Learning Continues…

A decision by the state governments put administrations of almost every school in the U.S.A. into action. Actually all over the world. School was going virtual.  Plans were created and preparations began in earnest. Teachers arrived  to their classrooms with set time periods to gather materials. Decisions were made abut asynchornous and synchronous teaching. Which video conferencing system to use. Tutorials were done on how to use virtual tools. School continues… 

Many schools started distance learning in Mid-March. Adjustments have since been made over the last 7 weeks. Some added Video Conferencing classes to their asynchronous instructional videos. Or visa versa. Some teachers have “office hours” that students can pop into a video conference for support. There are  1-1 video conferences, phone calls, video text calls and even some social distance visits from the sidewalk that happen between teachers and students. Student/teacher connections continue…

Through parent hubs, emails, social media posts – additional resources for distance learning are continually added. Websites that have digital books or audio books. Sites that have animal and sea life webcams for taking virtual field trips. Learning websites to work on skills, keyboarding, or comic creating. Physical Education teachers are doing virtual sessions. Art lessons and Music appreciation are creatively provided by these special area teachers.  Opportunities to have a range of experiences continue… 

Some Principals and Head of Schools start the day with a whole school video conference. Maybe this mimics their morning news programs or just a ‘Hello, have a great day of learning.’  Some have celebrated holidays together virtually. Some have had school assemblies. Many have had car parades to have some social distanced face to face time!  School communities continue… 

Teachers are reading to students through videoed Read Alouds or at Zoom and Google Meets. Novels are being devoured in other upper grades (sometimes through ebooks). Students and parents are searching the book review websites supplied by teachers, schools and librarians. Reading continues…

School buildings may sit empty but the spirit of learning continues in our students, parents and faculties! 

How is learning continuing for you? Let me know.

swladis@edtechease.com (email)

@edtechease  https://www.instagram.com/edtechease/ (Instagram)

@edtechease  https://twitter.com/edtechease (Twitter)

www.edtechease.com (website)

Silver Linings

I have always tried to find the silver lining in any situation. But this social distancing due to Covid-19 has been a tough one for me. Sleeping in a bit each day that is a good thing. Having two of my sons at home (one from college, one opted to remote work with us) another good thing. One son in NYC with his girlfriend is very worrisome for me. Not having my mom and mother-in-law join me earlier in April for the holiday not good. 

Not being able to physically be in a school to teach, coach, prepare for next year is awful. When I read that Florida schools will not return to the classroom this school year, I felt a huge weight drop on my shoulders!

Distance teaching has not been easy to transition to but here is the silver lining: I have learned to do things that have been on my to do list for a while. I have also renewed some tech skills that I had let lapse, particularly using iMovie. My next post or two will be about the programs that I have learned to use to support my distance teaching but will ultimately enhance my coaching of other educators in integrating technology effectively. 

Genially is a program for creating interactive content. I first learned of Genially last summer at ISTE in Philadelphia. I was intrigued. I am a big fan of Canva for my blog posts and other graphics but the idea of interactivity was interesting. But as often happens, many other things took my attention. Then as we started to distance teach, I was contacted by a representative from Genially that I had met at ISTE. She had seen the information on the EdTech EASE website and asked if I had tried Genially yet. This gave me a spark as I could imagine immediately how I would use this in remote learning. I started a Genially creation focused on curating the at-home resources that my parent contacts had told me were most helpful from the huge amount of resources I had sent them. I started this project with a free account to Genially. I was very impressed with the amount of resources that accompany the free plan. All resources for your creations are available in this plan. Check out the At-Home Resources guide I created.  

Full disclosure, as I finished this creation, I did receive a complimentary EDU plan from Genially. This plan allows me to share my creations publicly or privately as well as a variety of download options. Free plans do allow you to share your creations in a public link, so you should be careful of the information placed in the creation. 

I have found Genially fairly easy to learn. Watching the tutorials offered may have been helpful but I like to play first. The animations and interactive features are fun but I soon learned that to maintain them on the creation you must adjust the setting or they disappear after the entrance. Here are a few things I have created (some with animation some without):

Here is a Brag Board that I send out each Friday to my Kindergarten students along with a Week in Review video:

Currently I am trying out creating my Week in Review video in Genially. There are a number of template options, infographics and gamification, to name a few. I like to start with a template and then adjust to my needs. You can start with a blank creation too. I am looking forward to exploring this further, not just now but as we return to “normal.”

A colleague of mine has recently begun talking a lot about gratitude and how attitude plays a part in our having gratitude. So I have decide to adjust my attitude and find my silver linings of remote teaching. Truly for me it is the opportunity to try out new programs and see how they fit into my teaching and coaching world. 

Have you tried anything new to make your remote teaching more effective or just go easier? Let me know.

swladis@edtechease.com (email)

@edtechease  https://www.instagram.com/edtechease/ (Instagram)

@edtechease  https://twitter.com/edtechease (Twitter)

www.edtechease.com (website)

What I Have Learned…

Just finished my third week of distance learning. Here are some Instagram posts I’ve written about what I have learned on this journey.







Some responses to these posts:

I am starting a break as the school I am consulting with (and teaching Kindergarten remotely for) is having their Spring Break. I will take some time to do my needlepoint, sit outside and go walking, read the stack of books waiting for me, work on some upcoming workshops, learn a new program called Genially (more on that in a later post), and prepare for the restart of distance learning. Not totally different from what a typical school break looks like for me but I will do it without meeting friends for coffee or dinners. Virtually yes but not IRL (in real life).  I hope that all this social distancing reminds us to be nicer to each other, take time for family and connecting face to face not just through texts. 

That is what I have learned. To make meaningful connections on a regular basis. 

What have you learned? Share in one the ways below. If you are looking for some ideas for your children – feel free to contact me. 

swladis@edtechease.com, (email)

@edtechease (Twitter and Instagram)

www.edtechease.com (website)

Connections

Been staring at this screen for 10 minutes. What to say, do I have anything to say? Is what I say important to read at this time? Well maybe the point is just to make a connection as we all experience social distancing. So here goes my thoughts:

  • Connections are more important than ever! 
    • Reach out to someone who is living alone.
    • Reach out to family, friends.
      • Make a group text to family each day as a check in. My husband sends one out each day to me and our kids. One of my sisters-in-law created one and we check in and share educational resources and other stuff.
    • Don’t know how to use a video conferencing program, reach out to me (swladis@edtechease.com, @edtechease) and I will help you.
  • Take a walk outside, sit outside, play catch with your child outside, go outside!
  • READ, READ, READ
    • That is my mantra to my students and their parents.
  • Use social media for the good it can do: sharing of ideas but turn it off when it gets overwhelming!
    • Facebook has taken on a new meaning for me- connection. Although that is its intended idea I had been decreasing my time on it because it is a time suck for me. But now I want to see more than ever the faces of my friends who live a distance away.

Ok, that’s it! Just wanted to get a few thoughts out. If you are looking for some ideas for your children – feel free to contact me. 

swladis@edtechease.com, (email)

@edtechease (Twitter and Instagram)

www.edtechease.com (website)

https://www.pinterest.com/edtechease/boards/ (Pinterest)

Parent Conferences: The Good, The Bad, The Effective

The likelihood is you either just had or will be having parent conferences at your school. For me, parent conferences have always been a time of anticipation mixed with anxiousness. When I say that I refer to my conferences as both a parent and as an educator.

During this school year, I have spoken to both parents and teachers as well as seen the social media posts regarding parent conferences. What do these two groups hope/expect from the Parent Conference?

Some quotes from teachers:

“Understanding”
“Collaborating”
“Express what their child wants to achieve (“no concerns” is often heard)”
“Teachers want to use it as a chance to convey their difficulties with students versus parents only want to hear how great the student.”
‘Dichitomy between parent and teacher expectations of the parent conferences.’
“Teachers need to be ready with suggestions for parent support.”

From parents:

‘Help me understand what happens in school.’
‘I don’t want to teach my child at home.’
‘How can I help …. do better.’
“Don’t just tell me what is wrong with my child, tell me some good too.”

Clearly what we all want (parents and educators) are effective parent conferences. We all want to use this time as a means of communication and action planning. So what can we do to create this effective communication environment? One teacher I spoke to summed it up:

For teachers:

  1. Be prepared to show student’s portfolio of academic performance.
    In other words, have student work available to demonstrate their growth.
  2. Have resources available if there are signs of needing support, such as names of speech/language or OT therapists, or the email of the resource person in the school. For therapists this can just be a listed of local support people with the disclaimer that this is just a list with no recommendations.

For parents:

  1. Prepare a list of questions or concerns ahead of time.
  2. Ask what you can do at home to support your child’s academic success.

Here is a great graphic from Katie Martin (@katiemartinedu) about parents and conferences:

Maybe sending out these parent suggestions the week before conferences, or when the schedule goes out, may be helpful. When a parent misses Parent Conferences, we educators often jump to the conclusions that they don’t care enough to attend. Parents, with very few exceptions, want the best for their children. I have discovered that this may not always be the case. Many can not take off from their jobs because any time away from work results in an inability to pay rent, buy food or the many school supplies that students may need. Paying a babysitter is a luxury some can not afford. And some parents are tired of hearing the negative from the teachers (this will be another blog post on sending out positive messages more often than negative). 

If a parent misses a conference, reach out by phone or email. Try to set up a phone conference. The parent will likely feel encouraged that you care enough about their child to want to speak with them about the child’s educational growth. This will go a long way in getting the support from the parent you (and the child) need. Just recently, well after the official parent conferences,  a teacher emailed me asking if I could teach her classroom in the next few days as a parent finally agreed to come in for a conference. Kudos to that teacher for her persistence!

This year, one school I work with, had the teachers fill out parent conference guides. This was a place to write positives, concerns, assessment scores, a place for parent concerns to be written, and a reminder to have work samples available. The consensus was that this helped the teachers remember to include positive comments as well as everything else they wanted to say. 

So I am thinking that maybe we all need to remember that the definition of confer includes: consult, have discussions, discuss things, exchange views, and talk. Also we should remember that a person is being discussed not an abstract idea.

“So, how do you or your school encourage effective parent conferences?” Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Obsessed with Read Alouds

I just have to say it…I am obsessed with kids literature, but Read Alouds are my focus right now. Truthfully, I am always infatuated with the benefits of Read Alouds and always looking for new ones!

Last week, I organized a read aloud with a client school as part of World Read Aloud Day 2020 (https://www.litworld.org and Scholastic). This is the first time I actively registered a school I am working with on their World Read Aloud map. It was wonderful! Another teacher and I each read a book to the Kindergarten-5th grades. In between the two readings, the 5th grade introduced their classroom book collection drive. This grade thinks each classroom should have more books in it! I agree! In my opinion, no classroom ever has enough books for kids to choose. The preschool had their own Read Aloud time. The Middle School was read, Across the Alley, which dovetailed with their Black History lessons. This was read in each of the English classes that day.

I am also reading the 8th edition of the Jim Trelease’s Read Aloud Handbook. I found the previous editions so helpful in validating why I found reading aloud to my own children and my classroom children. From the listening skills and listening comprehension development, to the fabulous conversations started with read aloud stories, there is so much to love about the benefits of Read Alouds! The Read Aloud Handbooks also have wonderful suggestions for Read Alouds. 

Each week, I volunteer at an after school program doing Read Alouds and accompanying activities. The kids each take the Read Aloud book home after 2-3 weeks of activities. The most recent was The Library Dragon. It was so amazing to watch them listen to the story as they read along the first week. They were just as enthralled the second week and noticed some interesting items in the pictures. They asked great questions about the vocabulary that was new to them. They even sat engaged during the reading of the sequal, Return of the Library Dragon. The power of a Read Aloud is so exciting to witness and participate in!

In fact, I believe in the power of Read Alouds so much, I talk about them in a workshop called, Literature Lassos. This workshop led to a Padlet, check it out here: https://padlet.com/swladis3/xh6aytbp3ht. Pictured are just two of the groups of Lassos. This is an ever growing list because I read a lot of book blogs and I love adding new (and sometimes “old”) finds to my collection. 

So, do you have favorite Read Alouds?  Would you like me to come to your school to discuss Literature Lassos?  Reach out via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Digital Check-Up

I recently got the oil changed on my car. I did this because a reminder popped up on my dashboard. So consider this your pop up reminder to do a digital check-up!

Do you get those emails or letters saying that privacy changes have occurred for an account/subscription you have? Do you ignore them? Truthfully I often do. But when it comes to our digital devices and subscriptions we need to be diligent. Are these companies giving out your information in a different way? Are they protecting your data as securely?

What about your social media? Have you recently checked that your preferences have remained the same? I have noticed that when apps update, sometimes my preferences change to more general allowances. I keep my personal preferences fairly tight. Limiting access to my posts and information to friends and approved groups. 

For your child’s video games, what has changed in regards to allowing access to other players? Again, when an update occurred, did it change your parental controls? Have you recently checked your child’s screen time on a daily or weekly basis. Both Apple products and android phones can be monitored. 

So as we enter 2020, add a Digital Check-Up to your to-do list. Here is a quick Digital Check-Up checklist followed by some ideas to accomplish the items: 

  1. Check screen times. 
    1. Apple mobile products have Screen Time listed under settings.
    2. Android users can download the Family Link app. 
  2. Check the Social Media preferences, particularly who can see the posts, for you and your child.
    1. Are you set for just friends and family seeing your posts or your  children’s posts?
  3. Video game settings. Check the parental controls. 
    1. If you can’t find them google the question as to where they can be found. If they don’t have any, maybe re-evaluate the use of this game. 
    2. While you are at it, play the game if you have not done so. This is a great way to see what is attracting your child to the game.
  4. Passwords, have you, and your children, been using the same password on multiple sites and/or for a long time? Time to change  it. It is possible it has been exposed during a data breach somewhere. 
    1. The Mozilla organization, makers of the Firefox browser have a new free tool you can use to check if any of your info/data was exposed in a data breach. It is called Firefox Monitor, it’s free to use and you may be surprised at what it shows you. Mozilla has recently doubled down on privacy and the latest version of Firefox is arguably the most privacy focussed browser of the big four right now. 
    2. If Firefox isn’t your cup of tea and you are a Chrome user, they offer data breach tools also. In August Chrome released their Password Checkup Extension. Once installed it would alert you whenever you login to a site if your username and password were exposed in a data breach and prompt you to update them. 
    3. Google just announced that the forthcoming Chrome 79 will have built in protections and will monitor your saved passwords and notify you should they appear in a breach. Using a browser without these features? Checkout https://haveibeenpwned.com/ enter your email address and it will tell you if/when/where it was exposed. You can even sign up for notifications.
  5. VPN – do you often use public wifi, hotels, airports, coffee shops? If so and you are not using a vpn, you may be exposing your sensitive data, passwords, credit cards, etc.  
    1. A vpn encrypts all your internet traffic making it very hard to intercept your traffic. There are many providers out there and plans can cost as little as a cup of coffee a month. EdTech Ease’s CTO uses Express VPN and is very happy with the speed and security it provides.

What did your Digital Check-Up reveal? Reach out with your discoveries via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Smooth Start

A few weeks ago, after moving my youngest son to his room at college, I was driving to visit my oldest son. With some quiet time in the car I started reflecting on how the school year has started at my client schools. This led me to the whole idea of smooth starts to school. What does that mean, to have a smooth start? Does it mean there are few scheduling conflicts? Probably important in a high school but this can be a concern in elementary schools when scheduling library time or STEAM labs individually with teachers. Does it mean all your curricular materials arrived on time, no backorders? Even more important did they arrive in the correct classrooms?

After spending the first week in a client school, the administration and I felt that we had had a smooth start. Almost all the curriculum resources were in, only a few back ordered items (Yay!) Most students seemed to be making the transition from summer to school well. The new teachers were over prepared in their lesson plans. The new student information system did make taking attendance easier. So yes, a smooth start.

Smooth starts are important! The tweets and articles say so. But what is the benefit of a smooth start? For me, it sets a tone for the school year. When I was teaching, a smooth start was several weeks long. I taught Kindergarten for 6 years and these young learners, take several weeks of modeling procedural expectations for it to “take.” Does that mean no academics got introduced, of course not! But also introduced was:

  • How to rotate during centers -this allowed me later to take small groups or individual students with the confidence that the remaining students could be working on their assignments effectively.
  • How to silently ask to use the restroom so that learning could continue.
  • How to respond to a “sharing” with a question or comment about the sharing and not about themselves. – Important social learning, to be an active listener to someone.
  • Where are the important things like the office, nurse, playground are in the school. Knowing this allowed my messengers to have confidence and independence in their role.
  • Where are the supplies kept in the classroom. Students should have ownership of knowing they are free to get supplies when needed. So, they also need practice in knowing when they actually need a supply.

These are just a few items that are modeled, practiced, modeled again, practiced again before the class can be a community of learners who know the procedures and expectations for a smooth year, not just a smooth start.

George Couros reminded us in a recent blog about a past blog post: 10 Easy Ways To Create an Amazing #ClassroomCulture This Year. (https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/9181, https://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/6612 ) One key he says is to build positive relationships. I totally agree. If our students trust us to support them as they grow then they will take the advantage of the opportunities we provide to grow. Those relationships start on Day 1 but build each day after.

So what if your year did not get off to the start you want, call a do over! No, you can’t go back in time but you can call a time out. Maybe you just need to evaluate some of your procedures and explain to the class that you want to discuss what is working for this class community and what needs a change. Then carefully think through that change and model it. Maybe it means making that extra effort to be standing at the door each morning to say hello to each student.

A final thought…

Now what? Kayla Delzer (@TopDogTeaching) posted on Twitter: “What are we doing to make sure kids are this excited to come back to school every day – not just the first day?”

So how did your first days go? What are you continuing to do maintain the joy of learning? Share with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Tuesday, 10 September 2019.

What is Learning?

“So, how do you know that a child is learning?” This was recently asked of me at a parent coffee I held. This question emerged as I was discussing the progress monitoring that this school had instituted in their reading program. I was explaining as to how I view the yearly achievement testing as one piece in a student’s educational portfolio. A way to monitor progress from year to year. But my views on achievement testing are not what I want to discuss in this post. Rather I want to think through the idea of learning and how we can help parents understand this complex idea.

If you Google ‘ways to learn,’ you will get a variety of answers. One theory, the VARK model, identifies four primary types of learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing, and kinesthetic. Each learning type responds best to a different method of teaching (https://blog.prezi.com/the-four-different-types-of-learners-and-what-they-mean-to-your-presentations-infographic/). My computer dictionary says learning is: the acquisition of knowledge or skills through experience, study, or by being taught (Apple Dictionary, 2108). Another way to look at learning is The Seven Learning Styles (https://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/). Constructivism is a learning theory that defines learning as the way people construct meaning and knowledge from their experiences (https://sydney.edu.au/education_social_work/learning_teaching/ict/theory/constructivism.shtml). Again my goal in this post is not to write a review study of learning. But a quick reminder of the variety of ways our students may learn does demonstrate that there is no easy answer to, “So, how do you know that a child is learning?”

As educators we monitor learning growth in many ways, from quizzes to writing samples. Teachers listen to children read and use running records. Comparing previous running records to see if self-corrections have increased or look at words per minute read to evaluate fluency development. There are a variety of computer based progress monitoring systems, STAR 360 and iReady to name but two (and yes these both proclaim other uses too but that is another blog post). We diligently record growth in report cards and progress reports. Maybe some of your schools use portfolios to demonstrate growth. All these ways and more coalesce to display student growth. So why did this parent ask, “So, how do you know that a child is learning?”

I think the real question for this parent is: ‘How do I know that my child is learning?’

Just as we educate our students, we need to take an active step in educating our parents. That was the purpose of the coffee I was having, helping the parents understand what this school is doing to monitor learning growth. Further what is being done with the data interms of support, enrichment and identifying students who need a nudge. I was encouraging parents to read with their children and questions to ask to push their thinking. I suggested conversation topics based on the curriculum, to read the weekly newsletters to know what their children were studying in school, to look at the planners as conversation starters, in other words talk to their children meaningfully about school. Listening to conversations over time will give parents some insight as to the learning taking place.

I also reminded the parents that morning that with anything, practice makes learning develop. Check out this related blog post, How to Improve-Practice, http://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/how-to-improve-practice. Parents need reminders that learning does not just happen because a child grows taller. They need practice. Practice retelling stories, giving directions, reading!

“So, how do you know that a child is learning?” Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Thursday, 10 October 2019.

Let Them Read

What follows in this post is my personal beliefs about reading. I have done some research about what encourages reading and whether certain reading programs are effective catalysts of students reading. But primarily my thoughts on reading come from my observations and interactions with students and my own children over the last two decades.

What I have discovered is that everyone is a reader. It may be that they like to read novels, newspapers, magazines, instructional booklets. But everyone, students and grownups, will spend a lot of time doing something if they enjoy it. Just like some like to play baseball, do crossword puzzles, cook, or paly video games. If you enjoy something you will be content to do it more and therefore become better at your chosen endeavour. The difference with reading, is that as my husband says, ‘one must read to succeed.’ He in not necessarily meaning that success is becoming CEO of a corporation, rather he means that to successfully function in this world, one must be proficient at reading.

So reading takes on an importance in one’s education that other joyful hobbies do not. As educators we want our students to practice their reading. We know that practice imporves all skills. So, how do we encourage reading? Spoiler alert, this is my belief…Find what they like to read and give them lots of oppportunities to read that. Maybe it is an author, or a genre, or a magazine about their hobby.

When my sons were young, I truly thought one of them was “not a reader.” He was not the kid who picked up a book in the middle of the day to read. But one night, I went up to check on my boys and there he was reading in bed. I asked what he was reading and he told me. He also told me he read every night after coming to bed. Even after, we had read to him. From then on, I purchased and found at the library his genre of books (which was/is very different from his older brother and myself). He is also a sports column reader which he now does on his phone.

At a client school this year, I had a conversation with a parent about her concern regarding her daughter’s reading skills. The next day I had a conversation with the student and discovered that she really wanted to read Harry Potter. Talked with her mom again and we both decided that she was not ready academically or developmentally for Harry Potter (more about this: http://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/academically-or-developmentally-ready). I researched some books that were similar to Harry Potter but better suited for this student now. I showed her my findings and she chose a series to try. I bought the first few books, read them myself over a weekend. She loved the series. More than that, she talked about the series with her classmates, who then wanted to borrow these books. The icing on the cake was when their teacher found them doing an impromptu book talk about the series on the floor of the library. That made my heart sing. Her mom has since told me that she calls herself “a reader.” Her teacher has observed her growth in classroom reader and confidence in reading. And if we want to add data, her reading scores have improved dramatically. So have the other reluctant readers that she book-talked into reading this series (and two more series – they have been coming to school to exchange books with me this summer).

So to add one more anecdote: walked out of a store the other day and a young man following his mom(looked to be about 6th grade) nearly walked into me. Why? He was engrossed in a book. Isn’t that what we want for all our students? To be so “into a story” that they can’t put it down.

“Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.” – Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn Dixie

How will you get your students excited about reading this school year? How will you make books available to your students? Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Sunday, 28 July 2019.