Is Anything Truly Original?

My Post

For decades, perhaps even earlier as some claim origins dating back to Aristotle’s Poetics, writers, and literary critics have uncovered a finite amount of story plots in fiction. Even the great Kurt Vonnegut argued this theory of story “shapes” in his College thesis that was rejected for its simplistic nature that there were indeed a set of shapes that all writing could be categorized by citing such favorites as Cinderella as a spin-off of the Bible.

What it boils down to is this… there are seven original story plots, Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Rebirth, etc., and that every piece of fiction is actually a spin-off of the original. Beyond those first 7, no piece of fictional writing is truly original. So should new writing be published? Should new stories be shared?

This year marks my 19th in Education. Shorter than some, longer than others. Most of my years have been as a high school English teacher (thus, the connection to the aforementioned example) and for the past few years as a regional support consultant in the state in the areas of literacy, technology, and school improvement; but I digress.

Because of this, I am going to take some liberties… much of education parallels the 7 original story plots. Things are repackaged, renamed, shined up, fine-tuned, and sent back into the education community as “New” or “Innovative”. In fact, I would venture many seasoned teachers out there would agree with me and have seen the circular nature of programs and instructional strategies recycled and the educational wheel spinning and spitting them back out again when their number is called. Very few things that we as Educators use or do in our classrooms are Original.

I will repeat, you, and I for that matter, are not as original as we think we are.

We are spinoffs from the educators before us. And what we do, say, and use in our classrooms are mostly variations of what has been done before.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but one that is mostly true, teachers have been doing variations of what you and I have done long before it was an idea in our heads. We are not the first… (fill in the blank…)

Take, for instance, a recent experience I had at Flipgrid Live. The first Day consisted of an Edcamp and a social gathering of Educators at Flipgrid HQ.

Day 2 was much the same. A Student Voice Conference with keynotes and breakout sessions and a sharing of personal stories and ideas to spark change. This was followed by a grand reveal of new updates, modifications, acquisitions, celebrations, photos, videos, singing, and on and on and on all focused on empowering student voice and connected classrooms. To many educators, these events are not considered as completely original or new. Even the new releases, ideas, and social media sharing celebrated variations that educators have been using for decades.

This brings me to my second point, or liberty I am going to take,,, Change, passion, meaningful learning does not take place vicariously. I attended this event as a learner, not a presenter, and while many know my story, the majority at this event did not. I have always been a Student Voice Advocate and Connected Educator. I have connected classrooms around the globe, traveled with kids internationally based off of those connections, connected teachers to resources and communities (in fact, many of you reading this could probably attest to the way I have helped connect you) but I am not the first one to do this. Many educators before me have been working towards similar verbs, connecting, student voice, the difference is this… social media and the desire to one-up each other often times brings out the negativity in people, and flipping through my Twitter feed I found these tweets and educators I respect trying to one-up the celebrations taking place at FlipgridLive.

When I became a connected educator and shared my story I met a wonderful educator named Sean Nash. We were prepping for a conference (Bacon Wrapped Lessons) and getting to know the other educators on the team (I was known as the student voice cheerleader). Sharing my classroom stories about amplification and connection was met with support and enthusiasm from the group. I felt proud and I had passion. Come to find out, Nash had been doing this for years- connecting his kids, traveling internationally, amplifying their voice; but not once did he squash my voice or diminish my experience. My story was not interrupted or replaced by his.

Educators, students, humans need to share their story. It may not be an original, but a spin-off, just as many argue what fiction is, but passion and change do not happen through vicarious circumstances. We are all working towards similar verbs, and as hard as it was for me not to interject my stories and past experiences as a connected educator and student voice cheerleader at the Flipgrid Live event I knew it was essential for their story to be told, the excitement be shared, and I, as a seasoned educator stood next to, not in front of, these educators and helped to lift them up just as so many have done for me. I was not there to interrupt, disvalue, or one-up them on social media that I have been doing it for years… every story should be told,,, whether it is one of the originals or a spin-off, each story adds value to our profession and supports the same passions or calls to actions that many of us support.

Research Isn’t Sexy… But You Need It Anyway!

My Post (8)

For some time now Steven Anderson and I have been reflecting on our own learning and professional development practices, looking for gaps in instruction and aiming to improve our craft. One of our longest conversations has been around research. In the work we do, we are constantly reading and attempting to understand the research behind the popular instructional movements of today. What we find is that much of the educational research available today isn’t used, isn’t cited, and really isn’t sexy.

Take, for instance, literacy instruction.

While trying to capture the success in student achievement scores in literacy from the research and studies done in the 1980s to the early 2000s the RTI (Response To Intervention) process and framework were created (Vellutino et al.). RTI was developed to help schools replicate the gains witnessed in this research. Today, RTI has morphed into MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) but very few districts have seen the increase in student-achievement that was initially experienced.

What happened?

While the RTI framework was adopted and utilized throughout the nation, the actual reading strategies and interventions used to achieve this growth were left behind. Implementing only half of the research (RTI Framework) while substituting different interventions and reading strategies have produced only limited results, leaving many administrators, teachers, and students frustrated. We know what works in literacy, and there is research behind it (most reading research is in the Psychology field) but still fail to dig into it, much less use it. (Kilpatrick)

Education research is vast. It spans disciplines, instruction, leadership, and many other components that contribute to a school. The problem has become that research has been co-opted by publishers, organizations, and individuals to sell one-size-fits-all quick fixes, programs and books. Many will ignore the fundamental findings of the research and insert their own ideas and practices that help these packages fly off the shelf.

With the abundance of research available, why do very few practitioners use it? What barriers exist that slow the transfer into the classroom? And what can be done to support administrators and practitioners in their quest of research-based methods?

We believe that there are 5 Main Barriers that exist which impacts how or if educators use research. While there could certainly be more added to this list, we feel these were the top 5 Problem Areas.

  1. Access and Abundance – Digging deep into research is typically done during college. Free access to databases, extensive libraries, experts for days. But upon graduation access is limited and met with the dreaded paywalls when locating many peer-reviewed articles, journals, and research. On top of limited access, the abundance of research out there is overwhelming. A simple search on Google Scholar with the keywords “Struggling Readers” lists 500,000 results. It is no wonder educators do not know where to begin when sifting through the research.

  2. Lack of Research in PD – There is no doubt the access to professional development is more abundant now than ever before. But that comes at a risk for individual educators and district leadership. We want to provide and participate in high-quality learning, however, much isn’t grounded in any realistic or research-based practices but instead, they are the ideas that someone read about or heard about or tweeted about. Anyone today can learn about innovation, makerspaces, augmented reality, really any instructional practice, create a slide deck and share it with the world. Instructional practices that impact student learning are based in more than tweets and blog posts. As learners and leaders, we have to model and understand where these ideas are coming from and are they based in sound research.

  3. Time – Time is a commonly mentioned barrier for educators. From new initiatives, faculty meetings, lesson planning, and connecting with students; time to do everything well is a deterrent for many educators when it comes to research.

  4. Research is Written For Researchers – Most research is written for other researchers, not necessarily the practitioners in the field. With this in mind, it is no wonder that many educators find it inaccessible because of the jargon used by a specific group of professionals. This jargon is filled with technical terminology that is understood as both a literal and figurative level by the group but leaves the rest of us guessing. (Education Jargon Generator)

  5. Distrust and Disconnect Between Theory and Practice – First, disconnect. There often times is a gap between theory and reality when reading research done by professionals in the same discipline but with little to no educational background. Ideas, studies, and strategies are examined with a skeptical lens and doubt is raised when research seems isolated or without consideration of the whole child or educator demands. What many educators do not realize is the disconnect within education research itself. With no agreed upon definition of research-based, no common training methods for preservice educators, and both qualitative and quantitative inquiries producing complementary but still fragmented results, the disconnect, cognitive bias, and skepticism of authority is not only confusing but creates a sense of distrust among the education community. Educators are more apt to believe other teachers implementing a program or using a specific framework over the years of research with statistics and data.  (D.W. Miller)

Items To Consider

  • Comparing Sources: One source isn’t gospel. Do your homework. Be open to opposing ideas. Don’t be married to an idea because you agree. If the research isn’t there, it’s not there. Be a critical discerner of information and ask lots of questions when you participate in professional development or are in a presentation. Ask where the research is and investigate yourself. Can you draw the same conclusions? Compile a list, according to your discipline, of leading theorists in the field to cross-check what you hear and read.

  • Research-Based Is A Convoluted Term: When designing activities that include techniques or strategies that have been research-proven, you can then call it “researched-based”. Since there are varying degrees of improvement (statistically significant yes, but how much) and are there approaches that work better and have a higher effect size, it is important to have a basic understanding of the research. If there isn’t any then that doesn’t mean you can’t use it. It just means you have to be more skeptical of the results, long-term.

  • Be A Researcher: No, this doesn’t mean you need to know about standard deviations or methodologies. What it means is be a student of your students. Gather data and examine what’s happening with student learning. What does the data show? Are the practices you are using improving student understanding? Are the results what you expected? What went wrong (or right!)? Be a reflective educator.

  • Always Remember To Keep Students First: Even research can get it wrong. You know your students. Always do what is best for them, even when that means going against what others say.

Resource/Reading List:

ISTE Ignite::: Flat Earth, 9/11, Anti-Vax: Things People Doubt in the Digital Age of Information

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Photo Credit: Shawn McCusker, Thank you, friend!

This year, I pushed my comfort level and gave an Ignite (5 mins. 20 slides) at ISTE in Chicago. It was my first time presenting in this format and I chose to speak about a topic that I am passionate about – How to Develop Healthy Skepticism and Fact-Checking in Students.

I started off with a personal story from college about a girl on my floor who was sucked into a cult…

Armed with flyers and a headful of answers, Cassandra pushed her way into our room and began her recruitment speech.

The misinformation of today is more difficult to recognize, posing as websites and Facebook pages. As educators, it is our obligation recognize that the checklists we once used to verify information have a hard time exposing the fake news, half-truths, media-bias, propaganda, fallacies… that we consume on a daily basis.

Critical literacy skills are needed not only for current discourse but also rhetoric in modes we haven’t even considered taking, for instance, Deep Fakes. Fueled by AI, creators are enabled to hijack one’s identity, voice, face, body. Think of it like photoshop on steroids but also with video, and now audio. What was easily recognizable as altered has become so sophisticated that it is almost imperceptible to detect by both human or computer.

We must recognize the shifts in information and change to adapt to the new mediums, equip students with critical thinking skills that allow them to get closer to the truth than they once were. To move beyond checklists I suggest looking into the work of Michael Caufield who provides guidance with 4 Moves for digital information.

Verification is a process, not a simple yes or no. You may ask if it is worth it? Or why doesn’t the government step in and take down these websites? On a surface level, that may seem easiest, but upon further reflection, once one allows censorship to invade their space it creeps into every aspect of their life.

The answer is not censorship but empowerment. And when our students walk out that door for the last time, I hope they leave with a critical lens to consume information. Equipped with the ability to not only think critically but speak with authority and be advocates for themselves and others in the great unknowns of the world.

Thank you to all of the people that supported me during this process and cheered me on as I took the stage! Steven Anderson, Adam Bellow, and Erin Olson

Until next year!!!

Thank you to Dan Kreiness for recording Round 2 #Ignites. If you would like to see my whole presentation click the link!  Shaelynn’s Ignite

On mobile device? Try this link at 47 mins. Round 2 all Ignites

Assistive Technology to Support Struggling Readers Including Dyslexia: Microsoft Learning Tools for the Win!

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As one whose passion is blended between literacy and technology, I seek out the best EdTech resources to share with educators to support literacy in their classrooms. Most of my teaching and learning experience involves both Google and Apple options, but recent investigation and application allow me to say, without a doubt, in the area of Assistive Technology to support struggling readers in the classroom, Microsoft Learning Tools wins, hands down, and offers students a comprehensive option.

Adolescents who struggle with reading face multiple challenges throughout the school day. They are constantly confronted with a text they cannot read in almost every discipline, motivation and peer acceptance play a major role in identity and self-esteem, diagnostic tools to pinpoint exact deficits are difficult to locate, and many of their teachers have had little to no training in foundational skills of reading. While many adolescent readers may have difficulty in comprehension and vocabulary, a rising number of older students are diagnosed with Dyslexia and experience decoding issues.

Dyslexia is not a visual issue; kids don’t see letters and words backward or in reverse. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability in reading; which impacts learning, not intelligence. It’s mainly a problem in reading accurately and fluently.  Decoding issues are a sign of dyslexia and direct instruction beginning with letter-sound correlation is often needed, but there are immediate things all teachers can do to help students, even if they have no understanding of how to teach phonological awareness, phonics, and fluency. This support can come in the form of Assistive Technology. “In a broad sense, assistive technology (AT) is any device, piece of equipment or system that helps a person with a disability work around his challenges so he can learn, communicate or simply function better.” (Understood.org)

As previously stated, I believe that Microsoft Learning Tools provides students who struggle with reading, including those with dyslexia, a comprehensive set of free tools to support their daily literacy needs. If the goal of AT is to provide students tools for independence, I recommend all teachers become familiar with the top 5 ways I see these tools helping students:

  1. Text to Speech – Text to Speech provides both the visual and audio needed to support fluent readers. By seeing the words and hearing it read aloud, students are not only able to access text that may have been too difficult to read independently but are reinforcing vocabulary and fluency.
  2. Display Controls – Display Controls allow students to customize their reading experience by font, size, color, and language. But, Microsoft Learning Tools takes it a step further, allowing students options with spacing, syllables, and parts of speech.  There is also an option to mask part of the screen minimizing distractions and focusing on the line read. (Slideshow below highlights options available)

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  3. Annotation Tools – Many struggling readers often use all of their cognitive energy decoding text and can’t remember what they had just read. Annotation tools allow students to take notes as they read. simply by switching browsers, students can use Microsoft Edge to annotate and save images directly from web pages into their OneNote Notebook. While there are many annotation tools out there, this one was so simple, streamlined and provided many annotation options! Plus…
  4. Optical Character Recognition – Microsoft also allows students to the option to capture text from pictures and pdf when shared to OneNote. So not only can students annotate digital text, they can save their notes, share them, and then extract the text in the image to customize with text to speech or display controls.
  5. Dictionary – Finally, Microsoft Learning Tools allows students to learn unfamiliar words with the built-in dictionary. Not only does the dictionary define the word, but it also provides a picture and an audio clip to hear the word.

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All students should have the tools and resources needed to access content in the classroom. Microsoft Learning Tools allows students to not only access information but provides customization, annotation tools, OCR, and a visual and audio dictionary for FREE. The beauty of these Learning Tools is the ease and compatibility they have to work together. Supporting struggling readers in multiple areas not only supports their literacy development but provide options for future learning that they do in and out of school.

New Course Offering: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Influential educators Shaelynn Farnsworth and Steven W. Anderson introduce a course where you can find the answers to these questions and more. In partnership with Participate, explore what it means to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher.

From Shaelynn – In 2008, the district I worked in adopted a 1:1 Laptop Initiative. Through this initiative, every student and staff member in grades 9-12 were given a laptop. Students and staff members were not only able to use technology in the classroom but were able to bring their computer home with them each night. Ubiquitous technology shifted the educational landscape in our building. Along with reimagining learning, I also quickly learned that traditional and evidenced-based practices looked different in the classroom. Every day brought a new opportunity to provide my students relevant and engaging learning. It also helped me become a better educator as I analyzed and reflected upon my classroom and craft.

From Steven – When I was leading a large technology program in NC as Director of Instructional Technology we invited a group of teachers to spend an afternoon talking to us about a new Bring Your Own Device Initiative we were undertaking. What my team and I wanted to understand was what teachers believed would need to change when the devices are the smartest in the room? We thought we’d hear questions about how to teach or was to incorporate the technology more seamlessly. What we got were questions about the latest apps or websites that were flashy and fun.

Using technology today isn’t just about what app to use or what new website looks like fun. Technology use in the classroom requires a pedagogical shift from the traditional methods of teacher-driven learning to modern day student-driven discovery. Not only do educators need to understand how to choose the best technology for learning but the research behind the collaboration or student reflection or formative assessment. Once we understand the why of learning, the how, layered with appropriate use of technology, because fundamentally easier.

Steven Anderson and I are pleased to offer a new course through Participate. This course focuses on 6 Areas of Development we have identified on having a high impact on student learning and teacher professional learning when integrated with intentional technology.

Course: The Tech-Savvy Teacher

Length: 8 weeks

Cost: $79

Audience: Educators, Coaches, Administrators

Benefits:

  • Specially designed tasks blending high-impact technology with each component
  • Research supporting each of the 6 Areas of Development
  • Examples and stories from our own classrooms
  • Collaborative, reflective tasks to help you connect with other educators while engaging in low-stress, professional learning
  • Feedback from Steven and Shaelynn
  • Access to collections on the Participate Community
  • Badge upon completion of the course

We understand the needs educators and administrators have when technology is integrated into the learning environment. Our focus isn’t on the tool, it’s on the reimagining of learning and teaching. Each we week we will explore the research related to specific aspects of pedagogy and discuss what the effective integration of these tools really look like. While there will be tool and resource exploration each week, the main focus is on pedagogy and how best to be a Tech-Savvy Teacher!