Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tech Time

Yesterday, while at the Curriculum & Instruction Summit on initiative integration, I sat in on one breakout session on one teacher’s integration of technology in the classroom. This particular teacher had found ways to incorporate technology with only four student computers, a Smartboard and thirty minutes of media time every other week. I wanted to share with you some of the free resources she spoke about.

Think of it as the Facebook for educators and students. Edmodo is a multi-faceted website that offers teachers access in different ways. One way teachers can use Edmodo is to communicate with each other; think of it as a professional learning community. In one school district I used to work in we would subscribe to different school and district leader’s pages. Here they would post links to articles, helpful information, and other school related materials on their site. In addition I was able to subscribe to other educator groups and discussion rooms created based on content area or grade level learning. This is just the beginning of what Edmodo has to offer. Teachers can also set up classroom groups. Each student receives an account. Teachers can post lessons, assignments, create smaller groups around a topic and communicate with their students using this interface. Students have the ability to message the teacher, and the teacher can decide whether or not to allow students to message each other. Students do not need their own email address in order to sign up, the teacher can create independent accounts for his/her. A new feature recently added to Edmodo is the Snapshot for teachers and schools to use. This feature allows teachers to create pre/post/interim assessments aligned to a common core standard and generate a “quiz” testing students on their knowledge of the standard. Data is generated into reports, and then sent to the teacher who has the ability to send out supplemental lessons to support reteaching of the standards to those students who need more support.

LearnZillion is a free resource offering teacher’s lessons, PD and other classroom materials aligned to the common core standards. This site developed out of the idea for educational professionals to share Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), with each other throughout the country. LearnZillion is directly linked to Edmodo and educators can access their lessons and materials through the Edmodo account.

Sick and tired of bookmarking hundreds of pages, only to discover you cannot find what you are looking for? Are there websites that you would like your students to have access to, regardless of what computer they logged into? Symbaloo is the answer you are looking for. It allows you to create an account where you can store all of your favorite sites as tiles (if you love visual cues this is the one for you!) you can access from any computer. Just sign into this account and a screen will come up with your saved sites. You can create an access login for your class and link trusted websites for students to access at home as well as in school.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celebrate Family Literacy Month this November!

Governor Patrick has issued a Proclamation declaring November 2014 as Massachusetts Family Literacy Month.  This marks the 18th year that our state is acknowledging and celebrating the important role that families play in their children’s literacy development.  Across the state, many schools, libraries, adult learning centers, parent support programs, social service agencies, and local businesses provide organized activities for families during Family Literacy Month. Many of these events involve hands-on literacy activities for parents and children that demonstrate how parents can engage with their children at home. Storytelling, family math nights, readings by authors and community leaders, interactive sing-a-longs, and creating books and bookmarks are examples of family learning activities. Please share this information with your staff and community partners and take advantage of the following resources to celebrate Family Literacy Month.

On the ESE website there is a link to different resources for districts and schools to use to promote Family Literacy. Click on the hyperlink below to take you to these resources.

Finally, Commissioner Chester, of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, has issued a message encouraging school districts, libraries, adult learning centers, parent support programs, social service agencies, and local businesses to collaborate and provide activities for families during this month. 

Please visit http://www.doe.mass.edu/familylit/month/announcement.html for ESE Commissioner Chester’s announcement, Governor Patrick’s 2014 Proclamation and resources.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rigor, Rigor, Rigor

Recently, I have participated in many conversations and sat in professional development meetings focused on the question “how can we raise the rigor of our instruction in the classroom?” I thought this week I would explore the idea of “rigor” and provide a few different resources on this popular buzzword.

What is rigor? This is a consistent question asked throughout schools, districts and within personal conversations. I have heard different definitions of this word, but one definition that captures rigor in relation to the classroom is, “the level of engagement, skills and knowledge needed to successfully meet challenging expectations.”  Professor John Hattie (University of Melbourne) further describes what rigor in a school looks like as “rarely silent and deadening, and it (is) often intense, buzzing and risky.”

I think I cannot talk about rigor without talking about Carol Dweck’s work, centered on promoting a growth mindset. In the article, Even Geniuses Work Hard, Dweck talks about ways educators we can foster a growth mindset in their students, pushing them to believe that they have the capacity and brainpower to stretch themselves educationally. Angela Lee Duckworth, during her Ted Talk discussed the importance of instilling this growth mindset, ultimately pushing students to become “gritty” in their learning. Grit and growth mindset go hand in hand and when fostered in a classroom can promote the rigor which so many professionals are seeking.

What resources out there exist to help us think about ways to increase the rigor in the classroom? A resource from the EngageNY website is a fantastic place to start. Uncommon Schools compiled a list of data driven classroom practices focused on providing teachers with direction and ideas on how to “up the ante” of their students. For example, this resource offers reflection on tightening objectives and questioning in order to increase engagement. Additionally, it offers ideas and suggestions on peer-to-peer support strategies, wait time and even how to move homework away from being “busy work” and towards useful learning opportunities and resources.

A second resource to look at would be the protocols on the National School Reform Faculty (NSRF) website. These protocols include educational activities such as gallery walks, inquiry circles, and jigsaw to name a few. These protocols promote student conversation and engagement putting the students in the role of active participant. They can be implemented throughout lessons and units to boost participation within the group. Additionally, this website offers protocols for professional learning for adults within schools such as examining student work, ghost visits and student observations. Educators can access these in order to increase their knowledge and raise the level of expectations they have within the classroom.