and so it begins!

Last week our education association launched our new “Academy”! The idea is to collaborate on technology skills and share with one another.  We launched the Academy with a blog, wiki and some google docs sign up sheets.  We already had someone update the wiki with a new page containing some “how to” links for things like Voki.  We have also had a number of people sign up to guest blog! I am very excited by the enthusiasm of my colleagues. Our members have many different levels of ability with technology and our hope is to match “techies” with “newbies”.  I am so very pleased with the initial week’s progress and hope for even more participation as the weeks progress!  Our new superintendent is very supportive of our initiative and is a “techie” himself!

Teachers and other staff are encouraged to post on google docs, ideas they have for sharing or things they would like to master or explore. Each Academy is based on need!  Sessions are informal and take into consideration the time availability of the members of the Academy, as they are set up by the members themselves!  Some might only meet for one session, for something like a simple web tool.  Other Academies can meet on as needed basis, for example, group might work on building a PLN.  This would be an ongoing group that could communicate virtually all year! I think this is a great opportunity for sharing and promoting our endeavors!  We are also looking to share our successes with the community. It will be great for our staff to let the community know how we are diligent in our efforts to be 21st century educators!

There ought to be a law…

Just this past week, my small group instruction 8th grade students finished their mandatory state testing. In New Jersey, our students are entitled to not being left behind, and the least restrictive environment for their learning. Apparently however, they are NOT entitled to fair and appropriate testing!  As the week for testing approached, we prepared them for the testing as was appropriate and suggested.  I could see their growing apprehension, only because I know my students well and pay careful attention to their ever changing moods.  I know some of them masked their anxiety, with apathy (feigned), confidence (bravado feigned), and acting out behavior (triggered by their anxiety).  I tried to address their needs, as I know them well and have their well thought out and planned, Individualized Education Plans (IEP’s) in my possession.  I ensured them that they would do well, and that they would have the time they needed to demonstrate their abilities. I knew full well of course, that in fact they might not do well and that extra time might not help them to demonstrate their real abilities. I did not want to add to their anxieties about the test, so I kept those thoughts to myself. Each year, the standardized tests given by the State of New Jersey, fill me with dread for my special needs students.  They are not considered disabled enough to be given alternate tests. I am very glad for them that they are not so hugely and grossly affected by their educational differences, as those students are who are designated to be at that level are profoundly disabled. Most of my students indeed would not be recognizable as “special needs students” outside of the school day. However, I am privy to their educational differences and know how significant their “differences” as learners can be especially during stressful situations, like testing.  I work like mad to mask the “testing anxiety” I feel for them. I model the confidence I want them to feel.  They however, are in 8th grade have taken these tests before and they are reasonably skeptical.

As a special educator, I am required to provide many modifications and adaptations for them during the school year. I work in collaboration with the child study team and my diligent, sensitive colleagues to ensure these modifications and adaptations are n place to help them succeed.  I work in conjunction with the students themselves to acquire feedback as to what really works for them.  I conference with their parents routinely, to gauge how their “first teachers”, feel these provisions are working for them.  All of this is my job, and required by law. THEN, standardized testing begins and most of these modifications and adaptations are thrown out the window! The tests in no way model the students IEP’s goals or modifications.  This would be considered illegal if my colleagues or I chose to ignore this document, and rightly so! Yet, the State  of New Jersey can ignore this document?

So I ask you is this fair, legal?

There ought to be a law!  Oh, yes that’s right there is, The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) formerly Public Law 94-142 – Education of All Handicapped Children Act

This week I will do damage control. I will ensure them that they are fabulous and smart and will do great things!

Maybe they will become lawyers and challenge the disregard for their IEP”S! Who knows? I know, they will be fabulous!

Ipad in a Special Education Classroom

This past week, our school television show, Brookside Television, or BTV as we refer to it, did a spotlight on the Ipad. They asked my 8th grade study skills students to record a piece on how we were using the Ipad in class.  Two of my students eagerly volunteered to share how we were using the Ipad.  One highlighted the app called Cramberry, it is a flashcard study tool. He did a really great job demonstrating the decks we have created and use in class to study for tests. The students input the information directly from the course vocabulary. The app allows you to study this vocabulary on the Ipad. We created decks using the vocabulary words we needed for different units.  Then the students can test their knowledge of the words in a cool matching game. It mixes up the definitions and the words then the students match them. As the pairs are correctly matched they disappear!  They love it! Another student highlighted the app Pages.  He demonstrated how he takes notes, and does his writing assignments on his Ipad. This student has struggled greatly in the past and has always been a hesitant writer.  Now he lights up when an assignment is given.  He opens the app and jumps right in!  It is truly amazing to see his eagerness where there once was hesitancy.  His writing has begun to improve, because he is eager and engaged!  The segment aired on Friday and we watched together, they were so proud and so was I.  They got a lot of positive feedback during the day from their peers, which just added to their good feelings! It was a great week for learning in my classroom! We love our Ipads!

We use the Ipad just about every day in our classroom. We read Kindle books on the Kindle app!  We explored the Periodic Table using The Elements App! This is a really fantastic and beautiful app! We need to get 3D glasses so we can really use this aspect of the app. We have taken notes using Dragon Dictation and have had a lot of fun doing this.  We have tried to learn to speak clearly so that we get the correct speech to text.  Sometimes we have used it just for fun! We love Talking Tom, and have had a blast with it.  We have played some great games of Scrabble and Checkers.  It has been a blast so far. It just keeps getting better and better!

Twitter?

To tweet or not to tweet? That is the question? I say TWEET AWAY! It has been a real question for many educators like myself, for a while now. After trying to build my Personal Learning Network (PLN) for about 2 years without Twitter, I decided about two years ago to take the plunge.  It was very slow going at first. I was really confused. What was the correct road? How could I really participate, when I really didn’t understand? Why did I need to do this anyway? Did I have time for this?  I had heard from my PLN that this was a necessary step in building my PLN. Really?   I attended an un-conference, EdcampNYC and just about everyone was tweeting! They were communicating in real time with each other, and those in their PLNs. I had a Twitter account, but I was still reticent and confused; I still didn’t know what to do! I quickly found a few blog posts on “how to twitter” and they gave me a great deal of inspiration and help. Then I jumped in the pool! I was tentative at first, treading water if you will, and then slowly, I swam! I only had one “stroke” for a while.  Then, I added a few more strokes to my repertoire by learning along with my PLN and those I follow. Two years later, I use twitter as my “go to” for technology help. I find many helpful resources on Twitter each week. I follow people who are inspirational, informative and have a great many followers myself. (Over 1,000)  I use TweetDeck to organize my twitter feed and I have participated in many hashtag chats. I have gained more experience and confidence and really enjoy being connected to so many cool, funny, smart and kind teachers. My, the pool is deep and wide, but I am enjoying the swim!

There are so many valuable voices for education out there! I have begun to really feel connected and informed. I follow many amazing educators and I have met a few of them in person.  Some are considered “rock stars” in my PLN. More importantly for me, my endeavor has humbled and tested me. For me,  the most important aspect of my venture was how I reconnected with the “feeling” of being a new learner, or more specifically the “feeling” of being a scared, struggling and confused learner. As I mentioned, I was at an un-conference with real “techies” and I saw them using the platform seamlessly. An unconference is  a cool concept where the conference evolves as the participants decide, on the spot, what they want to explore.   I saw the participants using the platform seamlessly. I had an account and I was embarrassed and unwilling to ask for help! I watched and tried to look like I knew what I was doing–I was behaving just like my struggling students.  I know, as a teacher of 30 plus years, this is not the most effective way to learn. Don’t I always encourage my students to “ASK for help“? As a student, learning had always “come easily” to me. This is true about most of my colleagues as well.  We are usually the kids who did well in school and had a positive relationship with learning and school. I was way out of my comfort zone with this new endeavor. I felt foolish, too foolish to ask for help! This is when I chose to jump in the pool, instead of quitting. It is what I ask my students to do and I was going to ask myself to do it too! I did know from past experiences that it would get easier as I practiced. So I did! It has been a great swim! Here is a great site for those who need help getting started–I tweeted that I was looking for such a site and VIOLA, within minutes I had what I needed! Twitter for Teachers. That’s what I’m talking about!!!

I have learned so many new things on my “swim”! I am following many innovative educators, most I would not ever have had the privilege of learning and connecting with, without twitter! I have found many new sites and thought about many new topics. I even have followers, my PLN is growing!

The other thing I hear from people who are thinking about learning to tweet, is that they do not have the time.  Make time folks--Twitter, WILL SAVE YOU TIME!!  Because of the “real time” nature of the platform. It is not something you need to keep up with every day if you don’t want to. When you login, you can simply be present in the “NOW”.  But when you have a question or are stumped with an app or a website, you can put the question to your PLN and seriously folks, you will get an answer or many answers! It is amazing the time I have saved by putting in the time learning to TWEET!

JUMP IN!

Some other Twitter “how to” sites–thanks to my tweeps!! (people you know on twitter-those you either follow or are followed by)

Follow me @dee8906

Also check out my blog post on 10 things You Should Know About Blogging- it does talk about Twitter.

30 Goals Challenge

Shelly Terrell has a new 30 Goals Challenge for teachers on her blog. I have just committed to doing it! Join me friends!  1st goal is Be a Beam.  I love this one.  “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” Mahatma Gandhi  Be a BEAM! Let your light shine and inspire people to learn.  2nd goal is re-evaluate–I am trying to re-evalute my role as teacher– find a way to created learners rather than just try to teach information. Hold the door open and let them in!  I am excited about this challenge. Hope I can keep up!

Sharing

I am constantly amazed by the resourcefulness and generosity of my colleagues!  Each day I run into someone sharing, whether it is their time, their ideas and now LINKS.  I am blown away by the links that are shared with me each day. Now that I have started to develop my Personal Learning Network (PLN), I also receive many links and ideas from the teachers and other professionals I am connected to online.  Today a colleague shared a very exciting resource site, TRIPTICO.  I have just registered for this site, it is free but you must register and receive approval.  It then allows you to download for free onto your desktop a variety of resources. The one that my colleague shared with me was a “refrigerator magnet” tool.  It is WONDERFUL!  It allows a great deal of customizing and is very visually pleasing! It is above all very easy to use and intuitive!  A cannot wait to fully explore this site!  Another colleague on my PLN shared an idea for Reader’s workshop with me as well today.  I am very pleased to be connected to so many great educators.  On twitter each day I see a tremendous outpouring of information and idea sharing.  I see educators sharing, learning, mentoring, and growing as teachers each and every day!  It is fascinating and exciting to be a part of this exchange!

It is a privilege to grow and learn with these people!

Reading–in reading!

I have always loved books and reading. I was the kid who hid a flashlight in my bed so I could read after lights out. I never completely understood why anyone would hate reading.  I did understand as I became a special education teacher that reading was hard for some kids.  I also could understand that doing something hard was quite frankly…hard.  But, books, stories well they were great, weren’t they?  As I embarked on my studies in preparation for becoming a special educator, I was introduced to many reading approaches.  Orton-Gillingham was for dyslexic and grapheme/phoneme challenged students.  I would help students make strides with a multi-sensory approach. In my first school we used Open Court, which used a controlled, phonetic approach.  Later, as I taught in another middle school we used a literature based reading program.  I also studied the Wilson approach, much like the Orton method, it however targeted middle schoolers who still had not mastered word attach skills.I was exposed to high interest, low readability books. Most of my students did not find them to be high in interest at all!  I knew all of my students loved a good story. I had read great books and stories to them and they loved it.  I knew they could tell stories and they loved to listen to their classmates tell stories. (some probably not true) So I knew they liked a great story. Why were they not becoming readers? While all of these approaches had their merits I did not see nonreaders join the ranks of READERS.  By that I mean, kids who read because they want to read.  Kids who always had a book in their hand or in their backpack.  I saw some students make progress in their skills with each of the programs I had participated in.  But again, where was the zeal?  Where were the book lovers we were trying to create?

In the last year,  I have embarked with my colleagues on a new approach to teaching reading. We have begun learning and implementing the Readers Workshop model. It is a model I have been familiar with as an educator and as a mother. My own kids have been taught using this model.  I am glad to report that I have four very strong READERS.  I was sure this approach had its merits as I had witnessed its successes firsthand. In knew my kids lived in a reading home, but I knew other readers who did not have children who loved books. I knew it had to have something to do with their reading education.

Our training was typical of school training-short and sweet.  We were thrown into the pool-in the deep end. My familiarity and my interest helped me swim! My colleagues and I worked hard to get ready for our launch.  It has been a whirlwind. We have had ups and downs. Not all has gone as we planned. BUT, we have students reading in class every day!  Choice is a pillar of this approach and we have seen the benefit of this on many occasions.They are reading because they can choose!  They are READING!  They are talking about books, recommending books to us and one another.  I have heard, “I loved this book” “Can we read more?” “You have got to read this book, Ms. Fox,” on many occasions. I know I have heard these comments and others like them, many  more times then I ever have before.  The kids love to read in class, they love that we give them time to read. We actually had a parent complaint about the reading in class, this parent did NOT want her child reading in school! Can you imagine?  Often it is the best part of my day. We are there to guide them, to discuss with them and to listen to them talk to one another about their books. I have a lot to learn about facilitating the workshop but, what  I have learned already is that it makes READERS!  I sometimes look around the classroom while they are reading and I actually get choked up! They are READERS!

Moments

All teachers have had those “moments”. Those moments when you are filled with the joy of being present in a child’s life.  A “moment” when you know for sure why you became a teacher. It was because of moments just like the one you just had.  I have had a multitude of those moments in my 25 year plus teaching career. Some were expected and most were not. I treasure these moments because they are with me always, and they are with my students always too.  Most of those moments will not even be remembered by those students who made them with me, but they are a part of them and their education nonetheless.  I have had a few other “moments” and I’m sure you have had those too. Those you would love to forget and with time and effort you will. I don’t need to tell you about those moments.

Last Friday, I had a cool “moment” with my 8th grade study skills class.  This class is comprised of eleven 8th graders who struggle with their studies. They are a very diverse and sometimes very challenging group.  I use a behavior modification program with them, one that I have used for my entire career.  I use raffle tickets to reward positive behaviors in the class. Tickets can be gained for following directions, doing great work, a positive attitude or just about anything I choose to reward.  The tickets can be used in a weekly raffle or saved for a future raffle. The kids can also donate them to a “class 500” envelope,  when the number of tickets combined reaches 500, we have a class party.  Well, this week we had 2 raffles, as last week I was out on our raffle day. I chose to have the make-up raffle on Thursday. We would have our regular raffle on Friday, as planned.  I had acquired two really great prizes for the raffles, two MP3 players.  I buy inexpensive gifts and take donations for the prizes we have in the raffle.  These MP3 players were going to be a big hit, I was sure of it. When I announced that these MP3 players were being added to the prizes,  I could see excitement.  Two boys in particular were very excited and they made it known that they were very much hoping to win, so they could select the MP3 players. On Thursday, neither boy won. One MP3 player was gone!  They were disappointed, but seemed determined to win the next day.  They were going to do their best to get as many tickets as they could. They did a great job on Friday, better then they usually did. They got many extra tickets, they went out of their way to do all of the required work and they worked hard.  They both also completed a goal setting activity, something they had been avoiding. This allowed them even more tickets!

When the time came for the drawing, I secretly hoped one of them would win.  I never “cheat” for a student, even when I feel they “deserve” to win.  It would invalidate the raffle. I have secretly hoped for a student to win on a particular day, because they had worked hard that week.  I announced we would have two winners, that day, something I often do to motivate the kids.  I drew the first name and it was indeed one of the boys who really wanted the MP3 player. I was thrilled! I was even more thrilled and had my “moment”, when that student announced that he was giving it to the other kid who really wanted it!  WOW! I was blown away! It was a great moment!  The student thanked his classmate and was as thrilled as I was.  I made a fuss about how cool it was that he acted so generously .  I picked the second winner and it was the kid who had just gotten the MP3 player from his friend.  He gave his win to his classmate, the one who had given him the MP3 player, another moment!  It was one of the best raffles that I had ever had, in all my years of teaching.  Those moments are why I love to teach!

10 Things You Should Know About Blogging

I am really starting my Teacher’s Challenge today !( BeginnerAdvanced ).  I decided to do the advanced route, I hope I am up to the task.

This is my first assignment! Hope I get a good grade! Oh, I’m grading myself, so

Assignment : Create a blog post on:

10 things you should know about blogging–OK

1. It is pretty EASY! I use Edublogs and I love it!  I feel it is a wonderful platform.  I know it is educationally based and friendly. Their tips and help are right on the money.  I went for a  pay account as I wanted to try this blogging thing out in a serious manner. I have stalked blogs and bloggers for well over a year and felt it was time to get aboard. Find ways to get your blog read!–more about that later— because you need to have it read! There are many blog sites that are great. I needed a simple one so I chose Edublogs. Here are a few more.

  • Blogger– this is a google app, very easy and lots of people use it.
  • WordPress–  I feel this requires a bit more skill, just sayin! But some very cool sites are created with this
  • PBworks-this part of PBworks is free–I have not used it but I know that many do. Worth a FREE look!

2. READ other blogs! Then read more blogs!  Educators are prolific and there are a ton of excellent blogs out there.  I started reading a few and now I am hooked on many.  I suggest starting with some of the best. Those listed below have been winners of awards for blogging. Comment on their blogs–they will usually get back to you with a comment. It starts the conversation. It get you connected!

  • Larry Ferlazzo– The guru of The BEST-Lists- An ELL expert and great disseminator of information online. His stuff rocks! A runner up for best individual blog.
  • Lucy Gray– A great resource to techie blogging
  • Richard Byrne– The 2010 winner of Best Individual Blogg on Edublogs. He is a great blogger and his posts are filled with excellent tips, information and links.
  • Kirsten Winkler–  A 2010 runner up for Best Individual Blog. Excellent organization of information and links. Really good site.

3. Join Twitter! It is a wonderful tool. It is a daunting exercise at first. So much information in such a fast paced manner.  Get on and stalk. Create an account and observe. Follow a few prominent educational tweeters. Start with those listed below.  Then retweet! Follow, follow, follow! Soon you will be followed! It is a very cool feeling when you get your first followers!  Your twitter network will grow from there.  On twitter you can find many, many resources.At times almost too many. You can also grow a following for your blog by tweeting your link. Who knew? Is a blog a blog if no one reads it, or is it just your own notes? You can also post your blog link in your profile. Tweeting a link to a new post or linking your blog will get you some attention on your blog. REMEMBER you want people to read it and comment! Here are some suggestions on educators to follow on Twitter. Start with them and follow who they follow.

  • @Larryferlazzo- yes him again-a must follow
  • @kylepace- a good tweeter-good resources
  • @ShellTerrell-great voice on twitter-follow her
  • @DanielPink-a revolutionary in thinking about drive

Another twitter concept is the hashtag –the # sign. I was lost at first on this topic. I finally figured it out.! Amazing to feel like a real student again –having to FIGURE out something hard and not intuitive. The hashtag is a way for you to find topics or create topics with threaded conversations. Simply put the # sign in front of a word, words, or an acronym and you will see all conversations with that hashtag. Here are a few educational hashtags. Put them in your tweet and GO!

  • #edchat- a weekly chat about educational topics- a MUST
  • #TLChat- Teacher -Librarian chat
  • #edtech- good technology thread

4. Think about what you are passionate about and blog about it! There are posts about everything. Some of the best posts I have ever read were about very simple things. Sharing our ideas about students and lessons is very important. Teaching can be a solitary endeavor if we do not share.  It has been my experience that collaboration makes the teaching experience better for all concerned, teachers and students!

5. Connect with teachers you know that actually Blog already.  Yes, they are around! Share your blog with your colleagues directly. Ask for them to read and comment on your posts–maybe even before your go live!  Encourage colleagues to join you if you cannot find anyone already active. Form a community. Share, there is a lot of research supporting the motivational value of group work! We grouping in our classrooms as a motivational tool, why not in our own learning?

6.Write it down! Take notes on your daily musings.  This will help you to know what you would like to talk/write about.  Keep a record of anecdotes that are worth sharing.  This has helped this 50 year old brain remember what I meant to remember!

7. Blog with your students and allow them to help/teach you! This is wonderful on about a million levels.  They will relish the opportunity to teach you.  They will also love blogging. Writing without an audience can feel inauthentic. Give them an audience beyond you and their parents.  You can limit the audience, it does not have to be the world at large.  It is a tool they will certainly use in their academic life and life outside of school.  Prepare them and let them prepare you!  Here are some kid friendly sites for blogging.

  • Kidblog– a free, very easy, and secure environment to allow blogging into your classroom
  • Radiowaves– free, school friendly site

8. Join Google Apps for Educators- This opens up a vast store of  functionality to you.  The site has a multitude of collaborative and communication tools that are both easy to use and widely used.  Google has excellent “how to” videos and tutorials. Also,  Google’s  wide use allows you to tweet your PLN for help or feedback with a solid chance of being answered. Everyone uses it!

9. Subscribe to a RSS service. This will allow you to filter and read all of the  bloggers you follow. According to Google Feeds: feeds are a way for websites large and small to distribute their content well beyond just visitors using browsers. Feeds permit subscription to regular updates, delivered automatically via a web portal, news reader, or in some cases good old email. Feeds also make it possible for site content to be packaged into “widgets,” “gadgets,” mobile devices, and other bite-sized technologies that make it possible to display blogs, podcasts, and major news/sports/weather/whatever headlines just about anywhere.

  • Feedburner– a google app that allow you to sort and read all the blogs you follow in a manageable way.
  • Googlereadera RSS service from google– nice visual format.

10. TAKE A CHALLENGE or a class, or create one—for yourself or for a group of educational bloggers.  Committing to a challenge or a class will motivate you–yes,  you are a teacher so you are task completion oriented!  I suggest trying The Teacher Challenge as it is really straight forward and has lots of support on the site. I’m sure there are others, I am not aware of another good one. Feel free to send me links about any you might know about.

Finally, Just DO IT! It might just change your life or the lives of your students!

JOIN ME!!!


Teacher Challenge

I just ran across this “Teacher Challenge” on  a website I was directed to by a tweet. I am hoping my Brookside colleagues will join me in trying it. We are adding blogging to our plate here at Brookside–why not try it with some excellent assistance, structure and advice?

I am really starting to build my Personal Learning Network, and I am enjoying it. Follow me on Twitter at dee8906!  I have been wowed by the tenacity of the educators with whom I have been learning.  I have found them to be smart, funny, kind and interesting.  They must be such wonderful teachers. I would love to be in their classes or collaborate with them. They are all such great models of 21st century learning.  They are all of them real life learners and it shows, with each tweet or url.  They model exactly what we need to model for our students, joyful, interested learning. They are seeking ways to connect with their students in relevant and authentic ways. They share and listen, setting up learning as a two way street.  Turning kids on to learning is what I consider to be the biggest part of my job as an educator.  The people I have worked with at Brookside School are great at this and now my PLN partners are helping me to master new ways of engaging students.  I would love some of my Brookside friends to join me on the “Teacher Challenge”—just really a blogging how to—Let me know if you are interested ASAP. I really do want to begin on this journey. JOIN ME!

I am using Edublogs for my blog. I feel it is a well appointed, as well as a easily navigable tool. I may decide to change forums as the challenge goes on, I’m not quite sure yet.  I know I will also try working on the School Wires site we are required to have soon. I have begun working with this site and will do more very soon.  I am not as well versed in this sites tools as I would like to be. I am working on getting a better feel for the School Wires site. Until then I, and maybe even after I will use this blog.  I do know a few other sites you may feel comfortable using,  Blogger and Kidblog are also good sites to begin writing your blog with.

whyblog1-zooagy