I am obsessed with TED talks these days.  This one talks about choices and why we should NOT be giving our students unlimited choices.


After we watched this TED talk,  a few of us got to talking about personalized learning and student choice.   We realized that with the advent of the 1:1 initiative, we were in serious danger of giving our students TOO MANY choices.  The internet and the digital environment provide limitless options – but that doesn’t mean that our young learners should be encountering that vast expanse of uncharted territory.

Our children easily become overwhelmed by choices.  Our instructional decision-making about digital learning is no different than our instructional decision-making about other things.  We provide scaffolded choices.  “You can do A or B.”  With older students we might even offer A, B, C, or D.  But we don’t offer the whole wide world.


Coaching Workshop

My colleagues and I had the pleasure of working with Peter DeWitt the past few days during a coaching workshop.  I loved one particular statement that Peter made (which is not to say that there was not one metric ton of great stuff — I promise, I’ll share my notes later).

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DataWise: MOOC

You really want to head over here and register for Harvard’s DataWise MOOC.  For those of you who have not experienced a MOOC before, this is free online coursework that is the same as what you would get if you went to Harvard for the week.


I attended the DataWise Institute at Harvard a few summers ago.  It was a phenomenal experience.  The presenters were dynamic and engaging.  We heard from top of the line experts in education.  We had opportunities to engage with one another around specific data in our building.  It changed so many things, big and small, about the way that we operate in our school.

Now, Harvard and DataWise have launched this as a MOOC. This means that you and your team can attend this same amazing institute without traveling to Boston, without applying to Harvard, without any of the hassle.  You can do this in your jammies with a glass of wine.

This would make a great group goal for a grade level or a team within a school.  Attend the MOOC and transform your practice.

Its that time of year!!

The beginning of the year — a clean, fresh slate, a chance to do it over again and get it better this time.  Notice, we’re never going to get it “right” — but we can always get it better.  We are the only profession in the world that gets TWO chances at New Year’s Resolutions.


I’m talking with many teachers about setting expectations and establishing routines for monitoring student behavior and learning.

Here are some posts I’ve collected that are some of the strategies I’m reminding my teacher to use:

Google Forms for Reading Logs

Work Mats for Support Student Choice

A Sample Launch Unit

Using the Teaching Board to Sharpen Minilessons

Using a Teaching Folder to Organize Your Work

Staying Organized

Read Alouds To Start the Year

Starting the 1:1 Environment

For the last couple of years, I’ve supported a school that was piloting the 1:1 digital initiative for our district.  This year, that initiative is rolling out to all of our elementary schools.  I’m supporting three other schools who are NEW to the initiative.  At our staff training session today, there were a lot of “what if” concerns about the logistics of moving forward with the ipads in the classrooms.

“What if the students forget to charge their ipads?”

“What if someone comes into our classroom and takes an ipad?”

“What if the students forget their ipads altogether?”

“What if we run out of chargers?”

“What if a child logs into someone else’s Drive account or other account?”

What if, what if, what if…. This is a group of high energy, deeply committed professionals who wanted to make sure that they were being thoughtful and planning for a successful implementation.  They were trying to anticipate as many of the “speed bumps” as possible.  And they were trying to plan for solutions and preventative measures.  But it soon became almost overwhelming — there were so many “what ifs”.

What I realized as I worked with this group is that the SAMR model is important for us as teachers to keep in mind.

graphic created by Kathy Schrock:

graphic created by Kathy Schrock:

We are at the SUBSTITUTION level of the model.  We are taking these digital devices and apps and substituting them into our classrooms for things that we already do.  This is important work for us to do.  We cannot hope to move beyond the substitution level if we don’t move THROUGH it.  We are not yet at augmentation or modification.  And we cannot begin to plan appropriate augmentative or modified solutions.  We need substitution level solutions.

So, what if a child forgets his ipad?  Well, what do we do when the parallel problem happens in our classrooms now?  What do we do when that child forgets his math book or his writer’s notebook?  The same solution should apply.  It is substitution.  We are at the substitution level.  And we need to own that and embrace it.

Self-Monitoring Illustrations

One of my groups of second graders were publishing a personal narrative recently.  The biggest struggle in the final part of the process seemed to be illustrating the work.  Their teacher had done quite a bit of work with them around what makes a good illustration, but for a few of our friends, keeping a critical eye on their own work was a challenge.

So, for those children, Gianna and I tried out a quick self-monitoring checklist:

The students used the quick little checklist to become more independent and monitor their own illustrating work.  The improvement in illustrations after the checklist was remarkable — and the level of independence was impressive.

Partner Sentences in Second Grade

Usually, partner sentences is a strategy that I teach in kindergarten or early first grade to get our students to produce more volume in their writing.  But today, Jen and I used it with her second graders in their biography unit.

The students has done quite extensive research on a person of interest.  They had read multiple biographies both online via PebbleGo and from our Media Center.  Along the way, they had done some rudimentary note-taking using a graphic organizer that Jen had provided for them.  Then the students had completed a poster for display in the classroom Biography Museum.  As a final culminating project, the students were preparing for a multi-media presentation using their choice of Educreations or Touchcast.  They needed to write a brief script for themselves for that presentation.  Again, Jen provided them with a bare-bones graphic organizer for how that script might be structured using the structure for information writing that they’ve been using this year.

As students began working, it became clear that they had internalized a great deal of information about the person they had studied.  And so, I urged the small group working with me to consider a partner sentence strategy — one from my head, and one from my notes.  The children started by writing one sentence “from their heads”, in other words, one fact that they could easily remember.  Then, they scoured their notes for a related fact that contained a specific detail that wouldn’t be easily recalled.  That statement with the specific detail became the partner sentence “from the notes”.  With this quick strategy, the children got an opportunity to practice organizing facts into related categories and to expand on their writing by adding a more specific detail.  And, they had an opportunity to experience the process of checking back into their notes for information.

Ipad Video to Support Kindergarten Writers

Our kindergarteners are very Ipad proficient and our kindergarten teachers are pretty savvy too.  They tried this strategy to increase independence in the writing workshop.

The student had a planning conference with the teacher.  During that conference, the child either planned the story across their fingers or planned the story by pointing to the spot on the page where each word would go.  The teacher used the child’s ipad to video that plan.  The child then returned to their writing spot with the paper and the Ipad.  Anytime the child became “stuck” or needed some extra support to keep writing, the play button provided them with an instant record of their plan.

Students were able to write longer and stronger without teacher intervention.  Most of the students were able to complete a 4-5 page story independently.  This freed up the teacher to provide more and more conferences and small group support for writing.

The second go-round, the students deleted the previous video (after all, that book was already written) and with a partner, made the next plan and took a video of it.  Some of our students still needed the teacher’s intervention to create the plan, but the video continued to support them in being independent writers of their own books.

Shark Tank Video: Craft in Opinion Writing

Jayne’s students were working on opinion writing and needed to develop that persuasive voice.  She decided to do a close reading of a Shark Tank pitch with the students.

Students watched the video several times with her, using a transcript of the pitch and noticed the following;

  • phrases that speakers used to engage the audience
  • transitional phrases the speakers used to bring the audience along with them
  • ways in which the speaker counters arguments before they even arise
  • the strong language that the speaker uses to make the argument more persuasive
  • craft strategies such as exaggeration, repeating the claim, and providing examples

Then they went back to the writing workshop and did some heavy revision of their own pieces, attempting to make use of the strategies that they had seen in the Shark Tank video.

Some of the students even reported that they had watched and analyzed additional episodes at home with their parents and friends.  What was truly encouraging, was a few weeks later, when the students did an on-demand piece of opinion writing.  Jayne and I were thrilled to see her students employing some of these same strong strategies, even in that on-the-run piece!!

Google Forms: Exit Slips for Writing Workshop

Our third graders are pretty proficient users of technology.  They’re accustomed to submitting work in Google Docs and receiving feedback via comments.  So, Kathleen and I decided to try moving them up a tiny bit as techies.

Kathleen was doing a lesson with the students around Keep It or Cut It — revising informational text.  The students were working with pieces that had been drafted in Google Docs.  Her mini-lesson included a demo of the strategy and some ideas about places to use it.  Because this lesson was for her formal observation with an administrator, she was requiring each student to employ the strategy at least once during the workshop that day — ready or not.

We set up an exit ticket for the students in Google Forms.  Students had already cut something from their document as a part of the “cut it” strategy.  Since the computer or Ipad already puts that cut portion of text onto the virtual clipboard, we decided that it would be easy for students to “show us” what they had cut and tell why they had cut it.  They could paste the cut text right into the box on the Google Form.  Students would have a quick end of workshop check in.  Kathleen would have a spreadsheet with all of the students’ performance with this strategy right at her fingertips (And the administrator could be impressed by her incorporation of technology!!).

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