Wednesday, 1 July 2015

ISTE 2015: The Final Countdown



Today I finally got to a Minecraft session. Hooray! I spent 90 minutes in a session on using Minecraft to code. The session suffered from the same problem as many ISTE sessions: too much talk and not enough practical, with much of the talk being somewhat patronizing (did you know teachers need methods of getting students' attention?). Also, the session said it was for Minecraft advanced users, but the first half hour was spent learning to play, which was frustrating.

That said, most of the session was okay. We did a lot with red stone, which allows you to create circuits, and physics experiments. There was a very small amount of coding, which was rather disappointing given that the session title was actually about code. In the last few seconds of the presentation they mentioned Learn to Mod, so I may check that out. It was fun to explore a bit more in Minecraft, but I didn't get out of the session what I hoped I would. 

We finished ISTE at a BYOD session on digital learning and badges (and wow, had the crowds thinned out by then). The session had some good points about recognizing informal learning and using badges. I particularly liked how she talked about how badges shift from "what do you know?" To "what do you value?" And "what did you do?" But to be honest you could just feel the energy in the room draining. It was the last session of ISTE, and I think people were tired and hungry and ready to sit back and process information.

Overall thoughts on ISTE:

-I would have liked more time spent on practical advice, less on telling us that we should be using technology in our classrooms

-There are amazing teachers around the world who are doing some incredible things with technology

-The exhibitors scanning us got creepy and weird. And they were really offended when we didn't allow it. 

-ISTE's reputation is well deserved. There was something here for everyone, and it was well organized and structured. 

-There are a lot of cool things I want to buy, and it's a good thing I'm not in charge of our school budget. 

-I have so much stuff to sort through, you guys. SO MUCH. 

And... That's pretty much it for me. I'll be blogging sporadically throughout the summer and will return to weekly updates in September. So find me on Twitter, and I'll see you once I've sorted through 

ALL...

THIS...

STUFF!!!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

ISTE 2015, Day 2 Retrospective



Today started out with a session on using iPads to create media across the curriculum. There were some good points in this session. Technology is not new -- people have always argued against new technology (went on to suggest that if the printing press was invented now, people would argue about how it was destroying oral skills). The 21st century marks a dramatic change from media CONSUMERS to media PRODUCERS -- with kids leading the charge. Some of the types of media production we looked at:
  • Time Lapse Photography using an app called Animate, although there were several free ones we found on the app store as well
  • Stories and personal essays created through using personal drawings or cut outs with photographs in iMovie
  • PSAs and assessments of visual mediums like physics using videos created in apps like iMovie
  • Working with green screens to do various things, in this case weather reports. You can download apps specifically for green screen or just use iMovie.
There were some interesting ideas here, and it definitely inspired me to use more video in my classroom.


We made our way through the poster sessions and, once again, were totally overwhelmed by the resources and activities available. I will sort through them at some point and pass on the ones worth exploring, but suffice to say there are some incredible educators here doing amazing things with their students.

We continued on to a presentation called App Smashing Your Digital Story. App Smashing is the process of using multiple apps to compile a story, video, or presentation. By this point the spotty wifi access was starting to get on everyone’s nerves. It's understandable, given the 20 000 attendees, but frustrating at a technology conference. 

This all came to a head when, fifteen minutes into the presentation, we still had not begun due to technical difficulties. The frustrated presenter struggled with his technology while several assistants gathered around and the packed crowd played on devices. It took 22 of the 60 minutes to get the projector working, which was unfortunate. However, once we got going, it was an interesting session on using diverse apps chosen by students to create digital stories. Here's an example of what he did:

-Start with Explain Everything and create a video
-Export to camera roll
-Import to tilt shift video, which lets you speed things up
-Export to camera roll and open in iMovie to add voice overs to fast video 

When choosing apps for smashing, look for any app that you can save to the camera roll, because then you can import it in iMovie and the like. Unknowingly, I did this exact same thing with my 1 Second Everyday video this year, pulling it into iMovie to add music and flash for the kids.

More posters, more information... was starting to get overwhelming at this point. We tried to get into a few more sessions and they were all full, so we strolled into something called Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse, which was instantly different from the other sessions we'd attended, if only because of the Carl Hooker's grotesque zombie makeup.

ZOMBIES RUN!
He was really great and worth listening to, and talked about how to survive the craziness of our digital world, especially for kids.

Some of the key points he covered...

1. Balance: having time for everything

2. Location: using your technology at appropriate times and places

3. Time of day: not using your tech to the extent of sleep deprivation. They also mentioned that bright light at night can reset your internal clock, making it harder to sleep.

4. Aloneness: being able to sit alone and not freak out, and having time to reflect and think.

5. Interruption: being interrupted by alerts in the middle of a conversation.

"It's not about the device; it's about who's holding the device and how they're using it." I love the idea that tech is really just another tool in the classroom. It's not the only or primary means of learning, but it's a great way to provide another tool.

I spent the rest of the day exploring the learner playgrounds, which was great fun. I connected with a lot of people from the Metagame Book Club and Games MOOC. This has been the coolest thing for me about ISTE: getting to meet in person all the people I've met online. 

Monday, 29 June 2015

ISTE 2015: Day One In Review


Now REwriting this entire post because my iPad crashed and deleted everything I had written... May be a more condensed version as a result. Grrrs. This was originally supposed to be part one, but not much happened in the rest of the day -- I started feeling nauseous and the last session was looking to be dull, so we checked out an hour early. I'll be back later today for day two!

So we started our day in the labyrinth that is the Philadelphia Convention Center (note American spelling... I can conform!). The area stretches over several buildings but room numbers have little way to distinguish which building you're in, and it's kind of a gong show. Still, we found our way to our first session on coding with all ages. 

Although there were some great examples of projects students had done and a few suggestions of apps and programs, they were mostly suggestions easily found in a quick google search, such as Scratch and Code.org (both great programs by the way). The majority of this presentation focused on why we should teach coding and programming. We're already here -- we're on board! I was hoping for more practical advice about teaching coding to students -- actual activities we could try in these programs. 

Disappointed, we moved on to the Exhibitor Hall, an Orwellian nightmare of people trying to scan your name tag, which contains all of your personal info, so they can market to you later. Eventually I ripped off the scannable part of my name tag and put an end to that noise, at which point I was free to enjoy playing with robots and exploring exhibits, and meeting the cool people from Graphite face to face!

My next session was on using commercial games and was fantastic. Paul Davarsi, Peggy Sheehy, Steve Isaacs, and Justin Eames did a great job of showcasing the cool ways they use games like Minecraft, Portal, and Gone Home. Their use of games based learning seriously puts me to shame, so if you're at all interested, please check them out. 

Next up (after twenty minutes hyperventilating in a corner to recover from crowd anxiety), I headed to a workshop on Chrome apps... With my iPad. Yeah, poor planning on my part. Nonetheless. The session opened by berating teachers for using technology as digital worksheets, which made me nervous, but there were some great apps presented. In addition to obvious ones like Google Drive and AdBlock, they suggested:

-Extensity, which allows you to easily manage apps and extensions
-Data Saver, which compresses pages to save bandwidth
-One Tab, which compresses all open tabs into one open page for easy access

There were also some excellent subject specific apps:

Reading:

-Readability, which works on any browser. This cleans up all the extraneous info and just gives you the text of the document you want kids to read. You can also share or download the page as an ePub file. 

-Google Dictionary, which let's you highlight a word and pull up a dictionary.

-Beeline Reader, which creates a coloured gradient that makes text much easier to follow. It also allows you to set pages to open dyslexic font. 

-EasyBib, which collects citations to help kids create a bibliography. 

-Padlet Mini, which gives you a quick way to add things to Padlet (I love Padlet), a resource board you can use independently pr collaboratively. 

-Webpage Sticky Notes, which lets you put stickies on websites (permanently). 

Assistive Technology Tools:

-Read and Write for Google, which is similar to Read and Write Gold. This extension pops up in your address bar and lets you highlight, read text out loud, and the like. This one is paid, but free to teachers. This works closely with...

-Snapverter, which takes a picture you've uploaded to Google drive and allows Read and Write to treat it as text. 

-



They also pointed out that you should always, always explore the options on apps and extensions, which seems like sound advice. 

ISTE in a word so far... Overwhelming! If I could add a few more, though, I'd say fun, interesting, and inspiring. More to come, internet friends. Signing off for now to find ice cream, because summer. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Why the Prodigy Math Game is Awesome for Student Learning


Note: in the interests of full disclosure, I have actually reviewed Prodigy before for Graphite (an awesome website all teachers should know about!). However, I wanted to go into a bit more detail here about what Prodigy is and how it works in my classroom.

Prodigy is seriously one of my favorite math games of all time. I use it constantly in my classroom, and my students never seem to get tired of it. So if you're looking for a great alternative to boring math practice, you could do a lot worse than checking it out!

What Is Prodigy?

Prodigy mimics MMOs (multiplayer online games). You start out as a fledgling wizard and battle creatures to level up, earning additional powers, pets, vanity items, and the like. You complete these battles by answering math questions. There's a lot more to the game than this, though -- there are tons of mini games, sidequests, multiplayer activities, and the like that make Prodigy awesome.

What Do You Like About It?

The thing I like most about Prodigy is that my students like it. We started using Prodigy as a math center way back in September. That means my students have been playing it once every two weeks, more or less consistently, for ten months. And they still ask for it. They play it at home. They play it at indoor recesses. They absolutely love this game.

There are a lot of reasons the kids like it so much:

  1. It's constantly updating. This is one of the best things about Prodigy: they're always growing, adding new areas, adding new pets. Every time the kids check in, there's something new to explore and discover.
  2. It's colorful, fun, and aimed at their level. They like the animations, the magical element, and the choices they get to make about how to level their characters.
  3. It offers lots of help. If a student gets stuck on a math question, Prodigy has a helpful question mark that will explain things to them. Questions aren't timed, so students can take as long as they need to figure things out.
  4. It does a great job of balancing learning with fun. There's plenty to enjoy, and it uses MMO qualities like a daily wheel spin to keep them coming back. But you can't level up without doing the math.
In addition, there are some things I appreciate as a teacher:

  1. The teacher dashboard is incredibly useful. It allows you to secretly set students to different grade levels so that the game isn't too frustrating if you have students who struggle, or becomes more challenging for students who are working above grade level. You can also set whether you want students to follow the Common Core Curriculum from the United States or the Ontario curriculum. Although Ontario's grade 6 curriculum does have some differences from Alberta's, at least I know my students aren't being asked about American money or measurements, which is a challenge with many math games online.
  2. You can make "assignments" for the whole class or individual students. Usually, the game self-adjusts, giving students easier or harder questions on general math topics, but if I notice that Suzie is having trouble with fractions, I can set her Prodigy account to give her fractions questions for a while.
  3. It's affordable. You can play the entire game for free, but some features do require a subscription to unlock. While the kids can get their own subscriptions for a reasonable price, they also have very good package deals for teachers.
What Don't You Like?

I have very few complaints with Prodigy. I'd like to see an app, as the iPad tends to crash the site periodically. I also wish there weren't quite so many mathless mini games, or that the site limited how long you could play those (it's easy for students to get caught up in them instead of the math based activities). I'd also love to see the math integrated more smoothly into the game instead of stopping your fight to do a math question, and of course it would be nice to have more curriculums available (such as Alberta!).

But overall... this is definitely the best math game I've tried with my students, and I've played a lot. Check out the website if you want to give it a try!

Question of the Day:
What's your favorite math website?


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Friday, 12 June 2015

The Discovery Math Debate


Lately there's been a lot of rage about "new math" and "discovery math." Some of it has involved people starting petitions, complaining online, and making videos and infographics discrediting this approach to teaching math. It's this last one that finally provoked me to respond.


There are a number of problems with approaches like this (and because I'm never one to keep quiet, here they are):

1. Infographics like this are an exaggeration.

This infographic represents one strategy for doing a very simple addition question, then makes the "new" approach look ridiculous. But we can do that the other way too:


The above example is also ridiculous. No one with math sense would try to do that question in the algorithm illustrated at the top, because they recognize it's a strategy inappropriate to the complexity of the question. Which brings me to point two...

2. "New Math" is supposed to be about providing options, not shutting them down

The original idea behind "discovery math" was supposed to address the situation many people have been in -- where you get the correct answer on a math test but get the question marked wrong because you didn't do it the way the teacher taught you to. The idea behind the new math was that there is more than one strategy for solving a math problem, and that teaching the algorithm does not always result in the best way to do a problem.

Now, here is where I think things do break down a bit. Math is supposed to be about finding a strategy that works for you. Sometimes, that becomes "teach seventeen strategies and expect kids to try them all." And THAT is a problem. It can also be a problem for the teacher, who's suddenly expected to know and understand every single strategy a kid might use. This can lead to the teacher picking one and saying forget it, this is the way we're doing it. 

One of the strategies kids can use -- to be clear -- is the traditional algorithm. I've seen people on social media saying that their children's teachers have told them they "aren't allowed" to teach the algorithm. I have never been told this in my life. The algorithm is one strategy I teach my students to solve math problems. If they have a different strategy, they can use it provided it gives the right answer.

3. Students are still expected to memorize basic math facts, but it's not happening.

Again, I saw a parent on Twitter who said he taught his child to memorize his math facts, and the Alberta teacher told him, "That's a great idea. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to do it in class."

I am baffled as to how this exchange could have happened in light of the Alberta government's document specifically clarifying that students ARE required to memorize basic math facts. In short, this document says that by the end of grade 5, all students in Alberta are required to memorize addition and subtraction facts to 18, and multiplication facts to 9 X 9.

That said... it really isn't happening. And I'm not sure why. I have good math students who pull out calculators to do 4 divided by 2, and it baffles me, because I know the teachers in my school and I know they are emphasizing basic facts. Memorization is important. It's very difficult to do complex math problems when you can't do your basic facts.

So How Should We Teach Math?

I'm not someone who's studied this extensively, but I can offer my opinion as someone who teaches math, and has done so for many years: BALANCE. We still need to practice and offer some of the instruction that made the "old math" successful -- we shouldn't go off the deep end with three hundred strategies and complicated approaches. But we also need to abandon some of the straight memorization and lack of understanding that made the "old math" so frustrating for many students. Allowing for different approaches and creative problem solving is a good thing, provided the skills are there.

And yes, you still need to learn your basic facts.

Question of the Day:
Why are so many students struggling to memorize basic facts?

I don't know that I have an answer for this, and I would love to see if someone has done research on the topic. I do wonder if it has to do with having so much information accessible at the drop of a hat -- kids see their parents use calculators, they're comfortable with calculators at a young age, and maybe they just don't see the point of the memorization? I don't know, and I wish I did. 



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Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Year End Gift Ideas for Students


I firmly believe that teachers should not be expected to give gifts to their students. That said... some of us like to, and that should be okay too! There are lots of fun, inexpensive ways to let your students know you care and bid them a fond farewell. Here are a few I've used over the years.

1. Books, books, books!

We all want our students to keep reading over the summer -- what better way to motivate them than with the gift of a book? I buy classroom libraries through Scholastic, which usually amounted to about $2 a book. If you want a bit more control over the selection, Book Outlet is a fantastic resource for inexpensive books. 

2. Get Punny

Beef up a simple gift with a silly pun. Whether it's packs of goldfish that say "you're o-FISH-ally done school" or bags of candy that say "thanks for a sweet year," kids love treats and will appreciate the added personalization from their teacher. 

3. An Experience

What if instead of giving your students physical gifts, you gave them a great year end memory? At the end of the year, we celebrate with a medieval feast. We watch a movie, play games, and share a simple meal. Find more on that here!

4. A Personal Touch

One year, I wrote a letter to my students explaining something I had learned from each student in the class. Another year, I made a yearbook with a page for each student's school photo on a page to collect autographs and a two page spread of photos from the year. This year, I've used the app 1 Second Everyday to collect (almost) daily video snippets, which I'm going to string together in a video of our year. 

5.  Get Crafty

If you're a crafty or artsy person, why not share that gift with your students? Write them a story to record them a song. I once personalized the last page of my students' report cards with illustrations showing things I knew about them. This one can be time consuming, but also a lot of fun. 

Year end gifts are NOT a necessity -- but kids do enjoy getting them, and I enjoy putting them together. And if that's you too, then hopefully these ideas will help you. 

Question of the day:
What's the best gift you ever received from a teacher?

I don't remember a lot of teacher gifts, although I'm sure I got them. I DO remember a stupid blue plastic alligator bracelet I got for reading 100 books in second grade. I loved that thing, and it took me about 48 hours to lose or. :(



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Thursday, 21 May 2015

Using the SAMR Model to Determine Technology Use




If you aren't familiar with the SAMR model, it's a fairly basic method of determining how we are using technology at an educational level. There's a visual and a brief description below:
SAMR + Hype Cycle - HiRes by tim.klapdor, on Flickr
image by @timklapdor
So as an example, if you are having students learn about multiplication and want to move away from worksheets...

  • Substitution would occur when you have students complete a multiple choice worksheet online
  • Augmentation would occur when you have students play a multiplication review game online
  • Modification would occur when you have students play a game that adapts to each student, presenting them with appropriate challenge levels.
  • Redefinition would occur when students work together with another classroom over Skype to develop online lessons to share with one another and teach the concept.
As the graphic shows, disillusionment tends to set in with the earlier two concepts, where we are using technology only at its most basic level. Now, that doesn't mean we should never use technology for substitution or augmentation, only that there are some basic things to consider to help us determine when and how to use technology.

Step One: Determine what level the proposed activity is at

Some questions to help you determine what level you're at:
  1. Could you do the exact same lesson without technology? If so, you're working at substitution.
  2. If you changed the activity just a tiny bit, could you do it without technology? For example, if you're playing a multiplication game, are there similar board or card games? If so, you're working at augmentation.
  3. Is the activity something that would be difficult to do without technology, but possible? In the example above, you could give each child a multiplication quiz, analyze the quizzes, and develop lessons structured for each individual based on the results -- but it's sure easier to have the technology handle it. If so, you're at modification. 
  4. Is the activity something that would be almost impossible to complete without technology? In the example above, you have students using the internet and tools to utterly revolutionize their thinking about a concept. This is redefinition.
Step Two: Determine why you're using technology

If you're at modification or redefinition, it will probably be pretty obvious why you're using the tech. If you're at the first two levels, you might have to think it through.

Although redefinition is kind of the holy grail of technology use in education, it's not going to work for every single topic. I know there are some teachers who will argue that you should never use technology for substitution. I disagree -- I think that as long as you understand why you're using technology in this way, it's perfectly acceptable. If your answer to "why" is "because my students stay focused longer when I give them an iPad than when I give them a worksheet," that's perfectly fine. As long as you're aware that you're using technology at a very basic level, if you can dictate to yourself why you've made that choice, it's not a problem.

That said...

Step Three: Determine if technology really is the best option

If you're working at one of the first two levels, do consider whether you're just using technology for technology's sake. There's a reason that trough of disillusionment slips in at the tail end of augmentation. If you've never used technology in your classroom and you start, your students will definitely be engaged -- at first. But as they realize this is just the same thing in a new hat, their engagement will slip dramatically.

In addition, consider whether the technology really does offer an equal opportunity to offline activities. Would your students benefit more from something with hands-on manipulatives? Or just the chance to disconnect from their devices and connect with another student?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with occasionally using technology for substitution, but I think that we as teachers need to be mindful about our practice and the reasons for what we're doing. 

Question of the Day:
How often does your tech use get to redefinition?

My goal is for 75% of my technology use to fit into the categories of modification or redefinition. Like project based learning, I find that redefinition often involves more complex units of study that I might not be willing to undertake just for a simple concept or review, so I'm perfectly happy if I hit modification in those instances. 



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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Things That Rock About Teaching


Let's face it: as teachers, we sometimes have a tendency to focus on the negative. Some of this is just complaining about work -- everyone does it, and it's pretty harmless. But sometimes it gets extreme, to the point that people start to view teachers as constantly complaining. I have a theory about this: I think teachers emphasize the negative aspects of our jobs because there are so many people constantly telling us how easy we have it as highly paid babysitters. Emphasizing the negative and difficult parts of our work is a way of counteracting this image.

But it can start to get to us -- make us focus on the parts of our job that aren't so awesome, and make us forget why we started in the first place. Make us bitter, in fact. That's why lately, I've been trying to think about the things I love about teaching and what inspired me to sign up in the first place (and guess what? Summer vacation didn't even make the list!).

The Best Things About Being a Teacher

1. The opportunity to change lives for the better

There aren't a lot of jobs where your literal and only goal is to help young minds expand and grow. We are entrusted with guiding children through some of the hardest parts of lives -- whether it's forming that first letter, having a deep discussion about politics, or just listening while they talk about problems at home. Every child who walks through our doors trusts us to help them and guide them, and although that can be frightening, it's also a massive blessing.

2. The freedom to create and experiment

I have lots of friends who go to work every day and spend eight hours doing as they're told. Teaching is nothing like that. Teaching not only allows but encourages creativity and trying new things. This is one of the only professions where if you're still doing things exactly the same way you did two years ago, you're doing it wrong. I love having the freedom to explore new ideas and try them out with my students.

3. You forge deep personal connections

Over eleven years of teaching, more than 350 kids have filtered through my homeroom (not to mention all the students I've interacted with in other capacities). Some of these kids have left deep and lasting impressions on me, to the point where I still frequently think of them today. Even those who touched me in a lighter way left their mark. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to foster personal connections with incredible people -- both students and fellow professionals -- and it's easy to take that for granted.

4. Waiting for the "A-HA!" moment

Is there anything quite like the "a-ha!" moment? You know the one: when you've been sitting with Sally for forty five minutes, patiently explaining that no, it's not that five times five is twenty five THIS time, it's ALWAYS twenty five, and suddenly her eyes light up? And the next thing you know, she's explaining the concept to you, her face gleaming with excitement because she finally gets it? Yeah. That one.

5. The privilege of watching personalities develop

This is it -- my all time, number one, FAVORITE thing about teaching. I love to watch a kid become an individual. It might be something simple -- a six year old's fascination with dolphins and sudden desire to read every book in the library about marine life, or a ten year old who suddenly discovers that they're good at resolving arguments among their friends, or a sixteen year old who decides they're going to become a mechanic. The point is that I get to be present for so many of these moments of discovery, where something just connects with a student in a way it hadn't before. For most people, they'll only ever see a few people (their own children, and maybe a few close friends) hit those moments. Teachers see it all the time, every day. That's an amazing and awesome privilege.

Question of the Day:
What one thing makes you love teaching?

It's so hard to narrow it down to one, but number five above is probably what gets me out of bed on the dreary mornings. How about you?


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Monday, 4 May 2015

How a Twitter Troll Reminded Me Of What Matters


This week, I let myself get drawn into an argument with a troll on Twitter.

Actually, I don't think she was a troll. Trolls say things just for a reaction; I'm sorry to say that I suspect this girl meant everything she said. I won't repost her tweets here for two reasons: one, I like to think she'll change her tune at some point in the future, and two, I've blocked her. But basically, she argued that everyone has the same opportunities, whether they're born rich or poor. She responded to my disagreement with some caps lock swearing, twisted my argument around, set up a few straw men, and then got to her main point:

The rich are rich because they worked harder than the rest of us.

So what spurred all of this stupidity, and what does it have to do with teaching? 

It all started with the Alberta election -- specifically with five CEOs who proclaimed that if Albertans elected any party other than the current ruling party (the one who offers them plenty of tax breaks), well, they'd just have to make up their profits by refusing to donate to children's hospitals.

Needless to say, many people were pretty annoyed with this line of (I hesitate to even call it) reasoning. Not this young woman, though. No, from her perspective, these CEOs worked hard to get where they are, and we all had the same opportunities and could be where they are if we just worked a little harder.

And you know what? That makes me angry.

It makes me angry on behalf of the sixteen year old student who works thirty hours a week to support his family and tries to find time to study on the side.

It makes me angry on behalf of the eight year old who hasn't had breakfast and "forgot" her lunch.

It makes me angry on behalf of the kid with the learning disability who, no matter how hard he tries, just can't seem to make those marks on the page come together and form words.

It makes me angry on behalf of my autistic sister, and my family who struggles to support her and themselves by working 60 hours a week well past retirement age.

And more than angry, it makes me realize how utterly privileged we are to even have the time and ability to have this conversation. It makes me realize that as a teacher, even if these aren't issues I commonly face in my own school, I need to make noise on behalf of my colleagues who can't teach math because they're too busy trying to make sure their students are safe and fed. It makes me realize that so many of us start from a place of privilege that we'll never realize how lucky we truly are.

As teachers, we have a responsibility to stand up and be the voice of those who are silent, who are struggling. It's a good reminder -- even if it took a troll to teach it.

Question of the Day:
How can we speak up for those with no voice?

Me to We has definitely been the best way for me of doing this, and of raising awareness among my own students in the process. If you've never checked out this awesome movement, I encourage you to do it!



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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Ten Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers


No matter what age you teach, you'll find yourself faced with reluctant readers. These kids are incredibly frustrating, because they're not only the ones who struggle with reading, but the ones who actively hate it. They'll do anything other than read, whether that's creating a disruption, staring into space, or constantly heading to the bathroom.

While I'm not an expert at getting kids to read, I have found some helpful strategies over the year to encourage them to get reading. Here are ten strategies for reluctant readers.

1. Electronic books

For some kids, just putting an iPad in their hands makes the difference between boredom and engagement. It's not a hard thing to do, and the instant access to perks like dictionaries can be very helpful.

2. Use graphic novels

We're past the days where comics were considered for the illiterate. There are tons of excellent graphic novels full of interesting stories, deep themes, and intricate storytelling. Whether your kids are reading Amazing Spider Man, Bone, or something you consider more "literary," graphic novels can be brilliant for kids who don't like books. 

3. Interactive fiction

Interactive fiction is the online equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. It's like a puzzle wrapped in a story, and many kids who aren't interested in passive reading will find the added user engagement of IF extremely useful.

4. Humor

Everyone loves to laugh. Reluctant readers are often willing to engage in the effort of decoding text if there's enough of a payoff -- and in this case, that means a big laugh. I direct a lot of my kids to Gordon Korman's I Want To Go Home, which is full of sports and humor.

5. Target their intersts

If you can figure out what interests your kids, it's much easier to get them reading. Lots of reluctant readers will insist there aren't any books they like, so find out their favorite movie, video game, or sport instead. From there, try to find books that link to those topics.

6. Balance fiction with nonfiction

I read an article years ago (no idea of the source) that pointed out that most fiction is purchased by women, and most nonfiction by men. It then said that since most elementary teachers are women, there's a tendency to stock our classrooms with primarily fiction. Since reading that article, I've made a concentrated effort to have more nonfiction in my classroom -- especially books of funny facts and world records, which always seem to be a hit.

7. Don't level your classroom books

I know, I know -- leveling makes it easy for everyone to pick the book that's perfect for them. It also makes it really obvious which kids is always picking from the easy pile, and kids are really self-conscious about this. One of my students asked if he could make a construction paper cover for his book so no one knew that he was reading an "easy" book. The more you can remove that social pressure, the better.

8. Read out loud

When kids see you reading, and enjoying reading, it encourages them to do the same. My rule is, I never read the kids a book I don't love, and I try to vary genre as much as possible.

9. Stock your classroom with books

It seems obvious, but no classroom should be without books. Shelves and shelves of books, all kinds and types, and available to the kids whenever they want them.

10. Look for books with dynamic text

The Geronimo Stilton books are great for this: books full of bright colors, fancy writing, and interesting text. Online books often have this, too, especially when there's an augmented reality component (and there are some very cool books, such as Popar Princess).

Figuring out what is causing the reluctance is a key to engaging reluctant readers, but once you've done that, these are some great ways to encourage kids to keep reading!

Question of the Day:
How do you engage reluctant readers?



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