Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

Technology in the Classroom: Embrace the Bumpy Ride!

This article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

I frequently get emails from primary teachers asking for help as they begin to add technology in their classroom. These teachers have a lot of questions. They want to use technology, but there always seem to be problems or glitches of some kind along the way.

Their emails go something like this: “How do you use technology so easily in your classroom? It seems to run so well for you. What is your secret? How does that happen? There are always problems when I use technology and then I want to give up.”

These are all great questions. I too have experienced many bumps in my travels with technology. Just when the journey seems to be becoming smoother, another roadblock comes along that needs to be negotiated. Experience has taught me a few things about the mindset that helps us navigate this bumpy road.

 

Don’t just “integrate” technology

The first bump in the technology road involves a new way of thinking. Don’t view technology as just one more thing to add to your day. And if “integrate” means (as it often does) adding one more thing to your already heavy load, then we probably need a better word. Technology should help us to teach better and in more meaningful ways. It should be used to connect us. It should give us choice and allow us to share. It should not be something that you do in addition to everything else you already do in your classroom. If technology is something that you try to add after you have planned your reading, writing and math, you are destined to fail at “integrating” technology.

Using technology does not mean keeping your students entertained with digital worksheets, or practicing skills with animation, or using computer time instead of a red checkmark as a reward. Instead, use technology when it allows you to do something in a better way than you have done before or to do something that was formerly impossible to do.

 

Technology supports new ways of learning

Thanks to advances in technology, we now have powerful tools to help students understand and learn in unique ways.

Kathy01You can select a tool or app that will give your students an online audience for their learning and connect them with other classrooms and experts around the world. That tool may be as different as a classroom blog or Twitter or Skype. Other tools make it easy for your students to create artifacts that show not just their learning, but their thinking processes and their self reflections. These are all examples of doing things with technology that could not be done before.

Use technology to make learning new and different in your classroom. Set your sights high and aim for activities that transform! Then, when you hit a bump, you will be more motivated to keep trying. Transformation is never smooth.

 

Expect problems

My days with technology do NOT all run smoothly. Sometimes there are many stops and starts. This is especially true at the beginning of the school year as my six year olds become familiar with the tools and apps we will use to learn and share what we know. Bandwidth can be an issue in my school, and access has often been as well. Sometimes a tool that I rely on will not work for some reason or other.

I think that everyone experiences these issues and they can be very frustrating. On the other hand, things don’t always run smoothly when I am teaching without technology either.

Kathy03When my students use pencils, they frequently break and need to be sharpened. Some of the children chew on the ends of the shared pencils we use. Erasers get thrown, children get poked. My students hold their pencils in a wide variety of ways, many of which need to be patiently corrected. But we don’t stop using pencils and erasers. I continue modeling the correct usage of those tools and helping students practice until they can use them well.

I don’t let the rough spots deter me because I know the importance of students learning how to use these and other traditional tools to assist and demonstrate their learning. The same holds true when we use a form of technology. Children already know how to use technology for entertainment. They need to learn how technology can help them to learn.

What is the solution? For anything that will become a learning routine in my early years classroom, whether it involves technology or not, I model, model, model it and then we practice it together until the students can do it independently. Even once that independence has been established, I still have to monitor how and what the children are doing to ensure the best learning outcomes.

Flexibility and a backup plan are important ingredients in any classroom, but particularly in a space that includes the use of technology. If the Internet goes down in the middle of our day, I have to be prepared to teach another way, just as if I had planned a trip to the school library and it was suddenly unavailable.

 

Start with just one thing

My suggestion for people who are hesitant to use technology in significant ways is to start with one thing. Think of one way technology could enhance or deepen the learning in your classroom and then just try it. If you fumble and falter for a bit, keep trying. Like the six year old learning to hold a pencil properly, you will gain mastery over time.

It’s easy to become overwhelmed if you try too many different tools at once. Most of us who have been teaching with technology for awhile have taken on too much too fast somewhere along our journey.  Focus on just that one technology-enhanced activity until you feel very comfortable with it. Then, when that feels good, try adding something else.

Kathy02bMaybe you would like to share what is happening in your classroom with your students’ parents and others who are part of your classroom community. Why not try aclassroom blog, a classroom Twitter accountor a Facebook page to showcase the activities and learning that are taking place? (You don’t have to do all three at once!)

Perhaps you would like your students to be able to publish their writing or their reading fluency or their math skills for a global audience. If this is the case, then why not trystudent blogs, a wiki or some other online program? Invite others in to view and give feedback to your learners.

Maybe you would like to use Skype to connect your classroom with another classroom far away to compare perspectives. Check out the resources that are available to help you do this. Plan a small event, perhaps with another teacher who is also just beginning to use Skype. Learn together. Building a network of online support is a great way to bolster your confidence.

 

It’s not technology – it’s the stuff of teaching

What do you consider to be technology? A pencil? An overhead projector? A computer? An iPod device? At some point, each of these items was considered to be the very latest technology for the classroom.

Many people think of technology as anything that came into popular use after they reached adulthood. To my six-year-old students, and in fact to all students in school today, computers, tablets, smart phones, interactive boards, etc. are not technology. They just are. It’s their teachers and parents who consider these items to be something new or unusual.

Students are comfortable using these devices to communicate and to find information. To them, tools and apps are just another part of the world they inhabit. These tools have the power to become the stuff of teaching and learning if we will let them. Don’t think of them as technology. They are just part of the fabric of life around us. Students need to be shown how to use them to learn.

Is using technology bumpy? You bet. But we need to begin thinking the way our children do. We use technology not just because it istechnology, but because of what it can do. It engages us and helps us to learn. So bring on the bumps!

Making Math Thinking Visible with iPads

I’m not a big fan of using technology as a digital way to do what can be done on paper. We use iPads in my classroom.  I’ve seen lots of online examples of students using iPads to make a “good copy” of their writing or to practice number facts, but to me that is like buying a Ferrari to only drive six blocks to church each Sunday.  It works, but what a waste! The power of technology is the power to create.

My students create many different artifacts, but the most meaningful are those in which my students show their learning and their thinking in ways that are far beyond what a worksheet could do.  When they make a video or screencast of what they have learned, I can hear and see their thinking. I can also hear confidence or hesitation, self-corrections or errors in perception. Consider these math examples produced by my students.

 

Sharing Learning

I love it when I can watch a video or a screencast that a student has created and know that the student has grasped the concept that we have been working on. For example, when I saw this, I knew that the creator was beginning to count by twos.

 

And this student knew how to count using groups of tens and counting on with ones.

 

Sharing Thinking

But what really gets me excited is when something that a student creates shows me not only that the student can DO a process, but that he or she UNDERSTANDS the concept as well. A worksheet might show me that this student understood the concept of capacity, but this video shows me that he not only knows which container holds more, but that he can also explain how he knows that. His learning could transfer to another situation.

 

This student understands the concept of heaviest/lightest and understands how a balance scale shows you this.

When my young students’ math learning and thinking is visible, I can better understand their thought process, and am better able to help them to learn. Isn’t that my goal as a teacher?

[Note: All of the screencasts in this post were created using the Draw and Tell app by Duck, Duck Moose.]

Connected Measurement

If you have read my book or have been a reader of this blog, you know that I am committed to the idea of connecting my classroom. I have seen so much deep learning, both expected and unexpected, come from connected learning that I now think of connecting as an option as I consider teaching methods for most classroom topics.

We’ve done a lot of connected work with numeration in mathematics this year, but measurement and geometry are part of my curriculum as well.

Karen Lirenman, who teaches in Surrey, British Columbia and I were teaching measurement to our students at the same time this year, so we decided to find ways that our classes could help each other to learn these concepts.  Fortunately, both Karen and my curriculum focus on the comparative aspects of measurement and the ability to use the language of math in this area rather than on exact centimeters, grams or milliliters.

Instead of having my student just use this language with the others in our own classroom (although there was plenty of that as well), we played games to compare and talk about the concepts with Karen’s class.

Comparing Length

First, we compared length. Each class had chosen a number of items that embodied the idea of length– either long or short.  During our call, one student from each class chose an object from this collection and held it up to the camera for the two classes to compare. I had two cards: one had “shorter” written on it and the other said “longer”. Each time we played a round, I shuffled the two cards and randomly chose one to hold up. Then, the students in both classes had to decide which of the two items met the criteria on the card. We kept track of which class had the “winning” item. A couple of times rulers had to come out in both classrooms, but usually we were easily able to tell. Fortunately for both teachers, we ended in a tie and all of the students felt contented and successful—and had practiced the very skill we wanted to teach.

(If I were to do this game again, I would skip the competitive aspect, which did not have any real purpose. Before I had this epiphany, we did play this game on Skype with an American class and my class “lost” very badly. I had to cope with a very grumpy group of competitive boys—an experience I have no desire to repeat.)

Comparing Weight

We also compared the weights of two objects. We both set up a balance scale in front of our computer’s camera and then students took turns holding up two items.  All of the students in both classes would predict which item they thought would be heavier.  One of the teachers would say, “Hands on your head if you think the crayon is heavier, hands on your lap if you think the marker is heavier, one hand on your head and one on your lap if you’re not sure.” (This meant that everyone could participate—no excuses!)  Then, with the predictions in, a child would put one item in the bucket at each end of the balance scale to see which item was truly the heaviest. This was more popular than the longer/shorter game because everyone could cheer.

Comparing Capacity

Our last measurement Skype call was about comparing capacity. We played this game in the same way as the heavier/lighter activity, but this time, a student held up two containers and everyone had to predict which one would hold more beads. Once the predictions had been made (again, with hands on head, hands in lap or one of both) one of the containers was filled with beads and then those beads were poured into the other container.  If the second container overflowed, the students told us that the first container held more and could explain how they knew that. If there was still space in the second container when all the bead had been poured in, the students could explain how they knew which one held more as well.

All of three of these games could have been (and were) played with only the students in each classroom, but practicing these skills with another class made the exercise more engaging and motivating for the students and taught them that other students are learning the same skills that they are. Karen and I both grew as educators as we bounced ideas off each other and prepared for our calls.

Our geometry units are coming up and we are planning to help the students learn those skills while working together again. Have you done this? We’ve got some ideas, but we’re open to others…

Using Twitter to #GuessMyNumber

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the way my grade one class has been connecting with other classrooms through Mystery Number Skype. These learning opportunities are much like the regular Mystery (Location) Skype that has become popular, but much more appropriate for students who are still struggling to understand that they actually live in a city, a province and a country all at the same time. These calls also give us a chance to practice skills that are an important part of our curriculum.

Mystery Number Skype

In a nutshell, this is how it works. Students from two classes pick a number and then answer “yes” or “no” questions from the other class as both try to guess the other class’s number.  What I love best about this activity is the direct correlation to so many of my math outcomes.

Since I wrote that post, we’ve done similar Skype calls with a number of classes and I’ve watched as my students’ abilities have grown. I’ve noticed that more of my students are able to ask what we call “fat” or “juicy” questions each time—questions that eliminate more than one number.  More students are willing to be the one to ask the questions, demonstrating a growth in their confidence and speaking abilities. All of the students can now independently write the numbers on their own whiteboard. You’ve got to love seeing that progress!

 

Playing #GuessMyNumber

Last month, Carrie Zimmer, who works at a school in Milan, Italy contacted me. She wondered if I would be interested in connecting with a first grade classroom at her school to do something similar. Since the time change between our locations does not allow for synchronous conversation, we decided to play the game on Twitter using the hashtag #guessmynumber.

Playing #GuessMyNumber

We warmed up by playing Guess My Number with numbers up to twenty and then we were ready for a game with the really big numbers all the way up to one hundred. Each morning, we would check Twitter to look for two tweets: a tweet that answered our question from yesterday and a tweet that contained Ms. Diaz’s Class’s new question.  For this, we didn’t use individual boards as we do when we play Mystery Number Skype. Instead, we used a communal page that already had all the possible numbers and we worked as a class to cross off numbers we had eliminated with our last question.  Then, we’d send two tweets: one with our next query and another with our answer to theirs.

 

Twitter vs. Skype For Number Games

Guess My Number in Our Classroom

Although both Guess My Number and a Mystery Number Skype have been successful learning opportunities on several levels, the Twitter experience was in some ways more satisfying. The time constraints of a Skype call mean that it is more difficult to have a meaningful discussion with my class about the next question we want to ask. Using Twitter gave us time to consider options and to discuss different ways to solve the problem before we sent our question.  It also gave us a problem to solve as part of our daily math activities as well as a quick shared reading experience as we read the tweets aloud together. We even tried the game in our classroom with our classmates!

I think the only real key to making this game work was a commitment to do it every day as part of the math routine in our classrooms. Even on very busy days both classes made an effort to keep the questions and answers flowing back and forth to keep the interest high. When I was at home without a voice for three days, we were still able to play because I emailed screenshots of the tweets to my substitute teacher and she sent the new questions back to me to put on Twitter. A Skype call, on the other hand, would have had to be postponed until I returned.

Another example of connected mathematical literacy. I love having yet one more option for learning from others my classroom. I’m sure there are many other ways to use Twitter for mathematical literacy that I haven’t yet tried. If you’ve got an idea to share, leave me a comment!

A Twitter Impostor Took My Identity

I debated writing this post because I didn’t want to give any publicity to someone who should not have it, but I now know that this happens to other people too, so hopefully my experience can help anyone else who has had this happen.

Last November, I received an email from Alec Couros asking, “Have you seen this?” with a link to a Twitter account that had recently followed him. I checked the link and stared in shock at what I saw.  My Twitter home page is just below. Below that is an account that is NOT mine and has nothing to do with me.

My Twitter Account

 

NOT My Twitter Account

Although it’s pretty clear that the photo and header are the same, the background photo is actually the same as well, it is just positioned in a different way on the page. Even the bio, while slightly different, was the bio I had had until the end of August of last year. The URL of my classroom blog and the location were identical. Clearly someone was pretending to be me. With seven tweets in two and a half months, this person had somehow managed to gain over three hundred followers—followers who thought they were following me.

I felt violated. I work very hard to try to protect my online reputation and digital footprint. Although the screenshot above only shows a couple of retweets, there were several tweets with my picture beside them with what I considered to be nonsense content and one contained several profane words. I would never do that. People who saw those tweets would not necessarily know that. They would assume I had written them. It was one of those moments when I had to force myself to breathe deeply. What could I do about it?

Alec suggested that I use Twitter to help get rid of the account, by asking people to block the account and mark it as spam. His recommendation was that I tweet the link to the account rather than using the @username in my tweets. I did this and although I have no idea how many people actually blocked the account, several people tweeted to me that they had done so.

I also went to Twitter’s help section and found their impersonation policy and a place for reporting impersonation accounts.  The report included questions about how the account was impersonating me and asked for links to other places I had the images online. The form was also very clear that it was necessary to fax a copy of either my driver’s license or my passport. On November 11th I filled out the required forms, and on the 12th I faxed a copy of my license. An automatically generated email gave me a reference number for my complaint.

Then I waited. It felt like I waited a long time. Finally, on January 7th, I received another email asking for a copy of my driver’s license or passport with the assurance that this would be shredded after use. I sent this again the same day and the next day, January 8th, I received an email saying

Thank you for providing this information. We have removed the reported profile from circulation due to violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules) regarding impersonation. Your faxed ID has been shredded.

This was great news! The truth is, though, I still have more questions than answers. Even though the process eventually worked for me, I wonder why I had to send my identification twice.

If you go to the webpage for the imitation account, you will see that the account has been suspended, but the background picture, a photo of some of my students, is still there. The account obviously still exists and Twitter does have an appeal process for suspended accounts. It makes me wonder if, even though the attempt to pretend he/she was me was so clear, it would still be possible for the account to be reactivated.

I also wonder WHY someone does this. When I asked people to block and report the account as spam, a couple of other people responded that they had had the same thing happen to them. It seems random. I get (sort of) that people like to pretend to be someone famous, but why bother with an ordinary Joe or Jane?

The impostor didn’t just take my identity, he or she took a bit of my faith in humanity as well. So most of all, I wonder about protecting our online identity.  If it hadn’t been for Alec’s curiosity about why I had another account, I might never have known about this.  Recently, a friend had the same thing happen to her Facebook account. Do I need to be more on the defensive, watching online spaces for instances of this happening? I probably do. Probably you do too. And that is too bad, because I would rather that we all took that time to share the good and positive things that are happening in our classrooms and lives.

Mystery Number Skype: Even a Six Year Old Can Do It

I’ve heard a lot about Mystery Skype calls over the past few years.  If you’re not familiar with this term, the basic idea is that two classrooms chat via Skype and try to guess where the other class is from by answering questions with only yes or no answers. I’ve always thought this would be lots of fun, but it has always seemed out of the reach of my six year olds, many of whom are still struggling to realize that they live in both a city AND a province.  Answering questions about our location would be out of the question.

I toyed with many ideas for ways that my class COULD do a Mystery Skype, (mystery letter, mystery word etc.) but it wasn’t until I saw a document about Mystery Number Skype that the lights suddenly came on.  For my class, numbers to one thousand (or even one hundred at that point) were out of the question, but suddenly, I realized we COULD do a call about numbers to twenty. You can get lots of ideas for doing a Mystery Number Skype with older students on the document I just mentioned, but if your students are still learning their numbers, this is…

How It Works in My Classroom

While there is no one way to do a Mystery Number Skype call, we’ve now done about a half dozen of them and this is how we have found it to work best.

  1. When we are getting ready to play mystery number Skype, everyone, including the teacher, writes the numbers up to 20 on a small whiteboard. (We got this idea from Karen Lirenman’s class during our first Mystery Number call.) Paper or a drawing app on an iPad could also work.
  2. Each class secretly chooses a number between 1 and 20. We usually do this before the call as well.
  3. Each class asks questions with yes or no answers to try to guess what the other class’s number is.
  4. For our purposes, we have one class guess until they get the correct answer and then the other class guesses. For my young students, this has so far worked the best.

Crossing Off Numbers

As the students determine which numbers have been eliminated, they cross them off or erase them from their boards. I do the same to help those who are still unsure of their numbers (or who were distracted and missed something). Besides being a great way to practice identifying the numbers, it keeps all of the students engaged during the call.

Hints to Get the Most Out of the Call

If you teach young students, remind them that it is a MYSTERY number, like a secret. In one of our calls this fall, a student in the other class kept bursting out “it’s sixteen!” I tried valiantly not to giggle as my students ignored this and went on guessing.

Agree on the rules ahead of time.  Assume nothing. In another of our calls, I assumed that the other teacher had seen a post about our first mystery number call on our classroom blog and was familiar with the way we had been doing this. Imagine the surprise of my students, some of whom were still working on their numbers to ten, when the other class’s first question was “what is two eights plus three?” (This could also have been a great way to practice numbers together, but was not what we were expecting!) You might also want to clarify what the other class knows about numbers. There is no use to ask if the number is divisible by 8 if the other class does not yet understand that concept.

Ready to Guess the Number

Think about who will ask the questions. At first, I allowed the more confident children to do this, but I now want to give a little nudge to quieter students who can also participate with some support.

I encourage what I call “fat” questions (these questions can eliminate multiple numbers) by discussing options ahead of time, but allow the students to ask questions of any kind.  My students’ questions range from “Is it eight?”  to “Does the number have a curved line?” to “Is it between sixteen and eighteen?”

Why I Love Mystery Number Calls

These calls work well on so many levels. I use Mystery Number Skype calls in our classroom because:

  • My students are writing the numbers to get ready. Purposeful practice.
  • Everyone is learning at their own level, whether that student is still learning to write the numbers, is struggling to distinguish between 11 and 12 (why do those pesky numbers not follow the ‘teen’ rule?) or is formulating questions that eliminate lots of possible numbers. We can all participate in the same activity, but the learning is differentiated.
  • While we are discussing numbers, my students are learning that other children far away are learning the same things as they are. This is a big step in global awareness.
  • My students are learning one more way to use technology to help them to reach their learning goals. This kind of digital literacy is important for children growing up in an online age.

If you have other great ideas for dong this that have worked for you, I’d love to hear them. We’re looking forward to more calls like this—soon we’ll be ready for numbers up to one hundred!

Using Blogs and Twitter With Young Students: THIS is What it Looks Like

I talk and share what I do with a lots of teachers.  When these educators hear about the ways their colleagues are using blogs and Twitter in their classrooms they are intrigued. Most of them are interested enough to want to look further, but the idea is a bit overwhelming.  I find this to be especially true of primary teachers. “What would that look like with young children?” they wonder.  “What do the different blogging tools look like if you teach six year olds?”  “How could you use Twitter in a kindergarten classroom?” “Yes, I can see what that would look like with older students, but my students are young. Most of them can’t yet write. What would THAT look like?”

Reading Tweets

Reading Tweets

What they really want to see are examples. I can show them my classroom blog and my classroom Twitter account, but there are so many other fabulous classrooms out there learning and sharing their learning in unique and effective ways. Ways that teach traditional literacy skills while also teaching digital literacy including how to learn and how to be safe online.

So for those people who have asked the questions and for anyone else who wants to see what blogging and tweeting in a primary classroom looks like, check out the links to examples below.

This is what it can look like:

Primary (to me that means age 3 – 8) Classes that Tweet*

Primary (again, ages 3 – 8) Classroom Blogs

And just so that those of you who teach older students don’t feel left out, here are some lists for older elementary students.

Classrooms That Tweet (all age levels)*

More Classrooms that Tweet*

Elementary (ages 8 – 12) Classroom Blogs

Blogging

Blogging

I’m grateful to teachers who are willing to add their information to lists like these that are such a help to educators who are just beginning their social media journey.  When you start your own journey, don’t forget to add your link to a list!

A link really is worth a thousand words!

Maybe more.

[*Note: If you have never used Twitter, but want to see the tweets of those teachers who are, you just need to type twitter.com/username in a browser to access their home page with all of their tweets. For example, my classroom Twitter account’s URL is twitter.com/mscassidysclass]

 

What Would You Have Said?

This past week I received this comment on my classroom blog. [Additional Note: I have never met this person. It is not one of my students' parents.]

Comment 2

The online world that I usually inhabit is a bit of an echo chamber. The people there are online and think that being online is a good thing. It is sometimes good to be reminded that not everyone shares that opinion. This comment pushed me to rethink why I do what I do and whether it is defensible.  My reply is below.

Thank you for your comment.  You clearly care enough about children to comment and I respect that.

I take the safety of my students very seriously.  We regularly talk about how they can keep themselves safe in many different situations. Being online is just one more place they need to learn to be safe.

Classroom BlogYes, I do post pictures of my students online. If you notice, I post pictures of the students only on MY blog, where there are no names ever attached. The students’ FIRST names are attached to their own blog, but you will never see a photo of the student on their own blog, or their last name.  (In fact, I know of blogs in which the teachers do, with the parents’ permission, identify the children by name, but that is not my policy.)

I teach my students carefully about what is appropriate to put online and what is not. They quickly learn how to take photos and make videos that do not show faces so that they can be posted on their blog. When we read comments together, they soon learn to point out if a parent has accidentally included a last name and together we delete that comment before it is posted for the world to see.

It is true that Adam likes Mario. So does every other boy and some of the girls in my classroom. I’m sure this holds true for most six-year-olds.

Although no negative thing has ever happened because of our blog, many wonderful things have happened.  

Because of our blog, the parents of my students are able to watch their child’s learning and as the parents leave comments (which are an integral part of our reading instruction) they become part of the learning as well. Grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, older siblings and other friends drop by just to see what is happening, and may leave a comment as well.  My students beam with pride as the comments, written just for them, are read aloud.

Because of our blog, my students have an audience. They look at the tiny dots on our Clustr map and know that even if people are not commenting, people are seeing what they are posting.  An audience is a powerful motivator for people of any age. Writing for a real audience is so much more powerful than writing something in a notebook that only your teacher will see.

Because of our blog, we sometimes have comments from people we have never met, but who are cheering my students on as they are learning.  These comments send us to a map to find out where in the world Texas, or Romania or Ontario is and then leads to other serendipitous learning and perhaps to a face-to-face meeting through a videoconference of some kind.

Because of our blog, we sometimes get videos or items in the mail from people in far away places. These unexpected treasures lead to even more learning, particularly about empathy and understanding of people who live differently than we do.

Because of our blog, my students are leaning about digital literacy.  In a safe environment, with me to guide them, they are learning what it is appropriate to put online and what is something that should be kept private.  They are beginning to create a positive digital footprint. The Internet is here to stay, and I would prefer that my students learn about online etiquette and safety than to leave this learning to chance.

I’m not sure if you know this, but hundreds (probably thousands) of teachers are now doing the same thing as me—sharing the learning in their classroom online through classroom blogs, Twitter accounts or Facebook pages.  

I hope that you can see the positive impact this new way of learning has had on my classroom. Just as with anything new I do in my classroom, I weigh the benefits against any possible risk or difficulties. With the safety features I have built into the blogging process in our classroom and the ongoing discussions I have with the children, there is no contest.  Blogging has opened too many doors for us.

What would you add? How do YOU defend what you do?

But the Parents Aren’t on Twitter…They’re on Facebook!

Blogging

Since 2005, all of my grade one students have had their own blog. Those blogs show my students’ learning from the first week of school until the last week.

Every year of that time, I have encouraged the students’ parents to comment, knowing that while the students love getting comments from me or from people they have never met, the comments that really mean the most are those from their parents and others who love them.  It has been my experience over the years that while some parents are very faithful at commenting, most do not find the time to comment regularly, and many don’t ever comment at all.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years. How could I remind the parents about their child’s blog? How could I get the parents to their child’s blog more often? I tried holding commenting nights. I tried various other reminders such as emails, but have never had the success I was hoping for. Eventually, we started tweeting as a class as well. Twitter has become another great learning space for my class, but again, very few parents followed us there.

What About Facebook?

Our Facebook Page

As I was musing about this last summer, it occurred to me that while my class is a frequent user of social media with our classroom blog and Twitter account, neither of those were social media spaces that my students’ parents were using. Social media spaces are great for connecting, but only if the people you want to connect with are in that space as well. It occurred to me that my students’ parents were probably on Facebook! Perhaps I should enter that space as well?
I’m not a big Facebook user, so I had to ask my daughter to help me out with the best option but with her help, I set up a “page” for my class (see instructions at bottom of this post). This way, I get to control the information on the page through my own login, but it is not associated in any way with my personal page. Beginning in September, each time I put a post on our classroom blog, I put a link to the article on our Facebook page.

At our grade one parent information night during the second week of school, I asked the parents how many of them were on Twitter. One raised her hand. “How many of you access a Facebook account fairly regularly?” Most of them agreed that they did. I explained the page that I had set up, and suggested that if they “liked” the Facebook page, they would get a notification in their timeline each time I posted.

Learning to Comment

At that information night, I also asked the parents to comment on their child’s blog before they left that evening. In the past, along with talking about how children learn to read and how parents can support that process, I have shown the parents our blog and demonstrated how to comment, but this year we had a few extra minutes at the end, so after my modeling, I asked them to use one of our classroom iPads and to leave a comment for their child. I was there to help if they needed it, but apparently no one did. The next morning, I had lots of happy children who beamed as their special comment was read aloud. That seemed to set a pattern.

Reading Comments Together

This fall, my students have received more parent comments than they ever have before. The sheer volume of comments some of my students have received has blown me away. It could be that this year I just have outstanding parents who are eager to be involved in their child’s education. While I am sure that is true, I have thought that same thing other years as well, but we have not had as many comments.

It appears that having the parents see that notification in their Facebook timeline encourages the parents follow the link to see what we are up to in our classroom and it seems to remind them to check their child’s blog as well.

I can’t truthfully say whether it was the commenting practice at the parent night or the Facebook page that has made the difference, but you can bet I will be doing both again next school year as well. Instead of trying to bring the parents into the spaces our class are in, I have now gone where the parents are instead. No wonder it is more successful! A couple of small changes, but they seem to have made a big difference.

Setting Up a Separate Facebook Page for Your Class

If you do not already have a Facebook page yourself, the best thing is to set one up for yourself first. You don’t have to use it, but it is the starting place for the way I did my class page.

Facebook has changed the way to find this since the summer, but if I was to do it now, I would click on create ad and then create page. I chose the Company, Organization or Institution option and then just added the information I was prompted to give. Voila! It is not associated with my personal page in any way except that I control it through my account.

The Early Literacy Shift: New Words, New Media, New Friends

This article was originally published on the Voices From the Learning Revolution blog of Powerful Learning Practice.

Literacy is changing. It really is. Even in my grade one classroom as the students begin to learn their letters and sounds, as they start to put those letters and sounds together into words, and as they take their first hesitant steps to read and write.

The change in our classroom was subtle at first. When my students began writing the word we with two i’s, I smiled and talked about the more traditional spelling of the word. When students came to school with a clear understanding of what it meant to get to the next level or to have several lives, I took notice of the new vocabulary they had.

And when I had to explain why iPod didn’t start with an upper case letter the way proper nouns usually did, well, I decided all of the rules were up for grabs. The changes I have mentioned are rather superficial, but they are indicators of a large shift that has been taking place in the way that I teach literacy.

New Vocabulary

The examples above are just some of the new words that my students take for granted that did not even exist 20 years ago. It used to be that new vocabulary meant words like glossarytable of contents, title page and indent. It still does, but added to that are new words such as re-tweetavatar and pingback.

New Tools

It used to be that we read text in books or on charts (the later usually handwritten by me). Now, we read on iPads, on computers and on an interactive whiteboard. The students see their parents reading on their handheld devices daily and understand that as a viable form of reading as well.

New Ways to Learn

It used to be that my class was isolated. Our learning community was just my 20 or so students and I, working together, with occasional forays into the other classrooms in the school. Now, we routinely practice and learn with other classes around the world.  When we use Twitter as a backchannel while we look for characteristics of fairy tales or use Skype to do Reader’s Theatre with classes in Florida and Pennsylvania, or to practice phonics rules with students in South Carolina, we are learning in new ways. Ways that allow us to grow in knowledge and skills from our contacts with other learners.

kc-skype-chat

New Audiences

It used to be that my students learned to write by writing on paper. Sometimes they wrote in notebooks and sometimes they wrote on single sheets, but no matter how they wrote, I was the intended audience. In most cases, I was the only person who ever saw that writing.

Sometimes their parents would take the time to read through their notebooks and papers as they came home or at the end of the school year. Sometimes they would read their writing aloud to the class. But in most cases, unless I posted their writing on a bulletin board in the hallway, a very limited number of people had access to that writing.

Wow! Has that changed!

Now, my students regularly write on their blogs, not just for me, but also for their parents, grandparents, other relatives, friends and potentially the whole world to see. When they write a tweet, they have the potential of all of our Twitter followers seeing what they write, and since many of our followers are classroom groups, that number is potentially far higher. Not exactly the same as writing in a notebook. Their audience now exists in places they have never been and may never visit.

New Communication Forms

kc-ipad-chat-300It used to be that my students wrote personal narratives, imaginary stories, riddles and information text. They still write all of those, but often use a blog format to publish them. They also learn to compose comments for their friends in our classroom and in other classrooms whose blogs we follow. We talk about and practice what makes good comments and learn how to appropriately participate in online conversations. They also compose tweets, thinking about how to clearly articulate their thoughts in 140 characters or less.

Twenty years ago, my students used writing and drawing to share their thoughts and ideas. There were no other choices for young children. Now, my students are able to communicate through a variety of media, including photosvideospodcastsinteractive books andscreencasts.

No Going Back

The days of students reading only books, writing only on paper and becoming literate in an isolated classroom have passed. That classroom is outdated. Is yours?

 

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