Whooo’s Reading: Effectively Using Tech to Improve the Reading and Writing Ability of Our Learners

Whooos Reading LogoNo matter what grade, I have always encountered students who were less than enthusiastic about reading. I have taught upper elementary and middle school, and at the beginning of each year there are students who bemoan requests to read.

“I am not good at reading.”

“I don’t want to read.”

“This is too long. Do I have to read the whole thing?”

“Why do we have to read this?”

For many students reading is a chore. The act of persevering long enough to connect with a text does not come naturally to all students. For some, we must find ways to not only engage students in the required reading, but also help them to develop reading skills that make reading more appealing.

At the same time, we are educators. We have to serve the academic needs of our students. My role must also include assessing each student’s ability to comprehend what they have read and facilitate growth in their mastery of reading. In this post, I will discuss a web-based reading program that offers ways to help our students grow as readers. I have chosen this resource for:

  1. The types of texts students access
  2. Curricular alignment
  3. Type of reading/response to reading that is required
  4. Availability of data to track student progress
  5. Potential engagement for learners
  6. Cost (FREE–because there are QUALITY free resources out there!)
  7. Student-paced (a key components of blended learning)

Whooo’s Reading

The Highlights

  • Students read the book of their choice, no required texts (I do recommend that students check the site to see if their chosen book is in the database–most are.)
  • Requires students respond to higher-level questions in writing (no multiple choice)
  • Questions are aligned to a variety of curricula, including the Common Core State Standards
  • Students complete “journal” entries based on the text they are reading and 3 question quizzes when the book is completed (both are self-grading)
  • Students receive immediate feedback and guidance on how to make their written responses stronger (positive reinforcement)
  • Students are able to earn “Wisdom Coins” they can spend on their avatar and in-game incentives lending a game-like atmosphere (gamified learning experience)
  • Teachers track student progress and identify needs to help drive classroom instruction
  • FREE

According to their website:

Accelerating reading comprehension and writing skills has never been easier… or more authentic.

Give feedback beyond pass or fail. Let our program remind your students, while they write, to do things like cite evidence and answer all parts of the question, so you don’t have to.

Know who’s actually reading.
See automatic quiz results for every book your students read, provided by our data-driven grading algorithm.

I like Whooo’s Reading for the potential to keep students reading and writing about what they read. Three higher-level questions are used to assess comprehension. The student develops writing skills in addition to reading skills. The feedback (delivered by a friendly owl avatar) guides students to improve their writing conventions, word choice, use of evidence to support their response, etc. Students make revisions, on the spot, before they submit their answers. The intervention is immediate and does not require teachers do the grading. It is done in response to the student’s writing, about the book they chose, requiring reflection on the response they wrote. They get the opportunity to improve that response before it is graded…all the things we want to offer students, but do not always have the time in confines of our class time. Best of all, students get positive reinforcement and get to share their thoughts on the books they read.

To gain a little more insight into what the program offers, I recommend you watch these tutorials from the company.

Whooo’s Reading is promising and certainly worth exploring. I plan to follow up with a future post, after I have to the opportunity to use it with more students. If you are using Whooo’s Reading or found this post informative, please comment below!

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Getting Hyped About HyperDocs

Remember webquests? Webquests were big when I started teaching.  Students would work through a self-paced digital assignment, completing ordered tasks linked to websites in the internet. Webquests were designed to learn about a concept or topic. HyperDocs are like webquests on steroids…not necessarily bigger, but so much better!

So, What is a Hyperdoc? 

Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis have written The Hyperdoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps as a primer for getting started using HyperDocs effectively in your classroom. It is available in both print and digital formats. According to the writers,  “HyperDocs are digital lessons that you give to students for engaging, inquiry-based learning.”

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But Isn’t That Just a Fancy Document with Hyperlinks?

In a word, no. True HyperDocs ask students to dig deeper, master content, and demonstrate a deeper understanding. Hyperdocs also allow teachers to build in supports to aid in understanding of the content. In her blog, Karly Moura explains this well.

The beauty of HyperDocs is that the creation of the doc itself requires the teacher to take into consideration the needs of the students, how they will engage in the content, what ways they can reflect on their own learning, and how they can show what they know. It is also ALL about packaging. HyperDocs LOOK engaging because they are. Kids enjoy doing them and while they are learning, collaborating, creating and reflecting in their doc the teacher is given the gift of time to connect with students and engage in quality conversations with them about their learning.

Ms. Moura also created a wonderful graphic illustrating the differences between a document with hyperlinks and a HyperDoc.




 

 

 

Here is an example of a HyperDoc on Growth Mindset created by Lindsay Reed.

img_0190-1Even though this was Ms. Reed’s first attempt at a HyperDoc for her middle school learners, she does a great job of creating a lesson that is engaging and includes multiple methods of delivering information and demonstrating understanding. It also requires completing tasks and answering in ways that require higher order thinking skills…Hallmarks of a good HyperDoc.

How Do HyperDocs Fit Into the Blended Learning Environment?

As I have stated previously, blended learning is any combination of face-to-face and online learning. HyperDocs allow for students to explore and master content online, at their own pace. They can receive lecture, face-to-face instruction in small groups or one-on-one with an educator and the online component of blended instruction via HyperDocs. This can easily fit in a rotation model, flipped classroom model, etc.

But Wait There’s More! 

For the low, low price of $0 you too can access these resources! The website associated with the book is a buffet of ideas, tips, and tools made by the authors and shared by the the community of educators. The community has embraced the idea of teachers sharing resources for FREE (remember that is my favorite price) and the amount of knowledge and expertise being exchanged is phenomenal! The point is, share what you create, partake of what others share…everyone wins.

  1. Hyperdocs.co website created by Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis, writers of The Hyperdoc Handbook: Digital Lesson Design Using Google Apps
  2. Teachersgiveteachers.net an exchange where users can submit their HyperDoc lessons and download lessons created by other educators to use or modify for their classroom needs.
  3. #Ditchbook with #HyperDocs #BetterTogether Sharing Extravaganza! Padlet by Karly Moura where educators have contributed an assortment of HyperDocs.
  4. Hyperdoc Links by Merle Goess is a Padlet that lists a wide range of HyperDoc resources.
  5. HyperDocs Facebook Group is a forum for all things HyperDocs. It is a very welcoming community where teachers share resources and ideas.
  6. How to HyperDoc by Nicole Beardsley is a HyperDoc that is also a model for introducing HyperDocs!


Why Use HyperDocs?

  • Personalized, self paced, and flexible
  •  Room to differentiate with alternate texts for individuals or groups of students, individualized scaffolds like text to speech readers, various ways for students to “show what they know” using multiple learning styles
  • Engaging
  • Use the skills 21st century learners need
  • Less lecture and read and respond lessons of traditional teaching
  • Requires intense interaction with and a deeper understanding of content
  • Excellent tools for blended learning
  • Many lessons already created by peers in the community (educators) that are modifiable for your needs
  • Templates to get you started online

Best of all…you’ll have more time to work with students in small groups and one-on-one while your students are engaged in meaningful instruction! Explore HyperDocs as a means to meet the needs of your learners.

If you are already using HyperDocs, or are exploring their use in your classroom, or you just have questions/comments, please be sure to add your thoughts to the comment section below. Thank you for reading!

Using Social Media to Demonstrate Reading Comprehension and Content Mastery

If you are an avid user of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, there is a good chance your students are either using or aware of them as well. Students are using these tools creatively in my class to show their understanding of a literary text. There are also possibilities to apply these activities in any classroom where explaining thinking is required. In ELA I am able to assess if students understand plot, character motives, relationships, etc. all by reading their “texts.” In social studies, students could have discussions between world leaders and/or historical figures across time. This is especially relevant if those figures lived in different eras. Across content areas, students could create the Facebook pages, text screenshots, Snapchats, etc. for inventors, scientists, historical figures, book characters, mathematicians…regardless of time of barriers like language, lifespan, or location. The possibilities are endless.

Screenshots of text messages between book characters

Cinderella's phone Prince-Hey it's the prince, Cinderella-what's up, Prince-I think I found your shoe, Cinderella-Where, Prince-on the steps outside my house, (image of a glass slipper), Prince-Is this yours?, Cinderella-Yes! I must have dropped it when I ran out! I missed my curfew!
Screenshots of fake text message exchanges between literary characters.

In the article, Creative Lessons with Fake Texts, Tweets, Facebook Pages and More by Nick LaFave, the author discusses several  links to social media simulators that you can use with your students. This is not an exhaustive list of what is available, but offers a great place to start! All sites should be thoroughly explored by an adult first. Have fun creatively using social media in your own classroom, without many of the worries of social media access!

 

 

 

 

 

Think Outside the Screencast Box

What’s a Screencast?

I love screencasting. I discussed screencasts in my post: Screencasts-A Doorway to Possibilities, but felt an update was due to reflect new ways I am using them with students. In that earlier post, I stated,  “Screencasts allow us to get first person tutorials as if we were sitting at the computer with the person teaching it. They offer video of the screen of the instructor as they go through the steps of a given task in real time, often with recorded audio for oral instructions throughout the process.” A screencast is an easy way to create a tutorial for something my students (or peers) need to do. However, screencasts can do more than just teach steps. Screencasts can also be used to solve problems, deliver content, and demonstrate understanding within the classroom.Using your devices camera, screencasting allows you to record your screen, yourself, or a combination of both.

What Screencast Creators Are Out There?

I have used both Screencast-o-matic and Screencastify to create screencasts, but there are multitude of options available.

Screencastify is a chrome extension that allows users to save their videos to Google Drive, upload to Youtube, or download to their computer’s hardrive.  In her YouTube video, Screencastify Tutorial, Lauren Newman gives a great overview of Screencastify’s features and uses. It works very well in classrooms that are primarily using Chromebooks, but I have used it with any computer (MAC or PC) that can log in to Chrome, download and access apps and extensions in the Chrome Web Store.

Screencast-o-matic is a cloud-based service that allows you to create and share screencasts online. It does not require Chrome, but does require a login. You can also download it and run it outside of the internet. Screencast-o-matic has a tutorial  video that gives a quick overview at Welcome to Screencast-O-Matic.

Get Yourself a Learning Platform

I use screencasts in my classroom in several ways. Let me preface this by saying that my class uses technology as an every day tool. We are 1:1 this year, but most of these would also work in a rotation station. I use a learning platform for delivering online instruction. It gives a central location where students can go for copies of notes, links, online assignments, and turn in work digitally.  I use Google Classroom, but this would work with any learning platform (like Edmodo, Canvas, Blackboard, etc.).

Tip for success: Make going to the learning platform for activities and instruction routine. Students will keep that routine even when you are not directing them. Even when I post things on the board, I post them on the learning platform as well. Students know to go to the learning platform for copies of notes, classroom and homework instructions, vocabulary word lists, video tutorials, turn in instructions, links etc.

Screencast Outside the Box

Videos of the whole group lesson

When teaching the whole group lesson, I often record a screencast of myself delivering the lesson. You can upload them to a private YouTube channel for absent students, for students needing reteaching, or for flipped learning. You can teach your main lesson in a screencast, have students watch it at their own speed, and start the independent work. As they work on independent work, students can request help as needed.

Video mini-tutorials by the teacher

I film brief tutorials for how to complete a given task so students can use it when they need help, are learning something new, and/or are absent and need to catch up. This especially helpful for complicated tasks or activities with multiple steps. All of my students use these videos, but they are especially helpful for students who need repeated directions or need to chunk complicated tasks into smaller parts. I post the video with a list of timestamps to create “chapters.” Paired with a checklist, this really helps students who need it stay on track.

Examples:

  • Step 1 (00:22)
  • Step 2 (00:47)
  • 00:14 Instructions
  • 02:37 How to cite your source

Sub plans

Post a screencast of the learning and behavioral expectations for the day. Then, explain directions and provide information for any expected challenges. Include instructions for how to access this information in the sub plans (make your screencast link less secure so the sub can go to it). Post it so students can access and refer to it during class. Something about hearing the expectations from their regular teacher helps my students stay on task. It might have something to do with the fact that, in the screencast, I also tell them the rewards and consequences expected for their behavior in my absence.

Video tutorials by the student

When a student has trouble with an online task, I help that student and have them create a quick screencast showing someone else how to proceed. In the beginning this takes a bit of guidance. By the middle of the year, the students start doing it on their own. Teaching someone else is a great way to show mastery!

Demonstrate understanding of the content (for formative and summative assessments)

Go beyond paper, pencils, and paragraphs. The possibilities here are somewhat endless, but a few ideas may include:

  • Have students create podcasts in response to a text read, as part of a literature circle, or to present an on screen presentation with narration.
  • Have a digital poetry slam where students pick appropriate pictures to display as they say they recite their poem (with or without including video of themselves).
  • Have students explain as they annotate a text online
  • Make a video of your response to a question instead of writing it
  • Check fluency by having students screencast themselves reading a text (whether the text is online or offline).

Human reader for tests, quizzes, worksheets, etc. and read along videos for texts

Models of fluent and expressive reading are important. Use a digital version of the text, and read portions of it out loud in screencasts. Struggling readers can follow along to a well-read model.

I also include a screencast of many written materials for students who require verbatim reading of text. This includes my quizzes/tests with a specialized link (so I can modify access to between classes to limit cheating) and lengthy texts. I record it once and use it for all students who need it. Students like being able to rewind. They also like the independence of being in charge of the pace

Conclusion

The usefulness of screencasts are only limited by your (and your students’) imagination. They can be much more than simple tutorials. Screencasts can be used in every part of instruction from introduction to follow up. Now go forth and screencast!

Exciting Times in EdTech: Blended Learning

Once an Early Adopter, Always an Early Adopter…

I am what you call an “early adopter.” I love trying new technologies in my classroom. I am very happy when I get new tech. No, that is an understatement. The day they hung my interactive whiteboard I cried…real tears. When the technology support person surprised me with a Chromebook cart the day we returned from Spring Break, two years ago, I greeted him with a screeched out, “ARE YOU SERIOUS!!!” The moment is now a blur, but I may have hugged him.

I see the value in giving my students opportunities that technology can provide. Anyone who reads this blog also knows that I LOVE anything that helps me to do my job with efficiency. Make it easier and I am on board! Now that I have made the jump from elementary to secondary education, it is even more evident that technology can help us to engage our learners in exciting ways.

Why Blended Learning? Because Time…

As a middle school language arts teacher, I have a wide range of students with varying levels of ability and drive. I serve a large number of students who receive ELL services, students who receive special education services, students who receive varying levels of reading intervention and students who receive no interventions or services beyond my care. Those are very diverse needs. So how does one even begin to meet the needs of such a range of learners? At first glance (as well as glances 2-22) this seems a very daunting task. The key for me has been to work smarter not harder by implementing technology to the greatest advantage.

I heavily rely on the use of blended learning strategies. According to Catlin Tucker, co-author of Blended Learning in Action: A Practical Guide Toward Sustainable Change, blended learning is any combination of face-to-face and online learning. Keeping that in mind, in my classroom, I use technology as a second (and sometimes third and fourth) teacher in and outside of the classroom.

This year, I used rotation models often. Many of my students do not have access to consistent internet access at home. My classroom has 1:1 use of Chrome Books, so I try to use technology often. My class periods are a little less than 50 minutes long. In that time, I can deliver a whole group lesson and two 20 minute rotations or three 15 minute rotations. I can then pull students back together for the last three to five minutes of class. In stations, activities vary greatly. Students may work on follow-up activities related to my whole group lesson or on work that is individualized for their specific needs, be those needs for remedial skills or enrichment skills. Stations may be completely computer-based, jointly taught using teacher and computer, or small groups with a teacher.  They may also receive lessons that pre-teach or front load skills I expect them to learn on their own that I will follow up with later. During rotations, I can also pull students one on one for conferencing or specific individual needs.

Students are able to get some of their instruction directly from me and some from online resources. Using this strategy, I am able to differentiate for all of my learners by providing the opportunity for personalized instruction based on their particular needs, reteach/enrich as needed, teach new content, etc. by incorporating technology as part of my instruction. Blended learning allows me the opportunity to get more bang for my buck by having students complete multiple tasks in a given block. They are always working. They are consistently learning. Blended learning affords me the ability to utilize my limited time with them effectively.

Tools for Delivering Blended Instruction

The best part about using a blended model is the ability to incorporate many tools to engage and inspire learners. The variety of ways students learn and express their understanding in my class helps facilitate engagement. Below I list SOME of the tools that I use in my class. While some are used more often than others, they are all in use regularly in my classroom. (Note: All students regularly use their Google Drive to organize their files and turn in work.)

Hubs/Learning Platforms

  • Google Classroom-learning platform where you can distribute materials digitally and accept completed assignments, have online discussion streams, grade, and give feedback.
  • Blendspace-create lessons/units where all of the resources are grouped for easy access.

Video/Interactive Lesson Delivery

  • Playposit-embed questions into videos to make them less passive, and allow for accountability for the information within the video.
  • Peardeck-online presentation creator that allows you to make interactive presentations with embedded questions, links, and video.

Online Resources

  • MobyMax-online curriculum for grades K-8. Self leveling , tracks data,delivers both instruction and assessment.
  • Canva-graphic creator (make infographics, diagrams, posters, etc.)
  • Screencasts (I used Screencastify)-create video recordings with voice overs
  • Youtube-free video sharing website
  • Vocabulary.com-create a word list, enter text from a book, or use the self leveling activities to practice and expand vocabulary
  • Powtoon– online animated video creator
  • Tagul-word cloud creator

Formative Assessment

  • Nearly all of the above PLUS…
    • Plickers-student response system (ie. clickers)that does not require student devices
    • Kahoot-game show-like assessment tool where creators create the questions and users play the game.
    • Quizziz–game show-like assessment tool where creators create the questions and users play the game.
    • Quizlet-create flashcards and online game based on content