Sunday, October 16, 2016

Swivl to the Rescue for School-Home Communication

Swivl to the Rescue for School-Home Communication

I've been working on increasing and improving my school-home communication this year and am determined to leverage technology to make the communication channels truly flow.  I'm blessed to be in a district that has strong family support and our annual Curriculum Night is generally well attended.  But, what about those parents who can't make this one night to see their child's teacher face to face or get an overview of the curriculum and class expectations?

Swivl to the rescue!

This year I recorded my Curriculum Night presentation using my Swivl Robot and the online software, Swivl Cloud, that embeds the video side by side with my Google Slides presentation.  This video is linked on my school website so that any parents who could not attend Curriculum Night could still get an overview and understand what my classroom expectations are.  I had only played around a little bit with the robot and the digital tool prior to Curriculum Night, and I found the whole process easy-peasy!

Uploading the video to the Swivl Cloud took just moments.  I then downloaded my slides (they had to be converted to big deal), and a few moments later (drop and drag), I ended up with a professional looking presentation and video that could be embedded or shared.

Thank you, Swivl, for creating the video tools to make this process quick, easy, and professional looking.  I'm looking forward to using Swivl Robot in conjunction with the Swivl Cloud video tools to record PD sessions I will be leading next week.  I'll share the video and presentation out to those who can't attend.  I'm dreaming up other uses for this tool; a perfected lecture, a student presentation, professional evaluation, students who were absent all could be serviced with the Swivl Robot and Swivl Cloud tools.

Swivl Robot in conjunction with Swivl Cloud...I'm a fan!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Let's - Navigating the Teacher Dashboard

February 2017
Let's Recap has recently added some updates to their teacher dashboard, and as a result, I've created a video that demonstrates some of the updates.  A few updates that I'm especially excited about are the ability to set a specific deadline for an assignment and the ability to choose which students' videos to include in the daily review reel.  I hope you find this video informative and helpful.  I continue to love using @RecapThat in my classroom, and my students love it, too.

Summer 2016:
I've been busy this summer doing a few workshops focusing on the importance of feedback in the classroom, and in each of the workshops, I've highlighted one of my favorite classroom tools for feedback Let's Recap  @RecapThat .  I've found teachers are eager to learn how to use this tool, but sometimes navigating a teacher dashboard can be intimidating at first glance.

Where do I start?  How do I input students?  Where do I access the data I need?  These are all common questions when looking at a new tool.  Many of the online tools designed for classroom integration include a teacher dashboard that serves as a control room for using the tool, and is no different.  To help teachers get started using this tool, I've created a short video tutorial on navigating the teacher dashboard.  I've found that with a little exploration, using teacher dashboard is fairly intuitive.

Let's Recap allows students to create a short (15 sec.-2 min.) video response to a question or series of questions.  It's simple to differentiate and personalize the question and response cycle, and in my experience, it's been a successful tool for exit tickets, reflections, and summaries.  Actually hearing and seeing my students respond via video adds a layer of understanding for me that I don't often feel when reading a brief written response.  I like to hear their tone of voice and pauses, see their expressions, and I often get a more personalized connection from a brief video response than I would in a written response.  More importantly, I see students re-recording themselves and re-thinking their video responses; I believe that the self-evaluation process that comes naturally when video is introduced can be a powerful influence in improving communication skills.  I want to be clear; I don't believe video responses replace written responses.  However, I do feel that this tool in particular makes it easy to give and gather effective feedback quickly and efficiently, and I've found it to be highly successful at taking the pulse of a classroom's overall understanding.

Have you tried video to give or gather feedback in the classroom?  What has your experience been?

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Can I become a Book Whisperer? A Book Reflection of The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

I kick started my summer professional development reading off with The Book Whipserer-Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller. I had skimmed through this a few years back, but at the time, I was teaching a general English class and the focus on reading was one of many skills.  Now I'm teaching the Language Arts portion of 8th grade curriculum, and my focus is centralized on developing life-long readers and increasing reading skills and fluency.  

Take Aways:  Leading students toward autonomy with literature must be the focus of my reading instruction and embedding specific reading skills through students' independent reading rather than whole class instruction is the most effective way to ensure that the instruction is authentic.  

  • Share your passion of reading by actively reading.
  • Readers lead richer lives. 
  • Whole group or forced instructional reading does not serve the end goal of developing lifelong readers.
  • Student choice, student choice, student choice is key; combined with a community of informed, engaged, passionate readers, student choice will create a life long reader with much more success than whole group instruction.  
  • Know your readers through a use of reader's journals:  Developing, Dormant, Underground
  • Conditions for learning: immersion, demonstration, expectation, responsibility, employment, approximations, response, engagement (trustworthy/risk free).  
  • Make time for reading in class.  Reading must become ubiquitous.

  • Ideas for Journals:  tally, genre, read/attempted, minutes/pages, reflections, questions, reviews images.
  • Miller's genre requirement:  40 books- 5 poetry, 5 traditional, 5 realistic fiction, 2 historical fiction, 4 fantasy, 2 science fiction, 2 mystery, 2 informative, 2 biography, autobiography, memoir, 9 chapter choice 
  • Do book reviews and book commercials, not book reports.  The Book Trailer fits nicely into this requirement. 
  • Prizes devalue the reward of reading as pleasurable.
  • Reading logs create family homework and develop resentment.

Currently, I require students to log their reading for a minimum of 200 minutes per 2 weeks.  The logs are signed by parents as acknowledgment that the students are reading.  Miller argues that this creates family homework (work for the parents), develops resentment, and students cheat.  I agree to some extent; however, I included these logs as an experiment in gamification of my classroom and students could obtain public recognition and participate in friendly competition with the other classes.  My observations were that my students were actively engaged in reading more than ever before.  Again and again, like Miller, I had students share with me that they had never before read this much and would never go back to being a non-reader.  Was there some cheating and some mild resentment at turning in the logs? Yes; however, I feel that that the majority of my students developed a routine of writing in their minutes, including a one word reflection as a way of proving that they were participating in the SSR (sustained silent reading) program.   In my mind, the end outweighs the means in keeping a reading log.  Other teachers shared that they didn't see the reading log  as effective, but they were not using it as part of the collaborative gamification/competition aspect that I was.  Perhaps, I am naive, but I think the reading log helped to develop my developing and dormant readers into more active and engaged readers, and it helped parents build awareness of their child's reading habits.  That is a win-win in my book, even if a few kids fudged on their reading minutes.  Collectively, the logged minutes for my students this year totaled over 350,000 minutes.  By setting and reaching our goal, students felt motivated and engaged in reading.  I agree with Miller that a reading log can create resentment, but I believe when it's built into a collaborative competition between classes, the benefits outweigh the costs and the end results is that everyone is reading.  

What will I do differently?  I will consider creating a reading log similar to Miller's to help create a communication flow and get to know my readers more personally.  I will consider creating open ended genre requirement though I fear more resentment will result from a genre requirement than a reading log requirement, but I see the value in expanding the genre choices.  I will develop more opportunities for students to share their opinions and reflections in both formal and informal settings.  Most importantly, I will make it a priority to read YA books so that I can guide and coach my readers to books they might enjoy.  I may put some of my PD books to the side for a time this summer and really dig into the most read YA books that my students recommended to me.  I owe them that.  

Sunday, May 15, 2016

The Third Teacher-A Reflection Video

If You Give a Teacher an EdCamp

If you've been anywhere near a child since 1985, you are probably familiar with If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff.  The book has been replicated and spoofed, and it shares the consequences of one decision and the subsequent actions that take place.  Well, after returning from my first EdCamp, EdCampIllinois on May 14th at South Middle School in Arlington Heights, IL, I now understand a little bit more about that mouse.  EdCamps are "unconferences" or conferences wherein the sessions and agendas are created on the go and inspired by the motivation and willingness to share and brainstorm for the betterment of education. 

Visit help you find the next EdCamp in your part of the world.

If You Give a Teacher an EdCamp by Shannon Schroeder

If you give a teacher an EdCamp, she will probably share an idea with a fellow teacher, and that fellow teacher will share an idea with her.  If you give a teacher an idea, that teacher will ask for another idea and then make a connection on Twitter, building her PLC.  In all likelihood, the teacher will go to another EdCamp session, and share another idea with another fellow teacher, and that teacher will share an idea with her.  Then that teacher will ask for the resources for that idea.  If you give a teacher resources for that idea, she will bookmark them, order the book from Amazon, and share her resources with her colleagues on Monday, and then, she will ask to go to another session.  If you give a teacher another session with like minded, motivated teachers who have given up their Saturdays to earn the elusive CPDUs, she will likely Tweet about an idea she learned and share it to her PLC.  Then, she will ask for more ideas.  If you give a teacher more ideas, she will get inspired and start asking questions.  She will feel as though she is not alone in the murky waters of education. She will ask for answers to her questions.  If you give a teacher answers to her questions, she might feel excited and engaged, and she will ask more questions and want more ideas.  If you give a teacher more answers and more ideas and more inspiration, she will ask, "When's the next EdCamp?" and she will wonder why all PD isn't like this.  So, please, give a teacher an EdCamp. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

3 Reasons You'll love Video Feedback with

Video Feedback with is the answer I've been looking for in student video feedback, and I think it's got huge potential to positively impact my classroom. I've used screencasting for student video feedback in the past, and it's great, but it's time consuming, and the workflow isn't as seamless as I'd like despite the ease of Google Classroom.


What is  It's a free video feedback app that is cross platform and allows students to respond with a brief video.  It's perfect for giving every student a chance to voice his opinion, share an idea, summarize his learning, or provide a reflective self-assessment.

How does it work? Like many other feedback classroom apps, the teacher creates a virtual classroom (I didn't see Google Classroom integration yet, but it's in beta right now, so maybe?), students join with a unique code or by email, you create a video prompt, and students respond with a video.  You can change how long you want the student responses to be (15 secs-2 mins.), set a due date, assign to a whole class or select students, and include a thumbs up, thumbs sideways, thumbs down "Assess Yourself!" poll question.  

Students log in to, click on the assignment, watch the video prompt (there's a written caption), click the record button, and make a student feedback video. It's quick and easy.  When their responses are recorded, you can view a graph of the "Assess Yourself!" poll, see each response, play all responses, and it even creates a review reel of highlights with a whimsical frame added to the video.  The result for me? I had a face to face virtual conference with each of my students, and I viewed it in less than 10 minutes. Awesomeness!

Three reasons you'll love

Personalizes and streamlines video conferencing and feedback: allows students to record short one take video feedback to a video prompt that you provide.  To hear their tone and see their expressions in their video feedback adds a personalization to the feedback process that I wasn't expecting.  My 8th graders Snapchat regularly, and I think the idea of giving a quick video feedback is a task that might be familiar to most of them because it's just like a "snap" on Snapchat, a quick video.

Develops Student Agency and Student Voice:  I loved giving my students the chance to voice their personal opinion and literally hear their voice; the shy, quiet student and the outspoken student all get heard, and all students get a chance to communicate in a format that is familiar and comfortable for them.

It's free and fun! Oh, and differentiated! The first time we practiced with, my room was filled with self-conscious giggles and a little goofiness, and that was OK.  They were getting comfortable with the tool.  I imagine the next time we give feedback, it will go more smoothly, and students will take the task to heart.  I can see this being a tool I turn to regularly for formative feedback or to gather reflections from each student.  I love the options for differentiation that are built in as you could potentially customize lessons for students.  Imagine Parent Teacher conferences with a personalized video input from the student.  Fantastic!

I'll eagerly add to my toolbox of digital feedback tools.  Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Using Images to help Writers add Details

My students' writing was lacking details.  They had the basics down, and their sentences were generally clear, but details that add depth and meaning were generally not showing up in their writing.  I realized that images were a good way to help them understand the difference between practical writing and elaborate writing.  The first image that came to mind when I thought of elaborate was a chandelier.  Using Google Classroom's discussion prompt I asked students to describe the first image (light bulb), then describe the second image (chandelier), then tell the impact of the differences between the two.  What would be the mood or tone of walking into a large room with the light bulb hanging in the center, and how would that mood and tone change if you walked into a room with the chandelier.  The students described the light bulb as useful, simplistic, and practical.  The chandelier, on the other hand, was shiny, beautiful, detailed, layered, mesmerizing (exactly what I wanted from them in their writing).  The analogy became clear when I asked for them to be intentional about adding elaboration to their writing.  I wanted their writing to make me gasp in its awesomeness, become fascinated by the beautiful details, and mesmerized by the engaging word choice and layers of meaning.

In reflection, this lesson taught me to slow down and take the time to create something that builds relationships.  Now when students hand in their writing, I ask, "Is this a chandelier?"  They smile and remember the lesson.  Using images to connect to students and to add impact to a lesson is not difficult.  Too often, I get swept up in the "getting it done" part of the classwork.  In contrast, I think taking the time to model what it means to be visually literate, to model how to examine and discuss an image, and to model how an image can be representational can positively impact my students and make my teaching more effective.

How have you successfully incorporated images and visual literacy in your classroom? I'd love to hear about your favorite visual lesson.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Our Virtual Field Trip to Shakespeare's Globe Theater

A few weeks ago I took my students to Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London, sort of.  After studying Shakespeare, the Globe Theater History, and Much Ado about Nothing, I figured it was time for a field trip.  But I've got no money and no time, and the all important standardized tests are coming up (sigh).  What I do have is a classroom of curious and interested students.

The solution?  Google Cardboard, Google Street View, and my iPhone6. I located several photospheres from Shakespeare's Globe Theater and included the experience as part of a differentiated stations activity that was inquiry driven.  The resulting student engagement knocked my socks off!

Student responses? "Wow!  It's taller than I imagined! It's much smaller than I thought; it looks oriental in design.  I didn't think it would be so intricate.  Is that where the queen would sit?  Would they throw things on the stage?  It is open to the  What if it rains?  Doesn't it rain in London?"  These were just a few of the reactions.

What did my students like best about our virtual field trip?  They liked the experience of feeling what it might be like to be in the theater and seeing the details in a 3D environment.

What did I like best about our virtual field trip?  The student engagement, wanting to stay after class to do more, asking where they can buy their own Google Cardboard, and wondering where we can go next.

Overall, I couldn't have asked for a better experience.  Well, I could have asked for 30 tickets to London and the premier of the hottest show in town, but I'll keep my reality virtual for now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How Student Choice can set a Tone of Invitation

Student Choice can set a Tone of Invitation

Everyone loves to receive an invitation, but it is rare that our students feel invited to learn.  In fact, more often than not, the opposite is true.  Students feel forced, cornered, or trapped into learning.  In my experience of focusing on, creating, and encouraging student choice in my classroom, I have found that providing student choice changes the tone of instruction. It changes the tone of the learning environment from a forced requirement to that of an invitation.

Perhaps we can all relate to the experience of an obligatory family party that we feel forced to attend; we don't feel as though we really have a choice in the matter, and we reluctantly go through the motions of arriving with a gift, making small talk, and creating an excuse to escape before the end of the event.

Compare this to receiving an invitation to a coveted event; the tone changes.  We anticipate, we plan, we prepare.  We make an effort to arrive on time, dressed to the nines, and we eagerly enjoy the event.  On the drive home, we reflect about the conversation, gossip, and events.

The same is true of student choice.  When orchestrated effectively, student choice sets a tone of invitation.  Students take on autonomy in their learning, and become engaged in their own achievement.  The invitation of choice helps to establish a feeling of anticipation, planning, and preparation in our students; they make an effort to arrive on time, prepared and "dressed" with eagerness.  Finally, they self reflect-a keystone of autonomous engagement.

Recently, I introduced a research assignment that required students to research a particular element of Elizabethan Culture or Shakespeare's biography and present their learning to the class.  Students were invited to choose their topic from a list, invited to choose to work alone or with a partner, and invited to choose how they would demonstrate their learning in a product.  Some of the product choices were to create a newspaper, brochure, presentation, screencast, game, map, children's book, and many others.  I have the blessing of being in a 1:1 Chromebook setting, and I took advantage of technology based tools with which I am familiar.

What did I hear from my students as I introduced this assignment?  I expected the usual groans and moans that might accompany a research project, but (and I believe it's because of the tone of invitation that was established with student choice) instead my students exclaimed, "I think this will be fun."  A few mentioned that they were excited to find out about a topic that interested them.  The music kids learned about music, the fashion minded kids investigated fashion, and so on.
The basic assignment is linked below if you're interested.

I would encourage you to send out the invitation to learn to your students by enhancing student choice.  Let me know how it goes!

Much Ado About Research Teaching Stations Elizabethan/Shakespeare Assignment

Monday, January 11, 2016

Three Reasons Screencasting is a Win-Win-Win

Three Reasons Screencasting is a Win-Win-Win

Students show their thinking
Students practice their thinking
Students engage in their own learning

Students show their thinking.  Instead of just writing in their answer, screencasting allows and even insists that students show the evaluation, inference skills, and critical thinking skills that went into problem solving.  Screencasting takes advantage of the introspective reflection, and, when incorporated into a lesson as a formative or summative assessment, screencasting allows students to verbalize and visualize their thought process.  Why is this a benefit?  Maybe I guessed at an answer, or I know the answer but can't evaluate it.  Maybe I just copied the answer from a friend.  Screencasting helps to ensure that the critical thinking process is verbalized and explained.

One use of screencasting I've used in class was for students to explain the influence of different persuasive techniques in their own persuasive writing.  They wrote a persuasive piece and screencasted how they hoped the audience would be impacted by their use of rhetoric.  This extra step extended their thinking and demanded self-evaluation and analysis.  Win.

Students practice their thinking.  When I have students deliver speeches using a slide presentation, I send them home with a slip that a parent signs stating that they have practiced their speech three times, and this practice is only mildly successful.  When I had my students screencast and watch their own screencasts as a form of practice, they practiced  many, many, many times without complaining, without prompting, and without hesitation.  The first student asked, "Can I redo my screencast?" and all of the others followed suit.  This intentional, focused practice and self-evaluation was not required or prompted by me; it was an organic extension of self-evaluation.  Students watched themselves on screen and wanted it to be just right, so they practiced and re-recorded numerous times.  Win. Win.

Students engage in their own learning.  Despite some students saying that they preferred to speak in front of a live audience instead of screencast (we mix it up), most of my students were more engaged in their own learning and reflection when I asked that they screencast their thinking.  No one wants to look foolish on camera (well, almost no one...), and most teens are so aware of peer reactions that they are much more invested in a recorded representation of their learning they are in a simple discussion or speech. Win. Win. Win.

Tools I've found successful for screencasting with students include Screencastify, Screencastomatic, and Movenote.  I love using screencasting for tutorials or directions, and find it's even better when students direct the learning by creating their own tutorials.

How have you used screencasting in the classroom and what are the benefits and drawbacks you have found?

Sunday, January 10, 2016