Category Archives: Teachers Reflect on their Practice

Turning #hashtag180 Posts into a Digital Portfolio.

Regular Radical readers know that I’ve jumped on Kyle Hamstra’s #hashtag180 project — which is an effort designed to get teachers to understand their curricula on a deeper level by regularly Tweeting pictures, videos and/or lessons that are hashtagged with the specific essential standard that they are designed to support.

After two weeks of doing my best to share out examples of what I am doing with specific standards in my classroom, I’ve decided that I’m hooked.

I think what I love the best about the project is that it has forced me to think more carefully about my curriculum than ever before.  In fact, I’ve opened our state’s essential standards document more in the last two weeks than I have in the past two  years.

I’ve also decided to turn my daily posts into short video wonder questions for my students.

Need a sample?  Then check this one out:

 

The way I see it, by turning my #hashtag180 posts into short video wonder questions or learning moments for my kids, I’m maximizing the value of the time that I spend creating each new post because it can be used as a parent/student communication tool, too.  I’m more likely to continue creating new #hashtag180 posts if each post serves multiple purposes and helps me to tackle multiple responsibilities.

Finally, I’ve found a way to turn my #hashtag180 posts into a real live digital portfolio that would make George Couros proud.

Here’s how:  I’ve created an applet using IFTT — a cool service designed to automate certain parts of our online lives — that searches for my new #hashtag180 Tweets and then posts them on this dedicated Blogger blog sorted by standard.

All that I had to do was create a “formula” in IFTT — which stands for If This, Then That — asking the service to search for Tweets with my curriculum specific hashtag and then to embed those Tweets as new posts in Blogger.

Here’s what the formula looks like:

It took a bit of tinkering to figure out the right “formula” for my applet, but now that I’ve got it figured out, I just have to duplicate it for each of the standard hashtags that I plan to use during the school year and my digital portfolio will build itself over time.  For example, here’s the formula for the next standard that I’ll be teaching — and Tweeting about — #sci6p31:

 

Remember:  I’m not doing ANYTHING to create the posts that you see in my digital portfolio.  Literally nothing.  Once I point IFTT to the right posts in Twitter and to the right Blogger blog, the service does the rest.  It searches for the Tweets, grabs the “embed code,” and generates a new entry on my blog automatically.  And it will KEEP doing that forever — or at least until I tell it to stop.

Think about all of this for a second, will you?

Now, the two minutes that I spend each morning creating a short video asking a wonder question or sharing a demonstration or linking to an activity is serving THREE essential purposes:  It’s helping me to better understand my required curricula, it’s giving me an engaging bit of digital content that communicates classroom happenings to parents and students, AND it is automatically becoming a part of a digital portfolio that I can use as evidence of the work that I am doing with specific curricular outcomes.

That’s a helluva’ lot of value out of one simple Tweet, don’t you reckon?

So whaddya’ think?  Is this worth doing?  How would you improve on the steps that I have already taken?  Are there any steps that you would leave out?


Related Radical Reads:

Will You Join Me in the #hashtag180 Challenge?

Using a Dedicated Hashtag to Market my School.

 

I’ve Started Using a Dedicated Hashtag to Market My School.

About five years ago, I had the chance to coauthor a book with Eric Sheninger and Jason Ramsden on the different ways that schools can use social media to communicate and connect with the diverse stakeholders that they serve.  During the planning for that book, Eric kept saying something that has stuck with me ever since:  If you aren’t telling the story of your school, someone else will.

That’s true, isn’t it?

The fact of the matter is that the stories of schools are told all the time — by reporters, by community critics, by radio broadcasters, and by satisfied (or unsatisfied) parents standing on the sidelines of sporting events or sitting along the decks of a thousand community pools.  Sometimes those stories are accurate.  Other times, they paint an incomplete picture of events that have drawn attention.

My current school is a pretty good example of the importance of telling your own story.

Here’s why:  Seven years ago, we were converted from a traditional school calendar to a year-round calendar because our district was working to create capacity at a time of rapid population growth in our county.  The change was pretty darn unpopular at the time and it left our community divided.  Compounding matters, for the past three years, our county has had open discussions every April about changing us back to a traditional calendar.

The result:  Some prospective parents shy away from sending their kids to our building because they aren’t completely sure what our school calendar will be from year to year.

That’s been weighing on my mind a lot lately simply because I know full well that there are GREAT things happening in our school.  

Our teachers are passionate, funny people that are genuinely interested in helping to develop the kids in their classrooms as both students and as people.  We’ve got an award winning band, show choir, athletics teams, academic teams, Science Olympiad teams and robotics teams.  We prioritize questioning in our classrooms because we know that asking good questions is worth WAY more than finding the right answers.  Long story short:  Our school REALLY IS worth investing in, but no one really knows that because calendar instability is the primary story told about us.

So I made a decision a few weeks back to start a #WhySalem social media project.  Here are the current details:

As often as I can, I create a short social media post highlighting something super cool about our building.  Here’s a few examples:

I tag each post #WhySalem.  My thinking is that over time, we’ll have an easy to search and easy to share collection of really good examples of the untold stories of our school.  Maybe those stories will be shared on our school’s website.  Maybe they will be seen and spotlighted by local media looking for content.  Maybe they will be seen and shared by other parents who follow us in social spaces.  Either way, a common hashtag makes categorizing content possible.

I’m using video clips as much as possible in my #WhySalem posts.  I think video creates a stronger connection than simple text posts and/or pictures.  I want people to see me and hear me and know that I’m a real person who is genuinely enthusiastic about the work that we are doing in our building.

My video clips are short — less than 90 seconds — and they are not edited at all.  Let’s be honest:  Anything longer than 90 seconds is asking for too much attention from social media users in today’s day and age.  What’s more, I’m not trying to bury viewers in information.  I’m trying to get them interested enough in our building to come and find more information.  Finally, short, unedited videos are easy to make — and “easy to make” is a priority if I’m going to be able to sustain this project.

I’m going to try to get students to make #WhySalem posts:  I haven’t started doing this yet because I have to double check our photo/video permission lists before using kids in any of my videos — but I think having students in videos will bring even more personality and genuine energy to the project.

I’m going to try to get my peers to make #WhySalem posts:  The fact of the matter is that I don’t even know all of the cool things that are happening in my building!  My view of what’s worth spotlighting is limited by the grade level that I teach, the colleagues that I know in different spaces of our building, and the time that I have to interact beyond my own room.  That’s why I’ve got to find peers in other places who are willing to make regular posts.  They will have different stories to share about our building — and that matters.

I need to clearly articulate the purpose for #WhySalem posts to everyone that I work with:  Our school already has a presence in social spaces through our primary hashtag — #SalemProud.  But there’s a difference in purpose for each tag in my mind.  #WhySalem posts should be aimed at potential parents and should highlight something that makes our school unique as compared to our peers.  #SalemProud posts are currently aimed at current parents.  They are more general celebrations in nature.  Keeping the streams separate is important if #WhySalem is going to succeed at changing the perceptions of parents who are considering our school for their kid.

I need to start cross-posting #WhySalem content to other social spaces.  Right now, all of my posts are going to Twitter because that’s the social space that I’m most active in.  The problem is that Twitter is probably NOT the social space that potential parents — the audience I’m trying to reach — is most active in.  Chances are that our school could gain a bigger audience if our #WhySalem content was being shared in Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat.  I’ve got to figure out who controls those accounts in our building and get them to start reposting #WhySalem content everywhere.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  

Have you got any additional suggestions for me?  Does this seem like a project that you could replicate in your buildings, too?  Are you actively telling the story of your own school?


Related Radical Reads:

Communicating and Connecting with Social Media [Excerpt]

Note to Principals:  You Can’t Keep Ignoring Social Spaces

What Radical Readers are Saying about Social Media in Schools.

 

Will You Join Me in the #Hashtag180 Challenge?

Have you guys met Kyle Hamstra yet?  

He’s truly one of the most genuine educators that I know.  Passionate about teaching and learning and driving improvement no matter the circumstance, I love connecting with him every chance that I get.

For the past several years, Kyle has been nudging teachers to use hashtags on Twitter to document their practice.  

His thinking is simple:  If teachers start to grab videos and pictures of the work that they are doing with specific curricular objectives — or of examples of their curricular objectives spotted in “the real world” — we can all start learning from one another.  More importantly, we create complex “digital portfolios” that we can return to when we are looking for evidence of our “practice in action” AND we can become more aware of exactly what it is that we are supposed to be teaching to our students.

Recently, Kyle has started what he calls the #Hashtag180 challenge.  

Here’s how he describes it:

HOW:  Tweet one experience on each of the 180 school days of the year, and hashtag it with your learning objective and #hashtag180.

WHO: ALL Educators

WHAT: The #Hashtag180 Challenge was originally designed for educators to access and share learning resources very specifically by tweeting life and classroom experiences, hashtagged with learning objectives and #Hashtag180. Where does it go from here? The possibilities are endless…

I totally dig Kyle’s idea — and I’ve started posting regular Tweets designed to spotlight the work that I’m doing with specific curricular objectives.

Here are a few examples:

 

Now, if I’m being completely honest, I’m NOT posting these examples because I’m super interested in helping other teachers to find ideas for introducing the required curriculum to their kids.

Sure — that IS a likely outcome.  Other North Carolina teachers COULD follow my hashtags and spot ideas for teaching concepts that they hadn’t considered — and if other teachers in our state begin using the same tagging language, I COULD learn from the ideas that they are sharing, too.

#notabadthing

But my primary reason for participating in Kyle’s challenge is selfish.

I want to force myself to think more deliberately about the questions that I am asking and the activities that I am creating.  I want to make sure that each task is actually connected to the specific objectives that I am required to teach.  I figure that by forcing myself to post each day, I’ll also force myself to look carefully at my curriculum each day, too.  That has value in and of itself.  I’ll become more knowledgeable about just what it is that the state expects my students to know and be able to do.

And I want to create an easily searchable library of the somewhat spontaneous ideas and questions that often come up during the course of an instructional unit that I can refer to in later years when I’m looking for a new way to introduce concepts to my kids.  If I’m persistent about my tagging language, I SHOULD be able to do some simple searching in Twitter next year to track down strategies that have slipped my mind.

Does any of this make sense to you?  Is taking the #hashtag180 challenge something you’d ever consider?


Related Radical Reads:

Simple Truth:  Hashtags can SAVE You Time.

Five Twitter Hashtags that can Save School Leaders Time

Who Wants to Play Hashtag Bracketology?

Compliance ≠ Motivation.

One of my favorite students of all time was a boy named Thomas*.  

What I dug the most about him was his curiosity.  It didn’t matter what topics we were talking about in class, Thomas was always wondering and always asking questions and always doing independent investigation on related ideas that left him intrigued.  He was one of the most passionate learners and thinkers that I’ve ever had the chance to work with — and I’m certain that he is going to be more than a little successful in life.

But Thomas was rarely “successful” in school.

He wasn’t an “Honor Roll” student, pasting fancy certificates on his wall and bumper stickers on his parents’ cars quarter after quarter and year after year.  Instead, he was constantly racking up Cs and Ds in his classes.  Missing tasks were the norm rather than the exception to the rule — and the work that he DID turn in was never an accurate reflection of what he was capable of.  His apathy towards assignments was a source of constant frustration for his parents and his teachers, who tried every trick in the book — groundings, loss of privileges, after school detentions, low marks, even LOWER marks — to “motivate” him to give his best effort on every assignment.

If you went back and looked at Thomas’s academic record, you’d probably make a ton of assumptions about him.

The fact of the matter is that there is nothing inspiring about the grades that he’s earned during his school career — and outsiders who have to make decisions based on little more than transcripts would probably turn away from Thomas in a minute.  He’d be filtered out before anyone would give him an interview simply because Cs and Ds are quick indicators of struggles that most employers don’t want to bother with.

And all of those assumptions would be wrong.

Here’s why: Thomas’s academic record is nothing more than a reflection of what he was WILLING to do — not what he was ABLE to do.  He’d made a decision early on that he wasn’t going to play the “compliance game,” dutifully completing every task and meeting every deadline without question.  Instead, he judged each assignment individually — and if he found it challenging or interesting or relevant, he’d invest in it completely.  If he found it pointless or repetitive or disconnected from important questions worth considering, he’d skip it no matter what punishments you promised.

So what lesson can we learn from kids like Thomas?

Perhaps most importantly, we need to recognize that sometimes the lack of motivation that we see in our students is a function of the work that we are asking them to do.  Thomas didn’t skip assignments or turn in tasks that were partially complete because he COULDN’T do the work.  He skipped assignments and turned in partially completed tasks because he’d decided that he WOULDN’T do work just to please a teacher or to avoid a punishment.  If he couldn’t see value in a task, he wasn’t going to value it.

Stew in that for a minute, would you.  In its simplest form, Thomas’s refusal to invest in work that he didn’t believe in was a form of protest — his way of saying to his teachers, “If you want my best effort, I expect more effort out of you, too.”  Sure — it would have been easier to just do the work he was being asked to do.  And yes — there are plenty of kids who will follow directions and meet deadlines because they fear the consequences that both parents and teachers stand ready to dish out.

But please don’t mistake that compliance for motivation — and please don’t suggest that kids like Thomas who refuse to comply are automatically lazy or disobedient.

In fact, if you regularly have to use consequences — think zeros or low grades or signatures on work tracking tools or phone calls home to parents — as threats to encourage kids to complete your assignments, it might be time to look carefully at your instructional choices.

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*Name changed to protect the identity of this student!

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Related Radical Reads:

Grades AREN’T Motivating

Learning > Schooling

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

 

 

Digital Portfolio Challenge Posts

As regular Radical readers know, I’ve started a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project on my learning team (see here and here).  My goal is to encourage my students to become more reflective about their own learning.  After all, feedback GATHERED BY learners is ALWAYS more valuable than feedback GIVEN TO learners.

One of the things that I’ve noticed, though, is that my students really struggle with the language of reflection.  

The vast majority of the early posts that they are adding to their digital portfolios have been simple summaries of classroom activities.  They’ve written about books that they are reading or questions that they are wondering about or movies that they’ve watched.  They’ve written about concepts that they’ve studied and formulas they’ve learned and cultures they’ve explored.

But they haven’t told me much about their strengths or their weaknesses or the progress that they are making as learners.  They haven’t shared much evidence of their learning or set new goals for themselves or celebrated successes that they’ve had.

I think that’s because we rarely ask students to think reflectively about their own learning.

Stew in that for a minute.  How often do you set time aside for students to think about what they know and what they don’t know?  Do the kids in your classroom have a chance to think about who they are as learners on a regular basis?  More importantly, are you regularly asking them to draw conclusions and set direction based on their OWN analysis of what they know and can do?  Stated more simply, do the kids in your room act like passive students or active learners?

To facilitate active reflection in my students, I’ve created a series of Digital Portfolio Challenge Tasks.

You can find them posted here in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop.

Each challenge task asks students to reflect in a different way.  Some ask students to rank order the study strategies that work the best for them.  Others ask students to compare learning experiences IN school to learning experiences BEYOND school.  Some involve creating written reflections about academic successes and others involve creating video tutorials and/or How To guides to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill or concept.

Here are a few examples of those challenge tasks:

Share a YouTube video that OTHER people can learn from.  

Whether you realize it or not, you are an expert on a ton of topics.  Choose one of those areas of expertise.  Then, find and share a YouTube video that novices can learn from.  Write about the reasons that you think the video makes for a good tutorial for rookies.  What should they expect to learn by watching the video?  What should they do AFTER watching the video?

Share a learning tip for a younger student.  

What one bit of advice would you make to a younger student about succeeding as a learner?  Why does that tip matter so much?  How do you know that tip will work?  Has that tip helped you as a learner?  How?

Share an example of work that you improved through revision.

The best learners are always revising their work.  Share an example of something that YOU have improved through revision.  Show us your first draft or explain to us your original thoughts.  Then, show us your final draft or explain to us your final thoughts.  Point out specific places where you made your work better.  Tell us HOW those changes made your work better.  Tell us what you would do if you were to revise this work again.  

My plan is to assign a new challenge task to students each week.

Not only will that give students a chance to experiment with reflecting in a TON of different ways, it will also generate a TON of different examples of just what reflection looks and sounds like in action as kids read the content being created by their peers.  Over time, my hope is that students won’t need challenge posts in order to create new content for their portfolio — but at least for the time being, their lack of experience with in-depth reflection is holding them back.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Do your students struggle with the language of reflection, too?  

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Related Radical Reads:

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning

More on My Digital Portfolio Project