Sunday, November 9, 2014

Edcamp: Wheel Decide When We Get There!

I attended my very first Edcamp this weekend with #edcampkc  at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art. The day was packed full of fun with engaging sessions to attend! The organizers of the event were absolutely amazing (Kyle Pace, Laura Gilchrist, Mimi Jones Lachi are just a few that stand out along countless others)!

As a first time Edcamper, here's what I did...I jumped right into the action and signed up to moderate a session! Seriously, I had no idea what the expectations were of a moderator, but I figured someone attending my session would guide me if need be!

Session Title:  Wheel Decide When We Get There! (Topics on Differentiating Instruction)

Wheel Topics:
I made catchy (cheesy) titles for the wheel to capture audience interest.  Here are what the topics stood for:
  1. Tiers in Your Bucket = Tiered Assignments
  2. Horton Hears = Student Voice
  3. Eeny Meeny Miny Mo = Student Choice
  4. Reality Checks = Formative Assessments
  5. A Magic Wand = Descriptive Feedback
  6. To the Retest & Beyond = Reassessing Student Understanding
Session Format:
The wheel was projected for audience members to see.  The audience also joined a back channel via Today's Meet to share questions, comments and/or ideas for each topic.  Since there were close to 40 members in the audience we quickly created small groups for topic discussions.  I ran a timer for 5 minutes and then audience members shared out questions or ideas.  At one point Steven Shaw requested we spend more time on Student Voice by talking about Genius Hour ideas!

I loved how easily the conversations flowed from one topic to the next.  I also was impressed by the groups willingness to take off in another direction and come back full circle to the topic at hand.  The Wheel Decide When We Get There format can easily be applied to any number of topics.  If you like what you see, please feel free to add the Wheel to your next Edcamp or PD experience and insert your own topics!

Voting With Your Feet:
What is empowering about Edcamp is that individuals can hop from session to session.  This means that during my session individuals came and went as they chose.  I learned that, as the moderator, it is important to know you can't take it personal when people come and go from your session. Instead, honor and celebrate the organic learning occurring for each individual.  This is only possible due to the open Edcamp format!

If you have yet to attend an Edcamp. What are you waiting for? Get in there! Try it out! It almost feels like camp from childhood with everyone supporting one another and having fun!  I promise you will grow leaps and bounds by jumping in to the Edcamp pool, not to mention you will meet amazing individuals to help keep you a float!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Anchor Activities via the Digital Playground

An anchor activity is a differentiated learning tool available to students once the intended class lesson is complete.  These activities are meant to tie to the curriculum and support the learning goals for the unit.  Anchor activities offer students extended learning opportunities to reinforce what they should Know, Understand and be able to Do (KUD).

Back in the day, anchor activities may have been displayed on a classroom bulletin board in folders housing worksheet practice and (if the students were lucky) tactile learning games.  Fortunately, the 1:1 classroom now offers a whole new look.  While pencil paper activities have their place and tactile games can still spike interest, game based learning, gamification and digital or online textbook resources also offer a vast array of options for anchor activities.

Here are a few ideas to welcome your anchor activities to the digital playground:

Digital Playlists

Consider having a "Digital Playlist" that houses the anchor activities for the learning goals.  You can arrange them any way you choose!  Here are some platforms great for creating your digital playlists:
  • Create hyperlinks and/or games and activities via any of the following platforms.  
    • Google docs and/or Google Spreadsheets
    • Wikispaces (Create a space by units for anchor activities)
    • Livebinder (Create a binder with folders for each unit)
    • Symbaloo (Create a Symbaloo board of urls)
    • Padlet (Create a Padlet wall for each unit)
    • Blendspace (Create a Blendspace of activities by unit)
    • Socrative (Create your own activities for students to access)
    • Quia (Search for teacher made activities and/or make your own)
    • QuizletStudyBlue (Search for already made flashcards or make your own, but both site turns cards into practice with games/activities)
    • Memrise (A shoutout for my fellow world language teachers. This site is great! You can create a course, find a course and/or have students create their own courses by units!)
  • Embed a table of your hyperlinked playlist into class blog and/or website. Below is an example:
Social Media & Back Channels for KUDs
Many social media sites can serve as a dual role for back channels.  First here are a few social media sites that are perfect

  • EdmodoGoogle Communities (Share playlists and/or pose questions for students to show off KUDs by posting to the community)
  • Twitter (Let students show what they KUD in 140 characters or less! Add this to a playlist)
  • Tagboard (Create a class hashtag that students can show off their KUD via any social media platform using your class hashtag. This site then collects all responses using that hashtag and collects them onto one online Tagboard)

Back channels are an interesting way to let students extend their learning time.  Consider having a parking lot of questions to get the students thinking about the learning goals for the unit.  This would be ideal for several students or more ready for extended learning time as the more the merrier in this platform.  When creating questions for the back channel you may want to offer questions that push students beyond simple yes/no responses and encourages conversations about the learning targets. Here are a few sites to use:

  • Backchannel (While this does cost money, it is relatively cheap at $15 per month.)
  • Today's Meet (Pose questions for each unit for students to respond to throughout the unit)
  • Tweetdeck (Use the scheduling feature to push out questions, videos or links for students to comment on)
These are just a few ideas for you to toss your anchor activities into the digital playground!  At the front of a unit, let your students know where to find the anchor activities.  Every minute counts! It is up to you, the teacher, to encourage students to stay "anchored" in learning from bell to bell. Help students find the value in filling every minute of class with activities that support their learning! When you see a student wrap up a lesson direct him/her to your digital playlist for the unit.  Student voice and choice makes all the difference in students guiding their own learning. Let them choose which activities to play and/or work on.  Let them offer new activities to add to the digital playlist or even allow them to develop their own games to support the learning goals!  The more activities and encouragement you provide your students the more you will begin to see them guide their own learning using anchor activities.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Learning Lab: Tiered Learning

This week I had an amazing opportunity to participate in our school's first ever Learning Lab.  A couple of week's prior to this, our building instructional coach, Sara Wickham, was invited to observe a lesson in my classroom.  After the observation, she said, "You know, I've been kicking around this idea in my head about a learning lab.  Would you be interested in working with me on this?"

Here is the basic idea:
  • Invite teachers to sign up for the Learning Lab experience (to occur during their planning)
  • Teachers will meet with the instructional coach at the start of the hour
    • The Instructional Coach will introduce the concept of the learning lab experience
    • Teachers will watch a 2-3 minute video created by the classroom teacher briefly explaining the lesson and discuss any look fors that should occur while observing
  • Teachers will then enter the Learning Lab (the classroom) and observe the lesson for 10-15 minutes
    • Teachers are encouraged to ask students questions
  • Teachers will then leave the Learning Lab and debrief with the instructional coach
    • Teachers will discuss ah-ha moments, comment, ask questions and share ideas they saw that can be immediately used in their own classrooms
I am writing from the perspective of the classroom teacher hosting the Learning Lab.  Over 4 class periods, 9 classroom teachers, 2 administrators and the instructional coach visited my class. Sara wrote a post from the perspective of the coach.  You can read about it HERE.

Here is an overview of what they saw in a 45 minute class:

Video Introduction

Class Lesson
  • Students will discover the process for conjugating -ar verbs
    • Students will watch the teacher created PowToon video
    • Students will choose to take virtual notes or notes on paper
  • Students will self-direct their learning and practice through tiered and scaffolded activities housed on a Tackk Board

Post Observation Comments & Questions

My Responses to Post Observation Questions
  • How do you grade tiered assignments? I rarely “grade” practice for a grade as it is practice. Instead I use descriptive feedback to help kids stretch and grow (most of the feedback is oral, but when using google docs I use the comment feature).  When I do grade tiered assignments I have a grade break down (Basic = C; Proficient = B; Mastery = 90-95; Advanced = 95%+)….even then it is for minimal points and/or is recorded but exempt from the grade book   Today’s lesson was not for a grade.  My students know that the practice we do is to help them improve; reach proficiency.  Because I share the levels of understanding at the start of the school year students realize that they will have to stretch to reach the upper levels of understanding.  The practice we do is scaffolded so that students may move forward and back as needed.
  • How long does it take to create tiered assignments? Tiering can be simple, like today’s lesson…all students were essentially doing the same activity(NOT multiple different activities), they simply chose when to move on to the next level of understanding.  I think sometimes we get overwhelmed as teachers by thinking that differentiated instruction = creation of several activities.  Most days my students are working on the same activity and I tier it using levels of taxonomy:  recall/application/creation/creation+ (+extending what we learned and connecting it to a new process/concept and/or tie it to a previously learned concept)  Tiering can also be a compilation of multiple activities such as: learning menus and thinktactoe.  These can take a bit of time to create HOWEVER there is a pay off for time spent…1 thinktactoe = 2-3 days of activities/lessons.
  • Are students that continually choose the basic level ready for the next level of Spanish? The majority of my students try for at least proficiency, not all students reach proficiency, but at least try proficiency.  Are BASIC kiddos ready?  If a child has a desire to move on in the language we have a professional responsibility to support that child’s choice.  I do not believe all students will be proficient in the language (when teaching within restricted timelines).  Some kiddos may work very hard and remain basic or proficient low AND still enjoy the language.  I want our students to know that if they have a desire to learn and work hard at it, then continuing in the language is the right choice for them.  Will there be basic kids that move on that lacked motivation? Yes. Are they ready for the next level? Who knows…maybe they matured over the summer and they return ready to learn.  
  • How do you motivate kids that seem to always choose the basic level? I think it is absolutely okay to start with the basic level and to stay there until the practice begins to feel easy.  It is my role, as the teacher, to be up and around the room, to facilitate conversations about learning and encourage students to try the next level(s).  How do I motivate? Enthusiasm and positivity is contagious.  Kids at the basic level need A LOT of KUDOS…they need to know that you believe it is possible for them to excel.  I know this sounds very “ra-ra” cheerleader…but many of our kids rarely have someone cheering them on…you may be the only person in their day that believes in their ability to be successful.  It is human nature to want to do well at what we try.  It is also human nature to feel defeated when at first we don’t succeed.  “Failing forward” is a pretty popular edu term these days.  There is a lot to be said for teaching students resilience…we can teach it by offering multiple opportunities and multiple pathways for success.

    My Insights

    While a certain level of anxiety can come from observations I felt relatively relaxed.  I think this is in part to wanting to be authentic with my colleagues.  This was not meant to be a horse and pony show of perfect practices.  It was meant to offer a real glimpse at what happens in the classroom every day. Some days we are rockin' it, other days we are not.  I honestly had no idea how this lesson would go as I had never used Tackk as a self-directed platform prior to this lesson.

    Students were told in advance that other teachers would visit the classroom for a small amount of time.  They were further encouraged to not be afraid to answer questions that may be asked of them and to simply interact professionally and honestly.  I thought multiple classroom visitors might be distracting for students.  However, the students didn't skip a beat when the observers entered the room.  They simply kept on working and asking questions as if it were business as usual.

    In first hour, there was a moment in which over half the class had their hands raised. I could sense their anxieties from lack of understanding the new learning objective.  My vision for "self-directed" learning was quickly falling apart.  I simply stopped the class, regrouped with some whole instruction and released learning again.  (My principal calls this CAR...catch and release).  It was awesome to have that moment of vulnerability in front of my peers. Why? Because the Learning Lab should be an authentic experience that spurs conversations and allows ALL participants to stretch and grow.

    This experience allowed me to stretch and grow in the following ways:
    • The collaboration and conversations that resulted from the Learning Lab created connections between colleagues that might not have otherwise occurred.
    • The feedback and comments from the observers fanned by flame for teaching and learning 
    • Knowing this was the first Learning Lab experience in our school, I was inspired to blend the tiered instruction with multiple media platforms so that observers would be able to walk away with a several ideas they could immediately implement in their classrooms
    This leads me to share with you the ultimate goal of the Learning Lab experience, two days later, Kari S., a science teacher in our building, shared a tiered lesson she created as a result of the lab (scroll to the end of her Tackk and look at her wording on student tiering/'s simply awesome).  I love that this addresses the thought that this can't be done in core classes! This in itself made the Learning Lab a success!

    Tuesday, October 21, 2014

    Differentiation & Autism

    Before I begin this post I should say, I am not a special education teacher.  I am simply a "regular ed" high school Spanish teacher of 17 years.  So, why am I, a Spanish teacher, sharing this post about differentiation and autism? Because...

    Here are just a few ideas that have worked for my students, with (and without) autism, in addition to special education modifications and accommodations:
    • Personally connect every day.
      • Pull up a chair next to the student or simply kneel down to his/her level.  It doesn't need to be a long conversation every day, simply a two way interaction to start off the class.  Ask how they are doing or what they did the night before...any question that will elicit a response (verbally or even a head nod) will help a student with autism make a connection with your class.
    • Discover their passions and connect.
      • One student loves candy, another loves puppies - sometimes all it takes is having a basket of candy in eye sight or a packet of puppy stickers to encourage participation.  Sound silly? I think not. If you have a student with a sweet tooth and candy is the reward for participation, you suddenly have a resistant child with autism participating.   
    • Embrace technology.
      • In class, most students are connecting with other students throughout a lesson.  A student with autism can find it difficult to make face to face interactions.  One day, I saw a girl with autism on Twitter, so I dug a little deeper and asked her to tell me why she liked Twitter.  She said she feels less judged online and has lots of online friends, but not so many at school.  Isn't that interesting...for those of you that thought social media was minimizing our personal interactions with others, think again.  For a child with autism, on line communication can be an easier way for a student to express his/her thoughts.  Consider having an online platform for students to comment and/or answer questions.  Here are just a few:
    • Assist Inquiring Minds. 
      • Have you ever had a student that asks question after question?  One year I had a girl that kept beating me to the punch.  I would begin an explanation and she would ask a question before I could finish the explanation.  Wait time is very difficult for some students, it can be twice as difficult for a student with autism.  What seemed to finally work, for this girl in particular, was an index card.  At the start of class I would give her an index card.  If I were speaking to the whole class, she was instructed to write her questions on the card.  Once I was finished speaking, if I had not answered all of her questions on the card, she could then ask me her remaining questions.  Other ideas to assist inquiring minds might be:
        • using technology for the student to ask questions
        • reward wait time with something they love (candy, stickers, computer time...)
    • Student Choice.
      • Allow students to choose their learning path/activity by scaffolding for levels of readiness.  Offering choices to a student with autism can help him/her feel and actually be in control of his/her learning.  Abandon the one size fits all approach.  In order to avoid a student being overwhelmed, limit the number of choices to just a couple and use concrete language for the directions.
    While one strategy may work for one child, the same strategy may not work for another.  I've found, regardless of the child, there are three essential keys to differentiating for students with special needs in your classroom: pacing, patience and persistence.
      • Pacing.  You must keep your fingers on the pulse of student learning needs.  It is up to you to know when to stretch a student and when to slow down.  Students, especially those with autism spectrum disorder, may not always have the words to express his/her learning needs.  You must offer frequent check ins for understanding and adjust activities according to mood and/or ability of the student.
      • Patience.  If you think you are exhausted from your efforts, think again.  My best friend of 30+ years has 3 boys with autism. Yes 3.  The 45 minutes of patience I give in a one class pales in comparison to the love and patience she offers her 3 boys, 24 hours a day.  
      • Persistence.  There will be days when you exhaust your bag of tricks. There will be days in which a student tries to shut down.  On these days, consider giving the student some space.  Simply check in with the student throughout the class by kneeling to his/her level, speak in a soft voice and offer words of encouragement. If the student can break through long enough to interact with you, consider this a win for the day and begin again the next day.  Finally, do not allow defeat to reside in your classroom.  Create a culture of persistence and start anew every day.  

    I dedicate this post to my soul sister, Melanie, who gives her unconditional love, devotion and energy to her 3 autistic sons. If you were to look up strength in the dictionary, her picture would be there...well it should be anyways.  Love you Mel-O-Wheat!

    Tuesday, October 14, 2014

    Jedi Mind Tricks in the Classroom

    Lower the force field 

    Standing over a student can cause anxieties to rise and/or leave a student feeling defensive. Instead sit next to the student or kneel at the same level as the student.  This will help foster a feeling of togetherness.

    Sitting behind the teacher desk separates yourself from students thus creating an invisible barrier between you and the students. Start tracking how often you sit behind your desk versus how often you are up and about and/or seated with students.  The more time spent with students, the lower the force field will be. 

    Feed the senses
    Students will respond to cues in their environment.  For example, every day for SSR (sustained silent reading) I would turn the lights off in my room and turn on only the lamps.  Students would quietly enter the room for reading.  If I forgot to turn off the overhead lights, students would loudly enter the room and choose socializing over reading. Ignite the 5 senses! How does your room look, sound, smell, feel and yes, you offer the occasional snack? From lighting and seating to plug-ins and snacks, the subtle changes in environment can shift the feel of your classroom for students.

    Avoid the dark side
    When a student says, "OMG I hate this activity, I don't even want to do it"...whatever thought you may have and however offended you may not go to the dark side.  Instead offer new light.
    1. I spent a lot of time on a truly awesome activity that integrate technology (taking pictures with cell phones), manipulatives and tweeting final picture products.  Students were having fun! But then it happened...a student uttered the words, "This activity is so stupid!"  I admit my first thought was, "Just do the stinking activity! Can't you see everyone else is having fun?!" I rallied quickly, swallowed my pride, knelt down to the same level as the student and said with sincerity, "I am so sorry this activity is upsetting.  Is there another way you would like to do this?" She let out a sigh of relief and said, "Yes, please. Instead of using these manipulatives can I just write out the sentences and I tweet those?"  I said, "Absolutely!"  If a student can offer another way to demonstrate understanding that does not water down the rigor/relevancy of the content then by all means let them!

    Be one
    We are neither more than the students, nor are we less than the students. We must be one with the students in order to truly have our fingers on the pulse of their learning needs.  We cannot be one with the students if we are not having conversations with the students about their struggle and/or successes.  We cannot be one with the students if we choose to sit behind our teacher desk. We cannot be one with the students if we are unwillingly to listen to them.  We can only be one with students when we choose to feel their struggles and work through their struggles with them.  We can only be one with the students when we choose to celebrate their successes and in turn push them to go beyond what they thought possible. We can only be one with students once remove the barrier of the teacher desk and choose to be with the students. We can only be one with students once we focus less on the idea of an orderly classroom and instead pour our energies into creating a culture of learning in order to grow together.

    Tuesday, October 7, 2014

    Beyond the Retest

    Teacher names come and go.  There are some that make me cringe at the thought of their names, others I have no memory of at all and a select few that landed a special place in my heart.  In 1985, my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Downing, was one of those rare teachers that made such a profound impact on my life that 30 years later I feel inspired by her to write this post.

    It was a social studies test and I failed it miserably.  However, it wasn't the failing of the test that makes me recall this memory, it was what Mrs. Downing did after I failed that made the impact.  You see,  Mrs. Downing was 30 years ahead of her time, she encouraged me to take the test again.  She studied with me after school.  She also sent home a review for my mom to study with me.  In the midst of the retake she recognized that it was not my lack of understanding the content, but self-doubt that sabotaged my learning.  I truly believed that for every obvious answer there was that it was a trick being played on me.  I believed that I could not possibly know the answer so, for every answer that seemed like the right answer, I would then choose a different answer.

    I used this absurd thought process again on my retake.  As I stood on the other side of the her desk, I watched her grade my retake.  I could see that I missed the same answers again.  I remember hanging my head in defeat.  Mrs. Downing turned my test face down and asked me to look at her.  She then gave me words of encouragement.  She told me she believed I knew the correct answers and that she thought I was letting my brain get in the way.

    She told me to stop overthinking and to go with the first answer that came to mind.  Mrs. Downing then asked me the test questions aloud and I answered all but two of them correctly.  She flipped my test over and changed the grade to reflect what we did out loud.

    That oral assessment with Mrs. Downing was more revealing than any paper pencil test.  I think of that moment today as I reassess student understanding.  There is not only great power in releasing the "one and done" mentality for testing, but also in embracing multiple ways to assess understanding.

    You see, like Mrs. Downing, we each have the choice to move beyond the retest. When we look at student data, we sure as heck better be looking at our instructional strategies.  We need to be open to talking with colleagues about what works, abandoning what doesn't work and embracing new ideas.

    If you are a teacher that retests, consider branching out beyond the paper pencil test to embrace conversations and/or try quick whiteboard assessments.  If you are a teacher that does not believe in retests, consider the value in student teacher conversations about the assessments.  Even if you do not retest, you have the ability to connect with a struggling student through the conversations you have together.  Perhaps, through these conversations you will help students break through their fixed mindsets of self-doubt and turn their beliefs into growth mindsets.

    Who knows, maybe you will be someone's Mrs. Downing some day.

    Sunday, September 14, 2014

    The Power of Student Voice & Choice

    Differentiated, Personalized, Individualized...there are a plethora of charts detailing the difference between these three.  Let me let you in on a little it what you like, but simply put, these are just describing words for what your classroom should look and feel like for every student.

    Every class should excite a culture of learning that fosters relationships and growth through student voice and choice. There must be a release of old school ideas regarding classroom management that teaches students should be seen and not heard. Instead, we must embrace a culture of learning that gives students the freedom to grow through inquiry and collaboration.

    Student voice and choice...In reality, one cannot exist without the other. There is a beautiful relationship between the two.  To provide voice allows for choice and to provide choice allows for voice. Our lessons should provide students opportunities to express understanding in ways that are relevant and rigorous.  Relevant, in that students should get to choose elements and/or platforms that are the most meaningful for them.  Rigorous, in that students should be appropriately challenged according to their levels of readiness.

    Student voice and choice

    1. creates infinite ways for students to express knowledge and understanding
    2. empowers students by allowing them to navigate their learning 
    3. creates meaningful learning experiences
    4. values seek and find over sit and get learning
    5. offers a collaborative learning environment for students to grow with one another versus next to one another
    6. offers opportunities to foster communication skills that will benefit them beyond the classroom
    7. establishes a culture that values student input
    8. builds trust from student to teacher and student to student
    9. promotes individuality and customization of learning
    10. allows students to value process over product thus embracing knowledge seeking over point chasing

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Pikto This! Student Voice & Choice Go Digital

    Our building principal challenged us to create 5-5-5 goals.  We started with a 5 day goal, then a 5 week goal and finally a 5 month goal.  This blog post highlights my 5 week goal to create a virtual portfolio for my Spanish I students to display their work.

    While this post outlines a Spanish lesson, I hope to generalize it so that it any content teacher can take these ideas and run with it!

    I first revealed the Learning Targets through "I Can..." statements for the unit (seen here on the right).  I make these visible for all students to see throughout a unit.  I use a symbol or icon to mark the "I Can" statements a particular lesson focuses on.  This lesson hit all 4 "I Can" goals for the unit.

    Anticipatory Set: Students pre-viewed a reading by scanning the text to determine the theme of the reading.  Next, students accessed directions made available to them via Google Drive on our Spanish Flipped4u class blog.  I

    In order to honor that students learn in different time frames, I typically make available all directions to the students so that they can work at their own pace.  This frees me from stand and deliver instruction thus releasing me to support student learning needs as they work in small groups.

    BEFORE YOU READING FURTHER, I want to address a couple of items:
    • This was a several day, in class project, with time also allowed to work at home.
    • There were a lot of details to the directions.
      • This was the perfect opportunity for me to teach students the value of reading directions. (I did this by simply redirecting students to the directions and asking them to restate what they understand and clarify what they need help with.  Doing this usually reveals the student did not fully read the directions.  However, this also encourages students to process information aloud.  Last but not least, this also helps me discover if my directions were worded poorly and need to be revised.)
      • This was also a great time to encourage small group learning and emphasize the value of the "ask 2 and then me" approach to working along side others.
        • Ask 2 students for support before asking the teacher.
      • This digital lesson was a great mash up of global competencies required of 21st century learners.
      • Last but not least, this lesson consistently offered student voice and choice which are key elements to a differentiated classroom.
    Step 1:  Students worked in small groups OR individually in order to examine information (data) from the text to graph using Kids' Zone Learning with NCES.  
    • Student voice and choice is important to student learning. Allowing students to work in small groups allows them to process information together. However, there are individuals that prefer to work alone.  I keep all students in small groups so that even if a student wants to work alone, he/she is still seated with other students for support if needed.
    • Not every student graph looked the same.  Some students chose data based on what was literally said within the text, while other students drew conclusions from the text. (I love pushing them to higher order thinking! I simply walk the room and encourage students to think beyond the text by offering questions which cause them to dig deeper.)
    Step 2:  Once students created the graph, they upload an image of graph to a Piktochart.  Piktochart is an amazing site that offers Infograph templates and fortunately, a good amount of the site is free.  Since money is limited, we went for the free stuff. Piktocharts provides a canvas for users to create interactive poster presentations.
    • This step continues supporting student voice and choice as Piktocharts allowed students to craft the design of their presentation.
    • Student voice was featured in this presentation as students:
      • discovered comparisons between themselves and information from the reading
      • wrote personal messages similar to those from the reading
      • chose graphics, icons and images of themselves related to their presentational writing
    Click HERE to see Live Padlet Wall
    Step 3: Students pinned their Piktocharts to a Padlet wall. Padlet is a free online bulletin board where you can have students pin URLs, Images or upload Attachments.

    Step 4:  Students peer edited other students' Piktocharts offering constructive feedback on required elements and visual presentation. Based on student feedback, each student then evaluated if he/she needed to make any revisions.  
    • Peer to peer feedback and self-evaluation gave students ownership of their projects. 
    Final Step:  Piktocharts has the ability to hyperlink text and upload videos.  For the final step, I created a Piktochart with images, audio and video detailing the final set of directions.  Students had to create and add an audio recording of themselves expanding on their presentation.  Students used Vocaroo for recording their voices.  Vocaroo offers a URL of the recording so that it can be shared with others.  In this instance, the recording was embedded in the Piktochart.

    I always love evaluating my lessons along the way as well as when they come to an end.  Next time I will use a Piktochart to kick start the lesson in order to model what's to be expected of them.  Overall, I am thrilled with how this lesson turned out.  I feel a sense of pride in my students as I scroll through the Padlet wall, view the presentations and listen to authentic Spanish recording they created.

    I think the mash up of these media tools can be easily implemented into any content class.  If you would like access to my detailed lesson plan, please leave me a message in the comment section of this blog or find me on Twitter (@differNtiated4u).

    Friday, June 27, 2014

    The Pulse of Student Learning

    Do you have your fingers on the pulse of student learning needs? 

    Here are six vital signs you should look for:
    1. Weight:  Is the learning load too light, too heavy or spot on? 
      1. Be it too light or too heavy, you (the teacher) are responsible for what and how you serve up the lesson.  If there is too much on the learning buffet, it is up to you to take some off.  If there is too little being offered, most students will seek something other than what you are offering (aka off-task behavior).  
    2. Temperature: Does the cultural climate of your classroom embrace all learners?
      1. Do you make it a priority to establish/maintain student teacher relationships every day?
      2. Do you embrace failure in order to help students learn forward?
      3. Does your class embody unity, responsibility, honesty, respect and grit?
    3. Pulse:  Are you going too fast or too slow for learning?
      1. Are formative assessments embedded throughout the lesson?
      2. Do you use opening and closing activities to prepare for and/or assess understanding?
    4. Pressure:  Does the lesson take into account appropriate levels of rigor/relevance?
      1. Is the unit scaffolded according to the levels of taxonomy or depth of knowledge?
      2. Are learning activities tiered for various levels of readiness?
      3. Can students easily connect the content to the world beyond the classroom?
    5. Respiration:  Are students panting to keep up or perhaps are they breathing deep and heavy from being comatose?
      1. Are there opportunities for students to move forward when ready? Do you always have available to students the next steps in the learning process? Are there anchor activities offered to challenge student thinking?
      2. Are there opportunities for students to slow down when needed?  Do you always have available to students notes from the lesson to reference for support?  Are there manipulatives available for practice? 
    6. Pain: Do you acknowledge levels of comfort by facial expressions and/or outcries of celebration or frustration? 
      1. Are cooperative learning groups the norm rather than the exception?  Often times, it is the moral support offered by other students and/or peer teaching moments that helps students gain understanding and calm frustrations.
      2. Simply ask students how well they understand the content.  Announce something like this:  "Class, using the vitals check sign (which of course you have some version of posted in your room), hands up 1-6 to show me how you are feeling about the lesson right now?" 
    Just as there is no such thing as one prescription fits all patients, there is no such thing as one lesson fits all students.  After every vital signs check, descriptive feedback is key to helping both the teacher and the students learn forward.

    *To read more about descriptive feedback, check out my post below by clicking the title:

    Monday, April 21, 2014

    My Joy for Teaching

    "I teach high school."

    "Oooo, I don't know how you do that or how you have the patience for that!" 

    Anyone who teaches has likely had an interchange similar to this. However, there is usually an addition the person says to me which is, "Your just a little thing. Do the high school kids even listen to you?"

    When conversations like this unfold I usually have two lines of thought:  1) I am so fortunate to have a job that I can honestly say I love and 2) I am happy this person found a job other than the teaching profession.

    Here's my secret to teaching high school and loving my job...are you ready? Listen close...I'm going to whisper...

    I am joy filled and grateful every day to teach our future.

    Why whisper? Why not shout it from the mountain tops? Let me whisper it again in case you did not catch my words the first time:

    I am joy filled and grateful every day to teach our future.

    There are touch points throughout my day that speak to me.  These moments reaffirm my calling to teach.  I can stand in the middle of the room, look around and take in all 34 high school students working to achieve understanding and this fills me with joy.  When a student finally makes a break through after many struggles...this fills me with joy.  When a student challenges me and I choose to see a child in need versus a defiant child...this fills me with joy.  As students enter my room, say hello and ask how my weekend was...this fills me with joy.  As students leave my room, say good-bye and wish me a good day...this fills me with joy.  And I think...I am grateful for each of these moments.

    My whispered echo is heard and felt by students every day.  I do not have to shout it.  I do not have to stand on a chair to be seen or heard.  I simply emanate my truth so that it is felt by each student.  I am neither more of a person than they are nor am I less of one; I am one with them in the process of learning and growing.  

    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    Student Choice Ideas4u

    I created this digital student choice board and aligned it with Bloom's levels of understanding.  This choice board allows students to work from levels 1 to 3 demonstrating understanding of newly acquired concepts. Students are given the latitude to choose one activity from each level of understanding.

    Here are the levels at a glance:
    • Level 1 (Knowledge & Memory):  these sites allow students to explore and define new concepts or vocabulary while providing practice to reinforce memorization
    • Level 2 (Comprehension & Understanding):  these sites encourage students to use their own words/voice to restate and/or model newly learned processes
    • Level 3 (Application):  these sites stretch student thinking by requiring them to make connections between new concepts and prior experiences
    Feel free to try this digital choice board with your students at the front of a unit of study and watch how each student learns by choosing his/her own path.  Of course, should a student think of a way to demonstrate understanding that is not represented on the choice board, then the teacher should honor the student's choice to take a different path.

    Wednesday, April 2, 2014

    Reflection for First Year Teachers

    "What would you tell your first year teacher self? was the question posed by +Barbara Warren Madden @barbarawmadden to kick start the #sunchat topic and oh my was I excited for this chat! What excited me the most was the wealth of ideas that flowed openly, honestly and freely! It was both inspiring and uplifting! In looking back at the #sunchat timeline for this discussion I chose to capture the following as a reminder for our first year teacher selves.

    Reflect, Relationships, Refine & Repeat

    Reflection feeds my growth not only professionally, but personally as well. Reflection is at the core of why I participate in Twitter chats and write blog posts! Chatting and writing not only keep me rooted in why I do what I do (teach), but they both provide opportunities for me to stretch and grow (learn).

    What I loved the most from this chat was the repeated emphasis on the power of reflection.  Here are just a few of the fabulous tweets embracing reflection:
    • Reflect & adjust, reflect & adjust, reflect get the idea. @UKmomo4 
    • Ask this Q (question), did my words & actions today attack or preserve the dignity of child? @DavidGeurin
    • It took me a long time to put aside my pain to see theirs--they developmentally can't grasp how they hurt. @SraSpanglish
    • Such a powerful & important reflection - & PLN can lift us out of our pain/struggles - new lens. @TdiShelton
    • Thankful Twitter + PLN + our struggles let us share meaningful reflections. @ashleyhhurley 
    • We must remember our calling. @the_explicator +Chris Crouch 

    I am confident that each of us left this #sunchat discussion "remembering our calling."  In my darkest hour (year 6 of teaching), I turned within to remind myself why I was an educator and my inner voice replied with a simple answer, "to build relationships and learning will follow." To echo the words of @ReadWriteBlue2, "am I the only weirdo that cries because of the support here?" Well, while you may not cry, the words below will most definitely inspire our first year teacher selves:
    • Management flows thru the the connections you make with students as a whole. @1925MP
    • I am a small person (5ft nothing) teach HS I've learned intimidation, size and yelling have nothing to do with "management". @differNtiated4u
    • I'm 6', some of my students are 6'5" & outweighing me by 100lbs. Rapport & mutual respect outweigh intimidation every time. @hernick_
    • It is about the relationships you have fostered, not about the yelling. @Studentschamp
    • I have found that students will only care about learning if they believe that their teachers care about them. @NicholasFerroni
    • Try to think before you speak. No matter what is going on your words impact a life & should intend kindness. @JenaiaMorane

    It was refreshing to have so many educators admit their failures, but even more impressive was how all of these educators chose to fail forward.  Here are a few things we would say to our first year selves regarding failure:
    • I tried to emulate but had to find my style. @docbobLA
    • Definitely OK to fail. I have learned so much from failure-& I always tell my students: "to err is human. @danamaloney94
    • It is funny how we learn not from our successes but from our failures. @zk0952
    • I remember trying to be "tough" guy the first year.  I failed miserably. It just wasn't my thing. @mc_bossy
    • The 1st year I was so concerned with managing that I failed miserably. Cultivating relationships was winner. @senoraCMT
    • Forgive yourself. Impact of a teacher can never be measured in one lesson/day; students learn who you are & how you care. @danamaloney94

    Teaching and learning is cyclic.  What I love most about #sunchat are the repeat educators that show up weekly.  I am blessed to participate and learn from such a supportive PLN.  Gone are the days of "one and done" or "sit and get" learning.  Now are the days of seek and find in order to meet the needs of students.  When repeating the process we must remind ourselves to find humor along the way and to carefully surround ourselves by those that will lift us up.  I love the following words by Bethany Hill and Patti Jones:
    • Don't take yourself too serious! Laugh with your kids! Laugh at your mistakes! Tell them stories & be personal. @bethhill2829
    • Stay away from negative staff they are toxic, find someone who likes their job as they are infectious @shspjones
    These are constant reminders to keep in the forefront of every educator's mind, be it a first year or veteran teacher! @i2Learn shared this amazing poster from @venspired +Venspired Learning reminding all of us how we should embrace teaching and learning.

    *For those that do not know, #sunchat is a Twitter chat that occurs every Sunday at 8am CST.  Topics are posed "Edcamp style" (Click HERE for what that means). The moderators are @barbarawmadden, @mssackstein@JayhawkTN, @JamieArmin and sometimes me:-)

    Sunday, March 2, 2014

    #FF Fan the Flame for Learning

    Every Sunday I kick start my week with #sunchat (8am CST) and every Friday I wrap up the week with #FF (Follow Friday). I love Friday morning, because my awesome PLN gives uplifting shout outs to one another via #FF.

    In my educational PLN, #FF is more than the advertising of followers, it is a time to fan the flames of those who lead as well as those seeking to learn. We share with and follow one another in order for all of us to better meet the needs of our students.

    William B. Yeats said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire."

    This begs me to ask the question...whose job is it to light the fire? The teacher or the student? The educational leader or the educator? I can't help but think that in our fast paced changing world it is vital each individual learns how to light his or her own flame.

    From striking flint and steel to rubbing sticks together, to match lighting dry kindling versus kindling soaked in gasoline, not all learners require the same tools to start their own fires. Educators must carefully provide each student the necessary fire starting materials dependent upon his or her own level of readiness.  We must then allow students time to work with the materials in order for them to make a spark and more time for that spark to become a flame.

    Imagine a class of 30 students with each student lighting his/her own flame. Now imagine fanning those flames and watch as 30 individual fires flare out to catch fire with one another!

    Don't let #FF simply be about following others! Instead let it be about fanning our flames in order to connect our fires for one large bonfire to be seen by all! 21st Century learning no longer allows us to sit fireside staring into the flames, but requires us to be the fire in order to light way.

    Thursday, February 13, 2014

    How to Fly with Twitter Basics

    This PD Session focuses on the Basics of Twitter and TweetDeck.  The key word here is BASIC. While there are many fabulous features to share, I have no desire to overwhelm those new to Twitter. So, dive in, try some things out and be sure to use the hashtag #tweet4lps for this session.

    You will need a Twitter account before proceeding with this post.  If you have not made an account, please click HERE for a brief tutorial.  Then come back to this post to spread your wings and fly with Twitter.

    Here are a few reasons as to why educators need Twitter:
    • Your Twitter PLN (Professional Learning Network) will continually push you to think outside the box and try new things in order to positively impact student learning.
    • In a recent article by University of Phoenix (2014) almost 60% of secondary educators polled believe students educational experiences can be enhanced with the use of social media in the classroom, yet less than 20% of teachers actually use it.
    • Need more? Here are 50 Ways to Use Twitter in the Classroom via Teach Hub
    With that being said, it is time for you to spread your wings and fly with Twitter so that you can grow as an educator and increase student engagement in the classroom.  

    Let's get you started with some of the basics below...

    Where are my settings?

    Who to follow?

    When I joined Twitter I really had no clue as to who to follow or what I was doing. Following is really something you learn by trial and error.  Here are some general things I look for when choosing to follow someone:

    • Do their bios or tweets reveal they are in education or support education?
    • Do they have a following of educators?
    • Does it look like spam? (are there zero tweets, do they have very few followers, does it just feel suspicious?....then don't follow)

    Here is a peek at some of my favorite Twitter educators.  They are supportive, collaborative and fill my bucket weekly with inspiring ideas for the classroom! Be certain to click HERE for updates. For now just click on a name below to see bios and to follow!

    What about those hashtags?

    First you need to know about the hashtag.  The hashtag is essentially the topic of discussion.  These fabulous guys compiled an "Official List of Twitter Chats" @thomascmurray, @cevans5095 and @cybraryman1 click HERE for the list (PLUS add them to your Following List). Here is the same list but I highlighted the chats I participate and/or lurk the caption below the picture:

    Click Here for Highlighted Chats
    How do I participate or lurk in a chat?

    Once you find a chat you are interested in, need to know that there are typically two styles of chats:
    1. "EdCamp" style:  This means a moderator (person leading the chat) will pose 1 question/statement for everyone to weigh in on.
      1. I recommend #sunchat (moderated by @barbarawmadden, @JayhawkTN, @mssackstein, @JamieArmin and me...@differNtiated4u every Sunday morning at 8CST) 
    2. "Q & A" style:  This means a moderator(s) will pose a series of questions throughout the chat.  
      1. The question will appear in the tweet starting with "Q1, Q2, Q3" and so below.
        1. "Q1: What is the purpose of formative assessments? #sblchat"
      2. Those in the chat will tweet a response starting with "A1, A2, A3" and so on
        1. "A1: to keep ur fingers on the pulse of all learners needs #sblchat"

    Now, it is up to you if you want to participate or lurk.  Lurking is a great way to begin! Simply follow the chat and "favorite" tweets you like along the way.  Your Twitter account will always save your "Favorites" so that you can reference them at any time in order to respond or re-tweet (RT).

    Once you feel you have a hang of a chat, jump right in! You will find that your PLN is VERY SUPPORTIVE.  You may wonder....why are they so supportive of a stranger? Because, like you, they are in the chat to share, learn and grow! Simply let the chat know it's your first time and they will help you out!  To prove how supportive a PLN can be here's what happened the second Marty (@martysnowpaw) saw this session....he immediately tweeted that the #NT2t chat, on Saturday mornings at 8 SCT, "will hold your hands & build your PLN." Be sure to check out this friendly group of educators!

    How to Organize & Custom Create Timelines

    An awesome tool to organize chat timelines or custom make your own timeline is TweetDeck. So, why in the world would you want to do this? Twitter chats are fast flying conversations. TweetDeck offers a way to capture what you want to see and allows you to scroll back through the chat.  Here is a look at my TweetDeck:

    Simple Tips for Organizing Timelines:
    • Have the chat column AND your "notifications" column next to one another.  This allows you to quickly see when someone in the chat is responding to you.
    • Create CUSTOM TIMELINES for your students.  Click HERE for a blog post featuring this tool as well as TAGBOARD (your one stop shop for capturing hashtags across multiple social media sites).
    Thank you for stopping by for the PD Session!  It is my hope you found the basics you were looking for in order to fly with Twitter!  For more information, feel free to tweet me, DM (direct message) me or leave a comment on this post.  I will do my best to answer any questions you may have...should I find I don't know the answer, no worries, I will simply ask our Twitter PLN for support!

    I have been on Twitter for less than one year...check out my 2013 PLN journey by clicking HERE.

    University of Phoenix (2014). K-12 Teachers Uncertain about How to Connect with Students via Social Media, Reveals University of Phoenix Survey. Retrieved from