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.

Year End Reflections

 This post is not so much about suggesting or telling about an educational approach. Rather this is about my wanting to remember to include reflection more into my coaching and teaching. As we careen towards the end of the school year, so many activities seem to pop up that I often don’t take the time for reflection.

I have written about percolating time, http://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/percolating-time, that time to let ideas grow or give students a few extra seconds to form their ideas. Reflection is more than that. For me, reflection is the thinking about an event, lesson, or discussion and determining what I would keep or change for the next time.

This idea of taking time to reflect is particularly important this year for me. For the first time in a long, long while I spent this school year inserting myself into a new school community. I could not have asked for a more welcoming community. From the students to the faculty to the parents, everyone was so open to including me in their school community. Does that mean there were no hiccups, of course not. But as I reflect on the year, those bumps in the road were fabulous learning opportunities.

As an edtech consultant and in my role as an accreditation team member, I have stepped into schools for short visits, imparting my “wisdom” and then leaving. In these circumstances, I do not have to be around for the fallout from suggesting new ideas/approaches or the hard work of implementing change. But this year, I added a client school in which I spent several days each week. This meant that I was personally in the school to see how my recommendations and proposals on curriculum; suggestions on teaching; and professional development book studies developed.

In working at my previous school for well over a decade, I had the opportunity to get to know the faculty well. I knew which teachers would take a recommendation and run with it. Which teachers would benefit from modeling and co-teaching. Which teachers needed time to digest ideas then have a discussion. I had also built up my relationships so that my recommendations were met with confidence by the faculty that I had done my research. In this new client school, my biggest reflection is that I did not develop relationships first. Yes, I did not come in day 1 and say ‘blah, blah, blah, this needs to go.’ But I did suggest to soon that as a faculty we evaluate certain programs and practices too soon. Just having a new person in the school was unsettling enough.

I thank the other administrators that I was working with for our weekly meetings to help me learn the community. Those meetings helped remind me to take a step back. While I took copious notes, I started asking more questions and doing more observations. This allowed the second half of the school year to go smoother. This also gave the faculty time to see that I was open to discussions and wanted their input (even if it was different from my thoughts).

So what are my reflections at the end of this school year.

  • Be open. Some practices that I thought were not worthwhile are just right for this school.
  • Seeing a school year from start to finish, gave me the big picture. It was about March when some ideas that I had been sketching out came together and allowed me to research programs to enrich the educational opportunities that would work with the constraints and possibilities within this school.
  • Listen more. As the year went on I realized their were stakeholders I had not talked with…parents. So I set up morning coffee sessions with each grade level of parents. I stopped some in the lobby during arrival and dismissal. Before I knew it, more parents were stopping me. Some to give me the “lowdown” on the school, others to hear what I thought.
  • Sometimes an “outside” viewpoint is needed. Even if this is hard for the “insiders” to hear.

Are you taking a few minutes to reflect on this school year? Do you have your students reflect on the school year? Share your ideas with EdTech EASE on Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Hatching Chicks

 Two of the schools that EdTech EASE works with include hatching chicks as part of their elementary science curriculum. This made me curious as to why this process was included in their curriculums. For both schools, this is part of a larger science curriculum. As part of their science curriculum, the first and second graders in these schools study life cycles in nature. Students learn about life cycles of plants and bean seeds to see firsthand how roots, stems, and leaves develop.They examined the life cycles of butterflies, fish, and frogs Their studies culminated with learning about the life cycle of the chicken while incubating a brood of chicks! But the science is just the start.

These students also had the opportunity to practice their social emotional, I like to call them… life skills. They had the opportunity to nurture another living being. That is something we want our children to learn how to do.

These fortunate students took part in a hands-on lesson on how to nurture as well as protect.

The students watched the embryos develop within the egg. Explanations were given in how to hold the egg as the students performed a candling experiment (shining a light at the inside of the developing egg to see if the embryo is developing). During the incubation time, the students took their role of protectors very seriously. One teacher had brought in a large enclosure to safeguard the eggs. The young students were instructed as to the fragile nature of the eggs as the chicks develop. So, they made signs explaining the need to be careful around the enclosure and not to walk past the tape that marked off a safe distance from the enclosure. This was done for the benefit of the other students in the schools who came to observe the process through visitations.

Finally, the students experienced the excitement of having healthy chicks hatch! One of the schools shared that event with the whole school through the live streaming of the hatching to a TV stationed outside the first-grade classroom. This area of the school became very popular for the two days of hatching. Students and teachers found reasons to walk by the video feed.

After the hatching, the students are integrating their science skills with observations as well as the social emotional skills with monitoring and protecting the development of the chicks as they begin to grow. As each grade visited the chicks, the students are their guides in holding the chicks gently. To culminate this hands-on experience in one school, each first-grader will get to take the chicks home to care for them overnight. They also will eventually need to handle separation as the chicks are given up for adoption to local farms.

This idea of integrating social emotional learning reminds me of an article I read just this afternoon from the opinion column in Education Week ( find at @EdWeekComm on Twitter) The article was titled, Your Objections to Whole-Child Education Aren’t Wrong. They’re Just Outdated. It referred to the arguments for more academic early learning versus more a social-emotional whole child focus. The idea exposed was that today social-emotional skills can be (and should be in my opinion) a vital integrated part of curriculums. I don’t think this needs to stop at early childhood. Strong academic opportunities can be paired with practical social emotional learning experiences.

How are you teaching social emotional skill within the academics of your classroom? Share your ideas with EdTech EASE on Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Thursday, 25 April 2019.

Learning Spaces

Learning should not be regulated to just the classroom. I am not the only one who feels this way, just check Instagram and Facebook posts.Learning spills out into the hallways and beyond in many schools. In the schools I visit, I often observe that the hallways, multipurpose room, and even the kitchen are often transformed into learning spaces.

Using a hallway floor as a backdrop, the first and second graders employed a Design Thinking Cycle to arrange miscellaneous items into a page for an I Spy bookAnother time, one may have seen these same students jumping on a student sized number line as they explored numbers and addition. Or determining directions on a neighborhood map.

Literature thinking and engineering challenges may be discovered in multipurpose rooms. Other times students are doing robotic coding in hallways. Applying fractions to cooking has been a focus for a number of classes in the kitchen. Teachers take advantage of these addtional learning spaces to conduct guided reading sessions, organize collaborative activites, and encourage paired reading through book nooks in the hallway.

Since there is no set art classroom, one school transforms their multipurpose room into an art studio. Another created a garden for contemplation and earth science lessons. Of course, a trend in education today is makerspaces. While these are not spaces that teachers just use because they are available like the hallway, makerspaces are designed to with express purpose to enlarge the learning space opportunities for students.

Another trend is purposefully having open spaces with a variety of furnishing. Students who need a few moments of solitude to get an assignment done may be found sitting on an oversized chair. Or if a group needs the floorspace to work on their Rube Goldberg design, these open spaces are ideal.

What about virtual field trips? Take the learning out of the building without the cost of a bus or plane. Many museums offer just such opportunities, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/online-features/metkids/ will take you to the virtual site for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Don’t discount the learning that the playground offers. Social-Emotional lessons need a space to be practiced. The playground football game is perfect for trying out the conflict resolution skills discussed in classes. With guidance from an adult monitoring, students often work through social concerns as they decide who gets the skip rope first.

By using the variety of learning spaces your school can create or just take advantage of, you can remind students that learning is not a segregated activity that is done in just one learning space. Take a look around your school and see what hidden learning spaces are available for you and your students.

What spaces are you using to extend your classroom? Share your ideas with EdTech EASE on Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Friday, 08 March 2019.

Science Fair in a Digital World?

During the last few weeks I have been an observer in the process of a school science fair. When I first heard about this endeavor, I started thinking about, is there a place in this digital world for an old school science fair? Let’s start with what I observed of this process.

Students did preliminary research regarding their science concept, followed by performing the experiment. Then, they reported the experience with poster board displays.The science fair included hypotheses involving animal behavior, the chemistry of fruit preservation, and electrical voltages. But the science fair was not only about science exploration. Over the course of several weeks, the students had to manage their time, in some cases actually redesigning their experiments, make sure they were only testing one variable, and then they created a visual display of their work. Teachers gave support and even class time to guide the students, and the Fifth grade in this school monitored the process with check-ins andposters of encouragement. The result was a room filled with excited students demonstrating all they had learned to their classmates, younger schoolmates, teachers and their parents!

So let’s look at the science fair process through the 4 C’s of 21st Century Skills.

Critical Thinking – the students had to solve a problem of their own design.

Creativity – the students had to design an experiment from a problem they were interested in.

Collaboration – (this one is tricky) while no teams were formed for this science fair that does not mean it could not be a component. I did observe students discussing their projects and getting great feedback from each other.

Communication – the science fair was an opportunity for students to express their understanding in a visual format as well as orally during the actual science fair.

So, to answer my own question, yes, a science fair does belong in a digital world. The hands-on experience and the 3 C’s attest to that. Now would I “tech up” the experience? Maybe in an intentional way not just to add technology. Some students are better with oral communication than visual displays. Maybe a differentiated choice could be that they film their experiment and then narrate it with a video program. Just one thought.

Does your school do science fairs? Do you incorporate a digital component? What about allowing for collaboration? Share with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on Friday, 25 January 2019.

Academically or Developmentally Ready?

Had a conversation with a parent last week. She was telling me how she and her husband had just watched Apollo 13 with their 5th grade daughter over the weekend. After reassuring their daughter that the astronauts were going to be fine, they all got really engrossed with the film. The 5th grader asked some great questions that they stopped the movie to look up (i.e. Google). They enjoyed the experience so much that she was looking for other movies like that to watch together. Our conversation continued with us discussing the movies, plays and books that some parents expose their kids to at young ages.

I have noticed that many parents do not take the time to determine if a movie, book or TV program is appropriate for their child. To me it is a question of developmentally ready. Is a child developmentally ready for certain themes, scenes or ideas? Just becasue a movie is based on a comic book, does not mean that it is meant for children. Many comics are intended for adults and the movies made from them contain mature ideas.As a Principal, I was often asked by parents what could their voracious reader read next? Harry Potter? The Lightening Thief? My answer was always grounded in the particular child’s developmental stage.

Multiple factors need to be taken into account when determining if your child is developmentally ready for an experience. A good starting point is the chld’s age. Other considerations are birth order, cultural considerations, child’s temperment, the intended audience, and child’s background knowledge. It is important for each family to make viewing/reading decisions based on these factors as they relate to their family.

Let’s take a moment to look at one of these factors. Birth Order. In my opinion, parents are more likely to take into consideration whether their first born child is ready for the book, movie, etc. (maybe it is a case of… is the parent ready to acknowledge their oldest child is ready for certain experiences). But younger siblings can be made aware of topics and ideas through dinner conversations involving the older sibling. These younger siblings then have the background knowledge to potentially be developmentally ready for a movie or TV program than their classmates. As my sons were growing up, we would often discuss that what we consider appropriate for our family may not be for a friend’s family. And the other way, my husband and I would say that ‘does not work for our family,’ when something was brought to us for approval.

A quick note, the intended audience of the book/movie should be considered. Having observed elementary students at theater productions that are intended for adult audiences, I wonder if a parent is prepared for the questions that may arise. In discussions, I have been told ‘it will just go over their heads.’ If topics will not be understood by a child, then what is the point of exposing them at this point? For some curious children, this non-understood concept may lead to exploration to get the meaning.

So how do you know what the intended audience is? Or what the story involves? There are some great resources out their. Amazon has editorial reviews by librarians and authors. Reading what other customers have said also can inform a parent as to how their child may respond (i.e. temperment). CommonSense Media (https://www.commonsensemedia.org) has reviews that include age suggestions, how many positive messages or illicit behavior, and a section on what parents need to know.

Also refer parents, and yourself, to the school Librarian, often an underutilized faculty member. Don’t forget that you can and should be a great resource for your classroom or school parents.

Remind parents that there is plenty of time for their child to be exposed to ideas and events. It is important to recognize what their child is ready to understand without overwhelming them or frightening them.

How do you support parents in their quest to determine whether their child is academically or developmentally ready for some media? Reach out with your ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com

Originally posted on  Friday, 11 January 2019.

How to improve…Practice!

Want to get better at something? Then practice it! Been feeling a bit frustrated that some educators and parents seem to think that students will improve in reading just because we are assessing their reading skills. No. Some think that students will improve their individual reading skills because they are reading short passages in an anthology once or twice a week. No. Just like all skills, reading must be consistently practiced.

That is not to say that there are not other factors that contribute to reading development. Having plenty of books available for our readers is one. Modeling good fluency and reading comprehension when reading aloud is another. Making personal connections to the story. And there are abundant articles for parents and entire books written to support reading instruction in the classroom.

The bottom line…all the articles, books, and advice have one thing in common. One must read to get better at reading. Set aside reading times in class and at home.

A basketball player is not going to have a consistent 3-point shot without hours of practice. A dancer will not learn a new routine or a new dance move without practicing. A pianist must practice to grow into move difficult arrangements. Gamers practice their digital prowess.

So let’s talk with our reluctant readers about topics they like and show them book after book till they find one they enjoy. Let’s do book talks to introduce new genres and titles to all our readers. Let’s DEAR. Let’s integrate science and social studies into our Language Arts classes through novels. Let’s use picture books to introduce a STEAM challenge. Let’s fill our classroom and school libraries with books!

Mostly, let’s have the students read!!

How are you encouraging reading in your classroom or school? 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, 27 December 2018.

Loving Legos Again

So let’s be honest, I have always loved Legos! When I say that I am loving Legos again, it is because I have started writing some new Lego Challenges for the schools that I am working with. I am also curating some fun new ones from Pinterest. I will share some of my new ones when I finish creating this batch. No sense in not sharing and using social media for good contributions!

What made me love Legos again? A trip to Legoland-Florida with my nephew and husband. Who can’t be inspired by all the awesome Lego creations through out the park! 

 So, I came home from Legoland and decided that one of my client schools could benefit from Lego Challenges. What are the benefits to Lego Challenges? According to The Scots College in Australia, there are eight important benefits to using Legos in the classroom, https://www.tsc.nsw.edu.au/tscnews/eight-educational-benefits-of-playing-with-lego.For me the three that stand out are Lego develops problem solving and mathematical thinking, creativity, and communication skills. Using the directions supports attention to detail while giving no directions or minimum parameters allows for practice with problem solving. When students are teamed for a Lego challenge, the opportunity to communicate postively and collaborate on a solution is seamlessly integrated in the activity.

And the benefits are not just for elementary students, but for preschool through adulthood. The same advantages to building with Legos that pertain to kids, also applies to adults. What a great way to model positve collaboration than to get involved with solving the Lego challenge with your students. Or invite your parents in for an evening of Lego building.

How to start using Legos effectively as a teaching tool? For me, it begins with creating Lego boxes. On the left are the boxes I put together for a client school. On the right is the set that was put together for a different school. This second school also has a huge bin available for students to use for free builds and for exchanging bricks. 

After the boxes are ready, let the fun begin! Check out Pinterest for some great challenge ideas. Here are some I have adapted from Pinterest and ones I have come up with on my own (determine which grade levels these most apply to in your class/school):

  • Create a musical note.
  • Create a catapult.
  • Create a LEGO sculpture then write a LEGO instruction booklet for others to create your design.
  • Create a helicopter.
  • You were just made ruler over your own country. Design a flag for your new land.
  • Build a bridge out of Legos! Challenge is to build a bridge that can support the weight of 100 pennies in a small cup.
  • What can you build with ___________bricks? (change the amounts to add difficulty)

So start loving Legos again too! Reach out with your Lego Challenge ideas via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Friday, 30 November 2018.

What is your Objective?

Several years ago, I was conferencing with a teacher. She said that she did not have enough time to do all the activities she had for her unit. In fact she had a wonderful new activity she wanted to add to to the unit plan. I stopped her and asked, “What is your Objective?” She then told me what the objective was for that unit and I asked if all the activities were necessary to address the objective. That made her pause for a moment and she answered ‘but all the activities are so fun.’ We then looked at all the activities and decided which ones directly moved the students towards mastering the objective, which allowed for addressing differentiated learning styles, and which gave the opportunity for critical thinking. After this joint review, the teacher had a more manageable and effective set of learning opportunities for this objective. Further, we had identified which of the discarded activities could replace a chosen one in the future for variety (for the teacher).

As I write this post, I reminded myself of a similar post I have written entitled Intentionshttp://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/intentions. In that post, I was more focused on the too frequent use of technology for tech’s sake. I was encouraging educators to decide on their learning objectives and integrate technology resources that align with the objectives. Recently at a Teacher Innovation Day I led, the teachers and I discussed this idea relating it to the SAMR Framework (substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition) of technology integration. It was a wonderful discussion involving the teachers looking at their own tech integrated lessons and how these fit into the SAMR Framework. Yet, one teacher then told me that she had changed how she wanted to culminate an upcoming unit with students creating a diorama. But she was also going to have them video themselves explaining each panel of the diorama. I asked her why the video, and she said it was because she wanted to integrate technology. We discussed how a diorama and a video could both be a culminating presentation that can assess their understanding of the unit. Having the students do both is an example of tech for tech’s sake. She came to the conclusion that she would have the students do one presentation method for this unit and the other for the next, to give the students a variety of strategies for demonstrating their learning. She took it a step further saying that their next teachers could have the students choose which presentation method to use since they would have been introduced to several.

When you begin planning with an objective in mind, you then have the ability to differentiate for your students’ needs. You can identify ways to address their academic differences, their social-emotional readiness, and even how to include their interests into the plan. An objective lets you decide what content and how much content to introduce. An objective will guide you incorporating varying teaching styles to adjust to learning styles. Without an objective, there can be no adjustments to the lessons as these lessons are just activities with no framework.

Starting with the objective should be the guiding force behind unit and lesson planning. How that objective will be met by the students is then decided by choosing the most effective, appropriate resources and activities. Reach out with your thoughts via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Wednesday, 07 November 2018.

Intentional Add-On

 I have been working on a workshop presentation, Digital Citizenship, How Am I Supposed To Teach This? As I work through the segment as to why you should teach Digital Citizenship, I have found myself saying that teaching Digital Citizenship should not be done as add-on lessons but rather integrated into the curriculum. In fact it should and can be integrated into all areas of the curriculum. But… maybe there are times when it is appropriate for Digital Citizenship be an add-on.

Could Digital Citizenship lessons be an add-on, just like mini-lessons about going on a filed trip. Don’t you incorporate a few mini-lessons on how to behave on a field trip prior to going? Reminders to stay with the group and chaperones, to be mindful of the other patrons of the museum (theater, park, supermarket, add your field trip place here), the connection to the curriculum, maybe directions for the activity planned for the field trip. These field trip lessons are add-ons but the field trip is integrated with the curriculum. The lessons are important safety/social-emotional lessons as well. Aren’t mini-lessons about a new website also important safety/social-emotional lessons add-ons.While the actual Digital Citizenship lessons about what information to share on the website and how to navigate to and within the website are not curriculum related, the website was chosen for its ability to enhance the curriculum.

What about lessons on Digital Health? This is related to concerns over screen time and digital addiction. These issues are at the forefront of a lot of parental debate about teens using digital resources in school and out. Is it not a worthy add-on in middle and high school classes? Don’t these types of discussions have potential long range effects on students’ digital lives? So isn’t it worth the class time to make the students aware of their current digital habits and how to manage their future digital habits?

As I have written in a previous blog post, Not Just One Week (http://edtechease.com/index.php/blog/not-just-one-week), Digital Citizenship can not be a once a year set of lessons. To guide students into consistently using the skills and ideas of Digital Citizenship will require practice and feedback over time. By finding ways to “hack the standards” as described by Kirsten Mattson in her book, Digital Citizenship in Action, Empowering Students to Engage in Online Communities, teachers can incorporate Digital Citizenship into the curriculum they are already teaching. When you are using a new anchor chart that you discovered on Pinterest, let the students know that you found this idea in an online community. Teach Keyword searches for a report or presentation research, just as you would explain how to find information in the school library. Give students the choice to create a digital infographic to express their understanding of topic.

Are you integrating Digital Citizenship into your classroom? Would love to hear how you are doing this. Looking for more ways? Reach out via Twitter (@edtechease) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/edtechease/) or email me, swladis@edtechease.com.

Originally posted on Thursday, 27 September 2018.