Robin Talkowski’s Blog: Reading & Technology

A STAR of the Discovery Educator Network with a focus on reading instruction and technology

Robin Talkowski’s Blog: Reading & Technology

SWBAT: Students Will … Be Able to ..

November 4th, 2012 · No Comments · Professional Learning Community, reading and technology

One of my favorite professional development resources is the Teaching Channel. The Teaching Channel provides short video clips on many topics at all grade levels. Want some ideas about managing transitions? Try the Teaching Channel. Struggling with how to differentiate your instruction? Try the Teaching Channel. In two – five minutes, you can get a view of how other teachers teach, manage their classroom, and think about their teaching.

Last summer I watched a teacher establish the purpose for her lesson by posting the acronym SWBAT on the board. As you can see on the clip, she said SWBAT; the students repeated SWBAT, and then they stated what the students will be able to do. While part of me thought this might be a bit gimmicky for my 7th graders, I liked the way the purpose for the lesson was more than a sign on the wall. I decided to adopt it for my class this year, … and I love the results. Not only are students clear about the purpose of our lesson, but they can restate our purpose later in the lesson and connect it to our class ending activity or exit slip. Another great benefit is when I enter the class from hall duty saying “SWBAT,” students know class has begun. No other signal is needed. We are ready to roll!


What do I see? Where can it be?

October 28th, 2012 · No Comments · reading and technology

What biome might this be? Who committed the crime in this mystery novel? What can you infer about this era in history from the artifacts found at an archeological dig? These are just a few of the ways in which the ability to infer is important in school. As a firm believer in using visual media to teach skills prior to asking students to apply the same skill or strategy with written text, I was thrilled to learn about Thinglink at the recent MassCUE conference.

Thinglink allows one to import a picture and then link written text, images, or videos to various places on the picture. Thinglink‘s gallery shows examples of a picture of a famous person with information about the person linked or pictures of past presidents that students need to identify as well as many other options.

I chose to download a picture from Discovery Education and modeled how I could make observations about the picture in hopes of helping me infer its location. I then linked a Discovery video that would tell the student the location of the picture as well as additional information about what they were seeing. (Students would need to log on to their Discovery account to see the video.) This will be a great way to teach the skill of making good inferences by finding evidence as well as incorporating a different content area.


How is Reading like a Jigsaw Puzzle?

October 20th, 2012 · No Comments · reading and technology

Jigsaw PlanetEvery year I pose a few questions to my students to help them remember that effective reading is a process. There are some things that good readers do Before Reading, During Reading, and After Reading. I might ask them how is reading like going on a vacation, or how is reading like playing a sport, or how is reading like a jigsaw puzzle?

Almost all students have assembled a jigsaw puzzle so they have some knowledge about how they work and what you need to do. I then give students easy Sesame Street puzzles to put together as quickly as they can. Relying on their background knowledge students invariably look for edge pieces and rely on the picture to help them complete the puzzle. While processing the activity, students realize that they had a purpose (re-assembling the picture as quickly as possible), their background knowledge helped them formulate a plan (edge pieces first). These are exactly the steps students should have prior to reading something: preview what they are going to read, be clear about their purpose, rely on their background knowledge, and have a plan for how they will read it.

This activity is then repeated with a similar size round, blank puzzle. Students then realize that without a picture to rely on and having a differently shaped puzzle increases the time it takes them to complete the puzzle. In other words, they are not as effective. This activity makes its point. It works. However, learning about a jigsaw website opens up new possibilities for more student participation and different permutations. Jigsaw Planet allows you to upload your own picture, choose the number of pieces and their shapes, and decide whether the pieces are oriented in the correct position or not.

I call this type of activity a “touchstone.” It is something I can quickly refer to in order to remind students of a principle or strategy. The ease of using Jigsaw Planet means students can easily be reminded of what they need to do Before Reading.

I am already thinking of other applications … perhaps in piecing together a character in a book or looking for clues to solve a mystery story. Would love to hear your ideas!
preview20 pieceBlack cat on pumpkin


“You Made My Heart Sing!”

April 1st, 2012 · 1 Comment · reading and technology

“You made my heart sing today!” I reported to my class yesterday. “That’s personification,” a student quickly quipped. This was the second day of our poetry unit.

Each day we are reading a poem from Nancy Atwell’s book, Naming the World. I set the scene for the poem by giving them a little background and asking a question to help them see how the poem might connect to their lives. Then I read the poem aloud to the students. The students are then given a purpose for re-reading, and they read the poem silently with highlighter in hand to note lines they like or want to discuss further. When they discuss their thoughts, I leave the circle so they don’t address their comments to me. I want them to talk to and with each other. When they have completed their discussion, I re-enter the process and help them discuss how the discussion went from their perspective (metacognition). I then give them some feedback and give them points using Class Dojo. They love their avatar in the Dojo and seeing themselves get points as they give themselves compliments as well as hear my feedback. The best thing about Class Dojo from my perspective is that the teacher can add comments at the end of the day. I so enjoyed watching how students changed their behavior during their second discussion that appeared to be in response to my comments after day one.

So … it was a good class . But why did “my heart sing” you might ask? It was my students’ comments when they were processing their discussion. Here is a sampling.
Student 1: “This is so much more fun when you can relate to it.”
Student 2: “I guess that’s why the Do Now had us talk about people who have disappointed us.”
Student 3: “Yeah, we are always supposed to ask ourselves, what do we already know about this.”

Thank you class for seeing the connection between background knowledge and comprehension. Your learning makes my heart sing!


Did you ever wonder?

March 29th, 2012 · No Comments · reading and technology

Did you ever wonder if llamas really spit? How about what are ten strange holidays?

Wonderopolis is a web site sponsored by Thinkfinity that poses questions like this accompanied by a picture or video and then text that answers the question.

This would be a great way to add some novelty into a lesson, stimulate curiosity, and practice some skills. Why not have students read the text and summarize it or find the main idea? Vocabulary is also included in the text to add to the academic value.


Traveling the Middle Lane

March 24th, 2012 · No Comments · Traveling the Middle Lane

This is my periodic post on the life of a middle school teacher.

As part of a commitment to myself to “open my classroom door” in order to improve my practice and share my learning, I decided to videotape my class and share it with other teachers. My students’ curiosity was immediately engaged when they saw the Flip Camera perched on a tripod in the class. They were excited, polite … and yet themselves. When the lesson was over, I was relieved, curious as to how my lesson would look from a stationary viewpoint, and fearful of seeing myself.

As I reviewed the video, I was pleased with some things and bothered by my using only verbal re-direction cues and saying the word “so” too much. Overall, I thought it was going well though. Until I turned my back for a moment to write a student’s question on the board. Immediately one student talked about how I had one marker on the SmartBoard tray turned in the opposite direction from the others. More students joined in sharing other teachers who do the same thing. Really!! I thought we were discussing the thought process used to answer a question they had in Social Studies. Needless to say, I immediately turned all my markers so they faced in the same direction. I might as well eliminate such an easy source of distraction.

Learning: You never really know where their minds are when they are quiet. Keep them sharing and discussing as much as possible.


New England Day of Discovery: Renewed, Re-energized, and Ready to Go … Again

March 18th, 2012 · No Comments · Professional Learning Community, reading and technology

Who would think that spending one of my precious weekend days at school would renew and re-energize me for my next week at school? Well, that is exactly what happened after spending last Saturday at the New England Day of Discovery!

Several factors helped create a wonderful day. First, it was great being surrounded by other committed enthusiastic educators who chose to spend a Saturday together. Next, the perks that others might take for granted like a nice continental breakfast and a great lunch mean so much to teachers who usually have 20 minutes to eat their lunch while also checking e-mail and preparing for returning students. Most importantly, the resources and ideas that were shared inspired new ways to engage and enrich students’ lives!

A few of the resources that caught my attention are:
TransL8it – a web site that translates standard English into IM language. This would be a great way to catch students attention when giving directions or for the day’s “Do Now.” Novelty does catch their attention!
iPadio – an easy way to podcast and publish. You can call in from your phone once registered. This would be an easy way to assign/remind students’ about homework or have students take turns recording the class’ daily focus. Students can read a passage and you can check it for fluency or have students make a prediction after reading their nightly assignment.


Grammar Games

March 11th, 2012 · No Comments · reading and technology

Some of my seventh grade students are still missing basic grammar skills. My dilemma is that I need to help them improve these skills even though it is not my primary instructional focus. I use pictures like these as one way to show students how important these skills are. Another approach is to share great web based reinforcing grammar games that they can play independently.

One of my favorite sites is Mr. Nussbaum A Thousand Sites in One. There are many interesting games on this site. My favorite is the Semi-Colon Wars. Scholastic also has some good grammar games especially for younger students. Harcourt also publishes some grammar games at different grade levels.


Car Conversations

March 8th, 2012 · No Comments · education issues, reading and technology

All parents eventually learn that the best conversations occur in the car! There is something unforced about these chats. You are doing something else and “talk happens.” Plus, you don’t even have to look at each other. You can also learn a lot about your children as you drive a car load of your children and their friends to soccer practice or gymnastics. As long as you don’t seem too interested, the kids talk and you listen … very carefully. You learn about friends, teachers, and loves.

The teacher’s equivalent to “car conversations” in my classroom is giving students an opportunity to read any story they want on TweenTribune. TweenTribune is a site that culls articles from newspapers to find stories that would interest tweens. On this day there is no requirement that they write about what they read or report out about what they read. All they have to do is READ! It is amazing how excited my “reluctant readers” become when they can read what they want. And, they talk. They call each other over to see what they are reading. They read a section out loud to answer a classmate’s question about the story. Meanwhile I am sitting at a strategic student desk – close enough to listen and engage in conversation, but not too close. I listen, learn, and enjoy watching my students engaged in reading. These “car conversations” are well worth 20 minutes of class time. They are priceless!


Watching vs. Seeing

March 6th, 2012 · No Comments · reading and technology

The Film Foundation has created a wonderful curriculum, The Story of Movies. This curriculum uses three movies To Kill a Mockingbird, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and The Day the Earth Stood Still to examine movie making. The movie that I plan on using with my students is Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The curriculum that accompanies this film covers so many of the skills that students need to use while reading. The curriculum creators draw a distinction between watching a film and seeing a film. In reading the distinction that I would draw is between reading to understand the gist of a story or a topic and “close” reading to understand the text, the subtest, and the techniques used to create the author’s purpose. The film curriculum asks students to make inferences based on what is seen. Making inferences and drawing conclusions are critical reading skills as well. There is so much more to explore that was inspired by some of the great filmmakers of Hollywood.

The curriculum includes a Lesson Grid, a Teaching Guide, a Student Activity Book, Take 2 and Lesson Quizzes. While I have not yet used this curriculum with my students, I am looking forward to hooking them into improving their reading skills by once again using film.