Category Archives: Creative Communicator

Redefine Your Middle School Science Classroom with Blogging

Blogging as a practice shows great potential for students and teachers to redefine science classrooms. When implemented thoughtfully, blogs can empower students and expand the classroom through interactions with outside learning communities. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards call for 21st century science students to be creative communicators and global collaborators, and blogging may be a practice that helps students become both.

The metacognitive nature of this post is not lost on me. I am, after all, blogging about blogging. In fact, my own use of this blogging portfolio (or bPortfolio) spurred me to research blogs in middle school science classrooms. As I learn about learning in a school of education, I have found these blog posts to be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the entire experience.

Our instructors provide topics and facilitate conversations with colleagues. Then, we are sent off on our own to develop a question we are interested in learning about. Our research and further discussion with colleagues helps to refine our question and polish our purpose as we venture forth to post a blog about what we have discovered. Finally we read each other’s blogs and share final thoughts.

Throughout this process, I have felt supported, motivated and free. The built-in feedback processes provide excellent support from instructors and colleagues, so even when I am working independently, I am guided by the support of my instructors and peers. The public nature of blog posts allow a broader audience to access my work, which motivates me to do my best. Within this structure, I have been free to explore my own values, seek answers to the questions I care about most and to find my voice through blog writing.

The ISTE standards for creative communicators calls students to “communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models or simulations” (ISTE Standards for Students, 6c). Student bloggers can link and embed rich online content in their work to engage their readers with a variety of content. Luehmann & Frink (2009) argue that “extending scientific understanding through engagement with content in multimodal format, across geography and time” is one of the learning affordances for science classroom blogs (p. 277). Please see their full table below of learning affordances for blogs in science classrooms:

Luehmann and Frink’s (2009) results of aligning learning affordances of blogging with reform-based science education goals (p. 277, Table 1).

The ISTE standards for global collaborators calls for students to “use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints” (ISTE Standards for Students, 7c). Blogs can connect students to each other, and virtually break open the walls of the classroom when students engage their own communities in scientific exploration, dialogue and argumentation, redefining the traditional classroom writing task. In redefinition, as described by Puenterdura’s (2006) SAMR model, “technology allows for the creation of new tasks, previously inconceivable.”

SAMR infographic by Lefflerd – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47961924

It is true that blogging is a tool that offers many learning affordances and may even redefine writing tasks for students, but neither would be possible without thoughtful implementation in the classroom. Kolb (2017) reminds us that “technology integration is more complex than simply using a technology tool; pedagogical and instructional strategies around the tool are essential for successful learning outcomes (p. 10). Going further, Cope et al. (2005) argues:

“The thing about all these tecnologyies is that any device which gives human beings another capacity to communicate increases their capacity to do good things and to do bad and silly things. Technology doesn’t drive it. It just opens new possibilities, new depths and new shallowness… Like all technology, it just opens up human capacity to do things better and to do things worse” (p. 203, as cited in Luehmann & Frink, 2009).

What may seem like a grim view of the use of technology is, in fact, supported by research. Petko, Egger & Graber (2014) tested multiple hypotheses around the efficacy of blogging versus a traditional paper and pencil writing assignment and on the use of prompts (e.g., “What key points in today’s lesson did you understand? What key points haven’t you understood yet? Reasons?”) versus no prompts, and found that “the choice of writing medium – weblog versus paper and pencil – had no effect on learning gains as long as writing was supported by prompts,” and, without prompts, students writing on paper performed better than those who wrote online (p. 13). One important limitation of their study was that students did not mutually comment on each other’s blog entries, which is an important social aspect of the blogging experience.

Luehmann and Frink (2009) claim that, while the instructional design of the blog is important, we must also consider practices and culture of the classroom. There needs to be a shift, according to Luehmann and Frink, toward more student agency “through, in part, shared access to learning goals and objectives” (p. 281). Luehmann and Frink recognize the challenge facing teachers: “it is likely challenging to create new activity structures that both upset this positioning, placing students as key contributors to science knowledge construction, and to do so in ways that capitalize on the social networking afforded by blogs” (p. 284).

Lankshear and Knobel (2006) see this as a shift from “Mindset 1 (in which authority and expertise are centralized in the person of the teacher) to Mindset 2 (a distributed and collective authority in which there are ‘hybrid experts’)” (as cited in Luehmann & Frink, p. 289). By using guiding questions and teaching students to fact check each other’s work, teachers can build a culture where students co-construct knowledge and meaning.

To foster inquiry practices with science students in the middle grades, Grant, Lapp, Fisher, Johnson & Frey (2012) recommend the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR) framework (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983, as cited in Grant et al., p. 46). Fisher and Frey (2008) have built on the original “I do, we do, you do” gradual release structure to build a more flexible and adaptable model including four components: 1.) purpose and modeling, 2.) guided instruction, 3.) productive group work and 4.) independent tasks

Gradual Release of Responsibility Framework (Grant et al., 2012, p. 47, Fig 1)

Grant et al. (2012) go on to argue that the components of the model can be implemented linearly or recursively among the framework’s components (p. 46). Teachers can take a similar approach with blogging. Teachers should write their own blogs and model appropriate research and writing strategies. Teachers should also provide guided instruction and allow opportunities for group work, but the components need not occur in order before reaching the final goal of independent blogging. Students will then have had sufficient scaffolded exercise to feel capable to write their blogs independently.

We have seen that blogging is a powerful tool that can empower students when implemented thoughtfully. Blogging also has the potential to connect students to communities outside of the classroom. With the a teacher-centered classroom culture or mindset, or without the proper initial support, we have seen that blogging in science classrooms may fail. With a student-centered mindset and with a gradual release of responsibility, we can offer students a chance to co-construct meaning and expand the science classroom through blogging.

 


Resources

Cope, B., Kalantzis, M., Lankshear, C. (2005) A contemporary project: An interview. E-Learning 2(2): 192-207

Grant, M. m., Lapp, D. l., Fisher, D. d., Johnson, K. k., & Frey, N. n. (2012). Purposeful Instruction: Mixing Up The ‘I,’ ‘We,’ and ‘You’. Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(1), 45-55. doi:10.1002/JAAL.00101

Kolb, L. (2017) Learning first, technology second: The educator’s guide to designing authentic lessons. Portland, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

Lankshear, C., Knobel, M. (2006) New literacies: Everyday practices and classroom learning. Open University Press, New York: NY.

Luehmann, A. a., & Frink, J. (2009). How Can Blogging Help Teachers Realize the Goals of Reform-based Science Instruction? A Study of Nine Classroom Blogs. Journal Of Science Education & Technology, 18(3), 275-290. doi:10.1007/s10956-009-9150-x

Petko, D. d., Egger, N. n., & Graber, M. m. (2014). Supporting learning with weblogs in science education: A comparison of blogging and hand-written reflective writing with and without prompts. Themes In Science & Technology Education, 7(1), 3-17.

Using infographics for traditional types of reports in elementary school

While technology and access to information has dramatically changed the way our students learn and the way we teach, there are some “classic” learning experiences that still have a place in the classroom in my opinion.  One of these learning experiences is the traditional reports that students typically do in elementary school such as state, animal, or country reports. These reports are often students’ first experience with research and the topic is usually something that is easy to find information on and there isn’t much dispute as far as the facts.  However, the traditional way of writing these reports may not be the most valuable and engaging for today’s students who have been raised as digital natives accustomed to limitless information, flashy graphics, and the urgency to get the information they are looking for quickly.

 

ISTE Student Standard #6 is Creative Communicator:

Having students communicate their ideas and research clearly and effectively using digital products is one of the indicators (6c) for this standard (ISTE, 2017).  Using infographics as a final product when completing a report is one way to meet this standard and engage students and allow them to communicate their learning creatively.

 

Why Infographics?

 

An infographic is a visual image which represents information.  Infographics are a way to engage the reader and convey a large amount of information more quickly than with traditional text. Both creating and reading infographics can be a much easier way to understand information for students that are more visual learners.  Summarizing information and determining importance are two very important skills for students. Creating an effective infographic requires these skills and also encourages the student to consider audience and purpose in order to help trim the content to include in the infographic (Vogelsinger, 2014).  When elementary students are reading through research on their topic and deciding what they would like to share with their audience, determining importance and considering the audience, are two of the skills I am looking for when evaluating them. Using infographics as a final product really stresses the importance of these research and communication skills. Although Bob Dillon wrote an article on digital story creation some of his thoughts on using digital images to convey “stories” apply to infographics. “Digital story creators need to select each image with the same intentionality that each word is chosen for the narrative. Beautiful images allow digital stories to be remembered by more people in a deeper way (Dillon, 2014).”

 

How to Incorporate

 

Vogelsinger suggests that the first step to introducing infographics to your students should begin with having your students look at a variety of different infographics and then engage in discussions on the pros, cons, and purposes of each.  “The key to creating infographics is understanding that the finished product looks deceptively simple. Every decision, including font, shapes, color scheme, and use of white space, will either contribute to or detract from the overall clarity of the message in the finished infographic” (Vogelsinger, 2014).  He also suggests having students begin with a template to provide support in the design process when they create their first infographic (Vogelsinger, 2014). That way they can focus on the text and images they are selecting rather than the design of the product. With elementary students doing reports I might give them a list of information I want them to include and a menu of images to choose from. I would likely create a simplified, custom template specific to the project I am having them complete.  Like with everything in our classrooms, some students will take to infographics quickly and easily and others will continue to need support and encouragement.

 

Different Infographics Apps and Websites

 

Being new to infographics, I only have experience using Pikochart, which I have found very user-friendly and the end results are beautiful and impactful.  On Common Sense Media, which is a website I use often in my work as an educator, I found a list of the top 11 “Best Infographic Design Apps and Websites”. It appears that there are three that are officially suggested for elementary students, although I imagine there are a few more than can be used by elementary students with support.

App or Website Cost Suggested Grades
Canva Free 4-12
The Noun Project Free 4-12
Smore Free (basic), paid 5-12
Office Sway Free 6-12
Easel.ly Free; paid 7-12
Infogr.am Free; paid 7-12
Lucid Press Free to try; paid 7-12
Piktochart Free; paid 7-12
Venngage Free to try; paid 7-12
Adobe Spark Free 8-12
Grafio 3 Paid 9-12

Source: https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/best-infographic-design-apps-and-websites

 

Sources:

 

Code.org website (Retrieved on 2018, February 28)

 

Commonsense.org (Retrieved on 2018, March 17) from:https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/best-infographic-design-apps-and-websites

 

Dillon, B. (2014). The Power of Digital Story. Edutopia. (Retrieved on 2018, March 17) from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-power-of-digital-story-bob-dillon

 

Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards for Students. (Retrieved on 2018, March 17 ) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

 

Vogelsinger, B. (2014). Inventing Infographics: Visual Literacy Meets Written Content. Edutopia. (Retrieved on 2018, March 4) from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/infographics-visual-literacy-written-content-brett-vogelsinger

Social Media PD for a 21st Century Classroom

EDTC 6106 Module 3

Promoting Responsible Social Media Use

I remember 11 years ago getting a panicked phone call from a friend, asking for legal advice regarding something that happened while substitute teaching.  We both subbed in the same small district, and I was familiar with the schools, staff, etc.  She had been falsely accused of using the computer inappropriately in class and middle school students chose to fabricate a story as revenge for her sending two of their friends to the office the day before.  Due to my friend using the internet to check Facebook, which was against district policy, she was found guilty and sent home while a full investigation was underway (the accusations were a lot more severe, but she was cleared of those allegations).  Her experience led me to be a lot more cautious and aware of my actions and ended up taking her to law school.

The reason this memory comes to mind, connects with my quest to find out how districts can promote responsible social media use and support teachers with ongoing professional development. Recently I’ve been searching for guidelines and policies for staff regarding digital citizenship and social media use.  While continuing to look at  ISTE Coaching Standard 4b and best practices, I feel many PDs still fall short of supporting teacher growth and development as they focus on curriculum and student data rather than tools that support student growth and personalized learning for teachers.

Social Media Guidelines

Acceptable/responsible use policies for students using the district’s internet seems to be common place and easily found on school district websites.  However, the same policies do not seem to be publicly displayed for district employees.  For example, I can’t find anything for my district and only vaguely recall learning through word of mouth last year that Facebook was no longer blocked on school computers.  The lack of transparency in my own district may be linked to our lack of devices district-wide.  While searching other large districts where I’ve worked previously, there staff guidelines were easy to locate and help take away any question about what acceptable use looks like for teachers.

One resource I found helpful comes from New Zealand, Guideline on Ethical Use of Social Media. Looking at this resource from a PD option, I see the one page as a tool that’s user-friendly, allows collaborative discussion to occur, and serves as a starting point when discussing social media use with staff. The four categories they ask teachers to consider are their commitment to students, society, families, and the teaching profession.

How to Make Social Media Work For You

Once guidelines have been established around Social Media Use, it’s important to offer personalized learning for teachers around the app/program they are using to support students and families. This is where time to collaborate and ongoing PD are critical to successful implementation.

If school districts want to use social media and technology to promote collaboration and sharing of ideas, then time needs to be built in throughout the year for teachers to continue exploring, sharing, creating, and becoming independent users of these programs.

Referring back to my previous posts this winter on Motivational Factors and Barriers as well as The Role of Technology in PD, I continue to discover evidence of successful integration from schools/districts that offer ongoing PD at a central location that is led by educators who for in the district. In addition, teacher’s time is recognized somehow whether it be extra pay, badges, credits, clock hours, certification.  Similar to districts in previous posts, Carson City School District in Nevada, identified a need to support tech integration when they began to transition to a 1:1 district for grades 3-12.

How does this support personalised PD? Carson City School District allocate 4 hours on Wednesdays to optional PD at their Professional Development Center, referring to this time as Technology Café. I like their acronym CAFÉ, because it aligns with the best practices in Dr. Lisa Kolb’s Triple E Framework.

What does this look like? Teachers can choose how long they visit the Café, who they collaborate with, what lessons or resources they need, and seek advice from colleagues as well as tech specialists. Having a weekly common meeting place that provides snacks and caffeine as well as teacher driven PD, allows teachers to explore ideas or programs they may have considered yet not yet approached due to lack of how they align with district goals and policies.  Personally, when I read this, I was immediately filled with envy thinking about how awesome that would be! The district found this PD strategy effective with an average of 24 teachers attending each week when this article was published in 2015.

In Monica Fuglei’s post Social Media in Education: Benefits, Drawbacks and Things to Avoid, she breaks down why teachers should consider using social media professionally, not just personally.  We know that social media is not a fad likely to fade any time soon.  Students enter our rooms familiar with apps either they use personally, or they have seen in action. If teachers are not ready to use apps/networks such as Twitter or Edmodo yet with students, there is still so much to be gained by joining groups of professionals online to share resources, ideas, and network. 

Social Media Profiles and Communication

With so many educational apps being introduced all the time, it can be daunting for teachers to know where to begin and what is allowed in their district.  Each district has their own rules, but each district should also have tech specialist who are available to answer questions for educators.  When it comes to using social media to connect with others, there has been a heavy emphasis on professionalism, privacy settings, and district policies.  If a teacher is looking for another way to connect, online blogs offer a great way to share information with families and many now have private messaging options for parents and teachers.  I bring this up as an alternative to teachers friending parents/students on apps such as Facebook.  

Putting My Own Words Into Action

Presently, I’m using Seesaw with my students and love the way parents can see and comment on their child’s work, bonus is that they can do it in any language.  This helps show students that what they post is viewed by others and helps raise the bar for how they choose to submit posts.  In addition, I have moderation power, and choose to read each post/comment before approving to our class page. This year I’ve been learning with my students how Seesaw works, and I’ve been overall impressed with the thoughtful comments they leave on their peers work. As educators, we need to continuously look at how we can modernize our teaching to help prepare our students for future learning goals.  Using social media or apps for communication allows teachable moments in digital citizenship that can help our students as 21st century learners.

Without joining Seesaw Facebook groups, webinars, and following on Twitter or Instagram, I wouldn’t feel nearly as confident using the app, let alone modeling how it works for other teachers. Within my own building, my hope is that several of the teachers who’ve shown interest in Seesaw will actively use the program next year. I realise however, for this to work, we need time to collaborate, for them to see it in action with students, and more than a one time PD session. So how can I take this to the next level? Networking!  Using my social media contacts, I am confident I can ask for support on how other schools have introduced Seesaw in schools with similar demographics and limited devices. Through social media contacts outside of my district, I can learn from others and hopefully implement a PD session in August for a new PLC group next year that are interested in using digital portfolios to monitor student growth.

References

Morris, L. (2015, February 27). Turn tech PD into a casual trip to the CAFE with this new model. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://www.eschoolnews.com/2015/02/27/cafe-pd-model-531/

Davis, M. (2013, February 26). Social Media for Teachers: Guides, Resources, and Ideas. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/social-media-resources-educators-matt-davis

Fuglei, M. (2017, November 13). Dos and Don’ts for Using Social Media as a Teacher. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://education.cu-portland.edu/blog/leaders-link/educational-social-media-use/

Higgin, T. (2017, November 30). How to Craft Useful, Student-Centered Social Media Policies. Retrieved February 17, 2018, from https://www.commonsense.org/education/blog/how-to-craft-useful-student-centered-social-media-policies?utm_source=Edu_Newsletter_2018_02_13&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=weekly

EDTC 6103 Module 5 – Professional Growth and Leadership

Engaging in Professional Growth and Leadership

Being an ELL teacher can feel isolating at times. I can’t count the times I’ve been excited about PD days only to look through available workshops and feel none of them really apply to my needs or objectives. We are a minority group of educators.  Our students come from diverse backgrounds, with the majority in the United States attending urban high poverty schools. As specialists, it’s rare to have more than one ELL teacher per building.  So how can we collaborate?

For our final blogpost this quarter, we’ve been asked to reflect on ISTE Teaching Standard #5.  The timing for this seems in sync with end of year reflections at school as well as multiple articles that are advocating for schools to revamp their delivery of professional development.  Looking closely at ISTE Standard 5a, this prompted me to question “How can teachers actively participate in local and global learning communities to explore creative applications of technology to improve student learning?

With technology rapidly changing the way we teach, it’s no surprise that it’s also changing the way we communicate professionally. Take for example, Miriam Clifford’s post “20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network”. Clifford highlights the advantages of joining PLNs (Professional Learning Networks).  The post written in 2013, shares great examples on how to join and use technology to our advantage as tool to connect and share with others.  Prior to starting this Masters Program at SPU, I would have felt lost in the jargon used in this article and simply moved on to other resources that seemed more relevant or consistent with what I experience in my district.

With these changes however, a PLN can now also refer to Personalized Learning Networks.  Moving beyond localized collaboration in my building and district, Personalized Learning Networks prompt me to expand globally.  Beginning to look more into PLNs, I began to question, how has my understanding of professional development and collaboration changed in the past 5 years?

Five years ago, I’d say 90% of the PD I attended took place in a library, possibly with a video to watch, and time for round table discussions. Lots of poster making, sharing out, but all contributors were physically present in the room.  Then 4 years ago I participated in my first MOOC.  I remember the excitement of connecting with ELL teachers in other states and countries.  We would email responses back and forth. Presently at the building level, we still remain primarily in the library. At the district level, it’s hard to get together in person due to the sheer size of our district, distance people have to commute, method of transportation, varying school hours, and personal lives. Our district has thousands of talented educators, yet I feel limited in my knowledge of how any of them successfully integrate technology in the classroom.

Personalizing Professional Development

This year has been transformational for me in numerous ways.  I cannot overlook the power of networking and global connections.  I had considered blogging before, but didn’t know where or how to start.  This program has helped to take a leap with blogging, using Google HangOut and Twitter.  Reading Mike Patterson’s post “Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training” , I realised the problem of inadequate training and understanding is preventing amazing collaboration from occurring in my district.  He sites that 60% of teachers surveyed feel inadequate about implementing technology in the classroom.  Reading this statistic reinforces my realization that my district needs to model how to use technology and this can begin with how they deliver professional development. We need to move beyond the library and offer basic training in how to implement so many of the great strategies in Clifford’s post: Meetups, practice using online communities, tools already available through the district as well as tools popular with experts in our district.

This led to me questioning, how much input do teachers have in the delivery and content of professional development in my district?  After posing this question to several other educators in my building, the general consensus is “not much”.  So how can we change this?  Desiree Alexander recommends surveying staff with a needs assessment, similar to how we evaluate the needs of our students.  In her post, “From Blah to Aha!  Your Guide for Personalizing Professional Development”, Alexander discusses how personalized PDs can showcase educators strengths and interests.

How can schools offer personalized PD? Through technology there are so many options now available for delivery.  For example, MOOCs, webinars, Google HangOuts, creating online videos that teachers can interact with at various times, using folders like Google Drive to store PD resources.  With free online tools, I’m hopeful that my district will begin to offer a range of PD formats in future.  The slides below are examples of how personalized PD can begin with a simple survey.

Finding Learning Communities

Local Communities are perhaps the easiest to define.  It’s the grade level team, content, extra-curricular, region, or even district.  Local communities traditionally met in-person.  So how do we move beyond local and expand our community network globally?  

As I reflect on my global community partners, I’ve used Edmodo, Twitter, Facebook, Schoology, Google+, Podcasts, and joined memberships for online publications. As the only ELL teacher in my region teaching a specific curriculum, it can be daunting at times.  However, with my expanded community of educators, I feel like part of a Tribe with common goals, one of which is support student learning with access to technology.  Every week I feel I have something to contribute to my colleagues, whether it’s something I’ve witnessed first hand in the classroom, or I’ve accessed through social media or video.  Learning online helps reduce my stress and previous notions that I don’t have time for professional development.

Personal Impact from Educational Technology

Now instead of only listening to music while walking my dog, I also listen to EdTech podcasts. When I couldn’t bring an expert to my classroom, we used Google HangOut to allow my students to meet with him virtually, motivated by my new found confidence gained from this year. I find myself scrolling through my Twitter feed in the evening looking for inspirational classroom ideas. I have a new found confidence in promoting alternatives to learning, even if they’re not acted upon at this time.  I know there are great things happening out there and feel like I’m beginning to tap into a new way to both educate and learn. Perhaps the best part of this journey is that I no longer feel alone.  

Resources:

Alexander, D. (2017, May 19). ​From Blah to Aha! Your Guide for Personalizing Professional Development – EdSurge News. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from https://www.edsurge.com/news/2017-05-19-from-blah-to-aha-your-guide-for-personalizing-professional-development

Clifford, M. (2013). 20 tips for creating a professional learning network. Retrieved fromhttp://gettingsmart.com/2013/01/20-tips-for-creating-a-professional-learning-network/

Currie, B. (2015, September 24). What New Teachers Need to Know About PD. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/new-teachers-need-to-know-pd-brad-currie

EdTech K-12 Magazine. (2016, April 26). Tips for Transforming Educational Technology through Professional Development and Training. Retrieved from http://www.edtechmagazine.com/k12/article/2016/04/tips-transforming-educational-technology-through-professional-development-and

Zakhareuski, A. (2016, August 22). 10 Modern Ways to Use Technology in ESL Instruction. Retrieved May 28, 2017, from http://busyteacher.org/13732-using-technology-esl-instruction-10-modern-ways.html

Gaming the System: ISTE Standard 6 and Fun and Games

I may have a problem.  My current board game collection runs slightly over 200 games – and excluding all the expansion, upgrades, and other fiddly bits I’ve acquired along the way.  It’s getting to the point where storage is becoming an issue.  I have a game group I game with once a week and I’ve … Continue reading "Gaming the System: ISTE Standard 6 and Fun and Games"

Module 5 – Encouraging Creative Communicators

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This week we looked at ISTE standard 6, students as Creative Communicators.  Looking at Standards 6a and 6c, this led me to question, how can I create opportunities for my students to strive to meet state standards while incorporating a variety of digital tools as methods of differentiation?

Evidence of Learning Beyond Paper and Pencil

I need evidence of where my students are performing with state standards, yet I don’t think our system of paper/pencil or computer testing truly shows me what they know. Recently I had three meetings with multiple staff members and parents regarding students who might need special education services.  At each meeting, I felt compelled to share strengths of the children and moments their child did something unique, creative, or intellectual. I want more evidence of what my students are capable of, not just how they perform on standardized testing.

As an ELL teacher, who pulls out students reading below grade level, it is a struggle to teach grade level content and meet district expectations.  My hope is to introduce a variety of digital tools to my students and give them some choice in which way they choose to express their understanding.  Working with such a variety of needs, I want students to find strategies and tools that work for them.  However, we still have a ton of standardized assessments where they are expected to show growth.

Blended Learning

So how can I support their development?  Inspired by Beth Holland’s article, Are We Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching?  She advocates for blended learning as a way to give students agency over their learning.  For example, allowing students access to learning through screencasting, video, digital text, ebooks, oral collaboration, online or in person research.

Once teachers offer more than one way to access content, we still need to provide multiple opportunities and ways for students to express their understanding. This means we need to move beyond allowing students to type using Word or Google Docs and considering this digital differentiation.

Personalized Learning as Formative Assessment

This year I’ve been exploring various sites in search of tools that will allow my students to express themselves. So far I’ve been very happy with Recap as a great way to assess speaking, grammar, and comprehension.  For my struggling writers, this allows a quick check to see where they are at without the struggle of writing or a blank paper turned in. Digital Storytelling has truly allowed my students to open up and I find it to be a valuable tool where students can express themselves in their primary language or English, which allows all students to participate.

Searching for other formative assessment tools, I found an article on ISTE’s site that truly resonates with me. Robyn Howton’s journey encourages me to keep looking into what’s out there, despite having limited devices to work with. This lead to my discovery of Kahoot! In my limited time exploring the site, I liked how a novel from my next unit already has premade quizzes on there that I can sift through and choose for my own class as a fun formative assessment tool.  

In conclusion, I have a variety of tools now that I can introduce to my students, to allow some freedom in how they choose to demonstrate their understanding. For example, writing a narrative may involve using digital storytelling, creating a PowerPoint, using speech-to-text, create a graphic novel, Microsoft Word or Google Docs.  We need to allow students to take the skills we are trying to assess, and give them a chance to demonstrate their understanding in a way that makes sense to them. As I continue this journey of discovery, my next step is to reach out to others in ELL, Special Education, or Technology roles to see what works or doesn’t work for them.

Resources

Holland, B. (2017, February 22). Are We Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching? Retrieved March 11, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/article/are-we-innovating-or-just-digitizing-traditional-teaching-beth-holland

Howton, R. (2015, May 19). Turn Your Classroom Into A Personalized Learning Environment. Retrieved March 11, 2017, from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=416

ISTE Standards FOR STUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved March 11, 2017, from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/for-students-2016#startstandards