Wednesday, October 23, 2013

1:1 Chromebooks Coming this January

I am very excited to announce that my students will be participating in a 1:1 Chromebook pilot this January! Teachers from all over my district submitted Innovation Grants to bring the 1:1 pilot into their classrooms. Thanks to our incredibly supportive Board of Education, along with the leadership of our administration who truly values transformational learning and teaching, the grants will become a reality to all who submitted. There are not enough words for me to express how privileged, honored, and inspired I feel to be part of this important initiative.

Below is the video that my team submitted as a part of our Innovation Grant.  We look forward to sharing our experiences with others as we learn how 1:1 implementation impacts the learning taking place in our classrooms. Feel free to stop by to follow our journey right here at FaustFacts!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Backchannel Debate

My class is in the midst of narrative writing. As they embark on the writing process, I felt a responsibility to expose my students to actual authors who write fiction on a regular basis. The professionals would be a wonderful resource for my budding authors!

I called upon some local talent in our community to share their expertise with my class.  I found three authors who agreed to come to my classroom to share their experiences with students and answer their questions. As I prepared for our visiting authors, I began thinking about ways to get each of my students engaged during their visits. I wanted to ensure that each student was an active participant, rather than a passive listener.

Thinking about my own experiences at workshops and conferences, I started considering the power of a tool like Twitter and how backchanneling is a way to encourage participating from the audience. A format such as TodaysMeet was my first choice to use with students, but that website is currently blocked in my district. Twitter was my second choice, but my students are under the age of 13, so that wasn't an option either. I was faced with a situation that required some creative problem-solving.

What I ultimately came up with turned out to be the perfect solution for my 6th grade students. I decided to create a "Tweet Form" using Google Forms, which had data validation enabled to restrict the number of characters students entered to 140 characters or less. I embedded the form onto my Google Site in one column, while the form's responses were embedded into the opposite column. This created a "chat room" feel for my class. Using individual Chromebooks, students participated by sharing their thoughts, questions and feedback about what they were learning during the authors' presentations. Before we began, I reminded students that all of the "tweets" were permanently documented since student usernames were collected each time the Google Form was submitted. Sneaky, right?

Critics will say that the students are not necessarily paying attention if they are on a computer throughout a presentation. This may be true. But who's to say that they are paying attention throughout an entire presentation when they're not on a computer. I'll tell you this much...I am really good at looking like I'm paying attention while my brain is on a mental vacation, and guess what? So are our kids! The one thing I can say is that the evidence on my Google Tweet Form showed engagement, enthusiasm and participation. Everyone was involved! Yes, they may have missed a few things while typing out their "Tweet," but so do adults. With practice, the students will improve at quickly developing concise Tweets during presentations, and their participation will take the learning to an entirely new level.

What do you think? Would you consider letting your students backchannel during a class presentation?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tasting Our Way to Descriptive Writing

One of the Common Core sub-standards for sixth grade narrative writing states, "Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events." (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.3d) Teaching descriptive writing can be challenging, but giving students a meaningful experience can help them find their creative voice.

To help my students practice using sensory language, I decided to give them a hands-on experience that would elicit their senses and allow them to practice writing descriptively. I picked up a tub of these "Soft Puffs" at my local drug store, which was a perfect treat for all of my students with allergies since the candy is nut/dairy/gluten-free. The product boasts, "a surprise whenever you grab one!" I liked the idea that students did not know which flavor they were getting for our sensory experiment. This forced students to slow down and call upon all of their senses to help their brains determine what it was that they were actually experiencing.

As students began selecting their piece of candy, I encouraged them to carefully observe the candy's color and smell of the aroma, before they ultimately tasted the flavor. Such a creative learning activity deserved an equally as creative format to demonstrate understanding, so students were given the task of showcasing their sensory language in the form of a Glog using Glogster.

From our Mystery Candy Experiment, students connected their experience to their writing in the form of sensory language using strong adjectives, metaphors, similes, and analogies. What a fun and delicious way to get kids writing descriptively!

Thanks to Lexie for allowing me to share her beautiful Glog!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A True Student-Led Discussion

Last week, I spent some time getting to know the Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching, which is the default model for evaluating teachers in the state in which I teach.  Beginning this year, my district will be using the Danielson Framework to evaluate teachers, and even though I am not on the evaluation cycle this year, I still feel that it is my responsibility to get comfortable with this valuable tool.

The Danielson's framework has four domains of teaching responsibilities including planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities. I dove right into Domain 3 (Instruction) to see where I felt I could make some improvements in my teaching practice.  I had an "Aha!" moment when I investigated component 3b which is "Questioning and Discussion," and read what the Danielson Framework suggests.

"Some teachers confuse discussion with explanation of content; as important as that is, it’s not discussion. Rather, in a true discussion, a teacher poses a question and invites all students’ views to be heard, enabling students to engage in discussion directly with one another, not always mediated by the teacher." - The Framework for Teaching Evaluation Instrument 2011 Edition by Charlotte Danielson

That first part was me. I often said those exact words: "Yesterday we discussed..." But the truth is that we never discussed anything. I would talk, my students would respond, and that was that.  After reading the critical attributes of a distinguished teacher in this particular component of the Danielson Framework, I realized that my students were not having discussions at all, and I needed to make a change immediately.

I decided to begin with one of my classes that was already participating in literature circles.  The students had been practicing their discussion skills in a small group setting, so I simply asked students to apply their experience from the discussions in their literature circles and bring it to the large group.

"Today, let's try to have a discussion about how to improve our literature circles," I explained. "Don't worry about raising your hands. You know what is expected in order to have a meaningful discussion. Listen to each other. Take turns talking. Respond thoughtfully. Let's see how it goes."

What I witnessed was amazing. The students truly discussed how to have effective literature circles. They talked about what works and what doesn't. They shared strategies, gave suggestions, and offered ideas for improvement.  They listed to each other and responded back respectfully, and I was not mediating at all. It was exactly what my students had been missing.

After observing a true student-led discussion, I am eager to find more opportunities like this one where I can hand over the reins to my students, letting them lead discussions and make decisions about their own learning. Danielson's model shows teachers that to be a truly student-centered classroom, it is the students who must own the learning and not the teacher.

If you are familiar with Danielson's model, please share what are you doing to help students take a central role in the discussions being held in your classroom. How are you putting the learning in your students' hands?