Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Using Technology to Differentiate Reading Instruction

This week I have given a lot of thought about the different mindtools we have explored in class. I still found myself wanting more information about tools that can be used for reading instruction and differentiating in the classroom. I decided to do a web search and see what tools I could find on my own that might be useful to share with my co-workers. At the beginning of my search, I came across a website that allows users to upload slide presentations. The slide show that I explored is titled "Addressing Reading Deficits with Technology." It's purpose is geared towards using technology for special education students, but I feel that the information is also useful for teachers looking for tools to differentiate instruction based on all student needs. The most valuable piece of this slide show was the list of online resources available to educators.

Some of the online resources were meant for reading text to students. Some of these were:


This website provided free online versions of the words, but did not read it to the students. I found that this site worked well in conjunction with another free tool, http://readthewords.com. In this manner I was able to take the story, Cinderella, and turn it into an audio story. Combining it with a simple word document allows teachers to combine print stories with read aloud enhancements.

The negative side of this link is that there are no pictures for younger readers. However, a great center activity would be to have the students listen to/read part of the story and then stop and add their own illustrations to the word document.


This website is not free, however, it does provide a comprehensive way of purchasing children's audio-books for students and families. I always encourage parents to also purchase the book and have students read along with audio books.


This site has a large compilation of children's books, complete with words and full color illustrations. It is free and books an be saved into the users bookshelf for easy access. This site does not read the stories to the children, however, could be very helpful for earlier grades when using pictures as a primary prediction tool. Also, I felt that this could be a nice visual for read-sloud stories. I noted that the library includes many of the math related pciture books that I read in my classroom. This site also links to amazon and barnes and nobles for anyone who wishes to purchase a hard copy of the book.

The last site I found is published through wiki. Wiki Junior allows students to add and edit books online. I thought that this was an interesting way of teaching students writing skills, research skills, and editing skills. It could also be used a tool to teach kids how to use the internet appropriately, and how to determine if information found is accurate.

This was an interesting quest for me. I found many tools that I can use in my own classroom and many more that I can recommend to co-workers.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Reading Strategies

As I pondered the recent spreadsheet assignment and some of the readings, I thought about incorporating more math into my current position as a literacy intervention teacher. For some of my students computation is an area of strength. They struggle to understand word problems because of deeper issues with reading comprehension. Adding word problem activities to my current interventions would allow students to develop comprehension, problem solving and critical thinking skills that could be used as attack strategies in many different subject areas.

As I was searching for additional information about incorporating math problems into my class, I came across an interesting website , Into the Book, http://reading.ecb.org/teacher/strategies.html, that uses the catch phrase, "Strategies for Learning." This website discusses the reading strategies that I already use as part of my daily instruction, however, it puts them in the context of thinking strategies. This site references them as part of a tool for building literacy across the curriculum. An example of this would be visualizing. Many of my students do not automatically create mental pictures. We spend time in class modeling our "mental pictures" for each other. In a math problem, this could be a useful tool when deciding what operation to use or which information is not needed to solve the problem. In social studies, visualizing is important if you are imaging the conditions in another part of the country or an historical event. The website actually offers little videos that show other kids modeling these strategies when reading. My goal would be to extend what I am doing in reading and add one math problem. For instance, if we are working on visualizing, we could read a word problem and discuss what we see as we read the problem, or use pictures and models to represent what is happening.

In reflection, I have always seen a connection between these two areas, however, I have not made the connection explicit with my students. I think that being in a reading class and exploring a math problem would encourage them to make the connection and apply reading strategies to other areas. Just another tool for their toolbox! I came across this interesting book written by Arthur Hyde, titled Comprehending Math: Adapting Reading Strategies to Teach Mathematics, K-6. I may purchase it to share with the staff in regards to the topic. It seems to address the exact issues that I discussing. To purchase this book, visit : http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Comprehending-Math/Arthur-A-Hyde/e/9780325009490

On a related but separate topic, I also came across this Reading Rockets website. I have not explored the website too much, but I really liked this page, http://www.readingrockets.org/research/topic, because it was a quick reference guide for research. I thought this would especially be useful if you are being asked to give assessments and may be in need of information about exactly what the results are supposed to tell you. Also, around conference time I like to share tips with parents, but I want to make sure I know the research behind my suggestion! This seemed like a nice compilation of some studies, etc.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Revised Action Plan Outline

When I re-examined the outline of my action plan, I decided to add some key pieces of information that I think teachers, in this case the students, will need in order for them to have a positive interaction with this new learning community. First, by becoming a member of several groups myself, I realized that if I am making this group by invitation only, I will need the learners to email me so that I can email them an invitation to join. I also thought it would be helpful, since this will be a new experience for many, for them to search for and explore other communities available at www.ning.com. Finally I thought that it would be helpful if teachers have a format for entering their meaningful instructional practices. On the action plan I have stated the required pieces, however, I am unsure about how I will impart this information to the members of the team. When issued an invitation you get an email so I am thinking that sharing this information in that email may be the best possible way to share the requirements for entering lesson ideas.

This week I also touched base with the reading specialist at my school and she has agreed to work with me on this project. She has a wealth of knowledge about reading strategies and I think she is more than willing to share them, but also is under time constraints. As the first person with whom I have shared this idea, she was very positive and excited about this new adventure. She agreed that there is certainly a need for it and feels that is could be a positive experience for everyone.

I am a little nervous about putting this plan into action just because it will require more training on the teachers end and they have been a little overwhelmed this fall. I think that I will first ask the team that I have worked the most closely with in the past to pilot this program. Hopefully, they will find the experience to be a positive one and will then be able to get the word out. Then, later in the year, I will offer a voluntary training for anyone who would like to join. There are also several "tech savvy" teachers out there that I could email invitations to with a brief description of my overall goals for the site.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reading Instructional Strategy Community of Practice

I have outlined in this concept web my plan to develop a community of practice in the area of reading instruction at www.ning.com. This free web tool should allow the teachers, who for the purpose of this concept web are referred to as students, share their knowledge and seek out new instructional strategies from their co-workers. I am hoping that this tool will allow the teachers to group instructional strategies according to different instructional areas, such as fluency, vocabulary, cause and effect, etc. If we are able to group our ideas in this way, this online database should be manageable and easy for the teachers to use when planning for a specific instructional need in their classroom. I also think that this will encourage teachers to share their wealth of experience and learn from each other. I am also hoping that by using this tool to share with individuals in our immediate community, teachers may be encouraged to travel the digital "world" and bring ideas back to share.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Using Communities of Practice to Create Conceptual Change in Teachers

Chapter one of David H. Jonassen's (2006) book, Modeling with Technology, encourages one to examine how conceptual change relates to meaningful learning. As an educator, I can apply this to many different situations such as my own personal lessons in learning, instructional design processes in the classroom, and staff development. For the purposes of this blog, I will address how teachers can use data as a catalyst for conceptual change and communities of practice as a means of achieving meaningful learning.

Jonassen (2008) states that the "Cognitive Conflict" theory of conceptual change begins when a learner becomes aware that the problem they face requires some change in their current conceptual view. When a learner then creates new goals to attack this problem they are ready to seek out knowledge needed to change their conceptual framework and embrace new concepts. I propose that one way that teachers can do this is by using communities of practice.

In this new age of data driven education, teachers are constantly being bombarded with test scores and assessment data. They are asked to do more than simply assign a grade. Teachers are required to demonstrate that students show growth, make meaningful connections, and do not "fall behind." Examining data, both classroom and standardized, can provide the context for the "awareness of contradiction" that Jonassen describes as necessary for meaningful learning to occur. When students are not demonstrating adequate progress, teachers are left to question, "What can I do?" thus providing an awareness that something needs to change. Obviously, the current instructional practices are not meeting the needs of this specific learner, but what can the teacher do? Most teachers teach because they want to help their students learn, however, under the pressure of high-stakes testing they are reluctant to ask for help when presented with a situation such as this.

A community of practice structured around the topic of evaluating data and designing instruction could provide teachers with a non-threatening, meaningful knowledge building activity. A community of practice is defined by Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) as "groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their understanding and knowledge of this area by interacting on an ongoing basis." Teachers share a passion for student learning, but they seldom have time to interact with one another because of their rigorous and varied teaching schedules. Would a virtual community of practice encourage them to interact with each other and share strategies for instructional design and meeting the needs of a diverse, dynamic set of learners? This structure could provide them with a non-threatening, meaningful way to change their current conceptions on instructional design and embrace new strategies for struggling learners.

Jonassen, David (2006) Modeling with Technology, Mindtools for Conceptual Change. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002). Communities of practice and their structural elements and Seven principles for cultivating communities of practice in Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard Business School Press.

For an electronic resource on communities of practice: "International executive workshop lead by Etienne Wenger and George Pór at the London School of Economics"

Article worth a look if you are interested in this topic:
Little, Judith Warren. (2002) Locating learning in teachers’ communities of practice: opening
up problems of analysis in records of everyday work. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(8), 917-946.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Goals for EDTEC 566

Last spring I was able to complete my Instructional Systems Design Apprenticeship within my school district. I focused on teachers using data to design and differentiate learning experiences. This summer I spent a lot of time analyzing the information I had collected and projects that I had completed. In reflection I felt that my project was very strong in the aspects of gathering and organizing data and making data easily available to teachers, however it lacked information in the area of how to use this information to inform instruction.

The National Educational Technology Standards state that teachers should be able to engage in professional growth and leadership. I would like to be able to use blogging and shared webspace as a means of encouraging teachers to discuss "best practices" for improving lessons to meet specific student needs, as identified through data analysis. Creating a tool for teachers to discuss data, with specific student information remaining anonymous, and share ideas will encourage differentiation and build a sense of community within the school. Teachers must see this community as a way to discuss their own strengths, as well as share classroom struggles in a non-threatening way. Teachers can then learn from one another and build on the wealth of experience they collectively possess.

Creating an electronic tool that can be accessed at the teacher's convenience would be helpful to my co-workers because they are already overwhelmed by the amount of meetings and lack of time. Perpaps the discussion tool could even be organized according to specific data needs (for instance...Strategies for Building Fluency in the primary grades) and I could also provide links to on-line resources that are free and easily accessble within the classroom as part of centers, etc.

Creating a tool such as this would be useful to my co-workers and help them to embrace the new data driven education movement and see how data can help them save time.