Improving Literacy with Fluency Tutor

Fluency Tutor logo.Hi everybody! So, I’ve recently been using a fantastic reading app called Fluency Tutor. The app is meant to take the place of traditional timed fluency tests and running records, both of which are extremely time consuming. The app has several tools/functions that make it a breeze to use. First, it is completely Google compatible. You can import classes from Google Classroom and create Google Classroom assignments from within the Fluency Tutor app. You can also assign to individual students or the whole class, all from with the app. It is also very easy to update your class if you’ve had new students join your Google Classroom.

Fluency Tutor also comes with Fluency Passages that are leveled. You can search passages by lexile level or AR level. This is just my personal opinion, but I’ve found the passages to be of high quality. Many are non-fiction and contain interesting topics like the process in which diamonds are created or how your tongue works. I also really like that some of the early-reader passages don’t look like early-reader passages. But the thing that I really like about this app is the digital tools it contains for students and teachers. Students can record and listen to themselves or even save their recording directly to their Google Drive. They can also have the text read to them and there’s even the option to have it read back in a different language! I’m not sure if every language works for every passage but I’ve seen a HUGE list of languages to select. Students can also click any word in the text and get a definition or a picture definition.

The teacher can create a vocabulary list for all of the words a students has clicked. The list features definitions and is created in a Google Doc. Once passages have been graded, students can see their scores  on a graph- there is a words correct per minute score and a ‘fluency score’ which grades them on phrasing, expression, etc.

For teachers the tools make grading a breeze! Once a student has finished their recording you can listen to it (or any past recordings) while looking at a copy of the text. If you click on any word in the text you can mark it as an error. You can also select the type of error, omission, insertion, substitution, etc. Also, when you click a word to select an error, the recording pauses. After you select the error-type the recording resumes. Awesome! You then mark the last word read in the text and fluency tutor calculates the words correct per minute for you. Once you’ve graded all the recordings for a particular passage you can download a spreadsheet (Google Sheets) with all the scores.

My very favorite tool allows the creation of fluency passages. This can be accomplished by the teacher or the student! Once the Chrome extension is installed a page can be turned into a fluency passage with the click of a button. Now, this doesn’t work with every page and will not work with pdf’s but when it works it is amazing. The resulting page typically looks very clean and pictures that were on the page are often embedded within the passage without errors. For older students, this is really fun and puts them in control of what they are reading. I really love this app because of how easy and useful it is. If you’ve ever hated trying to find time to do 20+ fluency tests then I would highly suggest this app. It does cost 99$ a year, but for me it was totally worth and this will be a tool that stays in my toolbox.

Technology is only as good as _______________________.

Finish this sentence:

Technology is only as good as _______________________.

Maybe you said:

Technology is only as good as its user.

*You may have been thinking of a teacher that calls for help because her computer stopped working and when you get there you plug it back in, and Ta-Da it works again. It’s amazing how electricity works these days.

*Or maybe it’s the teacher who calls for help because a student rotated the screen on the Chromebook. The best part is they sent the student out of the room before telling the student to fix it. If he did it once he can do it again.

Technology is only as good as its server/internet.

*This sentence may apply when you’re at work and you absolutely know you saved that document on the server but still can’t find it.

*When the server is down no one knows what to do. You may find your colleagues suddenly feeling ill or needing to lay down. Some may want to Google “Things to do without internet”, only to find they are still without connection. Which in turn may cause even more panic.

Technology is only as good as its App creator.

*Apps are great. They can help you keep track of your diet and how many steps have you taken that day. There’s even an App that you pay $1.00 to just to see how many people have paid $1.00! What would we do without the Apps?

*Some Apps are for entertainment. Where would we be if we didn’t have that “game” on our phones. Maybe it goes back to the no internet/server…panic would set in if you didn’t have something to keep you entertained.

I joke half heartedly about not having the internet but I see it in our students. If a student can’t access Google because they didn’t turn in their permission slip or the privilege was taken away they act as if life will end.

During state testing all electronic devices must be turned off and not accessible to students. As I collected phones many of them would say I don’t have a phone just to try and keep it with them. Of course I would then say “So what’s that in your pocket”? To which they would reply “Oh, you mean I can’t have it with me even if it’s off”? (Just so all is clear, no phones were out or accessible to any student during any test session). Our students live in the age of technology from the time they wake up to the time they….well it’s on all the time. They go into withdraw when they can’t have it. It’s crazy to me that my own children text each other when they are in the same house! Just get up and walk over to where they are at. It won’t hurt. It’s less than 30 ft.

So now I have another question:

Conversation is only as good as ____________________.

You decide:

Conversation is only as good as its user.

Conversation is only as good a its connection.

Conversation is only as good as its creator.

 

Step Away: Getting Away from Technology through Trees

Sometimes, you just need to step away from technology.

Hi, I’m Tory and I’m a tech-o-holic.

Addiction is defined by Psychology today as “a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”  And most of us have found that type of behavior with our technology. For instance, you pick up your phone to just check one message that just showed up, a notification that popped up on your screen, a Tweet or a Facebook message that peaks our interest.  We think “Oh, that’s OK, I’ll just check this one thing really quickly and then get back to whatever I was doing before.”

And that’s when it happens.  First, you check what you came for, and then maybe look at a little red notification dot and wonder what that is about, and then you find yourself clicking around on several different apps, or deep diving into another one.  What those apps are designed to do – especially social media apps – is give us a little reward of dopamine that makes us feel happy or spikes a little brain boost.

The problem is you can often find that when you are flipping around on your phone that, despite the little clock up in the corner of your phone, time will just simply fly by and you don’t realize that you have spent hours on your phone.

We have all seen the addiction in our classrooms, at the coffee shops, and sometimes even at our own dinner tables. The world is full of cell phones and technology.  But sometimes, we just need a break.

If you own an iPhone, Apple has recently tried to combat some of this addiction with their ScreenTime setting, where you can see how much time you spend on your phone and what you spend time doing.  You can also use this setting to limit the time you spend on certain apps, or even entire categories of apps such as Social Media. Once you meet your limit, the phone will block your access to those apps and websites that you are trying to avoid. Of course, if you know the passcode to get by that, it is often easy to bypass.  (I admit, giving myself more “time” when I don’t deserve it).

Forest app iconOne app that I have found particularly helpful, which brings joy to my little tree-hugger heart is called Forest, and it’s available in the AppStore or on Google Play.

Forest is an app where you plant a tree anywhere from ten to 120 minutes – and then you put down your phone.  If you move away from that app during any time that you have set that timer for, your tree will die! It forces you to step away from your phone and enjoy the life away from technology.  Through the app, you earn coins that help you buy other, cuter trees or, if you collect 2500 coins, you have earned a real tree that the app developers will donate through their partnership with Trees for the Future.

It might be a bit counter intuitive to use technology to avoid technology.  It is, after all, another app that we put on our phone and another thing that we click and swipe and press on.  However, I’ve used this app for a few months now. I set it in the morning for 30 minutes and I use that time to write. Knowing that I can’t pick up my phone to “quickly look up something” keeps me in the flow of writing, and has increased my productivity in writing, grading, lesson planning (and maybe catching up on Lucifer).  It is amazing to put down my phone and really just live life.

So, plant a tree and get things done… away from technology.  

 

Thoughts From a New Coach

Those who get the best results are the ones who ask the most questions and aren’t afraid to try new things.

In my first year as an instructional coach, I’ve found myself reflecting on my own teaching.  After 15 years in the classroom, it was a scary move to attempt something new. If you had asked me what I thought about this new role earlier in the year, I may not have had such a positive response.  I missed working with “my own” students and I missed the comfort and predictability of my role as a teacher. In the past two months, the Instructional Coaches have been required to attend a substantial amount of training.  The teachers are not unwarranted in their concerns and comments of “I haven’t seen you in so long” or “do you still work here?”

While it bothered me that I was unable to support the teachers I work with as much as I would have liked to, this heavy dose of information rekindled my love of learning.  While sitting through each presentation, I caught myself thinking “I wish I had known that when I was in the classroom” or “that would have helped so much.” There were quite a few moments where we learned the research behind one strategy or another that reinforced some procedure that I had always felt in my gut to be best for students.

Long story short, I wish I could go back and be the coach that I never had.  Of course, I learned to do some things well, but I know so much more now that could make me a better teacher, I almost feel guilty for not providing my students with more than I was able to give them at the time.  I always worked very hard as a teacher, but all I could do for my students was the best I knew how to do.

The harsh reality is that we (as teachers) aren’t getting the job done.  According to the California School Dashboard Website, only 21.2% of our students were College/Career Ready in 2018. (Source: https://www.caschooldashboard.org/reports/39686760000000/2018)

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here.  Teachers are working very hard. Many have more on their plate than ever before and they are doing the absolute best they know how in order to serve their students.  No good teacher, however, will ever tell you that they have no room to improve. I personally believe that 21.2% is not good enough. What we are doing is not working.  My suggestion is to try something new.

So where does technology fit into all of this?  The State of California actually has Standards for Career Ready Practice.  (Source: https://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/ct/sf/documents/ctescrpflyer.pdf)  The fourth of those standards is

Apply technology to enhance productivity.  Career-ready individuals find and maximize the productive value of existing and new technology to accomplish workplace tasks and solve workplace problems. They are flexible and adaptive in acquiring and using new technology. They understand the inherent risks—personal and organizational—of technology applications, and they take actions to prevent or mitigate these risks.

My big takeaway from this standard is that students need to be fluent with the acquisition of new technology skills.  This fluency can only be perfected through exposure and instruction and it needs to begin as early as possible. Just as students learning a new language benefit from being immersed, so do our students who are developing their technological knowledge.

Many teachers are not digital natives.  This is not an excuse that we can accept to justify our lack of instruction with technology.  Our students depend on us to teach and guide them to digital fluency. When I started teaching, I was not an expert at anything.  I’d argue that I’m still not an expert at anything, but my skills are much better developed. I tried new things and I improved. I was fortunate to have others (both adults and students) who helped me improve.  I was able to ask questions and search for answers.

My observations as a new Instructional Coach have shown me that the teachers who are asking the most questions and trying new things are making the most growth (both as professionals and as measured through assessment of students).  Both veteran and brand new teachers are doing amazing things with students that are helping to prepare them for their futures because they aren’t afraid to admit that they don’t know everything and they are willing to ask for help.

Those who’ve worked in Stockton Unified long enough have seen many failures in the past.  If you’ve been considering a new approach, thinking about implementing more technology in your classroom, making drastic changes to the way things are done, or even trying to carry out some small modification to your previous way of doing things that will incorporate technology, I’d like to quote Mark Hall from a recent conversation we had:

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

The Argument for using Google Classroom with Digital Immigrants, Digital Natives

Digital Native? Digital Immigrant? What is that? As teachers, we often tell our students to break down the words we don’t know and to piece together using context clues. Most of us educators will look at the digital and understand that it refers to a technology in some capacity or more likely the computer. But how does being a native or immigrant fit into this picture? Great question! Natives are people who are residents who live in a certain area. Immigrants as we know travel from one place to another. This is also in the very true in the world of technology we live in today. In Marc Prensky’s article “Digital Native, Digital Immigrant”, he discusses the world we live in through the lens of digital literacy and knowledge of technology.

Prensky talks of “digital natives” today as the net generation or digital generation – Kindergartners through college who have grown up with everything digital – Internet, TV, computers, computer applications, digital music players, video games, etc. “Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games, and the Internet” (Prensky, p. 1). Prenksy discusses how technology has infiltrated all aspects of our lives and instead of purposely leaving out technology or having it become a baby sitter, using it to deepen and further learning is essential for students to be prepared for 21st-century learning.

Prensky goes on to discuss who are we that did not grow up with this digital technology? As time has passed, people who have seen technology come into our everyday lives and have seen it take over our daily life are known as digital Immigrants. Prensky says “Those of us who were not born into the digital world but have, at some later point in our lives,  become fascinated by and adopted many or most aspects of the new technology“ (Prensky, p. 1-2). Our students feel the same way about technology. The fascination of what the possibilities are boundless when our students enter the cyber world. We as immigrants have to be more understanding that technology is here to stay and to keep our kids engaged and prepared we have to mold and adapt to our students, not for them to mold and adapt to us.

As we move into and through the early parts of the 21st century, it is essential that we as teachers bring technology into the classroom and give our students opportunities for them to use technology the correct way and how it correlates with college and career readiness.

Starting a new school year is the perfect time to implement Google Classroom into your classroom. It allows you to cover the importance of routines and expectations around technology in your classroom and to stress the importance of how to become responsible digital citizens. With that being said, here are five easy ways to implement Google Classroom into your daily teaching assignments and activities to improve your classroom instruction and engagement when starting the new school year.

 

  • Posting questions for simple quick writes

 

unnamed1This is an essential first for the digital immigrant. By posting questions or simple prompts through the question tool, it gives your classroom a chance to open the door to technology and see what amazing opportunities can happen through learning through this media. By posting a simple question or prompt online, students can: practice typing, get familiar with the keys, learn to navigate the computer to go to google classroom, and finally, how to post something that positively contributes to a learning environment.

As students get comfortable posting their answers, you can then allow them to respond to other students in the classroom to promote the sharing of ideas and learning how to give proper feedback to their peers.Untitled 3

This is important because students then feel their work has value and has meaning and purpose. This will take time to practice with norms and expectations, but students do enjoy responding and learning how to engage in discourse on a digital platform. It is a great opportunity to teach them real work life skills on how to communicate with peers in acting in a professional setting. This will transfer to other forms as they grow and mature (or at least we can hope).

 

  • Posting math word problems and students explaining thinking

 

unnamed 4This is another great introductory tool for teachers to have students use math with technology. This is also great support around SBAC (hint hint)! Post a general word problem and have students explain their thinking about how they solved it. Start off simple with number sense or easy addition or subtraction problems that students can generally explain with their words. Not only will students feel confident in answering questions, but they will learn how to use proper vocabulary in explaining their thinking. With the shift in math being more explanatory rather wrote notation, it’s important to build in simple activities to show students and have them practice how to explain their thinking, which translates into college and career applications later.

 

  • Announcements – links and general news

 

We all get sent links throughout the year to give our students and or parents to take for feedback. Google Classroom is a great way to push these links instead of writing them on the board or trying to type the right link!

To do this, click on the giant plus sign in the lower right corner.unnamed 5

Click on the announcement option, and then you may type your instructions or note for what you want your students to do.unnamed 7

From there, copy the link you need to use and insert into the link option in classroom. By doing so, it will automatically take students to the survey/website/video you need them to go to without worrying about typing the wrong link in the URL bar. Plus, this saves time in making sure all students can get to the right website quickly and effectively. This also helps with instruction if you want students to read online articles or go to a certain website like ST math, Starfall, etc.

These are just a few ways teachers who are digital immigrants can acclimate to the 21st century in the classroom. As always, make technology work for you, not the other way around!

Digital Formative Assessment

Early in my career as an educator, I became a staunch proponent of utilizing technological resources to collect and analyze assessment data.  I’ve spent countless hours collaborating in the creation of digital assessments and providing training in how to use various platforms to evaluate assessments. All of this, ultimately, with the express purpose of giving kids the information needed to improve their learning.  With technology, the feedback could be instantaneous and that’s the beauty of it. My collaborative efforts, however, focused mostly on summative data.

It wasn’t until the past few years that I actually began to explore more tools for formative assessment.  To me, I could always rely on whiteboards, observation, and discussion to elicit data and monitor student progress.  A little circulation around the class to see what students are producing and well planned questions for understanding allow a quick idea of how a class is doing.  I knew that being able to make informed decisions in the moment and providing corrective feedback ongoing throughout the lesson was essential to success, I just wasn’t putting enough consideration in how digital resources could improve efficacy in this aspect of assessment.

As outlined in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, there are four attributes to Formative Assessment. They occur in a cycle involving clarifying intended learning, eliciting evidence, interpreting evidence, and acting on that evidence.  This process should be fluid and ongoing throughout instruction to enable students and teachers to give and receive actionable feedback to improve learning.

Timely and specific feedback right in the thick of learning is essential to student learning.

So how can teachers use digital resources to implement strategies that may help in this endeavor?  One possible method, I happened to discover while implementing the Netop student application used to monitor our chromebooks.  Besides using the software to communicate with and monitor students in their use of Google applications, it can also be used to engage students and allow them to demonstrate what they know.  For example, during a third grade opinion writing activity we used Netop to allow students to demonstrate their development of a well stated opinion on the classroom projector. Students were eager to have their screens shared on the big screen while they used tools on their chromebook to identify elements of their statement, receive corrective feedback from the class and teacher, and then revise/edit their writing – on the spot. (Editors note: Netop is available to all SUSD classes. For more information contact Mark or Viry in the curriculum dept.)  For fifth grade math, using Google Classroom, DocHub, and Netop; students demonstrated how to create a visual model representing addition of fractions with unlike denominators. All students completed the problem and random screens were selected for display. Students were asked to justify their thinking with partners before presenting their work on the big screen. While observing student work on the Netop monitoring interface, a common error was identified which multiple students made in the process.  Corrective feedback was given immediately to the class before they even completed the problem. The possibilities for formative assessment through the application in conjunction with other resources seems to be limitless.

Another method that can be used for on the spot formative assessment is the use of Plickers.  The application is free and easy to set up. After creating an account online, teachers can choose from a bank of questions, or create their own, for quick checking for understanding.  Student response cards are printed out using the program and teachers download the app on their phones to scan student responses to get immediate feedback. With the implementation of Plickers I have seen classes reach 80% proficiency for a targeted standard within 15-20 minutes after completing multiple problems through the app and receiving feedback.  Finding misconceptions is easy with the collection of the data and having open discussion. With the correct insight brought about in the immediate evaluation of results, students make adjustments and improve. The data also allows teachers to identify specifically which students will need more support or targeted small group intervention after the lesson.

A digital vehicle that some teachers seem to be familiar with that helps to promote collaboration and discussion are back channel platforms.  But those that have experimented with them or use them faithfully may have not considered using them for formative purposes. During lessons, teacher can have a backchannel running, from an application such as Padlet, where students are asked to post questions for clarification.  Some may feel more comfortable addressing some of their learning needs in this format and do not have to wait to address concerns. Teachers can also ask the class to make predictions while modeling a problem or document their metacognitive process while problem solving. Not only can students become more engaged, but the teacher can gain valuable insight as to what they are thinking and clues to their level of understanding.  When posing questions, the teacher may even ask the entire class to post their answers as opposed to randomly calling names for responses. This makes sure everyone has to give input and, again through an application like Netop, display student work for elaboration and feedback.

With all the new innovations and programs now available, the possibilities seem to be limitless.  It’s up to educators to imagine what new and creative ways they can be used to help students be passionate about learning.  I think we need reminders sometimes not to get too wrapped up in one aspect of teaching pedagogy, or in my case one aspect of assessment, and contemplate how various technological resources can serve multiple purposes in the learning environment.  Our willingness to explore these possibilities I believe can make a world of difference in impacting student outcomes.

Using TeacherVue to make attendance a breeze!

IMG_1356As an App, TeacherVue has saved me so much time.  You can find the app in the AppStore on an iPhone and in Google Play for Android.

At Stagg High School, one of our established “norms” is that teachers are required to greet students at the door.  This is an established norm for a number of reasons, but most importantly it helps students to feel welcomed into the classroom of the teacher, and establishes a positive learning environment. The problem, I’ve always found, is that I often will stand at the door, and then once I get in to my classroom, I find a classroom full of teenagers who have not yet transitioned to the classroom environment, despite knowing that there is a warm up on the board waiting for them to answer.  Often I have to get in to class to remind students to remind them to get Chromebooks, take out paper, and then I also have to take the time to take roll once they have settled in as well as make any announcements. However, with the TeacherVue App on my phone, I have found that at least one transition goes smoothly, and I don’t have to wait until my students have settled in to take attendance.

IMG_1333When you first download TeacherVue, you will look for the icon above, making sure that you put it somewhere on your phone.  Opening the app, you will find a login screen, which uses the same credentials that you use to log in to the Synergy program on the computers.  However, before you can fully log in, you have to set up the app. The gear in the left hand bottom corner of the login screen will bring you to the settings for the app.

unnamedThe settings for the app are very simple.  It is merely looking for the district URL to connect the app to our school district.  The correct URL for Stockton Unified Synergy is https://synergy.stocktonusd.net.  Make sure to hit the “test” button, and an alert will pop up that will show you that you have correctly entered the district URL.

IMG_1335Once you have established this connection, you can log in using your credentials  

unnamed (1)You will see a screen that has a list if your classes. For that semester, including where the class meets, the days that the class meets and how many students are enrolled in each class period.  

Each morning, I log into the app, check my students, and station myself outside my classroom door.  Then, I click on the class that I am taking attendance for.

 

IMG_1344What you will see on this screen is a list of your students enrolled in your class along with their ID number, grade and gender as well as a picture (just in case you’re just as bad as remembering names as I am!)

Your first step is to touch the TeacherVue icon in the upper right hand corner of the screen, which will send you to the classroom menu.

 

IMG_1343From this menu, you can easily access three options.  If you choose the “settings” option, it will let you choose how students are formatted in your class (I prefer First Last), and if you would like to see the student’s birthday, gender, grade, any notifications for the student (including notes that other teachers may have left) and student photos (again, helpful if you are bad with names!

Select your preferences and save them. The second button will let you select “take attendance”, which is the one that we are most interested in.  When you choose this button, you will be able to take roll with just the tap of your finger.

In my classes, I prefer to take attendance by first marking every student absent, and then as they pass by me and say good morning, I will remove their absence with two pushes of the red square that indicates that they are absent. (It will cycle through several different attendance marks, including UNV- Unverified, TDY- tardy, and 30T- 30 minutes tardy). Once the bell rings, and the attendance is taken, I will start my lesson, introduction, announcements, reminders, getting students settled and working towards the task at hand, and I don’t have to worry about sitting myself down at any point in order to take attendance, attendance is saved as soon as I hit the “save” button on my phone.  Attendance is done!

Once I have them settled and working, I will open up my phone, review attendance, check for any students who may have come in tardy (you would be surprised at how silently some students can just slip in), and then save the attendance again.

I have found that taking attendance in this way helps me to stay organized for the day, and makes sure that I have my attendance done in a timely manner in my classroom.