Friday, July 17, 2015

Authenticity, Intentional Decisions and Connectedness - Chapters 3-5

I loved reading about authenticity, becoming intentional decision makers and connectedness in chapters 3-5.  There were so many "a-ha" statements and of course AMEN statements. In my reading and writing workshop I always valued all three of these components.  However, by incorporating digital tools within the workshop it opens new possibilities for us as learners.  Before integrating the digital component we connected our learning within our classroom community or our school community. Now we can have a wider audience which makes the work the students do more authentic, powerful and motivating.  I loved this statement on page 64, "We want students to make decisions about the things they consume and create because they want their messages to be powerful, because they want to make a difference in the world."  These words are like music to my ears and I want to help my students strive for this as learners. 

"In our workshops, we have tried to embed tools into our routines that stretch thinking and give readers new opportunities for understanding. By using these tools collaboratively first, students can then choose to use them independently when the tool seems right for their purpose (pg.38)." This statement is so powerful by focusing on purpose and choice.  When planning a lesson I would think about which tool to incorporate into the lesson and the purpose for using it.  I would also think about how the features of the tool would help us grow in our learning. A colleague, Deb Frazier, said this to me, "I typically focus mostly on the benefits of the tool and the outcomes."  It was important for the students to see how the tool helped capture our thinking, see connections in our learning, and share our work with an audience.  As a class we would use the tool collaboratively first and then students could choose to use it independently.  I was always amazed how children would find new possibilities on how to use the tool and then share that during share time.  Here are some of the tools we used in our workshops:
  • Kidblog - kids could share their thoughts about the book or create a book review.  Students could add photos or video to help articulate another layer of their thinking.
  • Explain Everything - students could create slides with photos and they could record their thinking or add text.  It is very similar to Educreations.
  • Padlet- pg. 39 
  • Pixie - is an authoring tool that students can create original artwork or add photos.  The can also add text or record their thinking.  This can be used a slides or you can create a podcast.
New tools I want to try:
  • Google forms
  • Biblionasiom - similar to Goodreads
  • Popplet
  • Symbaloo or Diigo
  • VoiceThread-web based communication network that allows children flexibility in how they share their thinking. It also is a different way to connect their thinking with a wider audience.
  • Canvas- our district has added this as a new digital classroom space as an option for learning.  

I will need to take time to explore these new tools and think about the purpose for using them and the options they offer to propel learning.  It is important that I not only think of purposeful ways to use these tools collaboratively but explain why I chose to use this tool and how it has fueled my learning. It is crucial that students see some of the intentional choices I make so they can begin to think about how they have voice in choice in the work they consume or produce. 

"Authenticity is evident when I look around the room and see kids using various tools that meet their needs at the moment (pg.64)." Franki and William also discuss how authenticity is about choice and ownership. Last year when I started to embrace the messy parts of learning by trusting and valuing the choices the students made our learning community changed.  Students stopped asking me for permission and started deciding which tool they needed at that moment to capture their thinking.  We had reading partners meet before our whole class share and I loved how students would flexibly choose between traditional and digital tools to share out.  Some students would choose to blog their reflections and some would use post-it notes to jot down thoughts.  Other students would choose an App like Explain Everything or Pixie and some would still use their notebooks.  The children started to think about their message and then which tool would best communicate that message.  

It was important for me to notice if students thinking was changing and growing and if not how would I support them to develop a more sophisticated understanding.  Did I need to think about changing their reading partner?  Did I need to offer a digital tool to help them connect to a wider audience so they could get more feedback about their learning?  Was it the book he/she is reading?  Just like I wanted my students to think purposefully about the tool they chose to use I had to think about what is the next step for particular readers and which tool at that moment would help he/she move forward in his/her learning.  I basically noticed that digital tools opened possibilities for my students but it also gave me more flexibility in meeting my students' various needs.

Before I read chapter 5 I thought that I really had dropped the ball on connectedness.  I felt like my students' work did not reach a more global audience to gain more feedback about their learning.  This chapter helped me realize that we did connect our learning in different ways and I can continue to work on adding more opportunities for my students.  One tool we did use quite a bit was Skype.  We were lucky to Skype with several authors to help us grow as writers and readers.  I didn't plan the Skype sessions simply just to connect with authors but I purposefully chose authors that would help us develop habits as readers and writers.  I also wanted my students to see how their reading life impacts their writing life.  I noticed children choosing books or websites to read because they needed to gather info for their writing pieces.  Students would choose to read a particular genre because they wanted to craft a writing piece in that genre.  Skyping allowed my students to not only connect the learning we were doing in the classroom but it helped them see new possibilities as a reader and writer.  In the future I would like to not only Skype with authors but other classrooms to help us share, learn, envision, and reflect on our learning.  

Franki talks about using digital text sets as shared reading.  I LOVE this idea.  "Connectivity with resources starts with being thoughtful about the resources we use across content areas. Rather than choosing texts and resources that teach about a topic, we want to build digital texts that help students explore an idea (pg. 79). "  I think that sometimes I choose resources to explore an idea and then sometimes my resources probably just taught about a topic.  In writing workshop I would carefully use books and videos to help us explore possibilities in our writing.  However, I think that some of the resources I used really focused on teaching us about a topic in science or social studies.  I really need to think about how to collect various resources so that we could explore and expand our thinking about an idea.  Franki's example about the different resources she used to help the students explore the idea of community was very helpful and eye opening.  Franki discussed how she met several goals by using digital text sets.  "It helped me think differently about how I was sharing content with my students, and it helped them see that as readers, we build an understanding as we read, view, and connect one piece with others. They saw the continued connections and recognized that each of these pieces did not exist solely in isolation but were stronger together."  I am super excited to use digital texts in my workshops next year! 

As a learner I have enjoyed participating in online communities.  I can work and read at my convenience and each space always helps me push my thinking.  These learning opportunities also help me reflect on teaching and provides ways for me to build upon best practices.  I look forward to the powerful feedback because it energizes me and propels my thinking.  I think it is important for students to have the same online opportunities so I am going to have my students participate in International Dot Day, The Global Read Aloud, and World Read Aloud Day.  These are some authentic ways we as a class can collaboratively connect our learning with a more global community.  I am hoping that some participants in the #cyberPD would like to connect with my 5th graders through blogging, Google+ Communities, Skype, or Voxer.  I choose which online PD I want to participate in and I would like to offer some choice for my students too.  On page 70 this quote sums up why I am going to work hard for my students to become more connected, "When teachers are intentional about connecting their students learning in several ways and across several communities, students will begin to grow in ways they can't when confined to the community of a classroom." 


  1. This says it all: embrace the messy parts of learning by trusting and valuing the choices the students. Congratulations on taking a leap and seeing the benefits! I really appreciated the pictures and screenshots of the tweets. It helps me envision what is possible!


  2. Thanks so much for the feedback I really appreciate it! I do have a tendency to leap into to things and sort things out along the way. So far all my leaps have been a great learning experience.

  3. Tonya,
    I really don't know where to begin to respond as you've said so many interesting things in your post. Thank you for sharing your classroom stories and tools to help us see the way your students worked as digital citizens. I also appreciated your honesty about the pieces of this you are hoping to grow in the coming year.

    Like you, I liked thinking about digital text sets. It somehow seems easier to wrap new ideas around old (for lack of a better word) understandings. We've worked a lot with text sets to grow understanding, build knowledge around topics, and provide steps into new learning. Thinking about varying digital texts is a piece I will add to my thinking in the coming year.

    I read the quote you shared, "Rather than choosing texts and resources that teach about a topic, we want to build digital texts that help students explore an idea." Somehow, however, it stood out more to me as I read your reflection. I find it fascinating how the smallest change in language can propel our thinking. There's something much bigger about exploring an idea than learning about a topic. This is where I think we what we know about inquiry and essential questions can help us to work in more open ended ways that allow students to work toward their own answers.

    Thanks again for participating. We're going to have lots to talk about when we all get together in the start of the new school year!


  4. Thanks so much for hosting and providing such powerful feedback. I always look forward to your comments and how it will push my thinking. This experience has energized me for next year as I think about the possibilities with digital pieces.

  5. Our district is playing with Canvas too and I am anxious to see how people use it in the early grades and to play around a bit. I love the thread in your post about where to go next with kids-building more sophistication, etc. So many great points and the photos were fascinating-I always love all that you can see in one snapshot of kids engaged.

  6. Thanks so much for the feedback. I am moving to 5th grade next year and look forward to finding different ways to use Canvas. Digital Reading What's Essential in Grades 3-8 was so inspiring and full of ways to make learning more personal for students. I am loving it!

  7. Tonya,
    I teach fourth grade and share quite a few of the same sentiments as you shared in your post. I love the idea of guiding kids though some digital texts as shared reading pieces as well as modeling sites/apps in a lesson so kids can choose how/when to use it for their learning. I'd love to stay connected as we move into the new school year!

  8. I would love to stay connected and have our classes connect in authentic ways. I am so to learn together and have some great conversations.