Sunday, May 31, 2015

Conclusion to Inspired Writing 2014-15

The opportunity to work with the innovative and like-minded teachers on our Inspired Writing cohort this year has truly been a privilege.  I feel overwhelmingly grateful to teach in a district that values cohorts like this and gives us the support to push our teaching to a new level.  This year's work with Inspired Writing has challenged me to think of my students and teaching methods in new ways.  I tell my students to take risks every day and this cohort gave me the opportunity to do the same.

My classroom dynamic has changed with the implementation of CoverItLive, Kaizena, Movenote, Blogger, ExplainEverything, and many more.  I've revamped my approach to assessment and feedback and as a result have been more inspired in my teaching this year than ever before!  I know that this excitement and enthusiasm is contagious because my students have jumped on board to try every new idea I've had and we grew as a team.  The collaboration that we practiced as a cohort during our IW meetings transferred to the collaboration that I expected my students to practice in the classroom.

I'm so thankful for the opportunity that LPS offered through Inspired Writing and the networking with other teachers in the district that it provided.  Thank you to all of the teachers who have shared their resources this year and challenged me to think in new ways, and thank you Dana for leading us in the direction of growth!

Teamwork Idea for Peer Editing

I loved this blog post from Two Writing Teachers on "Guess Your Feedback"  Their suggested activity is to give strips of paper with teacher written feedback/comments to a group of students.  The team's task is to figure out which feedback comment matches which of their pieces and how they could fix what needed to be revised.

Giving freedom while also providing structure during peer editing is always a challenge.  My students thrive on the opportunity to look at each other's work and to put in their two cents on how it should look.  As wonderful as this collaboration can be, it can also spiral quickly into social time and irrelevant revisions.

I've had success with my students using SnagIt to record their peer editing meetings.  This holds them accountable when they know that their discussion is being recorded and it also gives them something to reference back to.  I love the idea of pairing this with Two Writing Teachers idea of giving teacher-created feedback on strips of paper for them to match to their piece.  I predict meaningful conversation if this activity was extended to also include, "find this same/similar area for improvement in your partner's piece" after they've made corrections in their own.  Providing students with this activity to guide their peer editing not only gives them structure to their meeting, but also models different areas of improvement to hunt for in their writing.  I can't wait to try it!

Thoughts On Classroom iPads (2:1)

Thanks to a grant written by a fabulously talented former 5th grade teacher, my 5th team has 16 iPads and the ability to use them on a 2:1 ratio.  My opinion on best practice with iPads has changed drastically after attending many trainings and conferences on iPads, as well as talking with other teachers.

I originally viewed these devices as just a new platform for students to work on in an engaging way... i.e. trick them into doing the same work but on a distracting new device.  I searched for apps that were relevant to what we were studying or for data collection.  I found that the students enjoyed the novelty of a new device, but weren't really doing anything that they couldn't do on their ChromeBooks.

Reading Lisa Gurney's article "The Smart Way to Use iPads in the Classroom" helped solidify my thinking on how I plan to introduce and use the iPads in my classroom next year.  Gurney references observing the use of iPads in a Swiss classroom. "Teachers I talked to seemed uninterested, almost dismissive, of animations and gamelike apps. Instead, the tablets were intended to be used as video cameras, audio recorders, and multimedia notebooks of individual students’ creations. The teachers cared most about how the devices could capture moments that told stories about their students’ experiences in school. Instead of focusing on what was coming out of the iPad, they were focused on what was going into it."  Reading this observation confirmed my trial-and-error gut instinct that I needed to inspire my students to use the iPads to document their understanding in unique ways.

The app "Explain Everything" has changed my classroom.  Not only are students able to articulate their understanding of content across all subjects and submit the video file of this evidence to me over Google Drive, but they are constantly asking me if we can record more instructional videos.  They're using the iPads in ways that have helped them to view themselves as teachers that are capable of sharing their thinking.  This is HUGELY important to me for 2 reasons 1: I'm getting meaningful feedback on my student's understanding of a topic (in their own words)  2: My students see the meaning in the activity  and want to use it to help others.

My brain is churning with innovative ways to inspire my students to capture and document their learning and thinking using the iPads next year!

"You Matter" (What Students Need)

I love my job and I am so thankful for what I get to do every day.  Planning the curriculum is intellectually stimulating, collaborating with teammates is reinvigorating, and trying innovative new ways to teach my students in inspiring.  Despite all of these amazing elements of my job, what keeps me pushing through exhausted mornings has nothing to do with anything I could document in lesson plans.  The relationship that I have with my students fuels everything I do in my classroom.  The number one most important aspect of my job is showing my students that I believe in them and that I see them.  It is so important to me that my students know that I see their unique strengths and talents, even if they are too quiet to show that side to their classmates.  I'm driven to show up in my classroom every morning because I know that my students trust me to see them for who they are.

Watching this video of Angela Maiers at a conference in Iowa hit me on a personal and professional level.  Half a million children surveyed in this study said that all they want is to know that they matter.  Don't we all?  I've been reflecting once again on the students in my class and what they ask for directly or silently.  In this presentation, a panel of students vocalized their requests from their teachers.  They said:

-smile at me
-notice me
-love me
-believe in me
-imagine with me
-trust me
-hear me
-inspire me
-help me ("let me ask questions, let me try hard things, show me how, don't tell me how")
-empower me
-honor me

My purpose as a teacher is so much more than to deliver curriculum.  Angela Maiers said it perfectly when she said, "'You matter' is not a statement to make someone feel good.  Mattering is a necessity, it is not a nicety... we were created for significance."  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Meaningful Interactions

The article "The Balance of Screen Time" by Beth Holland pitches the importance of finding the balance between screen time and human interaction to ensure that kids are having meaningful interactions in the classroom.  The third question on her "checklist" for ensuring that technology is purposeful resonated the most with me.  She asks 1) Is it appropriate? 2) Is it meaningful? 3) Is it empowering?

Our #1 goal as teachers is to empower our students... to be independent, to take risks, to critically analyze information in front of them, and to use the tools we've taught them to do all of the above.  In my classroom, the question of empowerment is my guiding purpose.  I don't ever want my students on their "screens" for the sake of a 21st century tool just being used, but rather using it with the end goal of being empowered to guide their learning in a new direction.

Shawn McCusker's comment of "Today, if I were to lose the devices (iPads) that that my students have, I would mourn the loss not of the technology but of the voices that my students have gained through having them." made me think of Penny's perspective on Cover It Live letting all students' voices be heard.  In 5th grade, students want to be heard and valued, and technology is an avenue for them to voice their opinions or knowledge!

August 8th and 9th

Our first two meetings of the cohort were filled with new ideas and excitement to try them all!! The opportunity to hear what others are doing in their classrooms and to try the links presented and available created an excitement for the upcoming school year.  The most impactful idea I heard during our first two days was the idea to use Jing with student conferences.  I have 32 students in my class this year and am already overwhelmed by the task of conferencing with each individual student about their writing.  I love the idea of using Jing to record my comments on their Google Docs writing from home and emailing them the video during class.  I think this will be especially great for my high writers who are often left without constructive criticism on their already strong work... it will give me the time from home to think of creative challenges for them to try in their writing.  I can't wait to use Jing for conferences!

It was also incredibly helpful to have a refresher on Blogger and to see how that can be used with and by students.  It inspired me to have my students each create a blog to keep track of books read this year in our "40 Book Challenge."

Friday, August 8, 2014


Welcome to my Inspired Writing hub for reflections, progress, and collaboration.  I will be using this blog to reflect on the use of technology in my classroom and how it is impacting my writing instruction.   No teacher should ever recreate the wheel, so I will be sharing any resources I create to 'pay it forward' to those I've borrowed from in the past!