Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Remote Learning Reflection KWL

It's been over a month since we've been at school. Our last day was Friday, March 13th and while school closure was on our radar, we didn't know for certain when it would happen. At that point, all athletic events, field trips, and other extracurricular activities had been canceled until further notice. The mood was surreal - one colleague described it as apocalyptic. At the end of the school day, we got word that school would be in session the following Monday through Wednesday and our spring break had been moved up. That all changed the following day when our governor ordered all schools to close for two weeks effective Monday, March 16. Nine days later, the school closures order in North Carolina was extended until May 15, and on March 23rd, a statewide stay-at-home order went into effect.

I think it's safe to say that every educator has grown by leaps and bounds through this remote learning journey. We have built on what we knew, we have learned so much and there's still so much more to learn - sort of like a KWL chart. KWL charts are one of my favorite graphic organizers. They help gauge and activate prior knowledge, engage students in new learning and facilitate reflection which helps to informally assess learning.  Download a free sample here. So here's my reflection, thus far, in that format.

K - What have I always known.
  • No technology will ever replace the teacher. While it can enhance the learning process, no tool or device can ever replicate the human connection between an instructor and a learner.
  • A learning management system (LMS) is an integral part of 21st century teaching and learning. An effectively utilized LMS is an invaluable organization, assessment and communication vehicle. Students can access course materials, communicate with teachers, submit assignments and complete assessments, whether or not they are on campus. While it cannot replace the instructor or class seat time, it is a tool we need to leverage.
  • Videoconferencing is an effective way to communicate. From district PLCs and meetings to professional development sessions to guest speakers, tools like Zoom and Google Meet are simple to use and can save time and travel costs. 
  • Social-emotional learning is not fluff. Students are much more than academics and we need to meet the needs of the whole child.
W - What I still want to know
  • I want to get to know my colleagues better. I've always known the importance of strong relationships, but this time away from campus has made me realize that I have a way to go and I'm hoping I can work on relationship building remotely as I support their work.
  • I want to learn more about Canvas. I'm a huge fan of the LMS, but I never used it as a classroom teacher and I want to learn how to use it to its full capacity now that everyone is expected to use it starting next fall.
  • I want to learn more innovative ways to use screencasting and video response tools as a formative assessment tool as well as a way to give students and colleagues voice and choice.
  • I want to know what's going to stick after the pandemic is over. What part of this remote teaching will become the new normal? This is an ongoing conversation among educators.
L - What have I learned (thus far) during this pandemic
  • With directives changing daily, I have learned to be patient and flexible, and maintain an open heart and mind.
  • While remote learning is not ideal, it can work and while it may not look the same in every class, we have the tools and devices to allow learning to continue. When there's a will (or a need) there's a way. Although challenging for most students, some actually thrive in a remote learning environment.
  • Having the same LMS across the school and district is essential and will make life easier for students, parents, and staff. 
  • Remote work shortens my commute, but not my hours. The newness has created more work, but I've had to learn to create boundaries so the lines between work and home are not blurred.
Despite the challenges we are facing, I am extremely grateful to be able to work from home and for the technologies that allow us to connect with colleagues and students. I am also blessed and grateful for supportive administrators that prioritize social and emotional health in these unprecedented times. As an instructional facilitator, I spend every minute of my workday reaching out to the teachers trying to ensure they have what they need to be as effective as possible in a remote teaching role. I listen, I encourage, I ask questions, I provide resources,  I give them food for thought and try to lighten loads. In some ways, I'm jealous I don't have a remote classroom of my own, but I'm living and learning vicariously through them.

I have faith that we will get through this and that we will look back at this historical event and realize how it grew us and strengthened us.
Stay safe, stay well and stay strong, my friends. I believe the best is yet to come!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Screencasting Anyone?

Image by 200 Degrees from Pixabay
If screencasting has not been your thing, you may be considering it now that we are on a remote learning journey. I've been a fan of screencasting for a long time, but like any video tool, I know it can be uncomfortable and intimidating, especially at first. Screencasting, or screen recording, is commonly used in online and blended learning environments. If you haven't jumped on the screencasting bandwagon yet, I hope I can give you some reasons to consider doing so and some tools to check out.

Why screencast? Screencasting can help with:
  • Personalizing and differentiating instruction allowing students to learn at their own pace, especially helpful for English learners and other special populations
  • Narrating slideshows so students can review later and/or at home with parents
  • Introducing a new website, resource or tech tool
  • Recording document camera demonstrations
  • Recording a lesson plan for a substitute teacher
  • Having students demonstrate and explain their learning
  • Giving students an alternative to presenting in front of the class
My favorite use of screencasting is as a learning tool. I started screencasting while serving as an ESL teacher, using QuickTime on my MacBook. I used it to record read-alouds for my English learners to help them learn new words and proper pronunciation. However, I soon figured out it was great for students to practice their speaking skills, especially those who didn't like to talk or read aloud in front of their peers.

If I've perked your interest in screencasting, here are few tools to check out.

Screencastify - This has been a longtime favorite, but they recently upgraded the free version and with the addition of Screencastify Submit where students can create recordings without having to create accounts, I like it even more. The Chrome extension makes it super easy to use, videos are automatically saved to your Google Drive and you can easily upload them to YouTube. The free version allows edits and trims but does limit recordings to five minutes, which I usually find to be enough. They have generously offered a free upgrade to educators due to COVID-19, good until April 30 - but you do need to contact them to request a code. I have found the free version to be more than adequate, but if you need the additional features, the premium version is affordable at only $49/year. It's a great tool, but it only works in Chrome or Chromebooks.

Screencastomatic - A favorite of many of my colleagues, this simple tool will allow videos to be saved on the website for easy sharing to a learning management system, saved in video format, or easily uploaded to YouTube. The free version gives users 15 minutes of recording time but does not allow editing. They offer two affordable premium plans with editing and many other features - Deluxe at $1.65/month or Premier at $4.00/month, both billed yearly.

Loom - I learned of this tool shortly before our schools closed. As of March 12, 2020, their premium version is free for educators and students, not just during the pandemic, but permanently. Like Screencastify, the Chrome extension makes it easy to use, but they also have a desktop version that will allow you to work offline. While it does not automatically save to Google Drive, a link will appear as soon as you finish recording and can be easily shared or posted on your LMS.

You can also use a videoconferencing tool like Zoom or Google Meet to record your screen. You would essentially hold a meeting with yourself, share the screen, record the meeting and save to your device.

Think you may be ready to take the plunge? Here are some other things to think about.
  1. Plan ahead.  You wouldn't dream of standing up and giving an oral presentation without a plan or outline. Screencasting is no different. Having a clear idea of what you want to say and demonstrate is crucial to an effective screencast.
  2. Keep recordings short.  Ideally, videos should be around 2-3 minutes. If you chunk the material, not only will it keep viewers' attention, it will be easier for students/participants to access the points they need. I have found it's more effective when we record the steps in short videos, rather than an entire 20-minute process. Let's be real. We are a multimedia generation and most of us are lost after three minutes. 
  3. Include an introduction and a conclusion. If the video is part of a process, an introduction can be a quick recap of the last step and the conclusion can be what comes next.
  4. Record in a quiet space.  You need your voice to be clearly heard, but even if your recordings aren't narrated, background noise or talk is distracting.
  5. Don't fret about perfection. Recordings don’t need to be perfect to be good. You can always edit the video if you have too many "ums" but a few here and there are okay. It's like a natural conversation.
  6. Review and edit as needed.  While videos don't need to be perfect, you want to make sure they deliver what you intended. Eliminating unnecessary content and/or silence is a quick fix.  
If you are a screencaster and have any tips, suggestions or have another tool to recommend, please email me or enter a comment below.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Stay strong and stay well!

Friday, April 3, 2020

Teaching with Current Events During the Pandemic

Image Source: Photos For Class
Teaching with current events is a great way to not only keep our content fresh and relevant, but it also helps to generate engaging class discussions. Moreover, bringing in news and stories that directly connect to our curricula is an easy way for educators to keep up with the latest trends. Think of it as a part teaching resource and part professional development-it's a win-win.  While it's a great fit in Career & Technical Education, it can work in any subject area, especially during this pandemic. Weekly current events were part of my Business Education classroom. Many of our CTE teachers have been including current events in their remote lessons and my son's 8th grade science lessons have also included current events on the virus using CDC updates and the latest news. 

With COVID-19 turning everyone's world upside down and every industry being impacted - some actually benefiting from the pandemic - you are sure to find a current event connection, regardless of the content you teach. 

Here are some of my favorite, free (or mostly free) student-friendly resources:
  • Newsela - Updated daily, it has high-interest articles broken down by content area/industry related to the latest news. Articles are offered at five different Lexile levels and some are available in Spanish. The free version is very adequate, but the premium version is available for free until the end of the 2019-20 school year.
  • Learning Network - A New York Times resource specifically produced for student readers and teachers. It includes lesson plans, writing prompts, contests and more. It has something for everyone and it's all free.
  • Tween Tribune - Don't let the name mislead you, it's a K-12 resource, not just for tweens. It's offered by Smithsonian and is completely free. Although I would say it's more of an informational text site than a breaking news source, it's a great resource. The articles are leveled, age-appropriate, available in Spanish too  and come complete with quizzes and a critical thinking question to engage young minds. 
  • CNN 10 - Ten-minute, commercial-free video clips that come with transcripts and quiz. It's free of charge and no sign-up or subscription is required.
  • Listenwise - A collection of National Public Radio stories and podcasts on wide variety of topics. The free version is limited, however, they are offering the premium version to educators for 90 days, which offers interactive transcripts, standards-aligned lessons, assessments and more.
And while most of those sites have built-in assignments and quizzes to gauge understanding, you can also use a video response tool like Flipgrid to have students verbally share their responses, perspectives, or even questions related to the articles. First, they can't copy from a friend, but most importantly, they are honing their communication skills, so crucial is today's global marketplace. And that will benefit them long after the pandemic is over. Check out this post from Flipgrid's blog that will help you get started and get your students and their families engaged.
If current events are part of your remote lessons, I'd love for you to share how it's going. We are all learning from each other. 
Stay safe, stay well and stay current!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Translate Web Pages with Google Translate Web

If your English learners aren't using Google Translate Web already, please make sure you share this invaluable resource with them as we embark on remote learning. Unlike Google Translate that will translate chunks of text, Google Translate Web instantly translates an entire web page into any of 100+ languages.  This will be helpful to a newcomer, non-English speaking parents or anyone who prefers to read in a language other than English. Also, if you read international news, you can use the site to translate news from another language into English. While you can also adjust browser settings, this is an easy and simple way to instantly translate a website to a user's preferred language.

I created two short screencasts to illustrate how it's used. The first one in English and the second one in Spanish. Please feel free to share them, if helpful. 



Stay safe and well!


Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Importance of Being Approachable

Have you ever had a supervisor that strikes down your ideas when not aligned with theirs and makes you feel foolish when you have questions? I had one of those bosses prior to being a teacher. I often cried on the way home and he did nothing to help me grow professionally except make me feel like a failure. Conversely, I've had administrators that help me fix my mistakes and learn from them. They can disagree without making me feel incompetent and help me view errors as stepping stones, not setbacks.

This happens in the classroom as well. Teachers who pride themselves on rigidity and compliance may have orderly classrooms and may even produce amazing quantifiable results. But if students are more intimidated than inspired, even if they are producing good scores, are we paving the way for continual learning and growth? Not necessarily. 
For the most part, I agree with Rita Pierson when she said that kids learn best when they like their teacher (if you've never watched her infamous Ted Talk, please check it out). But more than just being likable, I believe teachers need to be approachable. Likability often impacts behavior and compliance, which can certainly impact learning. However, when students are stumped, we want them to feel safe expressing their confusion so we can address the gap. Otherwise, we won't find out until they earn a low score on an assignment or assessment. Learning is accelerated when they are comfortable admitting they are puzzled. Moreover, it's also feedback on our practice. Student comments and questions tell us as much about our instruction as an administrator's observations. Our job is to ensure our students are really learning, not to ensure that all the right boxes are checked off on the evaluation instrument.
Image Source: Pixabay
A student once described me as a good cop and I took it as a huge compliment. Good cops are sympathetic, supportive and understanding. Conversely, bad cops are aggressive, intimidating and overall negative. A police officer's role is to promote safety in order for the community to thrive. Communities thrive when their residents feel safe. Likewise, students are likely to thrive in a safe learning environment. We need to have good relationships with students not only for their social and emotional well-being but most importantly so they can assimilate the content. When I earn students' trust, I demonstrate that I am in their corner, not to be their buddy, but to bridge gaps that are keeping them from achieving their potential.


But what does being approachable look like in the classroom? Here are some ideas:
  • Be transparent and authentic. Teachers are humans and we shouldn't pretend to be perfect. We weren't born experts in our content and we are all still learning. Sharing our struggles and imperfections with our students fosters a growth mindset. Some students will thrive quickly while others will take a while, but all students can learn and grow. Being honest and real simply lets students know that every child belongs in school.
  • Make questions an expectation of all. I was one of those kids who never asked questions. Not because I didn't have any - I had a ton - but because I was too afraid to ask a silly question and look foolish in front of my classmates. Rather than ask "do you have any questions", ask students to think, turn and talk with a partner and develop one or more questions. This sends a message that questions are normal and part of learning - not about being less smart.
  • Ask them what they're thinking. Acknowledge and validate their thought process, prior to correcting an error. I've used this approach with writing. I ask students to tell me what they are thinking as they write so that the emphasis is on the message rather than the mistake. This can be done in any subject area. It's a more strength-based approach and builds momentum. 
  • Foster a culture of self-advocacy.  It's crucial for students to look out for themselves as they navigate the learning journey. Rather than waiting for a grade, encourage students to speak up when they don't understand or may need some scaffolding. People who speak up and are proactive will generally accomplish much more than those who sit back and wait for things to fall on their lap. But most importantly, focus on learning more than grades. While scores are very important, sometimes they measure test-taking skills and memorization more than learning. If students don't retain what they learn, it will be disposable after the term. An approachable teacher helps students feel safe speaking up for their academic needs. Moreover, a culture of learning and self-advocacy helps students focus on their growth and worry less about everyone else's.
I frankly don't care if students like me - I certainly don't need to be part of their social circle - but if students aren't comfortable approaching me when the content is challenging, they won't progress. Being approachable is about removing barriers to growth and setting them up for success in our classrooms and beyond. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

Finding Contentment in the Present

If only.

If only my students would talk less or speak up more. If only they were more motivated and engaged. If only they'd stay off their phones and be more focused. If only I were at a bigger school or a smaller school. If only the demographics were different. If only I could teach another grade or subject area. If only parents were more involved or less involved (both extremes can be challenging). If only I had more resources or more support. If only.


It's easy to be present when things are good. But when you're not content with the present, if you're like me, you may just want to run away. While we can't always pick up and leave, it's easy to run away mentally and emotionally and the "if only" thoughts kick in. And while this may seem benign, it may actually be destructive. In running away, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to impact the present and make lasting change.

Whether your challenges are unexpected, underestimated or consequences of our choices, the only way to get through is to go through - to be present in the moment. Here are some questions that I ask myself to help find contentment so I can stay present and live out my word for 2020.
  • What's good? No one or nothing is all bad. We can usually find something good in even the worst situations. If it's not obvious, dig. I find that when I force myself to find something positive, I'll usually see lots of good things I've missed out on because I've been focusing on the negative.
  • What small changes can I make? Is there a routine or strategy that can be tweaked? Is there something you can start doing, do differently or stop doing? If those research-based practices that worked in the past no longer produce results, it may be time to ditch them. Reach out to your colleagues and don't be afraid to try something new. But think small. One small change can make all the difference. Watch "212 - The Extra Degree."
  • What must I accept? Work with what you've got and pick your battles. We can't always control our circumstances, but we can control our approach and our reactions. As educators, we need to be flexible. There's lots that happens in and around school that is beyond our control and there are some things we have no choice but to accept. Will it matter in 20 years? If not, move on.
Contentment helps us to give our best even when life is not. Like corrective lenses, it helps us see things a little bit more clearly and helps us make the most of today so that tomorrow is a little brighter for ourselves and others.

Friday, January 3, 2020

30-Second Talk & Listen Name Activity


Are you good with names? If you are a secondary teacher with 100+ students in your classroom every day, learning names is no easy task. There are lots of tips and shortcuts out there to help with learning names, but today I'd like to share an interactive activity I opened our first CTE department meeting with back in August. With the new semester quickly approaching, this is a great way to start new classes. Or even if you're not starting the new year with new students, it's a great way to regroup after the winter break.

For this activity I used prompts developed by the My Name, My Identity Campaign together with the “30-Second Talk About” teaching strategy, developed by CTE Teacher and Instructional Coach, Sandra Adams, to engage participants in conversation about their names.

Here's how it goes. 
Participants will talk with a partner about the background and uniqueness of their names. This activity is different from other similar name icebreakers in that one partner will have the chance to speak for 30 seconds and during that time the other partner cannot utter a word. They should maintain eye contact and can nod or smile, but they cannot speak. Once time is up, the listener will share what they learned with the entire group. Once all listeners share out, the roles are reversed and we repeat the process. 

Before we began, I gave my staff the following directions:
1. Find a partner - ideally someone you don't know well.
2. Choose a "Talker" or "Listener" Role.
3. Talkers will share the "story behind their name*."  During this time, listeners cannot utter a word. They should listen actively, affirming the talker with nods and smiles, but no talking.
4. Once 30 seconds is up, the listener will paraphrase what he/she heard with the entire group.
5. Switch roles and repeat.

Roles and/or partners can be assigned, if appropriate.  Also, be sure to provide prompts or talking points. I gave the following talking points from the My Name, My Identity Campaign resources.
  • Is there a story behind your name?
  • Were you named after someone?
  • Where does your name originate?
  • What does your name mean?
  • What is something positive about your name that makes it easy to remember?

This simple, engaging strategy forces participants to actively listen to a partner and while 30 seconds may seem brief, listening intently even for that short time is not easy. Most of us jump in with a comment as soon as someone starts to speak. In her blog post, Ms. Adams described the exercise as a review activity, and while it can be used to foster any sort of academic conversation, using the name story prompts made for a wonderful icebreaker.

A couple of months ago, I modeled this strategy in a Business Law class to build background as students were starting a unit on Credit Laws. Students embraced the process and with an odd-numbered group, the teacher stepped in as well. It was very effective. 
Talking and listening are essential skills for everyone, but they are crucial for our digital natives who are connected virtually through social media but lacking the soft skills needed for the workplace and beyond. This activity will not take much time, but it can greatly impact learning and help students prepare for job interviews and other social interactions they will have in their post-secondary life. I encourage you to try it and if you do, drop me an email or a comment. I'd love to hear how it goes. 

Have a great year!