2015 Global Read Aloud

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.  Albert Einstein

I’ve thought about this quote a lot as I have reflected upon my first experience participating in the wonderfully engaging, collaborative project, Global Read Aloud (GRA).  If you haven’t already heard of this incredible project, the concept is relatively simple yet incredibly rewarding for all involved … you choose a book from a pre-selected list, read it aloud to your class over a six-week period and connect with other classes around the world.

The reason this quote popped into my mind is because, in the current education world, such strong emphasis is placed on assessment and data collection.  We, as educators, are continually being asked to collect, analyse and report on data and about student progress.  Don’t get me wrong, data collection and accountability (both for educators and students) is an incredibly important part of what we do.  But, as Einstein points out, not everything that matters can be measured.  And so was the case with my first GRA experience.  Participating in the GRA helped me to ‘tick off’ only one of the outcomes on students’ Semester Two reports, but it rewarded both myself and the students in my class with so much more than tickboxes on a report.  Rewards that can’t necessarily (and you wouldn’t want to) be measured.  As I talked enthusiastically to my colleagues about the GRA , I found it difficult to explain the impact I was noticing in my classroom.  Most of the time, I simply said, “Pop in some time and see the energy in the room.” And that’s what it was … a beautiful energy in the room as students listened to the story; drew their visualisations; shared their predictions, inferences and questions; discussed big questions and wrote blog posts with their reflections.  And that’s just the reading side of the project!

The most powerful part of the GRA occurs when you connect with classes on the other side of the world.  This was a new experience for me and at first, I was a little unsure about how it would all unfold, which only added to the excitement of the adventure.  Twitter proved to (yet again) be a fantastic way to connect with others and I was fortunate to connect with a couple of teachers in the USA, one (big shout out to you, Sarah Guy!) with whom my class made (and will hopefully continue) a beautiful connection.  You maybe wondering, what kind of ideas did we share and how did we share them?  Well, the collaboration seemed to evolve naturally over time, with new ideas for learning experiences and connection ideas normally arising through Twitter or email conversations along the lines of, ‘Hey, I thought we could use this thinking routine in chapter X.  What do you think?’  Here are just some of the collaborations we made:

  • Students wrote blog posts in response to questions and commented on other people’s posts.
  • Students explored various concepts in the novel using different thinking routines.  I wrote about that here.
  • Students responded to discussion questions using a Padlet on our class blog.
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One of the collaborative Padlets we created
  • Students explored our buddy class’ home town and school using Google Earth.
  • Students asked and answered questions about life in another country.
  • Students tweeted (via my account) their predictions, questions and thoughts on the story.
  • We (the teachers) filmed ourselves reading several chapters so that our students could hear part of the book read by another teacher (with a different accent!)
  • My class thought that it would be fun to send our buddy class some Australian items, which launched the ‘Culture Box’ project.  We sent off a box filled with Australian goodies such as Tim Tams, a football, a favourite picture storybook and Australian flags and in return, we received a box filled with American goodies such as Halloween candy, a picture storybook and some sporting memorabilia.
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The 4D Culture Box ready to be sent to America
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Room 23’s box arrives in Melbourne!

The book that I chose to read for our first GRA experience was the incredible story, ‘Fish in a Tree’ by Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  The story boasted a powerful storyline (girl with learning difficulties develops strong friendships and a stronger belief in herself) as well as realistic characters to whom students could relate easily.  The story was a perfect fit for my Year 4 classroom, where we place a high emphasis on growth mindset, persistence and friendship.  At the end of the book, I asked students to rate the book out of five stars.  The overwhelming consensus was 4.5 stars.  The reason it didn’t get 5 stars?  They wanted the book to be longer!  The students (and teachers) loved the book so much that we have decided to kick the 2016 school year with ‘Fish in a Tree’.  It’s the perfect book for setting the tone for the beginning of the school year.

If you haven’t ever participated in the GRA, I can’t recommend it highly enough.  It is an incredible way to add greater engagement, dialogue and global collaboration to your reading program.  Also, since the GRA occurs in Term 4, it’s the perfect way to finish the year on a high.

What is something you do in your classroom that counts but can’t necessarily be counted?

Setting the tone on Orientation Morning …

In his book, ‘Intellectual Character’, Ron Ritchhart talks about the importance of the messages, both explicit and implicit, that we send to the students in our class.  Are you sending messages that imply a culture of working or a culture of learning and thinking?  He encourages educators to think about the messages that they are sending students in the early days of the school year.

At my school, the first opportunity I have to send messages to my 2016 students came a week or so ago on Orientation Morning, where I got to meet and spend 90 minutes with my new class.  The planning of this 90 minute session always takes a while because I want to think very carefully about the messages I send to the students.  What do I want them to leave the morning thinking and feeling?  There are so many messages I want to impart to students, but primarily, I want students to know that 4D is a place where:

  • We know each other on a personal level.
  • Time for thinking and discussion is important and not rushed.
  • Reading and talking about reading is valued.
  • Technology is an important part of our daily life and we use it in purposeful ways.
  • We persist and help each other out when we are stuck. (growth mindset)

These are such key ideas that it is hard to do justice to each one in 90 minutes, however, it is possible to give a taste of each point.  This is what I did:

We played some name games where we all had a laugh at the creative and sometimes silly alliterations that we came up with.

We completed a ‘Getting to Know You’ survey using Socrative, a tool that is used a lot in Year 4.  The questions asked were:

  • What is the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?
  • What is your favourite story (book or movie)?  Why?
  • What is your favourite thing to do at school?  Why?
  • When you are not at school, what do you spend most of your time doing?
  • What is something you like about yourself?
  • List three words that best describe you as a learner.

We read and discussed two books, both carefully chosen for their message about thinking and growth mindset.  The books were ‘The Extraordinary Mr Qwerty’ by Karla Strambini and ‘The Dot’ by Peter Reynolds.

We used a Chalk Talk thinking routine combined with a modified Compass Points routine to explore and then discuss our feelings about moving into Year 4.  The questions we explored were:

  • What excites you about Year 4?
  • What worries you about Year 4?
  • What do you need to know about Year 4?
  • What are your expectations for Miss Davidson as a teacher?

Throughout the session, we had some laughs, I felt like I got to know a little about each student and they all left with a smile on their face … and hopefully a message about what Miss Davidson values in her classroom.  Roll on 2016 and the imparting of positive learning messages in those early days of the school year.

How do you set the tone of your classroom?

 

Assessment for learning using Kahoot …

There are so many technology tools around that sometimes, it’s hard to know which ones to use in the classroom.  My thinking is that it’s good to try them all and then figure out which ones best suit you as a teacher and the class with whom you are using the tool.  I also believe that it is important to use a range of tools to maintain student engagement.

A free tech tool I recently discovered is Kahoot, an online quiz tool.  The website (go here to create a Kahoot and the students go here to complete the quiz).  The website has three options – quiz, survey and discussion.  So far, I’ve only used the quiz.  Each quiz provides a competition-like atmosphere, which students love.  Each question has a time limit (you can set the time limit) and students win points for each correct answer. After each question, a leadership board appears on the screen, much to the delight of students.  Normally, I am not a fan of class competitions as I worry about the anxiety they induce in some students as well as the students who sometimes struggle and need extra thinking time.  However, adding two extra ‘tweaks’ to the Kahoot experience can turn a simple quiz into a much more powerful learning experience.

The first ‘tweak’ is to pause after each question (especially the questions that many students got incorrect) and ask students to prove their answer to the person next to them.  This simple addition not only means that students are articulating their thinking, but for those students who had an incorrect answer (the quiz provides immediate feedback), they are hopefully able to rectify any misconceptions.

The second ‘tweak’ is to allow students to write their own Kahoot questions.  During or after a unit, students work by themselves or in pairs to create questions for a student-created Kahoot quiz.  Students write their questions and multiple choice answers in their book and I use them to create the online quiz.  Allowing students to create the quiz questions automatically differentiates the learning experience because questions of various complexity are able to be created, as can be seen in the examples below where the first example simply imitates the sample equations and the final example uses two different operations.

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Allowing students to create their own questions gives a useful insight into their ability to not only answer questions, but write the question and provide appropriate answer choices.  It is easy to see the level of sophistication of their thinking by looking at the answer choices they provide.  Are they able to predict student misconceptions or have they simply used random numbers?

When making decisions about technology use in the classroom, I am interested in choosing the right tool for the right purpose, not using technology for the sake of using technology.  I want the technology to help me be a better teacher, not simply engage the students.  Student engagement is the cherry on top but not the essential ingredient.  I am more interested in how I can use the technology in a meaningful, purposeful manner.  I am in interested in how the technology can help me understand students and their thinking.

How can you tweak a technology tool to make it work better for you?