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Shout Out to Mentormob

 

Oh man…I remember back to October 2011, when I first began my blog and thought Twitter was a joke. All of my friends told me it was something I needed to learn more about but I was convinced it was ridiculous. Finally, after called Twitter “Tweet” repeatedly for weeks and having my friends intervene to scaffold learning of Twitter vernacular for me…I got a Twitter handle.

I never thought that just months later I would fly across the country to stay with one of my Twitter friends! I’ve been talking to Mentormob for months now…in fact Kristen was one of my first Tweeps. We’ve skyped and spoken on the phone multiple times and she invited me to come hang out with Mentormob and attend the Flipped Conference. I’m not promoting flying cross country to see your Tweeps…but boy am I glad I did.

Meeting the Mentormob crew was fantastic. The entire team is dedicated to building a tool that truly supports learning. I had so much fun brainstorming with them and look forward to continuing our conversations. Mentormob’s work environment is so inspiring – they’re lucky I don’t live in Chicago or else I’d definitely come hang out there all day to write and plan:)

Anyways, just wanted to give a shout out to Kristin for being the best Twitter roomie ever and to Mentormob for building an innovative tool and working hard to put the user first! You guys rock!

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Flipped Learning Sure Sounds a Lot Like Special Education

I’m here at the Flipped Class Conference in Chicago learning more about what Flipped Learning is all about. There are some great ideas and tools being shared and some intriguing questions being asked.

This may sound odd but listening to various speakers, watching videos and reading more about the concept of Flipped Learning, I’m beginning to draw major parallels between Flipped Learning and special education. Many of the ideas being put forth mimic the daily life of a special education teacher.

The Hechinger Report recently put out this article on Flipped Learning. Check out these snippets:

“She uses class time to tailor instruction to students who started the school year behind their classmates in reading and math, and she has seen rapid improvement.” -Sarah Butrymowicz, Promise of the ‘flipped classroom’ eludes poorer school districts, Hechinger Report

“Praised by advocates for letting students work at their own pace, flipped classrooms also allow teachers to tailor their instruction to individual students.” -Sarah Butrymowicz, Promise of the ‘flipped classroom’ eludes poorer school districts, Hechinger Report

Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like differentiated instruction? Yesterday, I attended a session called Alternative Assessments during which Dalia Zygas shared multiple styles of assessment including. Judging from facial expressions, many teachers in the room seemed to think these ideas were innovative, but almost all of them were taught in courses during my Master’s Degree in Learning Disabilities. (I want to be clear that the point I’m illustrating bears no reflection on Dalia as a speaker. In fact I thought she did a great job of sharing helpful information and I am impressed with her for pioneering new ideas in her classroom. Her school is lucky to have her.) 

During the Flipped Class Conference I heard a lot of people talking about:

  • Reaching all learners (AKA Differentiation)
  • Individualized feedback
  • High engagement
  • Inclusive settings that foster acceptance of all learning styles
  • Rethinking the physical space of a classroom to maximize student independence
  • Teaching using multiple modalities
  • Offering choice
  • Using multiple (and non-traditional) forms of assessment
I am not saying that Flipped Learning is synonymous with special education by any means but I do see clear parallels. A great special education teacher is already thinking of all the bullet points mentioned above on a daily basis. Let’s be honest, if differentiation was quick and simple, everyone would do it! Differentiating instruction is a a true art. The best lessons I learned here at the conference were the ones that would support general education teachers in thinking more like special education teachers, allowing them to reach a broader spectrum of learners.
I still have some questions about Flipped Learning and I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with the wonderful people I met at the conference. I am definitely sold on the idea that using video and other technologies can maximize student independence and make differentiation more efficient. I guess what I’m wondering is, why don’t we just move past the idea of  “special education” and require all teachers to know how to teach all students?

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Goalbook Makes IEP Writing a Little Sexier

IEP Writing: Writing IEPs is not the most engaging part of being a special education teacher. It is a tedious process and the language used for writing IEPs changes constantly. The second you figure out how to write an IEP, the demands change. In all honestly, IEP Writing is quite outdated. There are a few programs out there to help schools and teachers digitize IEPs but the ones I have used are pretty glitchy and they look like they were built in the 80’s. So much attention is placed on the legal jargon and sequencing of words that many teachers lose sight of the purpose behind the IEP: setting goals.

One thing I could never figure out about IEPs is why every student does not get one. Setting goals is not something that should be specific to students with special needs – all students have strengths and areas for growth. Identifying these areas and setting goals is a process that should be done for every student in the classroom.

EdTech’s Gaping Hole: Having stepped onto the EdTech field this year, I have noticed a gaping hole: special education. Most EdTech conferences I attend pay little or no attention to special education. I am not sure why that is exactly, it seems like startups would be racing to find solutions to fill this hole. Perhaps special education is not “sexy” enough, or entrepreneurs don’t have enough information about the field to build solutions. I recently stumbled across Goalbook, an app that helps teachers, parents, students and other team members to collaborate on a student’s learning plan. I am pretty impressed by the idea and I am looking forward to tracking Goalbook’s growth as they continue with their project. If I were still in the classroom, I would be beta testing for them!

Goalbook: Goalbook seems to serve two purposes. First, it helps educators organize goals and progress for their students. Secondly, it helps build collaboration between all of the members of a students’ team: teacher, parent, paraprofessional, service providers and of course the student! This second issue is a major problem in many schools. Due to time constraints, IEP meetings do not happen often enough. The team needs to have a way to access information about student growth and to communicate feelings such as gratitude, excitement and concern. Goalbook puts this collaboration first and foremost and that is important! I also really like their design.

Next Up for Goalbook: Goalbook is working on launching the Universal Goal Bank, a database where teachers can share and browse through goals that are aligned to Common Core Standards. This is a slippery slope for sure. Many teachers can benefit from browsing through strong goals developed by other teachers. I am a bit hesitant because I have experienced IEP goal banks that have not worked in the past. Sometimes teachers choose goals that are already created even though they are not specifically tailored to the students. Goalbook offers flexibility for teachers to edit and modify goals, but that is dependent on the fact that the teacher is strong and experienced. Proper goal design is an art. I am curious to see how the Goal Bank is utilized by teachers.

Visit Goalbook’s site and heck out Goalbook’s Blog to learn more. If you are a teacher, sign up for the free beta version.

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Guest Blog: Flashcard Learning

Today, we welcome Isabell Collet, creator and writer of a new blog called Flashcards Guru. Collet shares some tips and tools on using flashcards for learning with children. Flashcards are a strange tool in the world of education. We all used them to help us learn the times tables growing up, but for fear of encouraging rote memorization of information, many teachers do not support the use of flashcards today. Collet offers new insights on how to use this age-old tool to boost learning (rather than rote memorization) for children. If you are interested in learning more about flashcards, I recommend checking out her blog.

Flashcard Learning with Children

by, Isabell Collet – Creator of Flashcards Guru

Are you a parent? A teacher? An educator? Then I assume you are always on the lookout for new ways to teach and engage. Educational games and practices pop up constantly and it can be hard to weigh the benefits or to determine the right way to use a learning tool, simply because there is so much information out there and so many products competing for attention. My goal today is to help you untangle some of the information on the web surrounding this study tool.

Flashcards for children are quite popular as a playful means to introduce children to new words, images or concepts. This does not match the image many have of adult flashcards, which are often associated with meaningless drill. In reality, the concept of flashcards is the same for all ages and it is probably one of the oldest and most basic ideas: Repetition. What differs, naturally, is the approach we take to learning (or teaching) at different ages. Learning at a young age holds a more playful element. The great thing about flashcards is that you can introduce them to a child early on as a learning game, which over time might evolve into a natural form of studying.

How to go about introducing flashcards? As previously stated they are an all-age learning tool; even toddlers can ‘study’ with them. The traditional format is two sides with one asking a question and the other depicting the answer. A spoken word accompanied by a picture can be used to properly target language development in younger children. Repeating words to children so they mimic them is already the most natural form of early teaching; adding a pictoral clue offers great visual stimulation in addition to the auditory learning. When you are using flashcards with your child, you can add written words over time. Tying text to image can help develop skills in reading and writing comprehension. Once a child reaches a more advanced stage it is important to go beyond mere recognition of words and sounds and towards actual production and application of the word in question.

When flashcards are first introduced and later, once their application progresses, there are many ways to keep the process engaging for a child. A central element should be the choice or creation of the flashcards, something the young learner can easily become involved in.

How can we engage children through card creation? Card creation can be a great activity for older children. It can help them understand how to go about building their own learning tools later in life. It is also a first step towards learning the material that will be covered with the flashcards. Children can be involved in the creation process in a number of ways. If there is no ‘required learning’ or you simply want to introduce cards as a learning game, you can ask for your child’s input on a subject to study. Encouraging kids to make their own choices allows them to take ownership over their learning. Once you have made a choice, you can get creative on the card creation process. Your child likes to draw? Allow him/her to draw the question side of the card. S/he is learning to write? Help them spell out the answer. When images are involved (and they should be wherever possible, because they enhance the visual learning flashcards promote) you can pick them with your child. Find images to color in or give your child magazines, newspapers, and/or coloring books to choose and cut out images from and add these to the flashcards.

As long as you are the primary educator and have a firm grasp of the subject matter and its boundaries, compiling flashcard material is fairly easy. Motivating a child to condense material covered in school into flashcards can be difficult, because it may seem like an arduous task. To facilitate the evolution from voluntary learning to required flashcard learning, start small. Children in elementary school won’t need to cover complex or even very detailed material. A first project that will encourage automatic learning is to ask your child to write down a few important words or sentences that s/he took away from that day’s/week’s lessons. Over time you will have a nice collection and a great starting point for your flashcards. When you have these pointers on what was important it will be fairly easy to add the details or expand to related concepts.

How to keep learning with flashcards interesting. One way to make flashcards engaging is to use them to play a fast-paced, quizzing game with other learners. Once the material has been covered by all children, quiz your child with a classmate, friend or sibling to offer more enticement to remember. In the digital age, there are also a vast number of apps available that introduce children to digital/mobile learning. The choices are numerous and you may be faced with the difficult decision on what is best for your child. Choosing the right app takes time and consideration. Ask yourself the following two questions: What is my learning goal? How would I like to reach it? The answers are important because they determine both the content and the features of the app you will download. A child learning about colors and animals will have different needs than a child studying for a school exam. If cost is a factor, be on the lookout for (temporarily) free apps or free trial/light versions. (Important: Consider that these apps will often contain ads that, while usually targeted at the young audience, may not be child-appropriate.) You should always open an app repeatedly and test it yourself – watching out for things like ads before involving your child.

Thank you to Isabell Collet for sharing tips and tools on using flashcards with children! It is always fun to have guest voices on EdGeeks!

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MentorMob as a tool for Differentiation

I have been using mentormob for months now and it only just dawned on me recently to use it as a mechanism for differentiating instruction. I am a special education teacher so differentiation is always my top priority when planning out lessons. I left the classroom in September and amongst other things I have found myself tutoring a group of students in various grade levels.

Last week, I was meeting with a student and we were brainstorming some ways to take her reading to the next level. She gave me a list of non-fiction topics that she would LOVE to study including: shark attacks, vegetarianism and natural disasters. Eclectic mix, I know! I began researching websites and articles that would be appropriate for her. Suddenly, it hit me…mentormob! I began creating an individualized playlist for my tutee including a range of articles and websites. What I love most about the playlist is that I could rate each of the sources as beginner, intermediate or advanced! This supports my student in knowing which sources to attack independently and which ones might be better suited for reading together.

Right after I finished creating my first tutee playlist, I thought about another student I work with. She is extremely artistic and I wanted to use her love of the arts to engage her in writing. After discussing possible writing exercises, we decided to do an independent research project on cupcake design. Cupcake design may sound silly but you can really turn anything into a research project and believe me, the more ownership a student has over a topic they study, the more invested they are in their learning. I immediately began scouring every website possible to create a meaningful collection of cupcake design resources and curated them in a mentormob playlist. I compiled resources about famous pastry chefs, cupcake design tools, National Cupcake Day (yes, it’s true), cupcake classes and more.

Once I had created these individualized playlists, I knew it was time to share so I emailed each playlist to the parent of the child it was developed for. The parents were so excited not only about how engaging the playlists were, but also that I had taken the time to create a collection of materials that was so specific to their child. The secret that I didn’t share is that it took me under fifteen minutes to pull together each playlist. I used the chrome button to curate my playlists which made it so simple and quick.

Having spent years in the classroom, I seriously value efficiency. Differentiation takes a lot of time but creating individualized playlists can make you a differentiation artist in minutes. I am looking forward to creating playlists for more students and I hope you will too.

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Skillshare – Revolutionizing learning by bringing it outside of the classroom.

Last Friday I attended Skillshare‘s first Penny Conference on learning and innovation. I will be writing more about the conference (which I LOVED) later this week but I wanted to spend today introducing Skillshare to those of you who may not know about it.

What is Skillshare?

Skillshare’s allows all individuals to be teachers and learners. It is essentially a marketplace where people can share what they know with those who want to learn more about it. Last Friday morning I took my first Skillshare session and it really was empowering. What I loved most about it was that it was not intimidating. Everyone who attended was interested in learning, including the teacher. It was short and to the point and I left the class with new knowledge. I will definitely be taking more Skillshare sessions this year and I hope that eventually I will gain the courage to teach a Skillshare session.

Benefits of Teaching and Learning through Skillshare:

Skillshare can be a great way to diversify your skills without spending the time and money it takes to go back to school. For example, as a teacher who is interested in educational technology, I often feel like I am at a disadvantage when talking to professionals on the business or technological side of edtech. Skillshare classes can give me the support I need to be able to engage in meaningful conversations with these professionals.

  • Skillshare classes are very affordable (mine was $10)
  • Most Skillshare classes are short (mine was 45 minutes long)
  • Skillshare gives you the opportunity to offer feedback on a class you have taken so that potential students can review your feedback before signing up for that class
  • Skillshare empowers you to teach others about what you already know, which can be very fullfilling

Skillshare offers classes in a variety of areas including, but not limited to: culinary arts, crafts, technology, entrepreneurship and lifestyle. Here are five sample class titles to help you get an idea of the types of learning that happen through Skillshare.

  1. Life Hack: How to Live Rent-Free in NYC
  2. Humor Writing: Become the Next David Sedaris
  3. Drink & Think: Practical Wine Tasting (Introductory Reds)
  4. Getting Started with Responsive Web Design
  5. Crash Course: Branding, PR, & Social Media

Stay tuned later this week to learn more about Skillshare and the Penny Conference. I’ll leave you with this. What I love most about Skillshare is that it reminds us that learning and teaching do not and SHOULD NOT happen only inside a classroom. We can be lifelong learners and anyone can be a teacher. Sharing our knowledge is the key.

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Google ChromeVox

When my friends tell me “Google is taking over the world,” I usually just shrug. Recently, I’ve been starting to think, “Wow, maybe Google really is taking over the world one function at a time.” This shift in my thinking came after reading about ChromeVox, an app developed for Google users with visual impairments. Then I began checking into the other apps for accessibility, including ChromeShades and ChromeVis, and quite a few others in the Chrome Web Store (make sure to search for accessibility.)

Google is taking accessibility seriously and that is what we need around here! We are behind in providing accessibility for all of our children in schools, but it is good to know that Google cares. They are attending the CSUN International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference. According to Google’s blog, they are not just attending the conference to discuss their own progress, but also to “discuss improvements for the future.” Thank you! There are some wonderful things happening in the world of assistive technology and augmentative communication, but more is needed, so lets be sure that when we discuss progress, we do it with a desire to continue innovating new technologies that support accessibility for all.

If you have ideas for how to improve accessibility through development of new products or improvement of existing products, submit them here. I just submitted multiple ideas for supporting kids with LD and those who struggle with reading, including one idea to develop  a tool to support struggling readers to navigate the internet for research purposes. Will someone write back? I’m not sure, but if you have an idea about how to support accessibility, it’s worth submitting for the small chance that Google may find your idea intriguing.

Thank you Google, for taking all learners and users of your technology seriously…and for giving us a voice.

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How to Use a “Test Prep” Book: The pre and post test model

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With the testing season approaching, test preparation seems to be in full swing. While I am not a proponent of test preparation books…or test prep for that matter, I do appreciate that many families and teachers take special measures to prepare students before the big day(s). That is why I want to share a special way to use test preparation materials to ensure maximal growth.

The Problem With Test Prep Books: Where to start?! There are a ton of issues with test preparation. Firstly, test prep books should not be used to TEACH new material, but rather to REVIEW and REINFORCE material that has already been covered. That being said, each student has different strengths and weaknesses so naturally each student will benefit from review of different topics. It can be challenging for both teachers and families to know where to begin in the book, and what to cut out. Test prep books cover a lot of material and if you start using them a month or two before the test, it can be hard to fit in all of the units. The model I am about to propose can act as a solution in this situation.

Last year I worked at a school that used the “pre-post test” model to assess student growth throughout the year. In this model a teacher gives the students an assessment before teaching each unit. Scores on the pre-test can guide instruction by letting the teacher know where to start in the curriculum to meet the needs of the class. After the unit of study is complete, students are given the same exact assessment, which is now referred to as the post-test. This gives an accurate measure of growth.

I have been using this model with test-preparation materials lately and it seems to be having a positive effect on my students so I thought I would share about it today. What I love about this model is that it is simple to use at home…so if you feel like your child isn’t getting what they need in school, you can work with your child at home to support their needs.

The “Pre-Post Test” Model: The very first step is choosing a test-prep book. At the top of the page, I have shared links to some test-prep books that I have found useful over the years, although again, I stress that I am not a fan of test-preparation through test prep books. I believe that the true preparation comes with strong teaching. That being said, I am not naive to the fact that families and teachers are using these materials with students. The process that you will find below will NOT work with books that include only practice tests. This process works with books that offer instruction,  sample problems, practice questions and unit tests.

  1. Once you have decided on a test-prep book, look through the table of contents with your child. Work with your child to rate each of the units. I recommend using a 1-3 rating system where 1 means “I really get it!” and 3 means “I really struggle!”
  2. Once your child has rated the units, use your knowledge of your child’s strengths and weaknesses to choose a starting point. It should be one of the units that your child rated as an area of struggle.
  3. Photocopy the practice test at the end of the unit.
  4. Have your child take the practice test (this is the post-test). Grade it. If your child scores very high, try a different one. You don’t want to spend too much time reviewing what your child already knows, especially since you may not have time to go through the whole book before testing day. If your child scores low or mediocre, it is probably a good starting place.
  5. Work with your child to read through the lessons, sample problems and instructional materials. Most students cannot do this alone. Reading aloud usually helps.
  6. When you and your child have worked through the unit of study (perhaps 2-5 days depending on the unit and test book), have your child re-take the test as a post-test.
  7. Grade the post-test and compare the pre-post test scores. If your child scores higher, great! If your child’s scores are not where you would like them to be, the work around that unit is not over…read below!
Isn’t this concept simple? Why waste time teaching someone what they already know? Instead, use the pre-post test model to assess where to start, what to teach, and to measure growth after the material has been taught!

Special Note: Just because a student completes a unit of study in a test book, doesn’t mean they are prepared for the test. If a child still does not have mastery over the topic, you will want to find other practice problems, worksheets, etc. to support his/her learning. If you need help finding resources, please refer to these two previous articles or feel free to submit a question. Have resources or experiences that you think might be helpful to EdGeeks readers? Share by leaving a comment!

If At First You Don’t Succeed…Try, Try Again. And Then Again!

Use the News!

 

 

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Tracking Progress Using Portfolios

For better or worse, “tracking progress” has become a buzz phrase in education. As teachers, we are constantly being asked how we are tracking student progress across the content areas. I have mixed feelings about the current state of assessment in education, but one thing is for sure – I don’t think we ask our students to track their own progress and self-reflect nearly enough.

Reflection: a thought, idea, or opinion formed or a remark made as a result of long consideration

Great teachers work towards a constant goal of instilling a sense of intrinsic motivation amongst their students. In order to encourage students to want to push themselves to their potential, we must show them what progress feels like. We must teach them to recognize growth in their own learning and to engage in personal goal-setting. This comes from studying their own work over time. Students should constantly be asking themselves these 3 questions:

  1. What was my work like when I first started?
  2. What is my work like now?
  3. Where do I want my work to be in ________ (fill in the blank by setting a reasonable amount of time.)

While this process of reflection is important, there is no doubt that it is a challenge for us educators as well as our students. Depending on the age of our students, we must support the reflection process at different levels. Youngsters (more specifically, birth-Grade 3) will need maximal support throughout the reflection process, while older students will be able to work towards greater levels of independence with appropriate modeling and practice.

There are a number of different ways that we can support students in reflecting on their growth as learners. Today, I am going to focus on one method which I have found to have a strong impact on my students throughout the years. The method is using the reflection process with a portfolio.

Portfolio: A collection of materials which are representative of an individual’s work

Many administrators request (or even demand) that teachers keep portfolios for their students in different content areas. In many classrooms, the portfolio is a teacher-based tool. The teacher creates the portfolio by compiling student work samples and the teacher has access to the portfolio. Today, I am suggesting that we teach our students to organize their own portfolios for different academic areas such as writing, math, reading, science and social studies.

Students can keep a portfolio in a number of different ways but my favorite is the folder. While many teachers (including myself!) have found that students struggle to organize their folders, I think we can all recognize that maintaining an organized folder is an important skill in itself. With explicit modeling, this skill can be taught. I have always had my students keep a folder for each subject. On the inside of the pockets of the folders, they would write labels such as: “What I’m Working On” and “What I Have Finished.” Adding labels to the pockets of a folder can help a student stay organized.

Sample Science Portfolio

I always liked giving students a cover sheet for their folder. The cover sheet would be different for each grade level and each subject area. For example, for first grade I might only include date and title of work. In sixth grade I might add other categories such as progress and goals. Here are two sample cover sheets available for download. Feel free to modify them. I had my students glue them to the cover of their folders.

Sample Math Portfolio Cover Sheet (Click to Download)

Sample Writing Portfolio Cover Sheet (Click to Download)

The Reflection Process

  1. At the end of every month, choose a week to be “Reflection Week”
  2. Assign one subject area to each day of the week (ex: Math Monday, Reading Tuesday, etc.)
  3. On the corresponding day, during the corresponding period, use the time to lead students through a reflection activity as well as “spring cleaning” (see below).
  4. On the following Monday, repeat the cycle by handing out new portfolio cover sheets for students to glue/staple onto their folders.

Possible Reflection Activities:

  • Students make a timeline of their work and fill out a graphic organizer describing how their work has changed over time.
  • Students look over their pieces and choose their least mature and most mature work from the pile. Then students get to post both pieces up in the room and do a gallery walk where they can see everyone’s work. This can also be displayed on a bulletin board in a “before/after” style.
  • Have students choose their most mature piece of work and fill out a goal-setting sheet for how they hope to improve their work in over the next month.
  • Do a portfolio scavenger hunt (ex: “Find a piece of work where you have at least 3 spelling errors,” “Find a piece of work where you added at least two details to make your story stronger,” etc.)

Through looking over past work, students can see how they have grown over time. They can better understand the importance of care and hard work. Even a disorganized, careless portfolio can teach a strong lesson. A student who cannot find a “most mature” piece of work needs the most support through the reflection process. It can feel overwhelming for a student who views his/her portfolio as “weak” to set goals, so it is our job to support them  as best we can.

I always liked setting goals as a class. The most important way that we can support our students is to ensure that the goals being set are measurable, appropriate and most importantly reachable within a month’s time. Setting goals as a class is helpful because it allows the teacher time and space to model what makes a goal strong. Vague goals can be overwhelming, so choosing one small category can really help. Some vague goals might be: “I will read more,” “I will get more math problems right,” or “I will spell better.” These goals are not easily achievable or measurable. Here are some super specific goals that my students have set in the past…and been able to achieve over time:

Do you have ideas about other reflection activities, goals or methods for self-tracking progress? Share them by posting a comment!

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Benefits of Teaching Typing

Some schools offer computer access for students. What does this mean? Well, it depends on the school. “Computer access” could mean:

  1. All classrooms are outfitted with computers (desktops, laptops or ipads)
  2. There is a shared laptop cart that teachers may use on a sign-up basis
  3. There is a shared computer lab that teachers may use on a sign-up basis
  4. There is a computer lab and a technology teacher, and each class visits the lab x times per week

In numbers 2 and 3, please take note that this kind of “access” is dependent on the teacher’s interest in using technology for student learning. Also keep in mind that there are some schools that do not have computer access for students at all. It is important that you ask questions about what “computer access” means at your child’s school.

Finding some way for your child to access technology is important for quite a few reasons. Today I’m going to focus on one important reason: Learning to type can strengthen literacy skills for students. While typing can strengthen reading skills, I want to focus mostly on writing.

Writing is a complex subject area to teach because there are so many components to develop including: topic generation, spelling, sentence structure, punctuation, grammar and capitalization to name a few. Writing with a pencil is one valuable way to foster these skills, while typing is another. I don’t believe that one outweighs the other or that one should take the place of the other. Balance is best. When we write, we generate letters, words and sentences independently. When we type we are selecting a particular button out of a field of options. This narrows our choices, which can be helpful for some students. When first learning to type, many students actually write more slowly (because they need are working on building motor coordination on the keyboard). This makes them stop and think about which key comes next. This can be helpful because:

  • Students must make a conscious effort to include proper spacing (by hitting the space bar).
  • Students must make a conscious effort to hit the caps lock button to get a capital letter.
  • Students slow down with their spelling and can often notice spelling mistakes more clearly on a word processing document than in their own handwriting.
  • Students must make choices about which type of punctuation to use in different situations – seeing the options on the keyboard can better help them choose the appropriate punctuation.
  • I have found that when my students type, they are more likely to stop and re-read what they have written before writing more. When they write with a pencil, they often write quickly and through stream of consciousness.
  • Students can edit their work using a variety of tools on their original document.

I always like putting these stickers on a keyboard when I am teaching a student to type.

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