Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | April 21, 2011

On Being Learners and Being Teachers

One afternoon last week, my students were the teachers. They were the ones who “knew” and they shared what they knew with people who “didn’t know”.  It was a moment when the roles were switched.   It was a moment when I knew that the things we had been talking about all year– about all of us being learners together and about learning from each other–had finally been internalized. It was the moment when I knew that they understood.

Last week, my students talked via Skype with the teaching staff of an elementary school in Colorado.  Jill Fisch, who coordinated the call, asked my students to help her show Skype to her staff.  Jill gave us the two excellent questions in advance:

1.  Why do you Skype with other people/classes?

2.  What are some cool things you have learned when you have Skyped others?

When we discussed the questions prior to the call, it was my students’ answers to the first question about why we use Skype that blew me away.  Four separate students gave me these reasons:

  • Because we learn.
  • Because we get to meet new people.
  • Because we help other people to learn.
  • Because we don’t have to go to their town to talk to people.
I can’t think of better reasons to use Skype.  This particular Skype call was one of those events in which they helped others to learn. My kids WERE the teachers and they knew it.
Out of the mouths of (almost) babes.
Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | April 16, 2011

It’s Your Choice…You Choose

 I have been thinking a lot about the importance of choice lately.  Recently, I ran into the parent of a child I previously taught, and it reminded me of a moment when I gave an answer to her child that I now regret.

Last spring, at the end of a unit of study about plants, I asked my students, as a culminating project,  to make an artifact of some kind to show their learning.  We wanted to put this artifact on our blog, so we talked about several tools that they could use to show their learning. I no longer remember all of the options, but I know they included writing an article for their blog, drawing a picture to post on their blog, making a book using Storybird and making a video using Sketchcast.  I wanted them to have a choice of what was best for them to use.

One boy came up to me to ask if he could use Vocaroo, the voice recording tool we were using that year.  To my shame, I said “no”.  I think my reasoning was that I wanted him to have the opportunity to practice using text, and all of the other options could have included written words.

What you need to know about this child is that although he is verbally bright, he has a severe text disability, so severe that he could recognize only about 20 words by the end of grade one.  Obviously, anything involving text brings him great frustration.

Fortunately, it did not take long for me to come to my senses and assure this child that using a voice recording of his learning was indeed an option for him, but my shame in my moment of realization made a deep impact on me.

I will never forget our short conversation because of my emotional response and because it made me stop and re-evaluate what I was doing as a teacher who says she values choice.  All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and while it is important for us (and our students) to work on those things that we are not good at, it is also important for us to have a chance to show our learning using a medium that can help us to best capture that knowledge.

If the choices don’t include all students in a way that is relevant to them, is it really choice?

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | March 22, 2011

Making Video, But No Faces Allowed

I posted a few weeks ago about the action research project I am doing in my classroom involving video.  To briefly recap, I want the students to be able (without too much teacher support) to capture their learning using video and post it on their blogs.  Simple enough in principle, but a bit more complicated when the students are six.  (I’ll talk more about that in another post.)

There is an added challenge to this process.  The policy I have for my online work is that only students’  first names are used, and that we do not match an image of that student to their name.  This means that no images of a student can be posted on their personal blog–only on mine.  One of the things I have been grappling with is how to best post video of the children’s learning without showing their faces.

We have so far come up with three different ways (be forewarned that students did the filming on these videos):

1.  Video of  the students, but not their faces, as in this puppet show video we made.

2.  Video of an artifact (in this case a poster) that the child has made with the child explaining the artifact.

3. Video of the child explaining their learning using a Common Craft type of video.

Interestingly, when we made this last video, I saw by their videos that there were several children who clearly did not yet understand the concept of needs and wants (what the video was to have explained).  I took these children aside.  Instead of re-teaching, I showed them a few of the videos that their friends had created.  The lights came on!  The words of their peers helped them understand more clearly than all of the activities we had previously done.  Each of them was then able to successfully create a new video to show that they clearly understood the concept.

I love the way these videos allowed us to capture a moment in the children’s learning.  I’m still on the lookout for more ways that we can use video without revealing the child’s identity.  Ideas anyone?

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | March 12, 2011

Pancakes and Boos

This week, on Shrove Tuesday, the primary classes at my school celebrated Pancake Day.  Because we made the pancakes together, this was another chance for me to check on the students’ ability to recall and retell a sequence of events.  I decided to use Audioboo to record the students describing the process.  I had seen references to this tool in a lot of places, but it was Chris Harbeck who really convinced me of its worth.

So, while the students were busy representing their learning with a picture, I took the students aside one by one and had them describe the process in their own words.  Audioboo takes a while to load the first time you record something, but the sound quality is quite good and the site is uncluttered and easy to use.

In the past, I have used Vocaroo to do this, but because of this site’s increased popularity, recordings now expire after 5-6 months if you are logged in and after 1-2 months if you record anonymously.   I’m hoping that the Audioboo recordings will be longer lasting.

The best part of making a “boo” (their word, not mine) is that an embed code is provided.  The next day, each of the students copied and pasted the html from their boo into an article on their blog. The students are thrilled to again have their voice on their blog.  Their parents have a chance to hear their child describe what went on in the classroom.  And I have another resource as part of the student’s online portfolio to showcase during our parent/student/teacher conferences later this month.

Below is a screenshot from one of the students’ blogs, showing both the embedded Audioboo and her drawing of our activity.

We have also begun using Audioboo to record our reading fluency.

The real power of this tool may be with its use for students who have a disability of some kind and are not able to show what they know in a coherent way through text, but are able to clearly enunciate their learning orally.  Audioboo gives them a way to do this.

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | February 24, 2011

Can We Make it Work?

Over the past couple of years,  I’ve been involved with several cohorts of Powerful Learning Practice, a learning community set up by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Will Richardson.  I have participated as an “experienced voice” whose job it is to share ways that I have used technology to transform my classroom.  I have  always appreciated the ways that my participation in these communities has pushed my thinking.

This year I am involved in PLP as a participant.  While I am already using technology tools to connect my class with others and have gone a long way to change the way I do things in my classroom, I am once again being pushed in my thinking.

Part of the PLP process is participation in an action research project.  I am doing this research project with four other team members from my city.  Among the five of us, we teach eight grades between grade one and ten, so we had a bit of a challenge coming up with a research project that woud apply to all of those grade levels.

In our discussions, we discovered that we were all interested in developing new ways of student assessment, and in the use of video in our classroom.  With the help of Dean Shareski, who is our “cognitive coach” in this process, we decided to focus on this question:

  • How do we develop sustainable work flow for using video to capture learning in the classroom?

Obviously, this will be a different process for each of us.

In my classroom, I have a flip video camera, and have used video as an assessment tool for a couple of years, but my use of it has been somewhat sporadic.  It has also been very teacher centered.  Even though the students take much of the video, I always uploaded any of it that I wanted to have online myself.

What I am wondering is–is it possible with six year olds to develop a work flow in which the students do the work–that is, the students do the video taping as they demonstrate their learning, upload it to the video server (my school division has its own server) and use the embed code to post it on their blogs?  Since I have made a commitment to the parents of my students to not match student pictures with names, this also means that if the video is to be posted on their blogs, the student’s faces cannot be in the video.

I have done an initial trial of this, and here are a couple of things that worked well.

1.  We used a common craft-like format to explain what we knew about needs and wants.  This meant that the students’ ideas and their voices were represented, but not their faces. You can watch an example here. (This was inspired by a video Maria Knee made with her Kinderkids last year).

2. When we uploaded, we used the students’ names as a tag so that they could find the video on the server.  This worked well, but I think we’ll have to change the tag a bit in case other teachers begin to do the same and there are duplicates of names.

3. Since most of the students could already copy and paste, putting the videos onto the blogs went fairly smoothly.

Not everything went well.  The uploading to the server was tedious and not at all interesting to many of the students. After only a few, I sent the class off to do something else and began training a “classroom expert” for this part the next time.  I’m wondering if that will work the best?  Maybe I’ll train several experts.

Have you tried this before with six year olds?  Or older students? I’d love to have your advice. I’m looking forward to having more video for assessment purposes, and want to find a way to make the process work in my classroom.

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | February 21, 2011

Five Tips to Get Your Classroom Blog Started

I’ve had a classroom blog for about six years. Over that time, that blog has evolved in ways that I could not have predicted when I began.  When I started, there were no other primary teachers that I could find who were blogging.  After a few months, I discovered a kindergarten teacher in New Zealand who had a blog (she now teaches older students)  and then gradually I found others.  My initial thoughts were that I would do a quick daily write-up about what we were learning for the parents of my students to read.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that that was pretty boring, so I began adding images, then slideshows, and then video.  My students’ blogs have evolved, too, from a weekly writing activity, to portfolios that reflect their learning in many subject areas.

I am frequently contacted by teachers who are interested in starting a blog and who would like some tips for getting started.  I  decided that the discipline of writing my thoughts about it in this space would help me to give them better answers. Here, then, are my top five tips for starting a classroom blog.

1.  Read a lot of blogs to see what others are doing.  If you are a primary teacher, check out primary blogs, but don’t forget to also look at blogs from classrooms of older students as well.  Seeing what others are doing will give you ideas about what is possible.

2.  Think about what you want your blog to be before you start blogging. Do you want your blog to be a showcase of what is happening in your classroom?  Of your students learning?  Do you want your students to have their own blog, or to share yours?  Do you want to pose questions for your students to answer? What about a combination of all these things? Like my blog, your blog will probably evolve over time, but it’s always good to have put in some thought ahead of time.

3. If your students blog, don’t edit the student’s work TOO much. It is wonderful if your students’ blogs can be a reflection of their learning through the entire school year.  If you do too much editing, their growth won’t be evident.

4. Comments are the lifeblood of a blog. If you are posting on a blog and no one gives you feedback, you might as well be writing in your notebooks.  Encourage comments from parents, grandparents, friends, other classes in the school etc.  Ask other people you know to comment.  If you use Twitter, use the hashtag #commentsforkids to encourage others to comment on your students’ blogs.

5.  Persevere. It takes time to build up readership.  Keep blogging even when it seems no one is reading it.  Put a Clustr map or a Revolver Map or some other form of tracking system on your blog.  Then, as you have visitors from other places, you and your class will be able to visually see this.  Very few people who read blogs actually comment on them, but knowing someone has actually SEEN your blog can be almost as encouraging as a comment.

Six years later… there are now lots of teachers who have classroom blogs, including lots of primary teachers.  That means lots of teachers who can give good advice.  I hope some of those teachers will see this and chime in. Blogging is one of the best things I do in my classroom.

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | November 21, 2010

Look What I’ve Learned!

I’ve been doing student-led conferences for a few years now.

My students all have a blog linked from mine, and each child’s blog is an online portfolio of their learning in many subject areas.  In preparation for the conference, the students choose three things from their blog that they think is their best work.   I record these (just in case they forget!) and then we practice what will happen during our conference.  We set the classroom up in the way it will be when we share with our parents, and a few students get to model what they will do when their parents are there.

During the actual conference, the children share their three chosen posts with their parents and talk about what they did well and what they would like to get better at.  Then, we set a learning goal for the next term and talk about what things their parents, themselves and I will have to do so that they can reach that goal.  The children love to choose posts with images, so that gives us an opportunity to discuss some of our learning goals outside of the more traditional reading and writing areas.

Students love being part of this process and it is interesting to see some students who are quite quiet in class confidently share (and sometimes vice versa!).  Most parents are thrilled to watch their children as the centre of attention.

This year, our whole school division held student-led conferences, so the parents were asked in a note from the school office to request a separate meeting if they had a lot of questions or things that they wished to discuss.  The conference time was to be about the students sharing what they had learned and discussing their goals.

Somehow this year that message did not reach everyone.  Some parents still wanted to have a traditional conference and get information from the teacher, not their child. This is obviously something that we (and I in particular) have to do a better job of communicating to parents. Parents are familiar with the system that they grew up with–the parent and teacher discuss the child, who generally stays at home.  I spend time modelling and making sure that the students know how to do their part, so it seems only fair that I put time and effort into making sure that the parents also know what their new role is as well.

Like all change, that will take some time.

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | October 9, 2010

Primary Digital Portfolios – The Trailer

The 2010 K12 Online Conference is almost here.  Some of my students were fortunate to be selected as presenters this year.  They will be sharing their personal knowledge of digital portfolios.  Although the conference will not begin until October 18th (see the flyer), I have prepared a trailer to whet your appetite.

I’m looking forward to seeing all of the presentations for this unique conference.  See you there!

Update:  The presentation is now LIVE on the K12 Online conference page. You can view it here.

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | August 12, 2010

Room Two and the Forty Designs

One of the wonderful things about teaching is that you get a fresh start every year.  New students.  New crayons. A chance to start over.

With that new start, I always think about how I want things in my classroom to be better than they were the year before.  What to get rid of, and what to bring into my classroom occupy a significant part of my summer thinking.

This year is no different.  About a year and a half ago, I got rid of the desks in my classroom to make way for tables.  I like it far better.  Other physical changes this year include:

  • a Smartboard that is actually mounted at a height that is appropriate for my students –This will mean many more opportunities for the students to use it independently.  It is also on one side of the classroom instead of the middle, so that using it will not distract everyone else in the room.
  • a couch (well, a love seat)–I have wanted a cozy place for students to curl up to read or work for a long time.
  • a coffee table–Some children can concentrate so much better when they can sit on their knees instead of uncomfortable chairs.
  • a new area carpet– Students love to be able to work on the floor.

As part of my annual re-do, I have been reading and thinking about the design of my classroom and that the design not only reflects my thinking about learning, but can affect that learning as well.  Other, more learned people than me, have talked about the importance of design, and their ideas are always in the back of my mind.  Functionality has to balance with appearance.  Two books by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser have also helped me think about my classroom setup.

As part of my process, I have been making a mental list of the things that I value, as these are the things that I want my classroom to reflect.

  1. I want students to be as independent as possible (given that they are five and six years old).
  2. I want them to learn how to take responsibility for their own learning.
  3. I want to provide a classroom that is a comfortable setting for different learning styles.
  4. I want them to learn from each other and from people outside of our classroom and to realize that this is how we all learn.

There are other things that are flitting around in my mind, but that is a starting place. With these ideas in mind, I have created a paper model of my classroom, and have been moving things around trying to make everything work the way I want it to.  (My classroom is still being cleaned, so I can’t actually move the real things.) So far I have tried about thirty-nine variations and am still not satisfied.

I guess design number forty is coming up.

Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | August 7, 2010

Point and Shoot: Using Video to Capture Learning

Making Movies

I can think of few things that engage children as much as movies, especially if the movies feature the children themselves.  Because of this, I love to use video in my classroom to give evidence of the learning that has taken place and to illustrate the students’ reflection.  Sometimes the video captures only a lesson, and sometimes it demonstrates an entire unit of learning, but always the students want to watch again and again.  Parents are also delighted to get a glimpse into the classroom and to watch their child talking about  learning.

To this engagement, add the mounting evidence of the importance of visual learning (some is referenced in the slides below), and you would be hard pressed to find a good reason to NOT use video.

The wiki for my Point and Shoot presentation from BLC has lots of examples of students and classrooms that are using video in their classrooms (thanks, PLN!), as well as links to more information.  The slides are embedded below.

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