Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#UDL as a Way of Rethinking #Engagement: Heighten the Salience


Brain research has shown that our brains are not only designed for information processing, but contains an affective network, which is comprised of many different parts, which work together to involve the emotional and motivational part of learning. The affective network influences how we perceive the outside world and impacts how we engage in learning. We often see the signs of a lack of engagement as behavior problems, off task behavior, a lack of motivation, an indifference to learning. Without engagement, learning often does not take place. A lack of engagement is often caused by a disconnect in significance.

When students have options for sustaining effort and persistence, they are able to take more ownership of their learning and connect with the goal of the lesson. This involves heightening the salience of both goals and objectives, varying the demands and resources to optimize challenge, and fostering collaboration. How would you describe your learning goals and objectives? Are students able to answer the essential questions and describe the big ideas? 

When a learning goal or objective is salient, it stands out. When increasing the salience of goals and objectives, educators need to strategically guide students to the goal. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways. It is important for students to see, hear, and interact with the goal. Do you write your learning goal or objective in a visible area of your classroom? Are students able to understand the language and wording of the goal? Do you you’re your goals and objectives aloud? Do you have a classroom goal reader? 

One teacher created daily blog posts which contained the essential question of the day. Everyday a new student was assigned as a “guest blogger” to write the essential question, provide brief summary answering the question, and supplemental resources to help understand materials. Students need the right balance of challenge and rigor to persist in learning.

 Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development Theory has been applied to develop optimal learning experiences for students. Vygotsky stated that if a task is too easy, a student will not see any value in it and abandon learning all together. If a task is too difficult, a student may feel too overwhelmed and are more likely to give up; therefore, we should provide students the right balance of challenge and support, known as the “Zone of Proximal Development.” 

If a task is too difficult, proper scaffolding or supports may need to be in place to help a student master a task or skill. As a student’s learning changes over time, so does the need for scaffolding. Providing students with the right balance of rigor and challenge requires keeping scaffolds in place until the student can successfully complete the task on their own. Scaffolds should be thoughtfully designed and included in the design of a lesson or curriculum to benefit all students, much like a ramp benefits those who are confined to a wheel chair, pushing a stroller, or just want to take a shortcut.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Engaging Students Differently: Google Voice to Develop Language Skills



If you haven't noticed, I haven't been posting as frequently as I would like. This is partially due to the fact that I have been working on some really cool projects (more on that later), teaching, and going back to school online at the University of Akron. I hope to earn a second Masters Degree in Instructional Design.

In my current class at Akron, I met a foreign language teacher, who uses Google Voice to assess the pronunciation and language development skills of her students. She created her own Google Voice number, which students call and respond to her weekly prompts. Students were given parameters like the number of responses, the minimum amount of time to respond, etc.

What a cool way for students to practice their grammar and pronunciation! Especially during the awkward time that high school presents. These experiences allow students a low-pre
ssure way of practicing, while developing their confidence in real-life face to face conversations.

She reports that students are very motivated and are improving immensely!

If you remember, Universal Design for Learning incorporates three principles:

1. Multiple Means of Representation
2. Multiple Means of Action and Expression
3. Multiple Means of Engagement

I like to think of engagement as the "fuel" that propels learning. Without it, you are going no where. This is a great way of not only having students show what they know (Action and Expression), but is a great way to engage them too!

Engaging students not only requires doing things differently, but it also requires creating a safe environment where students are encouraged to take risks. Sometimes our fear prevents us from taking risks. When students are given a safe way to practice their skills, they are often more motivated to want to learn and take risks. They will eventually have to speak in a face to face environment. When that time comes, they will be prepared because they have to tools they need to practice and develop confidence!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Web and Students: ePortfolios (Part 2)



Continuing with the theme this week, I want to give you some ideas on how to use the web to create dynamic learning experiences for your students. One great way of having students demonstrate their learning is through e-Portfolios. How can we do it? 

1. LiveBinders

Students can use LiveBinders to create a portfolio of documents, pictures, and URL's to demonstrate what they have learned. This is a perfect way to organize materials in an electronic type of binder, which can be easily shared through email, social media, or just copying and pasting a URL. Students can very easily add tabs and subtabs to organize their artifacts; however, be careful of the space limit on the free version!

2. WikiSpaces

Server space can be an issue on LiveBinders. A few years ago, I was doing research on how to use Wikis in education. I found an example of a music teacher in New Jersey, who  created a class Wiki page for his students to create music portfolio. Each student was assigned a page and uploaded their their creations into their own Wiki page. They uploaded and hyperlinked music files, pictures, documents, etc. I liked this format; however, I would recommend that students create their own Wiki if they were going to use this beyond the class. 

There are tons of other sites out there that you could use, like Google Sites, Wix, Weebly, etc. The idea is to get students to showcase their knowledge and talents to the world. Giving students experiences to showcase their knowledge will not only give students a way to personalize their learning, it will help them to learn how to market themselves in this competitive global market.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Web and Students: Give Students the Keys and they Will Drive Instruction (Part 1)


I recently heard a quote that resonated with me. The author had mentioned, "if  a 50 year-old seventh grade teacher takes a web design course and develops a class website about the Civil War and an actual seventh grader designs a website with the same content, which site would seventh graders actually use?"

Seventh graders would probably gravitate towards their peer because they would most likely fill it with elements that would capture their attention and engage them in a different way. Sometimes we forget the fact that a teenager knows how to design a website for teenagers. We often fail to let our kids use the web as a tool to demonstrate their creativity. Is this why our students often feel like they have to "power down" in class?

Recently, I created a video about this very topic. Check out some of these interesting statistics:


How can we foster creativity? Here are some suggestions:

1. Give Students the Keys and They Will Drive Instruction - why not give students a chance to create web content? There are a variety of free web design websites that will help students design a website in minutes. Wix, Google Sites, and Weebly are some of my favorites.

2. Collaborate. Collaborate. Collaborate. - The model of teaching has changed. We need to learn how to include our students in the learning process. Wikispaces, Zoho Tools, and Google Drive are great tools for students to use to collaborate with you and each other.

3. Ask and You Shall Receive - Unfortunately and fortunately, we are no longer the sole experts of content in our classrooms today. Why? The world is changing so quickly and there are so many tools available that we may or may not know about. It may not be a bad idea to ask your students for feedback. What ideas do they have? What resources are they using that you are not incorporating in your classroom? This humble act can change the dynamic of an entire classroom. If you are not comfortable doing this face to face, why not periodically give a Google Form or Survey Monkey survey?

Over the next few posts, I want to give you some ideas on how to use the web to create dynamic learning experiences for your students. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Creative Way to Use PowerPoint: New Trick with an Old Technology

When you hear the word PowerPoint, what do you immediately think of? Be honest! Do you think of paragraphs of information sandwiched onto a single slide? Are you about to have an anxiety attack if you hear one more student "read" their presentation word for word?

We as educators are guilty of killing PowerPoint! :) Perhaps you may find some humor in Don McMillan's Death By PowerPoint

PowerPoint as a Timeline? 

Today I tried something different. I created a presentation containing a timeline of important historical events.

I then created a separate PowerPoint for my students, which students were able to access from my website. I removed the dates and rearranged the slides, so that my students would have to drag and drop slides into an order that made sense.

How it Benefits All Students!

After the time was up, we began to go over the historical events. I had never seen my students so engaged about history before!

As we progressed through the answers, students would add dates, notes, and arrange slides in the proper order. It was the perfect study tool for my hands-on and visual learners! The best part was that students with visual disabilities could zoom in and out to see the text better.

Do you have a cool way to use #PowerPoint? I would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Supporting ALL Students in the Brainstorming Process



The writing process is a necessary skill that all students should be able to master; however, many of our students struggle with getting their ideas to paper. In order to help all of our students, perhaps we need to rethink the way we have our students organize their thoughts.

Here are a few creative ways to help your students succeed and master the art of brainstorming:

Low-Tech Idea: Post It Notes
Have students brainstorm ideas about their particular topic on post-it notes of any size. Then have them arrange and organize their thoughts by moving and sticking them in different locations on their desk or paper. This is a great way to get your hands-on learners moving and thinking at the same time.

High-Tech Idea: Story Me App
Visual learners live by the quote, “a picture speaks a thousand words.” There is much truth to this. This type of learner often can think through visuals and not necessarily words on a paper. Perhaps you could use the
free App called Story-Me to create a story board or comic strip to help aid in the brainstorming process.

This type of learner often needs to actually see the “big picture” when completing complicated tasks. Story-Me gives students the ability to quickly piece collaged images from their camera roll with speech bubbles and captions. Best of all, there is no need to create an account and you can easily share completed comics through email, social media, or saving it on your iPad’s camera roll.

Not only does this provide students with another way of demonstrating knowledge, it engages students in the writing process in a whole new way.

Monday, January 6, 2014

QR Codes to Increase Literacy in the Kindergarten Classroom

I would like to begin the New Year with a guest blog post from one of my former graduate students. She recently completed my graduate course called Universal Design for Learning through Regional Training CenterJessica Lewars has been a teacher within the Wilson School District for the past seven years. She has taught ESL, first grade, and is currently teaching kindergarten.

QR Codes to Increase Literacy in the Kindergarten Classroom

By: Jessica Lewars

In my kindergarten classroom, I have students who are able to write complete stories with a beginning, middle, and an end and others who can barely write a complete thought on paper. These students are able to verbally say an entire story; however, when it comes to writing it on paper, they have difficulty formulating the sentence, stretching out words and writing down the letter sound correspondence.

I wanted to plan a lesson in which would boost the confidence of my less experienced writers and have them be able to share their stories with the class, despite their lack of writing skills. I took a different lens this time when planning for instruction and thought about my students who are in the margins. I implemented a normal writing workshop time as I always do; however, when students completed writing and editing their stories, I had them record their story on an iPad.

I downloaded the free app, Voice Record Pro, and had students read their story into the microphone. I was able to email the document and save it in my Google Drive. From there I created a QR code using the website QR Generator. I printed out the codes and taped it to the back of each student’s paper version of their story, which will be placed in a basket in my classroom library.

Students were  able to use the QR reader app on the iPad to listen to each other’s stories, while visiting the classroom library. The students not only loved hearing their own voice reading, but it has also enabled everyone in the class to listen and “read” each other’s stories. Even my lower students are able to have a story they can listen to.


Since doing this in the classroom, it has boosted the confidence of my writers and has them really excited for writing workshop time. This entire process allowed me as an educator to step out of my comfort zone and implement new technology which I was unfamiliar with. As I reflect upon this process, we are the ones holding students back thinking they are not capable or ready to utilize such technologies in the classroom. 

Today’s generation needs to be taught how to utilize the technologies in front of them and have their teacher facilitate their learning. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework has made me reflect upon various subject areas in which I would like to implement new approaches or methods to teach the content. Single-handedly, I found out my kindergartners were able to log in to programs and utilize apps on an iPad successfully, because I taught them to do so or they already had the schema from someone at home teaching them.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Using QR Codes in Today's Kindergarten Classroom

I would like to begin the New Year with a guest blog post from one of my former graduate students. She recently completed my graduate course called Universal Design for Learning through Regional Training Center. Corinne Schappell is currently in her seventh year of teaching Kindergarten at Green Valley Elementary in the Wilson School District. 

Using QR Codes in Today's Kindergarten Classroom

By: Corinne Schappell

The Kindergarten classroom of today is not the same as it was even ten years ago. The need to be constantly stimulated by visual and hands on activities has maybe not increased but changed in its focus. We have become curriculum driven and are teaching things that were previous taught in first or even second grade. As a teacher, the need to be creative and innovative in order to truly reach and teach a classroom of learners has become a necessity.


I recently learned that there is an entire cart of iPads that are being underutilized in my building. I would like to use them in small groups of 2-3 students at a time to both expose them to another type of technology and to utilize apps to help them practice and learn new skills. A site called Teachers Pay Teachers has pre-created QR codes that the students would be able to scan and then read consonant-vowel-consonant words (CVC words). They can match up the word, QR code, and a picture of the word. I feel that this lesson is a great way to offer students a different way to practice their reading skills and problem solving abilities. Additionally, representing the activity through the use of the QR code instead of just the picture and word matching takes the “game” element to another level.

I look forward to continuing to explore additional ways of incorporating technology into my classroom, to engage my students. I am now consciously planning in ways to reach my all of my learners, including those in the margins.