Students as Co-Designers of Their Own Learning Experience

One element that comprises the Future Ready Framework Gear “Curriculum, instruction, and assessment” is personalized learning. Personalized learning is defined by the Institute of Personalized Learning as “an approach to learning and instruction that is designed around individual learner readiness, strengths, needs and interests.” If we consider how much the world, the economy and society has changed over the past 120 years, it’s no secret that big changes in education are inevitable.

One of the biggest overarching ideas around personalized learning is that in order to get true buy-in and ownership of learning, students and teachers need to be co-designers of the learning experience. It’s about engaging students in different ways. If it becomes something of value to students, they not only become more invested, but they have an overall sense of empowerment; Thus increasing student outcomes.

This week, I spent a fair amount of time with Elizabeth Klauer, an 8th Grade Middle School Teacher who is working towards creating a partnership with her students to engage her students with meaningful learning experiences that meet their individual needs. To do this, we know that conversation time with students, whether 30 students or 200, need to take place regularly. That these students need to actively participate in goal setting, planning learning paths, tracking progress and determining how learning will be demonstrated.

The Institute of Personalized Learning have included ‘Co-Designers of Learning’ within their HoneyComb. 

Cyber Safety: Online Threats to Students

In the last post I introduced the topic of cyber safety and gave a bit of an overview. In this post, I’ll go into more detail about some specific threats.

All of us face some common and well-known threats when we live online, e.g. computer viruses, other malware email scams & spam. In addition to these threats, students are at risk for some additional threats, specifically cyberbullying, inappropriate content, specific threats, oversharing, and online predation.  Let’s look at each of these.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place virtually using digital devices such as cell phones, tablets, and computers. Cyberbullying can occur in a number of venues: SMS (Short Messaging System, i.e. text messaging), email, in chat rooms and mobile chat applications (apps), online in social media (e.g. Twitter, Facebook), or in gaming environments. In all of these venues, people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or just plain rude & mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else, which can cause embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses a line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

It is quite possible, and happens more often than people think, that adolescents and children can come into contact with inappropriate content, either by intentionally seeking it out or in places they would never expect. Examples of inappropriate material include explicit material, both in text and images, websites that promote intolerance and hate or encourage eating disorders and other methods of self-harm. Unsolicited obscene materials can also be received electronically via email or through text messaging apps.

Without intention, students that aren’t aware of the potential dangers of sharing personally identifiable information can be guilty of oversharing. Personally identifiable information that is sometimes shared by students includes their name, age, address, phone number, and Social Security number.

Lastly, students can be victims of online predation. Online predators put victims through a “grooming process,” a series of steps where the predator builds the victim’s trust by sympathizing with him or her or feigning common interests, after which they proceed to set up a face-to-face meeting with the victim and then move forward with manipulation, seduction, and/or abduction.

New and varied threats seem to crop up continuously, which makes it all the more important to prepare students to recognize and react appropriately to online threats. This will be the topic of the next post in this series.

Cyber Safety: An Overview

The good news: The Internet allows near instant 24/7 access to just about anything one would care to see or know about. This creates great opportunities for education to provide access to blended learning opportunities for students in a brick-and-mortar setting, distance education opportunities for students away from a brick-and-mortar, and collaboration opportunities, both synchronous and asynchronous, no matter where students are.

The bad news: The Internet allows near instant 24/7 access to just about anything one would not care to see or prefer not to know about. This creates great opportunities for nefarious characters to inject not-so-wonderful experiences and threats for the same students that can benefit from the good news above. It’s tough to get through a day without hearing about a wide variety of threats that students are exposed to: Cyberbullying, exposure to sexually explicit material, solicitation of minors through chat and text tools, extortion of sexually explicit images via social media…the list of threats is long and varied.

There are laws and mechanisms in place to help prevent some of this exposure. For example, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) exists to protect students from harmful or obscene content. Schools and libraries can be eligible to receive discounts for telecommunications, Internet access, or internal connections by accessing the E-rate program (a Universal Service Program for Schools and Libraries). In order to be eligible, schools and libraries must certify they have an Internet safety policy that blocks or filters access to images that are obscene, pornography, or could be harmful to minors.

Although CIPA can help to prevent student access to inappropriate Internet content, this does not protect children from the full-range of online threats. To help address these online threats, this blog posts series will address online threats that students are exposed to on a regular basis and what schools can do before, during, and after incidents to help mitigate or eliminate the potential damage to students that can manifest as depression, anxiety, health concerns, and/or reduced academic achievement.

In the next post, I will address some of the common online threats that students face. Stay tuned.

CUE 2018

Being British and growing up around big cities, i’m used to the feeling of being ‘busy’. I think this is why I get super excited about the fast pace, hustle bustle of New York City and my annual trips to what I still call my country, England. I think it is because of this that I get such a thrill when i’m at CUE National Conference.

This year was just as good as any CUE conferences that I have attended it, but it was extra special because of my growing PLN. I felt that at every corner, I would see someone I knew. I am so incredibly grateful to have learned from so many people and to know that at the hit of a button, technology allows for me to become more connected than ever before.

Another success was our presentation “Personalized Potatoes Vs Traditional Tomatoes” Where I had my colleagues role play some scenarios that might be more personalized or more traditional. The audience would vote on their thoughts using Google Forms and we used the results of that to converse with the audience. The idea was to engage the audience and provide them with a different type of learning experience and according to our feedback, I believe we succeeded.

Upon leaving, I developed a Google Site for the awesome educators in our district. This showcases some of the presentations I was able to collect from others!

CUE National Conference Presentations and Resources 2018



Using Different Tools to Demonstrate Learning

Providing options for students to express what they have learned is a major component of Universal Design for Learning (Principle ll). Learners differ in the way they express what they know. Some may be able to express themselves better by speaking and others by drawing. Providing a variety of options for learners to act and express themselves is key to ensuring greater success.

Recently I saw a tweet by @alicekeeler and @GrimmerLisa that inspired the list created below. What about if we asked students to choose a tool of their choice to demonstrate mastery? Not only would we up the engagement levels by a significant number but we are more likely to meet the needs of every learner, whether it be the student who struggles with expressing written thoughts or the student who has trouble capturing images. Fortunately, technology allows for us to provide so many options for students.

Here are some of my thoughts. Below each category are links to some of the more popular and easier to use tools.

Presentation/Infographic Tools

I put presentation tools and infographics together because they can be used in a similar manner, though many people do choose to use infographics to demonstrate information in a create poster-type of way.

Video/Screencasting Tools

I cannot believe how easy it has become to create videos! Screencastify is my ultimate favorite and if you have not downloaded this extension yet, I strongly suggest that you do.

Mind-Mapping Tools

Let’s face it, some people just like to draw it out! Giving students an opportunity to demonstrate their learning in this way may lead to a complete brain-spill, and I am constantly amazed by how students are able to organize their thoughts in this manner.

Quiz Tools

At the higher end of Bloom’s Taxonomy is ‘Creating’  which goes way beyond general recall of facts. Student generated questions allow students to demonstrate understanding of the content, clarify content, make connections to other content, and reflect on learning.  What a great way to demonstrate learning!


Student-Teacher Writing Conferences

A student-teacher writing conference involves short, one-one, informal, teacher-student conversations about the students’ writing. Emphasis is usually on guiding students through the writing process to ensure that students have adequate support in producing the final product. There have been several studies claiming that writing conferences make better student writers and improve their ability to internalize the writing process. This essentially leads to improvement with “on demand” or timed essay performance.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Know the Difference Between Product and Process.
Sounds simple but not everyone is familiar with the differences between the writing process and the writing product. As you will see on this chart created by Kristina Smekens, the writing process conference should take less time, occurs during any stage in the writing process, addresses a single area of improvement, occurs within a small group (i.e., teacher and writers), is held at the students’ desks and most importantly, occurs daily/regularly. In comparison, the writing product takes longer and occurs in preparation for final-draft publishing.

Give the Student a Chance to Talk!

Successful writing conferences consist of focused discussion between teacher and students that allow students to create their own ideas and solutions for their writing challenges. During the conferences teachers and students have equal chances to talk, share ideas, ask questions, describe, explain, and summarize, and when it comes time for the product conference, analyze the writing. Allowing students to find the answers themselves helps increase student confidence in writing, as they become more independent in diagnosing their own writing needs. You can also check out your Launching the Writer’s Workshop book for conference starters and other tips.

Focus on a Few Points

The key is to hone in on a few points. Focusing on only one or two of the six plus one traits each time you confer with the students during the writing process not only encourages the students to be more familiar with the characteristics of good writing, but it eliminates the overwhelming feeling of becoming expert writers in just one sitting. If you are stuck on areas of focus, another idea might be to use the rubric that is helping guide these students. Encourage the student to reflect on areas of the rubric that they are working towards.

Use Google Docs Commenting Feature!

Google Docs is a great way to increase efficiency of student-teacher conferences. Writing comments and offering suggestions to the student on Google Docs allows them to reflect and ask questions as they are writing. This increases the effectiveness of the one-on-one conversation because you are already truly immersed in the student writing process and answering their questions along the way.

Raise Student Self-efficacy in Writing

Research has suggested that high self-efficacy leads students to motivate themselves, set goals, and increase effort to achieve their goals. In particular, John Hattie states in his 2017 research on effect sizes that raising student self-efficacy has an effect size of 0.92! That’s more than two years of growth. As we are doing these writing conferences, offer verbal praise for genuine effort (not forced) and specific accomplishments related to the task. Remember the more they reflect on what they write, the greater their own belief in what they can accomplish. Your Launching the Writer’s Workshop book has a mini-lesson dedicated to holding teacher-writer meetings with ideas on specific comments you could give to students.

Provide Writing Models

By providing models for students to improve their writing, you are essentially helping students better understand the writing process. Anchor papers or exemplar writing, digital writing resources (perhaps even in the form of a hyperdoc) and six plus one traits resources can be helpful when conducting these conferences. Developing these resources takes time at first but will certainly be helpful in the long run! Here is an article by Kristina Smekens explaining the benefits of using anchor papers.

Lastly, I strongly recommend taking a look at this resource by Carl Anderson, a literacy consultant and writer. There are some fantastic ideas here that will give you the kick-start necessary to have effective writing conferences with students. Good luck and please feel free to leave a comment here with any further suggestions, insights or ideas!

Quick and Easy Formative Assessment Tools

Lately I have seen teachers across our district using various formative assessment strategies and tools to check for understanding. What I like most is the fact that they are used during instruction rather than at the end of a unit. By routinely checking for student understanding of a particular topic, we are given an opportunity to adjust our instruction and grouping of students in order to meet their learning needs. We have some powerful data we can use by looking at i-Ready, and I definitely say we should be using that to help guide instruction. However, what about if we want to assess for student understanding of their weekly objectives? Or perhaps you want to take a closer look at how well students have understood a specific text? Or maybe you want to see if students have mastered a particular concept you are in the middle of teaching? Whichever it is, we now have so many ways to assess our students in quick, informative and engaging ways through use of digital technology.

I have taken a few Kyte Learning courses to become a little more knowledgeable about the array of assessment tools that are out there. Here is an infographic of my top 5 choices for quick, informative and engaging assessment tools. I highly encourage you to try them out:


Engaging Students Through Choice and Voice

True story: My daughter came to me at approximately 6pm last night and said “Mommy, I want to go to school”, I asked her “Why?” and she responded with, “because I love learning with my friends.” This powerful statement made by my five year old prompted me to write this Monday morning blog.

Why do students want to come to school? This is a question worth asking our own students. Perhaps you will be surprised, or even relieved that the varied learning experiences that you are providing your students with is a big factor as to why they truly enjoy school. A growing body of research points to the fact that students are more likely to be engaged in learning when they are active and given some choice and voice over the learning process — and when instruction is personalized, purposeful and meaningful. In my daughter’s case, she enjoys learning with others on hands on projects (much like her mom) and as a result, she looks forward to those opportunities at school.

It is also widely believed that learning increases and disruption decreases when students are engaged. I am a true believer of this. Think of us as adult learners. What is your reaction to filling out a long and tiring form about medical terminology (assuming you are not interested in it) as opposed to discussing the impact of engaging instruction on closing achievement gaps, which then translates into a writing experience? RIght away you likely connect with the activity that relates to education because it is something that you are interested in and is relevant to your life.

When students are given opportunities to connect, collaborate and make sense of their own learning, they inherently become active constructors of knowledge. If I was given the medical terminology assignment and provided a choice as to how I would demonstrate my understanding, I might now be more engaged by this activity. And why? Because I learn best with others, and like to illustrate my learning via visual representations. It would change the activity up dramatically.

With that, I would like to leave you with this interesting article that gives five effective strategies of engaging learners with choice and voice:

5 Ways to Give Your Students More Voice and Choice

Data Chats With Students

In our work with some of the outstanding teachers in our district, we have the privileged opportunity to view practitioners that are doing great things to help kids move forward. One practice we’ve seen over the last couple of years…years that have seen good growth across the district…are teachers having chats with students about their performance data. These conversations have been observed at every grade-level, K-8.

These “data chats” look slightly different from classroom to classroom, but they all have the same effect, which is overwhelmingly positive. Teachers having short, but focused, discussions with students about their performance are extremely powerful.

One of the most powerful aspects of these chats is having the opportunity to not only help students realize where they are and where they are going, but to embrace the opportunity to help students realize that where they think they are going can be so much more. John Hattie describes this effect as “student reported grades”, which has an effect size of 1.44. Recall during our Back-to-Work day that Doug Fisher communicated that any effect size greater than 0.40 are practices that move students forward one year or more. So, extrapolating from that, an effect size of 1.44 is a practice that can help students move 3+ years academically in a single calendar year. Definitely worth exploring.

Before going further, let’s let Hattie have a go at explaining what “self-reported grades” mean:

All well and good, but how do we apply this to help our students? Here are a few thoughts.

One, we consistently hear that “we don’t have enough time”, and well, we agree. Time is a finite resource, and there is not enough time to do ‘everything’ you might think you have to do. So, what’s the answer to time? We say exchange things that have greater impact for those that have lesser. One of the things we can do that has a significant impact is to talk with students, one-on-one, about where they are and where they think they need to go. And then as Hattie says, “mess them up” from where they think they can go. Don’t help them meet their goals; help them exceed their self-inflicted goals.

So another thing we hear…”Great theory, but what does that look like, and who is actually doing it?” So here are some actionable things to answer that.

One of the “non-negotiables” that we are presented with is administering the i-Ready Diagnostic. After students complete the Diagnostic, i-Ready assigns them an instructional plan using the i-Ready online instruction. As students work through those lessons, one of the best practices we’ve seen is frequent teacher monitoring of student progress, in many cases a daily check to see if anyone has been flagged as struggling. Frequent checking on student progress, and quickly checking-in with a student if they are struggling, allows the student to get back on track quickly and to keep moving forward. But what if they are cruising along just fine without issue? Well, we still want to talk with them to help them keep that momentum. That’s where data chats come in.

Many teachers have developed their own protocols and tracking sheets to conduct these chats. If you have one that’s working for you, by all means continue doing what you’re doing. For those that might want to tweak their protocols and goal sheets, or those just venturing into trying this, there are now materials available within i-Ready Central to help. When logged into i-Ready Central you can type “data chat” into the search box on the left-side of the screen and see several resources. One of the documents is titled, “Data Chat: Online Instruction” and is available here. This two-page document gives an example protocol on page one, and a student data/goal sheet on page 2. It is straightforward and helps to focus the conversation with the student.

If you haven’t tried data chats, give it a shot. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Lastly for now, our very own Amy Crismon-Noguera has been doing this for a couple of years now with some outstanding results. The 4th grade team at Harvest Valley has really leveraged this practice (and others, of course) to get some very solid student growth results. Have a look at one of Amy’s data chats here.

If you are doing something involving data chats and are having success, please let us know. We’d love to talk with you about sharing your practices and expertise with our professional learning community here in RSD. Keep growing!

Using Technology to Achieve Magical Results

People often attribute technology with strange properties, as though these alien objects can bestow us with the capacity to be better, faster, and more productive. In essence, it is the people using technological devices efficiently to achieve learning
outcomes that produce the apparently magical results we aspire for frequently in our classroom.

Of course, this ultimately means that giving students the opportunity to learn digital citizenship and digital literacy skills is vital. Teaching students how to respect and protect themselves and others online is key to allowing  students to work on projects and activities responsibly. More importantly, it is a requirement stipulated by the Child Internet Protection Act (CIPA).

Recently, I conducted a workshop called, “Information Gone Wild,” which highlighted many of the future skills that are referenced in California’s adopted Partnership for 21st Century skills (P21). One of those skills include “Information
and Media Literacy.” Being digitally literate includes being able to find worthy, citable information using search engines. Much of the workshop was dedicated to searching effectively (see infographic)

A few years ago, my colleague and I worked on a digital citizenship/literacy curriculum to help support educators with implementing these skills. The curriculum included resources from Common Sense Media, an organization dedicated to the teaching of digital citizenship and literacy skills. As educators, we have the responsibility to prepare students for future success!