Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thinking About Thinking: Creating a Classroom of Thinkers

A couple of years ago I was fortunate to visit my dear friend Kristin Ziemke's classroom in Chicago, Illinois.  Kristin is an incredible teacher, author, and presenter.  She co-authored her first book Connecting Comprehension & Technology which is a must read if you're looking to utilize technology to increase student comprehension.

While in her classroom  one thing that continues to resonate with me is the way she had her students engage with the text as they were reading.  Leaving thinking tracks was an integral part of her literacy program.  It got me thinking, was I doing this well enough? Could this be something I could improved at?

Fast forward a couple years and leaving thinking tracks is an integral part of not only my literacy program, but throughout our day to day activities.  My students have been exposed to various ways to leave thinking tracks. They know that learning isn't about memorizing facts but more about connecting and engaging with those facts and making them meaningful to them.

While reading my students often write on a post it note to record words they are having trouble reading. They may write down a connection or question or wonder.  They know that good readers don't just figure out what words say, but they actually think about what they are reading and engage with the text. They also know that it doesn't matter what level of text you are reading, everyone can engage with text.

Thinking tracks goes way beyond just when my students are doing the reading. During shared reading we stop and turn and talk often as a way to think about and keep engaged with the text. We do follow up thinking activities such as  "think pair share", "I knew this but this is new information", or "I used to think but now I think" .  My students  are often encouraged to draw what they learned from the story, what their favourite part was,  or  how they would  change the ending.  Adding voice to the illustrations helps better explain the thinking behind the drawings.

While watching videos my students leave thinking tracks by taking notes. I want thinking to permeate everything we do in our class so I am doing my best to include thinking activities as often as I can.

Thinking occurs during one on one conference time too.  Not only are my students explaining to me what they have worked hard at and are proud of but what they feel they still need to improve. It doesn't matter what we are conferencing about. My students  are actively thinking about their work.

What I've found most interesting this year though is that when the key focus is thinking, and pushing thinking, mistakes become far less important.  Mistakes are seen more as a place to step forward from, instead of an error that halts learning.  For example  this past week my students were experimenting with writing  math stories.  They were given the open ended task of creating a math story with "big" numbers. Big was never officially defined but we have spoken about how playing with numbers to 100 is a part of grade two math. Here are a couple samples from one of my students.

While it is quite obvious that there is a mathematical error in the second problem the error takes a back seat to the thinking behind the math.  His attempt to write mathematical stories beyond what is expected at his grade level showed me that he is thinking about his math, and trying to push his thinking forward.  Yes, we did have a conversation about the error, but it was part of a more important conversation about how he took what he knew and explored a much larger number. We talked about how he was really thinking about his math.

Thinking is occurring throughout the day and it is coming from my students. It is not about me telling them what to think but it's about them being aware of how to think, and what's possible when they engage in what they are doing.  This whole notion of students being in control of their learning leads me to a whole other blog post on the power of student voice and choice.

But back to thinking... thinking routines themselves are not new.  Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchahart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison is a fabulous book that explores making thinking visible.   From the cover of the book it is written,

"Making Thinking Visible offers educators research-based solutions for creating just such cultures of thinking. This innovative book unravels the mysteries of thinking and its connection to understanding and engagement. It then takes readers inside diverse learning environments to show how thinking can be made visible at any grade level and across all subject areas through the use of effective questioning, listening, documentation, and facilitative structures called thinking routines. These routines, designed by researchers at Project Zero at Harvard, scaffold and support one's thinking. By applying these processes, thinking becomes visible as learners' ideas are expressed, discussed, and reflected upon."

No matter what age, all students are capable of thinking and being actively engaged in their learning.  For more information on thinking routines check this out Thinking routines.

Are you creating a classroom of thinkers?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

You're Never Too Young - Seven Year Olds Ignite

About a week before Spring Break I was asked if I thought one or two of my grade one or two students would be interested in putting an ignite session together for our district digital dinner series. If you're not familiar with the ignite format it is where you tell your story in 20 slides. Each slide is shown for exactly 15 seconds for a total presentation time of five minutes.

 My initial reaction was that I really wasn't sure it was something I could organized with so little "spare" time. Report cards going home, parent teacher conferences, a field trip, presenting a full day workshop, and of course a two week Spring Break adventure in Europe.  But when presented with a challenge I have  a lot of trouble backing down and late that evening  I fired off emails to three of my grade two families explaining the possible opportunity for their children. Then I waited.

My first reply came back quite quickly. Both mother and daughter were interested. Not long after the second response came in.  I had two children interested in sharing their story with a room full of educators. Did I mention it was a room full of 280 educators from classroom teachers, to the school district's most senior team.  At this point there was no turning back.

I quickly arranged an after school  meeting with the ladies and their families.  I took a large piece of paper and folded it into several small boxes. Then I asked the girls what they felt was important to share with the teachers and principals. They started talking. As they talked I filled in the boxes with their ideas. "I like Minecraft". "I got a lot of comments on my blog".  "I am a better writer on my blog". "We have a lot of iPads in our class". "When you write in your journal only your teacher, classmate, and visitors can see it. When you write on your blog the world can see it". The girls talked and I listened and wrote. After about an hour of talking we had a page full of ideas.

I went home and looked at all they had wanted to share to find some order to it all.  I also created a google slides presentation and shared it with both families.  The goal was that all three of us (me and the two families) were going to add images to the document so we would have our slide deck.  That night I combed the images that I already had of the ladies, or of our classroom in action and found places for them to go into the slide deck.  The thing was though that at any time either student could remove the images I had put in and add their own.  At this point it was Spring Break and I was off on my adventure and the girls were off on theirs.

The goal was that over the break we'd all find some time to add to the slide deck but the reality was none of us had much time to do that. A few slides were created over the two weeks, but only a small few.  When I landed back in Canada, less than 48 hours before they were to present  we all went right back to creating slides.

Monday we spent part of the morning reviewing the stories the girls wanted to tell.  Together we wrote a script but I quickly discovered that with a script my students just wanted to read it. They didn't need a script, then just needed to talk about their slides.

Tuesday they practiced a bit more and shared it with their classmates. We let the rest of the class know that their presentation was on behalf of our entire class.  They received thumbs up approval from their classmates.

After school the ladies went home to change and spend time with their families.  They then arrived at the venue. To their surprise they both wore the same shoes! For two seven year olds this was a really big deal. A total coincidence too.

They sat through the first ignite but as interesting as it was it was tough for seven year olds to sit still for so we headed out of the room.  I grabbed my laptop and put their presentation on it where they practiced a couple more times. Finally it was their turn.

I have to tell you, I am so impressed with how confident they were.  From the outside it seemed that they were not phased at all by the 280 grown ups looking at them.  Dr. Carlson introduced them and away they went.

As they spoke the district twitter feed lit up. I captured the tweets on this storify. 

I can't tell you how proud I am of them sharing their story with so many. They spoke with confidence and pride.  There is most certainly a reason why they were the final ignite session. Who could go after such wonderfulness?

Curious to hear what they had to say?  Take a listen. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

If It Isn't About Pedagogically Sound Practices, Using Technology MostLikely Isn't the Answer You're Looking For

"What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?"
Since my grade one and two students are 1:1 with iPads, I am always looking for better ways to use devices for learning.  Along the way however I have seen a lot of less than ideal ways to use technology in the classroom. Here are some examples.  
1) I am still surprised to see people creating PDFs as a way to make their classroom paperless, when little thought has been given to the quality and purpose of the content going "digital.” If a worksheet was not in line with the best practice without technology, how does it suddenly become best practice with technology. Replacing paper with expensive devices is just something I can't wrap my head around.
2) I often read about people who are trying to use technology in their practice to make their lessons more "fun".  Last time I checked you don't need technology to have "fun" lesson. All lessons should be engaging, meaningful and delivered in a way that students have fun learning.  Pretty quickly technology will lose its fun factor if good teaching doesn't prevail.
3) A lot of people who use technology expect every child to use it the same way.  While yes, I am in a 1:1 iPad environment, my students still have choice and they are never required to use technology to learn if it isn't the best way for them.  When technology becomes the only way for a student to show what they know we have another problem.  And far too often there are way better ways for children to learn.
4) Some teachers rely on technology as a drill and practice device instead of using it to its full potential as a creation device.
5) The biggest mistake I see with the integration of technology is teachers who are not taking full advantage of what their devices can do and how it can positively support student learning. I am thinking specifically for those children who have trouble learning in "traditional" ways.   iPads can help read to a student, change spoken word into written text, increase the size of letters, help with text predictability.  There are so many other great accessibility features that can help support pretty much any struggling student. They can and should be used to break down barriers and help allow every student be successful with their learning.  If you have learners who are challenged in one way or another please get to know what your device can do to help support your learners.
So while I truly believe technology can transform learning, it must always be superseded by pedagogically sound practice. Utilizing technology with purpose in mind can lead to new and innovative ways for students to learn. It is important that we are looking for better teaching and learning practices when we integrate technology into our classrooms.

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?" It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here. 

The Global Search for Educations: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs - What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when integrating technology into the classroom?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Using An iPad to Enhance a K-3 Numeracy Program

I recently presented a workshop on using an iPad to Enhance a K-3 Numeracy Program.  Since I often have a tendency to overwhelm as I present I decided it might be a good idea to create an iTunes U course as a way to help those who attended have time to reflect on the day through the course.  But of course in Karen style if I'm going to put a lot of time into a project that I think can benefit others I share it beyond my session.

Here's my latest iTunes U course entitled Using An iPad to Enhance a K-3 Numeracy Program.  You can find it here.

Remember this course is designed to work on an iPad and is best opened in the iTunes U iOS app.

And if you're wondering, of course it's free!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Are things changing?

Three years ago I created this video about some of the ways my students and I were using technology in our grade one classroom.  

Since then THREE YEARS have passed and I wondering, are things changing in other classrooms? Have they changed enough? Have they changed too much? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

REAL Personalized Learning for ALL, Now That is Innovation!

Ever since I started teaching (I’m in my 23rd year) I have always tried to find ways to individualize the programs in my classroom to best meet the needs of my students. In most cases that meant open-ended activities that allowed each of my students to take the challenge to their own level.  But with the introduction of technology into my classroom the reality is that as much as open-ended activities are good, utilizing technology properly allows me to provide what feels like endless opportunities for personalization and individual learning.  In the next ten years I believe REAL personalized learning for ALL students will be the most significant classroom innovation.

This might take on the form of alternative classroom design or alternative curriculum. It will mean re-looking at the role and purpose of school and tying it all back to what each individual student needs.  It will mean the elimination of grade levels and marks, and complete focus on learning and real life problem solving.  Less focus on content and more focus on core competencies such as communication, critical thinking, and problem solving.

It will mean the acceptance of various ways to create and show learning.  Student voices will show up in words, text, images, drawings, dance, etc… There will be no one right way to show learning.  Systems will be in place to enable children to learn in unique and individual ways and teachers will have strategies to assess this learning.

Technology will play a big role in personalization because it allows us to access a world full of information.  Networked learning will also play a key roll as no teacher is an expert in everything their students want to learn.  The relationship between students and teachers will become even stronger.

While I know personalization is not a new concept, there are far too many pulls from outside sources for it to really be happening properly in our schools.  I do believe REAL personalization is innovative and in ten years I hope it’s the norm and not the exception.

*This post is part of a series of monthly questions that Cathy Rubin is asking several education bloggers to respond to.  This month's question was "What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?"  It is an honour to be a part of this group.  Please check out the complete list of posts here. 

The Global Search for Educations: Our Top 12 Global Teacher Blogs - What will be the most significant classroom innovation in the next 10 years?

Monday, February 9, 2015

And the discussion continues....

After I pushed published on my most recent post on Documenting Student Learning,  a Twitter conversation broke out.  I love hearing the voices of so many educators. If you were not part of the live conversation I'd love to include you through sharing this storify of much of the conversation.  Please feel to jump in on this blog, on via twitter.