Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Student led study groups- Yes they can!

Hand over the reins to students; put them in charge!  Trust them and they CAN do it!  

In our class, this is very true of our learning process.  At first it took some getting used to, but in my third year of using student led study groups, it is now a norm in my classroom.  I will admit that it took some effort to hand over the control of learning to my students, but I have seen huge effects as a result of the shift in power.

I used this philosophy last year when I committed to a true focus on formative assessment to prepare our students for the state test.  I assessed students one day and used the information immediately the next day to guide my instruction. 
After checking the assessment, I chose my top students, who obviously knew and could demonstrate mastery of the material, and put them in charge of leading a study group made up of students who did not master the concept.  I gave each group leader a student who was close to mastery to offer support in leading the group.

  Students who missed questions were responsible for knowing the correct answers to the questions they missed and WHY the question they missed was incorrect.  The students in charge of the groups explained how they found the right answer, what strategies they used, and then guided the students in their group to finding the correct answer.  I acted as a floater between groups offering additional support to my "teachers."  "Teachers " were also in charge of evaluating student conduct and effort within their study group!

(I'm all for the thinking that if they don't understand the way I have explained something/taught something, that they either need to hear it from a peer, presented to them in a different way, or they will eventually make sense of it on their own...) 
After students taught their peers, I retaught more strategy to those who needed it and assessed again.  I saw dramatic improvements in all students' scores!

I also use student led study groups in daily classwork (formative assessment) and after giving summative assessments.  It pushes the students who have already mastered the skills to a new level of skill development-real world skill development.  They gain leadership skills, communication skills, relationship building skills, and not to mention, they feel very, very important, boosting their self-esteem!  I saw some of my shyest students blossom into leaders!

I have used the same "student driven" approach using technology in our classroom on our tablets for the past few years- I show the students something once and the first two people to get it are my tech teachers.  If another student needs help after the first time I show a skill or app, then that student raises his/her hand and one of their peers will come and guide them through the process.  

This year we are at a point where we have never been before.  The students I have this year have used tablets in their classrooms for three years in a row, this being their third year!  Basically, I can install an app on their tablet and let them discover how to use it... they end up teaching me how to use it!  They then teach peers how to use the app.

Everyone benefits from student led groups; students who need help improve content knowledge and learn new strategies, while students who have mastered content gain additional real world skills.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mind mapping in Language Arts with SimpleMind Free

This app is nothing incredible in its graphics or complexity, but I just wanted to share because we have been using it in our Language Arts classroom for the past 3 years and the work my students do when using this app IS incredible!  SimpleMind Free  is a mind mapping app that lets students take notes, organize thoughts, and structure their many ideas! -It makes their work personal to them, it's FREE and simple to use, but it still engages students to work successfully towards any task.


I have let my students work on SimpleMind Free with basically whatever independent activity they had to do in LA after our whole group mini-lesson.  The amount that most students are willing to write using this app is amazing- even my most reluctant students produced more than they would normally jot down on paper.  From what I have seen, it lets them write as much as they want- unlimited amount of writing space which avoids the act of students cramming it all in on paper OR cutting off their writing because of lack of space.  At the same time, at a single glance, it allows me to easily see the students who may not have as much understanding or language as others.  I can do a quick formative assessment and level or group my students to know where I should focus my "precious" time and who needs the most support.

In the first bubble, students usually write the title of the book or the task that they are completing.  SimpleMind automatically saves the map by the name in the main bubble and students are able to see a clean list of all the maps they have done throughout the year organized by date and time.  They LOVE the fact that they can design the map by choosing their color scheme AND structure the map any way they want to-each bubble can be easily moved, detached and reattached, just by swiping a finger from one bubble to another.  In most settings, if a bubble or bubbles are connected to another bubble, those bubbles are the same color, which works great for classifying information and lets them easily see the connections they have made.  

Students always work independently first, usually as they read or while I am reading aloud.  They are given time to thoughtfully complete their work and then they are given time to share their work with a classmate at the end of LA, or even the next day as a refresher/review of what we did the day before.  They LOVE showing off their maps and I have seen some pretty intricately designed ones!

This year, being my third year using the tablets with my classes, I started off with our normal note taking strategies during read aloud- students completed tasks while I was reading aloud, jotting down notes and questions in their notebooks, sketching their visualizations, using whichever strategy they chose to work on.  We stopped about half way through our book and I had them complete their first map.  It was a basic review of the many characters and important events that had happened in our story so far.  They were able to go back and review all of their notes that they had taken thus far and use their notes to complete their map.  I did this so that they could see the importance of taking good notes and so that they could strengthen their note taking strategies before we move the work completely to the tablets in a few weeks.  


The act of getting it all down on the tablet and organized before sharing really helps ELL students, and ALL students, to get their thoughts ready in order to be more successfully communicated to their classmates.  I have seen increases in confidence and willingness to share out loud, as well as growth in language and communication skills through the use of this app- they feel prepared to discuss almost anything!


After sharing, students take a screenshot of their map and simply upload it to Edmodo.  I can then view the work of all of the students in both of my classes from anywhere at any time!  Quick and easy formative assessment- I listen to groups as they share and if I can't get to everyone, I can see it in more detail later on!  Everyone is held accountable!


Examples of mind maps that students in my classes have made are:

-CHARACTER MAPS Students write the name of a character (main or secondary) in the center and all of that character's personality traits in bubbles around the character's name.  Then, students connect multiple examples of evidence from the text (words, thoughts, actions) to each trait that prove that the character has that trait.
-SUMMARIES/TIMELINES Students have used the mapper to organize summaries of chapters or books, and timelines that show how a character has changed throughout the story.  They can stack the bubbles on top of each other to form a sort of straight vertical line of bubbles, which is a great structure for completing a task that focuses on order of events.

-PREDICTION MAPS Students have created a map to write their predictions during our read aloud, each in a bubble, and then return later to connect a bubble to each prediction evaluating their prediction making skills- Did they predict correctly or incorrectly? What evidence in the story led them to make that prediction? and What actually ended up happening in the story?

-VISUALIZATION MAPS Students have created maps during read aloud and independent reading of sensory details- words and phrases that allowed them to visualize in great detail.

-FREE NOTE TAKING This map may be one of my favorites as it pushes creativity beyond any other task.  Students use the mind mapper to take their own notes for read aloud or independent reading, selecting their own task, structuring their own map, organizing and categorizing their own information and forming their own connections, greatly deepening their engagement in the task and their understanding of the text.

My "new" daily project; technology learning targets! (will share in a separate post later!)


All students were given the same task, but this is the variety of work I had turned in- each map literally expresses the personality of each one of my students!  This was also one of the first formative assessments I have given this year- it gives me a good idea, early on in the year, of who I will need to support more and who will be able to work more independently as well as model for others...

*I know I have found myself in a lucky situation- an incredible, technology driven district, an equally technology driven and supportive principal- and that not everyone has access to enough technology to teach in a 1-1 classroom.  With this in mind, most of the technology I integrate in our classroom can also be scaled down to a few or one device.  I know many teachers bring their own device or the school has devices for teachers to check out.  Consider this for a small group task for differentiated instruction or even on one device for one or two students to take turns on each day.  You could use a different way of turning the work in, such as Dropbox.  Also, I haven't looked much into it, but I am sure there are some great web tools out there for mind mapping- take your class to the computer lab one day for the read aloud or independent reading.  But- definitely attempt mind mapping- in whichever way you choose... the benefits and possibilities for our students are endless...

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Power of Digital Texts; Annotating with Adobe Reader and TweenTribune

The simplest addition of technology to my 5th grade Language Arts classroom made the greatest difference in the level of engagement of my students, especially in our non-fiction unit, in which we rely heavily on paper articles.  Even though the material is true, real life, and exciting, I still found my 5th graders, who are bombarded with technology outside of the classroom, bored to tears when I passed out an article for them to read and mark up with a pencil.  

This past year we had been reading digital texts from our online reading curriculum, Journeys, and I noticed how much my students were engaged when reading from our "digital textbooks."  For our non-fiction unit, all articles from Toolkit Texts are available on our district network in word doc form with beautifully colored photographs that accompany the text.  I thought it was such a shame that my students could not also enjoy the real-life colored photos, as that alone would engage them way beyond black ink on white paper...that is when the simplest thing I decided to do made the biggest difference in my classroom.  

I brought together a few of the technology elements that I had been using throughout the year to deliver digital articles to my students...and there were so many benefits to this process that I want to share with you.
From our network drive, I saved the article to my computer converting it from a Word doc to PDF format.  I then shared the PDF with my students through Edmodo.  This saved a ton of time in the morning- no more printing, copying, etc., I just uploaded to Edmodo from my computer.  They then opened the PDF using Adobe Reader, which was installed on all the tablets.  

We looooved Adobe Reader for annotating on our non-fiction articles!  I stuck with my district's curriculum and guided my students in ways they could mark up their document, but they remained dedicated to the task because they had choice in which way they wanted to annotate.  Adobe Reader annotate feature has options for highlighting, using a marker/pencil to underline/circle, adding text directly to the doc, and adding a text bubble which they could click on and add a more lengthy comment to show their thinking beyond the text.  They not only chose which way they wanted to annotate, but they could also change colors!  

I know it does not seem like such a big deal, but these tiny things made the biggest differences in my students' reading engagement level.  Spontaneous collaboration also happened between students while they were working- they loved to check out each others' work and discuss it!  They would show each other how to use the different tools in annotate as well.  Students were eager to share their thinking and collaborate with peers after they had been given time to read and annotate.  

Another plus was that the PDFs automatically save in Adobe Reader with their annotations, so a few times throughout the year they would go back to reread something they had previously done and add new thoughts or learnings, comparing what they had done before, which was huge!  If the first time they read the article they might highlight in yellow and the second time when they reread or were completing a new task I gave them with the same article, they would use a different color.

Another resource we used DAILY for digital texts during independent reading time was the website Tween Tribune.  I found this through my PLN on Twitter and it saved me the past two years, and my students thought it was the best thing they had ever seen.  They would literally beg me to READ Tween Tribune for independent reading and in their free time if they finished early!  They were recommending articles to each other and having great conversations! 

TweenTribune is a free website that has non-fiction/current event articles geared towards students.  The articles are leveled K-4, 5-8, 9-12.  They have SPANISH and students can also browse articles by topic!  I loved when they would call me over to tell me about something they had just learned or try to gross me out or show me something crazy from their article.  The website has an option that allows teachers to create accounts for students which then allows the students to log in and comment on articles, interacting with other students from around the world.  That is on my to-do list for this year!

Last year in one of my homerooms, my students reached 100% reading on a 5th grade level!  I also saw improvements in student reading levels like I had never seen before.  I strongly believe that reading digital texts on their tablets greatly contributed to them reaching their reading goals!

Monday, March 31, 2014

"Interacting" with PAPER texts and evaluating group work

We use a lot of technology every day in our class and believe it or not, it makes my students appreciate paper!  They actually get excited when they realize we are going to be doing something that involves paper.  They just love when I give them that huge piece of butcher paper that covers their entire table and tell them to have at it!  And I agree that it's good to give them "a break" every once in a while, especially as 5th graders; a break from the constant use of technology on a daily basis that pushes their thinking and skills to the limits... they still need to have a chance to use scissors and crayons every once in a while!... during our non-fiction unit, I decided to take a short break from reading digital texts, but just like my students work "hands-on" with PDFs through Adobe Reader, highlighting, annotating, etc., I wanted to make a paper text just as hands-on, trying to keep that same engagement they have when reading digital texts.
I don't feel like they can just read a text...they need to touch it, they need to cut it apart, they need to manipulate it, they need to take the information out of order and group like information together, they need to isolate important words or sentences.  They need to put together the clues the author has left for them in order to discover the author's message.  They need to own the text and interpret it. 

I gave them an article on Jackie Robinson and a list of the elements of a narrative non-fiction that they had to discover in the text while working in their group.  I created an anchor chart to remind them of the elements that they needed to show in their product.  

Students read and analyzed the text aloud together.  They had to make a product that showed the elements that we talked about by cutting apart their text and using it as evidence for their thinking.  This allowed them to literally had piece together the clues from the text to help them discover the author's message and the theme.

To help them write a simple summary of the article, students used this strategy and filled in the information from the text.

Students take to this strategy very well and can easily pick out the main character, what the character wanted, the problem that got in this/her way, what he/she did in response to the problem, and what resulted in the end.

After students use this strategy, it makes the character's journey much more clear for them.  By analyzing the character throughout the text and what the character learns, students are able to develop a theme and discover the author's message.  

Through collaboration, ALL of my students were very successful in analyzing the life of Jackie Robinson, the challenges he faced, and the importance he had in history, but more importantly, they were able to relate and connect the message to their own lives through whole class discussion.

I pushed one more element into this project by having students evaluate their work and the work of their group members by filling out a Google Form...(of course I had to add SOME tech!)

Finished products hanging in our hallway...

Friday, March 21, 2014

Google Drive Collaborative Project: Digital Student Magazines

This informational magazine project comes from my district's online curriculum and I just loove it!  Last year I integrated technology and we did it completely PC based.  I wanted to accomplish the same this year, but make it even better:  this was a HUGE difference from last year, same project, different method.  

Last year the project consisted of:  each student in the group working on his/ her own computer on his/her part of the magazine, saving the word document to our class folder on the "v drive" on our district network, and then finding it again, cutting and pasting each student's work and putting it all together in one document while trying to maintain format and then me going in, finding them, and printing them all out!!  

My experience from last year is what actually helped me to make the decision to turn to Google Drive (*see previous blog post) for this collaborative project to attempt to improve it, and make it better than it already was.  I wanted to give the students more time to be creative and "do their thing" 
(Some of them even decided to put a QR code into their magazine!) by cutting out all of the extra "stuff" we had to do to put it all together.  

I mean, four different students with their work saved all in the same place, on the same document with easy access... no searching for work on a huge database and piecing it all together afterwards... breaking down the walls of each student working on his or her own computer, alone, separated from group members...  

I wanted a truly collaborative project in all sense of the word- students working on their own piece, but in the same space as their classmates so that they could see each other's work in real time and offer advice, or opinions on formatting, writing, grammar, etc...Google Drive made it happen!

This project was great in many ways:  It was multi-faceted and involved real-world 21st century skills while enhancing our district curriculum that targets state standards.  
The project involved; 

-student inventory of own interests and working in interest-based groups; students grouped based on similarities in their interests/knowledge for their general topic

-developing a topic and subtopics and choosing non-fiction text features to include with each article

-group members researching information on their subtopic from a variety of sources- books, websites, interviews, videos using two different note-taking strategies

-each group member contributing an article of a different text structure/organization

-students working together to choose a cover image and design a cover

-students designing a game, fun facts, or extra information for their magazine

-students working together to decide how to format their magazine

-students using a checklist to monitor their group's progress

-students evaluating themselves and group members as part of their grade


I included the following documents in each group's folder on Google Drive:

~check list for student to self/group-monitor their progress

~document to track who would be in charge of which part of the magazine and the titles of the magazine and articles

~document to turn notes from note-cards into complete sentences with details

~a bibliography document where each student added the websites, books, videos, etc. that they used to gather their information and pictures

~one document where all students from the group would each add his/her final copy of their article and the group worked together to add table of contents, games, and advertisements!


 I used Google Forms as a part of my assessment process.

     Since it is difficult to evaluate all students every day and the contributions they made to the group throughout the whole project, part of my assessment came from the group members evaluating themselves and each other.  This also made them more accountable of monitoring their own work habits.  To easily distribute the eval and collect responses, I used my first Google Form on Google Drive!  I shared the link with students through Edmodo.

Students answered questions on Google Form on their tablet and submitted their answers.  All answers were populated into one spreadsheet that was automatically created in my drive. Again, I could easily assess student work without hauling around a load of papers! 


Students created their covers on the tablets using the website (click to create a cover!)

This group did their magazine on the soccer team Real Madrid... they then tweeted their cover to the team!


Finished products on Google Drive (click links below!)

Paris Informational Magazine

Cars Informational Magazine

Real Madrid Informational Magazine

The Solar System Informational Magazine

Mexico Informational Magazine


The progression through the project...

 Four students working on                                                the same doc at the same time!

Researching topics of interest with videos, interviews, etc.

Turning notes into complete sentences on Google Docs...

Adding the finishing touches using Google Drive on the laptops- font, color, page numbers, text features, etc.
I will be printing the finished magazines out for the students as well as keeping a copy for my classroom library! : )

For next year, I will be looking to use an app or web-tool to put the magazines in the format of an actual ebook... let me know if you know of anything in the comments!