Is it in the text?

This past week I finished grading my students assessments from first quarter. We covered many English Language Arts (ELA) standards over the first nine weeks, but especially focused on asking and answering questions in both literature and informational texts.

ELA Common Core Standards

Grade 2 Reading Literature:

  • Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.

Grade 2 Informational Text:

  • Ask and answer such questions as who, what, where, when, why, and how to demonstrate understanding of key details in a text.

In first grade, we focused on the standards in both read aloud and guided reading texts. This year our students have independently read a text and answered who, what, where, when, why, and how questions.

I have noticed that as my students learn more information over the year, they are using their prior knowledge to answer the text-based questions. I started to think about ways to teach my students the difference between using prior knowledge before reading a text and then using the text to answer the questions.

I found an article on Edutopia called Teaching Students the Skills of Expert Readers and thought about ways to incorporate these skills in my classroom. The article summarizes The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Readers.

My literacy centers are structured around Daily 5 model but are differentiated based on my students needs. I have 11 centers, which include 3 teacher groups (myself, another second grade teacher, and a resource teacher). My students do not follow a traditional rotation, but rather each student is strategically placed in a center based on his/ her individual needs and the activity at the center.

Here is a picture of my rotation. Students are homogeneously grouped based on reading level within a group of 2-3.

This type of rotation is very time-consuming to create, but gives my students to opportunity to work at centers that are differentiated to their level.

After reading about the 7 strategies, I started to think about ways to incorporate each strategy into my Daily 5 Centers.

1. Activating:

  • This past week we studied weather and clouds – I have set up a center to complete a small research project on clouds and use knowledge from our lessons to complete the task rather than prior personal knowledge.

2. Summarizing:

  • My students will be locating vocabulary in differentiated leveled text topics that have already been introduced during literacy instruction. Once they find the vocabulary word, they will complete a graphic organizer to summarize (determine) the meaning of the word and use the word to further explain their understanding of the text.

3. Monitoring and Clarifying:

  • Students will work on a clouds research project using differentiated texts to report information about clouds and weather. Students will be given opportunities to work collaboratively on the project for many days and check their understanding through the project.

4. Visualizing and Organizing:

  • When locating and defining the vocabulary words, the students will have opportunities to use a graphic organizer to show their thinking and understanding.

5. Searching and Selecting:

  • The clouds research project will give the students an opportunity to search for information and select facts from the necessary sources.

6. Questioning:

  • This week we will focus on questions during our guided reading. My students can create “thin” questions – questions that can be answered from the text, but have a harder time asking the “thick” questions.

7. Inferring:

  • We also focus on inferring from the text and use student created questions to practice the strategy.

Our school also uses the MobyMax Accelerated Personalized Learning program. My students will also be engaged in focused informational text instruction and questions as well as a variety of stories with questions.

I am excited to use the 7 strategies as a framework for creating my centers. This framework will help me plan a variety of activities and ensure that I am creating a variety of learning opportunities for my expert readers.

How do you create your centers?

What do you think are important skills for young readers?

How do you teach your students to use prior knowledge to read the text, but not necessary use to answer comprehension questions?


Did it end with a bang?

On Friday we ended the first quarter of Second Grade. As I reflected with my students, I could not believe how quickly the first 45 days of school flew by. I then started to think about an ideal world and the celebrations that should have happened to mark this important event in our second grade timeline. Instead we completed our first quarter assessments and cross checked that all students had been given each assessments.

My county plans our pacing guide and the objectives to be taught each quarter. Each objective is assigned as either a 3 assessments or 1 assessment objective. We then assess each student through different assessment types: pencil and paper, objective task, observation, classwork, independent project, group project, etc. At the end of the quarter I grade each assessment, enter the standard based grades and start the new quarter.

Each time I struggle with the importance of the assessments and the information I learn from my students. I have already had many informal formative opportunities with my students during small group instruction, conferences, whole group lessons and interventions. I do not need 3 assessments to help me “grade” my students. I also reflect on the amount of time we spend completing these tasks.

As I start the second quarter I want to ensure that the assessments I give my students are going to be informative to both myself and the growth of my students. The article The Bridge Between Today’s Lesson and Tomorrow’s discusses a formative assessment as an exchange between the students and the teacher. The formative assessment is an aid in the student’s growth. I want my students to understand why we have assessments and then find a way to grow after receiving feedback from the assessment.

I started to think about the role of assessments in the classroom and the growth my students can make if quality assessments are given. I asked the question on twitter and am anxiously waiting to see if I receive any advice or response.

I then decided to look at assessments in a second grade classroom. After searching for quality assessments I opened up the article – Designing Learning That Matters. After reading the article I started to think about the assessments in my class and if the assessments matter to my students. Do they understand assessments as part of showing what they know? Or is it another paper that they finish as soon as possible. Not one assessment this year has been authentic or been an activity my students were excited about. I was then led to the idea of student choice in formative assessments.

I came across the Creative DNA (Device Neutral Apps) Assessments Document

I have used many of these apps in my classroom and my students have enjoyed the activities.  For example they ask for more padlets to answer questions. I am going to look into the other apps to see if they are a possibility to use as formative assessments. If my students are excited about the technology I need to give them options to show what they have learned with these tools.

I also came across a Tic-Tac-Toe choice board for assessments. This could be a great resource for me to use with my Multiple Intelligences Professional Development.

I want my students to understand that assessments are part of the learning process and as an exchange between what they know and what they have learned. I am meeting with my team this week and I look forward to creating some choice assessments. I will keep you updated on our growth in choice assessments.

How do you assess your students?

Do you use choice boards for formative/ summative assessments?

Where do you find your assessments?

What advice do you have when creating assessments?

It begins with a question

For the past 2 weeks I have started to implement Passion Projects into my classroom. My students are very excited about the projects and have been engaged in every part this far.

Here is a quick overview of the past two weeks.

  1. I realized that we have many websites that my students will need to visit for the project. I created a symbaloo for my students to use to find the websites for our projects.


2. I then realized that the symbaloo address was way too long for each student to memorize, so I created a Bitly for my students to remember. ( While introducing these tools to my students, I explained the background and reason for using the tools. Many of my students were interested and wanted to ask more questions about tools on the internet

3. I then introduced my students to KidBlog and I was very impressed. We learned how to find the website, log in, explore the dashboard. We then learned how to find and read a post.

KidBlog Welcome

I wanted my students to choose an avatar on the screen, but the accounts needed to be upgraded so I could not follow through with that plan. I am going to work with the students to create an avatar on a site (similar to paint) and then we can upload their pictures. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

4. Next we looked at how to comment on the post. I asked the students to write hi, hey, or hello and post the comment. I then showed the students how their posts would go to my account and I would have to approve the comments before it would post to the KidBlog. I wanted my students to think about how big the internet is and the safety need when going on different websites.

5. We stopped to have a discussion about internet safety and asking permission for websites. My students are very responsible about using the internet at school, but I cannot speak for my students at home. I want to provide my students with learning opportunities that are safe and teach them how to use the internet in a safe way.

6. We then learned how to write a post. I asked the students to write about themselves to experiment with the keyboard. This is the first time that my students have blogged and I wanted them to try out writing in this way. ALL students were engaged in the activity and sat in silence for 30 minutes typing away. Some students were using 2 hands when typing, students were asking for help with capitalizing letters. I have to remind some students to look at the screen to check that their sentence was not in all capital letters.

Here are some examples from my students:
Intro 1      Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.38.18 AM
Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.39.12 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.38.01 AM

The students were very excited to share some information about themselves.

7. The next day we went back to the Computer Lab to start our projects. I introduced the idea of Passion Projects and had my students review some research videos on Discovery Education. I assigned the videos to the students as an introduction to our research questions creation.

Discovery Education Assignments

8. After the students watched the videos, I presented the questions that I wanted them to blog about. I let my students know that they questions were there to start their thinking, but they did not have to answer all the questions. I wanted them to write questions that they wanted to research.

PP Questions

Here are some examples from their blog posts:

PP Questions Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.51.05 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.52.50 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.51.23 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.53.37 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.53.02 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.51.57 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.52.06 AM Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 8.54.10 AMScreen Shot 2015-10-17 at 9.02.44 AM

This is where we stopped our project for the week. I am going to let the students comment on each other’s posts next week during centers and see if more ideas/ questions spark from reading and commenting on other student’s work.

I am excited about the process so far, but still have many questions about spelling, word choice, readable posts.

Do you have any suggestions on improving student’s posts?

What are some guidelines for younger students and publishing on the internet?

Do you work on a “perfect” sentence or let them sound out the words themselves?

What do you want to learn?

Do you ever get that feeling of excitement when you start planning a new initiative in your classroom? That feeling of excitement, more excitement than your students have when you introduce your initiative. Well that is how I am feeling at this moment. After our hurricane research day (see prior blog post) I was reflecting on my students engagement and excitement about the topic. I then started to think about ways to incorporate this learning opportunity into the classroom frequently.

I stumbled upon a Kid President video and some information about Genius Hour. Then the fun began.

I started to learn about classrooms and teachers that have a block of time for students to engage in personal research projects. Teachers set aside 1 hour or more during the week for students to work on these projects, individually or in groups. They call this time Genius Hour, Passion Projects or Wonder time.

Here are some videos to introduce you to the concept:

This concept has been around for a while and the students are actively engaged in nonfiction texts. This might be the answer to exposing my students to more nonfiction text. My students have used technology consistently this year and I can notice who they are chaining their mindset on the use of technology. We have been engaged in using the technology to showcase information as well as find new information.

My second graders have so many questions about our classroom topics as well as individual topics that they want to learn more about. I then started to think about what this will look like in my room. I found Genius Hour project examples in all grade levels, how the project is structured differed based on the age of the students.

I work at a Magnet School and our instructional time is shortened by 40 minutes to allow for our Magnet Electives in our schedule. Fortunately on Fridays we get back that 40 minutes of instructional time. I want to use my Daily 5 time (50 minutes) and Elective Down time (40 minutes) to implement Genius Hour. I am going to name this time “Passion Project Time”. We also have our morning work time 3 days a week for about 20 minutes and I am going to have students work their projects during that time (I am always looking for more engaging activities during morning work).

I wondered what this could look like in my classroom and where to start. I stumbled upon Genius Hour/ 20% Time LiveBinder and felt like I won the weekend lottery. This LiveBinder has information that I wanted and needed to know.

Rhoni McFarlane (@rhonimcfarlane) created a Genius Hour Overview and I  think structure is what my classroom needs for our Passion Project. I then started to think about where my students are going to keep this new knowledge and how are we going to learn from one another. We are engaged in a monthly book study at school and I am reading So Each May Learn by Harvey Silver and Matthew J. Perini. We are discussing the multiple intelligences each month and I want to incorporate each learning style into the project.

My final excitement about the project is the Kidblog that I created for my students. I was somewhat lost on what to do with the blog and how to make it a worthwhile experience for my students. Since we are going to have different Passion Projects in the classroom I want my students to keep updating the blog with what they have learned about their project. I then will teach the students how to comment on each other’s learning throughout the year. It is not going to be possible to have every child update us every week, but this is an opportunity for the students to have an audience during their learning process.

I am very excited to implement this new initiative and I will keep you posted on the progress.

  • Have you implemented a Passion Project?
  • Do your students seek out independent research time?
  • What do you think about Genius Hour?

Rain, Rain, Go Away

This week we spent the majority of our recess time indoors. Each morning as I was going over the schedule with my children, a child would ask “Are we going to have indoor recess?”. Needless to say it was pouring as the question was asked. Finally on Friday our morning discussion led to asking the question “Why is it raining so much?”. We looked at some videos on The Weather Channel, but I could see that some children did not understand the role of the hurricane in our weather system and thought the rain was going to bring the worst. Other children were able to input information about Hurricane Joaquin, but then the questions began.

  • What is a hurricane?
  • Where does the rain come from?
  • Why it is raining so much?
  • When will the rain stop?
  • What is the hurricane doing?
  • How big is the hurricane?

Since our Friday schedule is pretty open, I decided to put the daily plans on hold and our classroom became a hurricane research center.

I first learned about Wonderopolis from twitter and have been using it in my classroom for background knowledge and to find more information. The site is very user-friendly and I searched hurricanes on the front page.

Wonderopolis - Hurricanes

We started our research with three texts – What is a Hurricane?, Where is the Eye of a Hurricane? and How Do Hurricanes Get Their Names?. I used the read aloud function for the first text, but read the second text aloud. It was easier for the children to follow along and I noticed that I was stopping to explain the vocabulary and then give more background information.

As I read the text I could see the children were thinking more about the hurricane and wanting to ask more questions. After reading the two texts, we started to list some questions that we wanted to answer based on what we had already learned.

  1. What is the eye and eye wall?
  2. How does a hurricane start/ form?
  3. How does a hurricane stop/ disappear?
  4. How big can a hurricane get?
  5. How does a hurricane get a name?
  6. What is some hurricane vocabulary?
  7. What can a hurricane do on land and/ or water?

I then let the children choose the question that they were most interested in researching. I provided the 3 texts, a highlighter and an iPad. We also looked at Big Universe for more hurricane texts.

This year I am trying to encourage my children to make choices about what they want to learn. As second graders I feel that they are ready to be engaged in tasks of choice and choice of final projects. Since this project was spontaneous and I did not have a required outcome, we discussed some options to present their answers. The children came up with ideas to use whiteboards to write information, present information in a video, write information on a paper and take a photograph, draw a diagram to represent the information. All the children wanted to input their information on a padlet. I created our Hurricanes Padlet and the children went to research.

Nearly every student was engaged in this activity throughout the day. I noticed that most students are learning how to work with others and were excited to engaged in a choose activity. We tried to input the information on the padlet, but we experienced some technical difficulties. All children research, created a product and video/ photographed their work. I tried to input the information on the padlet and will continue to try next week (iPads have to be left at school). I want my children to share their work with an authentic audience.

I was very impressed with their engagement and excitement around the project. Look for my next post on how I am going to incorporate this model into my classroom weekly.

Do you have opportunities for your students to research choice topics? How do you structure your independent research time?

Padlet in a Second Grade Classroom

A couple of weeks ago I was introduced to Padlet, a social network that allows for many people to post at the same time. This allows for collaboration and students instantly see their responses on the main screen. We used padlet at a staff professional development to engage our audience with the essential question for the training. I was then intrigued to use this social network in my classroom.

Here is an overview of the use with my second grade students:

Personal Narrative Brainstorming

  • Background: We are learning about good citizens in our communities and how to be a good citizen. We are also writing personal narrative stories and some students are having a hard time coming up with a real life example
  • Padlet Activity:
    • I posed the question – What makes a good citizen?
    • The students worked in groups of 3-4 to give examples of good citizens.
    • We then sorted the ideas by common theme.
    • Students used the brainstorming ideas to plan a good citizen personal narrative.
  • Pros / Cons:
    • Pro: ALL students could participate.
    • Pro: Students were actively engaged in the brainstorming.
    • Con: There were a lot of similar ideas, even when students saw the same idea they still wanted to brainstorm their idea.
  • Overall: I was impressed with the student’s use of the social network as well as the groups of 3-4 working together.

Morning Work Question

  • Background: I want to morning work activities that can be used for morning meeting.
  • Padlet Activity:
    • Students individually responded to a morning work prompt.
  • Pros / Cons:
    • Pro: Students discussed response at morning meeting.
    • Pro: Students had an audience for the question.
    • Con: Not all students participated (late arrivals, breakfast eaters).
    • Con: I only had 4 available pieces of technology at the time.
    • Con: Some students typed for over 20 minutes. We only have 20 minutes for the whole class to respond.
  • Overall: The students wanted to share their responses, but I need to find a way to enhance/focus the morning work question.

Addition and Subtraction Strategies 

  • Background: I needed to find an activity to review the addition and subtraction strategies that we had learned in the classroom. I wanted the students to be able to practice the strategy that they felt most comfortable with and then share that strategy with the class.
  • Padlet Activity:
    • Students were randomly placed in groups of 2-3.
    • The student choose a teen total addition equation.
    • They brainstormed a strategy to use to solve the problem.
    • They decided how to present the problem (video, photograph, whiteboard, modeling).
  • Pros / Cons:
    • Pro: ALL students could participate.
    • Pro: Students had a choice in their delivery method.
    • Pro: Students worked with each other to create the product.
    • Pro: The students were actively engaged in the activity.
    • Con: Some students could not get the program to load their videos and became frustrated when they lost the video.
  • Overall:
    • My students were very excited to share their strategies and wanted to learn more from the other examples.

Daily 5 Comprehension Questions

  • Background: I want my students to be engaged in authentic comprehension tasks. We were reviewing asking and answering questions
  • Padlet Activity:
    • I read aloud a grade level guided reading text.
    • The students were randomly grouped in pairs.
    • Each pair had a copy of the text and an ipad.
    • The students had to create 3 questions based on the text – they could pose the question any way.
  • Pros / Cons:
    • Pro: All students could participate and had read/heard the text.
    • Pro: Students could pose the question in their own way as well as give clues to the answer.
    • Con: Most students were not engaged in the activity.
    • Con: In most pairs, 1 student took the lead and the other student sat and watched as the assignment was completed.
  • Overall: I felt that my students spent more time working with the technology then creating questions about the text. I think more time needs to be spent discussing what group work looks like when writing comprehension questions.

My students enjoyed the use of padlet and I was very impressed with their use of the social network in such a short time. I am looking forward to integrating this into my centers and even ask for my students input for activities to use with padlets.

*Have you used padlet in your classroom?

*How do your students work together in groups?

*What activity did you enjoy the most when using padlet?

Digital Overload

This past week I attended a Discovery Education Professional Development (PD). Wake County has partnered with Discovery Education to provide PD to four staff from each school over 3 years. This will be my third year attending and our focus for the year is “Leading the Transition”. After we attend the PD we return to school and present to our staff.

This past session was centered around the Technology Integration Matrix (TIM). The TIM provides teachers a framework for integrating technology. TIM is not used to evaluate teachers but rather gives videos and classroom examples for each part of the matrix. I enjoyed the direct examples from a variety of grade levels and the ideas that were presented in each part of the TIM.

Here is a screenshot of the TIM:

Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 7.48.02 AM

The columns of the TIM define the levels of technology integration (entry, adoption, adaption, infusion, transformation) and the rows define the characteristics (active, collaborative, constructive, authentic, goal-directed). Each section has videos for Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. Here is an example of a Social Studies video in the Constructive Learning – Infusion Level, the students are creating a new country on an existing continent.

We were given time to explore the videos and resources on the TIM, and this is when the digital overload began. There are so many resources on the internet for our students to use in the classroom. We are moving away from asking students to put away their cellphones and schools are encouraging BYOD (bring your own device). All of the technology out there can change a classroom and enhance the students learning, but as a teacher I have a hard time deciding where to start. I can/do spend hours looking through technology options for my classroom and thinking about ways to integrate the technology. With limited resources at my school, I then have to tailor the lesson to the technology in my classroom and decide which activities will be best for my students.

After reviewing the TIM, I was excited to start planning. The TIM gave me a new perspective on the use of technology. The matrix took into account that at times teachers have to use technology in the entry level to teach students. We have to use videos to provide background knowledge. I then started to think about the background knowledge that we provide our students. Do all students have to sit through introduction lessons? Students come to school with a range of background knowledge and classroom behaviors can spike when students become bored.

At the training i took interest in the social bookmarking service symbaloo. I started to think about ways to use this website as a student hub of information. Give my students the ownership to learn the information for the topic and then have a central place to keep the information. Our social studies unit focuses on Historical Figures, I found a symbaloo in the gallery that was created with videos and informational on many different historical figures. I could give this to my students and they could pick and choose who they wanted to research. Giving the ownership and choice to my students could create more opportunities for individualized learning in the classroom.

All of these resources and ideas for technology integration lead me to my digital overload. I am continuously asking myself

  • Can my students use the technology?
  • How long will it take to teach them?
  • What makes sense to use?
  • How much time will the technology units take?

I could continue to ask the questions, but at some point I need to answer the questions by putting these technology practices into my classroom and observe my students. Do you ever feel the digital overload?

What is meaningful?

At the start of every year, I log into a new blog website and create a classroom blog. I upload my supply list, class information, change the format and find a theme picture for the year. I write my “All About” page and then stop.

This activity has happened for the last 3 years and to this day I have not followed through with an idea for the blog and/or shared my blog with students and families. This year is going to be different! Unfortunately at this time I have too many ideas for my classroom blog. The problem I am facing is the numerous options of students blogs. I have researched some options and come up with a list of ideas.

Blog options as of 09/10/2015

  • Edublogs – I can create my own classroom blog, add students and approve all activity before posted.
  • Kidblog – I can create my student’s individual accounts and then approve all posts and activities.
  • Google Sites – Each student has an individual account, they can create a blog but I will not be able to approve blog posts or monitor activity.
  • WordPress – I can create a classroom blog and students can interact through the comments and guest post options.

Since classroom blogging is my Explore Project focus for this semester I have conducted some research and found a classroom blog that I find very inspiring. This teacher (Mrs. Yollis) created her classroom blog in 2008 and has used the same site for her following classes. The model of her classroom blog is created by the documentation of her student’s learning. The teacher and students post information (pictures, work samples, audio files, videos) to showcase learning in the classroom. These posts are commented on by fellow students in the classroom, family members, school staff and the online community. I posted a comment on the website and noticed that Mrs. Yollis does approve all her comments. Mrs. Yollis has also created a wikispace with directions, information and examples to get started blogging in your classroom.

When reading through the blog, I was surprised by the community that was showcased through the online network. I was interested in the Cluster Map that shows the visitors to the website in the past month. When reading through the posts I noticed that Mrs. Yollis has created partnerships with schools in other countries and a relationship has been formed between the classrooms. I find that to be such a valuable experience for students and much easier with the use of technology.

I am still trying to answer my million dollar question “What is meaningful?” when it comes to creating a classroom blog. I want this to be a place that my students feel safe, feel the desire to share information, connect with new people, give each other praise and most importantly see the purpose to our classroom blog. I have narrowed down my focus to literacy, but still am asking myself what that looks like. Do we write about the same book? Do we study an author and then compare and contrast the books? Do we blog with partners, groups, individually? There are many more questions and I keep reminding myself that the days are going by very quickly and I need to start this journey in the next couple weeks.

What are your experiences with blogs? Have you had success with one website over another? What recommendations do you have when thinking about student blogging?

I leave you with an image that reminds me of the importance of blogging and keeps this topic in the front of my mind.

What do you think?