Why You Should Endorse “Now Learning” in the Classroom

“You’ll use this all the time when you grow up.”  “You’re developing skills you’ll need all the way through college.”  “Someday, you’ll be so glad you learned another language.”

[insert eye-rolling here].


Even if true, relying primarily on these kinds of future-tense phrases to justify learning may have harmful effects.  Nothing is worth draining our children’s inborn sense of discovery and enthusiasm.

The counterintuitive reality: instilling learning passion for the future only happens when we show students how to love learning today!

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Requirements for Now Learning

Think back to your classes that most sparked your passion.  Chances are, those instructors made relevance a daily priority–a skill that takes purpose and deliberate planning.  In our experience, that purpose and planning must consist of the following:

  • Student Choice:

Students must be enabled to tailor their learning in order to find relevance. Technological options for making this happen are almost endless–but possibilities outside the high-tech box abound, too, including project based learning, genius hour, and other innovative new strategies.

  • Student Creativity:

Start the video below at 16 minutes for a wonderful anecdote by Sir Ken Robinson:

  • Teacher Passion 

Applying Now Learning in a Real Schedule

My first year teaching overflowed with the kinds of typical pursuits designed to prepare students for the future demands:  book reports, math homework worksheets, and daily “independent study,” during which students would work for an hour on grammar, comprehension, vocabulary, and spelling.  And guess where the most frequent strain on behavior occurred?

Over the years, we gradually replaced such activities with approaches that foster now learning–and I witnessed transformations in my students’ motivation, vibrance, and willingness to take risks. 

How much of your student’s day involves learning for the present?  Look below at tips for each part of my fifth grader’s schedule:

  • Word Study
    • Student choice: Is it really so earth-shattering to allow students to choose whether they read a book or study their spelling? When our school introduced Daily 5, that’s exactly what we did–and news flash: once they understood all the choices and their purposes, my students did in fact regularly choose from all the options. Status of the class also helped them develop purposeful decision-making skills (read more about that here!).
    • Student creativity: Post a list of book report alternatives for students to take their reading and writing to a creative level.
    • Teacher passion: Tell them about that cliff-hanger in your book, share your latest blog post, exclaim about your favorite authors, joke about common grammar errors. There is simply no underestimating the power of modeling your own literary pursuits!
  • Reading Workshop
    • Student choice: Help students discover their own interests and expand their reading horizons by giving them an interest inventory.
    • Student creativity: Students’ literary creativity will take flight once they discover that book or series that helps them fall in love with reading. Make curating a classroom library of rich and varied texts one of your main priorities.
    • Teacher passion: Throughout each reading unit and/or book group, read along with your students so you can more authentically engage in book discussions with them.
  • Spanish
    • Student choice: Individualize and gamify language learning with the Duolingo app!
    • Student creativity: Download the Google Translate app on your classroom devices and encourage them to discover its possibilities.
    • Teacher passion: At our school, another instructor would come in during this time.  However, I would try to follow up with my own appreciation and understanding in my personal language learning (ie, discussing how I connect “mesa” in landforms and the translation for table, or my interest in Dia de los Muertos).
  • Math
    • Student choice: Ditch homework worksheets in favor for homework projects with real-world applications.
    • Student creativity: Try flipped learning to give students more time in class for exploration, self-directed projects, or arts integration.
    • Teacher passion: No matter what subject(s) you teach, if you’ve ever expressed self-deprecating remarks about math, STOP today, and never do it again!
  • Snack/Lunch/Recess
    • It’s laughable to believe these growing, active beings can be expected to sit still and focus if their bodies aren’t fully nourished.  Make time.  If your school has scheduled a too-small chunk of time for lunch, allow students to finish eating in class.
  • Writing Workshop
    • Student choice: Make writing choices more about which animal to write the essay on.  Storybird, comic strip makers, Prezi, word clouds–the platforms and mediums for sharing ideas stretch for miles.
    • Student creativity: see above.
    • Teacher passion: Teaching a poetry unit? Write your own poems throughout, using the same techniques and skills as your students.Use your own daily struggles and triumphs as a writer as authentic teaching opportunities.
  • Social Studies or Science
  • Blogging
    • Student choice & creativity: Student blogs are a fantastic way for students to learn to curate their own work.  They give students a real voice in the global learning community, and encourage dynamic discussion and debate in comment threads.  To get started, check out our post on practical student blogging here!
    • Teacher passion: Make sure you keep your own blog alongside your students’!

Photo Credit:

  • Featured image: Frankieleon
  • Quote image created with Recitethis.com

4 2014 Favorites, plus 2015 Ventures

Welcome back to HGU for a fresh year!  We hope you enjoyed a restful and relaxing holiday break, and that you are feeling rejuvenated for school.  Here to offer some inspiration for your classroom New Year’s resolution-making are a few of our readers’ favorite posts in 2014, along with some suggestions for low-stress, high-impact goals.


Best of 2014

#4: Review: Pam Allyn’s Core Ready Lesson Sets for Grades 3-5

If you are currently researching language arts programs, you won’t want to miss this teacher-tested review!

A long way from Chicago (1)#3: 10 Read Alouds for Upper Elementary Grades

Research continues to back up the fact that reading to your children–even older children–provides literacy benefits. So don’t skimp on read-aloud time just because you teach preteens!

#2: Foreign Language Programs: A Basic Review

Several members of our HGU team tried out and reviewed Fluenz, Pimsleur, and Rosetta Stone to help give some guidance in choosing a foreign language program.

#1: Top Online Games for Elementary

30 different math, science, and art games–all free, student-tested, and teacher-screened!

Possible Goals for 2015

*Become a Google Educator:

With the abundance of free professional development opportunities online, there’s no reason not to start taking your PD into your own hands in 2015!  What we especially like about Google Courses for Educators is that they help teachers fully harness Google resources in the classroom, broken down into bite-sized 5-30 minute lessons.


DonorsChoose*Create a Donors Choose project:

Math board games, a document camera, 2 iPad Mini’s–these are just a few items I received through the generous donors on Donors Choose over the past few years.  Be sure to watch for match offers or Chevron’s Fuel Your School to increase your chances of funding!

*Write personal notes to every student:

Cut up card stock and reserve just a couple minutes of your prep time each day to write a couple of meaningful letters to students each day. Express your admiration for their perseverance, confidence in their potential, and enthusiasm for their progress.  Not only will you foster a positive class atmosphere, but you’ll help beat out the gray midwinter blues to which so many of us are susceptible.

*Pick just 1 new edtech to integrate:

Instead of getting overwhelmed by the many choices for technology integration in the classroom, choose just one this year.  Student blogging, Twitter, flipped classrooms, and virtual field trips are a few of our favorites.

Photo Credit: 

Featured Image (visible on mobile layout only this version): BazaarBizarreSF vis Flickr

Student-Led Conferences: Practical Guide & Resources

Have you ever felt parent teacher conferences become a blur of shallow compliments and trite suggestions?  Have you ever worried about the quality of students’ involvement?  Do you want parents to gain more meaningful insight on how their children spend 7 hours a day, 5 days a week?  Then consider shifting to student led conferences!


Background

After a couple years of traditional parent teacher conferences, I began to doubt their value.  Attendance was patchy, and the bulk of meetings that did take place often felt inconsequential.  Given the vast expenditure of time and energy in preparations, conferences generally seemed to yield trivial returns–goals quickly forgotten, behavior largely unchanged, and work samples simply discarded.  All that changed when my school introduced student-led conferences.

Step-by-Step Guide

Note that this is geared toward upper-elementary.  However, it can easily be adapted for younger and older students–our entire school adopted student-led conferences. 

Stage #1: Introduce Student-Led Conferences to Students (Estimated time: 30 min)
  • Kathy Cassidy
    Kathy Cassidy

    Give a labeled folder to each student to keep conference materials organized.

  • Hand out the “During Conference Checklist” students will use.  With this, students should:
    • Write down 2 items or areas of the classroom they want to share during the first part of conferences.
    • Write down their current feelings about reading, writing, math, and behavior.
    • Choose a writing and math sample. (I had my students keep their portfolios on blogs, so I gave them the option to present digital samples as well).
  • Give students their report cards, progress reports, and/or other records that are to be shared during conferences.  Let them know they need to be familiar with everything on it, so to ask for clarification as needed.
Stage #2: Make Goals (Estimated time: 45 min.)
  • Brainstorm as a class possible areas for improvement in math, reading, writing, and behavior.
  • Teach class about writing goals according to your school or grade level standards.  Our team used SMART goals (s=specific, m=measurable, a=attainable, r=relevant, t=time-bound).  I also like Kath Murdoch’s idea of 1-word goal-making.
  • Have them write 1 goal for each subject area on the brainstorming sheet and turn them in.
  • Give back to students to write their final goals after you have reviewed them.
Stage #3: Meet with each student (est. time: 5 min. per student)
  • Make sure their conference folder has all required items in order (I gave each student this list to organize their work.  I also post it on the whiteboard, and have students sign up to meet with me once their folders are completely ready).
  • Double-check the finalized goals.
  • If your grading system has a “social skills” or behavior field, consider having the student self-grade with you.  Have a discussion on what each grade means (ie, 4 means “I rarely need reminders or help in this area,” 3 means “I sometimes need reminders and I could work on this area,” etc.).  Not only have I found that students are often harder on themselves than I am, but the increased ownership better prepares them for sometimes tough conversations with their parents.
  • Go over the “During Conference” checklist together.  Discuss any questions on how to present each area.
Stage #4: Final Preparations
  • Send letters home to parents from teacher and/or from students to prepare them for student-led conferences. If you want to provide questions in advance to help prepare parents, students, and yourself, check out our printable Student-Led Conferences Guided Questions list!
  • Have students practice going over their checklist with a classmate (tell them they can leave out sensitive items like their report cards).  Use a stopwatch to give them a realistic idea of the timeframe.
Stage #5: After Conference Tips

Student and Parent Response

After each conference, I surveyed parents and students.  Below is some of the feedback I frequently received.

Meme
Meme Binge

Students loved:

  • Removing the frightening anticipation of grown-ups discussing unknown issues during conferences (avoiding situations such as the one on the right).
  • The opportunity to “show off” some of the things they were most proud of.
  • How professional they felt as they took the lead.

Parents loved:

  • How knowledgeable students were about their own progress and responsibilities.
  • Students taking the lead with the teacher helping where needed.
  • How students explained their report cards themselves.
  • The pride and ownership students took in showing their work.

Pitfalls to Avoid

  • Time allocations: Make sure there’s plenty of time for parents to ask questions and have further, informative discussions as needed!
  • Inadequate student practice: Let students practice at least 2 times in class.  This will help them with both confidence and purposeful time management.
  • Inadequate student organization: Use the conference folder items list to go through every item as an entire class one more time right before conferences start.
  • Hesitation to Jump In: One parent voiced concern that problems were sugar-coated, and that she could not speak freely because of the student’s presence.  Let your students know beforehand that in order for conferences to be effective, everyone needs to be 100% on the same page, and that you will redirect the conversation if necessary.
  • Unengaging Parent Homework: At first, we assigned parents to write a letter to their children reflecting on their feelings about the conference.  However, very few parents completed the assignment.  We switched to emailing a Google Form survey for them to share feedback on conferences.  Some of the questions we asked included:
    • What made you feel proud?
    • Do you feel your student’s goals match the areas in which he/she can improve?  If not, what are additional areas in which you feel he/she can improve?
    • How can you help your student remember and succeed at his/her goals at home?

List of Resources Linked Throughout:

Photo Credit: 

Featured Image: Claire Burge

Kathy Cassidy

Meme Binge

10 Tips to Help Your Class Blog Stand Out

No one likes dedicating time to an unproductive, thankless task–especially if you’re a teacher maintaining a class blog that no one checks!  Here are 10 of our time-tested strategies to improve your blog, and to encourage your students and parents to visit.


#1: Consistency

Some teachers see this word and want to run for the hills–after all, the list of educational strategies with this recommendation could probably stretch for miles.  However, the good news is that this doesn’t have to be a time-intensive commitment when you employ one or more of the following tips:

  • Maintain a regular post structure so you don’t need to design a lengthy, creative piece each day.  For instance, start each post with some quick highlights from the day, followed by a list of homework, and ending with upcoming school/class events. See my old class blog for an example.
  • Copy and paste content from the previous day and just make changes as needed.  With the above example, you can just edit the highlights section and update any homework/events.
  • Download the app for your blog’s platform if it’s faster or simpler for you to post from your tablet or smartphone!
  • Use the post scheduling feature (included on both WordPress and Blogger) to publish at an exact time each day (that way, you can prepare it whenever you have a few minutes, but you won’t have to worry about hitting “publish” at a specific time after school).

#2: Use Tags

Add a tag or two to each post to help students and parents easily navigate your archives.  Be sure to remember to add the tag widget to your sidebar as well!

#3: Share Pictures

Nate Edwards
Nate Edwards

Students of every age love seeing their pictures, and parents love seeing their kids in action at school!  The result: an effective way to draw in your audience.  This is where your platform’s app may come in handy as well so you can post directly from the device with which you took pictures.  Of course, you may find you’d prefer to microblog your pictures using Twitter, but you can always also add a Photo Gallery section to your blog for students to explore.  For posts with pictures, remember to add a “pictures” tag!

#4: Have Students Make their Own Blogs!

Not only does this get students excited about the concept of blogging in general, but if you put links to each of their blogs on your homepage sidebar, they will have an added incentive to visit.  Get started using our practical (and teacher-tested) guide to student blogging!

#5: Add Helpful Resources (really)

Creating a few drop-down menus of organized student and parent resources is a fantastic way to increase your blog’s usefulness and traffic!  If you’re an elementary school teacher, you can make one page for each subject area that’s packed with links to relevant games and tools.  However, be sure to screen every link, both for safety and for quality–even young students are tech-savvy enough to see through an arbitrary list of “games” that aren’t actually fun!  Check out our list of student favorites!

#6: Don’t Get Discouraged!

It may take a few months before your class blog catches on with a regular traffic flow.  Just keep looking for ways to make it as useful as possible for your students, soliciting their ideas to find out what resources would help them!

#7: Layout: Go for Simple

Ask yourself: do YOU enjoy looking at busy web pages with patterned wallpapers of dogs or bright bubbles that make the words difficult to discern?  Keep the colors solid behind all words, and play with fonts, sizes, and text colors to ensure easy reading.

#8: Add a Twitter Feed & Some RSS Feeds

If you have a class Twitter account or hashtag, make sure you add a widget to your sidebar that projects that Twitter feed (see our post on unlocking Twitter’s classroom potential).  Also, ask students whether they’d be interested in seeing RSS feeds from sources such as TIME’s picture of the week, NASA’s image of the day, daily science news, or even a daily comic strip.

Mkhmarketing
Mkhmarketing

#9: Add link to your email signature

In all the back-to-school paperwork, be sure to promote your class blog link as much as possible!  Let parents know the link is in your email signature, and remind them as necessary throughout the year!

#10: Throw in Intermittent Rewards

A fun way to encourage visitors is to periodically throw in an incentive.  Give students a “Secret code word” in your post every now and then, telling them to write it on a slip of paper and to covertly hand it in the next day for a treat or bonus.

Photo Credit

niXerKG (featured image)

Nathan Edwards

Mkhmarketing

Top Online Games for Upper Elementary Students

Whether you are looking for games to add to your class blog or to your class computer bookmarks menu, we have compiled ranked lists based on games most visited and praised by 5th graders over several years!  All the games are free and kid tested.  Be sure to check out other ways to improve your classroom blog here(All links last checked for safety and functionality on July 29, 2016).

Continue reading “Top Online Games for Upper Elementary Students”

To Blog or Microblog?

Many teachers are very familiar with and involved in maintaining blogs for their classrooms and students.  However, the advent of microblogging through platforms like Twitter can enhance or simplify your blogging habits!  Read how!


What is Microblogging?

We recently wrote a post that explored the in’s and out’s of Twitter for teachers.  If you haven’t had a chance to read that yet, we recommend you start with that article first!

Microblogging, according a journal at the University of Stuttgart, can be explained in the following definition:

“Social networking and microblogging services such as Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ allow people to broadcast short messages, so-called microposts, in continuous streams.” [source

So, while Twitter is not the only microblogging platform (see article that compares 10 others), we will be referring to Twitter as our main classroom tool for the purposes of this article.

How Microblogging with Twitter Works

Microblogging for your class can be very effective in conjunction with a classroom blog as it gives you a place where students can access your feeds, links, etc.  However, that does not mean additional efforts–in fact, this approach will likely save you precious blogging time!

If you already keep a classroom blog to post pictures, homework, and general tidbits about what’s happening at school, chances are that you have experienced difficulty in posting content consistently or on the same day the pictures, activities, and videos actually happened.  It may be easy enough to snap some pictures in the moment with your phone, but those can be easy to forget in the shuffle at the end of the day–and even when you do remember, it can be tough to scrounge up the time to upload your photos to your computer and then a new blog post, complete with a description!

Instead, consider how the above situation changes with the tool of Twitter microblogging:

  1. Open your Twitter app on your mobile device
  2. Next to “What’s Happening,” snap your photos within the app
  3. Add a quick, 140 character phrase describing the discovery, instantly creating a feed that looks like this (thank you for sharing, Catherine!):

If you don’t have a classroom blog, you can simply give parents and students your handle (@_____) and have them follow you with their own Twitter accounts (and for this reason, we highly recommend that you keep a separate Twitter account for your classroom than for your personal use).  If you do have a blog, then you can further spread the word by using a widget to upload your Twitter feed to your blog homepage, which can be especially helpful in reaching those who don’t have Twitter accounts! Below are steps to create your widget:

  1. Click on the Settings icon at the top right corner of your Twitter page.
  2. Select “Widgets” from the menu on the left-hand side of the page
  3. Create and personalize your widget.  There are several choices for what your feed will reflect.  One option is to display posts for a specific hashtag (especially perfect if you have created a unique class hashtag that you include in each of your Tweets!):

Twitter feed--#pypchat

If you have a class Twitter account, you could also display your own feed.

Once the widget is created, inserting it into your blog varies according to your platform.  Click here for a great WordPress tutorial!  For others, you may need to copy and paste the widget code into the HTML of your site–many have an HTML widget you can insert for this kind of purpose!

When to Blog or Microblog

→Blog

  • Giving instructions
  • Explaining a project
  • Sharing reflections
  • Sharing any media you want embedded into your blog (ie, Prezi, video, etc.)
  • Reminding students of several upcoming events (perhaps in a list)
  • Posting archived Tweets or entire class Twitter debates that you don’t want to get lost in the shuffle (Storify is a great resource for this kind of archiving!  See this article for ideas on how several educators make use of this!)

→Microblog

  • Sharing student lightbulb moments, questions, and discoveries
  • Sharing short reflections on student–or your–learning
  • Giving quick reminders of individual assignments or events
  • Posting pictures and videos you take in class
  • Sharing links to any media or websites that have the Twitter share icon (which is just about anything!)
  • Sharing (and actually having) Twitter debates–just remember to have students include your unique class hashtag in each of their tweets!

This combination can make for a powerful and efficient solution to reaching parents and students effectively, but remember to work for a balance that will maximize and save your precious time!

Photo Credit: Kārlis Dambrāns

Sources:

1. Lohmann, S., et al. (2012). Visual Analysis of Microblog Content Using Time-Varying

Co-occurrence Highlighting in Tag Clouds.