The Need For Recording

Today I really discovered the value in recording students. This morning, my students were introduced to a new shared reading piece. While it was a fairly long piece, there were lots of simple sight words in it that they knew, and the students learned it fairly quickly. Before going to gym, we used the AudioMemos app on the iPad to record the students reading, “Changes.”

After recording their reading, I played the recording back to them. It was incredible! Right away, the students told me that they liked how everyone read in a clear, loud voice, but that they need to work on reading together. The one student that read ahead of us some of the time, immediately identified this, and he spoke about slowing down.

Without recording the reading, I could have offered my own descriptive feedback, but I think that it was much more powerful coming from the students themselves. I’m confident that when we record our reading tomorrow, they will be more cognizant of reading together as a group while also continuing to remain loud and clear. Fantastic!

Then during math centres this afternoon, I used my digital camera to record three students describing how they located various numerals on a hundreds chart. You can listen to their explanations below:

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I love how much information I can get from these few minutes of recording time. I can tell if the students can identify various numerals, I can tell how they solve different math problems, and I can see if they are using one method for solving these problems or multiple methods. I can also hear them counting independently, and I can see if they demonstrate the mental math strategy of “counting on” or “counting back.” No matter what I might have written down in my anecdotal records at a centre like this one, actually having this recording gives me far more information than I would have ever written. I can now plan my next lesson based on the skills and needs of my students. I adore my digital camera!

Have you recorded your students in the classroom before? What role do these recordings play in assessment? I would love to hear your thoughts!



Update From Today — September 22nd

After yesterday’s audio recording of our Shared Reading Activity, the students listened again to what they did, and then re-recorded their reading today. They thought that they sounded much better: they were reading better as a group and they were all consistently reading the words too. This just shows me the power of self-reflection.

Have others had similar experiences to this one? I’d love to hear about your experiences too!


ClassDojo: Giving Students Control Over Classroom Management

After my online presentation at the Reform Symposium this summer, Usamah Chaudhary (@usamahc) contacted me about a classroom management system that he helped design. The beta version of ClassDojo is being used in a number of classes now, and Usamah was looking for some feedback on this system. I was initially hesitant to give it a try. After reading many blog posts by Chris Wejr (@mrwejr) and conversing with him through Twitter too about the negative impact of rewards, I didn’t want to try a system that to me seemed very “reward based.”

After Skyping with Usamah though, my opinion changed. Yes, students are getting points/badges for their positive behaviours and losing points/badges for their negative ones, but these points are not earning them anything. To me, these badges are just visual representations of what they are doing right and what they need to continue to work on. They are bridging the gap between extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. And this I love, so I was more than willing to give this a try! Best of all, these badges match up to the Learning Skills that we have to assess on our report cards, so ClassDojo helps me track these learning skills too.

If you asked me back in August though if I would use ClassDojo the way that I’m using it now, I would have definitely said no. I’ve changed my approach though. As the school year started, I started to think, why do teachers need to be the only ones responsible for classroom management? What if the students could hold this responsibility?

Now instead of me giving positive and negative badges, I let the students give their own. After our small group centres and during various full group activities, one student comes up to the SMART Board, and he/she goes through the class, asking individual students if they deserve various badges and why. This only takes a couple of minutes, but it’s definitely helped my students take control over their own behaviour and accurately assess how they’re doing too. They know what they’re doing right, they know what they’re doing wrong, and they know what they need to continue to work on. They are building an intrinsic desire to work hard and help others, and this management system is just visually representing and tracking their hard work.

Below is a short video clip demonstrating how my students lead this self-assessment process:

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(Important Note: I do apologize for the sound quality, as I was sitting by the open window, and you can hear the phys-ed class outside in the background. Speakers should help with the volume though.)

What kind of management system do you use in your classroom? What role do students play in this system? I would love to hear what you have to say!

A special thank you as well to Usamah Chaudhary and the rest of the ClassDojo team for being so receptive to teacher feedback and so eager to create a tracking system that works well for a large variety of students! Your system has helped me change my approach to classroom management.


The Case For Not Doing Traditional “Get To Know You” Activities

Before school started, I participated in many Twitter chats, a number of which discussed “get to know you” activities. September is almost synonymous with these types of class building activities. The question quickly becomes, which of these “get to know you” activities do you like the best? I’m afraid that I might be alone when I say, “none of them.”

Please don’t get me wrong here. I think that teachers need to get to know their students. I think that we need to form relationships with students. We need to know what they like, and we need to know what they don’t like. We need to know about their strengths and weaknesses, and we need to figure out the best way to help them succeed, as I do believe that all students can succeed. We also need students to build relationships with each other. They need to learn how to work together. They need to learn how to trust each other. They need to learn how to communicate with each other. And I think that we can do all of this and more by jumping in and just getting started.

On the first day of school, I had the students come into the classroom. We sorted supplies, and then we took a short walk around the school to find the office, the bathrooms, and the playground. Then we came back to class, and we made an “I Chart” together for our Read To Self centre. The students told me what they should be doing when they read by themselves. During the summer, I wrote a note to students, and I asked them to bring in a book that they could read. I also put together a large collection of wordless picture books, popular storybooks, and various leveled books that I knew all of the students in the class could read. With these books gathered and sorted, and our I Chart complete, we worked on reading. Students started by reading by themselves for two minutes. While they were reading quietly, I went student to student, and I had them read to me. We talked about what they were reading. We talked about what they liked to read. When the timer went, students challenged themselves to pick another book and read for three minutes. This gave me more time to read with the class. Within 5 minutes, I had read with every student in the class. This was a quick read, but it gave me some good information and a valuable starting point.

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Then in the afternoon, we moved onto writing. We added our names to the Word Wall. We looked at spelling patterns in the names, and we looked at some different word families too. Students were challenged to work with words and make a list of different “an” words. Some wrote sentences with these words. Others wrote stories using these words. They learned how to use Edmodo, and then they worked on the classroom laptop, the classroom desktop, the pod computers, and the SMART Board to write together. Students learned how to work with a partner. They learned how to share. They orally formulated sentences, and then helped each other write them. They began to use the tools that we will be using in the classroom throughout the year, and they started to get comfortable not just using these tools, but problem-solving with these tools too.

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Now the first week of school is almost over, and the students have already gotten started. They are well into our first round of literacy and math centres. During our four days of school, here’s what they’ve done:

  • Used the Livescribe Pen to retell stories – a reading comprehension and oral language activity.
  • Used Pictochat on the Nintendo DS’ to make lists of familiar words (Grade 1) and discuss reading comprehension strategies (Grade 2).
  • Used the Notebook software on both the SMART Board and the classroom computers to read together and write together.
  • Used the iPads to record their reading (using the QuickVoice app) and reflect on their reading too.
  • Used the iPod Touches to listen to two stories in Nelson Literacy and reflect on the Science concepts of living things (Grade 1) and animals (Grade 2).
  • Used the Livescribe Pen to discuss sorting rules (Grade 1).
  • Used the iPads (using the DoodleBuddy app) to represent different numbers and practice counting by 10’s (Grade 2).
  • Used the computers together for a sorting activity (Grade 1) and a counting and number recognition activity (Grade 2). Discussed their learning with the people in their small groups, and discussed their learning with me too.
  • Learned how to work in groups for both literacy and math centres. Solved problems in these groups, and asked each other for help.
  • Reflected on their learning with the help of ClassDojo. Instead of having me assess how they’re doing, the students are assessing themselves. Awesome!

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I may not embrace “get to know you” activities, but I’ve definitely gotten to know the students a lot over the past week. I know where they’re at academically, I know where they’re at socially, and I know where we need to go. Students have adjusted to the classroom routines by being immersed in these routines, and I really believe that this has benefited them. I can’t wait to see what excitement and learning next week brings.


So what about you? What are your thoughts on “get to know you activities?” How do you get to know your students? I know that there are different thoughts here, and I hope that this blog post with invite some discussion. I would love to know what you do, and why you do it too!



Classroom of Future, Increased Scores

One of my favourite things about a Sunday morning is reading The New York Times. I’m not a huge newspaper reader, but The Times is different, and I look forward to exploring this huge edition of the paper. This morning though, I never made it past the first article. The headline in this morning’s edition was, “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores.” I just had to read this! The article looks at many different classrooms in the Kyrene School District in Arizona, and how, despite the increased purchasing of technology tools, test scores have largely remained stagnant. The question then becomes, is technology really the answer?

I would argue, “yes.” Over the past couple of years since I’ve really started using technology in my classroom, I’ve been looking at data too. In Grade 1 and Grade 2 in our Board, all of the teachers administer the DRA: a reading assessment tool. Last year alone, 58% of my students started the year at the Board benchmark in DRA, but by June, 95% of my students were at or above the Board benchmark. The one student that did not meet benchmark, was just one level below, and she increased eight levels over the course of the year, which was an even more significant jump than most students.

Now can these scores all be attributed to the use of technology in the classroom? I would argue, “no.” The problem with collecting data about the impact of technology is that it’s hard to separate the “tool” from the person using the “tool” in the classroom. There’s the human factor of the teacher here too. There’s also everything else that we do in the classroom that does not involve the use of technology, such as writing in journals, reading books, using math manipulatives, and discussing learning.

But then there is the use of technology too. There’s students recording their reading using the iPad. There’s students recording their reading and discussing their reading using the Livescribe Pen, then listening to what their recordings, and reflecting on their own reading as well. There’s students working together to create a Storybird on the SMART Board, editing their own work, reading what they wrote, and talking about their stories too. There’s students experimenting with different writing forms using various tools on the iPads and iPod Touches, including StoryBuddy, StoryPatch, StripDesigner, and Build A Story. These students are not just playing games on these tools, but they are creating, reading, reflecting, and learning.

I am all about the use of these different tools, but if we just do what we always did, but now with just a different tool, then I don’t see the point. Stagnant test scores tell me that we shouldn’t get rid of these tools or stop purchasing them, but instead, look at how we’re using them. Is there something that we can do differently? Where are students struggling the most on these standardized tests? How can these tools help students better understand the concepts where they’re falling behind? Then we focus on the specific expectations where students are still having the most difficulty. We make “learning” about the students!

I may use technology in the classroom, but I don’t teach technology. I teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, health, and the Arts, and when I teach these subjects using technology, my students are learning. Seeing results encourages me to continue to use these tools in the classroom. What about you? What results have you seen with the use of technology?


Welcome To Our Classroom

After reading Heidi Siwak’s (@heidisiwak) blog post the other night on Collaborative Learning Spaces, I was inspired to videotape my own classroom. I really believe in the benefit of open spaces and lots of areas for group work and partner work as well as independent work too. I tried to achieve this when setting up the room this year!

I also have a large bulletin board along the back of the room that is completely empty. Together as a class, we’ll work at filling this bulletin board with different examples of reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and art activities that really help show you what the students are learning and what we’re continuing to work on too.

As you set up your classroom, what are some important things that you keep in mind? I hope that you’ll add a comment here with any links to different pictures or videos that you have of your classroom. Sharing ideas helps inspire others too!


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