Wednesday, June 29, 2016

ISTE 2016 Recap

Let's talk about ISTE....or let's not. I honestly don't think I can yet. I am currently sitting in the Denver airport trying to decompose after an amazing week at the 2016 ISTE Conference.

I tried to pull some pictures from my phone to document the trip then realized that I didn't really take any. 

I know. I know. Sorry! I am a visual person too. But, I spent a lot of time connecting, collaborating, and reflecting so my camera was a complete afterthought. This was my first ISTE experience, and it was overwhelming, heart wrenching, inspiring, and simply beautiful. 

I am pretty sure that it is going to take me a few weeks to sift through all of the information that I soaked up and give it all a chance to simmer so I can figure out what I want to implement or alter for the new school year.

But I wanted to a least share something on the blog now before I go home.

Yet, as I sit here trying to figure out where to start, I realize that there is just too much "everything" floating around my brain right now for me to possibly be able to recap in one post what this ISTE conference has meant to me. I have laughed with friends, cried in sessions because I have felt so conflicted and moved, experienced empowerment, and been inspired. 

All of these emotions have soared through me a zillion times over and over again in just four days. I am so honored to have walked the halls with educators who shared their passions with the rest of us. I am humbled by all of the amazing individuals who came to our poster sessions and conversed with us, and I am still so emotionally raw from the literacy session with Pernille Ripp. She spoke everything that I feel about helping foster a love for learning and reading in my students in a way that seriously brought me to tear more times than I care to admit. 

In the words of my high school swimmers--- #icanteven. 

I still have hours to go before I am home (PSA-1am flights are NOT fun),weeks to go before school starts, and years to go before I get this whole teaching gig right(if any of us really ever do), but I know one thing. My heart and soul is in this profession 110%. Being an educator is everything that I am and more. I knew that before attending ISTE, but I am leaving Denver knowing that I am on the right path. I know that I am right where I am meant to be, and I am thankful for the ISTE conference and everything that this experience has provided for me. 


End of the Year Student Survey

Recently, I was eating lunch with a fellow educator, and we discussed how important it is to get real, authentic feedback from our students. They, after all, at the ones that are with us all day, every day and are needing us the most! So, shouldn't we ask them how we are doing? Isn't student feedback and getting to know our students as persons and individuals what learning/teaching is all about? So, why not empower them and give them voice in their learning process AND the reflection process. They need to have the power to offer feedback about their learning experience just like we offer feedback to presenters when we attend professional development sessions and workshops. 

This led me to create a quick end of the year survey in Google Drive. I  wanted to know what they had thought about our school year. So, I created a Google Form then added questions that were created by me, my students, and modeled from other student survey versions that I found.

Before I asked the kiddos to complete the survey, we talked about how their feedback was important, valued, and would be completely anonymous. We also read through each question and discussed the different question types (linear scales and short answers). 

Here are a few examples of the questions that were asked:

*Mrs. Cooper understands when I have personal problems and makes me feel safe, comfortable, and 
shows me that she really cares about me. 

*Mrs. Cooper really takes the time to get to know her students on a personal level. 

*I feel like my student voice matters in Mrs. Cooper's class. 

*Mrs. Cooper explains difficult things clearly.

*Mrs. Cooper asks for student feedback regularly.

*Mrs. Cooper respects my ideas and suggestions.

*How can Mrs. Cooper improve as a teacher? (Give me specific recommendations, please!)

There were also questions about our reading experience in the classroom, communication, respect, etc. One of my biggest takeaways from the entire survey was that it is SO important to be transparent and allow yourself the opportunity to recognize weaknesses and be vulnerable throughout the learning and growing process as a teacher. 

There were some student responses that made me what to jump for joy. My kiddos LOVED the reading environment in the classroom. They valued the read alouds and recognized that I respect them and am passionate about my job. 

But, I would be lying to you if I didn't tell you about the questions that broke my heart like how one kid still hated reading, another student said I didn't give enough homework, and another response was  that we didn't do enough "fun" things in class. 

I could have stopped right there. I could have taken their feedback, attempted to understand it, and used it to reflect and regroup on the upcoming year. And, I did do all of those things. BUT, I also took the time to go through each question with my classes and ask for clarification. What did you mean by that? If you didn't like this; what can I do to make the experience better?

THAT was the best thing that I could have done for this entire end of the year survey process. And, it supports my passion surrounding the idea of student voice and empowerment in the learning process. WE, the teachers, are not the focus of this educational journey. Our students are. We can learn so much and help build amazing learning opportunities for our kiddos if we just listen to them, give them the opportunity to speak and be heard, and then respect them for their opinions regardless of if we agree or not. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Inspiring Communication in the Elementary Classroom #ISTE2016

Communication is one of the 4 C's of Education in 21st Century Skills, and it overlaps with the other 3 C's(collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking) constantly. As I look back over my career as a teacher, I am in awe of what I once thought was strong "communication" in our classroom and just how different my outlook on communication is now . In today's society, we have information communicated to us all day at an overwhelming rate. Technology and the power of modern media/tools are continuing to expand, and we are being called to help raise learners who are aware of, know how to respond to, and can rise to the challenge of being effective communicators in today's world and in the world of the future.

So, how do we help our students become strong communicators? How do we help create learning experiences that will challenge them to apply communication skills? What tools do you use? And, what does it look like in the classroom? 

Communication opportunities in the classroom can occur in many forms. It won't look the same for everyone and some forms may work in some classroom situations yet not in others. That is where the value and importance of knowing your students and the task at hand helps select which path of communication would be most effective. Variety, modeling, and student choice are essential to helping students, regardless of the subject or grade level, grow strong communication skills.

This post is a peek into our classroom communication journey. It is a springboard, and a starting place to share our experience with you. Here are some of my favorite ways to implement communication/technology tools in the classroom!

Technology Based Tools & Ideas

Padlet is one of the tools that we start with right at the beginning of the year. I love it because it allows students to write, read, and respond to their peers. It can be anonymous or they can put their name to their responses. It is a virtual white board where students can begin to "warm-up" their communication skills.

KigBlog is exactly want it sounds like! We used it for book talks, journaling, free write, and to respond to Social Studies topics. Next year, I would like to start a school blogging club to really expand on this idea! My students know that I blog so it is a great way for me to share and model this form of communication with my students.

Do you have a class Twitter account? Are you on Twitter as an educator? PLEASE tell me the answer to BOTH of those questions is YES!!!! Twitter is not only one of the most effective forms of personal, professional development right now, but it is also a great way for students to connect with other classrooms, authors of their favorite books, explorers, scientists, the list could go on and on! Looking for a great representation of what Twitter looks like from a classroom perspective? Check out my teaching idol-Mrs. Kayla Delzer and her students' classroom account!

Google Hangouts/Skype
Communication skills are more than just being able to write effectively. Verbal communication is a BIGGIE, too! You can read all about why I love Google Hangouts here, but the quick reason is because it gives my students an opportunity to learn how to effectively communicate with other students and adults in ways that would not be possible if we stayed inside our classroom walls. My students have learned how to be respectful, thoughtful, critical thinkers thanks to our Google Hangout opportunities!

Google Forms/Slides
How do you get feedback from your students? I like to create Google Forms to provide students with a chance to let me know how things are going in the classroom. Here is an example of the End of the Year survey we complete this year. I also like to hand students a computer, topic, and encourage them to research, become experts, and then share about a specific topic in class. 

                  Other Classroom Ideas and Resources

Current Events
Being strong communicators also means knowing how to read and interpret information. Is this information authentic? Is it accurate? Is this a reliable source? Can I trust this information? What other references and sources could I research to help me authenticate this information? These are all questions that we ask ourselves thanks to weekly current event projects. We use tools like NewsELA, DoGo News, and Flocabulary to help us gather current event information.

Accountable Talk
This idea is nothing new but WOW! It is so effective! Accountable talk looks different in my room every year, but one thing remains the same--Help students think about what they want to say and hold themselves and others accountable for how their word their responses! 

Ron Clark Academy's SPECIAL Acronym 
After my trip to the Ron Clark Academy this last fall, I walked away with some amazing ideas to implement in the classroom and memories that will forever inspire me! One of the things I was the most impressed with was how well the students communicated with their peers, teachers, and the visiting adults. We started using the S.P.E.C.I.A.L.   acronym to help us become better verbal communicators with our words and our body language! S-Shake Hands, P-Check Your Posture, E-Make Eye Contact, C-Charm, I-Introduce Yourself, A-Ask A Question, L-Listen! This helped my students immensely and it was evident when we had guests in our room, participated in a Google Hangout, created presentations, and talked to each other. WOW!

If you are at #ISTE2016 this week, I would love to connect with you! You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, or Periscope!

You can also check out the other 3 posts related to our ISTE presentation on the 4 C's of education below:

Creativity- Kayla Delzer
Critical Thinking- Tiffany Copple
Collaboration- Erin Klein