Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Student Feedback & Adaptation

Student Feedback
Last week, I used a Google Form to gather feedback from students around the use of a back channel. I was pleasantly surprised to see that students have really latched onto this idea. There were, of course, a few students who feel that the back channel inhibits them from watching or interacting with the live version of whatever is happening in the classroom. However, the majority of students really enjoy having a place to communicate with peers while something is going on, live, in the classroom. See Data on my site for specific feedback from students. 

Bill Fishell and I have used TodaysMeet in a multitude of ways so far in our classroom. 

TodaysMeet with movie 
The pilot of this back channel was to watch The Lost Boys BBC documentary while students communicated via TodaysMeet with facts from the film, questions, and/or general observations. Our first TodaysMeet was teacher moderated. Our second TodaysMeet was moderated by students

Live discussion or TodaysMeet choice. 
We had a discussion in class regarding issues in the book A Long Walk to Water. Student had the option of a live discussion (face to face at a round table, no screens) or a TodaysMeet moderated by students.

Live Discussion with TodaysMeet fishbowl 
In the same book discussion day, we changed our approach by having students at the round table, discussing live, while students around the outside engaged with one another on TodaysMeet. 

Though we have yet to find the "perfect" back channel (is there such thing?), I think we are on the right track. I have heard so much from students about their engagement in class when they have the platform to share their views and opinions. As we know, middle school is a tumultuous and amazing time. Students grow immensely, physically and emotionally, in our classrooms. They are starting the see the "grey" area in the world, understand larger issues, are capable of higher order thinking, and recognize injustice in the world around them. When we offer students the opportunity to explore these areas in a safe space, incredible things can happen.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tweaking the feedback

For the last time, I promise, I've tweaked the focus of my action research. My teaching partner is doing a lot of create a back channel in our classroom. We've done this six times to date. Each time, we've used TodaysMeet to open back channels for student discussion. We're wrapping up our unit on Africa and our reading of the novel, A Long Walk to Water. This back channel was used the first two times to open discussion and reflect while watching the BBC documentary on the Lost Boys. I've become really excited about this new back channel. I'm planning to change, for the last time (really), my feedback to be structured around the back channel. 

The first back channel occurred on Friday, 4/11 with teacher moderators and the movie only. Our second back channel occurred on Monday, 4/21 with student moderators, teacher moderators, and the movie. We quickly changed our morning plan to include four instead of two moderators. In our model, we have two home teams, one hour and twenty minutes, and two teachers. Originally, we selected one student from each home team to check off student participation on a class roster and prompt conversation. It became evident that these two tasks were too much for one student (while also, hopefully, getting something from the film). In our second class, we selected four moderators (two from each home team); one student was responsible for checking off participation while the other student prompted the conversation and policed kindness--one set per home team. 

In our third back channel session, it was an option. We wanted students to engage in a class discussion. For the students who wanted, they engaged in a live discussion in one classroom while the quieter students engaged in a TodaysMeet discussion in the other room. 

After our meeting with Susan, we adapted once more to create a fishbowl--inner students having a live discussion, outer students engaging on TodaysMeet. As the first time, I felt it was a success. It was definitely a "spur of the moment" decision that could use some tweaking as far as set up and expectations. 

I plan to gather student feedback tomorrow around their successes and challenges with these models. I would also like to use student feedback to set up norms and protocol around these back channel discussions.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Team Building

Constantly inspired by other teachers, I found Christian Long's TED Talk incredibly interesting and inspiring! I've always found it interesting to build opportunities that allow students to feel they can "fail safely" in my classroom, but the world as a design problem is incredible! 

Based on his TED talk, the lesson, and other resources, I would like to put my project completely in student hands. How can I best provide help? I'm considering adding the following questions to my feedback system in order to better serve students. If I truly want their engagement, I need to involve them as much as possible. 

Successes in humanities 
Challenges in humanities 
Teacher help/check in YES or NO 
How would you like to be helped? (By myself, in a small group, in class review) 
When would you like to be helped? (During class, during recess, during lunch, etc.) 

I'm excited to get started!

The frame is working

After completing the Frameworker badge in the Scaling framework, I'm feeling much better about my direction. Taking the time to respond to each of the documents really does help to define purpose and a plan. I now know, after much agonozing, that I have chosen the right path for me, my students, and my future instruction. Student feedback is so important for a multitude of reasons--first and foremost, relationship building. Middle level students must feel as though they have a relationship with teachers before they can do just about anything else. These personal connections we build with students create a framework for successful work in the classroom for both students and teachers. By allowing students a regular and results based method for delivering feedback, they feel as though we care (which, of course, we do!) and that they have a voice in their own education. Everyone, middle level students included, places more value on something they are invested in. When students take an interest in their education, amazing things happen. By checking in with students using technology as a platform, I can regularly and efficiently meet the needs of my students. Essentially, they are in the driver's seat here. They are choosing to open up to me by either a) sharing their successes/challenges and b) requesting help or a check in. I not only hope I can improve instruction by meeting the academic needs of my students, but I also hope to deepen my relationship with my students by not only asking for, but valuing and responding to their feedback.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Colleague Inspiration

Morning Check In
I continually find inspiration in other educators. During this action research, I found endless resources from teachers all over the country, the world even, who have been inspiring. Sometimes, this inspiration takes me into a HUGE question that could not be answered in just a short amount of time. In this case, I've found inspiration in Laura Botte's Morning Check In. She uses a Google Form each day. Her students take 5 to 10 minutes to answer a brief four questions: Name, How are you feeling today? Why are you feeling this way? and Would you like a teacher check in? Her Morning Check In feedback system has afforded her the ability to get to know her students infinitely better. This also allows her to check in with the students who need the extra help or attention. I would like to tailor my check in more towards academic, specifically humanities. 

Here are some possible questions for my humanities check in: 

Describe one success in humanities this week. 
Describe something that challenged you or that you need help with. 
Would you like teacher support or a check in?

I would like to also use Google forms, probably once per week.

Honing the Question

I feel like I finally have some definitive direction after my time with John. The Google Hangout session wasn't without it's technical glitches... No microphone sound, but successful nonetheless. One of my biggest take-aways from initial research was around feedback; not only finding the most useful feedback tools, but also using student feedback to inform instruction. In my experience, students are not always honest in the whole group feedback mechanisms, like "thumbs up, thumbs side, thumbs down" or a raise of hands for understanding. That leaves the more anonymous and individual means of feedback; polls, surveys, nearpod. However, because student support time means missing recess or lunch for extra help, students are often not honest in these modes either. They don't want to miss their social time at recess or lunch. This means that the students who need the most help are not receiving it because they do not want to lose out on their social times.

Luckily, I am in a team teaching model for humanities. In this model, I have flexibility in class to make sure Bill and I are getting to those students who need support. We could also build in activities for students who want the extra step; going above and beyond. Now comes the time to hone the question.

What modes of feedback are most useful for students and teachers?
How can I use feedback immediately in my classroom to offer support or expansion steps?
How can I structure my class so that the needs of all students are being met, in accordance with their feedback?
How often should I use this feedback tool?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why is this so hard?

The amount of excitement around this project continues to grow. There are so many benefits to passion and excitement around a new project: motivation, creativity, hard work, pride in the product. However, there is one glaring issue that I cannot seem to shake: PICK SOMETHING! In order to get started, I need a focus, something small, that can be quantified. My climbing guide just recently gave me some more articles to consult to get ideas. I was very struck by this one in particular, and I finally feel like I can begin to build something. 

ESchool News published an article on self-paced learning. The writer, Peter West, opens by discussing the idea of "average" and creating "average" material in hopes that everyone will fit into it. I know from a very short time in the education field that school does not work that way, but that's exactly what we do. With this amazing 1:1 opportunity, school does not need to be one "average" size meant to fit all students. Using inspiration from various articles, including the one linked above, I would like to create a way to measure success between students who are given material in a self-paced way and students who are given material in the traditional classroom manner. 

The questions now become...
How do I split students in a way that is ethical?
How do I choose a way to assess students on what they've learned?
Is "self-paced" the same as "personalized"? 
When do I find the time and space to do this with my students this year?
What is the content connection?

I need to remember to keep it contained! Keep it small. Attainable. I appreciate the help of my teammates today, talking through my mind circles.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I'm finally starting to gain understanding of what I want to learn during this process. For me, my idea around personalized learning using technology seems so big and often difficult to "confine" in a quantitative question. However, I've already found some inspiration among the research provided to us on the Scaling the Action Research Peak website. Seeing other ARPs in action is very helpful to begin to frame my own research. 

In our most recent meeting with our climbing guide, I embarked on gathering some research of my own. This article on Edutopia offers 10 suggestions for students' personalized learning by way of technology. I was particularly struck by a few ideas: 

2. Gather and use immediate feedback of students' understanding
3. Give students options 
6. Create weekly "Must do" and "May do" lists

I would really like to sample all students, focusing in on a few in particular who demonstrate a wide range of learners in my classroom. I'm currently considering ideas around giving students options. I would like to create a series of small projects that are based on what students already know from their time in my classroom. These small projects or questions will be answered using an app of the student's choice. After each project or question, I will survey students about their individualization of products. I will gather more in depth interviews from students who I select to offer a range of learners.

I've just started to dig into this report by Babette Moeller and Tim Reitzes on Integrating Technology with Student Centered Learning.

Friday, March 14, 2014

More thoughts...

Coming to terms with a smaller project is difficult for someone like me who would like all the answers. I want to know everything I can do to make me a better teacher as well as make the 1:1 experience the best it can be for my students. 

In just glancing through the second study, I was suddenly struck with how interesting and useful it would be to research how technology levels the playing field and/or increases achievement for students with low SES. Perhaps comparing FRPL logs with academic records for students pre and post technology integration.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Getting Started

It seems that I'm finally able to see a product within my swirling thoughts around an action research question. My first meeting with my team and climbing guide has enabled me to talk through my ideas. I often find that when I'm working on something I love, like technology in my classroom, I have incredibly grand plans. These plans, though inspiring, are often difficult to pin down. I have a difficult time seeing these ideas come to fruition in the state of a product. My first meeting definitely helped with this process. 

I was immediately struck with ideas around engagement and "leveling the playing field" for students using the iPad. I truly believe that my students feel they can demonstrate their knowledge more readily and more dynamically than before. Access to technology in school definitely lends itself to more efficient class time. For example, students creating a piece of writing can oftentimes type faster than they can write. Therefore, they are able to write more in the same or shorter amounts of time. The iPad certainly lends itself to increased engagement. From day one, students were in awe of their new device and all it could do for them. They continue to be intrigued by the many offerings (apps, efficiency, differentiation). The piece that has struck me most is around differentiation. We know that every student learns differently. Each student would benefit from his or her own learning plan. However, one teacher per 20 students unfortunately does not allow for this type of individualized basis each day. The iPad allows students to get to know their own styles of learning and experiment with platforms they like best. As the year progresses, the more flexible assignments become. For instance, a question does not need to be answered in writing in a Google document. Instead, students have a multitude of apps to show what they know. They also have opportunities for audio and video recordings. 

I believe that iPads help students individualize their learning and meet their needs. This definitely increases engagement and achievement because all students can feel successful.