Thursday, March 20, 2014

Personalized Learning in a 1:1 Classroom: A Tour Through My Inbox

I know there is a lot of buzz about personalized learning these days. Lots of it comes at a cost where some service will assess your students and provide just-in-time learning. It is tempting to purchase one of those and feel comfortable that the curriculum is being covered at a pace that is right for each student. Although I do use many tools and apps,  that's really not what personalized learning looks like in my 1:1 language arts classroom.

So, what does it look like?

I don't think I can answer that question in a short post. However, I believe that a little tour through my email inbox may provide a glimpse. It hit me last night when I opened my school email.
Literacy= communication, and I do use email as one tool for communicating with my students. 

We read. We write. We edit.  We discuss. We think. We reflect. We create. Why would this look identical in a group of unique individuals?

What follows represents a sample from my current inbox. These are waiting for my reply, feedback or next steps. I have not chosen anything on purpose. I'm just sharing the process. This represents the ongoing learning conversation between my students and me. 
A 5th grader emails to tell me what salary he would like for the documentarian job. He also suggests two new jobs.
A 5th grader shares his updated narrative writing with me. Below is a short snippet of  an 8 page story

Another  5th grade narrative
a 4th grader shares a link to the book quiz he wrote on Goodreads
A 4th grader wrote an epilogue to Wonderstruck using Book Creator

5th grade character trading card
4th grade "visual vocab"
This conversation and creation, this journey, is why I love my 1:1 iPad classroom. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

5 Things I Wish Everyone Understood About Educational Technology

1. The technology isn't the point
Still….STILL….all these years later (it's 2014 and the internet is 25 years old) when we all know that technology isn't the point in education, there is still so much talk about the technology, the apps, the devices, the new shiny stuff. True, if it's new and shiny and cool it might enable me to redefine a task, that is if it's not too expensive or too difficult to learn or to manage.

2. The technology isn't the lesson
The students in my 4th/5th 1:1 iPad class do not need lessons on using their iPads. They are faster and more adept than I am at using most of the apps. However, they are young and still have a lot of learning to do when it comes to using these devices in a balanced, useful way. They have a lot to learn to become literate users of these powerful tools. They need guidance in understanding and creating work that represents quality in a time of anything goes.

3. The technology isn't the problem
When the kids use social media or chats in ways that hurt others, the technology is not the cause of their mean spirited behavior.

4. The technology isn't the answer
Technology is wonderful and amazing. I love my digital devices and appreciate all the ways they have changed my life for the better.  It's hard to imagine teaching without Google, Pinterest, Twitter, Wordpress, iPads, etc., and I believe that being a connected educator has helped me grow into a better teacher.
However, technology has its dark side. Many people are becoming distracted and unbalanced, spending less real time with real people. There are some serious human health, safety and environmental consequences caused by the manufacture, use and disposal of these devices we love so much.

5. The technology isn't going away
Whether you or I love or hate technology matters not one iota. The world is changing in ways we can barely imagine. Hang on for a wild ride!

Book Whisperer Wannabe

Once in a while I read a book that I wish I'd written. It's like seeing myself in the mirror and thinking, "Hey, I look alright." This was the gift of reading Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer. I am so grateful for this wonderful book. It should be required reading for anyone who teaches or will teach reading.

There are plenty of reviews of the book (see Karin Hallet's great review and infographic). My purpose for writing is to reflect on what this book made me think about and the changes I might make as a result.

I am a lifelong reader who reads any time, any place. Literacy is my biggest educational interest and the desire to share my love of reading was the motivation that brought me to this career in the first place. I believe so strongly in authentic literacy and learning through practice.

I am doing everything in my power to make reading real and enjoyable, to match readers with that perfect book, to lead the way by modeling and sharing my own reading experiences. I still have those few students who view reading as a school thing, not a life thing. Reading Miller's book, I wonder if all of her students truly found pleasure in reading. It certainly sounds as if she created an amazing reading community.

Reading in the Morning
One thing I have already adapted is to use that time first thing in the morning, when students are still arriving, for reading. I used to allow conversations and other activities. I only have my students first thing in the morning twice a week, and I love having that as reading time.

There are so many things I dislike about AR and just a few things I like. Our school uses AR school wide, and compared to other practices I think it's not the worst. It uses real books, and it gives me a type of numeric data that many parents seem to really want. What the various numbers actually mean is a whole other blog post and something I have spent quite a bit of time trying to understand this year. What I dislike about AR in a nutshell is the low-level recall questions that determine comprehension and the fact that kids (and parents) sometimes become overly focused on the levels and points.

Using Goodreads instead of reader's notebooks is another whole blog post. I have struggled to get everyone to make Goodreads a habit, but I am going to stick with it. It is authentic, serves the same purposes as Miller's notebooks, and I like it.

Book Projects Vs. Reflection Letters
I love the weekly, written reflections! Stealing this! We may still do book talks and reviews and such, but I am going to rethink the structure.

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Teacher's Ode to Read-Alouds

One of my main goals this year as a language arts teacher is to build a community of readers, writers and thinkers. I am employing several different strategies in pursuit of this aim. One of the most exciting and pleasurable is class read-alouds. A few months back, I read Principal Joey's post "Stop Trying to Make Your Kids Read." It really struck a chord with me, and I left this comment (which I am only partially sharing here because it was SO LONG)
I completely agree with you about reading aloud. In fact, I devote a LOT of time to read aloud with both my 4th and 5th grade classes, and that time is probably having the biggest impact of anything I am doing in my quest to create a true community of readers.
Some of the reasons I think that read aloud is so powerful in my classroom are:
•I give the students choice. I keep an ongoing list of recommended middle grade books that I am interested in reading. I choose about 5 of those and have the students privately vote via Google form. This way, each student can choose the one they really want, and no one knows who voted for what. This creates a feeling of ownership and excitement before we even begin reading.
•I am an avid, lifelong reader. Not only do I read very fluently, but I know where, when and how to stop and teach. I do not pre-plan my read aloud “lessons.” However, I use read-aloud to teach almost everything, from literary devices to vocabulary to reading strategies. I am able to do this because of the confidence I possess from being a real reader.
•The more we read together, the more shared history we have as a reading community. We naturally make text-to-text connections, and no one is left out.
I ended that comment with:
I have much more to say on this subject…I think I will write a post about read aloud!
I have so much to say about this I don't know where to begin!!!!

As a Teaching/Learning Tool
In my experience, reading aloud is a vital tool for teaching everything and anything about reading. I recommend reading the classic Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Keene to understand how the act of making our thinking transparent during reading aloud helps children become better thinkers and readers. I also like the book Constructing Meaning by Nancy Boyles. These signs, which hang on the wall all year long, are from that book and we refer to them frequently during discussions.

We also have great opportunity to discuss vocabulary strategies, and often students will request to add an interesting new word to our growing word wall. 

My Non-Lesson Plan How-To
I do not write lesson plans for my read alouds. They evolve spontaneously. I attribute this to the fact that I do not "teach" reading so much as I share a genuine love of reading with my students. We choose, together as a class, books that no one (including me) has already read. I get recommendations from our fabulous school librarian, as well as some amazing members of my PLN who are avid readers and reviewers of books for this age group. 
The student librarians for each grade add the book to our read-alouds wall, and tag it "currently reading." After we finish the book, we go around the circle, and each student rates the book 1-5 stars, saying why they gave it the rating they did. The librarian keeps notes of each rating, figures out the class average and adds it to the wall. 

Most activities during or immediately after reading are focused around discussions and written responses. 
We have Skyped with other classes who are reading the same book, which has been a really fun experience. We have taken visual notes, written blog posts from the point of view of a particular character, written reviews on Goodreads, watched the movie and compared/contrasted book and movie, and in two weeks we will be Skyping with Holly Goldberg Sloan, the author of our latest read-aloud, Counting By 7's
We have discussed author's purpose, genre, metaphor, symbolism, word roots, and how authors sometimes "break the rules" of formal writing (which they are allowed to do because, presumably, they know the rules really well). 
We use these books as "mentor texts" for our own writing, which is getting better and better as we grow our understanding of and appreciation for the craft.  

What Do the Kids Say?
As much as I adore read-alouds, they do take time. And, like every teacher, I worry that there is never enough time to do everything. As a student-centered teacher, I value the input and opinions of my students, and I use surveys to gather this data. So I recently surveyed my classes to find out THEIR opinions of read-alouds.

Of my 30 students, I had one student say no and one say yes, after a short break. I also asked them to explain, in writing, their choice. Here are some of their responses:

I love read-alouds! I don't even want to think about stopping them, even for a short period of time. When you read aloud, you and other classmates help me understand things that I wouldn't understand if I read that book on my own. - Julia, 4th grade

I love the fact that I have been exposed to different genres that I wouldn't even think of checking. I think we should keep it going and read more. GO READALOUDS!!!!!!! - Jagger, 5th grade

I want to continue read alouds because when we finish a book, we want to read more books that are related to that book. I think it really helps people find the right books for them. -Nahila, 4th grade

I think we should keep doing read-alouds because it's a chance for everyone to settle down and get comfortable. For me, it helps write in different types of ways. -Arin, 5th grade

I would like to continue because they are fun to listen to and the story is always good. -Evan, 5th grade

Communities Share Stories
If you are still may be as passionate as I am about this topic. So you may enjoy this story that illustrates how reading aloud connects us as a community in special ways. I just finished reading Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick with 4th grade.  This incredible story is told partly through illustrations and partly through words. Towards the end of the book, the characters in the two stories meet up and the words and illustrations combine to tell the rest of the story.

When we got to this picture, I stopped reading for the day.

I challenged my students to use their iPads and what they knew to see if they could find out where the characters were. Several of them were excited that they were able to figure out that the characters were at the Queens Museum.

A few days later, I flew to New York for a conference. As the plane was landing at LaGuardia, I looked out the window to see that we were directly over this sight! My seatmate must have thought I was crazy as I scrambled to find my phone so I could take this photo for my students.

Further Reading

How a Reading Promise Can Forge Families and Shape Lives

Read Aloud: Why 15 Minutes a Day Matters

Matt Renwick's Top 10 Takeaways From the Read Aloud Handbook

The Warmth of a Shared Experience 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Authentic Literacy: What is it, Why Does it Matter & What Does it Have to Do With Soup?

From "Ed Tech" to Literacy…
Although I continue present my work under the brand of "edtechworkshop," my professional interests are moving away from "ed tech." Job-wise I have transitioned from (all titles in quotes because that is how I think of them) "technology coordinator" to "21st century learning specialist" to "Director of Teaching & Learning (as titles go, I like that one best) to my current job title of "4th/5th grade language arts teacher" (as the actual work goes, I like this one best).

When I was working with Silvia Tolisano to transform school culture, we recognized the importance of parent education and responded with monthly "Parent Connect" sessions.  We had a small but dedicated group who joined with us to discuss a variety of topics related to changes in learning and how our school was responding to those changes. It was of huge importance to the success of many initiatives, as that small group of parents acted as "ambassadors" spreading vital positivity and understanding throughout the parent community.

So, it was natural for me to turn back to the Parent Connect model as a way to build support and understanding for my non-traditional LA classroom. 
There is a great deal of fear that goes along with letting go and allowing learning communities to flourish without many of the trappings of the box known as school.

I am lucky to have a great partner in librarian Karin Hallett, and I have really enjoyed preparing for and presenting the sessions.
Our most recent session was, "Authentic Literacy: What is it and why does it matter?"
Here are the slides from that session:
Authentic literacy from Andrea Hernandez

If you're interested in some slide details or related articles, you can find that here.
But what I wanted to share here was the "soup analogy" that I described on slide #4. So many people commented afterwards how this idea really spoke to them.

I realize that at one time, processed, canned food was all the rage and seemed like the answer to all the problems of feeding the people. However, it didn't take long to figure out that an authentic, hand-crafted soup was not only more delicious but was healthier and generally the better all-around option. 

I imagine that many kids who grew up eating salty, tinny, canned soup decided that they didn't really like soup. Just like many kids who are growing up on a canned, uniform, pre-packaged reading curriculum believe that they don't really like reading. How sad that they have never tasted the real thing. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Our 1:1 iPad Learning Showcase

This past week culminated in a student-led "learning showcase." We had a wonderful, authentic audience of parents, grandparents and assorted others who came to find out how the 1:1 iPads are being used for learning in 4th/5th grade.

Our current 4th grade graphic designer created an invitation flyer.

4th and 5th graders, working in groups of three, shared the following apps or groups of apps: 

Word Work Apps (the students chose to show Free Rice and Words With Friends)
Notes and Sketchbook 
Hachtavah (an app used for learning Hebrew spelling)

Using a "speed-geeking" format, each group of student experts had five minutes present to a small audience. After five minutes the audience rotated to another table. The goal was to keep the focus on how the app was used for learning. 

As part of the student's preparation, each group of three was responsible for:
  • a learning flyer explaining how the app is used for learning
  • a "how-to" flyer, showing some basic steps for 
  • using the tool
  • quality examples from the classroom

The Tellegami team created this Tellegami-


Learning Showcase from Andrea Hernandez on Vimeo.

Feedback and Reflection
The feedback on the learning showcase was tremendously positive.
Some comments from teachers who attended:
"Experiencing our students teaching the apps to their parents and to others, like me, made me want to learn more about the subject that they were teaching.  It shows how much they know and how much confidence they have in their skills.  It was so impressive that some of the participants were asking for more. "

" was really impressive . The students were well prepared, enthusiastic, respectful and joyful."

Parents loved learning from their children. One grandmother said it was the best "program" she has ever been to at the school and that she is now planning to buy an iPad for her younger grandson. It was requested that we give a repeat performance for other classes and adults.

As for me, I love seeing the students doing this kind of work that feels real and meaningful. I always have super-high expectations, so I always see room for growth and improvement. I felt that we spent a little more energy focused on the apps than on the learning. However, that was not entirely the fault of the students. The adults tended to ask a lot of technical questions which, of course, the students were happy to answer. The students are also still learning to reflect on learning, so that part is a little harder for them.
There were some really wonderful examples of partnership and teamwork with the students, although some worked better than others. Overall, the students shined. Even the shy students seemed comfortable with the format.

Friday, January 10, 2014

...It's Who You Know

There are probably millions of posts that have been written about the power of social networking. In fact, I may have even written one or two myself. I missed the "official" connected educator month, when many people shared appreciation for those upon whose shoulders they stand. But, I'm feeling it now.

I've always been a networked teacher is some small ways. In fact, when I applied for Google Teacher Academy, one of the questions was to describe an obstacle in your professional life and how you overcame it. My answer (below) was about the challenge of a being a natural-born collaborator working in a traditionally isolated profession.

I have been teaching for 20 years. My classroom was never what you would call “traditional.” I have always sought to engage students in meaningful, authentic learning experiences. An obstacle for me, early on in my career, was the feeling that I was the only one. I loved teaching, but I often felt isolated.  I was lucky to find a few educators with whom I could collaborate and share successes and frustrations. I even changed jobs to be able to work with someone of like-mind. Teaching is different now. Technology has opened up a world of opportunities to connect and share with others.  Teachers are no longer limited to working with and learning from the colleagues in their own buildings. I no longer feel isolated or lonely. I thrive on the give and take, the challenge, and the sharing. I was meant to be a connected educator.  

In the years since I started blogging and tweeting, I've come to rely on this network of people, this "PLN" for so many things. Sometimes I ask direct questions and receive or don't receive direct answers. Often, though, it's more of an osmosis-like influence that has kept me moving and growing, that bolsters me when I question myself.

More and more I am coming to believe that education, like parenting, has no "right" answers and maybe only a few ways that are truly wrong (as in harmful to the spirit). We educators are finding our way every day. Every class is different, every student presents unique learning needs and challenges. Our collective obsession with figuring out the one-size-fits-all formula for success is the essence of the problem.
Image Credit

As I have switched professional roles this year, I find that I am constantly reflecting on my own experiences through the lens of the generously-shared reflections of others. There is the big group of educators and within that, there are subgroups with various interests- math people, high school teachers, administrators, etc. I used to be (and still am in many ways) a generalist, hence the "edtechworkshop" brand. Now I find myself really honing in on literacy, and the network does not disappoint.

There are so many amazing teachers who believe what I believe and by writing and sharing, are helping me to better understand and articulate my own philosophy. Because teaching is such an art-form, it is necessary to constantly question and grow. Without connection, learning is not possible.

Standing water quickly becomes a stagnant breeding ground for mosquitoes. I don't wish to be stagnant (and I hate mosquitoes). Connected water is the stuff of life.
I hesitate to name specific people who have influenced and continue to influence me because there are so many. It would be like the puddle trying to name each raindrop that helped it grow. But I do want to say THANK YOU.

  • Thank you to the people who take the time to write and share your thoughts. 
  • A very sincere thank you to the people who read MY thoughts. Even more so, thank you to those who actually connect with my writing and comment on or share it with others. 
  • Thank you to those who are courageously "calling-out" the fear-based practices that have, for way too long, characterized and formed what we call education. 
  • Thank you to those who kindly take the time to answer a specific question I ask in a tweet. 
  • Thank you to those ambitious educators who create experiences from which I and my students benefit (such as the Global Read Aloud). 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Practice Learning Hard Things

In my last post, I wrote about pushing ourselves outside of the comfort zone in order to be better teachers by becoming better learners. I ended that post with:
In the new year, let's resolve to become better teachers by making learning a habit, the kind of learning that stretches us and feels uncomfortable. I believe this is the most important and vital thing you can do to become a better teacher. 
What will you learn?
I thought I would share two small, personal experiences with learning outside my comfort zone in the past year, as well as some reflections on how it impacted me as both learner and teacher.

First, I went to a Dance Trance class. This might not seem like a big deal, but you will have to take my word for it that this type of choreographed dance class is WAY far out of my comfort zone. It was extremely challenging, and, despite wanting to flow with it, I was absolutely awful. It is like I have a disability in this area.

Encouragement Leads to A Feeling of Possibility
I reflect on this experience, thinking about students I teach for whom reading and writing do not come naturally, just as learning choreographed dance moves does not come naturally for me.

What did I need in that situation? What would motivate me to continue to practice? What would help me overcome my difficulty and get better? What could the teacher have done for me?

No amount of critical feedback would have been useful for me at that point. I was trying very hard. What I needed was encouragement. 
The most helpful thing that a teacher could have offered to me would have been to notice and point out what I did right.

Encouragement leads to a feeling of possibility. At the outset, the most important thing for the struggling learner is to be motivated to return to this difficult activity and try again. A beginner is not helped by critical feedback. That comes further down the line. Grading my progress would not have been helpful at all. I already knew I wasn't getting it. What I needed was encouragement and a vision of myself that included possibility that I could actually learn this.

The Power of Practice

The second thing I learned out of my comfort zone in 2013 was to read Torah. I began this process right around the same time as the dance class. I had the same initial feeling of being overwhelmed with both activities. The difference was that with the dance class I only went once, whereas with the Torah reading, I continued to practice, taking it in small chunks and returning to it again and again. Ultimately, I was successful at learning the Torah portion.

What is interesting to me was how my enjoyment of the activity evolved as I began to become more competent. When something is highly challenging for me, I start out with timed practice. I force myself, using a timer, to practice for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes. As I experience the success of learning, that feeling
becomes its own motivation for returning to practice.

I also had a "due date" of my daughter's bat mitzvah by which I had to be prepared to share my Torah reading publicly. I think this helps as well in motivating practice.

Frustration and Struggle
Frustration is part of the learning process. We have to learn to stop fearing and fighting it. By continually pushing ourselves we come to understand what it means to try, to practice, to learn. Doing what is easy does not create the deep satisfaction that comes with true achievement.

Getting in touch with the challenges of learning makes us more compassionate and effective teachers.

Monday, December 30, 2013

In 2014…Leave Your Comfort Zone!

In a previous post, 9 Tips for Teaching in the Wild, I wrote:
Be the lead learner. ... If you think you are going to push kids to grow and take risks, ask yourself when was the last time you took a risk and tried to learn something new and challenging.
You are already good at many things…staying in your comfort zone is…well, it's comfortable. As humans, we like being comfortable. It feels nice. But GROWTH requires a step outside of that zone. 
We've all seen this:

But one of my teachers explained it to me like this:
There is a range, between the comfort zone and the "panic zone," where we are open to learning. In describing Habit 1 of his 7  Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey uses a similar graphic, with "area of influence" in the center and "area of concern" in the outer ring. Proactive people focus on their area of influence and, by so doing, that circle actually grows larger. 

I believe it is the same with learning.When stepping outside the comfort zone becomes habit, the learning zone increases. We become more comfortable with the feeling of growth, so that it fails to bring on panic. We become better learners.

Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can't Ignore You, calls this deliberate practice. He says that deliberate practice, which involves regularly stretching beyond one's comfort zone is what distinguishes the good from the great. 
"If you just show up and work hard, you'll soon hit a performance plateau beyond which you fail to get any better…Doing things we know how to do well is enjoyable, and that's exactly the opposite of what deliberate practice demands…Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration."
In the new year, let's resolve to become better teachers by making learning a habit, the kind of learning that stretches us and feels uncomfortable. I believe this is the most important and vital thing you can do to become a better teacher. 
What will you learn?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Teaching with the Daily 3

I have adapted the Daily 5 structure for my 4th/5th grade language arts class from five to three. I also read aloud almost every day to my classes, so they do listen to reading as well.

A few reasons I LOVE Daily 3:

  • Modeling- I followed the careful plan outlined in the book for creating anchor charts with students and modeling the correct and incorrect ways of doing each component. Normally, because time is such an issue, I find myself skipping steps. I expect things of students that I may not have carefully modeled. The modeling for Daily 3 takes time, but it is time well-spent. Everyone knows what to do and they quickly settle into productive activities. 
  • Choice- I believe in giving students choice, as much as possible. Freedom within form works. Some students need more guidance with their choices, so I help with that. Other students have the maturity to manage their time and are able to be highly independent. 
  • Personal Learning-This goes with choice. Motivation happens when we are fueled by our own interests and pushed to grow in accordance with our own abilities. It is a lot of work to be a coach and guide, to retain the flexibility and responsiveness to push each student. Despite the challenge, I can't imagine that one size fits all would do the job. 
  • Authentic Literacy- This word "authentic" is starting to sound buzzwordy to me. I understand that we all have different definitions of what this means.  Authentic is the opposite of schooly. I am willing to bet that when offered the challenge of choosing five books for a desert island, it is a very rare individual who would choose a basal reader. Where the notion ever originated that canning and condensing the art of children's literature was a good idea could only have been from those who were poised to profit. However, I am amazed by the number of teachers who believe that they can't properly teach without the guidance provided by the accompanying materials. To those teachers I say, "read."

Daily 3 from Andrea Hernandez on Vimeo.