Posted by: shineonali | January 11, 2012

All Gone!

Here is my first Slice of Life story for 2012.

It was Christmas morning. I couldn’t wait to find out how Harper would react this year. I crept down to the basement to listen outside the door of the bedroom where my almost-two-year-old niece was sleeping.  I heard her chatting with her stuffed animals, so, smiling to myself, I slowly opened the door.  Harper’s eyes widened in surprise.  Who’s there?  I spoke in a reassuring voice. “Harper, you’re awake! Want to come upstairs and see everybody?”

My brother, Chris, met us at the top of the stairs. “Hey, Harper, let’s see if Santa ate his snack.”

We checked it out…the glass was empty except for a few drops of milk, there was just a stub of a carrot, and a few cookie crumbs were scattered on the plate. “All gone!” Harper exclaimed in wonder. She kept looking at the plate, then at us. I’m still not sure if she really understood what was going on…but she was clearly intrigued!

Posted by: shineonali | April 24, 2011

Friday Success

“Take Two” with Chatzy on Thursday went well!  Everyone got into the room, and no one was accused of being spam.  The kids had time to just get in there and be social, and then I threw out a pretty easy discussion question–what are you looking forward to about Middle School?  We added to our conversation about chat etiquette, how you can use a chat to learn, and how it “felt” to take part.

Now we were ready for the real deal–using the tool for a more academic purpose. Jeff had helped me with this idea, because I was struggling–as much as I liked the idea of a “back-channel” chat during a read aloud or class discussion, I felt as though, for at least half of my Grade 5 students, it would be too distracting.

The Introduction

I put a lot of thought into setting this up, both organizationally and motivationally.  The students often “letter off” in their six table groups, ABCD.  This helps in Science, when we are working in groups on  experiments.  So I used the same format to pass around the responsibility for “driving” the laptop during this activity.  Each group logged onto a laptop, joined the class chat room, and changed the screen name to an IDENTIFIABLE group name.  I told them that this was the first of two big differences today–they’d be chatting as a group, rather than as individuals.

Next, we gathered at the front of the room.  I gave my little speech…

This morning you heard a lot during the presentation about Antarctica, and we haven’t had a chance to follow up on it. Since we are also learning to use online chat, we’re going to combine the two.I know that a lot of you are super excited right now just by this new tool—you would be happy to chat about anything in class.  But eventually you might think to yourself…hmm, these people are sitting right across from me.  Why am I typing and not talking?!

I don’t know if you noticed this one surprising thing…EVERYONE was “talking” in our chat.  People who have their hands up all the time in class discussions talked, but also people who NEVER do.  Sometimes those people are shy, or they need a little more time to think about the question and form an answer…so that might be one reason you would use an online chat even when you’re in the same classroom.

But today I want us to experiment with ANOTHER way that we can use online chatting in our classroom.  This time, it’s to ENHANCE, or add to, “face to face” talks.  We often have discussions in small groups, and then the groups get to share some of their ideas after with the whole class…and often different groups have different, great ideas.  But what if there was a way to find out what other groups are talking about WHILE your group is still discussing?  You could then use those ideas in your group’s discussion.  You’d remember more, learn more, and realize that there are many ways a discussion could go. You could let other groups push your group’s thinking!

So for the content of our discussions, we’ll base our questions on the Antarctica presentation.  I’ll pose a question—I’ll also type it into the chat.  First, your group should talk about it.  Let everyone share.  Then, someone will type a sentence or two, representing an idea the group wants to share with all the groups.  (That’s the second big difference—you will be more likely to write one or two sentences at a time today, rather than just a few words.)

As you start to see other groups’ ideas, continue your own group’s conversation.  Perhaps you will want to then add something new to follow up. Perhaps a question, or taking an idea further…

Try to let the chat enhance the face-to-face conversation, not take it over.  You don’t need to be typing all the time…and remember, it’s an experiment, our first time.  We are trying it out…be patient!

There weren’t too many questions, as the students were eager to get started.  I sent them off to talk about the first one, which was relatively simple.  What did you learn this morning? Later I asked about the most important message they heard, what surprised them, and what they were still wondering about.

The Chat-Enhanced Small Group Discussions

As I circulated, I leaned in and SLOWED down the inevitable “type first, talk later” students. That happened every time we switched “drivers”, actually!  Some groups tended to chat, as a group, with the class, while others seemed more naturally to share their own ideas before referring to and adding to the chat.  I don’t think the thoughtfulness of the the small group discussions was always reflected in the on-screen chat.  And in the reflection later, students did say that it was a challenge to have your own conversation as well as keep up with the chat.  They’d come up with an idea to share, and then realize it was already there.  (I think that’s okay, actually!)  I didn’t love everything I overheard–there was some bossiness, but that happens in lots of cooperative activities.  That came up in the reflection as well.  Students said that they sometimes got frustrated when a slower typer was in charge of the laptop, or someone who just hasn’t been speaking English as long. They wanted to just take over and type quickly and accurately for them!  As I walked around, most of my attention was on the group interaction and discussion, not so much on the onscreen chat itself, and especially not on the errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  Yet in the follow up discussion, many students nodded in agreement when someone brought up how easy it was to make mistakes, and suggested that people slow down and reread their posts before hitting enter.

I was truly amazed at how engaged all the students were in their conversations.  Often in small group discussions there are students who participate minimally.  Or sometimes I suspect that groups as a whole have somewhat lackluster discussions, perhaps because they know they will probably only be expected to share out one or two ideas with the whole class, if any.

This is the chat: room 229 april 22   What interests me as I reread it, is that it gives me a great sense of the discussions that were going on–I’d never have so much data in a regular class discussion.  I think I can see evidence of those places where groups might have gotten a little too involved in typing messages into the chat, and perhaps we can take a look at where that happened and notice how it might have affected the depth of the conversation.  As Jeff mentioned in his follow up, by looking at some of the confusing parts of the transcript, we could introduce students to the convention of using @ in front of a name when you want to direct a question or response to a particular user.  I can tell from some of the errors that they didn’t do as much coaching as I was worried that they were doing when the EAL students had control of the keyboard.  It sounded sometimes like a dictation!  At the bottom of the transcript is an after school chat that two very quiet EAL girls had.  These two hardly ever speak in class, and were beginners in August.  They both speak Japanese, but had this whole conversation in English.  You can’t see them properly in the transcript, but their chat is liberally sprinkled with emoticons!

What Next?

After these first introductory experiences, I’m thinking of this enhanced-chat format as a vehicle for all kinds of learning standards.  The TAIL standard that best addresses it seems to be

Standard 3: Students use appropriate media and environments to effectively communicate ideas, knowledge, and understanding to audiences ranging from local to global.


Standard 5: Students connect with peers and recognized experts to collaborate, develop their own understanding, contribute to the learning of others, and contribute to the global society using a variety of media

I will definitely use this format again.  It will be perfect to bring closure to our historical fiction unit of study in reading.  The book clubs can discuss some of the big ideas we’ve uncovered in the unit, enhanced by sharing their thinking with other book clubs. I love that I will have more of a record of these ideas!

I have been keeping the room open outside of school hours for now.  A handful of students have been chatting with each other.  I’ll also try to give them a few more chances to do some “light” chat room stuff at school.  If they never get to “play” again, I think that it will lose its appeal!

Posted by: shineonali | April 23, 2011

Wednesday Disaster

I FINALLY got around to incorporating online chat into some lessons this week.  On Wednesday I introduced the idea of chat and the tool, Chatzy, to give the students some time to have a go, and on Friday I planned to use it to enhance a face-to-face discussions in small groups.  (More on that later…)

I had used Chatzy at school before, and we had used a chat room (not sure if it was Chatzy) to have a back channel discussion during one of our face-to-face COETAIL sessions.  So I wasn’t too worried about the tech side of things.  I registered for an account, and set up a room.  Super easy!  I was excited to see that even though the students would be connecting via a public link that I posted on the class blog (rather than being invited by email), I could protect the room with a password. I checked to see if I could access the site from the student laptops.  Good thing…logged on with the generic student/no password technique, the site wasn’t allowed. Fortunately, when logged on with student IDs, the site was fine.

The idea during this first session was to let the students dabble a bit.  I knew a number used online chat via Skype and Facebook at home, or through games.  But I also knew this would be brand new for a number of students.  I wanted to let them play for a little while, and then, after the shared experience, talk about it.  I was hoping they’d discover some ideas…such as, 21 people in a chat makes it hard to keep track of, it helps to have a purpose to your chat, and there are codes of etiquette for social and academic chat rooms.

The kids were VERY enthusiastic when I told them we’d be doing this.  I made it clear that this was new, even for me…we were going to be experimenting.  I just quickly showed them how they would join the chat, told them they had to use a name we know them by (groans from some), and showed them where they could change the colour of their name (yesss!).  For this experience, everyone had their own laptop. They found the link, joined the chat, and the first few students started exchanging greetings.

Disaster #1

“Ms M, it says there are too many people in the room.”  “I’m on a waiting list to get in”  “Only 10 people can be in at once.”  Aghh!  I hadn’t seen that restriction when I was setting up for this.  But no problem.  It was super easy to set up the room, so I told the students, “I’ll just quickly set up a second room.  We can still do this.” In the back of my mind, I was thinking, this is okay–when we use this for real, I wouldn’t want more than 10 chatting at once anyway.

No sooner than I set up the other room…

Disaster #2

Nobody could join or post in any of the rooms.  Lots of calls of “It’s saying I’m spamming the chat”.  The kids were quite offended by this accusation.  They kept saying, “But I’m NOT doing anything wrong. I’m not spam!”  (At the time, I was very stressed out.  Now, I’m cracking up as I remember it.)

We collectively took a deep breath.  I asked, “What can we try now?”  A couple of students decided to read the “Help/FAQs” section.  Some read the exact error message out.  (Honestly, about half the class were still plain frustrated, only they stopped calling out because they knew it wasn’t getting them anywhere.)  The trying-out kids shared out the things they were learning. They asked, “What’s an IP address?”  We came to the tentative conclusion that perhaps since we were all in the same room physically, and our computers were connected to the internet from the same location, the Chatzy system was assuming that all these messages were coming in from the same computer so rapidly that its “spam radar” was triggered.

We left our computers.  About half the class had managed to chat for about three minutes, so we looked over what had been “said”.  I told the students that I was sure we could do online chat in our classroom, but perhaps we’d have to try a different tool.  I’d look into that.  But I asked them to reflect on this experience anyway.  I suggested they think about it in two ways–one, the way it actually happened, and two, the way they could imagine it happening if the “technical difficulties” were solved.

I had prepared some charts for students to write ideas on, in “graffiti” style.  Everybody had a chance to write on every chart.  I’m including photos of a couple of the charts here, but I wish you could have heard the conversations that went on while they were making these.  There were a lot of questions and disagreements, especially about chat “etiquette”.  Even with such a limited, frustrating experience, they had some good reflection.

Posted by: shineonali | March 4, 2011

How’s It Going?

My goal for course #5 has been to improve the quality and quantity of blog posts and comments in our our online classroom community.  I want the students to see their blogs as a way to share and interact with each other, rather than only a format for completing assignments.

Strategy #1: Slice of Life Story Challenge

This has helped to increase the regularity of posts students are putting on their own blogs.  Every C day, the challenge is given, to be completed by the next E day.  Alone, this doesn’t do much except to make sure that there are new posts each week.  Since the students have a lot of choice over topic, there is an added curiosity…the potential for students to build “followers” in the class if they consistently write interesting stories.

Strategy #2: Commenting Time in Class

However, I have tried to dedicate time once a week, usually the day after Slice of Life Stories are due, for students to read and comment on each others’ blogs.  I keep it relaxed–rather than emphasizing qualities of a good comment, I am interested in students taking genuine interest in what their classmates are saying.  I would like the comments to feel conversational…and I’m beginning to see it, here and here.  Once they develop the habit of commenting, then we can look at what a “friendly” comment versus a more “academic” comment might look like.

Strategy #3: Increased Interaction on Class Blog

To tell the truth, I keep forgetting to post questions and ask students to answer in a comment.  I did it here, but they replied because I asked them to.  I get 21 comments every time we host the Slice of Life Story Challenge…and that definitely forces the students to visit more often.  I have also tried to post more videos and “extras” that we don’t all look at together in class.  For example, this blog post with a run on sentence video.  The point was to get them to visit the blog in order to do the “homework” of watching it; I threw in a couple of photos of incorrect signs–they were not part of the assignment–but this post generated most spontaneous comments ever! (I was a bit concerned at some of the incorrect “corrections”, but that’s a lesson for another day!)

Next Steps

I will continue with the above, and then I want to get students involved with online chat.  I think it will help them to build their communication skills online.  We’ll do this in conjunction with reading, in which we already participate in book clubs.  So hopefully we can influence and improve the discussion quality both orally and online!  More to come later…

Posted by: shineonali | January 22, 2011

Good Deed for the Day

The taxi dropped me off in front of Starbucks.  I was grumbling inside because he hadn’t taken the expressway, and then drove suuuper slowly along Chaengwatthana.  You might as well have taken the school bus.  It’s your own fault though, you should have said something right away when you noticed him going past the turn that takes you to the tollway.

My mood lifted as soon as I walked into the cheery, freshly redecorated coffee shop, and was greeted with a chorus of “sawatdii kha”s.  As I ordered my latte, I noticed a student ID card propped up on the cash register.  Green shirt, must be a middle schooler.  She’ll be upset–I heard you even need your ID to open your locker!  Or has she already gone to the library to pay to have a new one made?

The “barrista” noticed me looking.  “We find it yesterday,” she said.  We made sympathetic faces at each other as she took my cup to make my drink.  “Your student?” she asked hopefully.

I shook my head.  “No, I teach elementary.”  I looked at the name–maybe it was a former student, changed so much, as they do, that I didn’t recognize her easily.  No, not one of my old 5th graders.  But wait a sec, I know that last name!  At least, I think I do. “Her sister is in my class!” I blurted excitedly.  “I’ll make sure she gets it back.”

While I was waiting for my coffee, I hesitated.  What if I was wrong?  I couldn’t remember for sure if Prong had a sister.  What if this girl happened to have a similar last name?  (Thai names are often long, multi-syllabic contraptions–hard to remember precisely because we hardly ever say or write them.)  What if she knows she left it here, and comes to look for it?  It’ll be gone, and she might go directly to report it lost before I can get it to her!

That’s silly, Ali.  Do your good deed, and stop worrying about it turning out wrong! So I took the ID card with a smile, looking forward to the prospect of helping to brighten someone’s day.

(But just to be sure, I checked the last name against a class list in my schoolbag first!)

Posted by: shineonali | January 11, 2011

Waking up from a Nap

I crept down to the basement to listen outside the door of the bedroom where my one-year-old niece Harper was sleeping.  This was her dad’s old room–and probably the quietest, darkest place in the house.

I heard babbling, so I slowly opened the door, wondering how long she’d been awake.  Harper was sitting in the playpen, chatting with one of her stuffed toys.  Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw me.  Who are you? they seemed to say.  I spoke in a reassuring voice…after all, she hadn’t seen me for 5 months until yesterday.

“Harper, you’re awake!  Great, now we can play!  Want to come upstairs and see everybody?”  She laughed and started opening and closing her hands, the way she does when she’s excited.  I couldn’t help laughing too, as I delightedly scooped her into my arms.

Posted by: shineonali | January 5, 2011

Project Proposal

For our final class of the COETAIL certificate, we are being asked to use the TAIL standards to design a unit or to modify an existing unit.  In a way, this is an extension of what we have done throughout all of our courses.  For example, during the first two courses, I used podcasting to have students teach others about reading strategies.  This year, I have been incorporating visual literacy into projects in which students share their learning and thinking.

This is my third year blogging with students.  The first year, I maintained a class blog, which all students participated in as contributors and commenters.  Last year and this year, students have maintained individual blogs.  While I am generally happy with individual blogs–they have become windows into our learning and make an excellent way to share student work–one of the big differences I noticed in making this switch was that the class blog had more of a community feel.  It was the one place we all went to…some students wrote lots of posts, others mainly commented.  But there was a sense of conversation that I find harder to capture when students have their own blogs.  We always have so much going on–and the one area that seems to get left out most often is reading and commenting on each others’ blogs.

So, my goal for next semester is to focus on effective communication and collaboration (two strands of the TAIL standards).  I am not picking a certain unit to work on per se, because I am hoping to find many opportunities to push in communication experiences.

The blogs will be a starting place.  Next week, I will start the “Slice of Life Story Challenge” once again.  Last year, this weekly challenge got students to blog more regularly, and leaving a link to their stories on the class blog reminded and encouraged them to check what others were doing.  I will also use the class blog more frequently as a place to start “side conversations”–putting up discussion questions related to what we are working on in class.  While I would like students to spend more time at home on their blogs, not just on assigned posts, but on reading and commenting on their classmates’ blogs, I need to give them more time in class to “hook” them.

Another idea I would like to try, in order to give students opportunities to communicate in new ways, is to set up real-time chats.  Using a program such as chatzy, students will first learn the basics during interactive read aloud, and eventually we will set up chats to support discussions in book clubs.

I hope that our focus on using technology to share ideas will lead to discussion of how to communicate effectively in face-to-face situations as well.

We learn through our interactions with others.  If we can increase the quality and quantity of these interactions in our classrooms, we can improve learning.

Posted by: shineonali | December 20, 2010

I See Harper, and Christopher, and I see you, too!

So I’m getting ready to go back to Canada for the holidays.  The plan is that my sister-in-law will pick me up at the airport, along with my almost-one-year-old niece.  I’m so excited to see her again that I can’t think about anything else today.

Harper was born January 5th, the day I flew back to Thailand after the holidays.  I didn’t meet her in person until she met me at the airport in June (I have a fabulous sister-in-law).  I remember being a little nervous, worried she’d be afraid of this stranger squealing with delight over her, but it was like we’d known each other all our lives.

I left Canada, and little Harper, at the end of July, when she was nearly 7 months old.  We’ve Skyped fairly regularly since then.  I think we expected it to be more about me being able to see her, and talking to her parents, because she wouldn’t know what was going on…but even from the first few times, there was a definite reaction to this person talking at her from the computer.  We’ve been wondering if she recognizes me as the person she hung out with all summer, or even if she realizes it’s the same person every time.  And you know, we think she does know who she’s talking to!  The minute she’s put in front of the laptop, she grins broadly and waves (although to be fair, I hear she’s pretty friendly in general)  She certainly seems to understand that I’m talking to her.  I even get applause from time to time.

I guess we’ll know for sure if I’ve become a stranger to her when I arrive in Toronto.  It’s possible she’ll be surprised to see I’ve grown a body again…

This situation makes me wonder if babies and toddlers today, the ones who are exposed to things like Skype from a very young age, learn a different kind of visual literacy than previous generations.  At what age do little children typically recognize that what’s happening on a television screen is not just flashes of colour and light accompanied by sounds?  Once they realize that there are people in there, do they know that those people can’t see and hear them?  I can still remember the lady on Romper Room closing the show with her psychedelic “magic mirror”, saying goodbye to her viewers by name…and I have seen my friend’s little boy replying enthusiastically to Dora the Explorer.

Can Harper tell the difference between watching the Wiggles and talking to me on Skype?  I’d like to think so!

Posted by: shineonali | December 11, 2010

When Going 1:1 Isn’t Exciting…

So, the head of technology for our school came by our elementary faculty meeting the other day.  He was there to announce that the 1:1 laptop program being piloted in Grade 6 this year would be rolled out over the next two years to include Grades 7-12.  Grades 3-5 would be getting computer carts in every classroom with enough laptops for half the class.  We were sitting in grade level groups, and the Grade 5 teachers were looking at each other, perplexed.  We are in our 3rd year with a 2:1 ratio of students to laptops already.  Sure, we’re happy for the middle and high school…but this wasn’t exciting news for us.  I don’t think it’s that we’re desperate to go 1:1, but we’re (so lucky to be) used to getting more and better tech tools all the time!

Lately, there has been some frustration at our grade level with having a half-class set of laptops.  Last year, it seemed to work more smoothly.  We had six classes of 20 or 21, and 12 computers–so a little more than 2:1.  We paired up, so that if you needed a full set, you could coordinate with your partner–you use both carts this period, I’ll use both next period. This year, we have 7 classes, with carts of 10 computers, which means there’s never an extra, and that 7th teacher means that coordinating is more complicated.

Maybe this year we are all using the laptops more–although it feels like we used them a lot last year, too.  Maybe it’s just timing–we happen to have embedded a technology component into several units that are being taught right now.  But I don’t remember it being quite so difficult to get a laptop for every student!  You know there’s a problem when you find yourself considering NOT doing something technologically because you don’t think you can get the laptops!

I feel like the people Louis CK is ranting about when he says, “everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy.”  Not only is the fact that we have so many laptops amazing, they are very new Macs, with a fabulous array of software, fast and reliable internet, and superb tech support.  Not to mention a wonderful elementary technology coach! The logistical considerations are really relatively minor.  We don’t need 1:1, because the students don’t need to be using laptops all day–so we can share with other classes.  We don’t need 1:1, because students often work in cooperative pairs–so we can share within our classes.  We don’t need 1:1, because students do not need to be working on the same task at the same time–so we can take turns in our classes.

It seems that we are growing to expect that students should be able to switch on a laptop as easily as they can take a notebook and pencil out of their desk.  And that says a lot to me about where we are at with technology’s place in education.  I don’t mean digital literacy here, rather the digital tools themselves.  How and when students learn the TAIL standards is a whole other story. (By the way, have you noticed that, particularly in the younger levels, you can address many of the standards WITHOUT a single tech tool?  Significant!)

Towards the end of class on Wednesday, Jeff asked, “What is the purpose of using computers in the classroom?”  Maybe because it was the end of a long day, but we were pretty unresponsive.  I think we understood the question generally, as in, why do we use computers in school in general? And we were thinking, well, duh!  It just seemed too obvious for 4:30 on a Wednesday afternoon.  We managed to call a few answers out–technological tools can be efficient, visual, interactive, authentic, communicative, engaging…

Then we realized that what Jeff was getting at was considering the purpose of using the technology for each task or lesson.  That made more sense to me.  I was just reading Regie Routman describing what she means by teaching with a sense of urgency.  Although the context of this particular book is reading, I think what she says applies to every thing we teach.  Teaching with a sense of urgency is

about making every moment in the classroom count, about ensuring that our instruction engages students and moves them ahead, about using daily evaluation and reflection to make wise teaching decisions.

I think teaching needs to be purposeful.  There are many great ways to help students develop their understanding or learn a skill or strategy.  We need to consider why we are choosing a particular way, whether it includes technology or not.

Posted by: shineonali | December 4, 2010

Entering Course Four at Last

I haven’t blogged for quite a while.  I was so excited about the visual literacy class.  I had my students using Presentation Zen concepts to share their understanding of character, and then we started using Flip cameras to record our reading buddies, international day, and our terrariums.  It was a big adjustment for me, opening up to visual literacy, and seeing it as more of a discipline and less of an “extra”.

Perhaps because the excitement of using new tools and learning new ideas with my students continued well past the end of Course 3, I haven’t really gotten my head into Course 4.  But as I reread the essential question

Whose job is it to teach the TAIL standards and how do we ensure that they are being met in an integrated model?

I realized, I’ve already been thinking about this.  Why did I jump right in with visual literacy (which is addressed in several places in the TAIL standards), if not because I believe it is every teacher’s responsibility to embed TAIL standards into their curriculum?  Particularly for “core” teachers, we can’t ignore 21st century literacy.  (Not to disregard specialist teachers!  There are many fabulous ways that an art teacher, for example, could embed the standards.)  If our aim in schools is to foster the development of global citizens, then they need to be literate in ways that go beyond the traditional.  And I don’t really worry about these standards being seen as a burden.  (I know it’s a common concern.  We already have so much to teach, and now there’s more?)  I have never had any difficulty when we’ve worked on developing units or lessons for COETAIL classes.  These are things that we are pretty much teaching anyway, if we are trying to embed technology and information literacy into our program.

How we ensure that they are all being met in an integrated model…that’s another story.  It does concern me now that we are somewhat “hit and miss” with our approach to the standards now.  A number are embedded throughout our curriculum in Grade 5 as part of our blogging projects, for example.  However, sitting down and really analyzing the standards–figuring out which ones are being taught extensively and which are not being touched on at all…that’s not happening.  I think it will help as we begin to use curriculum mapping.  Then we can use technology to identify the missing areas more easily.

Now that I’m back into my blog…I look forward to thinking more about this!  We have been introducing online reading to our students lately, so I’ll have some thoughts to share on that as well.

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