My Coetail Journey of Things Done and Those Yet to Come…

flickr photo shared by Yogendra174 under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

As much as the it was difficult for me to start the Coetail process for Course 5, once I got into it, it was so much fun!  I partnered with Lauren for our final project, which provided me with a classroom of students to work with, and an in-house person to bounce ideas of off.

Lauren is also a “newbie” at my new school, so was experiencing a lot of the feelings of frustration, being homesick and a sense of being totally overwhelmed/on the verge of break-down at any given minute.  If I’m being totally honest, it was her coaxing that pushed me to commit to finishing the course.  We had several conversations like this:

Me:  I can’t do this.  It’s too hard.  I have so much other work to do and I can’t add something else to my plate.  Plus, Emmy (my 6 month old) is trying to slowly kill me through sleep deprivation (side note: I did this check and was experiencing 90% of this list.  In a state of drama-induced-fatigue, I also may have Googled “How long can you go without sleep before you die?”).

Lauren:  You already signed up.  Plus, the project we want to do will be so great for student learning!

Me:  I know, but I can’t even figure out how to squeeze this into my days.

Lauren:  I know, it’s hard, but we can work on it together.  Plus, you already paid.

Me:  I don’t care if I just threw away three hundred dollars…

Lauren gives a disapproving look

Me: Fine!

This conversation may have happened a couple times, before we booked a time with her class to get our project started.

As I am a Literacy Coach in our school, we focused our project on reading strategies.  Grade 1 is an extremely important year for reading development.  Students are learning many different reading strategies, developing fluency and building stamina.  Students need to be exposed to, and attempt, strategies many times before mastery happens.  Students also develop at different rates, so although students are exposed to a certain strategy, they may not be ready to attempt it during their independent reading for several months.  Because of this, Lauren and I thought that having the students create instructional videos of a reading strategy of their choice would be useful for two reasons:  we could assess their understanding of the strategy and we could also use them throughout the year as a teaching tool for those students that needed a quick mini lesson.

Initially we had planned on doing our project during the first unit of Reader’s Workshop, “Building Good Reading Habits”, but we, personally, weren’t ready and Lauren was working very hard to establish solid routines with her students, while still keeping up with the curricular demands, so we didn’t actually start until the students were working on their second reading unit “Word Detectives”.  This actually ended up working in our favor, as the students were now more familiar with the components and structures of the workshop model, and their reading behaviors and strategies they were using were more established.  This unit also lent itself well to our work because it focuses heavily on students’ word solving skills and knowledge of high-frequency words.

We set our learning targets using both Common Core and ISTE standards, specifically:

RF 1.3 Know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words 

  • Creativity and innovation: Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology.
  • Communication and Collaboration: Students use digital media and environments to communicate and work collaboratively, including at a distance, to support individual learning and contribute to the learning of others.By the end of the unit, we wanted the students to be able to do the following:
  • how to choose the best reading strategy to help solve an unknown word
  • plan and write a script that demonstrates understanding of a reading strategy
  • use technology to effectively share learning through Seesaw
  • effectively create a video using Seesaw
  • provide peer feedback on others videos
  • use feedback for improvement to improve their final project

Lauren and I started by creating our own instructional videos using reading strategies that we had from the “Word Detectives” unit.  We posted QR codes on the anchor charts for the strategies we had created videos for.  img_9145


Students recognized the QR codes and were really excited to watch the videos.  Once students watched the videos, they were eager to try creating their own strategy videos.



Instead of attacking the whole class at once, Lauren and I decided to try it with a small group first.  We asked students to create their own videos using the app Explain Everything.  We created these for the purpose of kicking off a class discussion on what the strategy videos can be used for.  We also wanted the students to analyze the videos, thinking about what the video is trying to teach them, what grabbed their attention about the particular video, and anything else they find noteworthy.  The students decided that the videos were useful for teaching, or reinforcing a reading strategy we had already discussed during one of our mini lessons.  Everyone agreed it was a fun way for our class to have a reminder of things they should be practicing in their reading.

Our next step was introducing Lauren’s class to Seesaw.  We created a QR code for students to scan and login to the classroom we had created.  The Grade Ones were pumped.  They had already had so much fun, scanning and watching our strategy videos, they couldn’t wait to try out something else.  We began by having an exploration of the app.  Students scanned and logged in, and then practiced taking clear pictures.  They also experimented with some of the tools the app has to offer, like drawing, typing and using the microphone.  We gave them the easy (and fun) task of pairing students up with a partner, and had them take a picture of their friend, drawing and adding sound to their pictures.  This allowed students to focus on becoming comfortable with the tools on Seesaw, without concentrating on the strategy they would be using, or their script.  We never thought to approve and save the videos on the app, so we don’t have any to share – which is unfortunate, they were quite ridiculous!

After students were comfortable with the app and its features, we had students begin to create their video.  Students selected a strategy from our Readers Workshop wall of anchor charts and a book from their book bins and chose a page to share.  They then worked with their reading partner and practiced what they were going to say.  At this stage in the year, not all students would be able to write out a script, and those that could would take a long time.  We had been working on planning across our fingers in Writer’s Workshop, so we had students apply the same strategy for their script.  Once students had practiced what they would say with their partners, they took a picture of their page and recorded themselves practicing the strategy.  Students were not limited to creating one video.  We wanted them to feel very comfortable with the creation process, so once they finished their first video, they had the option of editing their video, or taking a new picture and creating a second.  Learner personalities were very apparent – some students who typically pay close attention to detail were focused on getting their first video just right, while others created 5, 6 and 7 videos.  The students were highly engaged in the process and loved the fact that they were “teachers” who could help their friends with their reading.


Our next step was to hone the process.  While all the students wanted to create the videos, we had some who had forgotten that the purpose was to teach a reading strategy, not just create a video.  We went back to the first videos that Lauren and I created and watched them with the class, using them to create a list of what we thought were important to include in a teaching video.


We discussed what we noticed in the videos and what we learned from using Seesaw and came up with the following criteria:


We brainstormed and developed steps we would need to follow in order to create our strategy videos, then Lauren modelled for the class how she would follow the steps, while keeping our class-created criteria in mind.

Students couldn’t wait to try to create a new video.  They were focused and on task.  They used the criteria to help them make sure their video was up to par.  Clear picture?  Check!  Clear voice?  Stated strategy? Check! Check!  Student were recording and rerecording, taking pictures and making sure they were satisfied.  The pride the students were taking in their learning process was evident.  It was so exciting to see!


The majority of the students used the chart, but we knew that the learning process would be even more powerful if they were able to watch each other’s videos and give each other feedback.  Students were instructed to go through all the videos they had created and selected the one they thought best taught their strategy and fit the criteria.  Lauren kicked off the day with a morning message focused on the topic of feedback and had students reflect and discuss what the term means and how it can help with the learning process.  This turned out to be critical, as many of her students were unfamiliar with the term.  Once they were able to clarify that it was not the food you give to animals, we were able to talk in greater detail about what it might look like.  Students wanted to use the emotions to show if they liked or didn’t like a video, and we discussed the importance of specificity.  Although the emoticon would show a feeling, it wouldn’t help the person who created the video because it doesn’t illustrate exactly what the person liked, or thought needed to be improved, in the video.

Students went back to Seesaw with full access to view and comment.  Students were able to voice record or type their comments which allowed all students, regardless of their ability to provide feedback to their peers.  In order to ensure that all students were given feedback, we had students watch and comment on their reading partner’s video.  After that, they were allowed to comment on a friend of their choice.


The next time we discussed the process as a group, we focused on what we should do with the feedback.  We decided that feedback helped as create better products and improve as learners.  Although it can be challenging to hear that there are things we can do better in our work (students were given the format of saying something they liked and something to work on), we agreed that this helps us learn.  The students then went off to read or listen to the feedback that was given to them and plan out the changes that needed to be made to their videos.

Here’s one of our final products:

Despite a few hiccups along the way (iPad update issues, making sure all students allowed Seesaw to access their photographs and microphone which was VERY time consuming!) it was a great experience for teachers and students!   img_9170 Students were engaged, regardless of their reading level and have been using the strategies to help them during Readers Workshop time.

This is definitely something I would do again with another class.  We are working on developing a rich reading culture at our school.  Part of that process is having students connect with books that they really enjoy. I am hoping that I can convince the Grade 5 teachers to use this process to have their students to create book talks to share with their classmates.  This will expose students to books they may not have considered before, while having students think about the texts they are reading.  Stay tuned!

I’m experiencing some YouTube embed issues on my end.  Until I get them straightened out, here’s a link to our journey!





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Coetail Continuum

flickr photo shared by Robert Q Benedict under a Creative Commons ( BY )

I have been very open in my previous posts about my struggles with settling into my new role as a mother of two, my new role in my new school, and my new role as a member of a new community.  Thinking about tossing another ball into the air, when I was already struggling to keep the ones I currently had in the air was overwhelming.

I looked to many communities I am a member of to try and find the support I needed to try and keep my head above water.  Professionally, I leaned heavily on Facebook groups, Twitter and Bloglovin’ to help me answer questions I was wondering about, provide me with ideas to pass on to teachers, or just help ground me.  The ones I used in particular are as follows:


This is our first year at my new school working with the TCRWP Reading Units of Study.  Although the teachers had adopted the Writing Units during the previous year, and were familiar with the components of the workshop model, this was a daunting task.  Being able to reach out to other educators for ideas, resources, and providing them with the same, made the journey feel less daunting and isolating.

I also looked for support in the Units of Study in Writing, particularly when looking for ideas for how to celebrate the end of a unit in a particular grade level.  There is such a high level of collaboration in the TCRWP facebook groups, people are willing to share their successes, resources and come to together to cheer on or provide support for those of us that are struggling with the delivery of the lessons, how to meet the needs of our struggling students or challenge those high flyers in our classes.


For specific strategies to use for individual students or small groups, I looked for support from the Fountais and Pinnel community and the Reading Strategies community.


One reason I found these communites to be supportive is that people are coming from varying levels of experience.  This provides us with lots of different ideas and vantage points, so there is a high level of creativity with which to draw upon.

A couple months ago, I joined the newly formed Reading and Writing Workshop in Internationals Schools group:img_9887

Although this group is just developing, so does not have the large community with which I can seek guidance from, it is one place I return to frequently as these are educators who are on the similar path as I am.  As we know, international teachers face different challenges – a highly transient population (students and teachers), a high number of second language learners, to name a few.  Seeking advice from those who understand the innerworkings of international education has been a valuable tool for me.  Side note:  Erin Kent is such an inspirational, thoughtful, educator.  Sometimes I just like to read her thoughts, as it helps me reflect on my own processes!

Personally, I also joined a few mother support groups.  Knowing where to find certain products, who to contact in case of emergencies and where to take my children are key pieces of information that help my life outside of school run smoothly.  My family is the most important thing to me, so if I am feeling like I am not taking care of that part of my life, it’s extremely challenging for me to focus on the professional part.


This is a sample of my involvement in these groups:

img_9941 img_9942 img_9943 img_9944 img_9945 img_9946 img_9947img_9948 img_9949 img_9950 img_9951

I spend a lot of time in my job as a coach talking about continuums with teachers to assess a student’s learning.  Where are they in the process?  Where do we need them to be?  What do we need to do to get them there?

I feel that my journey in Coetail is like a learning continuum.  Right now I am just starting to get to the part where I feel like I can use the Coetail community to help me on my journey in digital literacy.  Last year, I relied on it heavily, and the ideas and feedback I received, I was able to put into practice to help me deepen my understanding about how I can use technology to help support teachers in their learning, but also push my practice into the 21st century.  I thought about frantically trying to comment on as many people’s blogs as possible, but that seemed besides the point of building authenticate communities of which we are active participants.  Even though this course is wrapping up, my journey with Coetail is just beginning.  Thinking of it in terms of a continuum:  the point where I am working towards, is using the Coetail community not because it is mandated to get a certain grade, but because I recognize the knowledge and power we have as a group of educators seeking to meet the needs of our students on a daily basis.



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Come Together…

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After weeks and weeks of feeling lost, feeling like I wanted to return to my previous location, feeling like I would burst into tears, things started to come together.  With my book sorted, leveled, and distributed; classroom libraries stocked; the bookroom up and running (although still needing a “Use Agreement” for teachers) I was able to begin some of the work I had been hoping to do when I arrived, in particular helping support teachers in literacy while inserting some technology into the mix.

A common complaint teachers have about recording keeping is that there are so many different pieces of paper and information to keep track of.  I had read a lot about using different apps to keep track of student learning, both on Coetail blogs and other blogs I follow and was eager to try and support teachers by introducing them to various options.  One brave teacher I worked with decided to give it a go, and jumped in to using the app Confer.  Once you enter data about your students, you are able to sort students based on your notes to easily create strategy groups. It also allows you to take pictures of the students work, so you have easy to reference evidence that corresponds with your notekeeping.  I have another teacher using Evernote for note taking, creating a folder for each student where they keep their notes and pictures of the students work.  My next project will be having a teacher try out the new app Snapfolio, a new formative assessment tool by the creators of Confer.


 Another interesting way I was able to intergrate technology into coaching was through QR code readers.  Technically, we are a 1 to 1 school, and each student’s iPad has a QR code reader on it.  This made it easy to use in classrooms in a couple of different ways.  One way was having students record themselves reading their final writing piece and then attaching a QR code to the published copy.  Students and parents were able to go around the class, scanning the QR code on the student work, look at the piece of writing, and hear the author reading it.

My Cohort 5 colleague, Lauren, also moved schools and we went from Coetail colleagues to school building colleagues.  We worked together on our final project and used QR codes to help students with their reading strategies (more information to follow).  We were both feeling overwhelmed with our new jobs/locations and hesistant to start, thinking it would be extremely difficult.  It turned out to be fun and so engaging for the students!

One way I was able to use technology, and my previous Coetail work, which I was pretty pumped about was my Zen presentation on conferring that I had altered for my course 3 final project.  At the time, I wasn’t sure if I would have the opportunity to use it again, but I operated under the assumption that I would.  I am so happy that I did!  Looking at my initial presentation and the “zen” one, I can’t believe the difference it makes.  Both presentations were for colleagues of mine, and in theory, I should have been much more nervous giving the presentation at my new school, as I have only been working here a few months.  Part of my confidence and comfort maybe have come from having done the presentation before, but I feel that a greater part has to do with the presentation itself.  The pictures I chose made me feel calm and centered.  The lack of extrenious text made me feel more confident in what I was going to say, instead of feeling so closely tied to the word on the screen.

I have to admit, I didn’t realize how much I learned from my previous Coetail courses until recently.  Now that I am getting more opportunities to put the learning into practice, I realize just how important digital literacy is in our role as educators!

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Blogging – Posts Left Unsaid (and Unpublished)

flickr photo shared by brianna.lehman under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

The start of a new school year.  New clothes, new books, new faces, the promise of starting over, making changes, doing all of those things you swore you would do last year…I always loved the start of a new school year – until I started over in a new job, school, and country, with toddler, and newborn in tow.

Having worked as an instructional coach for three years prior to this year, I knew that things would be different, as is the case in a new location, but I had high hopes that I would be faced with some familiarity.  After all, we were covering the same curriculum….

I was so nieve!  I arrived to an apartment that was not set up for my family.  No crib for the baby, no bed for the toddler.  For weeks, we slept in the huge family bed that was provided – pillow against the wall to prevent the baby from falling into the crack, me between the kids to prevent the active toddler from rolling onto his baby sister in one of sleep spasms.  Our bank card didn’t work for three entire pay periods.  We were cash advancing from our mastercards back in Canada and cringing every time we thought about the service fees we would be facing.  Driving was stressful – there appeared to be no laws guiding the drivers (or lanes to keep them focused on staying in one area).  The products we were used to weren’t available, or cost an astronomical amount of money (90 dollars for a bag of chia seeds!?!?!).

At work I was faced with unpacking, sorting, leveling, stickering, recording, organizing and distributing 7,000 books.  By. My. Self.  I spent weeks surrounded by boxes, spreadsheets, devices (one to see what was ordered and one to level the books), markers, stickers, Post-its and lots of water.  The great intentions I had to build connections, get into classrooms, meet the students and jump right in were overshadowed by this monumental project.

I was overwhelmed to say the least.  All the talks I had given the new teachers over the past 7 years – “Give yourself time”, “It takes until at least January to feel comfortable”, “Give yourself permission to be overwhelmed and now it’s ok – it’s a new country, culture, school…” – I was giving myself on a daily basis.  I was miserable.  I missed my friends, colleagues, students.  I missed the known.  I missed the familiar.  I missed the grocery store!

I started blog posts and forgot about them.  I started blog posts and abandoned them.  I considered dropping out of Coetail.  When would I find time to add something else into my schedule?  I was already dropping the ball in my job and at home with my kids.  Despite the feeling of disappointment at starting something and not being able to finish it, I couldn’t see the light.  I kept putting it to the bottom of my ever growing ‘To-do” list.  I wanted someone to either give me permission to withdraw or kick my butt in gear, depending on the day.

And now it is November.  Time is ticking, blog posts are still unpublished and I am just starting to see the light…

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Flipping Out Over Course 4

flickr photo shared by crimfants under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

As I think back over all I’ve learned this year during my Coetail journey, I freely admit that I found Course 4 to be the most dense and difficult to wrap my head around.  Partly because there we were introduced to so many new ways to incorporate technology into the classroom (at least for me) and partly because I was in the middle of finishing my job at a school where I have worked for the past 7 years, preparing to move to a new country/school/position, 9 months pregnant and trying to prepare my two year old for sharing the spotlight with his baby sister.

When I initially posted about flipped learning in the classroom I had trouble imaging how it would be used to teach reading or writing.  However, after reading some of the comments that  people posted on my blog, as well as some of the literacy blogs I follow on bloglovin’ like LitLearnAct I had a better idea of how I could use it in a way that would be meaningful for students and manageable for me. (Side note: I totally forgot what it felt like to have a newborn.  Having one with a toddler who is also going through the developmentally appropriate phase of separation anxiety, combined with losing his status as an only child, is no joke.  If there are any flipped learning videos on how to function with no sleep – look good doing it, please send them my way…).

Next year I am moving schools, and will be working with another Coetailer, so it made sense that we would try and work together to plan our Course 5 project.  Lauren will be teaching Grade 1 and I will be working as a Literacy Coach, so we wanted to find a way to incorporate technology into the Reading Workshop Units of Study.  Two big problems I faced as a classroom teacher, and often hear from teachers I work with are “How do I find time to conference and reteach strategies to all my students on a regular basis?” and “The parents of my students think that fluency equals comprehension. How can I show them the strategies we are working on in class?”.  We decided taking a flipped learning approach would be a good fit for answering these questions, but instead of using it to pre-teach reading strategies, we would use it to re-teach them either by allowing students the option to select a strategy they are struggling on during independent reading time, or during small strategy groups determined by us.  We also thought it would be a good opportunity to help parents learn what strategies we are working on in class and provide them the tools necessary to practice these strategies at home with their child.

When we planned this unit, we planned it without knowing exactly what resources we would have available to us at our new school next year.  Our new school is working towards 1-to-1, and we created the unit with the assumption that each student would have access to an iPad.  We also aren’t sure about the restrictions places on each device.  Would we be able to download the Padlet app to each one? Access Seesaw?  Not knowing exactly what we restrictions we will face made us very conscious of the fact that we needed to be flexible in our planning, and aware that our UBD may look quite different once we arrive at our new site.

Coming from a school where there is little to no technology embedded in our literacy unit, this will require a great deal of research and practice on my part before introducing these tools to our students.  I can’t expect the students I am working with to create an iMovie if I have never even experimented with one myself!  Course 5 is giving me a much needed push to expand my boundaries in terms of the technological tools I use for teaching and try and marry them with literacy.  Even talking about our flipped learning plan with teachers I currently work with has them interested in the process and being involved in the project next year.  Having someone else be the guinea pig and test the waters can lower the stakes and make it much more appealing for people to attempt it as well.

Having the students create their own flipped learning video will require a deeper level of understanding and reflection about their reading process.  They will need to be able to identify a reading strategy that they use to solve unknown words and understand text, but also be able to explain how they use it.  This is certainly a higher level skill, but we are hoping that this will result in a deeper understanding of themselves as readers.


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Classroom Management: There’s an App for That

flickr photo shared by Kathy Blades under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Over the past few courses, I think I’ve been pretty open about my lack of skill with technology, as well as some of my hesitations with fully embracing technology in the classroom.  That being said, I’ve also come to realize, that this is where education is headed whether I am comfortable and on board, or not.  It’s apparent when I read about what people are doing in their classrooms on their blog, I see it on a more regular basis when I walk into the rooms of my colleagues, and it’s all over my Feedly news feed.  Just last week there was an posting on “12 Things That Will Disappear From the Classroom in the next 12 Years“.  Items as simple as teacher and students desks will no longer be needed as a result of technology, due to the ability to interact through “social networks, peer groups, digital archives of their own work, experts in the community, mentors, and more”. Another item I found interestingly placed on the list was the Common Core State Standards.  According to the article, “knowledge and information are being increasingly organized in new ways. Organic search, social referrals, blogs, RSS-based ‘digital magazines’ like feedly and Flipboard blogs, and other technologies are becoming the new normal for content organization” – all tools which I use on a regular basis to access information.  Maybe I’m not dragging my heels as much as I thought I was?

One thing I think that we need to be aware of with the use of technology in the classroom is the ease for distraction.  It is not uncommon for me to use my phone to check a blog on bloglovin’ and end up down a rabbit hole of related, and then unrelated, links.  Bloglovin’ is the perfect example of how something that I initially started using to be more efficient can quickly become more of a time suck.  All the blogs I read in one place, with notifications for me when new posts arrive, instead of checking 20 different sites every day? What could go wrong?!  Except when you click on the article for the new DIY Literacy Video series with Kate and Maggie Roberts, and they mention a book and a website to check out for more information on anchor charts, so you go to amazon to check out the book, and then you go to the website to check out the charts, and then you realize that Kate and Maggie have a book that just came out called, DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor and Independence, so you go to the Heinemann website to get more information. All of a sudden, a quick check in has become 30 minutes!  How do you use the internet for just it’s intended purpose?

One way a teacher might use this in the classroom is by eliminating distractions when showing YouTube videos to their students.  Watchkin is a service that allows you to use it in a variety of ways that best suit the user.  For example, you can have the sidebar content removed, you can tailor it to only display family-friendly videos, or you can even use their browser bookmarklet tool that allows you to have related content disappear from the page.

There are a few other simple tricks that could help your students focus, without being an extra burden you could implement in your classroom if your students are using devices for learning.  One way is to use an online alarm clock for any task you have to give you an idea of how much time you have to complete it, and how much time you have left so you are aware of time you are wasting. You might also consider blocking certain social media sites like facebook, or at least having students change their settings so that no new notifications pop up during class time, therefore limiting the desire to go and check.

An article called “How to Minimize Digital Classroom Distractions” pointed out the importance of implementing rules about how devices are used to help with the management of introducing a new system like:

•No smartphones are allowed when the teacher is conducting a lecture.
• Devices should be put on silent/airplane mode before the start of the class.
• Tablets should only be used during group exercises and note-taking sessions.

It also recommended having students put their phones on airplane mode when they shouldn’t be browsing, and using the parental controls to block certain apps from appearing on the devices.

Although these may seem simple and obvious, they are little steps that need to be taken to help navigate the daunting, ever-changing face of education to help you get to the point where you can use technology to help you share and create in ways you haven’t done before.

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Where Do We Go From Here?

flickr photo shared by Ken Whytock under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license </small

The million dollar question that I continue to come up against as a teacher, and a parent: “How can you prepare students for the future if you are stuck in the past?”.  I have listened to several podcasts recently, on varying subjects, and it seems like I am always, as one person put it, “on the wrong side of the generation gap”.  Yes, I lie and say I’m 24, and I like to think that people believe me when I tell them this, but once I open my mouth about my knowledge, belief and practices surrounding technology, I’m sure I give myself away pretty quickly.

Technology has changed so much since I was an elementary student.  It wasn’t until Grade 6 that I was in a classroom that had a computer (and I don’t even remember being allowed to use it).  It wasn’t until Grade 11 that I interacted with computers again at school – and that was only because my mother made me take a typing course as one of my electives (which turned out to be one of the most beneficial things I look away from my HS education – thanks, Mom!).  In university, I was an English major and Psychology Minor (without a personal computer), so I did the majority of my research in physical books and writing at the library.  When I began teaching, I worked at a low income school that rarely had working computers for teachers to do their report cards on, let alone attempt to incorporate any sort of technology into.  Based on my academic experiences (or lack of) with technology, it’s no wonder I struggle to figure out how to reconcile my background with the ever changing landscape that is the 21st century.

That’s not to say I don’t believe there is a place for technology in the classroom.  I absolutely do.  As I’ve learned from Coetail alone, there are many ways to make learning more meaningful, engaging, and relevant for our students through the use of technology.  For example, when I opened up my Feedly account this morning,  the first post was “54 Flipped Classroom Tools for Teachers and Students”. Another one involved the best sites for learning about possible life on other planets.  As we continue to make more and more technological advancements, it’s inevitable that technology will find it’s way into the classroom in more ways, with greater frequency.  I’ve been giving this shift a lot of thought – not just for this post, but for the past couple years – and I have mixed feelings.  On one hand, the boundaries of the information and skills that students will be able to access and explore will continue to be pushed.  On the other hand, I worry that this push towards technology taking over education will result in an even greater gap between those that “have” and those that “have not”.  How will students from low income families that attend underfunded schools be able to compete against those who have access, and therefore, experience with all the various types of technology?

One thing is for certain, education is in need of a serious overhaul.  The current structure of our education system has been failing our students for years.  Behaviors seem to be increasing, test scores are decreasing.  There are complaints about students lack of ability to problem solve and think critically, yet we still rely heavily on the rote memorization of facts and basic recall to text students “knowledge” and “understanding”.  So what should a school look like in 10 years where I am teaching?  Will students require badges to increase their motivation and demonstrate their progress?  Might these come to illustrate mastery and replace our standards based report cards?

As an international educator, it’s hard to really know where I will be in 10 years and my location will dictate what technology in my school will look like.  For example, if I am in the Middle East, I will be working under censorship constraints that prevent me from using certain topics, websites or programs, that I could freely use in another region.  If I am teaching at a school in many African countries, I may be impacted by the reliability of the internet.  Regardless of where I am teaching, one thing I think that will drive the instruction is more global collaboration.  I really like the idea of connecting with students in other classes from all over the world to achieve common goals, whether they are to meet a standard, answer a question, or collaborate on a project together.  No longer are we limited by geography, language or time zones.  Personally, in the last several months, I have gained more knowledge from people I have never “met” in person, than I have from direct contact.  The opportunities we have to learn about, and from, different people all over the world is exciting to me and a way that I think we really can push the boundaries of our student’s learning, while making meaningful connections.

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You Want Me to Teach How?!

flickr photo shared by educ@conTIC under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Before I get into this post, I should probably admit that I have no idea what the speech bubbles in the above picture say.  I thought the picture was cute, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it’s not offensive, or contradictory to what I say in my post.  I’m assuming a lovely translator will correct me if I’m wrong…

Like it or not, technology is continuing to creep into the classroom in ever increasing ways.  A quick look at my Feedly account lists using technology for everything from tweeting, blogging, collecting data, mindfulness, time organization, close reading, assessment, and everything in between.  For example, this article has lots of examples of how different classrooms are using Augmented Reality to engage students, help them learn, and provide them with different ways to interact with their learning.

One of the ways that technology is appearing in the classroom with increased frequency is through gamification.  According to the article, “The Click Game and How Gamification Has Revolutionized Learning”, gamification can be defined as:

…the application of game elements and gaming techniques to non-game elements (in this case, online learning content) in an effort to make it fun and engaging. It’s the use of game mechanics to encourage learners to explore and learn as they move towards an end goal.

According to, four out of five US households own a video game device.  more than 28 million are playing Candy Crush (I totally fell into this category and had to delete the game because it was taking up so much of my time), and 155 million are playing video games.  It makes sense that schools would be trying to harness the knowledge and experiences students are having outside of schools in a way that increases learning and engagement.

CLICK is a game that was created to help increase memory power and your learning curve.  I tested it out, and made it to level 9, but got stuck (and had to stop procrastinating), so I’m not sure if it does what the company claims it does.

“How Games Can Influence Learning” claims that games can help eliminate behavior problems and help struggling students by allowing students to learn and progress at their own pace.  I recognize the frustration that students feel when the content being delivered is too advanced, or too easy.  In theory, that sounds amazing, but I struggle with one of the drawbacks that the article highlights: finding games that address genuine learning or ones that don’t require a lot of additional learning and prep for minimal classroom use.  As someone who is still trying to wrap my head around the fact that games can be educational, and not just “fun” or even a big time waster, I really don’t see me using gamification much in my instruction at the moment.  I’m open to the idea, but I think it is more realistic that I would be persuaded by seeing how a colleague is using it successfully in their classroom, than me taking the initiative to try and explore how to incorporate it into my practice.

The Flipped Classroom, however, is something I’m seeing a little more regularly in my school, and something that I feel like I would feel a little more confident in trying out.  Due to shuffling, international teaching, and various other circumstances, our Technology Coach has taken over teaching for the remainder of the year for a colleague who needed to return home.  Obviously, she has a great deal of comfort with incorporating technology into the classroom.  She assigns videos for students to watch that teach various math skills for homework and then class time is spent for working through the problem and practicing the skills through games.  Keeping in mind that she may be a little biased as she is someone who embraces all technology wholeheartedly, I asked her how it was working out from the various perspective of the teacher, students, and parents.  From her perspective as a teacher, she finds it frees up more of her time to work with students.  The students must complete an online “check-in” the night before to demonstrate that they have watched the video and answer a few questions to illustrate their understanding.  Those that have watched and completed the assignment will come to school the next day and practice those skills independently, with the teacher checking in on them.  The students that have not completed the video, or failed to demonstrate their understanding of the content will rewatch the instructional video during class time before going off and attempting independent work.  According to the teacher, the students are more engaged because their needs are being met.  Those who are ready to work, do not need to sit through instruction, and those who need more time are receiving it.  Parents also seem to be getting on board, with those who limit screen time, loosening up their expectations as they come to understand how the flipped classroom structure works.

To me, math seems like a pretty easy place to start. There are so many instructional videos teaching multiplication, division, graphing, etc.  If I were teaching in the classroom, this is definitely something I would explore.  But as a Literacy Instructional Coach, the flipped classroom becomes a little more tricky.  Using the Workshop Model mini lesson, I’m not the flipped classroom approach would work as well.  You could video yourself delivering the “connection” and delivering the “teaching point”, making sure to really illustrate through modeling.  The students would come in the next day and skip straight to the “active engagement” part of the lesson as a group before going off and working independently.  I’m not really sure about the effectiveness of this, especially as it would only save about 3-4 minutes of instructional time in Reading and Writing.  Although some of the lessons in the units of study recommend having students do research at home, gathering sources and pre-reading material, this is something we have moved away from, as our school has run into far too many cases of tutors doing work for students.  A study I found seemed to mirror my concerns that flipped learning might not have much of an impact in student learning in terms of literacy.

As I do see flipped learning becoming more and more prevalent in education, figuring out a way to incorporate this into Reading and Writing is something I am looking forward to exploring in greater depth.  I’m interested to find out if anyone is finding any success in these areas, and if so, how I can translate that into my own practice!



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PBL, CBL and Other Catchy Acronyms

flickr photo shared by dkuropatwa under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

As educators, one of our ultimate goals is to help students deepen their understanding of concepts we are teaching.  We want them to make connections between different areas of the curriculum and find a way to apply it to life outside of the classroom through enduring understanding.  In order to turn our goal in to a reality, we use various approaches, with varying success.  The image of The Learning Pyramid does a great job of breaking down the different ways we present information to our students, as well as the results we can expect.

When I was a student the majority of the teaching instruction I received was in the top two tiers of the pyramid: lecturing and reading.  As someone who is a decent listener and a fairly good recall, I performed well in my classes.  Do I remember what I learned?  Not really (I do remember the girl who peed in the closet in grade Primary, though), just that I got good grades in most subjects and nobody complained.  The subject that I did struggle with, Physics, required me to apply my knowledge and I had no idea how to take the lecturing I received every day (on content and my inability to focus) and apply it to questions of energy and force.  I simply wrote down all the formulas I could remember and got enough points for work to pass the course.

Study after study shows that we learn by doing.  In fact, over 100 years ago, John Dewey,  was controversially proclaiming that in order for education to have a lasting impact, learners needed to engage with the experience, instead of merely being a passive observer. When I think about how this applies to my role as an Instructional Coach, this type of learning is not just specific to children, but any age of learner.  When I work with a teacher, the coaching plan we develop depends on many factors:  their comfort with having someone in the classroom, their desire to expand their practice, the amount of time they feel they have to dedicate to the process, their trust in me, etc.  This is why every plan is different.  The teachers that have asked me to come in and model lessons without any plan for follow-up have typically not had successful results.  This model is basically the equivalent of me “lecturing” at the very least – best case scenario, the teacher is able to see it as a “demonstration”.  Either way, according to The Learning Pyramid, the retention of what the teacher is learning is about 30%.  Not great!  The structure that has proved to be most successful involves me demonstrating a lesson for an individual, or group of individuals, followed by a discussion, co-teaching, and then the teacher teaching.  Not surprisingly, the retention rate of skills practiced is much higher.

Like our students, if we want them to be really engaged in their learning, it needs to be something that they feel interested in and can find some sort of relevance.  It doesn’t matter what I feel a teacher needs to work on to improve their practice, if they are not interested or don’t find value in it, our coaching relationship is not going to go any where.  This is why when I begin a relationship, usually with an informal observation of the classroom, I start with the questions “How do you think that went?” and “What would you like to work on in order to see changes?”.  I let the teacher direct their learning, with some support by me, not unlike the Project Based Learning model.

Another type of coaching I do is with entire grade level teams, where we typically analyze student work, identify a common theme in areas for growth and come up with a plan for how to meet the needs of our students.  This, to me, seems to mirror the Challenge Based Learning approach, in that we are working in a team to propose solutions to problems.

Although I seem to have dabbled in the structures to help meet the needs of the teachers and students at my school, the presence of technology in this process is practically non-existent.  In my previous post, I had mentioned that I can feel limited in what technology I can use with teachers, as they are primarily focused on delivering the content in the Units of Study as it is presented in the teacher guides. (And to be clear, I totally understand.  I would be of the same mind – “I’m just trying to figure this out, I don’t need something extra!”)

So how can I incorporate this into what I’m doing – what the teachers are doing – without overwhelming them?  I think I would start by selecting a grade level to work with initially.  I would likely select Grade 5 and focus on their Reading Unit 3 – Argument and Advocacy: Researching Debatable Issues. The goal of this unit is to support students to become more active and critical citizens.  Students are asked have an informed viewpoint about an issue, communicate that viewpoint, as well as listen to others.  Technology is already a small part of this unit, as students are required to research information to provide evidence in support of their issue, as well as identify the counter claims any parties opposing their point of view may have.  In order to take this a little deeper, and add another layer of technology (and in doing so, real world application) to the process I found a few ideas that would allow for this.  One idea that I think would be very interesting is for students to participate in, would be to take the debate points they’ve created one step further by creating more real-time campaign content like videos, live tweeting or blogging, and photo sharing.

Using technology to promote social activism is a huge trend.  Social media is how many of us communicate and interact with the world.  I even found a link to an eight lesson course that

…will train activists working in grassroots networks on the use of digital tools including Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, online forums, and blogs. It will also look at case studies and examples of technology-based civic organizing, such as the 2011 Egyptian uprising. Finally, the course will equip activists with necessary skills which are needed to develop and implement campaigns of human rights advocacy using these digital tools.

The digital tools listed above are common to most teachers.  Many will hold an account in a few, if not all of the different of these areas, which would allow for greater comfort as they take on another task that may be seen as daunting.

Adding this on new layer of technology, and Project Based Learning, to one of our Reading units would provide students with the opportunity to work with their group to identify which digital tools are the best forum for getting their message out there, and what is the most effective and persuasive ways to present their ideas, in turn, convincing their audience.

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Technology Integration – Is It Really Happening?

flickr photo shared by AV Hire London under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

I’ve referenced this point several times over the past three courses:  my school is behind the times when it comes to integrating technology into student learning.  More than half the classrooms have StarBoards installed, and the other half has projectors.  Unfortunately, in some cases, this is within the same grade level, which makes it difficult for teachers to collaborate on how they use technology in the classroom, as the resources available to them can vary wildly.  I’m being a little facetious when I say this, but the projector screens may be used for a forum to display thinking by attaching Post-its, just as much as displaying images on the actual screen.

flickr photo shared by mrichme under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

The article, “What is Successful Technology Integration?” made an excellent point that really stood out to me:

…how we define technology integration can also depend on the kinds of technology available, how much access one has to technology, and who is using the technology. For instance, in a classroom with only an interactive whiteboard and one computer, learning is likely to remain teacher-centric, and integration will revolve around teacher needs, not necessarily student needs.

This is where my school currently lives.  With the teachers being the only ones with access to technology in the classroom, the instruction and learning really is teacher-centric, and remains more of an alternative to how teacher’s deliver content, instead of learning tool for students.  Looking at the Levels of Technology Integration, my school falls somewhere between Sparse and Basic – students rarely use technology to complete tasks and assignments, and if they do, it is always in the computer lab, usually to publish a final writing piece once every quarter.  As the article, “Why Integrate Technology into the Classroom? The Reasons are Many” states:

Effective tech integration must happen across the curriculum in ways that research shows deepen and enhance the learning process. In particular, it must support four key components of learning: active engagement, participation in groups, frequent interaction and feedback, and connection to real-world experts.

Due to the lack of resources, and therefore, student access, it is difficult for students to participate in groups, or have frequent interaction with technology.  Their experiences with technology in school, is more akin to passive observations.

All that being said, we do have teachers that use the resources they have to try and integrate as much technology as possible into their classrooms.  We have teachers trying to do a flipped classroom  approach in Math, teachers who use their StarBoard for as much hands-on learning as possible, teachers who have purchased document cameras with their own money to allow for greater ease when teaching Shared Reading.  Despite the limitations they are faced with, my colleagues have done their best to take what they have and make it work to increase their students’ learning.

The SAMR model is a 4 level model that designed to help educators integrate technology into teaching and learning, with the goal of helping educators to “design, develop, and integrate digital learning experiences that utilize technology to transform learning experiences to lead to high levels of  achievement for students” by breaking

The four levels of the SAMR model  are as follows:

1. Substitution: the computer stands in for another technological tool without a significant change in the tool’s function.

2. Augmentation: the computer replaces another technological tool, with significant functionality increase.

3. Modification: the computer enables the redesign of significant portions of a task.

4. Redefinition: the computer allows for the creation of new tasks that would otherwise be inconceivable without the technology.

Following this model assumes that teachers have a certain level of comfort with technology.  The article “SAMR Model from Theory to Practice” breaks each level down nicely by discussing what teachers need to be able to do at each level in order to take on this new role.  Substitution requires the ability to handle simple data (adding information to forms) and supporting students in their use of simple graphics programmes.  Augmentation would lend itself to supporting students in using the tools they are seeing during lessons in class (various presentation methods, slide shows, audio recordings, organizing data, etc).  The next two levels require a deeper level of comfort and support on the part of the teachers in order to be achieved (knowledge of various programmes and different ways for students to use them).

When I reflect on how I use technology for teaching and learning using the SAMR model, I feel like I am pretty stuck on the substitution level.  Although I have used technology a great deal more this year than I have in the past, a lot of it is using it has a stand-in for another type of technology.  For example, in the past, I used social media (sparingly) solely for my personal use.  This year, I have joined twitter, as well as used Facebook to join PLC communities.  I check these every day, and the amount of information, resources, and collaboration that has come as a result has been invaluable to me.  I can comfortably use Google to handle data (creating UBDs, sharing resources, providing feedback on documents).  Groundbreaking?  Definitely not.  But it has provided me with access to tools and information that I have been able to use in my job as in Instructional Coach that I would not have had the opportunity to use otherwise.

When I look at the augmentation level, here’s where things get a little tricky.  Because I work solely with teachers on literacy and classroom climate, at times I feel like the transference of technology to students needs to go through an extra step.  Not only do I need to find something that I think is valuable to student learning and become competent in using it, I then need to find teachers who are willing to also take on this task with me and then use it with their students.  Because we have recently adopted the Writers Workshop model just two years ago, and included Readers Workshop this year, teachers are feeling overwhelmed by the content and rigor of the programs and feel hesitant to take on additional tasks, besides what is laid out in the Units of Study. I am hoping next year, once teachers are feeling more comfortable with the curriculum, they will be more open to exploring how they can insert technology into their teaching in a meaningful way.  Until then, I will continue to explore different ways for them to do this, like options for digital storytelling, so I am prepared when they are ready to take that leap.

Technology has changed a great deal since I was a student.  The stories I share about how ground breaking three-way calling and call display, that I “published” my writing at home with a typewriter (admittedly, my parents were behind the times and this was happening in the early 90s) are always met with looks of shock and amazement.  It really makes you wonder what technology might look like in the future?

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