Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Reading text on iPads can offer benefits to students AND educators

For those that do not know, I am an English teacher. I love and praise books.  I love the feel of the binding and paper. I love the smell of books. I like marking up the margins and revisiting my thoughts when I re-read my favorite books.

I have long believed that text read on a device just cannot match the benefits of a physical book. However, technology advances. It progresses. It improves. I change my thinking.

Just for perspective, let me share something I think of often. I can hear the echoes of farmers from long ago saying, "I love the feel of the reigns in my hand. The tug and pull of horses as they drag the plow through the field. The smell of the horses working. I cannot imagine that machinery will ever fully replace that." Horses still have their role, but we are also stunned today when we see a farmer using them as their primary tool for plowing fields.

Today our students have the ability to engage with text in a wide variety of ways on their iPads -- ways that many of us do not utilize, understand, or appreciate. However, it doesn't make these methods for reading text insufficient or bad.  It is simply different. And in being different we get some benefits and some challenges we will need to take advantage of and address as educators.

Different digital reading tools have different features, but let's take a look at one tool, Raz-Kids, which we offer in Waukesha to see how text read in a digital platform can be better utilized while having kids engage meaningfully with text.

Reading in Raz-Kids

Thanks to my recent work with Lisa Lawrenz, I have had an opportunity to dig more deeply into Raz-Kids, a platform for students to read text digitally.  Raz-Kids is wildly popular with students, and some teachers really like offering it to students, but some educators have outlined concerns. Below are a few of the most commonly held concerns that have been shared with me personally:

  • Some students race through the text in Raz-Kids without actually reading (motivated by earning stars at the end of the text)
  • Students can simply listen to text rather than engage in the exercise of actively reading the text
  • Students are not reading text at their appropriate reading level
  • Students are easily distracted while on the iPad; this is less likely to happen with a physical book
That is a hefty list of big issues. The part of me that loves physical books thinks, "These are issues I know how to deal with (or that do not exist) when kids just read physical books." However, my belief that technology offers solutions to these challenges leads me to dig deeper. So let's take some of these on and see how the technology behind Raz-Kids might deal with them.

Racing Through Text to Earn Stars

According to the Raz-Kids website, "Students earn stars for practice, completion, or success with different activities. Stars are used to purchase fun items to personalize the Raz Rocket and to create a customized robot using the Robot Builder.

Looking at the chart at right, we can see that students earn points for lots of things. While earning stars can definitely be motivational to encourage the behavior we want (more reading), 50 points for completing a book is also an incentive for some students to race through a book to earn the points (without a focus on developing the skill of reading). This is the root of the concern related to use of Raz-Kids.

However, Raz-Kids offers two pieces to allow teachers to manage this for the students who have turned reading in Raz-Kids into a point-earning game.

Using the "Reports" drawer in Raz-Kids gives teachers an at-a-glance view of each student's use and progress in Raz-Kids. A teacher can than click on a student's name and be given a comprehensive look at what the student has been up to in the platform.  Here is a sample of one student's Raz-Kids report.

Let's look at the information and possible warning signs for a teacher in this example. 

This student has earned 660 stars. However, in the recent alerts section we see a student that has failed the past 8 quiz questions at the end of the book. Looking further in reports (not shown here), this student has only logged in one time in the past two weeks. While there is no direct indication of a student off task, there is enough information for the teacher to prompt a follow-up conference to discuss what is going on.  Additionally, the teacher can look into the questions the students answered incorrectly and determine if the student needs additional supports or small group instruction around developing their vocabulary.

This alone does not resolve the issue of the student racing through, though. As the teacher, I would make a part of my talk with the student a decision to toggle off the "Raz Rocket" and "Robot Builder" options. Until the student slows down and does better on their quizzes (set a goal with the student that you can track), they will not be able to build out their rocket or robot.

Collectively this is information and a tool set that allows me to be informed through data about a specific student, to act, to make changes, and to follow up with data on an individual student in the future.  

Try doing that with text on paper. It is not nearly as succinct.

Listening to Books versus Reading

Listening to text being read to you is important. It is an excellent practice and it is wonderful to have a tool that provides that support for students.

However, if you are learning to read, you must engage in the act of reading to become a better reader. If you know how to read, you must engage in the act of reading to become a better reader. There is no substitution for the act of reading. Just as I cannot only listen to a workout video to get in shape, I cannot only listen to a book to become a better reader.

One concern regarding Raz-Kids is that some students are ONLY listening to books. The great news is that Raz-Kids provides trackable data for each student. It can help teachers to determine who these students are, when they listened versus read, and whether they followed up and read the book independently.  Let's look at a sample of one student's reading activity below.

We can see that this student tends to listen far more often than read. In fact, we see that the student has taken a Quiz without ever reading one of the books.  However, on 2/20 we see that the student made a change in habit. Here the student read the book after listening. That is a sign of a change in habit. And while we do not have enough information from this to see if this was student or teacher directed, we can explore the ways we could use this data in our next conference with the student.

We put this data in front of the student and ask exploratory questions. 
  • "Why do you prefer to listen rather than reading in Raz-Kids?"  
  • "Are you actively exercising the reading skills you  when you listen to a book? What does that look like?" 
While we cannot turn off the audio books for a student in Raz-Kids (I checked with the company to confirm this), we can do two key things: 1) track the data and talk with students about it and 2) change the levels at which students are required to listen to books to LevelUp!

If that last point was new to you, you should know this. Students can level up in their reading level (or teachers can assign them to a new level). To level up on their own, they have to read the books in the level AND listen to the books. However, if that is not ideal for students at higher levels (or any level) this is something that the teacher can change on their Roster --> Settings page in Raz-Kids.

Students Not Reading Text at Appropriate Level

By this point, you know where we are going to go Raz-Kids to track this data. We will start in the Reports section to see what level of books students are reading.  This becomes a data point for a conversation with the student.  Additionally, though, teachers can re-assign the appropriate level for the student.  Above is a  screen shot showing the option to change the reading level for an individual student. 

And what does changing this level mean for the student? While the student can still access books at a variety of levels in the Reading Room, the books available to the student in the Level Up! room of Raz-Kids changes. And this can become an instruction for students and a point to review when conferencing with students.

And if you want to reduce access to specific leveled books for some students in the Reading Room -- well, you can do that, too.  Under the Roster tab, click the Raz-Kids tab and select a few students. You can now lock specific levels of books down so students who are habitually reading books that are not suitable to them no longer have access.

This is the digital equivalent of helping students to shop for books that are at their appropriate reading level.

Distraction While Reading

If your concern is that it is easy for students to be easily distracted while reading on a device, then you apparently are not a daydreamer, as I am. Device or not, I get lost in my own thought while reading sometimes. That's part of the magic of reading.  However, there is unproductive distraction on digital devices, especially for those who are struggling readers. This is something we may be able to deal with.

This is where I will introduce my teaching assistant friend, Apple Classroom. If you have students who are consistently off-task with their reading when using digital books, banning the iPads is not your only option.  Employing the use of Apple Classroom gives teachers a window into certain students' iPads right from the comfort of your small instructional group. As you transition to your new group, take a look down at your teacher iPad and see. Are those few students in the app you want them to be in? Are they progressing? While this isn't an article about how to use Apple Classroom, knowing that this is a tool that can help you to say with confidence what students are doing on their iPad is the point.

And the beauty of Apple Classroom is that it isn't tied to a specific app. It can be used for ANY app used in the classroom, including other apps where students are engaging with text in a digital platform (iBooks, Safari, EPIC, OverDrive, etc.).

Final Thought

While I love books and feel comfortable in them, the reality is that most of the text I encounter daily is digital. I have to employ a different set of skills to read, annotate, share, and stay focused on digital text. Using and comprehending this text directly impacts my job, my communication with others, my social relationships, and my life. 

Learning to read and comprehend text in a digital platform is critical. Providing opportunities for students to engage with text meaningfully in these platforms is essential to their long-term success -- especially in the age of information and abundant technology.

I still love books and I share that love of books with students and my own children. You should, too! Let's just avoid doing so while excluding other essential ways students will need to engage with much of the text and key ideas in their lives.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Ideas that spread

The next time you hear somebody say, "This is the best thing since sliced bread," there is something missing from their understanding on the true story of sliced bread. 

According to Godin, sliced bread was an invention that struggled to spread. In his Ted Talk on ideas that spread (video snippet below, but full video here), he notes that it took marketing from somebody else to make the idea the success it is today.

Last week we participated in The One Conference, a day of sharing the best ideas we have had so far on using technology to support teaching and learning. Some of the ideas shared were new, some we have heard before but are worth repeating, and some of the ideas are an upgraded twist, tweak, or innovation. Some, the ideas that have spread, will be carried forward into practice, and some will not.

Contagious Tech Integration Practices: Ideas That Are Spreading

This week I have had many connections from people who are taking an idea and putting it into action. Let's look at what some of the "catchiest" ideas are to date.
  •  Use of Apple Classroom seems to be spreading like wildfire. Teachers across the district are identifying this as a tool that will empower them to confidently conduct class while students use iPads. While some students are not necessarily thrilled that teachers are able to peak in and see what they are doing on the device (screenshots of each students screen are available in Apple Classroom), teachers are loving that they have a digital assistant for sharing files, opening (and locking) apps, and observing use of the digital tools. If you want to know more about using Apple Classroom in Waukesha, check out our Help Site. If you want to read about one of our teachers using Apple Classroom and showing nothing but love for it, check out our Journeys to Modification blog post on Apple Classroom.
  • Digital conferring forms with Google Forms is catchy and many people are asking how to make one. This is a movement that started with three teachers from different schools exploring the topic, and then making their own version of a digital conferring form better. And now... well, I don't go a week without a new teacher asking me about how to make a digital conferring form, or asking how to make it better. If you are interested in learning more about digital conferring notes, you can check out our blog post on digital conferring notes.  Additionally, you can hear the experience of one of our Model Tech Classroom teachers who has developed a digital conferring form with students on her blog post available here.

The arrival of iPads did not mark the beginning in a change of how we do business in our district. It made that change possible, but it did not magically shift our professional practice.

The change in our practice will come from the spread of ideas. Those spread when we share the practice, the tips, and the tools that make it a worthwhile change for others to embrace. As educators, our system is more broadly embracing that shift, opening doors, and helping to spread the very best ideas.  Keep the momentum going; share your best ideas with others for the benefit of students.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The One Conference: Making it meaningful!

Our team, the Instructional Technology Coordinators, sincerely hope that you enjoyed your day at The One Conference 2018. We hope you felt celebrated and valued as educators. We hope that it was a fun day filled with inspiration and excitement. Those are primary goals for us when we begin planning with the committee, and we aim to make that a focal point of the day.

Inspiration, new ideas, and a rap performance by teachers
 Becca Wypiszynski and Kim Ferguson were elements that
made The One Conference a special event!
Of course, the real goal of the day is to inspire our staff to find ways to more meaningfully use technology to make learning more engaging, accessible, authentic, and meaningful for students. We hope you were inspired by ideas that allow you to make learning more rigorous, more creative, and more collaborative. 

That's our second goal of the day: to provide inspirational yet practical ideas that you can take back to your classroom and use with students.

As great as the day is, it is this second goal that is most important. All of the fun and learning, all of the inspiration and sharing does not amount to much if what educators learn on the day never filters down to use with students.

That is our challenge to all of you. Make all of the energy and learning that happens at The One Conference meaningful. Put something you have learned into practice with your students.

There are many ways to do that. We suggested one way with our Make a Splash! activity. The goal was to find a friend, a risk partner, that would hold you personally accountable for following through with your plans. It is not about somebody else telling you what to do and when to do it. It is about your internal motivation to identify a shift that can happen, to take a risk, and to make a change for the benefit of your students.

So we encourage each of you to do your part to make The One Conference meaningful by viewing the day as the beginning of the journey to shift just one instructional practice with students. Your students rely on you to provide them with these kinds of learning opportunities!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Learn like a pirate at The One Conference #sdwone

As we set sail into this year's One Conference theme of pirates, it strikes me that we can apply one pirate-like trait to our day to make the conference more meaningful.

Pirates steal valuable things. That's what makes them pirates, after all. They take the best things, which do not belong to them, and they make them their own.

If I could give you one piece of advice to make the conference more meaningful for you and your students, learn like a pirate. Steal the best and leave the rest.

There are gems of wisdom, inspiration, and best practice that can be found all around The One Conference. They are the best ideas of your colleagues, things that work for them and their students, and they are simply putting these treasured nuggets out there for you to find and take with you.  Your job is to find the very best treasures, steal them, and turn them into your own.

We all know that a day at The One Conference can be overwhelming and exhausting. Do not let yourself be burdened with every idea, every tool, every practice you hear about. Set a goal of finding one or two ideas that  you can take back to your classroom, back to your students, to start using technology to teach and to help students engage and learn more meaningfully.

And once you have found those one or two great ideas to steal, set aside some time during the day to start planning.  Most pirates may get lucky some of the time, but the best pirates plan, plot and scheme. Follow their lead. Develop a plan to turn your jewel of an idea into a practice used in your classroom. The goal should be to make one new practice a valued addition to your arsenal of tools and ideas to positively transform the learning experience for students.

So go ahead. Act like a pirate at The One Conference. You have our permission to steal some amazing ideas and turn them into amazing opportunities for kids. #sdwone

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

One Conference 2018 - Guide to New Format for Morning Keynote and Building Meetings

The One Conference 2018 has a new format for how we will start our day. With the new location of the keynote (in the auditorium) and including morning kick-off meetings with buildings, we want to make sure all staff have a clear idea of where to go to get their day started on the right foot.

Take a few minutes to watch the video to get a clear explanation of the the information you will need to know about the changes to the schedule and format to start the morning of The One Conference 2018.

All information on The One Conference will be available at The One Conference website.

Room assignments for morning building kick-off meetings is available on the conference SCHED.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Using Sched to Plan Your Day at The One Conference

With SCHED you have the ability to build your learning plan in advance. Check the circle at the top left corner of a session or Add to My Schedule to make it part of your plan for the day. While we are not capping attendance based on this selection, if a session has a great deal of interest we may be able to move it to a larger room. You are still free to make your final selections the day of the conference.

Not sure how to use Sched? This video will give you tips to selecting your sessions and lunch choices!

Be sure to log in to the conference site with your SDW email address. This will allow you to save your selections and pull them up again on Monday, January 22nd! If you plan to print your schedule  wait until just before the conference as room assignments have not yet been made and are subject to change.

Don't forget to indicate your lunch choice for the 11:30 session. We are trying to make sure that everyone has access to their preferred option. But we need to have a count to accomplish this. Please assist us by indicating your preference in Sched so everyone receives their selection of choice.

If the presenter has indicated that an app is necessary for participation it will be included in the tags as well. Please plan ahead and download these apps prior to attending the conference on Friday. This will help reduce the number of wireless issues you may experience.

Which sessions should I attend?

This next week is a great time to talk with your job-alikes in your building to "spread the wealth" and divide and conquer as many sessions as possible. We know it is great fun to attend with friends, but dividing up will allow you to cover more sessions and share with your teammates on Tuesday!

Every school has determined high leverage practices that they are focusing on for the 2017-18 school year. Many of these are listed in the Type section of Sched. Consider clicking the high leverage practice that your building is working on and see if there are sessions that would help you grow your practice in implementing this technology in your classroom!

We are hoping that you will see examples of ways that you can Sail the SAMR C's! with the use of technology in your classrooms. SAMR will be a focus throughout the day. Reflect on how you might use what is being presented to incorporate Critically Thinking, Collaborating, Creating, and Communicating in your environment. We are looking forward to a great day of learning and technology exploration. Just a reminder that there are a great number of ways to expand your learning on this day; stop by a vendor booth, listen in at the Rock Star Stage, browse the Poster sessions in the main hallway and of course attend sessions being presented by your SDW co-workers and business partners!

So many ways to learn at The One Conference

The One Conference 2018 is almost here. The key to making the most of the day, which operates like a true conference, is pre-planning.

Getting Started

To start, we highly recommend visiting the conference website at:

Here you will be able to peruse all of the offerings for the day. Remember, The One Conference is about more than just sessions. There are several other ways to get inspired and learn from others. The One Conference website will help you see all that is available to you.

Sessions in SCHED

One tab on the website is the Sessions tab. Click View the The One Conference - 2018 Session SCHED This will allow you to explore sessions being offered during the conference.

There are four session times offered during the course of the day. Sessions are color-coded based on the "big rock" that they reinforce. If you float your mouse over the session title you will see the description of the session, presenters, time and the grade level it applies to.

Using SCHED is one of the best ways to plan out your conference experiences.

Visit the SDW Rock Star Teacher Stage

Rock Star Teachers are educators that have been nominated for some very specific use of technology that they employ with students. These professional encompass a wide range of grade levels and subject areas, but they all have one thing in common: they have used technology well with students!  Visit the Rock Star Stage Schedule to see what topics are being presented (in 5 - 8 min presentations) throughout the morning and afternoon sessions, and find some time to step into the library and listen to our version of an SDW TED Talk. The Rock Star Stage is located in the Library Media Center.

Hands-on Learning Area 

Ready to learn from the students? Step into the Hands-on Learning area to hear perspectives from our student representatives. You will see some of the latest tools, most innovative uses of technology, and you will have opportunities to truly try these items for yourself.  Have you ever wondered what an Ozobot is? Have you met Cozmo yet? Or his Bluebot friends? Maybe you want to get hands-on with virtual reality.  Come in and give it a try in the Hands-on Learning area. The Hands-on Learning Area is located just off of the Library Media Center in the Trek classrooms.

Think Tank

New for 2018, we are introducing the Think Tank. There is a lot to take in at The One Conference. However, when sparks of inspiration strike for how you will use something you learned about with your students, it's time to dig in and put a plan together. Opening during sessions 3 and 4, the Think Tank is a place where you can start planning to bring your ideas to life. Additionally, some presenters will offer follow-up sessions where you can dig in deeper to a topic that was presented.  The Think Tank is a self-serve space available in the Cafeteria (only open during sessions 3 and 4).

Vendor and Business Partner Exhibits

A number of our business partners and vendors will have tables throughout the hallways of The One Conference. These folks want to support our staff members with the products that they represent (which we already purchase...this is NOT a sales pitch).  Step up and ask questions, engage in conversation, and ask about resources that they may have available to support you and your students in your journey to utilize the tools.

Technology Genius Bar

Our SDW Tech Staff and Help Desk folks will be available throughout the day of The One Conference to offer support, answer questions, provide expertise, and make connections. They welcome you to spend some time at the Genius Bar, located in the main entrance hallway at West. If you have had questions about technology, have a specific issue, or just need a resource, this is the perfect opportunity to stop by and connect.

Make a Splash!

Throughout the day, we hope that you will see examples of ways that you can make use of technology in your classrooms. Remember that the goals of The One Conference are to celebrate you, our educators and staff, and to spread great ideas for using technology in your classroom. The Make a Splash! activity is a way for you to identify one goal, one practice, and/or one tool that you want to take back to your classroom. You will find somebody to hold you accountable to your goal (a risk partner), and you will develop a plan to reach your goal.  This activity will be facilitated by your building leadership team!  This day is about shifting our classroom instruction for the benefit of students, and the Make a Splash! activity builds on this idea by encouraging us to set goals and achieve them.