Real Talk: Using Targets That Engage Students

There are a number of teaching practices that are lauded as effective, but they are not always easy to enact in ways that students connect to. One is establishing a clear purpose for a lesson/activity. You can see this article on how Hattie and Marzano think about the subject.  From what I observe, this strategy often manifests as a learning target on the board with some time devoted to going over it in class. With evaluation models like 5D setting expectations that students be able to know and refer to targets, this strategy is commonly used, but teachers struggle to make it engaging.

The value of a clear of objective makes sense, whether it’s working with coding or learning sentence structure. Without some clarity of purpose, there may be some learning occurring, but it is random at best, and it may be kids just messing around. Now, I recognize the value of play and exploration, but I also recognize that without some awareness and assessment of what is being learned, the end result is typically lackluster. My ongoing question is how do we get students to give a rip about a learning goal, and, more importantly, how do we involve them meaningfully in the process?

One connection that makes sense to me is empowering students in the process. See this ISTE article on empowered learners to consider the importance of student choice, self-direction, scaffolding, and feedback among other things. Trying to set this up though, especially for every learning outcome, is overwhelming. That is what led me to create this empowered target example. It sets a goal, explains a connection/purpose, and establishes what success looks like. The doc provides scaffolds for students and asks them to find their own resources on the topic as well as set a plan for showing they know it. If a copy is provided for each student, a teacher could provide real-time feedback on the doc and even facilitate assessment of the target.

Full disclosure: I have not used this doc in any learning setting, but I feel confident about the thinking behind it. There are many other forms these ideas could take (example from Agile Classrooms), and I’ve seen how something like it has been used in PBL and competency-based / standards-based systems. It could certainly be used in any traditional approach as well. With an outcome defined, a process for students to be empowered, and avenues for extension, we can make learning targets meaningful, and having a digital structure in place will enable us to support students as they progress. As with anything, it will require refinement and iterations, and if it isn’t useful, it should be scrapped. I’d love to see what others are doing to be intentional, engaging, and supportive with students.

#competency-based-learning, #edtech, #google-docs, #iste, #mitecs, #pbl

Build Your Own Interactives

In many schools, especially at the elementary level, it is common for students to be using tech for core skill building. For example, they might be using Zearn to go through math practice at a level that is personalized based on pre-assessment results. This can be beneficial, but some research suggests that so-called drill and kill types of platforms might not be best and may even have negative effects on student learning. See this research page from Liz Kolb’s Triple E Framework site for more on that

I also believe that students can be doing much more than practice problems with the devices they are using. So, I have been exploring ways to design activities that involve application of learning and using tech to build or create based on the concepts being taught. This may sound a bit daunting, but here are two examples that are fairly simple to set up:

  1. Google Slides Place Value Interactive. You can add background elements, like a cartoon field, that won’t move by editing the Slide Master (how to edit Slide Master in Google Slides). When students load the link, they can make a copy, or teachers can assign it through Classroom as a copy for each student. Then they interact and build.
  2. Google Doc Array and Area Activity. This prompts students to build some simple layouts in Geogebra and then asks questions that farmers would actually have to ask when building a fence. Like in the previous activity, students need to apply their understanding. They also have links to reference in case they need it (e.g. perimeter and area).

These are not the most polished or amazing, but they incorporate some complex thinking and some personal interaction as well. Take a look, make copies for yourself, and modify as you see fit. Please share any ideas or questions with us so we can learn from you as well.

#edtech, #g-suite, #google-apps

Simple Ways to Represent Thinking

I just want to take a moment to share a couple tools and ideas for representing thinking. No matter what we teach or facilitate, we want ideas and understanding to be shared. The tools described below provide options for people to show what’s swirling in their minds. Given the visual options involved, these platforms can be used with non-linguistic strategies, modelling, and more. They can also be used across grade levels and subject areas. Here is a breakdown:

  1. AWW App – A whiteboard tool on which you can add text, shapes, drawings, images and more. There are options for real-time collaboration and adding additional pages. You can export the finished product without creating an account, or you can register to build a library. See my example at the bottom of this post.
  2. AutoDraw – This is a Google Experiment, and it has many similar features to the AWW App. It does not support collaboration, but it is simpler. You can also choose a drawing option that will predict what you are trying to draw. The predicted options show on the top toolbar for you to select.

There are other options out there (Google Drawings is a notable one), but these are less known and have some useful features. Take a few minute to try them out. Explore the menus for options and think about how you might use them in an upcoming lesson or meeting.

Sample AwwIce formations on beach with people


Digital Text Sources and Tools

Many teachers express that they are overwhelmed by the tools and services that one can use to find and interact with digital texts. As part of our study session in Kent ISD’s Literacy Coaches Network, Andrew and I have facilitated investigations into some of the options that we feel have the most value to educators and students. Here is some of what we uncovered:

First, we really like Diigo, especially when used as a Google Chrome extension. When added, users can highlight and make notes on any webpage or PDF, and it’s all stored in a user’s library in a way that can be shared. It also has an outliner tool and a groups function, both of which can be used for many purposes. Tip: make sure you access the education upgrade to get more features.

We also looked at a number of platforms and sources for texts. See below for some basic details about the ones we chose.

    • Newsela / Newsela Elementary
      • Allows choice of non-fiction articles with option for different Lexile level for each article
      • Access articles by link without logins or set up a class
      • Helpful cross-text features like Issues and Text Sets
      • Users can annotate text but teacher can’t see annotations w/o paid model
      • Assessment questions available (more complex and varied than Teen/Tween Tribune)
      • They try to lure you into their paid model – comparison of free vs paid
    • Teen/Tween Tribune
      • Allows choice of non-fiction articles with option for different Lexile level for each article
      • Access articles by link without logins or set up a class (You can see student results w/ login)
      • Assessment questions included with login (mostly simple recall questions)
      • Provides a commenting option that allows students from everywhere to post comments on articles and reply to each other.
      • Student can access articles, take quizzes, and post comments without teacher assigning
      • Some great options for finding and exploring texts
        1. Bookflix (Read and listen to texts)
        2. NoveList (find books by interest, lexile, and more) No full text.
        3. eBook Collection / eBook k-8 Collection
        4. Gale PowerPack (magazines & more)
    • ReadWorks
      • Large library of articles searchable by lexile, skill, and other filters w/ audio option for some K-5 content
      • Questions, strategies, and much more available
      • Requires downloading or printing texts and sharing w/ students
      • Digital ReadWorks
        1. Requires logins for teacher and students
        2. Students can annotate texts, which are visible by teacher
        3. Allows teacher to assign and track quiz results
        4. Students can’t alter Lexile level but teacher can assign articles to specific students to differentiate
        5. Questions are fairly low level but provide feedback for students
        6. No way for students to select articles on their own

Yes, that’s a long list, and there is more to explore no doubt. Hopefully this helped you determine what might be best for you. If you have other ideas to share, please add them in the comments.

#digitaltext, #edtech, #reading

Getting Students Where You Digitally Need Them

If you have ever experienced issues getting students to and/or into a website or application, you know how frustrating it can be. I recently observed a classroom of 9th graders in which all students could login to laptops (using network logins they can’t change), but six students were unable to login to their district Google accounts (accounts they have had for over two years but can change). The teacher had to scramble to get them their logins and help them get to the site. It was more than 10 minutes before everyone was where they needed to be. Not good.

This is obviously a problem and certainly one that can be avoided. Here are some ideas that we have seen districts use to make tech use more efficient and fluid:

  1. Set the student web browser to open on a page that has all the direct links they need. This should include teacher pages and district-supported sites. It helps if this page is not cluttered with an overwhelming amount of content. (elementary school example, decent secondary example)
  2. If you are a teacher, provide a clear way for students to access your stuff (documents, links, help, etc.). This means you should have an online home for your stuff. (see more about this from Ron). When they click to your course/page, they should be able to access the most pertinent content without scrolling or clicking excessively.
  3. Set up integration between systems if possible. At Kent ISD, we have been using the GADS Sync tool to sync our Google domain with our LDAP directory. Students are also unable to change their passwords to avoid login issues like those mentioned above. Even if you can’t do an integration, you can set a common username structure for all district-supported applications and lock passwords for critical systems. Yes, students need to learn login management, but I argue they can learn that using non-critical systems.

These ideas take some work and some collaboration among IT and other staff, but if that work does not get done, then we will continue to waste time getting students where they need to be online. Worse yet, teachers will continue to resist and avoid technology because it interferes with what they do. We need to make sure systems are in place to make tech access as easy as possible for all. If you have strategies that have worked for you, please share them in the comments.

#edtech, #gafe