MAP Reading Fluency: A New Tool to Save Teachers Time & Focus on Instruction

This post is sponsored by We Are Teachers and NWEA.org. 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)

Across the country, literacy, especially in grades K-3,  is a priority in just about every district you visit. Educators are banding together to share best practices, evidence-based interventions, and inspiring stories; all in an effort to impact student literacy.

All learning in rooted in language, and as one progresses throughout life, access to continued learning, both personal and professional, is typically accessed through written communication.

For me, literacy is my passion, and I have dedicated my life to reading, researching, and sharing not only how to develop young students into lifelong readers, but to advocate for high-quality instruction in literacy for ALL students. Being literate not only allows access to information, but influences one’s personal, professional, and civic lives. Upon graduation, my wish was for students to be equipped with passion and skills to be critical discerners of information, make informed decisions for the betterment of society, and be able to advocate for self and others. To be able to do these things, a solid literacy foundation must be formed in the early grades.

Educators learn about their young readers in a variety of ways when they enter their classrooms. Understanding what they enjoy reading and learning about, how they choose books, which foundational skills they have acquired as opposed to which ones they still need to practice or learn. Typically, in a K-3 classroom, teachers administers some sort of fluency test with accompanying comprehension questions. These assessments provide an abundance of information on students to inform instruction. The drawback to this type of testing is the large amount of TIME it takes to test individual students with classrooms of 25+ young readers. And we all know the one thing teachers need is…More TIME. That is why I was ecstatic to preview a new assessment tool launched by NWEA called MAP Reading Fluency.

I want to stress, NOTHING takes the place of an Expert Teacher, but when resources like this become available and save teachers time to then reclaim and use for instruction, it is a WIN – WIN for kids.

MAP Reading Fluency is the first and only K-3 oral reading assessment using speech recognition, automatic scoring and computer adaptive technology.  It allows data to be collected around; oral reading fluency, comprehension, and foundational reading skills. With this information, teachers are able to make decisions on which areas they may need to dig in a bit deeper in order to differentiate instruction and meet needs of students.

I am also a firm believer in two things when it comes to assessment and data. First, MAP Reading Fluency provides a snapshot of the student as a reader; multiple snapshots across time allow teachers to notice trends and trends should be noted and investigated to find out the What/Why. Second, assessment data does not paint the whole picture of a child as a reader. This is where the beauty of computer-aided assessment comes into play. Reading Fluency data that is generated is immediate, organized, disaggregated and actionable. This is a huge win for teachers and a time-saver due in part to the streamlined process of technology. The follow-up, the instruction, and the passionate teaching to the student is then provided by the Expert Teacher.

For the past 5 years or so, I have been investigating tools and resources that would support teachers and students in this exact way; it is as if NWEA read my mind and delivered with Reading Fluency. MAP Reading Fluency was named the 2018 CODiE award winner for Best Student Assessment Solution. It is adaptive to accommodate  pre-, early-, and fluent readers, and is recorded so that teachers can listen to their students during a planning time or while working with their PLC. I am excited about the possibilities of this new assessment tool and appreciate how it aims to shorten the time spent assessing so more time can be spent on instructing! Want to learn more? Check out this FAQ sheet or request a Demo of MAP Reading Fluency.

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.

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.

7 Benefits of Audiobooks

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Is listening to an Audiobooks the same as reading a book? Is it cheating or lazy to listen to instead of actually reading it? Do audiobooks help to develop readers or hurt their development?

All of these questions were unearthed during a conversation I had with a fellow educator whose daughter was listening to books at home instead of reading them. The simple answer is YES, audiobooks are similar to reading and have benefits to the listener.

Some date the origins of audiobooks to that of oral storytelling and how stories were passed down through generations before a written language and the act of reading was mainstream for the common person. In education, I was surprised to see the amount of research done around this area and found most agree that similar skills are used and when you consider the goal of reading, listening to an audiobook does count as reading.

The goal of reading is not to decode words and be able to pronounce them but to comprehend and think critically about what you read.

With this goal in mind, I offer 7 Benefits of Audiobooks:

  1. Independence – A student’s oral vocabulary far outreaches their reading abilities. When one accesses an audiobook, it promotes independence. It also is a great way to differentiate content in the classroom! 
  2. Access to Information – Audiobooks, and listening to text, provides access to those students who wouldn’t be able to read the text independently. When teachers deny students access to information based on their reading level they are promoting a division of inequity. There are many reasons why students struggle to read, but just because they can not decode specific words on a page does not mean that they also struggle to think and understand. Reading level does not equal intelligence, but limiting access to information because of it harms students.  
  3. Broadens one’s world, locales, accents, dialects, cultures – Stories have the ability to transport readers to different places, experience different cultures, and identify with others who are similar. Developing empathy and awareness can be achieved through audiobooks, with the bonus of hearing different accents and dialects.
  4. Linguistically Rich – Promotes Storytelling – Audiobooks promote storytelling. Students listen to a linguistically rich text and are inspired to talk about their book by connecting it to their own experiences or other things they have read or viewed. The more stories one collects, the more language they acquire to share their own voice.
  5. Increases: Motivation, Background Info. Content Knowledge, Vocabulary – Listening to audiobooks has been shown to increase motivation in reading which is an essential element for struggling adolescent readers. Research also shows audiobooks help to increase background information and content knowledge and is especially beneficial to our EL (English Learners) students.
  6. Models Good Reading – Audiobooks, similar to read aloud, models good reading to students. Hearing an expert reader adds experience to all growing readers.
  7. Improves: Critical Listening Skills, Reading Accuracy, Fluency – Audiobooks not only promote critical listening skills, an essential life skill but also help student reading accuracy and fluency. Fluency is so much more than reading fast. Audiobooks allow students to not only see words pronounced correctly but hear and notice pronunciation, rate, speed, pausing, stress, and intonation.

Better Listeners LEARN More!

There are many places to access audiobooks:

Check your local and school library.

Open Culture

Storynory

Learn Out Loud

Epic!  

Project Gutenberg

Making the Best Technology Purchasing Decisions

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In our next collaborative post, Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and I discuss how schools and districts can make the best technology purchasing decisions.

Recently I was talking to a Tech Director colleague that was in the middle of a purchasing battle with a principal. The principal had been approached by a well-known technology vendor wanting to sell the school some hardware and software to help students in literacy and math. The vendor was long on promises but short on delivery. The problem was the principal was blinded by the promises of high achievement and didn’t consider how that one purchase would put a serious strain on the district technology department.

Balancing a district budget is an annual job that has many administrators prioritizing monies to meet the needs of students and staff, as well as the upkeep and daily operations of the grounds and facilities. The increase of technology use in learning has added an element to the budget which has seen a steady increase over the years. In a 2017 report from Learning Counsel results found districts spent $16.2 billion on hardware, networks and major system software. And these numbers will only continue to rise.

With this understanding, many district administrators and technology coaches have found a need to vet the limitless purchasing options out there and make decisions that look past the flash of products to ones that will truly impact student learning.

Questions to Consider Before Making A Technology Purchase

How Are Student Privacy and Data Protected? Many of the Edtech products available today require some elements of Personally Identifiable Information (PII). This could be anything from their name and grade all the way to their entire student demographic and academic profile. Educators and Administrators have a responsibility to understand how that data used by the products are consumed and ultimately protected. Reading terms of service is a start but asking questions like how much PII is actually needed for the software to run or how is the data stored or is it encrypted in transit and rest are some of the most basic questions to have solid answers to before allowing any company access to data sources. Check to see if the vendor has signed the Student Data Privacy Pledge. Most importantly, have a solid understanding of how the data is stored and used before signing on the dotted line.

What compatibility and interoperability are available? A common mistake we see made frequently come from local school administrators making a purchase without making sure it works in the current system. Odds are if you are making a major technology purchase you already have a network and systems in place. Therefore, it is important to ask about what devices the software works on or how does the hardware work in your current server environment? You don’t want to have to make additional purchases after the fact or find out that what was purchased won’t work at all because there is a compatibility problem.

Where did the research come from? Many Edtech products, especially those used to increase student-achievement, will boast that they are backed by research. But, you have to look at this with a critical eye. Where did the research come from? Was it funded by the vendor? Was it the vendor themselves? If products are truly “backed by research” the vendor should be able to provide or you should be able to provide independent research to back their claims.

What Is The True Cost For The Hardware or Software? Don’t get burned by additional costs related to licenses and fees. When you are making a major technology purchase what does the license include? Is a yearly cost? With software especially, as lots of questions about the total cost. Often you will have to pay for updates or upgrades. You don’t want to spend a large chunk of your budget on some software for every student only to find out that if you want the next version you’ll have to pay more for it. Do your homework and crunch the numbers to find out the true cost of ownership.

How Will You Be Supported? Support is often one of those things you don’t think about until you need it. It should, however, be towards the top your list to understand before making any technology purchase. Do you have to pay for support? If you do, how much do you get? Are you limited to the number of support cases you can open? Who can call for help? When is support available? Is just a certain number of hours a day or is is it 24/7/365? Is the support local or is it outsourced? Understand the support structure before you are stuck needing it.

What Training and Professional Development Opportunities Are Available? If you are spending a large portion of your budget on a new piece of hardware or software, especially if it is being used in the classroom by students or teachers, there should be a conversation before you sign about training and professional development. How will everyone be trained? Will it come at a cost or is it included? What about training new users 6 months down the road? Will the vendor provide it or will the district be responsible? How about opportunities for ongoing professional development? Coaching?. Ultimately you are looking for more than just a hardware/software provider, you are looking for a partner that can be with you for the long haul.

Making The Best Technology Purchasing Decisions-Web20Classroom

 

Checklist For Technology Purchasing   

  1. Purpose: Does the purchase align with the mission and goals of the district? Does it support attainment of the discipline standards, ISTE Standards, and learning targets? Powerful EdTech purchases are ones that can span grade-levels and content areas for maximum student and teacher use.
  2. Student-Centered: Besides options to leverage the differentiated classroom, inclusive classroom, and accessibility options; student-centered focuses on choice, ease of use, fun, and supports learning.
  3. Cost: Often times the price tag is a heavily weighted component in purchasing, but don’t forget to factor in: Licensing one-time, or yearly, per student or per school/district, updates included or added costs, replacement fees, cross-platforms/devices, renewal processes, and contracts.  
  4. Data Privacy and Security: Always understand how student data is used and stored when making any purchase. How will you get data in the product? What is the minimum amount of student data needed for the product to be used effectively? Is it encrypted when it’s stored? Educators and administrators have a duty and obligation to keep student data private and secure. Learn more about FERPA, COPA, CIPA, PPRA here.
  5. Logistics/Management: Minimal Effort To Get Things Going and Keep Them Going. Will this technology purchase work in our current learning environment? Whether devices, infrastructure, or sign-in, logistics and management are essential to get right. Nothing squashes EdTech in the classroom more quickly than when something doesn’t work, access is complicated, or multiple steps must occur before it is roll-out or available to staff and students.
  6. Support: You Should Be Supported. Along with management and logistics as a necessary component of technology purchasing success, an understanding of the support offered is essential to classroom use. Knowing how to access support, who provides the support, and what that support looks like is information that needs to be gathered in the beginning stages.
  7. Professional Learning: Continuous Learning. Professional Learning can come in many forms, from onsite training to monthly webinars, knowing how teachers will learn about the possibilities available with a new purchase and how this will be done helps to encourage use and exploration. Are there additional resources available to use? Is there a community of users to connect with?
  8. References: Check Your References. Ask for and check references from those educators and districts already using the product or service. While this may not be a top priority for every purchase, connecting with and hearing from districts currently using the product or service may provide an understanding or experienced success and frustrations.

Need more help making the best technology purchasing decisions? We’ve created a deeper checklist you can use, copy and modify to meet your needs. Download it here.