by Steve Peterson, DMS 5th Grade Teacher
A few years ago ace-colleague, Heath Kelley, converted me to Google Apps and I came to love the comment features in them. I do most of my work in Google Apps now, but I still struggle with making sure my teacher tone is appropriate in my written comments and that I’m specific and detailed enough to make a difference for learners.
Sometimes in my written comments, I find that I’m not reacting authentically as a reader, something that assessment guru, Dylan Wiliam, suggests is crucial to effective feedback. Instead I react as a judge. I wished I could encourage and point out the good stuff that is happening in student work AND the next steps that I see without that dreaded evaluative tone coming out in my written comments. How can I provide better “comments alone” response that learning research suggests inspires learners to be more intrinsically motivated?
On Twitter, recently, I read about teachers (@alicekeeler, for instance) who used a Chrome extension, ScreenCastify, to provide feedback to students. I’m writing to report that I’m trying it out, too. As you can see from the example below, I record myself talking while I’m scrolling through the student’s work.
I’m able to speak specifically about things that I see and how I react to them; I think I’m also able to be a little more human in my presentation. Tone and specificity mean a lot. And we all know that learners do better if they feel that they have been heard, understood, and taken seriously.
My protocol is to scan the student work with my rubric in mind. I pick out the 1-2 main ideas that I’d like to get across and highlight these in the text. I might add a short phrase using the comment feature to help me and the student locate and remember the spots I want to comment on.
I make sure that I spend some time on issues that the learner is doing well, or I have seen improvement, so I can notice and name what I see a learner trying to do, as Peter Johnston talks about in his terrific book, Choice Words. I record my thoughts on ScreenCastify as I go.
One thing that makes ScreenCastify so easy to use is that it automatically places the video in a Google Drive folder (which it creates for you!) and then it generates an easily accessible shareable link without you having to leave the recording page. I copy the link and paste it in the student’s work, or in private comments. Simple.
The student can listen to the recording while they follow along with my comments. Students have said that screencast is sometimes more helpful than a face-to-face conference because they have a record of the conversation that they can listen to again.
Since the extension is so easy to use, I am also experimenting with students using it as a tool for their own reflection. So far I’ve had them explain their work to me regarding a visually-based project. They take a photo of the project and walk me through their thinking process.
Next steps include using the tool as a way to reflect on their portfolio of student work that they are creating using Google Sites. My ultimate goal is to help students become more reflective, thoughtful, and intentional about the choices they make and the work they do.
If you have any insights on how you are using screencasting for feedback or for student reflection, I’d love to hear it. Also, if you’d like help setting ScreenCastify up and their videos don’t do it for you, drop me a line and I’ll help you.
written by Collaborative Teacher Brigit Storhoff and Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen
Brigit Storhoff's 7th grade ELA students are embarking on a semester long project called Genius Hour. Over the course of the semester, each student selects an individual topic to research, develops an essential question, writes a thesis supported by their research which is used for their five-paragraph essay, and decide on a way to share their learning with their peers.
As part of the research process, Mrs. Storhoff introduced students to the Mind Maple app. The app is a mind-mapping tool that allows the user to click-and-drag from a central topic to add questions/concepts and related details as subtopics. Students can also hyperlink sources to the map, insert images, and add notes.
Earlier this month, Mrs. Storhoff hosted both a Learning Lab and a Pineapple Chart visit in her room tied to Mind Maple. If you couldn't make it but are interested in seeing the app in action, check out the video below.
How could you imagine using Mind Maple in the classroom? Join the conversation and comment below!
Written by fifth-grade teacher Heath Kelley (@6kelley)
There are many social media options that provide content for educators to collaborate and share ideas. One of these options, Twitter, is used by millions of teachers to supplement the learning that may not take place during face-to-face, traditional professional development sessions.
I first started using Twitter a few years ago as a way to glean from experts such as Rick Wormeli (@rickwormeli2), Marzano Research (@MarzanoResearch), and read about how fellow teachers implemented strategies in their classrooms. I began following hashtags that organized topics such as standards based grading (#sbg). Twitter chats provided a place to discuss questions and exchange ideas. The district I was teaching at worked to communicate a shared vision to the community with posts of what was happening in and around the school using a common hashtag, similar to Howard Winneshiek (#2020howardwinn). Tools such as TweetDeck continue to help me organize the people and categories that I want to follow.
The personalized nature of Twitter gives teachers an opportunity to direct their learning at their own pace. Todd Whitaker (@toddwhitaker), author of What Great Teachers Do Differently, speaks to this when he says, “Twitter is the best PD in the world. Twitter is not an obligation. Email is an obligation.”
"Twitter = Connections. The bulk of what I have done in my teaching pedagogy has been lifted, stolen, and shared from sources using social media. Specifically, Twitter has afforded me the opportunity to connect, personally, with the creator of some really awesome educational tools that have helped me extend learning and make it more meaningful for students. It is like a short-cut to meeting and engaging with people smarter than I am in the field I am passionate about. Creating a Professional Learning Network (PLN) through Twitter has also helped me stay really motivated and engaged with learning how to become better at my craft. I only hope to continue to build my footprint on Twitter and be a resource for others to reciprocate all the benefits I've received from it."
- Zach Fromm (@ZachFromm1)
"I use Twitter to be exposed to current research by following leaders in the fields of education and math education; I have read more professional articles via Twitter than any other resource. I also use Twitter to help me process my thoughts on, and see other sides of, issues. Often this is done as part of a Twitter Chat, but I have also responded to individuals or groups to participate in these types of conversations. I do not always have time to check in, and I had to learn that that is ok. When I do have a chance to check in I almost always find some inspiration for reflecting more deeply on what I am doing in my classroom- and to me that is key. Twitter has made me more thoughtful about the decisions I am making in my classroom, rather than just following the status quo."
- Allysen Lovstuen (@alovstuen)
"I've found Twitter to be a great way to take advantage of the hive-mind to help me keep up on new thinking in both ELA and science. I've also shared materials that I've developed on Twitter and have most definitely benefited from seeing others' work, too."
- Steve Peterson (@insidethedog)
"Twitter is something I'm fairly new to, but it was introduced to me as an educational tool at a music education conference two years ago. I follow a wide range of people -- some friends and family, some educators, some policy-makers, and some pop culture personalities. Twitter is where I turn when I have 45 seconds to kill -- and it's amazing how many times I come across a gem of an idea that can transfer into my classroom! Sometimes I find stand-alone tech integration ideas, other times I stumble across a thread of tweets from amazing music educators around the country engaging in an on-going conversation about best practices. While Twitter isn't my first stop for research about education, it's definitely opened some doors and sent me down some rabbit holes!"
- Andrew Ellingsen (@AndrewEllingsen)
"Our goal with our twitter account is to use it as a tool to positively push information out about our activities and what our kids are accomplishing in all of their activities." Here is a link for more information about the Decorah High School Social Media Presence.
- Adam Riley (@Decorah_Vikings)
"I use Twitter to connect to various individuals in the physical education setting as well as for coaching. There are many valuable resources to connect with on Twitter and I have found it as a very easy tool to use. It is also been a way to be visible with my students as well and be able to communicate with them through this medium."
- Jonathan Carlson (@coachjc03)
"I get inspiration from a variety of sources: professional journals, Facebook groups, and email subscriptions. Nothing, however, compares to the depth and breadth of information I receive through Twitter. At the KPEC conference last summer in Dubuque, Todd Whitaker, educational leader and author, motivated me to use this invaluable resource more than I had been. He stated, “Teaching is a lonely world; Twitter connects you with experts. You learn how to be great by great people.”
Was he ever right! All my favorite educators – Penny Kittle, Carol Jago, Meenoo Rami, and Kelly Gallagher (to name a few) as well as groups such as TeachThought, edutopia, NCTE, and Heinemann PD are now available to me through Twitter. Just this week I learned about new books my students will love, prompts for argumentative writing, and strategies for reaching quiet and disengaged students. I can also search a topic (for example Civil Rights Movement) to assist me as I’m refining lesson plans or search #edchat for more inspiration.
I used to feel guilty about following others without tweeting out information in return, but another statement by Todd Whitaker alleviated those feelings. He said, “Twitter is not an obligation; it is 24/7 learning.” I realize people share because they want to help others become better at their craft, and I sure appreciate that! I’ll still want to read books and attend conferences to hear from people whose work I admire, but now I can access what they’re thinking about with a quick tap on my phone. Priceless!"
- Liz Fox (@Lizabethfox1)
"I began using Twitter in 2012. My initial goal was to connect with other professional educators and gather resources to help me be a better teacher. I have found that at times I can also be a resource for other teachers. I like sharing ideas and seeing what types of activities and classroom management styles other teachers use. Twitter allows me to make those connections with teachers all across the nation quickly and easily. I have also participated in Educational Chats. These are opportunities to engage in discussions with other like-minded professionals in a guided format. I also use Twitter to follow authors. I find it fascinating that many authors will reply to my tweets. It is fun and exciting to share these connections with my students."
- Jenny Butler (@jennybutler83)
written by Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen & Collaborative Teacher Shannon Horton
For the last month, we've been working with a couple of teachers on building a media literacy infographic. It has been shared with staff and students in our district, and the feedback has been really positive. (Click on the image below to open a full-size PDF that can be downloaded.)
Why we made it
Our goal in creating this infographic was to give students a tool to use to help them sort media outlets in two ways -- the liberal/conservative bias of the organization and the level of depth in reporting. It is not intended as a way to replace critical thinking and thoughtful analysis, and we've been really pleased to see that the students who have been using it in the past couple weeks have been having thoughtful conversations and discussions.
The idea to focus on media literacy to help students identify quality reporting and inherent bias in the media isn't new to our district -- this is something many teachers have been covering in their classrooms for years. With all the buzz on both ends of the political spectrum about "fake news" right now, though, it made sense to us when two DHS teachers approached us about partnering on a media literacy project.
How we made it
Following our initial meeting with them, we began gathering resources that might be helpful. In that research, we came across an early draft of an infographic created by Vanessa Otero. We really liked the idea of sorting news organizations in two ways at once, but it left out some of the news sources our students use and some of the category descriptors were more blunt than we would choose for middle and high school students.
We re-created the x-y axis plot and used her axis labels of "Quality" and "Bias" but chose to use colors instead of ovals as our visual organizer. As we sorted the news organizations, we used Vanessa Otero's initial placements as our starting place. She described her methodology in an extensive blog post, and we felt good about the level of analysis she did as she placed them.
In addition to her initial placements, though, we also turned to sites like www.mediabiasfactcheck.com and www.allsides.com to get more guidance on the placement of media outlets. We liked that www.mediabiasfactcheck.com is run by an individual person who analyzes the news organizations on a host of characteristics and that www.allsides.com uses public perceptions of the media outlets along with a methodology for calculating bias. This counterpoint between a research method and crowd-sourced rankings struck a nice balance, and in nearly all cases, both sites had media outlets ranked identically or very similarly.
How we revised it
As we worked on this, we tried to be careful not to let our own bias influence where we placed things on the infographic. To help with that, we shared a draft with colleagues and friends on both sides of the political spectrum for feedback and made adjustments accordingly. This was a helpful step in the process as we received several high quality news source recommendations that we had not included in our initial draft.
It was at this point that we shared a draft of the infographic with DMS and DHS teachers for feedback. Their response was thoughtful and helpful -- their questions, recommendations, and additional resources helped us make further refinements to the placements of the news organizations.
How it’s being used
There are currently more than thirty DMS and DHS teachers who have requested poster-sized copies of the infographic to use in their classrooms. We've received requests to share it with teachers and librarians outside our district, and we are happy to pass it on to anyone who finds it helpful! Use, share, debate, and edit it -- and continue to seek out high quality news sources for use with students. Our goal in creating and sharing this is certainly not to favor one political perspective, but rather to help our students become better informed citizens by using the best possible sources of information.
Written by 7th grade Science teacher Sarah Casterton and Instructional Coach Andrew Ellingsen.
Several weeks ago, a Decorah 7th grader approached science teacher Sarah Casterton asking if her mom could come talk to the class. The student had been born with a rare and often fatal cellular disorder (there are an average of 1.2 cases per million people), and she has usually been extremely private about sharing the details with her peers. This year, though, she recognized how her life experience could help her peers understand the science curriculum better.
Each year in 7th grade life science, students study cells. They begin their work with science teacher Sarah Casterton by learning about what Earth was like billions of years ago and how the first cell formed on early Earth. Students explore what the first cell needed in order to survive, what plant and animal cells look like, and what specific organelles (specialized structures within cells) do to help a cell survive.
Students have hands on experiences with cells during the year. They examine cork cells, cheek cells, and onion cells under a microscope. In addition, they received rainbow trout eggs and have been talking about their cells. They will continue to monitor these eggs as they grow into rainbow trout.
And this year, students learned about their classmate.
The student’s mother spent the day sharing her daughter’s experience with her classmates. Students learned about some of the specific effects of the disease, the treatment process, and the complications that are the daily norm for their classmate. They saw pictures of her as a baby and were able to see the physical effects of the cell disease. They heard stories about what the treatment was like, and learned that without this treatment she likely would have died. By hearing about how information that could have seemed theoretical has real-world implications for someone to whom they are personally connected, the material came to life for students and the content took on more real-world importance.
Coming next for the students is the discussion of cell division and what can go right/wrong in the process. This will dovetail into a genetics unit where students will discuss how conditions can be passed from parent to offspring.
How do you engage students’ life experiences in the curriculum? How has this changed your class’s understanding of the curriculum? Join the conversation by commenting below!
written by Heath Kelley, DMS 5th Grade Teacher
Athletes, musicians, artists...even teachers have others that they imitate in order to learn the intricacies of their chosen craft. Benjamin Franklin, for example, was well known to have imitated others to make himself a better writer (see his words here). When students are given the opportunity to model others, they also become better.
Recently, Steve Petersen and I collaborated on a writing task in which we sought to improve informational writing through imitation. We wanted to create a task where students would be learning and using multiple informational writing skills to create a quality final product.
The website Wonderopolis.org proved to be a great mentor for this task. The website provides many informational text features that students can learn about by mimicking the style and format of the articles. For example, the title of each Wonderopolis article is a question. Therefore, simply by imitating the format each student creates a title while simultaneously creating a research question. Another feature in the articles is the “Wonder Sources” section. This section lists websites the author used to write the article. Moreover, each article is written in a conversational style, embeds multimedia, and even highlights domain-specific words (Wonder Words as the website calls them).
Given all of these great features, we knew that by having students simply imitate the articles, a plethora of informational writing skills would be used. It would also provide many opportunities for mini-lessons and student conferencing.
The process for students went something like this:
Checklists and rubrics are great, but the students really thrived in trying to imitate the product. I can’t help but think that the mental repetitions involved with studying and imitating a mentor provided more depth of understanding than did my checklist or rubric.
From the teacher side, mini-lessons emerged from anticipating how students might need support prior to the moment they needed it (skills such as paraphrasing, citing sources, note-taking, etc.) and from individual conferences as we read over the shoulder or online drafts of the project.
I also wonder how many other types of processes or products that I might find as mentors in writing or other subject matter. How might students try to build on the ideas of others in order to create their own unique products?
written by guest bloggers Liz Fox and Allysen Lovstuen, Collaborative Teachers at DHS
It all started with a visit to Stephanie Steines’s room. I was asked to cover for the first part of an Algebra class, and boy was I nervous. My fears were summarily assuaged, however, when the students filed into Stephanie’s classroom, eyes not on me but on the front board. Taking note of the directions Stephanie had written on the board, they got right to work.
Why don’t I do something like that? How could I streamline my classroom routine?
This short visit to a colleague’s classroom made me brainstorm about other ways we could learn from each other. The collaborative teachers throughout the district have begun hosting learning labs, a very prescribed, formal process which certainly has its own merits. But what if we wanted to work more informally? I discovered a blog post (http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/pineapple-charts/) suggesting a tried and true method: the pineapple chart.
Pineapples have historically symbolized a sense of welcome—why not use that concept to invite colleagues to stop in for a visit? When I covered Stephanie’s classroom, I noticed these cubes with interesting symbols on them. She later told me they are plickers (https://www.plickers.com/). She shared with me, "I use them with my AP Stats students as a way to expose them to more multiple choice questions. I usually pull 3 released multiple-choice questions from past AP stats tests that relate to the work we’re doing in class. Students spend 5-10 minutes working on the questions at the beginning of class, I collect their answers with the plickers and then we go through the results together.” She then invited me—and anyone—to come see them in action on Monday mornings first hour.
Here’s the beauty of the pineapple chart: its informal approach. From the blog post: “When a teacher sees something on the chart she is interested in, she goes to that classroom at the designated time, sits down in an out-of-the-way spot, and watches. That’s it. No note-taking is required, no post-observation conference, no write-up. Just a visit. She can even grade papers or catch up on email if she wants, paying closer attention when the moment calls for it, but getting work done in the meantime. She can stay for five minutes or a whole class period. The key word here is informal, and it’s the best way for teachers to learn lots of skills and techniques just when they need them.”
Do you have a tried and true strategy you would share? It could be a technology application like Kahoot, Padlet, or even Canvas. It could be a discussion format (questioning techniques or jigsaw, for example) or something related to content. We welcome you to add your name to the pineapple chart in the lounge.
We hope this invitation interests you. In the words of the Jennifer Gonzalez, author of the blog post: “I feel strongly that some of the best professional development available to teachers lives right inside the walls of our schools, and if we could just watch each other teach more (http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/open-your-door/), we would all grow exponentially.”
written by Sarah Nowack, DMS 5th Grade teacher
The last two school years provided me with opportunities to deal with some challenging behaviors- more so than in my previous two decades of teaching. Over the summer, I ran across this book title and mentioned it to Shannon Horton. Well, I had long forgotten about the book, but the librarian-extraordinaire hadn’t forgotten. She not only bought the book for our school professional library, but she delivered it to my classroom. I’ll admit, the hullabaloo of the new school year (combined with coaching a fall sport and taking grad classes) meant I didn’t really get around to reading the book right away. But, now that I have read the book, I can’t wait to tell others.
Here’s the short version: if you are a teacher, you should read Lost at School by Ross W. Greene!
Okay, okay...you need more convincing? Here’s the longer version: Lost at School by Ross W. Greene addresses why our kids with behavioral challenges are falling through the cracks and offers suggestions about what we can do to help them. Dr. Greene explains that students inherently want to behave. Children don’t really want to be naughty (or get in trouble for doing so), Rather, those students are lacking important thinking skills – think of it as a non-academic learning disability. Through an easy-to-read text, Dr. Greene presents CPS (collaborative and proactive solutions) as a means of reaching those students who have social, emotional, and behavioral challenges and helping them to develop those lacking skills. Using CPS looks very different than our traditional reward and punishment discipline plans. He calls the reward/discipline approach Plan A- it doesn’t teach students the skills they lack or help them problem solve possible solutions. Using Dr. Greene’s Plan B looks very different as it works with the student to develop the skills they are lacking.
Lost at School breaks down Plan B into three steps -- the “empathy step,” the “define adult concerns step,” and the “invitation step.”
The most powerful parts of the book for me were the case studies. In chapter after chapter, the reader is given examples of teachers having conversations that follow the three steps of Plan B, and through these examples, we are able to see the power of the skill-building conversation.
One concern, of course, is that the process takes too much time, but it can actually save time in the end by eliminating the need to repeatedly deal with problem behaviors. In fact, there is data to support that taking the time to do this can actually improve test scores. Dr. Greene discusses how teachers spend time focusing on academics but not behaviors of challenging kids. One possible reason for this is that we don’t have to report behavioral data. But- BUT- these are the kids we are losing. Haven’t we all noticed that many of our students who struggle with behavior are the same kids who also struggle academically?
Another concern is about the other students- “The other kids aren’t behaving themselves because of the discipline code, they’re behaving themselves because they can (p. 175).” To that I can only say that we don’t teach every student academics the exact same way, especially if they are struggling, and applying rigid behavioral consequences to everyone in the exact same way may not be the most effective approach.
Please let me be clear- Dr. Greene is not suggesting that schools eliminate all traditional discipline methods. Detention, loss of privileges, and other traditional consequences can all be effective in many circumstances. When traditional methods fail us, though, it might serve us all well (teachers, students, parents, and administrators) to have a model we can turn to that can help us teach students the behavioral skills they are lacking. Our school mission statement says that “individual needs are addressed,” and Plan B as described in Lost at School offers us one more way to meet the individual needs of some of our most challenging students.
Feel free to reach out to me if you have read Lost at School or are interested in talking about trying Plan B! I’d love to keep the conversation going...
videos by Zachary Fromm
Zach Fromm has been experimenting with Canvas and is now willing to share what he's learned from trial and error! The first video covers setting up navigation links with the motto of K.I.S.S. and how he organizes his content using modules. In the second video, he delves further into the area of discussions and how to set them up in Canvas. P.S. Does anyone else think Fromm looks and acts just like John Green?
Stay tuned for more videos and information on Canvas. Also, if you would like help with Canvas, please let an instructional coach know.
written by Jennifer Larson and Sarah Zbornik
Stepping into Jennifer Larson’s classroom, you have hard time believing that what you are seeing isn’t staged or a one time event. Calmness exudes, yet Jennifer is standing off to the side. Watch this Decorah Middle School student use finger cymbals to start class as others pause, listen, and breath.
Jennifer turned to The MindUP Curriculum: Grades 6–8: Brain-Focused Strategies for Learning—and Living to assist with this endeavor. (You can find this book in the DMS library.) The brain-based research has been impactful for Jennifer. She can explain to the students that when they are preparing to perform, they may feel anxious or even fear. But in actuality, this is simply the brain sending signals to the body. A student can decide that this is perceived fear and use mindfulness techniques to calm the body down and tell it that all is okay with the world.
It hasn’t always been like this in Jennifer’s class. Several years ago, she attended a “Mindful Class for Teachers”. One activity has stuck with her and helped her find patience and calmness for her students. The orchestra class begins with a “ bell of mindfulness” led by a different student each day. When the student leader steps on the podium the class becomes quiet. The students are taught to think the mantra pause, listen, breathe- the bell is rung and the students concentrate on the sensations of a resonant sound and their own breathing. This becomes a time for setting the tone and getting everyone- teacher and students- to achieve a state of mind in which they can all participate purposefully and thoughtfully.
Jennifer has used this method plus many more for a calmer, more mindful class. For more information and lessons plans on mindfulness check out mindfulteachers.org and the Do’s and Don’t’s When Teaching Mindfulness.
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