Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Reading Logs: Paper vs. Digital...motivating? YES!

Since we are doing the Samsung Galaxy tablet pilot this year, I needed a way to keep track of all of the things we tried in our class; the successes and failures, different apps, and websites that we used so that I will be all the more ready for next year!  I started writing my thoughts in a notebook, and still do from time to time, but I too eventually had to migrate to archiving our experiences with technology...
Another daily activity we have handed over to the Galaxy tablets, is our daily reading log.  I cannot tell you how much trouble I had getting my students to fill out their paper reading logs on a daily basis!  Until we got our tablets and I made the decision to work towards a paperless classroom, this was one of our biggest battles! 
Many of my students assured me that yes, they did read, (and I totally believed them), but that they had just forgotten to fill out the reading log or their parent couldn't sign it.  I didn't blame them, the thing just looked boring!  But I graded them anyways, and many did not do so well.  So I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and I made a new reading log with stricter and more clear requirements, thinking that this would motivate them.  It didn't help so much. 
What did help?  The tablets, of course!  And an app that I found which allowed the students to time themselves as they read with a digital clock!  The app automatically tracks their reading on a daily basis.  It logs the book name, date, and time, and students, parents, and teachers can view reports on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.  In this way, students can easily look for patterns in their reading and evaluate if they are reaching their reading goals at home and school (or not). 
In order to assess, instead of leafing through 50 crumpled up pieces of paper written in rubbed off pencil or in ink that was smeared, I was able to quickly look at each student's log on their tablet to make sure they were reading the required amount of time each night.  Eventually, my students were taking screen shots and turning them in to me through Edmodo.  They loved this! (so did I!)
Based on the positives I have observed this year, next year, I will definitely use a digital reading log.  I may stick with this app, or I might try Scholastic Reading Timer (also available for Apple devices, of course), which was not originally available for Android when we started our pilot. (It is now!)
I included the link for this Android app below.  It has some pretty good reviews and if you/or your students are Android users, you should definitely check it out!
Android Reading Log App

Monday, April 29, 2013

We teach our kids to share, so why not teach them to share GOALS?

Most people understand the importance of goal setting in life...MOST people.  Is it possible to get through life without setting goals?  Sure.  Will you end up where you could have ended up?  Probably not. 
Goals help people to see where they are supposed to end up, if they have direction and know where they are going, they are more likely to get there.  There is the overused cliché of driving somewhere with no destination, but it's the best comparison, so I will use it.  How do you expect someone to get somewhere if you don't tell them where they are going? And, even if you do tell them where they are going, how likely are they to get there without specific directions?
Bottom line is, we can't take these risks in the classroom.  It is not possible for our students to get to where they need to and to be able to reach their full potential, without setting goals.  Nowhere is goal setting more important than in school with our students...but how do we communicate that to them at such a young age? How do we get them involved?  How do we get them excited, motivated?
As teachers, we not only have the responsibility of teaching content and making sure our students can read and write, multiply and divide, but we must also lead them in the art of goal setting and give them all the tools they need in order to reach those goals.  They may have never been exposed to goal setting before, so as teachers, we need to get to work!  Hopefully by the time they leave us, they will be more natural goal setters and will be able to generalize their goal setting abilities to other areas of their lives besides school.
I have many goals as  a teacher, and one is to make goal setting a daily, natural part of my classroom so students know at all times, where they are going, where they ARE compared to where they are going, and how they will get to where they are going.
Addressing motivation:  This year we used ice cream parties for awarding the classes with the most readers on grade level and the most improved class.  Was that motivating for the kids as they worked towards their goals?  Maybe... Did they have fun?  Heck yeah!  But I am looking for a daily, instant source of motivation that will help my students recognize the intrinsic feelings that go along with goal setting, whether reaching or falling short of a goal.  I want them to be involved in their goal setting and knowledgeable about their progress.  I want them to WANT to reach their goals, for themselves, and not just an ice cream party...
So, I did a previous post about our reading buddies time and how much my students look forward to it.  When I heard that we were going to use our reading buddies time to share goals, I didn't really think anything of it.  What are second graders going to understand about a fifth grader sharing his or her goals, I thought to myself...and the fifth graders probably won't even listen to the second graders! 
That was my thinking, until.... I saw the magic happen!  THIS IS WHY I LOVE MY JOB...  Student engagement, students taking responsibility, and I was so proud of my fifth graders!  They were honestly interested in the little guys' goals!  I loved when I heard one of my kids ask his buddy "Now what are your goals?"  I had a girl that had two second grade girls with their eyes locked on her the whole time she was reading about her goals... I could feel how important she felt at that moment.  What could be more motivating for a fifth grader?! 
Goal sharing worked for both parties; the second graders looked so proud and felt important to be sharing goals with fifth graders...especially to have the fifth graders give them that undivided attention that they did.  I think my 5th graders obviously felt important as well; those that met their goals felt proud to share that with someone else, especially someone who looks up to them.  On the other hand, some of them had to verbalize and hear themselves say out loud that they did not reach their goals, and then had to commit to what they will do next time in order to reach them.  I hope this helps those students in the future. 
I think students should be encouraged to share their goals with everyone, just like we encourage them from a young age to share their toys, snacks, etc...  I feel like the more people that know about it (mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister, peers, teachers), the more responsibility they will take and in turn, the harder they will work.  As a result, they will feel things when they reach those goals (or don't reach those goals)...and hopefully they will do it for themselves, and not just an ice cream party... 
I don't even know if I can put this experience into any more words, just look at my pictures below.  I tried to capture it as best as I could...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Idiom Presentation Products

In an earlier post, I described how my students thrived in the classroom when I gave them choice and some freedom on a project.  In this post, I wanted to share the actual work that they did.  They were very proud of their work and did great on the presentation part of it! 

I used this planning sheet to help them to plan their project and then they selected the format in which they would present it:  Prezi, video, or Picsay.  Those were all the  parameters I set for them. They did the rest...

Tonight I read a tweet on Twitter that said "If you assign a project and get back 30 of the exact same thing, that's not a project, that's a recipe."

I was very impressed that each of my students' projects was unique from the other.

Their job was to find and research new idioms, adages, and proverbs that we had not already discussed as a class and teach them through a presentation to the class.  They used their Samsung Tablets to google and used websites and other sources for their information.  They had to give the meaning of the saying, use it in a sentence, and provide some sort of illustration or picture.

When it was time to present, on the Activboard I had a QR code that the kids scanned that linked them to a GoogleDoc they used to sign up for a day and time that they would present. 

The majority of my students threw their all into this project and the final products really show that!

I know that this project was effective, because I witnessed real learning happen!  Since they did the research and presentations, I have heard my students using these sayings when they speak!  Also, during our read aloud, (which is a higher level read) my students love to point out when I have read an idiom! 

Because they are able to generalize the knowledge and apply it to a real world situation, I know that they have retained the content on a deeper level.

Check out their amazing work...

(click on links to view student created Prezis!)

 Picsay (Samsung App)


(I was literally dying laughing when two of my boys showed this during their presentation and I just HAD to share it!)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mystery Skype: We got SKILLS!

I know I keep mentioning TCEA in all of my posts, but that is where I was exposed to all of the amazing ideas/resources that I have been using this second semester.  My classroom has literally been transformed in a short period of time.  Again, some things are the same, like I still have some students who are reluctant to work and there are other students who just have "their days" more often than not, but I can honestly say that as a whole, my class is a different, more positive, more exciting place to be!  I definitely don't want everyone getting the impression that I (and technology) are miracle workers! 

Anyways, another resource that I have begun to implement in my classroom is Skype.  When I heard about using Skype in the classroom at TCEA, I was enthralled by the ideas they gave:  skyping with heroes/champions to inspire your students, skyping with students from a different country, etc... these ideas were right up my alley, and would more easily allow me to work towards some of my goals that I have as a teacher:  connecting my students with the outside world and encouraging them to be open-minded and culturally aware. 

First I used Skype to connect my students with Mark Wood from Mt. Everest (which I STILL have to post about...) and now I am connecting my students with other students through Mystery Skype.  I actually learned about Mystery Skype and made my connections for Mystery Skype by using another social media source :  TWITTER. (which I will be doing a sparate post about, b/c I am in looooove!)  Now, onto the wonders of Mystery Skype...

Like I said, I started with Mystery Skype, because as a person and a teacher, and a "a dreamer" (John Lennon), I have a vision of our world that I would like to contribute to, and I will continually do that through the education of my students, who are future citizens of our world.  I thought that by using Skype in the classroom, that I would give my students access to the outside world and be able to open their eyes to the different kinds of people who are out there so that they will be more prepared to enter our world and interact with all types of people.  I want to give them as many memorable and beneficial experiences as possible while they are with me.

Although I originally looked at Skype only as a source of communication, I did not realize the critical real world skills that my students would gain from participating in such an activity. 

The premise is: Students have to work together in order to guess where the other class is calling from by asking them a series of yes or no questions.  Each and every student is assigned a job, based on their preference and the teacher's final decision.  This gets all students involved in some part of the action, which gives them a sense of belonging, unlike any other activity I have done in my classroom before. 

I explained each of the jobs to students and the characteristics required of the person who would do the job.  Students had to engage in self-evaluation in order to decide which job they would be good for.  Then, based on their success in that position, the next time we Skype, they may choose to stay in that job, or (like what ended up happening to most of my students) they may realize that they did not choose the best job for them and will try out a different job next time.  I think this experience is SO beneficial for them!  Self-evaluation and experience with different jobs, the realization that certain jobs are meant for certain people based on the characteristics of the job and the strengths/weaknesses of the person, is crucial! 

Some of the other critical skills that Mystery Skype builds in students by requiring them to engage as a part of a team in order to be successful are: accountability, responsibility, map skills, critical and logical thinking, working with others, patience, a sense of the world and where they are in comparison with others, communication, on the spot decision making, and technology experience. 

Just think: What would happen if teachers made this activity a REGULAR part of their classroom and students worked this multitude of skills on a weekly/monthly basis without realizing it!?!

Would they be more prepared for the next grade level?  For the future??? 

We ALL have access to these tools to let us connect our children...LET'S CONNECT!

                CLICK HERE to view our experience!

Job Assignments

Setting Expectations for Students.

There is all the talk about not having so many expectations for people- because in the end, you won't always be left disappointed when they don't meet them...especially in relationships:  You are supposed to enter the relationship "expectation free" to yield the best results.  Sylvia Plath wrote:
"If you expect nothing from anybody, you are never disappointed."

So, basically we are told to lower, or have no expectations at all in order to be truly happy.

This may be true in "real life" outside of the classroom, but if you are involved in education, you know that this does not apply to the classroom.  I mean, all we do is talk about "high expectations" for our students;  If you set the expectation, they will rise to the challenge. 
But, won't we constantly be left feeling disappointed when they don't reach our "high expectations?"  Yet, I am not supposed to lower my expectations....   hm.

I started pondering this question when I was left feeling disappointed, yet again, after an experience my class had with another class during Mystery Skype.  I was so excited for my class to Skype and based on another teacher's video that I saw on her blog of her class skyping, I couldn't wait to watch them perform!

I realized that before I had even observed them in the activity for the first time, I set expectations of what it should look like and when they did not perform like I expected them to, I was left feeling disappointed.  From what I saw and comparing that to my expectations, they lacked in their communication skills, their ability to work together, their logical thinking, etc... 

But were they really lacking just because they were not meeting my expectations?  Or, should I have first observed them and set my expectations from their baseline skills?

I quickly realized that I should not have expected them to do so much so soon, and that it is important in the classroom, before setting expectations for our students, that we get a baseline observation.  I am confident that if we continue to participate in these Mystery Skype calls, that my students will rise to the high expectations that I have set for them.  I will continue to work with them to build upon the skills that they do have in order to maximize their performance in the various skill areas that Mystery Skype addresses.

So I have come to a few conclusions about setting expectations for students based on our class's experience with Mystery Skype: 

1)  That you have to be able to take a little bit of disappointment; don't let it get to you!  You may not be satisfied along the way as your students will not always be performing up to your expectations, but in the end, it will be worth it. 

2)  You need to set your expectations from baseline observations of your students.  Figure out where they are and then set the goals of where you want them to be.  Make them high, but reasonable, and they will be able to rise to the challenge with your guidance and support.

When I looked at Mystery Skype and thought about all of the skills that it addressed with my students, I decided that I should not judge my students based on their first performance.  That I should take their first try and then set expectations for the next Skype.  If we participate in these Skype lessons on a semi-regular basis, my students will only become better and better and before long, be mastering these critical real-world skills.

The greatest thing is, is that they won't even realize it because they are having so much fun :)  They already can't wait to do it again!

A few aspects and skills that are involved in Mystery Skype, which makes it an incredibly beneficial activity:

Planning, connecting, collaborating, responsibility, logical thinking, decision making, cultural awareness, accountability, communication, team work, determination.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Reading Buddies: Version 2.0

    Once a month, the upper grade students visit the lower grade students in an event we have deemed "Reading Buddies."  My 5th graders were paired with a second grade class, and they truly do look forward to this time each month.  I see my students beeming with pride and a sense of responsibility, carrying their books down the hall to the classroom.  It just makes them feel special, to have been given this "buddy" to work with and "take care of" even if for just a small amount of time each month while they read together. 

    Reading buddies is great, but that's not to say that all of a sudden our students were completely engaged in and enthralled with what they were reading.  We still had to deal with some reluctant readers and off-task behaviors while the 2nd and 5th graders were reading together. 

     I will say though, that once my students and I decided they could take their tablets to reading buddies, it was a whole different story.  They appeared to be even more excited and willing to work and share with their buddies.  The 5th graders loved the fact that they would be able to show off their tablets and ebooks to their buddies, and I loved how important it made them all feel.  Again, some of the interactions between students I saw were epic:  especially when I saw a few of the 5th graders actually hand over their "prize posession" to their little buddies in order to let them feel special, privileged,  and "cool," like they feel.  I could see the comfort level of some of my ELL students increase, as they could use the audio to read the books to them!  Off-task and reluctant behaviors decreased, and student to student interaction and reading increased! 

    I would say that these tablets were a worthwhile investment as seen through the new and improved, "Reading Buddies: Version 2.0"...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Digital Book Clubs: 1:1 classroom with Edmodo!

So- my first two years of teaching I was a bilingual, self-contained teacher and I taught every subject in two languages.  To say the least, I was cramped for time and this caused me to feel that I was only able to narrowly skim the surface area of each subject with my students.  I felt like I was inadequately preparing them for middle school.  My third year was a relief though, as I was given the opportunity to focus on one subject, Science!  I was excited that I would be a "Science teacher" and have the chance to delve deeply into the material with my students!  I would be able to hone in on this very engaging subject matter and put my creativity and skills to work creating interactive, hands-on lessons thus making curriculum better for my bilingual kiddos.  I have a natural interest and knowledge base for Science, so I felt like the teaching part would be so much more enjoyable for me.
Well, it was good while it lasted : ).... My fourth year of teaching, I was told I would be teaching Language Arts.  My first thought:  BLAH!... but, as I am a very adaptable, easy-going person, I knew I had no other option but to give it my best shot.

I was pleasantly surprised as the year began... the read alouds were rather enjoyable and my students seemed to get very into them.  I also did, as I read I remember holding back tears a few times in the different books we were reading.  So, all in all, I gained a new appreciation for Language Arts and actually started to enjoy it quite a bit.  I was not the most avid reader in school, so I did feel like I gained a completely new appreciation for reading by teaching LA in 5th grade!  I also came to realize that I could be creative with LA as well.  Once we started using our tablets, we were able to integrate technology into the LA curriculum, which really drew some of my students in and helped them to become more responsible about their work. 

 One thing we do in 5th grade Language Arts is student book clubs.  Again, not a big LA teacher, I was pretty nervous about doing book clubs with my students.  My uneasiness about it was confirmed at the beginning of the year when I put a few of my students into book clubs and I felt like it was a complete fail.  They were not engaged, and they were playing around more than they were getting work done.  So I abandoned book clubs and went back to guided reading until later in the year. 

The second attempt went much better, as we eased into the book clubs instead of me just letting them run with it.  We talked about guidelines for book clubs, we watched a clip on a model book club and discussed what we saw, the students wrote their own constitutions, and they first practiced with a short book.  When I felt that they were ready, they received their chapter books.  

I used Edmodo to help manage the books clubs and students were able to access Edmodo on their tablets.  The part that they really enjoyed most, was that I created small groups on Edmodo for each book club.  It was the students' responsibility to log on to Edmodo from their tablets at the end of their book club session and post their book club assignment for the next meeting.  I also used the small groups to post notes that the students would need for their discussions that day.  The Samsung tablets came in handy when I would have different notes and pointers on the Activboard that the students would need to focus on that day.  Students used their tablets to take pictures of the Activboard notes and would display those notes for their group during their meeting time.  I would circulate around to the different groups and formatively assess the students on their discussion abilities.
We ran books clubs most days out of the week for a few months and at the end of that time, I assessed the students on three different days based on discussion criteria that I gave them ahead of time:  referring to text evidence, asking valid questions, and responding to others' comments.

I felt the second time around that book clubs in my class functioned much better!  I think the combination of giving lots of modeling and practice for students and using Edmodo helped the students to take charge of their own book clubs.  I loved seeing them come into class excited to read and discuss with their peers!

This coming year, I will be focusing more on using Edmodo to allow student discussion of their books outside of the classroom- goals, goals, goals...

                                          Students began in their groups by writing their own constitution.
Writing their own constitution so they could take ownership of their behavior and effort.
Dry run:  first day functioning under their new constitution... practicing discussion skills with a shorter picture book.

Ridiculously in love with post-its for recording thinking while she's reading!

This was their idea! :  using their tablets to take a picture of the activboard that had different notes that they could keep in mind while working in their book clubs.  Then they laid out their tablets so they could see all the notes at once!

Deep discussion!

screenshots of how students and I used Edmodo to post assignments for
Book Clubs...