There’s been a bit of a hiatus since my last post. This generally means that things have been crazy at work with final assessments, exams, marking, reporting and change of semester. Now that this whirlwind of a week is nearly over, I finally have a bit of time to myself and I wanted to share the latest app that I’ve discovered.
At the beginning of the year I posted about a list of apps that were assisting in the various facets of my teaching. Teacher Kit was one of them. I was raving about it. But now, to be honest, I’ve moved past it. Why? Because I started to find it wasn’t as flexible in its functions as I wanted. And because I’ve discovered iTeacherBook. This app is built on a similar principle to Teacher Kit, but it’s like its more mature, sophisticated older sibling.
Some features I particularly like about iTeacherBook include:
– reminders about classes.
– take attendance and record student grades with the ability to export to other programs.
– record lesson plans and review plans for previous and future lessons.
– send assignments to students directly from the app.
– sync all data between phone and ipad apps so you can access it anywhere any time.
iTeacherBook finally does everything I ever hoped Teacher Kit would develop. It is literally your brick-like teacher planner in a professional, easy-to-use electronic form. Highly recommended for anyone who likes the ideas behind Teacher Kit but wants greater functionality.
Yesterday a colleague and I attended a Purposeful Assessment workshop run by ACER. It focused on the PAT-R and PAT-M tests, and how they can be interpreted and used for diagnostic data and to inform classroom strategies. It was a clearly-structured, relevant workshop which provided me with direction for how to effectively use the PAT-Reading tests my Year 8 English students completed at the end of last term.
Something which the presenter said that struck me was about the necessity for teachers to have a deep understanding what makes a text complex. This seems obvious, I know – but it got me thinking, I wasn’t taught this at uni. At no stage in my degree do I remember doing a topic or unit that focused on explicit teaching of grammar. We did a lot of work on unit planning, lesson planning and the curriculum, but nothing when it came to teaching students language (other than in in my Italian elective). But nothing substantial when it came to English. So as a graduate, I didn’t have the depth of knowledge and skills required to explain linguistic operations to students, or to effectively deconstruct a text. I could do it myself, but to make some of the concepts accessible to students was a struggle.
It wasn’t until my work with the EAL team at Catholic Education SA that I was truly able to explain the connection between what I could do, and the theory behind those skills. Then I was able to effectively communicate them to my middle school students in a way that set them up for successful reading and writing. Given that I was training to be an English teacher, this is a gaping hole in the course. Fortunately in my first few years I have been exposed to and participated in courses and projects surrounding literacy and have made links with amazing colleagues from whom I have learnt the necessary skills.
Essentially what beginning teachers need in order to learn to move students from general decoding of language to real comprehension, interpretation and analysis is a starting point. The Reading to Learn program was my stimulus, and now that we are using the PAT-R test I am able to effectively identify and target the skills that my students need to develop. There are a wealth of resources out there to help students develop the language they need to be effective readers but it is important to be discerning. We must consider multimodal presentations, and whether or not the questions posed are appropriate. For example, questions that simply require the students to recount the events word for word do not require any critical thinking or manipulation of language and therefore are not an accurate measure of comprehension. Questions and activities need to encourage students to explore, infer, interpret, analyse and crate using language.
Some recommended resources for building students’ language skills and comprehension include:
Today I took a moment in between creating online modules for my classes, and I realised that my teaching is different now from what it was this time last year. I’m not talking about slightly different – I mean completely different. And this is largely due to technology.
So I started to think about the metaphorical journey I have travelled so far with educational technology. It really began when our school introduced laptops for Year 9s up at the beginning of last year. I was really excited about having this technology but wasn’t really sure about where to begin with implementing it effectively in the classroom. This produced a huge challenge with a class of Year 9s who wanted to use their laptops (mainly for playing the numerous games they had quickly uploaded on to them) and a teacher who had a vision for what she wanted in the classroom, but wasn’t sure how to go about achieving it.
Then in October of 2012, I was fortunate enough to attend a full day workshop with George Couros, The Division Principal of Innovative Teaching and Learning for the Parkland School Division in Alberta, Canada. Here I was introduced to the use of Google Chrome, Twitter and Blogging for education. Inspired by George’s workshop, I set up my Twitter account and started to build my Professional Learning Network (PLN), connecting with other teachers and institutions at local, interstate and international levels. This has allowed me to participate in engaging professional discussion, pose questions, and draw on others for ideas about how to improve my practise. (As an aside- I highly recommend following @gcouros, @TeacherTechnol and @EduTweetOz – among many, many others – if you are looking at setting up your own PLN on Twitter) I also set up this blog to reflect on my personal learning, both in and out of the classroom.
Yet, once I’d learnt to navigate the world of Twitter and blogging, I needed more. In my opinion, it is not enough to connect with others if there is no tangible change in my classroom. So I spent some time over the summer holidays exploring the use of the online learning management system Edmodo and planning a class blog for my Year 8 pastoral care group. This is their space where they can reflect on their learning and share it with their parents, and other students and teachers. It took some time to digitalise my resources, create new, more meaningful resources and get the students and their parents accustomed to Edmodo, but once the inevitable teething problems were resolved, it went from strength to strength.
My next aim was for my students to use the digital technologies available to them to connect at a deeper level with their learning and to create their own online content, rather than simply being consumers of online content. The current generation is often described as ‘digital natives’, but I’m not sure that that description is entirely accurate. Our students have grown up with technology as a way life – but more often than not it is used to consume, rather than reimagine, reinvent and create. I believe it is the higher order thinking behind synthesis and creativity that defines the digital native.
Our school is now 1:1 laptop across the entire College, so this year my Year 8s have technology at their fingertips – and many of them only knew how to word process, create a Powerpoint presentation and search the internet. So we started small, using online tools such as Padlet to share ideas and brainstorms. A colleague and I then built on this by running simultaneous Year 8 Religion lessons where the students had to work in groups and then share their learning with their peers in both classes via a Padlet wall.
Our next step will be to involve the students in an inquiry-based project that will require them not only to engage with the digital content created by others, but to work in groups to analyse, reflect, synthesise and create their own content using the knowledge they themselves construct and the opinions they develop.
I have said it before, but my iPad has also been crucial to transforming the way I teach and my students learn. For example, the app Explain Everything has allowed me to create videos that explain and demonstrate concepts and pose questions to the students which I can then post on to the YouTube channel and playlists that I have created for them. I have recently extended this to setting up the subject specific blogs English Excel and Italian Like a Boss, as well as the creation of apps for Apple and Android devices that are linked to the blogs – http://myapp.is/EnglishExcel (on the right in the photo below) and http://myapp.is/ItalianLikeABoss (on the left of the photo). The apps are designed to give students and teachers access to a range of online learning opportunities. Users can link to the blogs, to video tutorials, and to news and podcasts, among other resources. The Italian Like A Boss app will provide a useful platform for our Year 10 and 11 students to communicate their experience with their peers, parents and teachers back at the school through the app and the blog, as well as connecting with others to enhance their learning in a meaningful way. Their learning is more mobile, accessible and relevant to their everyday lives than ever before and will hopefully continue to become even more so!
So this is my journey with educational technology so far. It is by no means complete and certainly not without its challenges. But it has transformed me into a very different teacher from the one I was at the beginning of October last year. There are certainly lots of things I have had to take into consideration, and one thing I firmly believe is that technology is the tool to facilitate and enhance the learning and not the end point. If students are simply learning about the technology then it is not being used effectively. Of course, there will inevitably be some of this, but it shouldn’t be the central focus. The central focus should be the knowledge that students construct through the use of this tool – and not simply for research (i.e. “googling”) or basic word processing! Students should be creating things with the technology that they could not do with pen and paper.
For those who feel like the integration of technology into the classroom is an enormous mountain to climb – it may well be. But if you start small and take it one step at a time, just like we ask students to do, then eventually that one thing you have learnt becomes second nature and you can build on it. You’ll be amazed how quickly it can transform your teaching.
I’ll leave you with this clip that I first saw at George Couros’s workshop. It certainly demonstrates how I – and I am sure others – felt at the beginning of this journey.