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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Why Are We Doing This?

In my last post I mentioned that I used Google Docs for the first time ever with my students to create an on-line survey.  This may sound like an easy task, and in the end it was, but for my students and I, getting there was not so easy.

I love using technology.  I find all of the digital tools exciting, fun to use, and actually, in the end, they do make my life easier.  But I also find technology very intimidating.  I'm ashamed to admit this because the people in the etmooc are so tech savvy.  But I have decided to come clean because it dawns on me that I'm probably not alone.

When I look at a webpage, I'm still overwhelmed.  I grew up in a linear world where there were no hyperlinks.  Following the instructions on a webpage can be really challenging for me.  I've often read the instruction to "click on the tools icon from the settings menu" only to spend 10 minutes scanning the page unable to find the settings menu!  When this happens to me, and it happens at least once a week, I call my son Jordan over to help.

This is usually how the conversation goes:

ME:  Jordan, come help, PLEASE, I'm trying to add a widget to my blog but I can't find the settings button, and I'm getting REALLY FRUSTRATED!!!

JORDAN: Sorry Mom, can't help, don't blog.

ME:  I KNOW you don't blog!!!  But you will be able to understand these instructions.

JORDAN: Just do what it says on the page.

ME: PLEASE just help me find the **%&** button!!!

JORDAN (saunters over, glances at the screen, grabs the mouse, clicks the menu):  It's right there! How could you miss that?!?!?

So when I decided to create on-line surveys with my students to help them learn about Data Management, this was a daunting task.

First, I thought we would use Poll Everywhere which I found through a Google search.  This turned out to be a really handy tool and I thought it would be perfect because it included a VIDEO on how to use it!  We watched the video and created our polls, but discovered sharing the link was not easy. This seems to be a really great tool for a teacher to use in real-time with her students if they each have a device and can respond  in real-time.  I will definitely use this tool, but it was not helpful for what I wanted to do with my students at this time.  My students became frustrated, I became frustrated.

I quickly opened my Survey Monkey account.  I thought I could just have them create their surveys via my account; I'd used Survey Monkey once before.  But we were running out of time, the period was almost over, and I had forgotten how many steps it is to set up a survey on Survey Monkey.  It is an excellent tool, but I wanted something quick and easy - it takes me forever to navigate the steps of creating a survey!

My students started complaining... "Why are we even doing this?" "Why can't we just write our survey questions and go survey the kids in the other classes?" "Why can't we just collect our data by hand and draw our own graphs?"

I had a moment of doubt.  Why were we doing this?  Was it because I wanted to use technology for technology's sake?  Was this exercise in futility helping my students to learn about Data Management? 

I had to think - What were my goals?
  • I wanted my students to see that an increased sample size really does make your data more meaningful
  • I wanted my students to see that your population, (who you choose to survey), will impact your data
Yes, mucking through the technology was worth it, using on-line tools would be the best way to achieve those goals.

But now I had a new goal as well.  I wanted my students to see that sometimes, we have to go back to the drawing board.  I wanted my students to understand that sometimes learning is messy and bumpy.  Sometimes things don't go the way you plan.  So you have to re-assess, start over, and create a new plan.

I told my students we'd pause for the day, and start over tomorrow.  For homework, I found a Youtube video on how to use Google Docs to create an on-line survey.
This is the one I chose:


We watched it together as a class.  They caught on so quickly, thank goodness, because I couldn't find the button that lets you add a new question!!!!  (They told me he showed us how right in the video, but somehow I missed it!)

I can't wait until tomorrow, we are going to analyze the results of our survey together!



Monday, 28 January 2013

Two Weeks into ETMOOC; How Have I Changed?

I am two weeks into my first ever MOOC - Massive (Gargantuan, Humongous, Ginormous) Open On-line Course (Community?) and I'm looking for signs of learning.

I signed up for this course, a newbie on Twitter, to learn more about digital tools.  I wanted to learn about how to help my students become "connected learners".   I hoped that the mysterious Twitterverse would begin to make more sense to me; I wanted to learn about Digital Storytelling, VoiceThread and Google Docs.

I am getting SO MUCH MORE than I bargained for!

Yes, I have learned how to use Google Docs - today my students and I created our very first Google Survey  for our unit on Data Management (we tweeted it, we emailed it, I think I should probably post it on Facebook - we can't wait to start reading the results!) I am using Twitter regularly to connect with other educators, I have even been using TweetDeck to manage the lists and hashtags I am following! I'm getting in there and tweeting, no longer just a lurker.  Last week, I created a Twitter account for my class!  We are now looking for other mid-level classes to follow (@SixesRSuper).

I've got a Diigo account to collate, high-light and annotate my e-reading material, and I've signed on to Google Reader to help manage all of the amazing educational blogs I've been following - so much simpler!

But that is not what I'm excited about.  I'm excited because I've discovered there is a WHOLE BIG WORLD out there that has welcomed me, that I am a part of, a world of other passionate excited educators who want to collaborate with ME!  That amazes me...

After I clicked the submit button, and signed on for this MOOC, I went to Youtube to get an idea of what I had signed on for. I found this video by Dave Cormier.  At the time, I was doubtful that it could happen the way Dave portrayed in the video.


But much to my delight, it happened!  I have met wonderful and inspiring educators that I have connected with. Together, thanks to Sheri Edwards, we are a neighbourhood.

I have learned how to learn from other educators just like myself.  I wanted to learn how to "connect" my students, I learned also how to "connect" myself.

BUT THAT'S NOT ALL!

I am not just learning HOW to connect by WHY connect.  I never anticipated how much THINKING I would be doing in this MOOC!

On his blog, Dave Cormier writes this about learning:

(It is) "Not a series of remembered ideas, reproduced for testing, and quickly forgotten. But something flexible that is already integrated with the other things a learner knows. Most things that we value ‘knowing’ are not things that are easily pointed to. Knowing is a long process of becoming (think of it in the sense of ‘becoming an expert’) where you actually change the way you perceive the world based on new understandings. You change and grow as new learning becomes part of the things you know."

As defined by Dave, I AM LEARNING.  

Last week, I was sent a link to a blog post entitled:
Let's Stop Talking about Teaching with Technology, and Start Talking about Teaching by Krista Moroder.
Basically, she reminds us that good pedagogy should always be our focus.  Technology is only the tool that helps good educators do their jobs even better.  I would now change the title of this post to:   Let's Stop Talking about Teaching with Technology, and Start Talking about Learning with Technology. 

I don't recall anyone actually using the term "pedagogy" in this MOOC, but really, all of the conversation that has taken place is NOT about technology but about pedagogy.  I've been thinking about pedagogy in ways I never thought about it before.  I have been examining why and how we get our students to collaborate.  I've been considering whether education should be a "bazaar or a cathedral", I've been thinking about whether we are growing "consumers or creators" and tonight my brain is on fire thinking about how a rhizome can be a metaphor for learning! "Learning is about preparing for uncertainty" - now really, that is a game changer, isn't it?




Sunday, 27 January 2013

Professional Learning Communities vs Personal Learning Networks

Gosh darn... Still curating.  This PLN vs PLC won't leave my head alone!

I have re-read our Ministry's monograph on Professional Learning Communities.  These are the necessary components to a PLC:

1. Ensuring Learning for All Students - which makes me think of the document "Learning for All", a guide for assessment and instruction for all students, supporting the need to know our students and differentiate as necessary.
2. Focus on Results - which makes me think of John Hattie's "Teacher, know thy impact".
3. Relationships - in the PLC we have to build trusting relationships where it is safe to take risks, and also safe to disagree.
4. Collaborative Inquiry - what do we want to learn about? It is after all a LEARNING community.
5. Leadership - the principal who fosters an environment of inquiry, but also teachers who take the lead on a focus of inquiry.

It all sounds good!  So why do educators complain about them so much?

I think Timothy Scholze, from our etmooc, hits the nail on the head in his post on Google+.  "I really dislike group work because I want to be in control of my learning."  Timothy also says that principals "need to make sure that they are not forcing people together ... Collaboration should be open to choice".

In his post, Hey! Over Here!! Timothy says, "In my view, connected learning and PLNs are the best things since personal computers and blogs.  My PLN looks like a major league baseball all-star team". 

I want to try to figure out why the PLN we create on our own feels so life-giving while the PLC we are asked to be a part of in our building can be filled with so much negativity.  I am not saying they always are... I've been a part of many thriving and exciting PLCs.  But I've also been a part of many dull PLCs in which people are clearly there just because they have to be, and asking them to contribute is like pulling teeth.

Comparing the etmooc to an on-line course is helping me to understand the difference between the PLN and the PLC.  In the etmooc everyone is thriving and excited.  We feel as though our heads are going to explode, and yet we come back for more - by choice!  I've taken many on-line course, and often people don't seem to be thriving in them.  We respond to the requisite three posts on each topic and scan the necessary readings... anxious to be done.

So what's the difference?  I'm thinking the common denominator is CHOICE.

Well, we clearly can't choose who is in our Professional Learning Community - if we are working toward School Improvement and Student Achievement, it has to be the people in our building with whom we work.

But as I continue to think about this, (my brain won't let me stop thinking about it!) I no longer believe the issue is simply not being able to choose the people in our PLC.  It's far more complicated than that.

When I first started teaching, I worked in the Primary Division of a small school.  At least three times per week, at the end of the day, all of the Primary teachers would gather either in the hallway or in one of our classrooms and we would reflect on our practice.  We would talk about students we were concerned about, make suggestions for one another, share new strategies we were trying; we would laugh, argue, gossip, cry and rejoice!  It was a very supportive PLC, but at that time, we hadn't ever even heard of the term before.  We weren't there because our principal told us to be there.  We were there because we wanted to be there.  We CHOSE to be there.

It seems to me the "PLC" has become synonymous with Professional Development and often, it is the principal, consultant, coach, or whomever the "Instructional Leader" is in the building, that decides what everyone needs to learn about.  How and why does this happen?  These instructional leaders are not just being arbitrary. They are looking at student results, looking at the gaps, and then they are using professional resources to determine what is the best strategy to meet the needs to close those gaps.

But the problem is this eliminates what appears to be a very necessary ingredient to learning - THE CHOICE!  I can't remember if it was Jim Knight or Stephen Covey who said, (I'm on a roll so I don't want to go looking for the quote - it was in a book!), that if you have a lousy idea but 100% commitment to that lousy idea you will get a better result than if you have a great idea but only 5% commitment.

I firmly believe that we need to consider ourselves a PLC in our building.  But somehow choice has to become a part of the equation.  It seems logical to me that the choice has to be in the Collaborative Inquiry. But as soon as you say "You have to do a Collaborative Inquiry" - even if you let people choose what they will inquire about, you've taken away the sense of choice by mandating it.

I like to discuss, question, share... I think it is human nature to do so.  But I don't necessarily like being told "You have to discuss, question, share."  Ah, there-in lies the conundrum.  It would seem that as soon as people feel as though they have no choice, or no voice, their attitude changes, they become resentful rather than embracing the learning opportunity.

Why am I even interested in exploring this issue?  Because of my students of course.   The observations I make about how teachers learn together in a PLC vs a PLN can be extrapolated to the classroom.  If I can figure out what motivates adults to learn together, I will be better able to motivate my students to do the same.

Clearly this is still in the curation stage...  I welcome your thoughts.



Saturday, 26 January 2013

Are They Really Understanding What They are Reading Update - Using Descriptive Feedback

If you read my earlier post on teaching my students how to respond to what they read, you will know that this past week during our Guided Reading sessions I was providing support to my students as they responded to what they read.

We have been reading some great articles on Space about space rocks, extraterrestrial life, and frozen carbon dioxide on Mars.  On Friday, my students had to independently respond to an article they had read.  I told them that I would be using the Success Criteria we had created together to provide them with a grade or "level".

One of my students put up her hand and asked, "Instead of giving us a mark, could you just give us some descriptive feedback so that we know how to improve our work?  And then, could you give us a chance to re-write it?"

Sometimes we are so stuck in our old ways of doing things.  Thank goodness our students are not so encumbered by old habits!  My students have completely embraced the use of descriptive feedback to improve their work.  Now I just have to do the same!


Why Collaborate?

So much has been happening this week: working on report cards, meeting with colleagues on our School Improvement Team to plan for our up-coming School Effectiveness Review, and following the "happenings" on #etmooc.  And all the while, I've been "curating" (which to me means absorbing the new information and giving it time to curate while I reflect on it) - that's my new word of the week.

My cousin has been following my blog, she's always had a keen interest in Education.  Lynda and I frequently like to analyze the current education system and discuss our "ideal" for what education could and should be.  She is an excellent "critical friend" for me as I reflect on my practice.

This week, Lynda said: "I don't understand why the big push for collaboration?  What is wrong with individual ideas?  Individual work?  Why have we decided that committees are suddenly productive?"  

So the goal of this blog post is to synthesize all that I have been curating this week so that it somehow makes sense to me and to use that newly gained knowledge and understanding to help respond to Lynda's question.

I participated in Alec Couros' Blackboard Collaborate Session on Connected Learning.  In the chat box, people commented on how much more they appreciated their PLN (Personal Learning Network) over their PLC (Professional Learning Community).  I have been deliberating over those comments all week.  I've also been reading all of the posts by Sheri Edwards whom I have connected with from our etmooc community.  Sheri has been synthesizing all of the blog posts on Connected Learning we've been reading - her most recent post is called "Building Neighborhoods".

I believe it was Ben Wilkoff who coined the term "neighbourhoods" to describe like-minded individuals with a common vision who connect together to share ideas and learn from one another.  Sheri has created a neighbourhood via our blogs, a wiki, twitter and a diigo group for middle level educators.  I am so honoured and excited to be included in this Personal Learning Network.  Sheri says, "These neighborhoods support each other in efforts to transform education, to make changes for our students' futures".

I now see my PLN as a group of educators who share a common vision, who question together, seek answers together, and explore together.  How is this different from the Professional Learning Community I am a part of at my school?  I choose to be a part of my PLN, but I didn't choose to be a part of my PLC.  Does that make the PLC any less important?  I don't think so.

The difference is that a PLC might not share a common vision.  In fact, our opinions might be quite divergent.  That can make working in a PLC sometimes less than easy.  How does this relate to Lynda's question about asking our students to collaborate?  When we work together in a PLC, we have a common goal - student achievement.  But we don't always agree on how to achieve that goal.  Working in a PLC often involves having to defend my beliefs and philosophies.  It also demands that I listen to and consider the opinions of others.  Could I get things done more quickly on my own?  Definitely!  But working with people who think differently than I do forces me to re-evaluate my thinking.  I wouldn't do that if I only ever worked on my own or with people who think the way I do.

I think someone posted this video sometime in the last two weeks on Google+.  Margaret Heffernan expresses the importance of listening to divergent opinions far better than I ever could.



So what does this have to do with our students?  I think our students need to be "connected" to like-minded individuals that help them to "grow" their beliefs and understandings.  But I think they also need to collaborate with people who may or may not agree with their beliefs, because it is only through questioning that we really get to test out our understandings and theories.

This means that as educators we have a job to do.  We can't just group our students and say "work together".  We have to explicitly TEACH them how to work collaboratively together toward a common goal.  How do we disagree?  How do we respond, question, re-think?  How do we learn from one another?

And I think we need to give our students time to "curate" all of the new ideas that they are being exposed to. I know my brain needs plenty of time to curate!


Saturday, 19 January 2013

Are they Really Understanding What They are Reading? Helping Your Students Respond to What They Read

During the last two weeks, we've been focusing on Reading Comprehension.  Specifically, in our Ontario Language Curriculum, we've been working on specific expectation 1.8:


Responding to and Evaluating Texts
1.8 make judgements and draw conclusions
about ideas in texts and cite stated or
implied evidence from the text to 
support their views 
Teacher prompts: “What conclusions
can you draw from the events or information presented in the text?” “Has
the author chosen the most convincing
facts to support his or her opinion?” 

We've been looking at short informational texts.  I've been using articles about Space because I believe that as much as possible, it makes sense to tie in my content areas to my Language program (it's like killing two -or three or four - birds with one stone).   

Here is my "Instructional Pathway" for Reading from the last two weeks.

Day 1
I actually put our specific expectation from the Language Curriculum document up on LCD projector, read it to the students, and said, "It is difficult to make sense of this expectation, how can we put it into our own words so that it makes sense to us?". This is what my students came up with for our Learning Goal in Reading:


Then, I read aloud a passage called "Space Junk" and modeled for them how I paused to check for understanding, how I asked questions as I read, and how I made connections and inferences to better understand the text.  

Day 2
The next day, I took a text from our EQAO samples called "The Constellations", (found on line; even if you are not from Ontario, there is a great selection of texts and student exemplars found here).  Again, I modeled how I used the comprehension strategies to understand the text, but this time I used a document camera so that I could mark up the text and they could "see" my thinking.  

Day 3
We looked at the open response questions from EQAO that went with this particular text.  I made several copies of the student exemplars from each level, and in groups, my students had to order the responses, and then provide "feedback" to the students who wrote the responses, i.e. what they did well, what next steps they should take to "bump up" their work.  My kids LOVED doing this!  They wanted to know if they could really send their feedback to these sample students!  They even decided to name their "mystery students"!
   
We posted the student exemplars on our "Bump it Up Wall" along with post-it notes with our feedback, as we did a couple of months ago with our Math journal samples.




Day 4
I asked the students to consider the feedback we gave our "mystery students" the previous day, and in groups, they then began to consider what they felt are the criteria for success for a good reading response.   We took those up, and as a class wrote up the Success Criteria for a successful reading response. 

Day 5
Between Day 3 and Day 4, we had a PLC on Learning Goals and Success Criteria.  We watched a video from Anne Davies and Sandra Herbst's blog on how to have students co-create Success Criteria.  In the video, the teacher said that it is important to have the students sort or categorize the criteria.  I was doubtful about this step, but my Literacy Coach wanted my to try it with my students.  This is what they came up with - and honestly, these criteria suddenly made more sense to me - I love it when I get to learn from my students!

Day 6
With that established, I once again had an article to share with them, this time on our favourite Canadian astronaut, Chris Hadfield, (from Teaching Kids News), using the document camera.  This time, they each had a copy of the article in front of them and we did a shared reading of the article. We coded the text together, they shared their thinking, I shared mine, and we documented ALL of it on our articles.   

Day 7
I posted a question from the article on Chris Hadfield.  With a partner, the students wrote a response to the question using the Success Criteria as a guide.  We then used the document camera to review each response and provide feedback.  I find the students are quite comfortable with this for a few reasons; 1- we have created a risk-free environment where it is safe to make mistakes, 2- they were explicitly taught how to give feedback in appropriate ways, our feedback is now solely based on the criteria, 3- because they worked in partners, it is less personal. 

Using all of the feedback, we share-wrote a final response together using the document camera. 

I think it is very important to use the gradual release model in our teaching practice.  It is slow, and explicit, but I think it pays off in the end.  

So what comes next?  The students will meet with me in small groups and I will give them guided support in responding to informational texts at their reading levels.  They will also have opportunities to practice responding to these texts with a partner, and then on their own.  I will provide them with feedback throughout, and they will also provide one another with feedback.  Once we've had lots of practice and feedback, I will then do an Assessment OF Learning to see if they have in fact "bumped up" their work!

Thursday, 17 January 2013

My "Ravenous Demand" - #etmooc

My husband is away in Texas tonight.  My kids are at a concert.  I have the house to myself, and that is a really good thing, because it meant I could spend the night at the computer reading, absorbing, collaborating, learning, reflecting.

Week #1 of my first-ever MOOC is not even over yet and I feel as though I have been pushed and pulled and stretched in every which direction.  I no longer remember who shared, posted, linked what; BUT, I remember all of the new things that I learned.  And I had a small epiphany this week that I shared with my students.

One of the themes this week was "How do you make your learning visible?" And it came to me today that learning = change.  If I haven't changed the way I think, feel, understand, then I haven't learned anything.  Tony Stead says it all the time, "I used to think.... But now I think...."  If you can fill in this statement you have made your learning visible. I explained to my students how important mistakes are because they help us to make our learning visible - they help us to see how we have changed.

In the past week, every time someone in the etmooc community posted a reflection or a question about making learning visible it left me wondering "How DO I make my learning visible to OTHERS?"  But tonight I participated in Sue Waters' Blackboard Discussion on Blogging and we talked about why we blog.  Many of the participants said they blog to reflect.  One brilliant person (wish I could remember the name) said "I write to create myself" (sorry if I misquoted).  I reflected on that a long time.

Tonight I realize that I don't need to make my learning visible to anyone else other than myself.  I need to look at myself and think - How have I changed? And if I can answer that question I will have made my learning visible to ME.

One of the things that impacted me most deeply this week was a shared youtube video of David Wiley on Openness in Education.  He talks about how we can give away knowledge freely without losing it; in this information age, "Digital expressions of expertise is nonrivalrous".  I am so thankful that all of my fellow-etmoocers are so willing to share their knowledge and expertise with me without rivalry  because I have a "ravenous demand" to learn and change and grow.

Authentic Purpose for Writing

Front CoverBefore Christmas, I introduced my students to Chris Van Allsburg's picture book: The Mysteries of Harris Burdick.  I like this book because the illustrations are so intriguing.  If you haven't already heard of "Harris Burdick", the introduction explains that years ago, a writer named Harris Burdick brought illustrations with captions to a book publisher named Peter Wenders.  Mr. Wenders was very impressed with the illustrations, so he asked Mr. Burdick to bring him the stories that went with the illustrations.  Mr. Burdick promised to return, but he was never heard from again.

Teachers have been using the illustrations to inspire budding authors.  My students loved the illustrations and couldn't wait to write their stories.  Before they did though, I went on-line and found many student samples, thanks to thoughtful teachers who posted their students' work, to read with my students.  I used these samples as exemplars.

After reading several of the student samples on-line, we created an anchor chart for Narratives.  We then co-created Success Criteria for what should be included in a good narrative.  After completing a graphic organiser, the students were chomping at the bit to get on with their stories.  But I wasn't ready to let them write yet... I had one last activity up my sleeve.

I found The Chronicles of Harris Burdick on-line.  In it, fourteen famous authors "tell the tales" of Harris Burdick's illustrations.  I used some of these tales as mentor texts. 

I liked the way teachers were posting these stories on-line.  When we read them, the first thing my students asked was, "Can we post our stories?!?"  They reminded me how important it is to have an authentic audience for our writing.

We learned so much writing these stories.  We learned about using quotation marks, voice, sentence fluency and word choice!

So please, check out our Harris Burdick Wiki and read our growing collection of stories!  (The really long ones are not posted yet!)

I just found this Mysteries of Harris Burdick website!  Students can learn more about the "mystery man" and send in their stories to  Mr. Chris Van Allsburg.  I can't wait to tell  my students!

Friday, 11 January 2013

#ETMOOC

I'm really stepping out of my comfort zone now.  I am going to join my first MOOC - Massive Open Online Course.  I'm hoping I can figure it all out, and that my fellow-bloggers will be patient with me.  I"m really excited, but kind of nervous too.  I think it is important to put myself in the role of "student"; it helps me appreciate what my own students are going through every time I ask them to take a risk and go out on a limb. 

As part of the MOOC, I will be posting/sharing all of the work for my course here under the label "ETMOOC".

Monday, 7 January 2013

Birch Trees

Before the holidays I enjoyed the company of a student teacher.  Not just any student teacher, a marvelously creative student teacher who wasn't afraid to try new things. 

She found a great art activity on Pinterest that she wanted to share, so she taught it to my students on her last day with us.  What a wonderful piece of creativity to leave us with!

This art activity involves using chalk pastels to create a sunset or evening sky (depending on your colour choices).  It is a snowy scene and below the horizon line lies the snow.  Then you create birch trees using white paper with strips of newsprint running horizontally to create the birch bark.  The effect was quite stunning, but what I loved was how my students individualized their unique pieces.  Here are some examples:



This student was inspired by the work of Emily Carr that we saw at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in the Fall.  She wanted to show the devastation of deforestation. She used "white out" to create the falling snow - how appropriate!

This student used an eraser to create her snowflakes.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Feeling in Control

Four days ago I was dreading the thought of going back to work.  I felt over-whelmed and was unhappily anticipating all of the work I had ahead do me.

But for the last three days I have been catching up on my marking and planning, and now I can't wait to go back!  I guess what I was really feeling four days ago was that I had lost control, that I was not on top of the work, and that made me feel as though I just wanted to avoid work at all costs.

I think our students often feel this way.  When I notice task-avoidance behaviors in my students, I try to determine the cause.  It really bothers me when people say that students are "lazy". I think that is very rarely the case. If a student is avoiding work it is usually for a reason, and often they can't articulate that reason.  If I think it is because the student is feeling over-whelmed, as I often am, I help them break the task up into smaller parts so that they can feel as though they can handle the tasks one step at a time and be in control.

Another thing that helps is giving the students new and exciting tools to make the work more fun.  I know this works for me.

Three years ago, I had an FM System in the classroom. It was wonderful!  While it was a necessary accommodation for one of my students, it was a very helpful accommodation for all of my students, and it saved my voice.  I loved being the loudest sound in the room when I spoke.  It was so much easier to maintain the students' attention.  But its real power was discovered when I handed the microphone over to my students.  Suddenly they all had something important to say!

I was bemoaning my lack of an FM System to my husband a while back.  Although I had asked my principal for one, there just weren't enough funds, (mind you our ELKP classes have them!).  So for Christmas my husband bought me an iRig Mic that I can connect to my iPad.  After downloading the free VocalLive app, all I need to do is connect to a set of speakers and once again I will be wired for sound!

Now I can't wait to get back to school!  I can't wait to hand back the feedback I have for my students on their work- many of them really excelled, so wonderful to see! And I can't wait to demonstrate our new technology.  I love my job!

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Why Every Educator Should Be Using Twitter




This year, one of the goals for my Annual Learning Plan is to incorporate technology more effectively in my teaching.  I'm hoping the increased use of technology in creative ways will lead to increased motivation and better differentiation.  Ultimately, the hope is I will see an increase in achievement as an end result.  I knew going in that this would be a rather tall order.

Knowing this would be my goal, I began this blog as a first step.  I also joined Twitter (at the behest of my son Stephen who said everything worth knowing is on Twitter).  In August, I went to the Pearson Literacy Conference where Heidi Hayes Jacobs reiterated my son's opinion.  Twitter is a must.

At first, I really didn't see the point of Twitter.  I don't care to know what Lady Gaga ate for breakfast.  But then I began to follow some professional organizations like the CSC, Pembroke Publishers, ASCD, and some of my favourite authors like Lisa Donohue, Kylene Beers, Dylan William, and Robert Marzano.  I could see the merits in this as I was updated quickly on anything new in the world of Education.  I even started following NASA and thought this would be useful as I could share updates with my students during our Space unit in Science.

Tweeting, however, was a challenge.  I was confused by the use of the hashtag, had trouble following conversations, and didn't understand the true power of Twitter.  So this holiday season, I decided that I would gain a better understanding of Twitter so as to use it more effectively.

I learned that Twitter is the IDEAL Professional Learning Community (PLC).  Actually, I found out on Twitter, many educators refer to Twitter as their "Personal Learning Network" (PLN).  I Googled Twitter and found helpful articles on how to use hashtags, how to search and follow conversations; I even found this most helpful Twitter Cheat Sheet.

The power in Twitter is in the people you follow.  It is great to follow our favourite authors and professional organizations, but it is in following our fellow educators and joining in on their conversations that true learning takes place.  I use the word "educators" rather than "teachers" because it is more inclusive, and I have "met" vice-principals, principals, consultants, coaches, and professors from all over the world using Twitter.

This is how I've seen Twitter used - educators find something that they question, or something that interests them, or something that they value and are passionate about - and they share it via a link to an article, a blog, a Youtube video, or a photo.  And then others comment and question and this incredible "dialogue" ensues.  The important thing is the hashtag.  You use a hashtag to thread a conversation.  I've been following #edchat, #cdned, #flipclass, #ipaded (there are "Apple Certified Educators" out there who let you know when apps are free for a day!!!  Downloaded three great apps for free this week!), and #onted.

Case in point - check out this blog post by Lori Cullen that shows just how powerful Twitter can be for teachers to scaffold one another's learning and understanding!

This link from from Teach Thought tells you which hashtags to follow on Education issues.

You can start a conversation with a new hashtag - post a question you need help with, there is SOMEONE out there with an answer!

Your Twitter Timeline shows all the tweets by people you are following.  It takes forever to go through them;  I haven't figured out the most time-effective way to do that yet; so I've been searching by hashtag and just following specific conversations.  When I find a link to something I like I've been "pinning" it to my "Pinterest" board to save it.  I am finding this is very effective.

If you aren't on Twitter yet, or if you are on Twitter, but not really using it, it's time to join the party.  Get in there.  Tweet.  Join a conversation.  You'll be amazed at how quickly your learning is stepped up a notch.  And if you have a message that you want to share - this is one of the most powerful and effective ways of getting your message out there!

To find me on Twitter:  @RaineCB - hope to see your handle in my timeline!

My next step - using Twitter in the classroom with my students!