Posted by: iplantes | April 14, 2015

The Three D’s: Disability, Difference, Difficulty

I have taught in the field of special education for 19 years, but have been involved in the field since the 1980s when I started volunteering in a preschool special needs program at a local hospital. Over the years, the terminology used has ebbed and flowed with consideration for the meaning of words being used to define, describe, and differentiate. This has happened among many facets of special education as we fight the stigma that can come to be associated with the language used. As special educators, we are trained to be cautious of lingo used for various reasons, but making one thing clear, words do matter.

This year I have had the privilege of starting to host a podcast with topics related to the field of Special Education for Bam Radio Network. https://tinyurl.com/BAMLDRadio After much deliberation, I titled it Learning Differently Radio.   A recent show that I had the honor of recording with guest Kyle Redford, was released was released with the title Reseting Expectations for Children with Learning Difficulties. A great title for the topic, and yet I found myself changing the word Difficulties to Differences when tweeting it out.

My very observant friend and Bam Radio Network Executive Producer Errol St. Clair Smith, noted it, and changed the title of the show to match that action.  He also reached out to me and asked about my view on the terminology.  This launched into an interesting backchannel conversation as to the words, the connotations, and what does it all really mean.  Errol really got me thinking, and we arranged to chat by phone soon to deepen this inspection of the three D’s: Disability, Difference, and Difficulty.  

Immediately I went to the classroom of my colleague and insightful friend Theresa Collins.  She and I often have these exchanges that look into the deep sides of teaching students with learning disabilities.  I posed the question to her, what do the three D’s mean, how are they perceived, and does it truly matter what term we use and why?  Simple question, right? :))    This conversation, not surprisingly, found no answers, but many more questions and considerations.  

Of course this got me thinking how to turn this into a blog post…Yet I was left with more questions than answers, more considerations than solid thoughts.  So here is part 1 of the post asking for your perspective.  No matter from what angle you approach these terms, what are your thoughts on the terms, their meaning, their usage, their importance or their stigmatization?

                         Learning Disability

                         Learning Difference

                         Learning Difficulty

Please follow the link to the form to share your thoughts, and they may be kept anonymous. (if you include your name, and I use your thoughts, I will acknowledge you in the post)  The thoughts and perspectives shared will lead to part 2 of this post.

                 https://tinyurl.com/ma49ekv

Thank you in advance for your perspectives and for caring to share them!

Sharon

Yes you read that correctly…I have proof!  So skeptics keep reading, if you get it, move on to another blog post, or send this along.

If you follow me on Twitter or follow my blog and/or podcast, you know I work with students who learn differently.  I am a Special Education Teacher/Director of Technology at Eagle Hill Southport (EHS), an independent school in Connecticut for students with language based learning disabilities (i.e., dyslexia, adhd, executive dysfunction) Just over two and half years ago, I was given the opportunity to take charge of way technology played a role in our skill based program.  It’s exciting, but overwhelming at many moments to consider all the ways technology can support and enhance learning for students who learn differently.

This spring we are moving to pilot a program to directly provide our transitioning 8th graders, more direct instruction to utilize their technology for academic success related to accessing and producing content.  We are continuously working to build this throughout our program is this relatively young technology embracing perspective; however, these kids are leaving us at the end of the year and need it now.

EHS is a Mac based school, yet about three years ago we also went BYOD.  While about 99% of the 95% percent of student who bring devices bring iPads, I have one student who has a Microsoft Surface he got for his birthday earlier this year.  He has figured out for himself mostly how to make it work for the needs within our building, but next year this 8th grader is heading out to a technical high school.  He needs to know the tools that can be used with the Surface to support him in his learning in this environment.  In my mind…EEK!  I grew up with a PC junior, but heck that was back with DOS commands, and the two Windows computers in my school I usually call in our outside IT service to support. So now what…..

I have an amazing PPLN, Personal Professional Learning Network that covers many aspects of education and they rock.  So today I emailed a couple people whom I know rock the assistive technology world for help with this situation.  Thank you Karen Janowski, Mike Marotta, and Brian Friedlander.  These individuals are assistive technology gurus, while I fall in the iPad/Dyslexia technology only focused world.

Mike immediately responded, ask Brian, and quickly followed by Brian’s response that he could help and had time right now. Karen jumped in to reiterate that Brian was the person to talk to.  So I immediately picked up the phone and Brian quickly shared with me key information I needed.  I know I could have spent the time to find this information, but that would have been a lot of time and likely been lacking in some areas.  Brian was eager to connect, to share, to collaborate….He gave me some great information, addressing things I never would have considered.  Brian is going to be another person who significantly impacts this students learning even though he has never met the 8th grader, but so are Karen and Mike who responded to say yes talk to Brian.  This is the power of being a connected educator.  I would not know Brian, Mike or Karen if I was not a connected educator.  I am in Connecticut, Brian and Mike are in New Jersey, and Karen is in Massachusetts.  I know them from Twitter…and now from so much more.  But it began with Twitter.

This is not a novel story for those in the connected educator world; however, if you are wondering why to connect, why be on social media, this is it.  This student, who learns differently, is going to have important meaningful instruction because I could learn from another amazing educator the things I need to focus on.  I know I don’t know it all, but I do know that there are many amazing educators whose knowledge base can compliment my own, and they are eager to do so.  This is being a connected educator for what truly matters, students.

So if you are a person whom I follow, or whom follows me, thank you because you impact my amazing learners every day and they are better for it.

To Brian, Karen and Mike thank you for being such amazing impacts on me and my students continuously.  I so appreciate your work and what you do. So thinking “Chromebooks, Surfaces, iPads Oh My” as an ATIA conference session next year :))

Posted by: iplantes | March 8, 2015

#EdCampSWCT Reflection of an Organizer

Since starting this blog, I have been on a mission, one that really puts me outside my comfort zone.  It’s a mission to do more to impact learning.  This has led me to take on new and different adventures that have placed themselves in my hands.  And for an introvert personality, it sure pushes the limits of anxiety and tranquility!

One of the many adventures has been attending and running sessions at a few EdCamps (edcampnyc, edcampnj, edcampacessnj, edcampct, edcampleadership, edcamponline, and edcamphome).  I truly am passionate about Edcamps for they truly model engaging, purposeful professional development.  Learn more from the EdCamp Foundation.

So while Connecticut is not a large state, and EdCampCT has had great success, along with a cool model from EdCampRSD6  in Litchfield, CT, there can never be too many edcamps in one state in my opinion.  So Rob Pennington, Amy Traggianese and I decided to create EdCampSWCT.  Along with Joel Pardalis, Sean Hutchinson, James Sapia, and Frank Rodriguez, we took on this adventure.

Thanks to the experiences we all had at EdCamps ourselves and The EdCamp Model written by a team from the EdCamp Foundation and published by Corwin Press, the road was set to Saturday March 7, 2015.  This past week my anxiety to how the day would go spiked!  There is great fun in planning a new event, but there is also the fear of how it will turn out.  But as I heard recently…it is important to get outside our comfort zones to really create.

So the day arrived, and we descended on Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk.  Then the attendees arrived…and arrived…and arrived!  The pre-start conversation, connections, and collaborations filled the room.  People came from across the state, and even from upstate NY! Thanks @APGovME for bringing a crew of teachers over 3 1/2 hours to attend!  The board started to fill with amazing sessions, including four sessions being run by groups of students! How amazing is that! What better voices for education for teachers to listen to.

I know for myself I worried that the attendance would be low for it was the first time for this event, and we just came off a week of 3 snow/sleet/slop weather events, sessions wouldn’t be created, and it would just not go off without a hitch.  But quite the opposite occurred.  Quite a number of attendees were first time edcampers, so exciting! For them it was they hyper local aspect and half day time commitment that made it something for them to try…and many of them left excited to attend again and find others to attend!  People were eager, were engaged, and were enthusiastic.

For the first time in awhile, I didn’t run a session, but rather sat back and watched and listened to people, to conversations…and it was a cool place to be.  To know that I had a part in creating the day, with some amazing other educators, was exhilarating to realize as the morning unfolded. The day is truly about the participants, and being about to build the basis for that to occur is an honor.

So while I many have not slept much last week, and am drained today, I am excited to plan for next year already.  If we can plan an EdCamp, you can too, and you will gain so much if you do.  The EdCampSWCT was planned via Voxer, Google Hangouts, and Google Docs….we never once gathered live together to put it together. Some of these people I actually had never met, but that didn’t stop any of us, for we all shared a passion.

Bigger take away, if a group of 7 educators, who just had a vision and a passion, can create a day of amazing learning for over 100 educators with no pre-planned sessions, no big budget, and a few treats to eat, then what can we do better in our buildings for professional development (PD)?  While yes, some of the appeal in EdCamps is connecting and learning from people from other schools with varied experiences, don’t we have some of that in our own schools and districts?  I know personally there are things in my building happening that I would like to know more about and people I would like to sit and dialogue with about ideas, lessons, and the such.  But too often in education, the feeling is PD needs to be structured to be purposeful and educators are so busy they don’t stop to take the time to do so.     What if you gave inservice/meeting time a shift, brought in some treats, and gave educators the ability to build the time like an EdCamp?

I am taking that away as my lesson as an organizer of an EdCamp, but as people were leaving I heard attendees taking that away as a desire to have in their schools as well.  I feel privileged to have been part of the EdCampSWCT team, and am so glad I went out of my comfort zone to put the day into action.

Haven’t attended an EdCamp? Find one!

Want to plan an EdCamp? Find others who want to as well and dive in!  First one done is all you need to prove it is worth it.

Thanks Rob, Amy, Joel, Sean, Jimmy, and Frank!

iplante_2015-Mar-07

Posted by: iplantes | March 1, 2015

Getting Googley @Google

Friday, I had the privilege of being part of the first EdTechTeacher Google Jamboree at Google Cambridge, MA.  It goes without saying what an amazing day of professional development it was.  There are so many takeaways I had from that day that are bouncing around in my head, I hope to make sense of a few for you here. 

Foremost, it’s what the Google panel expressed at the end of the day that is continuing to resonate.  The people that they are looking to hire have curiosity, a desire to keep learning, comfort with change and a desire to be part of it, and they have vision.  While I am sure this does not surprise you, it did give thought to what are we doing in our classrooms, in our schools, in our learners to prepare them for this?  There is a definite shift happening with some educators, but is it happening in education as a whole?  I am myself guilty of falling in the traditional trap when I don’t keep on myself to grow and create.  Sometimes we as educators focus on content and on skills, we forget to teach the things today’s companies are looking for, the things that books don’t hold, but come from the heart of being.  It’s that growth mindset Carol Dweck talks about.   

For myself, teaching students with learning disabilities, I can get so focused on remediating skills, that I don’t also teach the love of learning, and make my students own their learning in new and different ways.  I have made it my March madness mission to try some new things in my classroom to prepare my 8th graders for their transitioning out at the end of the year to own their learning, but to also teach them ways to use their tech to “show what they know” in fun and different ways.  My 7th graders are also going to get some of this new and different fun too because it is never too soon.  While my 5th graders in writing have already started to play with some new ways to put their ideas and work together that are more engaging…and should I dare say maybe fun, there is still room to grow!   I want to foster curiosity and excitement to learn, always have, but it does takes thought, it takes being uncomfortable.  I want them to create a vision for how they will get from point A to point B, when I don’t tell them how to do it.  I thank Jennie Magiera for her session on creation with tablets.  The hands-on time that she provided with great enthusiasm really gave time to think outside the box to use the tools already in the toolbox in new and different ways.  The collaboration time with others really fostered new ideas and thoughts to bring back to my students and my school.

Next up…space….ugh! My classroom is small (when most of our largest classes are 6-7 students, most of our rooms are.  So how do I adapt the space?  This is my next goal, but a lofty one.  The work being done by Erin Klein related to this is amazing.  Google’s spaces by no surprise, are not traditional looking offices.  Just watch The Internship (and yes the nap pods are real!)  The work space is open, no cubicles.  There are desks, but not in lines and rows, and the desks are adjustable to raise and lower.  My students who love to stand could really use those.  Then there are the couches, the side rooms of comfy chairs, sunny windows with groups of high-back cushioned seats and not to leave out the treadmills with desks.  Everything from design of work spaces, to design of walls, to stocked kitchen areas within easy access for a snack or cup of coffee, is thoughtful to create a productive environment to be curious, to be visionary, to be able to get outside one’s comfort zone, and not be alone in that process, for it’s collaborative. The colors, the conversation, the energy would make anyone want to engage in growth. I don’t know what I will do with my space, but I am going to have my students share their ideas for what they would like and see what I can do.

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 2.27.57 PM

While I cannot immediately impact my space, I can impact the digital workspace!  Last fall Google Classroom launched and while I have followed what educators are saying about it, the session with Jen Holland about it really hit it home.  I got it, I clicked with it, and am excited about it! Google has created a workflow that the current learning management systems (LMS) can’t replicate.  Funnily enough Google, doesn’t want to call Classroom a LMS. With the ability to directly work the flow of posting assignments and documents with Drive, as well as students’ ability to just “Turn In” Docs, Forms, etc…right into folders that are made on the backend by Google when you set up Classroom is amazing.  Google gets the teacher brain better than we do for ourselves.  I am glad to know there is someone out there helping to think like we should, and know that we would, if only give the time we don’t have. 

I end with some tweets that resonated from the end of the day to empower you and engage you to be Googley yourself.    

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Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 3.00.06 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 3.01.11 PM

  

Sitting here looking out at the snow falling, reflecting on the fact that just two days ago I was sitting in sunny Orlando!  The only nice thing is the snow led to a snow day.  What brought me to Orlando was the annual Assistive Technology Industry Association (ATIA) conference. This is my second year attending this amazing event with attendees coming from across the globe.  It is intriguing to see all the technology that has infused into the field of special education.  My work in the field has always followed a diverse path from my early days volunteering in a pre-school rehabilitation program while in high school to experiences in just about every area of Special Ed while at Connecticut College.  I had even transferred from the amazing master’s program I was in at Northwestern that was solely focused on specific learning disabilities (SLD), to the program at George Mason University that was a more global special education degree.  I have always from those early years been interested in technology with regard to special education.  In college, I did an independent study, research paper that explores software and switches to meet various needs of children with special needs.  Funny though now I end up teaching kids with SLD, but attending such a conference today still catches my interest as to how the field of assistive technology (AT) has developed and grown to incorporate new developments in tech.

The devices and tools that are available for special education filled a massive room.  Communication boards that I recall making with paper and Velcro boards, now are incorporating tablets and other technologies that never existed before.   Tools used to enhance access to content for those with vision and hearing impairments are technological wonders compared to my experiences long ago.  Robots aren’t just for MakerSpaces, but tools to be assistive as well.  And let’s not ignore the apps, Chrome extensions, and websites that exist across the board of support for those with disabilities, their families and educators as well.

However, among all of this amazing technology, along with poignant sessions and conversations around special education, I am left thinking, what about those with specific learning disabilities (SLD) (i.e. dyslexia, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing, executive function, etc..)?  Yes, there are a few companies that have apps/software to address the needs of these learners, but mostly it is up to educators to find and explore the apps/tools/sites that meet the needs of these learners.  Really the problem is that the conversation around the use, incorporation and engagement of technology for students with SLD is disconnected.  In my personal view, it does not seem to be fitting into the regular education world, and seems to be the quiet little sister of the special education world.  Part of this, in my view, is that the SLD is 1. Not fully understood 2. The hidden disability 3. Not being heard loud enough.

At the ATIA, there are only a select few sessions in the two and a half days that specifically address the use of technology with SLD. Yes, there were sessions that shared apps, Chrome extensions, and websites that incorporated all areas of special education, including SLD; however, how we incorporate those with SLD versus other disabilities I feel needs its own conversation.  As with all the disabilities that exist, the SLD has its own, broad scope of how and why to use technology to support, engage and enhance learning.  Even with the many strands of focus for ATIA, there is not one for SLD/Dyslexia.

I am one of those voices working to spread the idea of #DyslexiaTech.  I am continuously sharing ideas, thoughts, strategies, articles and the like with colleagues in the regular ed world.  I have presented at several conferences that are attended by regular educators on the apps we use at my school (Eagle Hill-Southport) to build learners who can help themselves while we help them build their skills. Sadly though what I hear from educators and parents is that getting these tools into the learning spaces of SLD learners is a challenge.  Some schools will not allow SLD learners to use the tools in school, despite some parents being willing to even provide the tool.  Other schools have them, but don’t have the information nor the training to truly support students using tech as an assistive tool.  Then there is the HUGE misunderstanding that using tech is “cheating” or giving “a leg up” to those with SLD so it isn’t allowed. At this conference, a parent who attended a session I ran, shared how her high school aged student was provided an aide, but not a device to help with reading and such. So rather than building this girl’s independence with technology, she is given a salaried adult to do this. What happens when this girl goes to college? And can’t this educator be then used in a more productive way? I was impressed with this mother for attending this conference to learn tools and strategies she could bring back to support her daughter.

This brings to a key point that I see happening in the SLD/Dyslexia world… the parent movement to make a difference.  There are many of us educators in the field trying to shout from the rooftops, but we are widespread.  The grassroots movement of Decoding Dyslexia is amazing and impressive.  These parent-run organizations that cross from “sea to shining sea” are doing an astounding job of bringing the low rumble of voices to a loud and proud shout!  Parent organizations are not new to this, with those such as Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities and Parents Education Network doing this for years.  However, it is the nationwide collective that has grown from Decoding Dyslexia that takes the amazing work of these organizations to a whole new level.

So my hope is that we can find a home for #DyslexiaTech whether it be in the regular ed world, special ed world, or on an island of its own.  With today’s technology, it is easier to do, and as I have seen with my students, is welcomed because it is everyday tech that is incorporated.  The word needs to be spread that the use of technology for SLD/Dyslexia just helps level the playing field for learners.  It allows them to access content and demonstrate knowledge utilizing their strengths while supporting areas of identified weakness.  So will you join in and share the fight to give #DyslexiaTech it’s place?

Posted by: iplantes | February 2, 2015

2 Teachers have 9 thoughts as iPad turns 5

iplantes:

Great thoughts and perspectives on iPads in education.

Originally posted on  IPAD 4 SCHOOLS:

I am very excited to be collaborating with the great Steve Lai again (@sly111). We decided to celebrate the iPad’s 5th birthday with a quick brainstorm of our key lessons from 5 years of iPad teaching. Education across the world continues to evolve in its understanding of how 1-to-1 student device learning can and will revolutionise the industry. Photo Credit

5 Years pic

We started predominantly with our 20th century mindset: “The teacher must be master.” This approach led many educators and schools to hold students back whilst they themselves struggled to master it first or feared the technology altogether. My recent evidence shows that a gradual development of this mindset has taken place and students are more often offered greater freedom to control how their learning might involve and benefit from an iPad. 

Teachers are now accepting that the very definite hierarchy that existed in the classroom has been dismantled somewhat and students are now able…

View original 1,041 more words

Posted by: iplantes | January 14, 2015

New Year, New Adventures

This is the season of being thankful and grateful, and I am indeed feeling both.  I am excited to begin a new adventure and bring you resources for Learning Differently.  As a passionate educator in the field of special education, I know there are so many amazing resources out there in the many avenues that encompass this field.  With today’s world of connectivity I hope to bring them to one central location for you to see, hear, and hopefully collaborate with to better the world of learning for all students.  Embracing the idea that all learning is different can empower, engage and encompass all students to be come stronger and more confident.

The idea of this site, while new, is not without it’s own path and I want to acknowledge those who lead my own learning differently adventure. I first thank Mr. Goad for making me write a career report in 8th grade, my topic: Teaching the Deaf.  This paper, inspired by my mother who had taught the deaf, led to the first steps of my passion today.  I thank Mary Ellen Diana for allowing me to volunteer at a local hospital’s rehab program for preschool special needs students.  I am forever indebted to Professor Peggy Sheridan of Connecticut College.  She embraced my passion, and fostered my learning opportunities in just about every field of special education so I could experience and grow to work with all learners. I thank Sarah, who was a student I worked one-on-one with while finishing my masters.  Sarah had Angelman Syndrome, and made me work extremely hard but made me value the work I got to do each day and always could make me smile.  She has always held a special place in my heart.  To Rozi Khakpour, my final cooperating teacher, who gave me such guidance and advice that I knew I could embrace the non-categorical classroom challenges.  She taught me patience and persistence and led by amazing example.  To Dr. Judith Thompson, former principal of Garfield Elementary, who despite knowing the challenges of the non-categorical classroom, saw my work, and believed in this first year teacher to hire her despite herself.  (and thank you to both she, Rozi, Mrs. Ellis my classroom aide, and Julie Schwartzman for without you all, I would not have made it through that year.)  To Bret Busby and Reggie Wagstaff for your friendships helped me through the years of Westland High School.  And to Brian, who I had my first year there, who taught me the power of perseverance, for despite the learning and other challenges, succeeded with hard work in 1998 to become the first in his family to graduate high school.  To Dr. Mark Griffin and Dave Sylvestro for opening my eyes to the ways of Eagle Hill, to Len Tavormina for making it possible for me not to have to go back to public school, but to find Eagle Hill closer to home.  To Patti Provoost for reminding me daily of what that Eagle Hill way is.  To Ben Powers, Theresa Collins, and Jamie Martin, for helping me see that I wasn’t crazy to think remediation and technology could go hand in hand. To #PLN (Personal and Professional Learning Network) for through #edtechchat, #satchat, #sunchat, #atchat, #isedchat, #caisct, #BFC530 and all the other connections through social media, Edcamps, and interactions you all inspire me daily and provide the ideas, the discussions, the laughs and the motivations to move outside my comfort zone.   And to all the students  who I have had the privilege to grow with, work with and learn from…this site is for you.

I also thank my parents, for you may not always agree with me, you believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.  To my brothers who have been amazing sounding boards and inspirers.

Most of all to my husband who is on this crazy adventure with me, and is the most supportive person to my passion, and insanity. He is my rock, my cheerleader, and I couldn’t take this on without him.

Lastly to Errol St. Clarie Smith…for saying “hey I have an idea”…and to be that spark that finally put in place the path with the idea to create a podcast, that led to the idea of this site, a place that embraces learning differently, so that all students can be served in a way that is for them.

I hope you will find as the site develops, you will find the resources, the supports, the connections that will help you as parents, as educators, as learners, as people who care about the opportunity for students to learn as they should.

So I bring to you LeapIntoLD.com and Learning Differently Radio

Posted by: iplantes | December 31, 2014

“HOW WILL I MAKE 2015 THE BEST YEAR FOR MY STUDENTS?”

This is a question I ask myself twice a year…the joy of teaching is that New Year’s reflections and resolutions happen in September and in January.  It is key to take the time to do this not just for students, but for ourselves as teachers to ensure where we are at those points in the academic year are where we intend to be, and what tangents might have occurred for logical or illogical reasons.

It couldn’t be a more exciting time to not only be in education related to technology, but also for those who learn differently and those two concepts go hand in hand.  The increasing inclusion of “everyday” technology is huge for those who learn differently, which is truly all learners.  The power of tech to engage with learning and demonstrate knowledge in ways that work with various strengths and accommodate weaknesses is amazing. Tech can empower them to Show What They Know!

So how will I make 2015 the best year for my students…well at least the best year so far?

  • Continue to seek out and learn everyday tools that foster successes and engagement for educators and students alike
  • Continue to empower students to show how they can use apps, websites, and their hearing and voice to become active, confident learners
  • For all learners everywhere, continue to spread the word with other amazing educators so that kids in all learning environments can benefit from what we find in our unique experiences to be engaging ways to empower students
Posted by: iplantes | November 26, 2014

ClassDojo is an educational tool, don’t misjudge its purpose

Recently there has been a discussion around the usage of ClassDojo among educators on Twitter, but came to a head recently with a New York Times article about the company’s new policy related to student data storage. While the point of the article was to be focused on the fact that the company announced it would not be storing student data, it turned quickly into in my opinion, a harsh attack on an educational tool that was without full basis.  I speak up because the New York Times also included a snapshot of a Twitter discussion that I was part of without reaching out to me to explore further.

What struck me out of the comments, and subsequent posts related to ClassDojo, was the fervent opinions about it being humiliating, demeaning, and a “flashy colorful annoying waste of time” as one parent commented in the article. This shows me that there is a clear disconnect somewhere.

I love ClassDojo and so do my students.  For one, in my view it is not a behavioral tracking app, it is a reward system and reward systems are not new.  As educators, we are always using tools to mold and guide students to make good choices, participate, and find success.  I recall stickers on my papers, check marks and check minuses, reports of S, G, VG, and subsequently grades and reports that outlined what I was and was not doing well in class.

Since becoming a teacher myself, I am always trying to find ways to acknowledge my students success, while also making them aware of when they are making poor choices, so they can turn it around and meet the expectations of the class.  I used to use good old fashion sticker charts, also markings on desks, and then ClassDojo came along.  From the first moment I showed it to my students they were hooked, even the middle schoolers.  They love picking characters, they love seeing their gains and the acknowledgement for a job well done.  It’s an online sticker chart in their mind.  I do not share the data with parents specifically, but that is likely more in line with the what my school is about rather than anything else.  This is for me and the students.  Yes there are moments when I have to acknowledge students not being on task or not following directions.  Do they like that? Of course not, but don’t we always have to do that with students to help guide them to what is acceptable and what is not.  That is part of education.  However, I only use that for a moment, and then look immediately for an opportunity to reward a positive to help them see they can turn it around.  If a student is struggling with having a negative day overall, ClassDojo is not the place to address that.

I asked some students this week as part of a writing assignment what they liked and didn’t like about ClassDojo and if they preferred something else.  One boy made a list of positives and negatives, his only negative was the possibility of losing points, his positives had at least six items.  It led to a class discussion and they all of course didn’t like losing points at any time, but were also aware that losing points was in their hands, not the tool’s.  They expressed loving the fact it was more interactive, was reinforcing, was much more interesting than a sticker chart and gave them an opportunity to earn a reward.

ClassDojo is just a tool, just like any other tool we use in education to address an area of need.  And just like any educational tool, it needs to be utilized and implemented thoughtfully and carefully with good intent.  My students have had input on the behaviors that are acknowledged, good and bad.  They are pretty honest about those because first the rapport with my students was developed and the expectations clearly laid out.  ClassDojo is not for everyone, but it should not be personally negated without true understanding of what it’s intended purpose is and that they do have education truly at heart in what they are doing.

Posted by: iplantes | November 21, 2014

Let the laughter be the lesson

My 8th grade Tutorial class just left my classroom.  Know what we accomplished today? Academically not much…but I think that was the lesson today.  I had a whole lesson planned based on an article they had to read over the last few nights, on a topic we have talked about for weeks.  What was the lesson? Right now it doesn’t matter.

So they came in, we did the usual start of class routine then were ready to settle into the discussion when one of them, J, just starts laughing.  I couldn’t tell you why, but this student’s laughter is hysterical and infectious.  He was just cracking up.  The rest of us sort of giggle, but then settled back down.  Next thing I know another student has told J a joke that has him in more hysterics.  The rest of us just can’t help ourselves and all are in tears with laughter.  A student compares J’s laughter to Elmo, and of course immediately a Google search is done for Elmo laughing, which funnily enough turns out to sound like J’s laughter which prompts more laughter.  People are walking by, stopping in trying to figure out why we are all in hysterics.

Finally we settle in for class, and you know what, the lesson didn’t matter, couldn’t matter at that moment.  It’s three months into school, they have just had the end of sports, a Student Council food drive and Thanksgiving luncheon to coordinate, tests and more tests, school applications etc…today was about laughter, but more over it was about letting them take a breath, let it go and just enjoying 38 minutes conversing, not about Privacy, the 4th Amendment and posting online, about basic stuff such as how are you doing overall, and what’s up for the weekend.

The lesson today was about taking a breath and laughing a little (or in this case a lot), for sometimes as teachers we push so hard to get the academics in, we forget to see our students and ourselves as those who could use a day of less rigor and more rapport.  Rapport is so key to develop, for it is what we rely on when we need to push and when they struggle and we need to support them.  Rapport builds trust and trust is so key to helping students and teachers find moments of success.

So take a cue from J, and find some laughter today.  I know I needed it, and so did his classmates and they left feeling a little lighter to move ahead, which is sometimes just what is going to lead them to find a moment of success later on.

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