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Teaching and Learning

Lessons and Insights from the Classroom

Lifting Up Your Students' Voices—Online

Five tips to help students use technology to share ideas

For me, the most important thing about digital tools is their ability to support and enhance learning, and how they can help my students to share their voices globally. My students have amazing ideas and are always excited to share and ask questions about what they are exploring.

Digital tools offer endless ways for them to share their learning—with each other, with their families, and with the world. This is possible through the use of digital tools that offer ways to enhance and engage in conversations.

Conversations are where we, as educators, have the opportunity to listen to our students’ voices. It’s where we get to the heart of our work.

Here are some tips for meeting these goals:

Teach your students to be safe, kind, and responsible digital citizens!

My kindergartners created their own avatars to use online with Doodle Buddy on our iPads. These are the identities they use on our Kidblogs too. For us, digital citizenship inside and outside the classroom comes down to three rules:

  • We are kids so we do not use our real names with our real photos.
  • We share only kind things about what we are learning.
  • We always check with an adult before using the Internet.

Think about Twitter as a place for conversation.

My class took a walk outside recently and we sat quietly under some trees, listening to the birds. Later we talked about how birds “tweet” and have conversations from trees with each other. Then we began sharing how we will have conversations with each other and the world, and I introduced Twitter as a way to “tweet” or share what we feel is important with the world—just like the birds. In my classroom, we keep our Twitter page open throughout our busy day together. This way, if we have something important to say, we can tweet it to others! After we tweet with our digital blue bird, my students get a paper bird to bring home and share with their parents what we tweeted. We also have discovered that when we tweet, we are writing a thought. (And our thoughts need to have spaces, a capital letter, and a period so that others understand what we are saying!) Via Twitter, we have connected with classes across the continent—from New York City to British Columbia.

Connect and share via Kidblogs.

Kidblogs is a wonderful platform for my students to share their ideas globally about what they’re learning in our classroom and also experiencing outside the class. (One student recently visited the aquarium and blogged about it, so we all learned about ocean animals!) I often ask my students to present their blog posts to the class using our SmartBoard. This gives them a chance to practice their writing and publishing skills. As they facilitate compliments and questions, they practice their presentation skills, too. Through their blogs, students’ families also have the opportunity to become a part of what their child is learning. Here’s what students have had to say about the blogging experience: “I like blogging because it is a way you can share with the whole wide world.” “My Kidblog helps me see what I’ve been learning.” “We get comments from people and it makes me feel good.”

Involve parents.

As an educator I want to make sure that I am always offering invitations to my students and their families to learn alongside me. I offer parent-training sessions so that parents can get up to speed on classroom tools like Kidblogs or Twitter. Adults get a chance to play, too! My students and I also invite our families to “celebrations of learning” throughout the year, and attendees can FaceTime with friends and family who can’t join us. Twitter hashtags also help parents, grandparents, and other supporters track our learning adventures.

Remember to look up!

Digital tools are wonderful and can offer a lot of opportunities for learning, but it is important to have balance and to “look up” from your screen. See who and what is around you!

Sharon Davison is a Vermont kindergarten teacher. She leads the NEA EDCommunities Digital Tools & Learning preK–2 and Kindergarten Connections. Davison values creativity, collaboration, and innovation, and uses a variety of digital tools that invite students and families to learn side by side. On Twitter, she is @kkidsinv. Read her blog at kindergartenlife.wordpress.com.


Time to Spread the Joy of Reading

NEA’s Read Across America marks year 19 on March 2. Are you ready to read?

Wisconsin paraprofessional Lynn Goss has been planning her reading celebration for months. She’s organized a week’s worth of reading activities, helped her school create a classroom door decorating contest, and picked out books, stickers, and treats to give to her students. For Goss, a veteran Read Across America coordinator, this is her favorite time of year, a chance to shine the spotlight on great books and authors.

In Jacksonville, Miss., members of the Shelby County Association are hard at work, gathering the PTA, school district, and local barbershops and hair salons into community readings and book giveaways for local students.

And Missouri and New Mexico, state affiliate—organized Cat in the Hat tours and bilingual readings have been in the works for weeks.

Why the flurry of activity?

The countdown to the largest celebration in the nation—March 2, NEA’s Read Across America Day and Dr. Seuss’s birthday! More than 45 million children, teens, and adults are expected to gather for NEA’s annual literacy party created in 1997.

“Nineteen years ago, an NEA member came to us with a simple plea,” explains NEA President Lily Eskelsen García today. “My students aren’t reading, inside school or outside school. They don’t know the joy I feel when I read and share books with others. Can you please help me show them the fun—the joy—in reading?”

Read Across America Day was created with the help of founding partners Dr. Seuss Enterprises and Random House Children’s Publishing. “It is a day to honor the work our members do in classrooms, schools, and libraries, and on school buses, encouraging students and parents to read aloud and read together,” Eskelsen García says.

Every year, NEA members around the country seize the day and make it their own, transforming school campuses into scenes from favorite books by Dr. Seuss. They create character dress-up days and parades featuring favorite books by a variety of authors, and schedule reading pajama parties and author visits.

“The possibilities are endless and not limited to young children,” says Carol Bauer, a fourth-grade teacher at Grafton Bethel Elementary School, and chair of NEA’s Read Across America Advisory Committee. “High school students can hold marathon readings of their favorite books or stage poetry slams and readings for younger students. They’re also great at creating reading flash mobs and book trailers,” she says.

Unsure how to get started?

NEA’s Read Across America website offers planning tips, downloadable materials, and photos and videos of previous reading events. The site includes a media section with downloadable press releases, editorials, and a planning section with proclamations, and school board presentations, which are also downloadable. You can also find reading activities around the country, and even internationally, at the Read Across America pledge site readacrossamerica.org.

You can follow NEA’s Read Across America on Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, and YouTube. All are accessible from the Read Across America website.

And because NEA’s Read Across America is a year-round program, a school year literacy calendar with diverse books and reading resources is included on the site. Limited print copies of the calendar are available to NEA members who contact readacross@nea.org. The calendar is also available to download at the Read Across America website.

What can you do? Spread the word about NEA’s Read Across America and its rich resources. Make your plans to celebrate NEA’s Read Across America Day on Dr. Seuss’s birthday, March 2. And don’t forget to pledge your participation at readacrossamerica.org.

— Anita Merina


First Five Years

Three Things I Wish I Had Known

In her book How to Survive and Thrive in the First Three Weeks of School, Elaine K. Mc Ewan elaborates on a teaching formula known as 3 + 3 = 33—something I wish I had learned about before I passed the 22-year mark as a teacher.

This simple equation is used by standout teachers to maximize time management and learning at any grade level. Simply put: Three weeks of teaching the three R’s (routines, rubrics, and rules) leads to 33 weeks of higher student achievement. 

The start of the year provides an opportunity for students to participate in “on- the-job” training. We should not assume students come to our classrooms knowing what they need to know to succeed. Instead, like new employees, students must be made aware of essential survival skills that will ensure they can climb our classes’ ladder of academic achievement. 

New teachers can avoid stress, self-doubt, and confusion simply by implementing a few essentials right from the start.

1.Assign seats before school starts.

This is a strategy I learned the hard way. Back when I was a new teacher, thinking I was being progressive I invited students to “sit wherever you want” on the first day of school. To my horror, more than one student found themselves in the embarrassing situation of getting shunned or shooed away from a seat supposedly saved for a friend. My carelessness had resulted in some students feeling like unwelcome outsiders. At any grade level, it’s easy to assign seats before the year starts. Just number the seats. On the first day, hand each student a number as he or she enters the room. You now have a seating chart. If you quickly realize that Tanner and Isabella should not be seated near each other, you can make adjustments.

2. Show them where (and how) to turn in work.

The very first time we ask kids to write something down, we should also teach them the procedure for turning in work. The turn-in area should be clearly marked, with class periods and/or subjects labeled, and it should remain in the same location for the entire school year. Make sure students know that an assignment submitted anywhere other than the turn-in area will likely go unseen. Give them a chance to practice turning things in during the first few days of school. Keep at it until there is no confusion. 

3. Manage student behavior.

When it comes to the most challenging aspect of teaching—classroom management—having a plan is what matters most. Ask your principal if your school has a set policy for all students. If so, use it. If not, do a little research and find a plan you can support. And don’t be afraid to consult a book for help. The First Days of School: How to be an Effective Teacher by Harry and Rosemary Wong is one of the best when it comes to providing excellent classroom management ideas. Plans vary, of course, but the one you choose needs to uphold student dignity. Good plans do not punish. They manage. In the Wongs’ book, you will discover that most behavior problems in classrooms are the result of poor management, not poorly behaved students.

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the maxim, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Nowhere is this truer than in the teaching field. As a new teacher, I used to think raising my voice was the best way to get the class’ attention. If students were working noisily together on an assignment, why not just shout over them when I need their attention? This wasn’t an angry shout—just a loud command that went something like, “Okay folks, quiet down please!” In using this approach, I was inadvertently training my students to wait for the shouting before giving me their attention. The louder they were, the louder the shout had to be. Today I use a bell or a simple raised hand to quiet the class. There is no place for shouting in good teaching. A consistent signal is best. When adults raise their voices, kids often feel anxiety. 

Implementing these important ideas early in my teaching career would have prevented many headaches, not only for me, but for my students, too. 

Chad Donohue is a middle school teacher, adjunct professor, and blogger living in Snohomish, Wash.


Help Your School Library and Reading Community

NEA’s Books Across America is back with $1,000 grants for school libraries in need, thanks to a generous donation by Walden Media and The Weinstein Company, producers of the film, “The Giver.” NEA members will be able to apply for one of 100 grants in the amount of $1,000, made available by the NEA Foundation to fund the purchase of diverse books and reading materials for under resourced school libraries. For more information, go to the Read Across America website nea.org/readacross.

Published in:

Published In

1-Feb-16

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