We’ve all had those moments, those days, those classes when we’re thankful if our students are just compliant. We all hope for that engaged and empowered class, but there are those days where things can just get crazy! Shorter weeks, bad weather, late starts, alternative schedules, test days, and spring fever can take a toll on student engagement and productivity. How about shaking things up a bit?
Consider a redesign or a reboot to keep students engaged and empower their learning. Check out these ideas:
Easy to use Tools:
Have you seen those illustrations depicting various concepts in journals, magazines or online? Those are Sketchnotes! While some might call these doodles, they are really so much more. A sketchnote is a visual representation of a topic that requires listening and synthesis of information.
What is the process? One description calls the process “circular breathing”: listening, synthesizing and visualizing (Berman). It’s about transforming what you hear into a visual piece of communication, structuring that understanding, giving a hierarchy to the concepts and synthesizing the information. It’s an individual, personal experience that isn’t about being an artist.
What do I need? Most avid sketchnoters agree that there are certain elements of a sketchnote: text, containers (shapes), connectors (lines and arrows), and icons (stick people, smileys, etc.). As you become more comfortable, try adding shading and color. Of course, you’ll need a medium. Blank paper and a comfortable writing utensil are the best places to start. Is there an app for that? Of course! Pair a stylus with an app like Notability*, Penultimate*, Paper by 53, Inkflow, Procreate, Sketchbook Express, or Autodesk Sketchbook*. Digital or paper, it’s really about what is most comfortable for the user.
Why sketchnote at all? Sketchnoting is personal and expressive experience which encourages the note-taker to interact with the material in new and different ways. The note-taker is engaged, making connections to the material and “adding some joy” to their notes (Irgens). Research has found that as a learning strategy, it can help learners “organize and integrate their knowledge and ultimately be transformative.” It can also provide “teachers with windows into students’ thinking” as well as being a means for peers to “share knowledge, discovery and understanding” (Davis).
What can I do now? Start with me! This is an area of growth for me, one that I’m diving into and cultivating. Take it easy and try some templates from the Sketch50.org resources page or join me in 50 Days of Sketches promoting a growth mindset with educators. Follow the hashtag #Sketch50 on twitter to see what others are sharing.
What can I do next week? Want to try bringing this into your classroom? Start by allowing students to sketchnote as they take notes in class. Encourage them to share or present their notes. Students are often really proud of these notes! Check out this Social Studies example or include students in the 50 Days of Sketches challenge.
What can I do next month? Assign sketchnotes to your class. Have students share their notes in an ALEC* forum, using the Remind* app, posting in Schoology*, or uploading to a class Padlet*. Did your students use pen and paper instead of an app? No problem! Have them take a picture and upload their sketchnote from the camera.
Some additional thoughts on sketchnoting. This is a brief introduction to sketchnoting. There are books, websites, podcasts and YouTube playlists devoted to this. This is about trying something different and engaging using digital tools or a combination of traditional and digital. There are sketchnoters that have turned this into a hobby and have preferences regarding type of paper, brand of pens, apps and stylus. Don’t let them keep you from trying! If you’re ready for more, explore some of the sites and videos linked here for more information.
A few of my favorite Sketchnote links:
There’s a difference between assessment and evaluation (see Sarah J. Donovan’s graphic). The difference between assessment and evaluation or grading is the type of feedback the student receives and then how they use that feedback. If we want students to own their learning, to use their success and failures to grow, they need feedback from which they can rise. A grade is a final period, but assessment and feedback are moments to pause and reflect on learning and grow.
John Spencer and A.J. Juliani say that “assessment is only authentic if students own the process” (Empower 129). It’s when they own that process that they make meaning, connections, and create. It’s the type of feedback learners receive that brings them ownership of their learning. “It involves a collaborative partnership between students, peers and the teacher. When that happens, students move from being dependent (or independent) and towards interdependence” (Empower 132).
What are some means of assessment and feedback that can demonstrate student learning and provide feedback that brings about student ownership? Portfolios, blogs, self-reflection forms, and products all demonstrate student learning and by their nature provide a different vehicle for assessment and feedback. Padlet and Flipgrid are amazing and powerful tools where learning can be demonstrated and reflected on with feedback can be personalized. The new Google Sites is an easy to use tool for portfolios, blogs, project management and product presentation. Google Slides is an easy to use and access tool for collaborative products. Google Forms is a great way to obtain regular, self-reflective feedback from your students.
Assessment and feedback are vital to the growth mindset of the learner. That process might seem like it is harder for teachers, but we have so many tools available to us that make those opportunities richer, deeper, more interactive and even easier.
Want to dive more into empowering student learning? Check out the book Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani.
Empowering Student LearningAt one point in time, having a compliant classroom was what the teacher hoped to maintain. We grew from that to striving for a classroom where students were engaged with the content. The shift we're hoping for today is a student who is empowered: empowered with the knowledge and skills to pursue their own learning (Couros, The Innovator's Mindset).
How do you dive deeper into this shift? Check out the resources attached to this newsletter. George Couros book, The Innovator's Mindset is a great resource. His blog post on this topic might be a good place to start. John Spencer's video, "The Shift from Engaging Students to Empowering Learners" is a great introduction to this shift. Silvia Duckworth's Sketchnote is a glimpse into the student-empowered classroom.
Take a look. Reflect (always a good practice). Take a dip into the deep end.
At the end of every week my students pulled out their iPads and they wrote. They opened up blogs that they created, designed and personalized, and they shared their stories. They wrote about what they learned that day or that week; they shared thoughts about the lessons or topics; they added images to support their thoughts; they responded to specific questions about what they were learning and they shared overall thoughts. This recurring assignment appeared in our LMS, but it was part of our class culture. We were learning together through this regular process of writing and reflecting.
Telling the story of our learning is a powerful means of processing and sharing that learning. Students construct meaning and apply prior knowledge to their new learning during this process of reflection (Costa). This process helps students to see the significance in what they’re doing, process what went well and what needs to change; and pause to think critically about the content (Alrubail). It’s Google-proof.
We may be well aware of the benefits of reflection, putting that into practice can be something different. Which tool do I use? How often do I have the students do this? How do I assess this process? These are very real questions that need to be considered before you start the process.
The habit of reflecting is what brings about that metacognitive process, so regular practice is key. The means depends on you, your practice, your available resources and your class culture. Paper and pencil are of course an option. That wasn’t an option for me because I wanted students to be able to include images and audio (plus I didn’t want to carry them), but that was my class. Blog and Vlogs are are popular options. Google Sites, Weebly, Edublogs are all good resources for that. Flipgrid is newer on the playing field and provides a platform for students to really exercise their voice. Padlet has added a number of new features to allow students to draw, video, take pictures, add audio and type directly into Padlet. Google Docs or Slides are additional possibilities, too. What tools works best for you? Which tools fits best in your classroom culture?
What do you have students write and reflect on? What questions do I ask? What stories should they tell? Here are some resources to help:
How do I evaluate these pieces? Here are some rubric examples to help you get started:
Future Ready is an effort intended to bring about digital learning opportunities designed to prepare students for college, career and citizenship. It provides a framework, resources, training and support. Districts that sign the Future Ready pledge "commit to foster and lead a culture of digital learning in their districts" (Dept. of Education). Academy School District 20 is one of those districts.
What does this mean for the classroom teacher? Much of what happens in this effort is behind the scenes in support of our students and the learning experience. To support districts committed to this effort, Future Ready Schools has a created number of programs:
At the heart of Future Ready Schools is a Framework. The framework consists of 7 gears focused around Personalized Student Learning:
At Pine Creek High School we've already taken a number of steps down this road. We have improved our infrastructure; we have established common planning for much of our staff; we have a path to determine if digital resources ensure our student's data privacy; we are developing assessment literacy and digital leaders; our professional learning weaves together our site plan with department needs; and, we are working though our assessment process and honors project. We're already taking great steps forward to be Future Ready and we're just beginning!
Recently I visited a math classroom where Jeff was trying a new digital tool that Keisha had shown him. The tool is specific to math, but the demonstration of learning was something everyone could benefit from watching.
Jeff set up a lesson that began with guided practice and continued with challenge problems. The tool allowed students to move at their own pace, but also allowed him to insert hold points to keep students from going too far ahead. Students were graphing equations, testing what would happen if a variable changed, seeing what their equation looked like, comparing what the graph should look like against their equation and vice versa, and more! Jeff was able to monitor class progress as a whole in addition to looking at individual student work.
How did this tool deepen student understanding? The ability that students had to walk through the learning process and test various results provided students the opportunity to test their learning and see the "what if" answer. Students were engaged in a learning tool that empowered them to take their learning to the a different level that they owned.
Students could test their work and see immediate results. They were challenged in their thinking. Individual students who needed a modified assignment could proceed at their own pace without feeling like they were falling behind. Jeff had individual contact with everyone in his class and had the ability to check in on students who might not have otherwise asked for help. Students were not only engaged, but empowered to try additional possibilities that would have been very labor intensive on paper and wouldn't have had immediate feedback.
We have so many tools in our toolboxes these days: text, paper, kinesthetic, visual, audio, digital. What's important is choosing the right tool for the learning outcome. In this lesson, the digital tool was able to provide a deeper, more empowering learning experience for the students. It was fun to watch!
One of my favorite parts of planning my lessons and reflecting on them was reviewing my students exit tickets, what I called “Ziel des Tages,” or goal of the day. Before my students raced out the door to meet their friends or get out of the parking lot as fast as possible, they completed one these, it was our routine. Each day I posed specific questions to reflect on our lesson and goals. In addition to those questions, I included a place for students to tell me what else they’d like to know and anything else they’d like to share. This closure routine created a lasting impression on the students, provided me with invaluable feedback and gave students a safe place to use their voice.
What was this routine? How did I collect their feedback? Initially this was a paper process, but when I became part of our 1:1 iPad pilot program, I switched to a digital format. I chose Google Forms, because it provided me feedback in a spreadsheet which I could manipulate to focus on whatever data point I wanted. I linked the form to a QR code which I printed on card stock. Each seating group had a container that housed various manipulatives for class. The QR code was included in that container on a ring of cards, one QR code card for each class. As part of our closing routine, students would scan the QR code which led to their exit ticket. Because I wanted to track their learning and engagement over time, students responded to the same questions each day. While I used Google Forms for this, Microsoft Forms would also work in a very similar fashion.
Google Forms and Microsoft Forms aren’t the only tools available to use for lesson closure. Padlet and Flipgrid are also some of my favorite tools for gathering student feedback. While I specifically used Google Forms for end of class reflection and feedback, end of lesson feedback can be done during the period or for homework.
There are many digital and paper tools that can be used for closure activities. Here are some of my favorite digital feedback tools:
Digital tools are intended to support the teaching and learning that is happening in the classroom.
They are tools, that’s all. They don’t replace the teacher or bring some magical force into the classroom. They definitely don’t mean more than the relationship the teacher has with their students. That relationship is one of the most crucial factors affecting student achievement. They do have a place in instruction and that place isn’t the backpack nor is it in front of their faces for the entire class period. That place lives in a balance weighed between the learning targets and how we can best help students find their way to those targets.
Technology does come with negatives. That’s why planning, preparation, and intentional use are so important. That intentional use provides many positives, too! Here are some examples of what tech can do:
There is a learning curve when searching for that balance. It’s about understanding how the various digital tools function and what you can do with them. Taking notes, reading and submitting work are just a few examples of what might look different using a digital device. You may need to reach out for some help and even accept that your students might be able to teach you. That’s OK. Find what works for you.
Some ideas to consider:
We can’t hide from technology, it isn’t going away. Let’s harness the good and work towards teaching our students how to use the devices that surround them in meaningful ways. Let’s work together!
Time. It seems we never have enough of it. Grading, meetings, more grading, more meetings. There’s always so much to do. How does collaboration fit in to this when there are so many urgencies? Why should we give up more time for collaboration?
Collaboration focuses around the collective responsibility to improve student learning by improving teaching (Wennergren 134). “Teachers must apply their learning to themselves as well as their students.” (Wennergren 134) It’s a parallel process characterized by mutual engagement in procedures, tools, concepts, language and different ways of acting.
So we collaborate, because it helps us help our students learn. This time is especially helpful regarding digital pedagogy: what it means, how it embeds into our daily instruction, how it impacts student learning. This time together gives us the opportunity to learn, investigate, create and share resources, lessons and ideas. We have the opportunity to learn together what digital pedagogy is and what it looks like for us, in our teams, in our content area. It is professional learning differentiated for you.
Digital technologies are fundamentally changing our world. Taking advantage of their strengths to help students learn is something best done collaboratively. Technology is not our enemy. With some patience, careful planning, and thoughtful consideration, we will create more skilled students who are ready for the future, while creating a more enriching classroom dynamic where technology is just another tool for building students' success (Doyle-Jones 6). Take the opportunity, take a risk with your team, try something different, and explore the possibilities that digital resources bring to education.
I am a Digital Learning Coach by title, but lifelong learner by practice. An Apple Teacher, Google Certified Educator and Microsoft Innovative Educator, my goal is to assist educators in investigating, exploring, and investigating resources to embed in their instruction. I also hope to be a part of their journey toward an innovative and transformative practice that empowers learners and strengthens their own craftsmanship. I spends my free time with my family, my dogs and a good cup of coffee.