Matt Renwick is an 18-year public educator who began as a 5th and 6th-grade teacher in Rudolph, WI. He now serves as an elementary principal for the Mineral Point Unified School District (http://mineralpointschools.org/). Matt also teaches online graduate courses in curriculum design and instructional leadership for the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He tweets @ReadByExample and writes for ASCD (www.ascd.org) and Lead Literacy (www.leadliteracy.com).
I recently participated in an interview with Jethro Jones, middle school principal and creator of Transformative Principal podcast/website. We primarily discussed digital portfolios in the classroom. Topics of conversation included:
Humble beginnings in implementing technology schoolwide
Types of digital portfolios and preferred tools for assessment
A process for collecting, curating and celebrating student work
A possible progression a district might take in implementing digital portfolios
Specific classroom examples of how teachers have transformed their instruction by using technology with the intent of making a positive impact on student learning
You can listen to the podcast by clicking here. If you would like to engage in more discussion about digital portfolios in the classroom, I will be hosting a free study group on my book starting next week in our Google+ Community. Request to join today! (My book is available through ASCD, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.)
Highlighted in a poster session Sunday evening, a retired teacher decided to stay involved in education by posting a weekly writing prompt online. This free prompt might be a phrase, a sentence, or even an image. Students then write a story based on that prompt in only 100 words. This teacher organizes and posts students’ shared stories via Kidblog and Edublogs in one space for anyone to comment on their writing.
This native app for iOS was initially just a way to add closed captioning to video. During a session about Swift Playground (an Apple coding application), the presenters – all secondary teachers – shared that they have their students post their coding projects into Clips. The features available as of its most recent update are impressive and allow for creative performance tasks. You can record audio over images and videos, annotate images from your Photos library, lay a soundtrack over your multimedia, and add stickers to the content you record. Think iMovie only easier.
The author of The Martian and Artemis was interviewed by a local literacy education professor during the Tuesday morning keynote. Weir was authentic and humorous as he recounted his journey from a college drop out to software engineer to best-selling science fiction writer. As a young kid, Weir wrote Beverly Cleary fan fiction (yes, you read that right). In high school, he worked for a local science lab cleaning out test tubes. One of the administrators there asked him to learn how to program a computer to keep track of their data. All he was provided was a manual. Weir’s appreciation for problem-solving found a home in software engineering at that point.
Although he decided to pursue this vocation over studies and a career as an author, he never lost his interest in writing. He wrote multiple serials online on a personal website while debugging code for AOL. It was during this time that he wrote The Martian. A chapter went up every six to eight weeks. Once the story was complete, readers asked him to put together all of the chapters into an actual eBook people could download and read on their tablets. This led to posting The Martian on Amazon for 99¢ (they wouldn’t let you give anything away for free). His book rose the best seller list, and the rest is history…
Reflection: Expect the Unexpected
The digital boat show that is ISTE (to quote an anonymous colleague) was quite an experience. I am glad I went to the edtech convention despite my previous reservations. Still, the mere size of the event was often overwhelming. I felt obligated to get in line a half hour early for a session I had already registered for out of concern that I would not be able to get into due to popular demand. And I am not going to even address the expo itself, a place one could easily spend a day meeting technology providers and companies.
As I thought about the three takeaways from ISTE, one common thread I discovered was that what I learned was not what I had expected going in. Before I explain, let me provide an analogy.
My wife and I recently stayed at a spa for our 15th anniversary. (It is actually our 16th anniversary, but who’s counting.) One reason we like this location is their firm rule on no electronics on the grounds. No smartphones, tablets, laptops, even e-readers. The first time we stayed there, I fretted about not having access to Twitter, email, or my digital newspaper subscriptions. After our stay, I appreciated the opportunity to be offline. This time, I looked forward to our technology sabbatical.
During our stay, I was waiting downstairs in the lobby to ask a basic question from the staff. One of the spa employees came up to me and asked, “Are you here for the guided hike?” At first, I said “no”. My next thought was that my wife and I would love a guided hike around the grounds. I told the staff member to hold tight while I went upstairs to grab my wife (it would have been nice to have a smartphone at that point). Anyway, an uneventful visit to the lobby led to a fun and educational hike with other guests as we learned about the local flora and fauna.
So what does this have to do with ISTE, the conference for technology in education? The fact is, I had come with specific expectations. This was a big, national conference. Lines trailed along the hallways, waiting for sessions that wouldn’t open up for twenty minutes. Every workshop seemed to promise new ideas and possibilities. The time, expenses, and stress of attending ISTE would, in my mind, be worth the effort.
By keeping an open mind about the limits of any learning experience, I was able to capture the diamonds in the rough. From the expo to the keynotes and sessions, there was much to capture our attention. Yet the seeds of possibility presented themselves when I looked for any idea that might spark innovation in my school vs. a specific tool or task. When I discovered the 100-word stories concept, I was simply browsing poster sessions. When I learned about the improvements to Clips, it was only a side note for the focus of the session. When I listened to Andy Weir’s keynote, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about his writing process instead of all the technical details of his research.
In an educational world that demands specific outcomes of learning, the most refreshing part about ISTE was the gathering of so many people and ideas in one place. It’s not possible to experience the whole thing. I’m not even sure I will go back anytime soon. Yet the concept of bringing many passionate educators together with the sole purpose of sharing potentially better practices through the lens of technology excites me about the future of teaching and learning. By expecting the unexpected, or in other words, by holding my preconceived notions at bay, I was able to appreciate ideas when they presented themselves. This approach seems like an appropriate mindset for any learning experience.
I stayed at a cabin this weekend with my family for a relative’s college graduation, a quiet place along the bluffs of the Mississippi River. There was no wireless available. Cellular reception was spotty at best. While my younger family members fled in the evening for a more connected location, I was happy as a clam with my current status.
I’ve come to regard the lack of access to the Internet as a gift to my efforts as a writer. Getting any of the previously mentioned pieces completed has enough barriers to begin with; adding a wireless connection compounds these challenges. Allowing my mind the space to read, to reflect, and to do nothing other than to just be is a welcomed respite.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t writing. I was, either in my head or in a notebook I’ve been using as a journal. Much of this writing was prompted by The Writer’s Guide to Persistence: How to Create a Lasting and Productive Writing Practice by Jordan Rosenfeld. This is a resource I am rereading. Rosenfeld shares advice and strategies for sustaining our practice. The following quote is one of my favorites on this topic of space and time:
Your writing practice is a changeable, fluid creature. It ebbs and flows, squeezes down to the size of a pea, and then expands to fill multiple universes. A writing practice is ongoing as long as you always keep a part of yourself invested in it, give it just enough water to stay alive during difficult times, and tend it into hearty fruition at the best of times. (47)
Writing today is almost a paradox: we need to carve out the time and space away from the Internet to craft prose that will be well-received with an audience largely online. This is a unique issue that I enjoy exploring and will continue to revisit in the future.
Consider these three steps for successful integration of technology in the classroom or a school. I’ll be facilitating a workshop on technology integration in West Salem, Wisconsin on Thursday, April 12. If you are in the area, sign up today (click here).
“If math is the aspirin, what is the headache?” A high school teacher posed this question. In her context, she was explaining why she always needs to make a case for mathematics with her students.
Replace “mathematics” with “technology”, and the opposite may be true. Many educators cannot help but adopt more technology in their classrooms and schools. We want to be 1:1, even though we may not be able to provide a good reason why every kid needs a laptop. Distraction can increase with this digital influx. Are we creating more problems, when we should be giving students the right tools to solve problems they themselves created?
Are we creating more problems, when we should be giving students the right tools to solve problems they themselves create?
The point to make here is that before we start selecting digital tools to integrate into instruction, we have to a) determine why we need the technology, b) discern what resources are needed to be successful, and c) decide how and when to use technology.
1. Determine the why
This step involves examining one’s beliefs and values about teaching and learning. The process involves reflecting on our current practices and being honest with ourselves about what’s working and what is not. School assessment results, student surveys, and peer or administrator feedback can be helpful in getting started.
One process I like for examining beliefs and values in order to determine why we might integrate technology in the classroom is “This I Believe”. Here are the steps suggested for this reflective experience, either independently or with a group.
Listen to/read Luis Urrea’s response (“Life is an Act of Literary Creation”) to This I Believe as an example.
Write a personal reaction regarding what you believe about assessment and education for today’s students.
Post it on your blog or share it with a trusted colleague.
Through this process of examining our beliefs and values and determining why we want to use technology to improve students’ learning experiences, we can make more informed decisions about instruction.
2. Discern the what
When I initially wrote this post, I had this section last. Pedagogy trumps technology, right? Yes…but we also don’t know what we don’t know. It can be hard to decide what technologies and other resources we might need to enhance instruction if we are not aware of them.
That’s why I do like to explore a wide range of digital tools with teachers as we design instruction with technology in mind. Playing with different applications and ideas for how we might use them in the classroom is an act of creation itself. With a broader perspective about our beliefs and practices we find effective, the tools are less likely to drive our instruction and instead enhance it.
Next is a list of ideas shared recently at a workshop I facilitated on implementing digital portfolios for English learners.
Share information about home literacy activities through a notification/announcements function of a digital portfolio (DP) tool. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
Teachers can take a picture of a book to be sent home and post for those students, accompanied with ideas for families to explore it at home. (FreshGrade, Seesaw, Smore)
Encourage parents to use the DP parent app to email teacher (linked) about questions they have regarding their child’s reading progress, words that were tricky for them, etc to be used for future instruction. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
Post a survey questions, asking parents to share favorite book titles in their home in the comments. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw)
Send “interview” questions through DP for parents to ask their child to guide home reading. (FreshGrade, Remind, Seesaw))
Have students reflect in DP about their current reading instead of a formal reading log, using video, audio, and/or text. (FreshGrade, Kidblog, Seesaw)
Scaffolding Literacy Experiences
Provide multiple days at the beginning of a unit for students to read and immerse themselves in the focus of the study. (OverDrive, Kidblog, Biblionasium)
Offer a choice board in media to explore to build background knowledge around the topic of study. (QR Codes, YouTube, podcasts)
Include audio versions of selected texts so students can access literature they are interested in during the study. (Playaways, OverDrive, Audible)
Give students choice in a primary text to read during a unit of study, and facilitate a book club with guiding questions and discussions. (Google Classroom, Edmodo)
Document student discussions, both in small and whole groups, to prepare for future strategy instruction. (iPad, Apple Pencil, Notability; MacBook, Day One)
Representing and Celebrating Diversity
Have parents video record or write and share a story from their earlier lives. (Google Drive)
Record students reading a text aloud in both English and Spanish. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
Read and record discussions of diverse literature in book clubs/literature circles. (FreshGrade, Seesaw)
Examine and organize your classroom library with students, focusing on the amount and quality of the culturally-representative text.
Maintain a wish list of culturally diverse books and share it with families regularly to purchase for the classroom. (Amazon, Google Site)
Develop a digital pen pal relationship with classrooms in other parts of the world. (Kidblog, ePals)
Create a bilingual book with audio, images, and text and share it online for a public audience. (Book Creator, Little Bird Tales)
Create original content where students teach others life skills, such as how to speak Spanish or how to use a computer. (YouTube, Vimeo, Book Creator)
Bring in a local family from another country to speak about their culture and values to kickstart a geography or storytelling unit. (Smore, Remind)
Develop a community room for visitors to sit in and learn about the school’s mission, vision, and beliefs, offering bilingual resources. (Google Translate, Smore)
Design advertisements for local businesses in both English and Spanish as a performance task for a unit on persuasive writing + economics. (Canva, Google Docs, MS Word, Pages)
Create a public service announcement (PSA) about a local problem, such as hunger or an environmental/safety issue. (iMovie, YouTube)
Assign volunteers to record themselves reading aloud selected literature via audio or video (Google Drive, Evernote, Vimeo)
3. Explore the how and the when
Integrating technology with instruction is both a technical and cultural change. It’s technical in that teachers are now tasked with including tablets or laptops as part of their lesson planning and delivery. “How should I model this application for the students – mirror it to the whiteboard, or gather the kids around?” might be one question a teacher would ask. I’ve encouraged teachers in the starting stages of integrating technology in instruction to avoid focusing on both pedagogy and technology during a lesson. Teach one or the other. This helps build comfort with using the digital tools while 20-30 students are watching you.
This process is also a cultural change. At least it should be. Some teachers only reach a technical change. For example, they may only use Kahoot! or Quizziz to assess basic student understanding of a prepared lesson. Instead, what about letting kids design lessons for peers and using these same tools to evaluate each other? They can be taught how to craft higher order questions to evaluate deeper understanding of the content. It’s still a teacher-directed classroom when the learning experience lacks at least some student ownership. Successful technology integration will only reach its potential when we position students as lead designers, learners and assessors.
To shift the learning culture, a place to start is by rethinking our classroom design. The spaces we ask kids to learn in should foster collaboration and creativity. Here are a few suggestions:
Replace most desks with tables and flexible chairs.
Let kids provide input in what furniture to purchase and how they might be arranged.
Reduce the lecture area to free up more space for collaborative work.
Arrange seating to allow for student movement and a variety of alignments, i.e. independent work, small group, whole group.
Release responsibility for bulletin boards, the classroom library and wall space to the students; let them decide what should be showcased with clear criteria for excellence in mind.
Put students in charge of classroom communications, such as the class website and social media accounts.
Expect students to maintain and troubleshoot most technology challenges. For example, assign students jobs such as “tech support” and “device storage”.
The how and when this happens is up to the teacher. It can happen tomorrow, next week, or next year. (Please note that the students are ready now.)
Disagree with what is shared here? What process have you found effective for technology integration? Please share in the comments!
One of the most pressing questions I hear from teachers is: How do I guide my students to create and innovate in the classroom while still meeting education’s expectations? We feel this push, both internally and externally, to get students to reach certain levels of success. But what do we lose in the process?
Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom, a free resource from FreshGrade, explores this challenge. In my new eBook, I break down this inquiry into three guiding questions:
1. Why should we assess innovation?
2. What if we could engage students in learning and help them achieve in school?
3. How might we assess innovation in education?
During the writing process of this book, I came across a few insights.
Meeting standards and proficiency levels are not enough. We have a real crisis in education: the longer students are in school, the less engaged they are in learning. This issue should be as or more important than how a school is faring on their standardized test scores. To increase engagement, we have to rethink instruction. A starting point would be to open up a part of our day for student choice and voice. Innovative learning opportunities for this work include Genius Hour, coding and gaming, and making and tinkering. Each approach is covered in depth in this new eBook.
The future will be most friendly to the question-askers. Problem-solving is a critical skill to develop with kids. But it is not enough in a world awash in information yet still lacking deep knowledge. Knowledge, meaning true understanding of big issues and concepts, is developed in people when they explore personal questions of importance. They follow these inquiries because they are passionate about the topics. That’s why students have to be taught how to question, develop a plan, and follow an investigation to an acceptable outcome, in addition to solving pre-determined problems. A template for self-directed learning is provided in the eBook.
Facilitating innovation in the classroom is a nonlinear process. How do you remember being taught the scientific method? A linear, logical process, right? I believe through my own research and experiences that this is inaccurate. Most inquiry-based learning experiences, whether in science or any other disciplines, is nonlinear. Questions are revisited based on new findings. Outcomes are sometimes a starting point for a new investigation. If we can think of innovation in the classroom as a process, it would be a more circuitous, continuous experience.
My hope for readers of this eBook is they walk away with assessment strategies and planning tools to facilitate innovation in the classroom. Specifically, you will find:
Vignettes from real classrooms exploring Genius Hour, coding, and making
Templates to prepare for innovating in the classroom and self-directed learning
Ideas for assessing innovation in the classroom using FreshGrade, a digital portfolio tool
As the adage goes, there’s no time like the present. Download my free eBook Looking to the Future: Assessing Innovation in the Classroom today and start planning for Monday. Your students will thank you!
I wrote an article for the AWSA (Association of Wisconsin School Administrators) Update related to my new book on digital portfolios. Below is the intro to this piece; follow the link to read the rest.
A disposition toward lifelong learning is something we all want for our students to develop during their PK-12 careers. Kids should have an increased desire to explore new ideas and skills after their school experience. Yet our current practices often don’t reflect these beliefs. We continue to drag students through mountains of curriculum to chase the ever-distant goal of meeting all of the standards. It’s an impossible task that leaves both students and teachers exhausted. Students should not be asking us, “Is school over yet?”, and teachers shouldn’t be wondering the same thing.
Instead of a push toward completion, what if we slowed things down a bit and took a moment to appreciate this experience? How could we create the conditions in which learning is something to revel in, a process to reflect upon and enjoy instead of a product to evaluate?
Click here to read the rest of the article. You can purchase my new book through ASCD, Amazon, and other book sellers.