Global Book Clubs – Redefinition

Just as we use student data to inform our instruction in the classroom, the same is true for our own learning journey.  The last five years have been a steep learning curve with respect to the use of technology in the classroom.  I’ve moved to a more transformative and thoughtful practice because I’ve had time to explore its application and follow the results in the classroom.

Photo Credit: ASB
Photo Credit: ASB

Increasing the use of technology in the classroom to enhance teaching and learning has gone hand in hand with a shift in my own education philosophies and a shift in my role in the learning environments. The growth of accessibility to and diversity of tools and connections has led to an increase in the acquisition of information available to both students and teachers. Therefore, my role as a teacher has changed to a co-constructor and co-connector of student learning.

What’s been helpful throughout this time is the implementation of structures to support the intentional and appropriate use of technology to enhance learning.  For example, for the past four years my school has been auditing technology usage in the classroom primarily around the ISTE Standards for Students and also later Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.  Data collected and analyzed with the support of tech coaches has allowed me to see the areas where I use technology the most and the areas that were missed.  For example, the data showed that students had many opportunities to conduct research for projects, create content, and to communicate and collaborate with peers in their class. However, application to a global community was lacking and there was no intentionality about digital citizenship.  This lead to the formation of goals in subsequent school years and I was able to ensure there was more balance to my program.  It also led me to seek out appropriate professional development to support me in my goals and that’s when I enrolled in COETAIL.  Goal setting in response to data and personal reflection has been key in leading change in my practice as an educator.  It helps in all areas of my practice, but was very instrumental with respect to a focus on the use of technology for learning.

This intentional look at technology usage to enhance student learning also helped me to choose a direction for my COETAIL final project.  I took an aspect of the reading workshop (Book Clubs) and a writing unit (Student Blogging) and transformed it with my new understandings of technology integration. I wanted to redefine Book Clubs in a way that could layer in multiple areas that I’d previously identified as my goals (global collaboration and digital citizenship) as well as enable me to apply what I’ve learned about  Visual Literacy, Connectivism, and Integrated Technology whilst hitting many of the ISTE Standards for Students.

Back in Course 2, I wrote about participating in Global Collaboration Project and that I’d like to organize my own.  Well I did just that with this project – on a small scale – but powerful none the less. Here’s the UbD plan which has all the planning documents linked in and any subsequent lesson plans that were developed along the way to support my learners.  

 

The Global Book Club project is officially done; however, the experience still lives on in the classroom. The biggest transformation has been the level of student engagement. It was like everyone sat up straight and rolled up their sleeves.  It came at the perfect time in the year as we, as a class, were very comfortable with our small group of peers. The new audience heightened everyone’s focus.  That is the power of audience. Here’s the final video which documents the main parts of the project:

There was lots of hidden challenges (hence learning) along the way that is not evident in the video. There was a huge amount of communication in getting it set up and maintaining the project.  Working around time zones, and different school schedules meant that skyping happened at weird times of the day.  Ideally, book club discussions using SKYPE would’ve happened during the Reading Workshop, but our schedules and times did not line up.  Students in China were heading home as we were beginning our Reading Workshop.  A great degree of flexibility was required by everyone involved.  Even the kids didn’t mind when they had to come in during a recess break to have their Skype discussion.  Everyone made it happen.

As well as feedback from students, teachers also provided feedback along the way and at the end.

“We had a fantastic time doing this project. I can not believe how much my kids and I learned in such a short period of time. The lesson ideas were great. I also noticed that the engagement was so much more authentic!. The students wanted to be prepared for the other groups. They experienced what it is like to have a responsibility to others. They were motivated to think deeper and create high level questions and responses. They really liked the Skyping piece. I was surprised how shy they seemed at first. However, they never mentioned being nervous, only excited. When we discussed the Skyping, they all wished they had had more Skype sessions. Maybe a Skype session at the very beginning would help with making group connections (I know scheduling is tough and the Padlet is a great alternative).”

The desired accomplishments of this unit were met in ways I didn’t imagine.  Students communicated their ideas using a variety of media.  In addition, the depth of their writing increased. Student blog posts are evidence of writers who can construct and organise blog posts about their reading and thinking whilst incorporating features of blog writing (e.g. hyperlinking) and showing digital citizenship (appropriate register of writing and correct attribution of image).  This blog post shows a reader who is going beyond the text with their thinking and supporting evidence.

Word Cloud
Created with Tagul.com with text collected from student feedback

This project created an environment in the classroom which grew student agency as a result of the authentic audience and through the use of technology.

Technology Explosion

The last two months have swirled by on a sea of technology-enriched learning experiences.  Technology usage and integration has exploded in my classroom and this blog post documents some of the tools and experiences that students have been engaging with.

Book Creator for Math Reflections
Students at the American School of Bombay are expected to keep a digital portfolio  “The purpose of the ES ePortfolio is to provide tangible evidence of student growth, understanding and reflection. The ePortfolio provides ownership for students’ learning and the direction for establishing new goals.”  I was noticing that students were tiring of creating the same kind of reflective posts within their ePortfolio so I was looking for a different way that they could document their learning journey for a multiplication unit.  I decided to use Book Creator and was happy with the result as it:

  • allowed students to tell a learnng story,
  • focused on process over product; and
  • allowed the integration and practice of other skills (fluency, visual literacy, digital citizenship)

I had worked with Book Creator in the past with students creating narrative stories and on reflection I thought that their learning is also a story to be told so why not create it in a book format.  Here’s a finished product:
How have you used Book Creator in a different way?

To really maximise the experience, my students need more opportunities to work with this tool so they can enhance their own skill level.  As you can see from the example, there are areas that I could coach into with this student regarding layout/placement of images and other tips and tricks of Book Creator. 

However, my goal is to build student Tech Toolbox.  I want students to know that this tool is now in their tech tool box and they can continue to build their expertise by using it for other purposes.  When needed, they can make an informed choice of what tool to use to suit their objectives.  I want to student to ask themselves, “What tool would best suit the situation?”  In a busy school year, I often find students are often taught to use a tool once in a particular unit and move onto the next without getting more opportunities for using the tool.  

Image by author
Image by author

Applying Our Coding Skills
Last year, my students participated in the Hour of Code and I saw how engaging and challenging this was for my class.  I wanted to build on this and use their developing coding skills to investigate patterns of the multiplication tables.  Students had previously created Spirolaterals of the times table (2-9) by hand and looked for patterns across different tables.  


flickr photo shared by Natural Math under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

This was challenging as students had to follow a sequence of steps and repeat (kind of like a code right?).  They were kind of coding themselves to make a pattern by doing a series of steps repeatedly.

Image by author
Image by author

This gave me the idea that they might be able to write a code using Turtle Art to create the spirolateral.  Some students found it easier to do it by hand, others found it easier to do using Turtle Art and this was an interesting class discussion in itself.  More about Spirolaterals for times tables.

Image of student work by author

 

Global Book Clubs
Students have also been using technology to participate in Global Book Clubs which is my Course 5 project.  Full details to come in a later post, but just as an update, the project has been very successful.  There was a visible increase in alertness in the classroom as they interacted with students from other international schools.  Audience matters as was evident in their efforts to produce blog posts and conduct discussions with depth and precision.  There has been a lot of blogging and commenting going on the last few weeks keeping me very busy as I’ve myself been captivated by what students are saying about their books.  There were also opportunities for students to skype with their groups.  

Home-School Communication
Lastly, with all the awesome work happening in the classroom I was feeling thankful that I was a part of a wonderful group of kids and getting to see their learning in action. I really wanted parents to see inside the classroom a bit more and see what I see. They get the weekly newsletter from me which gives a lot of detail of the learning that is planned for the week.  I decided to create a Closed Facebook group in order to post images and videos to bring the learning alive.  This has allowed for better communication with parents of the day to day learning moments.

Screenshot by author
Screenshot by author

Last Thoughts
Our school hosted a conference in February (ASBUnplugged) and I caught up with an old colleague.  I was telling him about the Global Book Club project that was getting started in the classroom.  He asked a very good question and that is:  “How do you make these kind of experiences part of the curriculum so that it doesn’t leave when the teacher leaves?”  This question or idea has been playing over in my mind since we talked.  It’s a valid and relevant question and at the time I didn’t have an answer.

My COETAIL course 5 project aims to weave technology integration, digital citizenship, global collaboration, visual literacy, English Language Arts standards and redefine practice; Then shouldn’t it (or something like it) be happening in all the fourth grade classes each and every year?

I’m wondering how our new approaches garnered through our professional development experiences are sustained and not left to become a once off.  I’d like to get some good discussion going on this point as I think it is probably relevant for all of us taking COETAIL course.  You may be thinking of this already and have plans to how you can take your new learnings, skills and understanding to a level beyond your own classroom and I’d love to hear how you plan to do this.

 

Course 5 – Getting Started

I started Course 5 green with envy of the people who had made a decision for their final project last year and written the unit plan at that time.  I’ve spent the last few weeks constructing the unit plan for the project idea that I wrote about last year.  Deep down when I was writing up the blog post for the Course 4 final project, I knew that I really wanted to go for idea #1 and here I am now planning that unit.  In hindsight, I should’ve gone with my gut feeling and committed to this idea last year and been ready to start with a plan in my hand. Since fleshing out this idea in the unit planner, I’m really excited to get started and see how the students respond.  

This unit is all about fostering global connections for my Grade 4 students while infusing many of the core ideas and skills targeted from Courses 1-4 including elements of Digital Citizenship, Visual Literacy, Connectivism and Global Collaboration, and Integrated Technology whilst hitting many of the ISTE Standards for Students.  Students will be embarking on global book clubs.  Some elements of running traditional book clubs will remain; however, in this redefined book club unit, students will be collaborating with kids from different countries.  I hope that by changing the audience my students will engage at a deeper and higher level than ever before. As I’ve got a small class this year (only 13), I think this will bring in new energy and greater connections to their work.

Here’s the UbD planner which documents the specific details of the project including goals and understandings and a tentative learning plan (this is still to be fleshed out). The plan is to form global book club groups (6-10 kids per group).  Each group will have a different book to read but the books will be connected to a main theme.  Groups will meet via Skype to discuss their books as well as blog about their reading and thinking and respond to their peers with comments.

Image by author
Image by author

For this to work and to even get off the ground, I will need to use my personal learning networks (PLNs), and connections I’ve made over the years to find suitable classes to connect with.  So far I’ve got one class on board.  I posted this ad on the Course 5 Final Project Google+ Community Group and got responses from teachers who I’d collaborated with for the Course 2 final project.  Thanks for your support  Angela, Leah.

I know I could put this out on Twitter too, but since I’m only looking for another two classes I am worried it would be sending it out to a too wide of an audience. I’ve also connected with past international colleagues who might want to join me.  Hopefully, I’ll have 3 confirmed classes by the end of the week.  Contact me if you are interested.

Next steps:

Once I’ve got confirmed classes, things will get busy and I will work with teachers to make balanced and appropriate book club groups. Building enthusiasm and excitement is important and I’m looking for ways for students from the different schools to get to know each before meeting in book clubs. Students will be involved with some of the planning aspects like how to allocate the reading across weeks and what makes a good prompt etc.

Tune in again in a few weeks and the book clubs should be up and running.  I’ll send news and anecdotes from the classroom.