3 Unique Benefits of eduCLIMBER

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This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and eduCLIMBER by Illuminate Education. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

When I support districts on their school improvement plans attention is given to a root cause analysis and typically analyzing data. While there is an abundance of data collected in schools and districts, using the data to make evidence-based decisions often falls shorts because of:

  • Too much data
  • Not clearly disaggregated
  • Unclear next steps
  • Inability to make sense of data
  • TIME – time to dig into the data, collaborate with colleagues, manipulate data to discern information in a way that is important to you

The importance of analyzing data can’t be stressed enough. Research shows that educators who consistently analyze data, in appropriate ways, have students who grow. Therefore, there may be an abundance of data, however, it may not be used in appropriate contexts or for the best purposes.

That’s why I was excited to preview eduCLIMBER, a cloud-based data system created for educators by educators to make data analysis more efficient and accurate. This interactive tool allows you to visualize data from assessments, behavior incidents, attendance, and response to intervention (RtI) to use in minutes.

While digging into eduCLIMBER I found multiple uses for both the teacher and district. A bonus was the parent-friendly visuals that were available to communicate with parents and guardians about their student’s learning. I also appreciated the attention to the triangulation of data. One data point is considered a snapshot; triangulating the data creates a more clear picture of our students. Finally, I found 3 unique benefits that eduCLIMBER provided that I have not seen on other platforms.

3 Unique Benefits of eduCLIMBER:

  1. Easily import data from nearly any standardized norm-referenced, criterion-referenced, formative/summative assessment. (Read my post here to understand the types of data listed) The ability to disaggregate data across sources is something every school and district should be taking advantage of.
  2.  Evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of interventions within districts. If we don’t know how well interventions are working, how can we assume they are working at all?
  3. Collect, report, and analyze school-wide behavior incidents with a fully customizable PBIS suite. Data can be used not just for academic growth but for analyzing students holistically (i.e. Social-Emotional Learning).

Want a free demo?  Use this link: eduCLIMBER demo

So You Want to Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom…

So You Want To Add Literature Discussion Groups to Your Classroom...

Developed in the 1980’s, Literature Discussion Groups (LDGs) were inspired by a group of students who wanted to continue talking about their books as a group. As a result, educators across the nation have utilized this type of small group work in their literacy classrooms. But while there are many different frameworks for Guided Reading for educators to implement, Literature Discussion Groups can look different from class to class. With this being acknowledged, there are commonalities that most share. Below is a chart which depicts the common elements of Literature Discussion Groups, as well as a comparison to Guided Reading.

Literature Discussion Groups Guided Reading
Purpose To develop critical thinking, speaking and listening skills while diving deep into the text as a peer group. LDG support collaboration, independence, and reading as a social and lifelong experience.    Small group instruction to help students build their reading power so that they can apply skills independently. Must include direct instruction from an expert teacher.
Who Typically used in grades 7-12. ALL students in the class are part of LDGs. Student Choice is extended to ALL students and teachers support and scaffold access to text so that all may participate. Mostly occurring in elementary classrooms, Guided Reading can also be used to support older students on foundational skills, reading comprehension, or vocabulary needs.
Text Students have a choice in what they read. Students typically make their choice based off of book talks or other intros. of the text. All students have their own copy of the text which they can annotate or add sticky notes to while reading and prepping for the discussion.   The text is determined by the teacher. Relevance and engagement are considered in book selection, as well as appropriate challenge and instruction purpose.
Groups Groups of 5-7 students based on choice. Groups are fluid and temporary, changing with each new book selection. All LDGs occur at the same time. Groups are created based on student needs and are typically made up of 4-6 students. Groups should be fluid and evaluated and changed about every three weeks. Guided Reading groups take place one at a time with the teacher.
Teacher Role The teacher acts as a facilitator, listening in on each group but does not become a member of them. During the small group discussions, the teacher takes notes which are used for reflective feedback, whole class instruction and/or evaluation/participation. The teacher designs direct instruction to focus student comprehension, word study, and fluency during small group instruction. The teacher listens in as each student reads and makes on the spot teaching decision based on reading behaviors exhibited.  
Student Role Students develop questions, participate in substantive conversations, support thinking with textual evidence and critical thinking. Students build collective understanding through dialogic learning. Students learn and apply skills from teacher instruction to guided reading text, and independent text. Students individually read the text to self and out loud when designated by the teacher. Students participate in discussion and extension activities in Guided Reading.

This independence and thoughtful discussion about reading in Literature Discussion Groups is one of the goals for literacy teachers. We want our students to enjoy reading, have a choice in what they read, and be able to thoughtfully discuss what they read with others. While this type of small group work does not happen naturally in most classrooms, there are scaffolds and management procedures that teachers can use to set everyone up for success.

First, it is important for students to understand the purpose of LDGs and have a clear image of what a high-functioning group looks and sounds like. This can be done through a video, discussion, or demonstration. Last week I had the pleasure to tape an example LDG with a group of teachers who plan to share it with their students. This exercise allowed us to talk through the important elements we wanted to highlight in the video, as well as a way for teachers to grow their own understanding of LDG by participating in one.

Second, cocreate norms with the students. Kids are smart, they know what groups need in order to remain focused, fair, and consistent. Voicing and agreeing upon norms will support the success of all LDGs. Some norms I had in my own classroom:

  • Be Prepared
  • Ensure all voices are heard
  • Disagree with the statement, never attack the person
  • Negotiate your own time, there is NO Hand Raising in discussions

Scaffold the learning, as stated earlier, LDGs do not happen naturally in the classroom setting. Be prepared to model, live-group demonstration, and reflect. You may also consider starting slow, have all groups start with the same, short piece. Play a more active role in the beginning and drop off to a facilitator role when they get up and running, or use Role Sheets to support discussions. (Note, LDG Roles were first used to scaffold the learning and were not designed to be used by all students for every LDG). Assign each student an individual role, or have all students be the same role (Connector or Summarizer works well for this). Common Roles in LDGs:

  • Discussion Director
  • Connector
  • Vocabulary Identifier
  • Summarizer
  • Illustrator
  • Researcher
  • Literary Lumininator
  • Map Maker

Along with scaffolding, it is important for each teacher to define the purpose and end goals with the implementation of Literature Discussion Groups. During a thoughtful discussion with a group of high school teachers, the consideration of ALL students participating ensued. Should a student be able to exercise their choice in reading if they cannot access the text alone? My answer was answered with a question – what is your purpose? While students do gain and refine skills during LDG, my main purpose for implementation was independence, collaboration, discussion, and critical thinking. All of my high school students read at various levels based on skill and interest, but I never denied any student the opportunity to participate in a peer discussion. The gains far outweighed the risks for during this collaboration.

Assessing. How should I grade students during LDGs? Most educators use both a self and teacher evaluation for grading Literature Discussion Group participation. Students self-assess through a checklist or written response in which they evaluate their own role and contributions to the discussion, as well as their groupmates. This reflection can be powerful for goal-setting and student ownership of learning. Teachers also add their own notes that were gathered during the facilitation of the small groups to the evaluation process. Still, other educators assign flat points for participation or no grade at all.

Finally, don’t be afraid to add your own flair and teaching style to Literature Discussion Groups. Add a new role, The Nosy Neighbor, Aesthetician, Freudian or Existentialist Lenses. Promote digital collaboration through the use of technology or connect your students with others reading the same text outside of the four walls of your classroom. Add a visual element through annotations, sketchnoting, or drawing to be completed by all students prior to the discussion.

Check out my Wakelet for resources used during this post on LDGs

 

Affinity Spaces: What Video Games and Virtual PLNs Can Teach Educators About Informal Learning

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On any given night, you can find my children (grades 5 & 9) along with millions of others, playing video games. From Fortnite, to Minecraft, to Roblox; many hours are logged in these virtual spaces playing… and also learning. The learning taking place is not necessarily organized by specific disciplines but instead, a collective intelligence which blends content knowledge, creative problem solving, design thinking, along with collaborating and communicating with peers around the globe.

This informal learning is similar to my own when I think about jumping on Twitter to connect, consume, and share with other passionate educators, my virtual PLN. So what can we learn from video games, #EdChat, and other virtual spaces? All of these spaces include similar characteristics that James Paul Gee calls Affinity Spaces. While technology has led to an explosion of these spaces, they are possible to replicate face to face although it is difficult because, “institutional constraints, pre-existing status, geographical boundaries. A Classroom where students did not choose to be there and the teacher grades everyone.”

As educators, the goal is not for everyone to use video games in the classroom, but instead, understand the features of Affinity Spaces and work towards creating similar conditions in our classroom.

 15 Features of Affinity Spaces (by Gee)

  1. Organized around a common passion – A common passion, not race, gender, or socioeconomics, is primary and respected by all in the space.
  2. Not segregated by age – Older people can be beginners and younger people can be veterans. Passion, skill, and learning are respected
  3. Common space shared by all (Newbies, Veterans, Masters, etc.) – Everyone is accommodated in the same space. Newbies are not segregated from those that are considered masters of the game.
  4. Everyone can consume and create – Affinity spaces allow everyone to consume not only game-based creations but those created by players in the space. Consuming and creating are encouraged to allow everyone to build if they choose to.
  5. Content is transformed through interaction – The content is not fixed and constantly is transformed through interaction.
  6. Development and pooled broad, general knowledge as well as specialists – People are enabled to create and share knowledge and skill within the space.
  7. Individual and distributed knowledge encouraged – People are enabled to gain individual knowledge and share and spread specialized knowledge.
  8. Use of dispersed knowledge is encouraged (hacking and smashing to gain the desired product) The use of onsite and outside resources and tools is encouraged and supported to gain the creations people seek.
  9. Tacit knowledge is used and honored – Affinity spaces support people to learn by doing rather than memorizing tutorials or reading lengthy directions.
  10. Many different ways to participate – Participation in the space is varied and on multiple levels.
  11. Multiple ways to gain status – People can gain status, if they want to, in many different ways.
  12. Leadership is porous and leaders are resources – There are no bosses. People can be both leaders and followers.
  13. Roles are reciprocal – People sometimes lead, sometimes follow; mentor or be mentored; ask questions or answer them. The bottom line is there is always more to learn.
  14. Learning is individually proactive -Affinity spaces view failure as a means to success. Help is available, but individuals are still responsible for own learning.
  15. Encouragement from audience and feedback from peers – Feedback is welcomed from others interacting with your creations, while peers play an important role in providing critical advice to move individuals forward.

While all of these features are not required, an Affinity Space has most of these features. And upon reflection, most of the popular video games that our students play have these features. That is why we have students, and in my case children, who play hours on end. I, too, see some of these features in the spaces I spend my time as an educator. It is time to pay attention to attributes that make this type of learning successful for students and ask ourselves how these features can be reimagined in our own classrooms. Education is not merely producing consumers but those that can create and produce for the betterment of their space.

Source: Gee, James Paul. Literacy and Education. New York: Routledge, 2015.

Writer’s Workshop in the High School Classroom

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Typically, the discussion around Workshop takes place against the backdrop of the elementary classroom. When I tell other educators I also used workshop in my high school classes I am inundated with endless questions… How did you do that? What curriculum did you use? How much time did you have?

First, before jumping into the weekly schedule and content I used, I always explain a few things up front.

Logistics and Important Information About My Classroom:

  • Class periods were 42 minutes and I met with the students every day for one semester.
  • I worked hard at the beginning to build a community of writers, one where students would be willing to take risks in their style and content and share with a wider audience than the traditional lone teacher.
  • All students submitted a writing portfolio at the end of the course, sharing their chosen pieces, paragraphs, lines, etc. which demonstrated mastery in standards.
  • All students were required to complete, at least, three typed-pages every week of original work or one that was heavily revised and edited.
  • Students were part of a blogging community and required to post something every other week and comment on 2 other blog posts every week. This public sharing of work provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher and helped grow writers faster than anything else I had done throughout my writing. (This community was high school students from across the US and in 4 different classrooms.)
  • Students chose content and type of writing each week. Portfolio asked for examples in multiple types, subgenres, and media; but students had complete control over the when, what, and how during the semester.
  • Along with typical types and subgenres of writing, students also created and wrote in contemporary modes including images, videos, music, infographics, etc.
  • Every two to three weeks students turned in a “publishable piece” to be assessed.
  • Finally, I wrote with my students. I modeled my thinking, shared my pieces, and asked for feedback!  

 

I used the traditional Workshop model where I tried to keep my direct instruction at a minimum so that students could write, apply the learning, and collaborate with each other and me when needed. The following is a typical weekly schedule. During student Independent Writing time they had three options: write, collaborate with peers, collaborate with me. As long as their actions were done with intent, the climate and culture in my classroom allowed them to decide what they needed most at that moment to move them forward as a writer, and then do it!

A Simplified weekly schedule of Writer’s Workshop for a 12th-grade writing class:

MondayInspiration. Brainstorm. Share Every Monday I would take time to launch students into writing. I called this “Monday Inspiration”. There were many methods I used to get kids excited about writing. Students were inspired by a mentor text, video, image, or other types of communication. I would pose a question or prompt to contemplate and write about. Students would take part in an inspiring writing activity that typically had them developing lists, sketching, moving, and so forth. All inspiration and accompanying thinking were recorded in their digital Writer’s Notebook section we labeled, Writing Territories, a term from Nancy Atwell. After the 10 to 15 minute inspiration, students would continue to brainstorm and write about the topic or in the genre at hand. This beginning may be something that they continue to develop throughout the week, or remain in their Writing Territories to call upon if they “don’t know what to write about.” At the very end of the class period, I would make sure to leave time to share. I learned early on, students loved sharing their thoughts, writing, and ideas on Monday after the inspiring start. The sharing was sometimes done as a whole class or in a small group.

TuesdayIndependent Writing. Peer Collaboration. Small Group. 1 on 1  On Tuesday, students were writing or creating independently on a piece of their choice. While they could continue the piece they started on Monday, students in my classroom always had a choice in Type and content of their writing. During this time, I worked with small groups, to teach a skill, reinforce something previously learned, or meet individual needs, collectively. I also had time to meet with a few students 1 on 1. This allowed me to know them as writers, address specific needs that either they or I identified, and to just do a check-in on their process. Along with working independently, or meeting with me, students also had the option to work with a partner or small group. During a writer’s workshop, students are at multiple points in the writing process. Some continued pieces week to week, others may just be in the beginning stages; students would revise, edit, and provide feedback to each other and their “virtual classmates” in the blogging community based on their needs as a writer.

Wednesday Language Study. Independent Writing. Portfolio. Blog. On Wednesdays, the class period began with a lesson over grammar, usage, or mechanics. Teaching grammar in isolation does not lead to use in writing. With this in mind, I used student writing, identify common errors made by the class and this is where I would focus my teaching. After the lesson, students continue to write or work with peers. Wednesday was also time for students to work on their writing portfolio, a collection of their best examples and reflections throughout the year and aligned to the standards or teaching goals. Students could also add a new post to their blogs or leave a comment on another student blog from our community.  

Thursday –  Independent Writing. Revising. Editing. Small Groups. 1 on 1. Thursday was spent much like Tuesday. Students chose how they spent their time based on their writing needs. Some worked independently, others worked with a partner or small group. During the revising and editing stages, students used a variety of strategies to accomplish their goals. These strategies were taught via whole class and small groups. They also prepared for Friday, making sure they had something of substance to share the following day. I spent my time working one on one with students, teaching specific techniques that would move them forward as writers.  

FridaySharing with Feedback. Fridays were typically spent sharing writing. To help build a community of growth, we started off sharing in small groups of 3 using the PQP strategy (Praise, Question, Polish by Bill Lyons). This allows the writer to receive the specific feedback needed. Another method used was Go, Fish, a whole class strategy that allowed every writer to give and receive feedback. An Author’s Spotlight was used to highlight individuals and often included multiple pieces by 2 or 3 writers. Important things about students sharing their writing: Everyone shared what they wanted to with the rest of the class, feedback was specific (more strategies were taught for this) and used to move everyone forward, finally, sharing their writing honored the process and provided a different audience than the traditional lone teacher.

It is possible to use a workshop framework in a high school classroom. In fact, I cannot imagine teaching writing a different way. Students had a choice in content and writing type. They also shared their work with classmates and to a larger, public audience. Students were writing for real, not just writing for school, and created in multiple mediums to communicate their voice through video, text, visuals, and more. And although this post shared a basic structure, I hope that it provided you with enough information to see the possibilities when considering how to structure a writer’s workshop in your own classroom.

Measuring Up: 6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment

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It is true, not all curriculum is created equal. There are specific things I look for when reviewing a curriculum to make the best decisions for kids and teachers. So when my friends at We Are Teachers asked me to take a look at, Measuring Up, a blended curriculum for grades 2-8, I was eager to check it out and provide feedback.

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and Mastery Education. All opinions expressed are my own. (Meaning, if I don’t like something about a particular education product I will not write about it on my blog)

I immediately recognized many positives while reading through the sample curriculum:

  • Concepts connected by what students will learn; to what they may already know; to real-world examples.
  • Academic vocabulary in context.
  • Scaffolded learning with guided instruction and gradual release of responsibility.
  • Apply learning independently.

Along with the previous list, two things stuck out to me about Measuring Up that I appreciate as a professional. First, the instruction is done by the expert classroom teacher, not the computer; and second, the Measuring Up Live 2.0 version aligned with my view on student-learning and assessment which they have streamlined through the use of computer applications.

6 Focus Areas for Blended Curriculum Assessment:

  1. Practice – Whether it is a high-stakes test or a certification exam; assessment practices are shifting from paper and pencil to an online version for a variety of reason (costs, access, data disaggregation, etc.) When students have little to no practice or frame of reference to online testing, anxiety rises and results are impacted. Blended curriculum should contain both digital and analog assessment options, as well as multiple types of assessment students,  can take in both a low-stake and high-stakes environment.  
  2. Cognitive Demand – If students have limited interaction and touches on devices when it comes to testing, all of their cognitive energy is wasted on how to manipulate the computer instead of answering the questions. Cognitive energy is best used for thinking critically and demonstrating understanding. From drag and drop to typing extended answers, when students have little access to the types of computer assessments they will take in their schooling and life, cognitive demands are misplaced on basic computer skills.
  3. Adaptive – When evaluating curriculum, edtech options for assessment should include adaptive measures, meaning, the test is sensitive to the answers the student provides and modifications are made based on answers. This ensures that the just right measures are used to gauge what the student knows and what they are not understanding.
  4. Feedback – Feedback is another area I explore when looking at assessment provided by curriculum with blended components. Feedback could come in the form of immediate grading, but could also provide extensions and reinforcement. All of these provides students with an understanding of what they have mastered and what additional support they can access to continue refining their learning.
  5. Mastery and Goal Setting – Curriculum that provides assessment should be aligned to the standards and instruction. It should provide a clear picture as to which skills and standards the students have mastered, what they have left to master and provide a direction on how to move forward. Measuring up provides students and teachers this information, as well as a way for students to set their own learning goals.
  6. Informs Instruction – FInally, data collected is useless unless it is used to inform instruction. Along with providing formative and summative student information, an assessment done via technology streamlines the process of accessing, disaggregating, and changing instruction to best meet students’ needs.

Curriculum cycles are a part of every district I have worked with over the past 10 years. Making the most informed purchasing decisions helps educators in their instruction and assessment of students. While all companies and curriculum writers provide unique frameworks or specialty components, be sure that any curriculum claiming to be blended places value in the professional and contains a comprehensive assessment system, similar to that of Measuring Up,  with a focus on the 6 areas above.