Helping Students Learn to Love Reading

Part of my job as a reading specialist is to not only help students learn to read and then read to learn, but to help foster a lifetime love of reading.  My “traditional”  approach to reading instruction for my 4th and 5th grade students was not meeting this goal because it not only bored them, but to be honest it bored me as well.  Therefore I needed to change the way I teach to meet the needs of today’s learner.  Since technology is a big part of the their everyday lives; it made sense that I would add technology to my lesson plans to increase student enjoyment and engagement, while still teaching students the fundamentals of learning from written materials.  

I took my “traditional” reading lessons that consisted of reading a text and having an oral discussion of the text, and changed it to add technology.  This lesson includes the use of responding using a blogging literature circle approach.  I chose to add in the literature circle approach because “literature circles are structured, fun ways to get students reading.” (Nicole Nigro, 2011).  To make them even more effective, I decided to add in the blogging component, because, “integrating technology in education helps students stay engaged.” (Danny Mareco, 2017).  

The most difficult part of this transition was figuring out the appropriate amount of time needed for the unit.  With my “traditional” teaching method I could read and discuss a book in three days,  This new unit will take the same amount of time as reading three different texts.  So I needed to make sure the additional teaching time with just one text would be used in a meaningful and beneficial way that enhanced learning.  Even though this will decrease the amount of texts read, I am excited to see the students looking forward to read and enjoying the process of learning.  With sharing these ideas with the students, they are already excited to get started and because the students are excited about this approach, they will be more engaged in the learning process.  The positive interactions and responses from students make me look forward to facilitating this learning project.

 

Works Cited:

Mareco, D. (2017, July 28). 10 Reasons Today’s Students NEED Technology in the Classroom. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from https://www.securedgenetworks.com/blog/10-reasons-today-s-students-need-technology-in-the-classroom


Nigro, N. (2011, January 20). Using literature circles to engage students. Retrieved February 24, 2018, from http://www.uft.org/teacher-teacher/using-literature-circles-engage-students

 

Integrating Technology to Enhance Student Engagement

As a reading specialist, I am required to teach with specific materials.  These materials include rich literature with a myriad of interesting topics.  However the unit structures are very predictable and repetitive.  This structure works well with the younger students who are working on foundational reading skills, but induces boredom among the older students in grades 4-5.  To be honest, also for myself as the teacher.   This boredom of course leads to lack of engagement among the students.  This is what initially drove me to make a change. In this blog I will talk about two major changes that I will be making to this unit plan structure.

The original unit was designed to include a comprehension discussion.  This was teacher led and students took turns discussing the answers.  I had already changed this format several different ways, but even that had become predictable and boring.  In the new unit plan, the discussion will be student led and will involve students blogging in a literature circle format.  I decided to use the literature circle strategy because it has been shown to provide student choice, increase student collaboration, and be fun (Elena Aguilar, 2010).  I have also been working on little ways to find a way to connect every text that we read to something students already know. For this unit, I decided to find a larger connection; because, “students need a personal connection to the material, whether that’s through engaging them emotionally or connecting the new information with previously acquired knowledge.”  “Without that, students may not only disengage and quickly forget, but they may also lose the motivation to try.” (Saga Briggs, 2014)  Therefore, I am trying to make this connection through the use of technology; because, “technology occupies an important place within students’ lives.” “When they are not in school, just about everything that they do is connected in some way to technology.” (Janelle Cox, 2017).  

The second major change made to this unit is in the way that students will show what they have learned from a text.  There are specific ideas that students need to have learned from it.  Previously, the check of understanding would be through verbal discussion and a reading behavior checklist.  In the new unit plan, the students get to choose how to share out their learning.  They chose to work collaboratively to write a script and create a Podcast.  The reasons for these changes are to provide students with the 21st century skills they need by meeting the ISTE student standards (ISTE Standards FOR STUDENTS, 2018) and by providing them with opportunities to customize their learning through allowing them to have choice in their learning, while still requiring them to “remember and recall” information from their reading, as well as “think critically” about what they read (10 Key Components of Customized Learning, 2012).

  

Works Cited:

10 Key Components of Customized Learning. (2012, May 23). Retrieved February 10,                                2018, from https://multiplepathways.info/2012/05/23/10-key-components-of-customized-learning/

Aguilar, E. (n.d.). The Power of Literature Circles in the Classroom. (2010, November 30)  Retrieved February 16, 2018, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/literature-circles-how-to-and-reasons-why-elena-aguilar

Briggs, S. (2014, October 4). How To Make Learning Relevant To Your Students (And Why It’s Crucial To Their Success). Retrieved February 16, 2018, from      https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/how-to-make-learning-relevant/

Cox, J. (n.d.). Benefits of Technology in the Classroom. Retrieved February 16, 2018, from http://www.teachhub.com/benefits-technology-classroom

ISTE Standards FOR STUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2018, from        https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

Positive Change: Building Creativity and Collaboration

As a reading specialist, my job includes providing supplementary reading instruction to students who are not meeting the specified grade level expectations in reading.  Overtime, with the changes that I have seen in the needs and learning styles of these students, this has become a more complex endeavor.  I have evidenced a decrease in the desire and enjoyment to read.  But let’s be honest with ourselves, as children, we all would have found video games and social media more exciting than reading a book.  As an adult, I also find that at times my cell phone, and other devices are a distraction for me and leave less time for other things I enjoy, such as reading.  These changes have lead me to change my thinking about the way I teach.  I no longer feel that just teaching students fundamental reading skills and how to learn information from a text is enough.  This role has expanded to also include how to use that information in a creative way and to find passion in learning.  “In fact, scientists have shown that passionate interests can even allow people to overcome academic difficulties or perceptual disabilities.” (Annie Murphy Paul, 2013)

The nature of my position as a reading specialist, leaves me with some limitations for teaching.  I have specific reading materials and standards that I have to use for my lessons. However, the freedom to choose how I use these materials and teach those standards is completely up to me.   Therefore, a change that I am making in my lesson planning is to add the use of technology to enrich my lessons.  One of my objectives is to focus on the ISTE Standard for Students 6 (ISTE Standards FOR STUDENTS, 2018).  This standard focuses on students becoming “creative communicators”, by using a variety of “platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.”  I chose this goal, because it is the one that most fits the structure of my classroom.  Another modification I am making is to provide a classroom environment in which students feel their opinions and ideas are valued. I want to foster a “climate of student voice and choice.” (10 Key Components of Customized Learning, 2012)

Now that I have identified the general ways in which I want to foster creativity and a passion for learning in my classroom, it is time to look at the specific ways in which to do that.  My 5th grade students and I are learning  and creating ways together to provide “voice and choice” in my classroom.  We are starting small in the attempt to build a solid foundation that will lead to bigger and better ideas and strategies.  In talking with my students this week, I expressed that we were going to look for creative ways of changing our comprehension discussion practices. I also talked with them that I was currently planning a larger lesson (ours usually take two days per text) and I wanted their help in the planning process.  First, they were given the option of choosing the text (out of 5) to use for this lesson. Coincidentally, it was one of two texts I had targeted earlier before deciding to give the students the choice.   Then the students were given 4 options for how to share out their learning and descriptions of each.  They were given the option that they could each choose their own or they could choose one option and work collaboratively in the creation of their work.  They chose to work collaboratively, which seems to be the preference most times for this group of 5 students.  The students were excited to try out a podcast and that was the option they chose.  So my lesson planning is going to include having the students read a text with a literature circle format using Kidblog to help them process the ideas presented in the text while reading and then the students will create a script using our higher level comprehension questions that do not have a specific right answer to guide the content of the script.  The students will also be required to use one to two additional resources to either support, contradict or update the information that was presented in the text.  They will also use this information in their podcast.  After the script has been created and practiced.  The students will then record their podcast using, Audacity.   We want to expand our classroom to include sharing our ideas and learning with other classrooms in the school.  This part is still a work in progress.  

After this lesson has been planned and implemented, it is my goal to evaluate and change according to viewed outcomes and discussion with my students.  My ultimate goal is to provide my students with an experience that not only excites them and increases reading proficiency, but also makes them want to be lifelong learners.  My view of teaching has changed in the last several months through research and one very interesting Tedtalk by Ken Robinson (Ken Robinson, 2006), has stuck in my mind.  At the 2 minute and 45 second part of the video, he states, “Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”  This has really resonated with me and this is my personal goal to provide this opportunity to my students.  Not only do I feel it could be the key to strengthening the reading skills of my students, but to also provide them experiences that will make them curious, problem-solvers, and passionate about learning for the sake of wanting to learn new things.  

 

Works Cited:

10 Key Components of Customized Learning. (2012, May 23). Retrieved February 10,        2018, from https://multiplepathways.info/2012/05/23/10-key-components-of-customized-learning/

ISTE Standards FOR STUDENTS. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students

Paul, A. M. (n.d.). How the Power of Interest Drives Learning. Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/11/04/how-the-power-of-interest-drives-learning/

Robinson, K. (n.d.). Do schools kill creativity? Retrieved February 10, 2018, from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

 

Helping Students to Construct their Own Knowledge

As I reflected on my view of the purpose of a Reading Specialist, I realized that there were two distinct responsibilities related to my educational position.  First, I was to facilitate student learning of reading fundamentals and second, I was to facilitate the learning of how to understand, analyze, and form opinions about a text in order to learn from it.  As I reflected, I realized that I was effectively helping students learn fundamental reading strategies as evidenced by the analysis of student reading data. However, I noticed a trend in that data, student increases in reading level were slower as my students became 3rd-5th grade students.  Mostly because they were scoring lower in areas of comprehension.  Therefore I was not effectively meeting my second responsibility as a reading specialist.  How do I change that?  How do I help students to think more critically about the topics and stories presented in a text?  This is where I realized that I needed to help my students become the constructors of their own learning.  

My goal is to create a classroom environment in which students became active learners versus passive ones. Since I figured out what I wanted to change, I now needed to figure out how I was going to implement this idea into a classroom structure where I teach with required texts.   So I needed to develop a plan of action.  To help students become the constructors of their own knowledge, I decided to focus on changing my comprehension discussion of text.  According to the Southwest Consortium for the Improvement of Mathematics and Science Teaching, a constructivist classroom is one in which teachers ask open-ended questions that require a higher level of thinking and discussion that allows students to openly express ideas and viewpoints in an environment of respect (Southwest Consortium for the Improvement of Mathematics and Science Teaching, 1995).  

To develop these questions about text, I decided to use Bloom’s Taxonomy, to create questions that required higher levels of thinking.  The three levels of questioning that I decided to focus on were located in the “apply”, “analyze,” and “evaluate” sections of the hierarchy.  The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching has a very informative graphic that details what type of questioning is involved in those levels.

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Once the questions are developed, the students will be given the opportunity to utilize technology and research to further their understanding of the text and to enhance discussion.  

During the open discussions, I will utilize several methods outlined in the blog, titled 21 Ways to Construct Knowledge (“21 Ways to Construct Knowledge”, 2016).  In which, I found the “Mind Mapping” strategy very interesting.  This is where students put the main idea in the center and branch off from the this idea with their own thoughts and questions. This could easily be paired with the flowchart maker, Lucid Charts. After the creation of the mind maps, students could discuss their charts with one another, identify common ideas, and research questions.  

I chose these methods because they fit well with my classroom structure and teaching style while still helping me along on my path to creating a more student-centered learning environment.  I am starting out small and building upon the small changes to eventually lead to bigger changes.  I am looking forward to beginning this journey on the path to new learning for not only my students, but myself as well.   
References:

21 Ways to Construct Knowledge. (2016, July 08). Retrieved February 02, 2018,                              from https://teachersolutions.com.au/resources/teaching-and-learning/posts/21-                  construct-knowledge

Southwest Consortium for the Improvement of Mathematics and Science Teaching.                      (1995). Constructing Knowledge in the Classroom. Classroom Compass, 1(3), 1-10.                 Retrieved February 02, 2018, from http://www.sedl.org/pubs/classroom-                                 compass/cc_v1n3.pdf

 

 

A Novel Idea for a Standardized Classroom

        As a reading specialist who teaches grades K-5, my lesson construction is required to be very standardized.  I am required to use certain materials and teach specific skills.  The standardized lessons work well for my kindergarten through second grade students, because we are still building the foundational skills of reading. However, after those skills have been mastered, I find these standardized lessons, with a very predictable and structured format bore my third through fifth grade students. These lessons also bore me and that is what lead me to search for some novel ways to teach with the required materials.  This search lead me to explore Customized Learning.  Some key components of Customized Learning are not ones that teachers can control, so it is important to focus on the ones that are within my control.  These are the aspects that I am looking to incorporate into my standard classroom procedures.

         I am still at the beginning of this journey toward change, however I have already begun to incorporate one very important part of Customized Learning.  The first step toward change began with a focus on my classroom environment.  Do the students feel respected?  Do they feel comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions?  Can they learn how to organize their time, to complete work at their own pace, and within an appropriate amount of time?  I look at these three questions and my answers were, I’m not sure.  The best way I realized to find out these answers was to ask my students.  The students told me that they felt respected and felt comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions if they correlated with the text.  As a teacher I was allowing them to talk only about the text, but wasn’t always taking the time to hear, what they already knew about a topic or what they still had questions about. The answer to my last question was “no.” Our class time was very structured and always teacher directed.  This lead me to incorporate some simple changes to increase student voice and choice.  Each student was given paper and pencil in which they were to write down any questions they had while they were reading.  Once they were finished reading the text, they crossed off any questions that were answered in the text, the students then researched any questions they still had and shared these questions and answers with the group.  I also, began to create a list of activities that we must accomplish that week, but allowed the students to choose how and when they would be completed during the week.  It is alright if not all things were completed because of quality work on other tasks. This has worked well so far.  I know student directed learning is the heart of customized learning, and these strategies are still teacher directed, but I am starting small and building the foundation of that type of learning with my students.  As I and the students become more comfortable, I will start to give them more control of learning activities.  

           After changing my classroom environment, I next started to focus on the skills that my students needed to learn.  As a reading specialist, I work with a small group of students, who are generally grouped by similar reading strengths and needs.  For the most part, my older students generally have strong foundational reading skills, but need support in using these skills to effectively obtain information from a text.  So the majority of instruction is focused on comprehension.  Teaching students how to use various strategies to locate and recall information and basic inferential skills (lower level thinking skills) has always been a strength of my teaching.  However, this year, an emphasis has been placed district-wide on providing more instruction on higher order thinking skills in language arts.  These include asking questions that do not have a right or wrong answer, asking questions about the structure of the text, and questions about the author’s intent for writing the text.  This has been the best change that I have made in my classroom.  The discussions that we have about the text, have been more meaningful and interesting, often leading to debate between students about different aspects of the text.  I have done well at incorporating this type of questioning into our discussions, but have just embarked on the path to thinking about how I can begin to give students varied ways to respond to a text.

           So my next challenge for my classroom is to see how to implement ways for students to choose how they share their learning.  I definitely see the benefit in this key component of Customized Learning.  Not all students learn in the same ways, so by giving choice, I am allowing the students to choose an approach that will fit his or her learning style. Also, by having students share their learning with the group, the other students are seeing the information in a variety of ways as well and this can lead to a better understanding of a topic.  Right now, it is either in written and/or verbal forms.  This is my next step of changing my classroom model.

              One of the most important aspects of any learning environment is providing feedback.  Again, I thought the best approach was to ask my students about their thoughts on how I was doing. This group of students was more shy than the other group I questioned about the classroom atmosphere. They were reluctant to express their opinions about things they did not like, so this was not a great success. However, the discussion did give me some ideas of ways to be more effective in this area. One positive thing the students noted was that I always ended each group stating something that was done well and something that needed work.  This made me think about the structure of our progress monitoring day that we have every other week.  I am required to progress monitor my students’ progress on oral reading fluency.  Each student has their own individual goal.  I talk with each student personally and tell them what the goal is, how they are progressing so far, and then after the one minute assessment, I talk with each student about how they improved and what reading behaviors still need work.  The students respond well to this feedback and I have seen the motivation to do well on these assessments improve.  Therefore I am currently working on a structure where feedback for our weekly activities is structured in a similar way.  

             I realize that I have a long way to go to become a true Customized Learning classroom and because of some of the limitations that my standardized classroom presents, I may never be able to reach the highest level (student-driven) of this type of instruction.  However, I feel any step towards providing more student choice and voice is a change for the better.  The change in thought and practice so far has been challenging, but rewarding and I feel excited for this change.  My students are more engaged and lessons more meaningful.  Right now I am still at the teacher-centered phase of these changes, but my next goal is to become more student-centered.  After all, isn’t my responsibility as a teacher to grow and change with my students to make sure that they are prepared for the futures that await them.  

Continuum of Choice

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References:

Bray,​ ​B.,​ ​&​ ​McClaskey,​ ​K.​ ​(2015,​ ​November​ ​8).​ ​Choice​ ​is​ ​More​ ​than​ ​a​ ​Menu​ ​of​ ​Options.​ ​Retrieved​ ​January 21,​ ​2018,​ ​from http://www.personalizelearning.com/2015/11/choice-is-more-than-menu-of-options.html

Customized Learning. (2014, July 15). Retrieved January 23, 2018, from https://mcmel.org/customized-learning/

Thompson,​ ​J.​ ​(2017,​ ​March​ ​20).​ ​Getting​ ​Started​ ​with​ ​Personalized​ ​Learning.​ ​Retrieved​ ​December​ ​09,​ ​2017,​ ​from ​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​ ​​http://www.learningpersonalized.com/getting-started-with-personalized-learning/