Saturday, February 22, 2014

Handing Over the Reins

Several weeks ago, I blogged about the magic of lit circles and how motivating this strategy can be for middle school readers. To stay faithful to the lit circle model, my students have selected their own books for our next round of lit circles.  With the help of my school librarian, my students learned about six different books from which to choose. Students filled out a Google form with their book preference, and then I was able to sort my trusty spreadsheet to create the lit circle groups.

Because the books were student-selected, I decided that the students also needed to pace out the reading for themselves. We need to hand over the reins to the kids in our classrooms more often anyway, and I figured this was a perfect opportunity for students to practice their self-directed learning skills. I provided a pacing calendar with designated lit circle meeting days, but my students had to work together in their groups to reach a consensus on their pacing schedule. The activity of going through a book and pacing out the reading was, by far, the BEST problem-solving and team-building activity for kids that I have ever witnessed!

Here is a short video of a group of students discussing how much they planned to read in between lit circle meetings:

Here is a link to the document that the students were all using to pace out their reading between each lit circle. (I used Doctopus to share the pacing calendar with each group.)

I love the ownership that this experience has given the students. After they finished pacing, the students also began a group blog to post their reflections and lit circle jobs instead of using a folder with paper handouts. Students are eager to get started and I am equally as excited to watch the process!

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Reshaping the Language Arts Classroom

With all of the crazy weather we've been having this winter, my students have practically forgotten what it feels like to be in school for a full week! As I reflect on the teaching and learning that has been taking place in my classroom, I see more and more how the 1:1 devices can truly elevate the learning experience for students. Most of my current lessons and activities in the areas of reading, writing and language study were impossible before going 1:1. To capture these shifts, here is a little taste of how the Chromebooks have reshaped my language arts classroom.

This week, students read a passage and came to class ready for a discussion, but the 1:1 devices played a large role in how I incorporated each student into the activity. I used a discussion strategy known as Socratic Circle, where students in an inner circle discussed the text, while the outside circle observed the discussion. Instead of students passively watching the discussion, all participants in the outside circles held their own discussion using a real-time backchanneling site called Todaysmeet also provides a transcript, so after the discussion, students could reflect on what ideas were discussed and how actively each student participated. Today's students cannot take a back seat in class; the technology gives a voice to all.

A recent writing assignment asked students to create a graphic narrative either by hand or on a comic-creator website of their choosing. After students reviewed the CCSS for narrative writing, we worked together to develop a set of criteria to include in their creation. In just one assignment, students reviewed narrative writing elements, found a way to produce the assignment, and then began publishing their work to their blogs for feedback from peers and outside observers. Take a look at Emma's blog for an example of her graphic narrative. Today's students write for a greater audience and they want their work to be worthy of the public's eye.

My days of teaching grammar at the board and handing out worksheets are over. Thanks to 1:1 Chromebooks and a website called, students practice grammar skills at their own pace and then take quizzes which are graded immediately to provide instant feedback to the students. My favorite features of this program include a student customized profile so that sentences are tailored to the individual interests of each student, a color-coded progress screen that shows areas requiring the most practice, and most importantly, it is absolutely free! Students love the program and many keep practicing just to try to beat their score. Today's students see the relationship between practice and performance, finding motivation from within.

This is such an exciting time in education as we transform teaching and learning in our classrooms!  Ever since putting devices into the hands of each learner, the level of engagement and motivation is unparalleled. If we continue to push the bar and reshape the way in which we teach our students, today's students will be ready for an unknown future that is full of possibilities.