We Are All Literacy Teachers

Day 13 of #AprilBlogAday asks "How is literacy critical to the advancement of society today?" Lately, I've been reflecting a lot on professional development while providing input on PD plans for next year, I keep going back to "What are we teaching?" In California, with the adoption of Common Core (CCSS), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and new English Language Development (ELD) Standards we have had a narrow focus on different buckets of standards as opposed to a broader emphasis on teaching and learning.  All too often our trainings focus on just one bucket. Does it really make sense for a teacher to get trained in CCSS and then NGSS, and the ELD with the hopes that at some point we step back and see the connections between the three? Similar to mixing paints, the tranformation occurs when we integrate these standards in our professional development offerings. One means of integration is a focus on literacy as well as technology. Each set of these standards have strong literacy and technology components. If we provide integrated professional development, then we aren't teaching CCSS or creating experts in NGSS or building capacity in ELD but rather doing all of the above in the name of literacy. Regardless of subject or grade level, we are all teachers of literacy and our professional development offerings need to better reflect that.

With so many initiatives being rolled out in a brief period of time, we have become lost in the details and lost sight of the big picture. The big picture is that literacy skills are absolutely essential to student growth and the advancement of society. Students who are equipped to efficiently locate print, digital, informational, and multimedia resources on a variety of topics, analyze them, and then critically evaluate them while creating a product that can communicate their understanding will have the literacy skills necessary to participate and thrive in a global society. Rather than professional development focusing on narrow knowledge or skill-based topical threads, there needs to be more integration and literacy can provide the rallying point for transformation to occur.

Basics for Admin

Basics for Administrators: Leading 21st century Skills Icon
Day 12 of #AprilBlogAday asks, "What's your passion project?"  The last few months, I've been working on a project for current and aspiring administrators under the tagline that 21st century students deserve 21st century leaders. This project grew out of my learning experiences in my current admin program that felt incomplete in addressing 21st century leaders and learners. With that in mind, I signed up for the CUE Innovative Educator Certificate program to help address my learning gap.  And my Basics for Admin passion project was born.

School Administrators are in a unique position to have a positive influence on ALL the students and teachers at their school and/or district. I truly believe that their digital leadership matters. Looking around my own district and with my local aspiring admin peer group, I saw a gap. I spend a lot of time supporting teachers but not administrators. There's very little support PD offered specifically for administrators. With so many things shifting in education, this ongoing project is an initial attempt to address this gap. Currently it focuses more on technical skills because that is our immediate need. It is still very much a work in progress. I'm still figuring out some coding issues and creating content to help promote anytime/anywhere learning and I want to ensure that the "why" behind using different technology is evident. I'm not sure any passion project is every complete but, I expect to have the introductory modules built out by the end of the school year.

With foundational skills in place through leveraging these online resources and providing tech coaching to principals, my hope is that my own district administrators will be more confident in their skills and be better positioned to lead by example in this area.

What I'm Reading

Day 11 of #AprilBlogADay asks, "What are you reading, either professionally or personally? Why?" So much of my experience thus far in April is connected to what I'm currently reading. Right before Spring Break, I saw the April #TBookC selection was What Connected Educators Do Differently and was intrigued. I purchased it with a vision of copious free-time over Break to spend reading. The free-time did not exactly materialize but I did begin the book. In the introduction, that explores what is a Connected Educator, the authors state that "Our view is that serving as a connected educator is a mindset more than anything else; a connected educator tends to adopt and live out a mindset that believes..."1 and then continues to list a variety of connected educator actions. Reading this statement caused a major lightbulb moment for me. Being a connected educator is first and foremost about mindset. It's the actions that follow the mindset. So when I came across #AprilBlogADay challenge a few days into April, I jumped in and haven't looked back. Prior to engaging in the book, I would have not joined the blog challenge because my mindset was that I didn't have much to contribute.

Having now shifted my mindset, my experience with the #AprilBlogADay has been extremely fruitful and rewarding. I appreciate the comments and tweets and push my thinking or just confirm that I am not alone in my thinking. I also participated in my first #TBookC chat on Thursday and the experience was great though slightly awkward given my surroundings. I was participating waiting for a School Board meeting to begin following closed session. The irony of being completely immersed in a chat about connected educators sitting in our city hall chambers as they filled up with educators who were seeking to connect face to face was not lost on me. Next time, I need to find a better balance between participating in the chat online as well as participaing in what was happening around me.

I'm only two chapters into the book so far but it is full of resources and ideas. Even if I read no further, the connection that first and foremost being a connected educator is about mindset has been huge.

1Whitaker, Todd, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas. What Connected Educators Do Differently. Routledge, 2015, xxiii.

PD Gamification

Day 10 of #AprilBlogADay Challenge asks "What have you not tried this school year that you want to?" I do a lot of training and professional development in my role and I really want to try gamifying a PD session. Earlier this week, I hosted a drop-in PD for a mix of certificated and classified staff on Word 2013. Since there is such a diverse knowledge and skill set among our staff, I asked during registration what people desired to learn. Using this information I created the game board below. (Game board was created using Canva and then imported into ThingLink.) It was well-received.

After quick introductions and an invitation to start anywhere on the game board depending on their learning goals, I found that most participants went through the entire game board in sequence. They were collaborating with people next to them as they tried out various things and brainstorming ways they could apply different features in their roles. The best part was the multiple inquiries I had once folks got started as to whether the game board would continue being available online following the training to reference and/or if it would be okay to share with people unable to attend. Of course, both answers were a resounding yes and now can be used without regard to time and place. Today, I was included in an test email today from an attendee who was teaching a colleague the mail merge to email feature that integrates with our Outlook groups. It only helps confirm if we provide conditions that empower the learner, then we support the learner becoming empowered.

This is why I want to try gamification for PD. I think gamification can provide even better conditions for empowering the learner by creating levels with clear outcomes, feedback along the way, all within  a low risk environment. Given the excitement around a gameboard of learning options, I am anxious to try gamification before the end of the school year.

Advice to my beginning teacher self

Be You
I would tell my beginning teacher self, plain and simply, "Be You." When I began teaching I had many perceptions of what good teachers did and what their classroom should look like. I tried to be these models of good teachers I had in my head and it was a disaster.  It wasn't authentic to me and it read very fake to students. For example, the advice of not smiling until Thanksgiving? It's difficult for me to go 5 minutes without smiling let alone 50+ days!  By trying to emulate these various narrow models I had of good teaching, I wasn't authentic and genuine with myself and was trying to be a teacher that I was not meant to be.

Once I settled into my teacher self as me instead of a completely disconnected teacher identity, things changed dramatically.  Classroom management was better, lessons improved, and students were learning. My initial perceptions of good teaching weren't "wrong" they were just not me.  I have to smile and laugh and be silly and encourage students to do the same as part of their learning. There exists a huge continuum of good teaching. Your best fit along the continuum is the place where you can be your authentic self.

How Does Your Question Garden Grow?

Question Garden
Day 8 of #AprilBlogADay Challenge asks "How do we foster question asking instead of answer getting?" I think of this similar to farming. The conditions have to be just right to cultivate a garden of questions. The farmer walks the land, tills and fertilizes the soil to create ideal growing conditions. Teachers do the same with the relationships they build with students and their families along with the classroom culture they help create and sustain. Then, the farmer plants their seeds and nurtures the environment by making sure the seedlings continue to experience ideal conditions for growth. The teacher does the same by facilitating learning experiences that help generate question seeds. They may even jumpstart the experience with an essential question.

But the next part of farming and teaching takes tremendous restraint and patience. Crops, just like questions, are not ready for immediate harvest. They need time to grow. It's hard to not automatically jump in, "pick" a question and provide an answer. A question answered too soon loses the ability to bloom into something more. We do kids no favors by jumping in and providing answers when we see struggle.  Rather, if we continue to nourish questions and maintain ideal  growing conditions, the questions will reach higher and higher. Questions will branch and cross-pollinate and create a garden unrecognizable from your initial vantage point.   This search for answers to student generated questions will produce a bountiful harvest that provides a great depth of understanding. As a crop of questions live out in a classroom, they provide essential nourishment for the next crop. And the cycle begins anew.

Update 4/9/15: After initially posting this, through the power of social media I became of aware of a much deeper and thoughtful analysis of Teacher as Farmer by Grant Lichtman on Edutopia.  Definitely worth a read!

Safe to Fail & Grow

I've come to call my 2014-15 academic year as "The Year of Rejection and Failure." As someone in her 15th year of education, I've experienced my fair share of professional success and recognition. This year has been quite different. I've found myself applying to different things only to get the dreaded rejection notification again and again and again. These rejections are failures that I am not accustomed to experiencing. One doesn't experience a lot of failures when they do they are doing the same thing again and again and this has been my comfort zone in recent years. Motivated, inspired, and encouraged by my supervisor, colleague, and friend, I reached, tried, and applied for things way outside my comfort zone this year and fell short on paper. In the process, I have learned and experienced more than I could ever imagine in a single academic year and nine weeks still remain! So many opportunities for learning. If someone told me last year I'd be participating in a blogging challenge, I would have called them crazy.  What a difference a year makes especially when one has a champion encouraging them.

Now, I can look back and be grateful each time I have been turned down. Each one has driven choices that I've made subsequently and it is that process that has generated growth. I am a much stronger educator today and continue to expand my comfort zone by risking continuous learning with inevitable failures. Everyone deserves a champion who makes it safe to fail so they can grow beyond what they thought possible. My hope is that I can return the favor and be that champion for someone else.

The Carts have landed!

Today was the first day back from Spring Break and for students in our  41 Innovative Educators pilot classrooms they were greeted with something entirely new. After a year of planning, wireless infrastructure installation, ongoing professional development, and endless discussions and meetings, over 700 mobile devices were in classrooms.  They weren't merely mentioned in LCAP, tech plans, school board agendas, purchase orders, or sitting at the district office.  Today the devices were in classrooms with students. Considering students during my first years of teaching in Baltimore City Public Schools back in 2000 had more access to technology in classrooms than our students, mobile devices finally arriving in classrooms is pretty awe-inspiring. It really is a small event in the grand scheme of things but it makes the hard work that remains seem that much more attainable.

Looking Back or Forward?

Looking Behind or Forward?
Jumping in on the April Blog a Day Challenge on Day 5. After blogging daily this past week to complete assignment requirements, it helped me realize how much I do enjoy the practice and routine. With Spring Break ending and a daily challenge ahead, fingers crossed I can keep up with the routine.

Day 5 asks the question, "What practice, tradition, instructional strategy or anything else must die? What needs to stop in order for Education to move forward?" We need to stop doing things in education, at a classroom, school, district, and systems level just because of historical practice. When decisions or practices are rationalized with statements beginning with "Traditionally, In the past, or Historically" with no mention of the present or future, we are stuck in park or neutral as opposed to making forward progress.

Think about driving your car. The rearview mirror allows you to analyze things happening behind you and provides data to influence your driving decisions. Simultaneously, the view outside the front and side windows continuously provides data as to where you're headed. We need both perspectives to successfully and safely reach our destination. Driving using only the rearview mirror is best suited for traveling in reverse. If we drive without consulting our mirrors, we lose valuable perspectives on what is occuring around us. As experienced drivers we rely on both perspectives but spend much more time looking forward than consulting the rearview mirror.

Within education, if we are continuing to do ___(insert practice here)___ only because that is how we have done it historically, traditionally, or in the past, then we are not neccessarily utilizing the view in front of us. This may be an indication that our educational rearview mirror has become so large that it clouds our vision. My fear is that the rearview mirror is often driving educational decision-making as opposed to providing important data to be considered in relation to a clearly visible destination ahead.

New Literacies and the Big Shifts

Module 13 of TEC-950 explores the New Literacies required in education. Literacy is no longer merely about reading and writing. There is information literacy, media literacy, and ICT literacy. This is a huge shift within education. In most cases, teacher prep programs did not prepare teachers to navigate or instruct these new literacies. Our younger teachers have lived in a world where this has been their reality but many did not receive preparation in incorporating or teaching these as part of their teacher prep program. This is the biggest challenge with integrating these new literacies within our educational system on any kind of large scale.

It is difficult to provide leadership in this area when you do not have experience or knowledge yourself. I can't think of a teacher who wants to return to the NCLB-era mandates that played out in many classrooms as scripted curriculums.  However, a script is safe and provides security especially when there is fear of doing something wrong. In my local context I have found that teachers are looking for a curriculum to teach these new literacies or prefer to have a designated teacher whose responsibility would be to teach these new literacies.  I understand where teachers are coming from if they do not have experience, basic familiarity, and/or understanding of these new literacies themselves. However, a bubble on the margin of a Teacher Edition that explains an opportunity to teach digital literacy isn't the answer. Additionally, students recieving weekly instruction from a tech teacher during release time will not build capacity among our staff nor create deep understanding in our students.   I believe both approaches are misguided and do not provide a solution to the challenge. What we really need to invest in is extensive professional development and support for teachers as well as updating our teacher prep programs to reflect these new realities.

We also need a shared understanding of 21st century literacies. In my work providing teacher training to new teachers, one mantra that I held dear was "First and foremost, you are a teacher of literacy."  This often created discord with my math/science teachers with push-back on what does the quadratic equations have to do with literacy.  My response has always been and will remain, "Everything."

 Our curriculum and content standard merely provide the vehicle for our instruction but our destination are those 21st century skills and literacies.  Until each and every teacher is a teacher of 21st century literacies who uses their curriculum and content standards to teach media, information and/or ICT literacy in a connected fashion, we will fail to meet the new mandate of preparing all our students upon graduation to college and career ready. This is not an easy charge but something that will take an investment of time. For most of us, including myself as demonstrated by this coursework, before we become 21st century literacy teachers we must first become students of 21st century literacies. As a system we must support our teachers in this process. As administrators and teacher-leaders we must model 21st century literacies.

Tell Your Story. Blog.

The Choice is Simple. Tell Your Story. Blog.
Module 12 of TEC-950 is focused on More Cool Web 2.0 Tools. The infrastructure is just now being put in place within our district to allow access to Web 2.0 Tools on any kind of consistent basis. I'm looking forward to the day when I see Augmented Reality (AR) in our classrooms being used by students. AR is intriguing to me for all its creative possibilities. But, we are not there yet as a system.

In the meantime, I want to see more blogging by students, teachers, and administrators within my district. Blogging is not flashy like AR but it is such a good reflection tool and provides another manner to demonstrate learning. The ability to add video, images, drawings to communicate ones thoughts does wonders to demonstrate learning and understanding. Blogging opens up a collaborative community to our teachers and students through commenting and gaining ideas from one other.

Mostly, blogging empowers the user to share their story publicly. As a coach who travels district-wide, I see amazing things happening in classrooms and I regularly talk with teachers who are exceptional in their daily work. These events should not be secret or hidden. They need to be shared with families, administrators, school board members, and the larger community so they know what's happening in our schools. Blogging gives students and teachers a voice and allows them to control the story as opposed to having TIME Magazine be our voice. Teachers are not rotten or to be swept away. If blogging took off within our district it would create a type of augmented reality that would provide an alternative view that's currently lacking on what is happening in our classrooms.

Using Audio in Schools

Module 11 of TEC-950 focuses on the recording and publishing of video and audio. I've created many videos for different purposes so I wanted to explore the use of audio. Typically, recorded audio is not something that I use in my instructional design because of my own need for visuals to construct meaning. But my experience and learning needs do not represent the needs of my students and/or teachers. So I spent most of the time exploring podcasts.

My experience with podcasts is limited but gaining momentum. During my long-time summer work providing teacher training to new corps members with Teach For America, curriculum sessions are created by an central instructional designer and then provided to curriculum specialists at Institutes nation-wide to customize based on their needs. In 2008, the instructional designer at the time made short podcasts of each session that talked through key points, potential hotspots, and suggested customizations. Listening to these helped tremendously in preparation to understand the original designers intent that sometimes is not communicated in written materials. Sadly, they were never redone and available in the subsequent years I worked for TFA.

Since then I haven't experienced podcasts much until only recently. As I continue to explore resources on Twitter, I've come across different educational podcasts that comprise of interviews with teachers or discussions of education issues with educators. Techlandia Radio and the EPT Podcasts are some of my favorites. Personally, I would still prefer a visual to accompany the audio but these make great listens as I drive to work where the visuals would be lost.

Within the classroom, podcasts having great value and potential.  They are much easier to create and publish than video because you only have to focus on one medium. This is a bonus for both teachers and students!  Many of my teachers are very reluctant to put themselves on video and podcasts would provide a great work around. Short announcements, directions for homework or projects, reminders for when their is a substitute, or even recorded books are just a couple uses that I could envision.  For students, recording their voice avoids some of the privacy concerns associated with using video or images. Audio samples of reading would be wonderful to gauge progress throughout the year as well as to encourage goal setting, thoughtful reflection and provide a rich source for feedback and reflection.

For the purposes of this assignment, I used SoundCloud for the first time to record directions for completing a particular self-assessment tool required for our BTSA Induction Program that I'm involved in.  Since it is a form that is visually overwhelming by the amount of text, it typically generates a lot of different questions each year, I created a Thinglink that describes the different components.  I can see a similar use in the classroom.  Student could "annotate" visual images with soundclouds embedded on a Thinglink.

Viewfinder Perspectives: Visual Literacy in Schools

Looking through the viewfinder
Capturing Viewfinder Perspectives
Module 10 of TEC-950 focused on photo-sharing (pun intended). I browsed through the materials with great anticipation given my personal inclinations towards all things visual. My disappointment was swift only to discover that all the sites recommended are blocked in our district, not just for students but also teachers. As teachers we do not have access to Flickr or Instagram on our networks or district-provided devices. As a result, these are not tools that I anticipate using anytime soon even through I found Flickr straightforward to use and set up. (You can see my cat pictures here.)

Google Drive Now with Google Photos
The ability for students to capture their thoughts visually is a tremendous asset. If I were still in the classroom, my students would probably be sketchnoting everything but I recognize that sketchnotes may not be for everyone. Visual imagery captured photographically though is easily accessible to all. Students who experience their education through a viewfinder have the ability to see how the subject areas exist in real-life and beyond the classroom walls. For our younger students, photo walks where they identify shapes in the environment or take pictures of objects with the beginning sound they are studying would provide another means for students to demonstrate understanding. Students sharing those visual perspectives with one another creates another level of discussion and learning in the classroom and beyond. The language production opportunities shared with their peers would do wonders for our students learning English and provide multiple opportunities to practice the Speaking & Listening Standards within the CCSS. A viewfinder really opens up the world to students in a very different manner that is powerful for learning.

Since most photo-sharing sites are not available to teachers or students in our district, I am very excited by the recent addition of Google Photos in Google Drive. This might be the workaround we need, if available on GAFE accounts without Google+ activated. With all the images located in a single location that students are already familiar with this limits the need to go to another site for photo-sharing. If teachers and students are able to sync photos directly to their Drive, the instructional possibilities will be more streamlined and I see more visual literacy lessons happening in classrooms in the future. I look forward to exploring these options once our GAFE account is live in the next couple weeks.

Social Bookmarking

Suzzallo Graduate Reading Room
Suzzallo Library Graduate Reading Room
at University of Washington
Module 9 of TEC-950 explores the use of social bookmarking. I have "used" Diigo over the past year but only passively. I hear teachers who rave about it but until now I didn't understand the hype mainly due to my own experience with social bookmarking.

My social bookmarking use has been limited to exploring resources as part of the CUE Innovative Educator Certificate Program as well as a site set up for the CTA/Stanford Instructional Leadership Corps that has numerous resources related to CCSS and NGSS. Both of these uses are very passive in nature. Leaders in both programs had already curated materials and used Diigo with it's ease of bookmarking and tag structure to put them in one place for use by a large number of participants. Given this purpose, Diigo has been useful but it didn't turn me into a user of the technology in my role or provide a vision as to how it could be used in the classroom.

With additional exploration time and with a renewed sense of purpose, the uses of social bookmarking within the classroom are limitless, especially if students are the ones actively using the site as opposed to being directed to already provided resources.  Social bookmarking sites provide a means for students to gather online research materials in a single location. This alone is remarkable and a tremendous asset for any researcher. However, the real power is in the tags and annotations. Students have the power to create their own tags for their research materials, read them online, and add annotation in the form of highlights, notes, and have multiple possibilities for sharing. These capabilities make me want to write another master's thesis or begin work on a dissertation because the research experience would be so dramatically different and streamlined than what I experienced many years ago with notecards and spreadsheets. I have such fond memories of time spent in Suzzallo library (pictured above) and can imagine the transformative experience that social bookmarking would have had in my previous graduate student/researcher life.

This is the real power of social bookmarking in the classroom.  It simulates the experience of a researcher and makes the process so accessible for students. As CCSS aims to create students who are college and career ready, this is a tool that helps meet those expectations.

Photo Credit: "Suzzallo Library's Graduate Reading Room" by Jkiang used under CC 3.0  / Social Bookmarking Icons created and added using Google Drawing