect on who we are, our growth, our goals, and be mindful of what we are doing to make a difference in the world and how we can support others each day.  Here are five ways to reflect on our practice, push ourselves personally and professionally, and also highlight the work that we are doing. We each have special talents and need to share them with other educators so that we can continue to grow.

Blogging

One way to reflect more closely, beyond simply processing our thoughts is by starting a blog. Finding the time to sit and write a blog, can present a slight challenge, however, a blog can take whatever form that we want it to. Getting started might simply mean having a stack of post-it notes, where each day you write down one thought on the post-it notes and then at the end of the week or over the weekend, reflect on the questions or comments you made. Compile your thoughts into a document, use voice to text to save time, and share with your PLN.

Another option would be to create your own blog site and start a draft to gather your thoughts in a short or long post. Whether you just keep a draft for your own personal review and growth or choose to publish it and share it with your PLN and the larger educator community, it will still benefit your growth. Sharing our thoughts like this makes us vulnerable, which can be uncomfortable, but if we truly want to grow, we need to put ourselves out there. It is important not only for our own growth but also serves as a good model for our students and our colleagues.

Podcasting

There are a lot of podcasts available to educators today. Some choose to launch a podcast focused on a specific topic or theme, or to create a podcast for the purpose of highlighting other educators and the work being done in our schools. Podcasts can be another beneficial addition to our practice not only for reflecting, but to share the ideas of what we are doing in our classroom. One might ask, what would I talk about? What would I have to contribute? We all have our own unique ideas, skills and perspectives. Even if we reach just one person with a word of advice or a new idea, that still makes an impact. It might be exactly what that one person needed to hear. Again time can be an issue but there are many tools out there that make it easy to create a short podcast. It might be just 5 minutes sharing what happened in your classroom, or 10 to 15 minutes spent talking about a specific topic that was part of a conversation within your PLN or brought up in class. Other options include inviting other educators to be guests on your podcast to share what they are doing. Podcasting is another option for pushing ourselves to continue to grow personally and professionally. I recently started my own podcast after thinking about it for a few years, and it has been a good way for me to think about different topics and reflect on my practice.

Live Streaming

Technology has really enabled educators to do so much more and engage in learning that far extends the reach of classrooms and schools.  Being able to talk about an activity that we did in our classrooms, or describing projects that students presented, of course does not provide a clear picture of what that actually looks like in practice.  We can be as descriptive as possible, we can even share photos and talk about it, but to be able to live stream and invite other classrooms, students and educators into our learning space to see it firsthand is far more powerful. As educators, we can also use these different tools to give a quick update, to talk about topics that are important to us, to share new ideas, to ask for help, and sometimes, to escape the isolation that can happen in our profession. Selecting from options like PeriscopeInstagram, or Facebook Live, we can leverage the platform that makes the most sense for us. Each month, a group of educators hold #PassTheScopeEDU and throughout the day, educators from around the world stream using Periscope to share their experiences and thoughts based on a monthly theme. Look at the different platforms and how educators are using these tools to make connections, and give one of them a try. It can definitely stretch us beyond our comfort zone, but the personal and professional benefits that can result are worth it!

Educators at ISTE presentation. Image courtesy of Rachelle Dene Poth.

Presentations

There are many ways for teachers to share the work they are doing and make new connections. For years, professional development in schools often involved sessions that were presented by outside organizations who sent trainers into the schools for the PD days.  However, more recently, teachers are taking the lead on professional development days within their own schools, traveling to local schools to share the work that they are doing, or even planning special learning events at their own school as my friend Zee Poerio does with a “Taste of Technology”. Opportunities like these foster a more authentic learning experience for educators, just as we want for our students, and also provides the opportunity to receive peer feedback and build our knowledge base. There are many in-person and virtual learning events that seek presenters. Find a conference to submit a proposal for or create your own meet-up with educators and stretch yourself a bit. Taking advantage of these opportunities is important as it pushes us to take some risks, enables us to expand our own learning network, and fosters our professional growth.

Video Tutorials

Something else that not only benefits our own practice but helps to create a resource that we can use in our classrooms, is to create video tutorials or screencasts. For times when we may not be in our classroom and need to have lessons available to share with our students or our colleagues, having video lessons or tutorials available can make a difference. It is something that can take as little as a few minutes to create. Using tools like Screencastify, you can record your screen and navigate a website, explain a project, discuss a concept, work through a problem, teach a lesson, or anything else on your screen. Taking advantage of this technology makes this fairly easy and quick to do. You can also create screencasts and other helpful videos to share with other educators which can explain how to use a certain digital tool or showcase some examples of student projects or other work that you have done. Creating these can be more comfortable because we control the recording and can redo as often as needed. However, the benefit is that we are continuing to build our skills and share our expertise with others; creating more learning opportunities that will benefit educators and students.

Each of these ideas offer many benefits for educators and students. If our students engage in these learning activities or create presentations for our classes, we should also engage in them ourselves. Modeling this for our students, being willing to take some risks, to put ourselves out there, and stretch beyond our comfort zone, is important for our growth as well as theirs.

**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.

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3  books.png

How to Read (in) Music

Guest Post by:

 Peg Grafwallner, Instructional Coach/Reading Specialist, Ronald Reagan IB High School, Erica Breitbarth, Music Teacher, Ronald Reagan IB High School

One of my favorite ways to spend the first block is to observe a music class. I am an
Instructional Coach and Reading Specialist at a large, urban high school. I collaborate with dozens of teachers by supporting them in embedding literacy into their classroom teaching with disrupting their learning objectives. This particular morning I observed Ms. B’s Beginning Chorus class. As students practiced their scales, Ms. B played the piano and offered instructions. She encouraged students to use Curwen hand signals to align to the notes. These hand signals offer a kinesthetic connection to the notes giving students the chance to, according to Ms. B, “visually and spatially represent the sound they are producing.”

As students were practicing their scales, I noticed explicit similarities between reading and music; and most notably, reading in music. Ms. B. prefaced the lesson’s song by offering background on the composer and the arranger. Frequently, the background of an artist can be directly related to the piece they create. Therefore, that background is often analyzed to make meaning from the piece. Likewise, when I introduce a short story, I always share with students the background of the author. Often, the author’s interesting life experiences is a hook to get students interested. As an example, the life of Edgar Allan Poe is as emotionally complex as his poem, “Annabelle Lee.” Therefore, it is beneficial to spend time on the connections between author and text and in this case, between the composer and the music.

6E56F311-72C8-4FAC-83B5-79D1E9CCAF0ANext, Ms. B asked her students to listen to the introduction of the song and try to predict
what it was about. What mood did the piece evoke? How did it make them feel? These questions encouraged students to imagine what the composer or musician is saying within the music. What do they want us to know, to feel, to understand? In addition, students were encouraged to apply music terminology to their explanations. Utilizing that terminology supports their practice of music language and inspires them to communicate as a musician. In a similar way, when I teach a new piece of text, I often “tease” students with the first couple of lines from the story (“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” A Tale of Two Cities) or the name of the main character (“Bigger Thomas,” Native Son) or the location of the setting (“Starkfield,” Ethan Frome). I ask them to predict what they think the story is about, or to anticipate the attitude of the character or to foresee the importance of the place. That conversation helps students to imagine the theme, the characters and the setting.

Next, Ms. B distributed the sheet music and asked students to take a few minutes to
“read” it over. She asked them to sing the rhythms on counts and encouraged them to keep reading the music even if they mixed up a rhythm, but to continue working on it both visually and aurally. As a reading specialist, I encourage students to keep reading if they get stuck on a word. I remind them of various “fix it” strategies to make meaning. As an example, can the student determine meaning from the prefix, the root word or the suffix? Is the student able to understand the gist of the reading without the word?
When students finished reading, Ms. B asked them to highlight their individual line so
that it would “stick out of the musical texture as you read.” This type of close reading, or
“musical annotation” is a valuable skill in all content areas. When students begin a new piece of text, even a brief close reading supports their annotation skills. By doing a close reading, students are asking questions, making comments and deciphering unknown vocabulary. This engagement with the text helps students for the challenge of reading and making meaning of what could be an unfamiliar topic.

2F7ECCC0-891D-4DF0-AE40-86521386832BAs students read and highlighted, Ms. B prepared a video of the song being performed by
an authentic ensemble, so students could “feel” the style and the spirit of the piece. This visual is critical in making an auditory connection. By listening to the music and watching the singers’ body language, the student is hearing and seeing the relationship between the singers and the music. Similarly, I often show a video or play a recording of an author reading a portion of their short story, poem or novel. I want students to see the author’s demeanor when reading and hear the tone and inflection of the author’s voice.
Finally, after a visual and spatial warm-up, an introduction of the artist, a prediction of
the piece, a detailed close-reading with annotation, and lastly, a visual and auditory opportunity to hear the music, Ms. B’s students were ready to practice the piece themselves.

In closing, it is essential to create scaffolded reading opportunities in all classes, not just
the four “core” where one would most expect them. To support students in reading, explicit and useful strategies are necessary to make meaningful reading connections, which in turn, highlights the value of reading in every single subject. Applying those specific reading strategies in music and all classes demonstrates the value of that discipline and the ability to transfer those strategies from one content area to the next.

References
Dickens, C. (1859). A tale of two cities. London: Chapman Hall.
Wharton, E. (1860). Ethan Frome. New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Wright, R. (1911). Native son. New York, Harper.

Peg Grafwallner is the author of Ready to Learn: The FRAME Model for Optimizing Student Success, available now through Solution Tree.

EB9E4BE1-B0CE-4383-9A1D-316C6DF1DB91  Ready to Learn

 

**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  

 

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