Engage Student Discussion: Use the Social Network in Your Classroom

social media
social media
Watch a typical whole group discussion in the classroom and you’ll most likely see a “hub / spokes” flow of information. Teacher to student A and back to teacher. Teacher to student B and back to teacher. So it goes as the “bluebirds” get to show how smart they are. Over time, students learn that their comments are of provisional value until “approved” by the teacher. That’s because in this style of discussion the teacher is most likely searching for specific replies – sort of playing “guess what I’m thinking” with the “best” students in the class.
Students tend not to listen to each other and only focus on what the teacher says or validates – “will that be up on a test?” When students are put in small group discussion, they rapidly get off subject. With no teacher to validate their comments, they naturally gravitate to other subjects where peer   comments are valued – “what are you doing this weekend?” Often teachers then conclude that small group discussion doesn’t work.
In my workshops I train teachers in discussion techniques that foster student reflection and interaction. The strategies are focused on getting the teacher out of the role of information gatekeeper and encouraging student-centered dialogue. 
With practice, teachers find that students are eager to engage and participate. We know they want to contribute, because outside the classroom, students are flocking to social networks to share their thinking with one another. It’s unfortunate that our students can’t be part of the (offline) social network sitting beside them in class.
While students don’t need classroom computers to be part of an engaging discussion, technology can be a catalyst to foster engagement. I was interested to see the following video of The Twitter Experiment – Bring Twitter to the Classroom at UT Dallas.

“UT Dallas History Professor Dr. Monica Rankin, wanted to know how she could reach and include more students in the class discussion. She had heard of Twitter… The following is a short video describing her “Twitter Experiment” in the classroom with comments from students about the pros and cons of Twitter in a traditional learning environment.” (Filmed by UT grad student kesmit3.) Link to notes on the experiment.

BTW – I found this video via my Twitter network. Follow  @monicarankin  @kesmit3 

Image credit flickr/Choconancy1

Lost All Your Contacts on iPhone? Here’s How to Get Them Back

Me I sync my iPhone, MacBook and iMac over MobileMe. I like that a change in an appointment or contact on one device shows up on the other two.  But MobileMe has a problem! Twice in the last week I have opened my iPhone to find that all my Contacts were gone. This calamity mysteriously happened on its own. (I did not make any setting changes to lose my contacts.) But here’s how I got them back. 

Note: This post detail the process for restoring contacts when running iPhone 3.0 software. If you are using iOS 4, follow this link to my July 2010 update.

1. On my iPhone I went to “Settings” and picked “Mail, Contacts, Calendar.”

All the email accounts you have on your iPhone will be there as choices along with your MobileMe account. 


2. Under accounts I selected my MobileMe account. You get a list of all the data that MobileMe is syncing. 


3. I turned Contacts “Off.” (It’s the only sync I turned off.) You get this dialogue box asking you if you really want to do this. Be brave and agree to “Stop Syncing” your Contacts. 


4. I waited a few seconds then I went back to the screen in Step 2 above and turned Contacts “On.”

5. I gave the iPhone some time to sync. It probably helps to be on wifi.

6. When I reopened my Contacts on my iPhone, they had all returned. Note on this last step you might have to open and close Contacts a few times to get your iPhone to force a MobileMe sync.

I have no idea why this is happening. Looks like MobileMe has some work to do!

Using Print on Demand to Publish Your Own Books

New print technologies make it very easy to publish your own books. No need for the information gatekeepers to decide what we read. I’m showcasing a few approaches that may be of interest to my readers. 
Reading recovery teacher publishes new line of early literacy book
MaryAnn McAlpinand I worked together in the East Irondequoit Central School district while I was the Assistant Superintendent and she was the lead Reading Recovery teacher. I was not surprised when she recently started writing and publishing emergent texts. Although not my area of expertise, it certainly is MaryAnn’s.  She has a remarkable background in and passion for early literacy. She came to the East Irondequoit district just for the opportunity to train in and practice Reading Recovery.
MaryAnn’s Short Tale Press, features “little” books for early literacy that are based on real people and places and authentic life experiences. I can see my own grandchildren in her main character, Colin. This makes her books very appealing to modern children.  Parents and grandparents would be wise to visit her website when gift time rolls around, which we know is all the time! They are also written to be appropriate for students in Reading Recovery, ESL and classroom guided reading.   Visit her website-there is always a new text there – she is a prolific writer / publisher. 
Out of print author tired of rejections turns to self publishing
My dear friend and mentor – Abe Rothberg got tired of rejection notices for his latest works of fiction. Ironic – since his previous books were published by mainstream publishers and favorably reviewed in NY Times, Harper’s, Time Magazine, and Publishers Weekly. Plus he was frustrated to see that his previous work had gone out of print. 
We decided to cut out the middleman  - team up and bring a new series of his work into publication. He supplied the manuscripts. I formatted them in Word and converted them to PDF. I designed the covers in Photoshop. We created a free account to publish the books on demand at Lulu.com – a print-on-demand publisher. For more on Abe and his books go to to his site – Abraham Rothberg
Teachers – it’s your turn to become a publisher for your students’ writing
I think we need to re-think how we teach writing with a shift in focus from teacher to student.
Old approach:
  • Students are asked to write only on the teacher’s topics.
  • Student writes for the teacher.
  • Teacher grades their writing.
New approach: 
  • Students can develop topics that matter to them.
  • Audience and purpose for writing is identified. 
  • Students are asked to reflect on their growth.
We all struggle to create authentic writing experiences for our students. Imagine if they had an opportunity to see their work in print – and we’re talking about a real paperback.  Let them go through the process of writing, co-editing, illustrating and designing a book. Rigor and relevance meets motivation and self-directed study. I’ve gotten so excited by the results that I’ve done workshops to train teachers. You can see material and sample student books at my website Read > Think > Write > Publish
BTW – I’ve been following Theresa Reagan on Twitter. She’s an Elementary Principal from Michigan who is making great use of Lulu to publish student work.  See her students’ books on their Lulu page 

How to Become a Teacher: Resources for Certification and Interviews

It’s been 40 years since I set my goals to become a teacher. (You might be amused by my blog post on the 1971 evaluation of my student teaching) Fortunately today there are some great online resources to assist you. Here’s two that impress me.

certification map-featured

Teacher certification requirements vary greatly by state and are often difficult to understand. A new website, CertificationMap informs future teachers about the requirements for certifications in every state.  It’s sponsored by MAT@USC, a Master of Arts in Teaching program delivered online from the University of Southern California. I tried it out and found it to me much more user friendly than the individual state Department of Education websites.
Click on a state link and you’ll find salary statistics, prerequisite coursework, steps to teacher preparation, testing, and useful links for teaching in that state. If you would like additional information, you can input your email and phone number. I tried it out, expecting not much more than to be solicited by USC.
I did get a very welcome surprise when I was called two days later by Nicole Dillard, a counselor at the USC’s Rossier School of Education. She was more than willing to use her state-by-state database to supply me with additional information not found on CertificationMap regarding certification requirements. Of course, she also explained the merits of USC online certification program and noted that in the site’s first two months it had generated nearly 300 interested leads for the program. Bottom line – try CertificationMap and feel free to give your contact info without fear of the hard sell.
Road to Teaching
A second site I’d like to recommend to folks interested in a teaching career is: Road to Teaching: Resources for Aspiring, Student, and Beginning Teachers. It’s a site written by teachers for new and aspiring teachers. Here’s their overview:

A cadre of dedicated educators, known as star contributors, have committed to providing support to student teachers. These star contributors will answer your questions, address your concerns, provide advice, and give encouragement. There are several ways to connect with a star contributor. You can (anonymously) post a comment or blog by joining Road to Teaching. If you prefer to email a specific question (e.g. content related question) to any of our star contributors, please feel free.

One of their most popular posts is Teacher Interview Questions. It contains an impressive array of questions, many with sample answers. It’s well worth a visit before that next interview. Road to Teaching also includes valuable links and the chance to dialogue with others who are starting their teaching careers.

A Guide to Designing Effective Professional Development: Essential Questions for the Successful Staff Developer

All considerations for professional development (PD) should flow from the premise that staff development should model what you want to see in the classroom. We strive to offer our students engaging, relevant, and rigorous instruction that supports students who will, over time, take responsibility for their learning. PD should apply those same goals to training teachers, staff and administration.

I’ve seen PD from a variety of perspectives – as a 25-year teacher receiving staff development, as a teacher offering PD courses at our district teacher center, as a K-12 director and Assistant Superintendent planning PD, and as outside consultant / trainer. Viewed through those lenses, I’ve developed few questions for consideration by professional development planners.

Design and planning:

1. Did your teachers have a meaningful role in deciding what PD is being offered? (You’re in trouble if the training is merely based on a tip from someone who saw “this really cool presentation.”)

2. If it’s a school-wide inservice day, have you provided appropriate training for all faculty and staff? (“OMG! We forgot about the librarians! Do you think we can get away with putting them in with PE?)

3. Is there a clear alignment between how the session is promoted to teachers and what the trainer is prepared to deliver? (Before my session begins, I usually ask a few attendees what they expect. When no one has a clue, I’ve got work to do.)

4. Have you prioritized your PD objectives to bring focus to your initiatives? (It’s easy to turn people off with the perception of “just another reform du jour.”)

5. If you are implementing PLC’s or action teams, do the participants see their value? (Or do you have groups of “PD prisoners” who only see it as busy work?)

6. Do you offer appropriate training for all staff? (Don’t forget, the entire organization can support instruction.)


7. Have you considered internal expertise, before turning to outside trainers? (PD is about building capacity.)

8. Will the trainer be utilizing the strategies being advocated? (If not, at least modeling them.)

9. Do you differentiate PD by instructional method? (Or is that something you only expect teachers to do with their students?)

10. Will teachers leave with ideas they can immediately put to use? (Not everyone is fascinated by the implications of new brain research on student achievement.)

11. Will appropriate administrators be in attendance? (It sends a powerful message when they are.)

Follow up

12. What is your plan for follow up to the training? (No drive-bys allowed!)

13. If you are offering technology training, will teachers have immediate access to the necessary equipment? (Use it, or lose it!)

14. Do you have a mechanism to gather and act on participant feedback (Learning is about experience and reflection.)

15. Have you clearly identified an instructional outcome you hope to see as a result of the training? (Or are you doing it, just because it’s in fashion?)

A high-functioning professional development program considers these questions and many more. The best programs are guided by a tacit “reciprocal accountability.” If administration is holding teachers accountable for student performance, then administration is accountable to engage teachers in the design and implementation of meaningful PD. Likewise, if teachers have an active role in shaping their professional learning environment, then administrators should expect to see the strategies utilized in the classroom, followed by an honest appraisal of what’s working.

I disagree with the notion that teaching is kind of innate “gift” that only some are born with. Teachers are nurtured with experience, training, and reflection.

If you’ve read this far,  you might also like a few other posts:

Teacher-Led Professional Development: Eleven Reasons Why You Should be Using Classroom Walk Throughs

Lesson Study: Teacher-Led PD That Works  

The Reflective Teacher: The Taxonomy of Reflection 

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