Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Amplifying our discussions!!!

So I'm not going to lie... I'm totally geeking out over here about an idea I gleaned from Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris!! We spent some time reading a Wonderopolis article this morning about the metaphor "The grass is always greener on the other side." My fourth graders watched the Wonderopolis video and read the article twice before we started our discussion phase. We've used the Socratic Seminar method several times this year and have done a lot of close reading practice along with our discussions, so it was time to make a leap to an online discussion.

Now, we tried this once before but my kids were overwhelmed with all 26 of us trying to read, respond, and react in the discussion online. BAM! The idea hits me from Katie and Kristin's book to start out having online discussions with smaller groups of students before attempting it with the whole class. So that's exactly what we did!

Each randomly selected group of 5-6 students was given a separate Today's Meet room. Before beginning the discussion, we reviewed proper discussion etiquette as well as how we should be using more academic language than texting language in our online discussion. I jumped on to all five rooms to get the discussion going and let them take it from there. You can find the transcripts to all five discussions below. I was quite impressed with most of what occurred in each discussion, but I also realize we're in fourth grade and are learning to communicate in this way.

During our debriefing following the chats, kids reported that it was much easier to follow along and respond with the smaller group. Several learners also mentioned how they enjoyed talking online so their voice was heard; it gave everyone an equal opportunity to share their thoughts. 

(This is a quick view of our room while the chat was taking place. 
More students were seated at a table and comfy chairs behind me.)

We will definitely be amplifying our discussions in this way again!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Fourth Grade Novel Read Alouds

More than ever before, I've made it a priority to involve my fourth graders more in the decision making process of which book will be our next novel read aloud. I've asked for input in the past two years, but this year, I've (almost always) given them the final say in the matter.

*Kids fill out a Google form to suggest titles
*Find book trailers or blog posts about the top 3-4 books that were suggested
*Watch said book trailers and provide time for book talks
*Vote via online poll (on our LMS, Haiku)

I have usually given some parameters to their suggestions, to help nudge them along in their reading lives. For example, I noticed that most of them have primarily been reading realistic fiction this year. That isn't a bad thing, but expanding their reading into other genres is certainly a good thing! At one point, we also realized all of the novels we'd shared so far had had female protagonists. Again, not a bad thing... but reading from a male's perspective should be another common experience for us. Ultimately, though, my fourth graders have the final say. Our first three novels this year were...

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielsen
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

All three of those books led to rich discussions, heartfelt questions, and children begging to read "just one more chapter." If you ask them, my fourth grade readers will probably tell you A Night Divided was their favorite. It opened their minds to concepts they'd never questioned before and left them hanging on the edge of their seats often.

I strayed from the usual routine at the beginning of March. I chose a book that I absolutely love and would help kids understand the heart of a sled dog (as well as a musher.) Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson contains elements of realistic fiction, adventure, and friendship. While it might not stretch the genre or protagonist gap, it would still push their thinking. I explained this and asked my readers to give me the first 50-ish pages of the book. Once we read that far, we'd discuss our options.

As we approached the 50 page mark, we voted to decide if we should continue or abandon the book. It was a really close vote (14 in favor of continuing, 11 in favor of abandoning.) Ultimately, the majority wanted to continue but judging by their nonverbal cues during the book, I made the call to abandon. It just wasn't capturing the attention of this particular group, and as much as it pained me (because I really do absolutely adore this book!) I knew we had to move on.

We've since gone back to our normal process of watching book trailers and voting, and we are now fifteen chapters into another Jennifer Nielsen gem, Mark of the Thief.

Even when we think we know best, this was my reminder to honor the voices and choices of my students... because sometimes, I just need them to guide me and show me the way.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Time to Amplify!

Incredibly delicious read,
as evidenced by all of my sticky flags!

I finished reading Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom several days ago, and I still can't stop gushing about it to anyone who will listen. The authors, Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke, have astounded me with their thinking.

What struck me first (and stayed with me throughout the book) was the way they were able to seamlessly incorporate vignettes, tips, and ideas from a primary perspective as well as an upper elementary one. It makes sense, of course, since Kristin taught first and Katie taught fifth, but I loved how the foundation remained the same throughout the multi-grade perspective. Quite often, I have felt myself seesawing on my personal pedagogy in the past two and a half years as I've refined and redefined myself during my transition to becoming an upper elementary teacher. It is quite evident that Katie and Kristin's work is steeped in solid pedagogy and current best practice.

As I was reading, I was thinking about how Chromebooks have been our new 1:1 tool this year. It has opened the door to many possibilities (since they work really well, unlike the Kuno tablets we had for the past couple of years,) but I've had to rethink how we can use pictures or video to document our thinking/learning. My "DUH" moment there came when Katie and Kristin wrote about using audio recording. Truth be told, I hadn't actually explored options for video or audio recording on the Chromebooks. My kids and I are fixing that as we speak!

A few more of my favorite "can't wait to try it" ideas Kristin and Katie shared in the book...
*Model reading digital text ideas p. 46-47
*Ideas for digital reading minilessons p. 48
*Practice watching videos with a "wide awake mind" p. 51
*Introduce/practice online discussions with small groups of students p. 53
*Hierarchy chart for determining content, creation, polishing, presenting p. 75

Amplify has raised my sights toward finishing this year strong and starting next year with a solid framework that is redesigned and refreshed. I have notes throughout the book, tons of sticky notes, and a document started where I've been jotting down ideas so I don't forget! And it has also reminded me of just how much I learn from my Twitter colleagues and how I need to make it a priority to be more active on Twitter.

Through our Twitter and face-to-face connections, I have learned so much from both Kristin and Katie (and have shared many laughs with both of them, too!) I've stolen many ideas from them over the past few years, but I am now fully prepared to snag a bunch more! I'm excited to jump in to the #AmplifyEd conversation to see what others have taken away and have started after reading this gem of a professional read.

What books have shaped your thinking lately?