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).
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.
I will be speaking to school leaders at AcceleratED on February 21 in Portland, Oregon on the topic of digital portfolios. If you are an educator located in this area, consider registering for this conference. It’s definitely worth your time away from school. Below is an adapted excerpt from my new book on the topic, detailing steps leaders can take to implement better assessments for students.
Students are more than a score. They are unique individuals, each possessing different motivations and talents. To distill an understanding of their current status and future potential down only to a symbol, such as grades or levels, is at best a misrepresentation of their abilities and at worst educational negligence. We can do better.
One way to do better is to implement digital portfolio assessment in every classroom in a school. Digital portfolios can be defined as online collections of evidence of student work, carefully curated to document student learning for both growth and mastery. Tools used for this initiative include but are not limited to Edublogs, FreshGrade, Google Sites, Kidblog, Seesaw, and Weebly.
There is more than one pathway a school leader might take in implementing digital student portfolios at a schoolwide level. Every school has a different culture and climate. Having completed this type of change before, as well as being familiar with the literature and research on organizational change, I am confident that school leaders who follow these general steps will be more likely to experience success.
Start with assessments. “What gets measured is what gets done.” If this adage is accurate, then school leaders, including teacher leaders, have a lot more authority to drive assessment practices schoolwide than previously thought. Making changes include not only introducing digital portfolio assessment but also expanding the types of assessments being used as well as developing assessment literacy with faculty.
When we alter assessment practices schoolwide, we also change the conversation about how student success will be measured. Case in point: In the fall of my first year in my current school, the newly formed instructional leadership and I instituted fall and spring writing assessments. Although writing was not yet a priority for our school, one teacher asked, “Are we focused on writing as a building?” Starting with a change in assessment practices can be a subtle yet powerful call to action.
Assess your level of access. Without available and robust technologies, both hardware and software, we risk running this digital initiative into the ground.
I experienced this first hand in my previous school. We had purchased several iPads for each classroom with the intention of using them for documenting student work online. Unfortunately, we ran into many challenges in this process: wireless access points were installed in inappropriate locations; the bandwidth was not strong enough to upload video from multiple devices at one time; purchasing one type of tool (tablets) did not recognize the developmental needs of the different age levels in our school. If we had not slowed down our technology integration process and rethought our approach, I don’t think the end result – schoolwide implementation of digital portfolios to improve student writing – would have been realized.
In my two books on digital portfolios, I provide a readiness tool for school leaders to complete in order to assess the level of access for this type of initiative. Click here to download this tool to use with your leadership team prior to or during implementation.
Start small. Instead of pushing every teacher to adopt digital student portfolios right away, consider allowing faculty who are ready for this initiative to run a pilot. This was one of the steps we initially took in my last school that proved to be successful. A 1st-grade teacher and our speech and language teacher tried FreshGrade with their students. They discovered an increase in collaboration, better parent engagement, and students feeling more involved in their work through self-assessment and goal setting.
Their enthusiasm carried over the following year when we decided to implement digital portfolios schoolwide. In fact, these two teachers plus other school leaders would sometimes lead the professional development sessions for the rest of the faculty. They became champions for this work, which accelerated the implementation process.
Attend to the culture. Any schoolwide improvement effort that truly impacts student learning involves a cultural change as well as a technical change (Muhammad, 2009). Culture is defined as “the school’s unwritten rules and traditions, norms, and expectations” (Deal and Peterson, 2019, pg. 6). Leaders have to facilitate change in how teachers engage in their practice. They need to attend to teachers’ beliefs about the importance of this type of work, understanding that beliefs drive practices and, subsequently, the acquisition of resources (Routman, 2014).
To start, school leaders have to communicate this change as a part of an existing initiative and not “one more thing”. Technology without the context of pedagogy can create the perception that this is separate work outside the purview of core instruction.
One way a school can connect digital portfolios with daily instruction is by guiding teacher teams or departments to develop a yearlong plan of instruction. The outcomes of this plan can be around whatever the school values as important for students to know, understand, and be able to do. In my last school, we had a strong focus on writing. Therefore, each teacher team mapped out their yearlong plan for writing genre instruction.
At the end of each unit of study, teachers were expected to guide students to upload a piece of writing they were most proud of, accompanied by reflection and goal setting.
Also helpful for teachers is sharing long-term goals for this work. Leaders can honor the initial efforts of innovators by highlighting where they are at on a continuum of digital portfolio assessment, from simply posting work online to using digital tools to inform many areas of instruction. Wherever a teacher is at professionally is recognized, with the caveat that there is always room for growth on a pathway toward excellence.
Above all, culture has to be infused with constant celebration. Taking time to acknowledge teachers’ and students’ efforts at the beginning of staff meetings and professional development sessions fosters motivation for continuing this work. We have to enjoy the journey as well as the destination when upgrading our assessment practices with the help of digital tools. Learning at each level should be an exciting and rewarding experience for everyone involved.
When I am not blogging, it usually means I am on a tech sabbatical, on vacation (I wish!), or working on a writing project. Lately, I have been reading and enjoying Regie Routman’s new resource Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners. Like Regie’s previous work, this book is a necessary text for any teacher of literacy (see: you).
As a way for me to connect with and reflect upon the ideas in Literacy Essentials, I have written three articles for Stenhouse’s blog. They describe the importance of building a literacy culture, addressing the elements of trust, communication, and relationships. You can read the first two posts by clicking here and here. Look for the third post on the Stenhouse blog in the near future.
Reading Literacy Essentials, it could almost be called “Life Essentials”. Regie mixes research and practice…