7 Virtues of a Blended Learning Teacher

Adobe Spark (17)This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “To what extent is this a new model of learning in a digital age? Is blended learning becoming yet another overhyped myth?  What lessons learned can you share from your own school community?”

Blended learning is a disputed term among academics and one may find what it is NOT, rather than what it IS. In 2009, I entered the world of blended learning after the school I taught at implemented a 1 to 1 laptop initiative which placed computers in the hands of all students (grade 6-12) that they used in the classroom and brought home with them each night. Because of this experience and through conversations I have had with other educators in similar education ecosystems, I believe that blended learning is a combination of traditional teaching methods and digital ones, this in different languanges.

Educators who are sound in content and pedagogy are often high-impact blended learning teachers as well. Through reflection and conversation, blended learning teachers possess similar virtues:

Teacher Virtues:  

  1. Uninhibited Creativity in delivery and content of learning
  2. Sees Failure as Opportunities for Growth and gains achieved through perseverance
  3. Seeks out Opportunities for Improvement
  4. Reflective in Practice and on student achievement
  5. Student-centered and Relinquishes Control of elements in traditional teaching
  6. Sees Technological Differentiation as a Way to Meet All Students’ Needs
  7. Recognizes Multidimensional and Multimodal Learning as Relevant and Engaging

Teacher virtues in both a traditional or blended environment extend across both and most, are interchangeable in either environment. Technology or blended learning does not automatically make one better. In fact, through experience, it does quite the opposite, magnifying poor classroom management or lack of understanding of content or pedagogy. Effective blended teachers are always effective classroom teachers but the opposite may not be true. To be a high-impact blended teacher it takes creativity, understanding, resourcefulness, and reflection in a digital learning space.

Technology to Support Struggling Readers with Dyslexia

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I am often asked how best to support struggling readers, especially those with reading disabilities. While it is important to identify and provide interventions early, all students, no matter their age, can continue to learn and develop literacy skills throughout their lifetime. When a child is diagnosed with dyslexia there are many questions from educators on what exactly that means and how best to support these struggling readers. Simply put, dyslexia is a neurobiological disorder that affects the development of basic reading skills and spelling skills. Just because a child has difficulty in both decoding (written word pronunciation) and encoding (spelling) does not mean they have difficulty in comprehending what they hear.

Students diagnosed with dyslexia should continue to receive interventions and support in the areas of reading and writing but the addition of assistive technology provides these students access to the same content and curriculum as their peers. This is essential and also the law. Students diagnosed with dyslexia are protected under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and have the right to participate in the general education curriculum.

As a student gets older, accessing content across discipline areas become a priority for students with dyslexia. Fortunately, widespread use of technology in education has made this possible for many. Equipping struggling readers diagnosed with dyslexia with compensatory tools helps them identify ways they can access information for school and in life. Text to Speech is one resource all educators should be familiar with to support students.

Chromebooks and Google

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 3.42.48 PMGoogle Chrome Extension Read and Write for Google by TextHelp – Read and Write for Google offers teachers and students many more options than just text to speech. It also has a text to picture dictionary, word prediction, voice notes option along with much, much more. This one extension provides struggling readers with dyslexia support in both reading and writing. It is definitely one of my favorites, check it out. 

Reader Add-onGoogle Doc Add-On ReaderThis add-on reads all text on a Google Doc. It was easy to use and is available in multiple languages and dialects. It is free. A bonus with using Google, if you upload a pdf into your Drive you can open it as a Google Doc making this perfect for those text to speech tools that do not read pdfs.

Screenshot 2017-05-05 at 3.40.13 PMGoogle Chrome App TTS-ReaderAllows students to copy and paste any text to hear it spoken. Students can pause, stop, and start this app and it remembers the position where the student left off. It highlights the spoken text and uses no data once the page is loaded. Supports multilingual and English in different accents.

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Google Chrome Extension Selection ReaderThis Chrome Extension allows you to simply highlight and play. It is easy to use and could handle a large amount of text selected. Paused naturally at commas and punctuation. Perfect for reading webpages a student may use.

 

Apple Devices 

Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 3.24.18 PMMacbook – iOs accessibility features make text to speech on an Apple device a breeze. If you are on a Macbook, simply accesses the Accessibility Features under the System Preferences. Once you click on “Accessibility” simply choose desired rate and voice in the “Speech” option and enable “Speak selected text when the key is pressed”.

iPad – An iPad is similar to a Macbook in that you launch “Settings” and click on “General” to locate “Accessibility” options. Under “Accessibility” tap on “Speak Selection” and adjust the rate with the slider. For both the Macbook and iPad, text to speech works for websites, iBooks, PDFs, as well as many other apps you may have installed.

Accessible content for students who are struggling readers and are diagnosed with dyslexia is easy to do when a student simply needs to hear the text in order to comprehend it. Using an app like Tiny Scanner can help you turn any text into digital text that can then be read aloud using one of the Text to Speech apps above!

Resources Used – Nancy Mather and Barbara J. Wendling. Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention.  New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Write. Create. Publish: 4 Student-Centered Writing Projects to do Before Summer Break

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At dinner, I was informed by my third and seventh grader that they had 23 days left of school. Wow – 23 days – the school year has flown by. As the weather turns warmer and classroom windows begin opening once again, it is important to maximize the small amount of time we have left with our students. Writing and sharing their voice with the classroom and globe will foster engagement, relevance, and practice with essential skills all students need.

Below are 4 of my favorite Student-Centered Writing Projects to do before Summer Break:

  1. Future MeScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 9.52.30 PMFutureMe.org is a free website that allows students to send an email to their future self. Users get to select the date it will be delivered, whether the letter is private or can be posted on a public forum, and can attach images to the email. Students will love seeing an email pop up in their inbox that they had forgotten they wrote. While content can be a variety of things or left entirely up to the student, here are a few questions that my students loved to write about: What are you most proud of from this year? What is one new thing you want to try this summer?  What are you going to miss the most from ___ grade? Who did you get to know better this year? What are your goals for next year?
  2. Curated Google SiteScreenshot 2017-04-25 at 10.11.40 PMAt the end of each year, create a memory website full of pictures, videos, and student work samples. When I did this in my classroom, I had students share their favorite pieces with me so I could collect and curate them in one spot. This reflection can be coupled with writing where students are  The new Google Sites is perfect for this type of project. Living in the cloud, Google Sites is accessible for everyone and it integrates easily with Google Drive making curation easy! No Google Sites, don’t worry, Padlet would work too!  
  3. Flipgridflipgrid_all_devicesCatch the# FlipgridFever and have students create a Grid of Gratitude for support staff or retirees. Flipgrid is a collaborative video discussion platform that lets users create and respond to each other via video. Use Flipgrid to thank support staff in the building or a beloved teacher before they retire. Creating short videos is engaging and meaningful to students and allows them to use a contemporary mode to share their thoughts.  
  4. 6 Word MemoirClass of 2012 6 Word MemoirsCredited to Ernest Hemingway for writing the first, 6 Word Memoirs is a favorite writing activity to use at the end of the year with students. Having students share who they are at this moment in time using only 6 words requires reflection, analysis, and succinct writing. Adding an image or video to the project reinforces the multi-modality that can be used to share their work with a public audience. As a teacher, they were always my favorite writing projects to read. Here is an example from my former classroom  Student Examples Check out Smith Magazine for more publishing and sharing opportunities for students!

Soon, students and teachers alike will be leaving the doors for the last time to begin summer break. Make these last days together impactful, encouraging growth in self, and fostering relationships. And please share! If you try any of these ideas, tweet and share a picture to #MakeLitREAL

Technoliteracies: Sharing the Top Digital Resources to Support Student Readers and Writers

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Last year, my best friend Erin Olson and I started an Instagram account to share our love of literacy and technology. Technoloiteracies was born as a place where we could share the best resources, apps, and technology to support student readers and writers.

Instagram is a perfect platform to share resources and connect with other educators. Instagram is an example of microblogging; the sharing of short and frequent posts which made it ideal for us. Erin and I typically share resources a couple times a week. The resources and apps we share span the grades (K-12), cross platforms and devices, and focus on all things literacy. So if you are on Instagram, check us out!

 

Technoliteracies Top 9 Posts of 2016

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  1. Hypothes.isOpen annotation on the web. Hypothes.is allows users to highlight and annotate web pages. Converse over the world’s knowledge and share to public, group, or keep private! Also available as a Chrome extension. Great to support student thinking, research & curation.
  2. Pics4Learning Pics4Learning is a perfect resource to share with students and educators. Here, you will find images to use in all things for school and it’s safe search helps to keep it appropriate for all learners. From multimedia creations to digital portfolios, these copyright-friendly images are perfect and support student understanding in terms of image use and citations. As a bonus, you can also add to the growing collection by uploading your own images to share.
  3. PrismaPrisma is an incredible photo editing app which transforms images into works of art based on the styles of famous artists and periods. Share with students for use in multimedia projects and great for digital storytelling.
  4. 100 Word Challenge – 100 Word Challenge is an online resource which provides a weekly creative writing challenge for kids under 16. Prompts are posted and the community of writers made up of students and educators post and comment on student writing. Anyone can join and share their succinct writing to a global audience. Great to get students writing for real.
  5. Elink.io – Check out elink.io as a perfect tool to collect, curate, & share webpages. Perfect for newsletters sharing student creations or webpages of resources to launch kids into a new unit. Simple, easy, and free. Also available as a chrome extension.
  6. ThingLink – ThingLink provides users with an interactive and engaging platform, great for inquiry. Multiple student and teacher uses by linking and sharing content. Now, ThingLink offers a 360 picture view. Checkout out Thinglink.com for interactive images and videos! Easily create a collection of resources for students.
  7. Bubbl.us – Check out bubbl.us. A brainstorming tool perfect for students to organize thoughts and make their thinking visible. Color code topics, modify and move bubbles with a click, and share with peers for collaborative work.
  8. Dipity – An interactive timeline that has unfortunately shut down. Try TimeToast as an alternative.
  9. Read The World – Readtheworld.org is a site that helps you diversify your literature selections. It is an archived hand-picked book site which is divided by country, region, and state. Each title has a brief summary, quotes, length, and brief author bio.

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Erin and I wish you all a Happy and Healthy 2017!

 

10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

 

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Today my work consisted of supporting educators on how to teach writing. Upon reflection, we realized that very few of us remember being specifically taught how to teach writing. Sure, we learned a lot about content, genres, and types of writing; but not one person raised their hand when I asked if they had an undergrad program that explicitly taught them how to teach writing. Empowering kids through writing is my passion, and I am driven to change the writing landscape that is found in many schools!

As a teacher of writing, I believe there are 10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

  1. Teach the Writer, not the Writing – Focus on the learning, not the end product.
  2. Write in Front of your Students – Dispel the notion that writing is magic. Let young writers see and hear your process as you write in front of them.
  3. State the Why – Explain why Good Writers use specific skills, strategies, and resources when they write.
  4. Focus on Transferable Skills and Strategies – Answer and remind young writers how the skill or strategy can be used today and whenever they write. 
  5. Student Choice – Transfer ownership by letting students choose what they write about. Is it really about the content or is the content the vehicle in which demonstration occurs? Learning to Write, not Writing to Learn.
  6. Student Voice – Developing voice takes practice. Have students write often and in various genres. 
  7. Write for Real – An authentic audience and writing purpose engages young writers, provides relevance to writing, and allows them to share their story with the world.
  8. Surround Writers with Exemplars– Collect and share examples of writers and writings that students can gain inspiration from or that challenge them to apply a similar technique in their own writing.
  9. Differentiate – Pull small groups of writers or confer one to one with students based on needs and goals. While whole class instruction is efficient, small groups or one to one learning is more effective.
  10. Never Forget the Share – Honor the hard work young writers do through the share at the end of the class. Sharing promotes a safe community, builds relationships, and can target a teaching point!