Saturday, May 30, 2015

Review of 50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom

If you are using Google Classroom you need this book. Alice Keeler and Libbi Miller have done a fantastic job creating a user friendly text that will help teachers make the most out of their Google Classroom access.

50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom

Leveraging their long experience with Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Alice and Libbi not only explain the functionality of Classroom, but also the teacher moves that will allow you to give feedback sooner, monitor group collaborations, collaborate with colleagues, have virtual office hours, and much more. This book is not just "what Classroom does," but, "here are some ways you can take advantage of these possibilities."

The book is neither grade level or subject specific. The authors focus on the logistics of running any digital classroom and how Classroom can help with that. Each tip includes a screenshot from Classroom and an explanation of how to make it work. Teachers can best take advantage of the book by reading it with their computer on and Classroom open. That way you can immediately verify that you can make it work for yourself.

Instead of attending an hours long training on how Classroom works, (and then forgetting most of it) you can dip into this book whenever you are ready to try something new.

And now for the shameless plug. For more about the logistics of running a digital classroom you should see Chapter 2 of my new book with Diana Neebe. Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning is full of pedagogy and classroom practices for 1:1 classrooms. It will be available at the end of June, but you can reserve your copy now.

Oh, and full disclosure, Alice is a friend and she sent me a copy of the book for this review, but I know I will be buying more copies for my colleagues as GAFE rolls out in my district.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I have withdrawn my support

It would be fair to say my 9th grade English students have experienced a plethora of scaffolds this year. I teach a detracked class and my students have a wide range of reading and writing levels. Meeting all of their needs means I wrangle daily with a variety of types of differentiation (content, process and product) and a host of scaffolds. But no more. It is May and they need to fly solo for a bit at the end of the year.

The transition to high school and high school writing expectations is not easy, and my fabulous grade level PLC team meets regularly to plan curriculum and instruction, with a focus on creating differentiated materials for our range of learners. Through out the year, my students have seen: paragraph frames for summary writing, sentence frames for introducing evidence, sentence frames for explaining evidence, modeled writing lessons, shared writing lessons, group evidence collection and analysis, rubrics, scoring guides, graphic organizers, outlines, peer discussion before writing, peer feedback, electronic feedback (hemingwayapp.com and paperrater.com) teacher feedback, revision oppourtunities and probably more. You name it, we have used it to support student understanding and writing development.

All that is probably why, at the end of the year, I am fielding questions like, "How many sentences should we have in our third paragraph?" Yikes, what have we created, dependent young writers expecting a step by step guide book for writing an essay from a basic prompt? Well they aren't getting one. I'm cutting the cord, pulling out the rug, and letting them sink or swim. No outline, no suggestions for the number of paragraphs they need. Just the prompt, and okay a rubric, but they have to go look at it themselves. I'm not explaining it. And sure, I gave them a writing group day to read their work outloud and get peer feedback, but that's it. After that, the work they turn in is all their own. It's the end of 9th grade. They should be able to write a multi-paragraph process piece over several days without me holding their hand at this point.

If this sounds harsh think of it as tough love. Scaffolds are meant to be temporary. You have to take them away at some point and be sure students can manage the skills you have been supporting for them. If they can't do it on their own then all I have taught them is how to lean on me, and I'm not coming to 10th grade with them. (At least I hope I'm not.) And, you know what. They can do it. Their writing is as good or better than anything they have done all year. Unleashed from the constraints of the scaffold, (let's face it scaffolds constrain as much as they support,) my students have found more of their own voice, made more of their own writing decisions and produced much more interesting prose.

Now, the question is, was I holding them back for half the year, or was the support and instruction up until this point necessary for them to be writing well now? Probably a bit of both, with as much variation as there are students in my classes. It only reminds me that scaffolds and differentiation need to be tailored to the student, withdrawn often, and only given when there is a clear need, especially in the second semester. I could go on and wax poetic about how great it is to be able to deliver targeted scaffolds digitally to my 1:1 class, but that would be stepping into territory covered better in Chapter 6 of Power Up. For now I'm just going to be satisfied that at the end of the year my students are better writers than they were in September.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Annenberg Learner: Videos for Content Area Literacy



I am excited this week to be exploring the resources now available from Annenberg Learner and specific to disciplinary literacy. These are videos of students working on developing their literacy skills in a range of core subject areas.

I'm looking forward to being able to use these videos as starting points for conversations with my colleagues and administrators about what literacy looks like in all subject areas, not just English.

I also appreciate that the collection is searchable by discipline and topics like close reading, differentiation, gradual release of responsibility etc. It makes it easy for me to narrow down my search and preview the videos I might want to use.

Full disclosure, the reason I know about this project is because my classroom is one of the many that were filmed for the collection. It's not possible to search by teacher, so if you really want to see me or my classroom you'll need to look here and here, but you may also spot me in some of the expert commentary videos. My classroom shows up as an example sometimes while leading educational researchers talk about current trends in literacy instruction.

If you are a literacy coach, a resource teacher, an administrator, or anyone else responsible for helping teachers implement Common Core or develop student literacy then you will appreciate the resources from Annenberg Learner as much as I do.

By popular demand, direct links to videos from my classroom.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Stop Pretending: Five things to #makeschooldifferent

Hmm, write a blog post about five things we need to stop pretending for #makeschooldifferent, or dump a bucket of ice water over my head. That's not really the choice, but I almost wish it was. Enduring freezing water might be better than the terror of telling you all what I really think.

Okay, here is my list, and I'm resisting the urge to explain all of these in detail, but you should know that in my head I have a rant for each of them. Has anyone seen my soapbox?
  1. Stop pretending that every student is going to college, that college is the best possible outcome for all of them and that anything less than a four year degree program is some kind of failure. Start building programs that prepare students for a range of career options. 
  2. Stop pretending that all teachers are excellent, dedicated, knowledgeable, compassionate individuals, who love children. (The majority are, but not all.) Start acknowledging that some educators made the wrong career choice and help them make a better one. 
  3. Stop pretending students are going to remember the minutia they memorized this week for a test, and start building skills and concept knowledge they will apply regularly. 
  4. Stop pretending we can help teachers prepare students for the future with a few days of PD. Start investing in instructional technology coaches, collaborative curriculum design, and responsive IT support. 
  5. Stop pretending teaching is a job you can do well in 40 hours a week. Start investing more in education, hire more teachers, reduce class loads, allow more time for collaboration, instructional design, professional growth, and reflection. 
Like all good challenges going around the internet these days, this one comes with a requirement that I name five people who also have to endure the agony. This challenge came to me from Nancy Minicozzi. (See her post here.) She named Karl Lindgren-Streicher, David Theriault, Alice Chen, Moss Pike, and me. Now I've only seen a post from Alice so far, and I'm really interested in what Karl, David and Moss will have to say, but it would be too easy to just tag them again. So I will poke new people, Jo-Ann Fox, Alice Keeler, Jeff Heil, JR Ginex-Orinion, and Diana Neebe