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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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!

 

 

 

 

 

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

Introducing Students to Computer and Internet Safety

As educators, we are often at the forefront of teaching internet and computer safety to the students in our care. Where do you begin? As part of coursework toward my Technology Facilitation degree, I was part of a group of educators who created a song called “It’s All About Safety” using the music from Meghan Trainor’s ” All About That Base.”

It was so much fun to create! We wrote lyrics that cover everything from posting to social media to using correct posture at your computer. Take a look and leave some feedback! Without further delay…I give you Casey K, Jennifer W. and A. Dahl, It’s All About Safety.

 

Free (or Low Cost) Websites and Apps for PreK and Kindergarten

 

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Image credit: “Kids with Education Tablet Computers” by Intel Free Press https://flic.kr/p/fvT5PN

A coworker came to me with a specific request:

“Can you create a list of apps I can give parents for my preK and kindergarten students to use at home?”

While curating the list of resources below, I tried to gather resources compatible with Android devices, PCs, and Apple devices. Most are free, a few are under $2.00 to buy. It is by new means an exhaustive source, but does offer a good place to start if you would like to share educational resources with your preprimary and primary students.

Disclaimer: While most do not, some of the apps/links use in app purchases in order to be offered “FREE.” Before allowing your child/student to use a device like a computer, cell phone, or tablet, please remember to turn off in app purchases in your settings if possible, or set your settings so that a password is required to make in app purchases. I can not be held responsible for accidental purchases made by children when using any apps or websites listed below. 

Websites

iPhone/iPad apps

Sight words

Writing and/or Recognizing Letters

Phonemic awareness

General (Shapes, numbers, letters, etc.)

Android Apps for the Google Play Store

Sight Words

Writing and/or Recognizing Letters

Phonemic awareness

General (Shapes, numbers, letters, etc.)

Hopefully this list can be used as a resource for your younger students (or children)!

Reaching Multilingual Learners with BrainPop and YouTube

As a teacher in a school with a high population of diverse learners, I am always looking for ways to support student understanding of concepts. I know I am not the only educator who strives to get my students to “get it.” I am lucky enough to have had students who received special education services, students who received ELL services, students with highly able plans, students considered below grade level and students who were well above grade level. In the inclusive classroom, you have to find a way to reach everyone.

Before I begin, let me say I do not work for BrainPop or YouTube.

In the past, I have used BrainPop like many teachers have. My school provides subscriptions to our students. I head to BrainPop.com and have my students explore or watch a specified video and complete the quizzes or other activities. In that capacity, it is a great resource. However, using BrainPop in that way just scratches the surface of its capabilities.

I work in a school with a high population of students who receive ELL services, most speaking Spanish. Contrary to what many believe, most of our teachers do not speak Spanish, including me! I teach STEM, science and social studies. All subjects are rich in content vocabulary. One thing I like to do is find coordinating videos through Brainpop and Brainpop Español.

In an upcoming economics lesson, I will be teaching about supply and demand. I will introduce the concept through BrainPop videos. Through a quick Google translation, I was able to figure out how to say “supply and demand” in Spanish. I then found the cooresponding videos on Brainpop (Supply and Demand) and Brainpop Español (Oferta y Demanda). (Note: You will need to log in to your BrainPop account to watch these movies).

First, the entire class will watch the video in English. Then, the class will choose to watch it again in the language of their choice (English or Spanish) rewatching, pausing, and rewinding as needed and taking notes to understand the vocabulary words (like:  supply, demand, consumer, etc.). In the past, I have noticed that my native Spanish speakers will write the English and Spanish translations next to each other. Sometimes they will also annotate my notes or worksheets with the Spanish translations of vocabulary.

Videos that took me a few extra minutes to find, allow me to scaffold my instruction in a way that helps to reach my learners in a meaningful way.

BrainPop is a pay services and I know that every school doesn’t provide for it’s use. YouTube on the other hand is free. Another method that I use to support student understanding is to change the language on my closed captioning on YouTube videos.

I try to always choose videos on YouTube that have closed captioning. This allows me to play the closed captioning on the screen as students view the video. This is helpful for student comprehension (especially for students who need to see the words to understand or need help spelling new vocabulary words). I then give students the option of watching the video again with English or alternate subtitles (like Spanish or French if those languages are represented in your class). This may mean having alternate “watching stations” in the classroom. I have created a 2 minute video that explains how to change the closed captioning on YouTube videos. It is super easy to do and offers an easy way to support learners who are literate in another language.

The video Fabulous Food Chains: Crash Course Kids #7.1 was not created by A. Dahl. It was created by Crash Course Kids. 

Are You Keeping Up? The Evolution of Technology in Education

As an educator embarking on this journey to become a technology facilitator, I wondered about how technology use has changed and evolved over time. I feel that every teacher has the opportunity to infuse the use of technology (read: facilitate) into their curriculum in many ways. Are you the teacher still grasping on to old technologies when newer, more efficient ways of engaging students is at your fingertips? Take a look at “Then vs Now: How Technology in Schools Has Changed Over Time.”

How-Technology-in-Schools-Has-Changed-Over-Time-Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Is your level of technology proficiency tied to the way teachers incorporated technology in the 1930’s (via movies and television shows)? Even if you use a big, fancy interactive whiteboard, are you using it to its full potential, or are you using it to replace a film projector, overhead projector, or TV screen? Is your interactive whiteboard  just a high tech replacement for the standard whiteboard introduced in the 1960’s or worse…the chalkboard, invented in 1801?

According to Masterofartsinteaching.net, computers for student use became prolific in classrooms in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. SMART boards came about in 1999. Kids were using games for learning on classroom computers in 1985. As educators, we shouldn’t be using technology the same way they did 15-30 YEARS AGO. You. Must. GROW!

So how is technology being used?

Learning-on-the-Go
(Find more at  How Are Students Really Using Mobile Devices on Daily Genius by Katie Dunn)

Through the use of technology we have the opportunity to engage learners in new ways. We can use the technology available in its most basic  ways OR we can make it work for us and our learners. How are you using your interactive whiteboard? Do you need ideas? Here are ways to use technology available in classrooms across the country for more than their most basic capabilities.

Here are a few places to get great ideas for taking technology use, in your classroom, to new heights: