GCISD SPED Update
January 1, 2016
YOU ARE AWESOME
Great job Raschel she conducted a great 25 book BES reading challenge. We had a large number of students complete the challenge. Our students join thousands of GCISD students as they improve their reading skills utilizing self selected texts! Thanks Raschel!
Congratulations to Grandma Judy Hockenbrough
Experience at Middle School can Teach us all...
The Four Keys to Our Digital Evolution
Ann M. Jones and Kate Lewis
The impetus for teaching with mobile technology is clear—our students' success hinges on their ability to navigate our increasingly technological world. According to Marc Prensky, "In the 21st century, technology isthe key to thinking about and knowing about the world" (2013, p. 22).
Of course, embracing mobile technology in a school is not a simple, one-click process. Without a firm foundation for digital device implementation, technology sits on the shelves, becomes a tool for student mischief, or at worst, is seen as an object of community contention and teacher dissent.
In our district, we have fully implemented 1:1 iPad classrooms for grades 5–8, with plans to expand to the high school next year. During the implementation process, we experienced both successes and pitfalls. From the perspectives of a middle school principal and an 8th grade English language arts teacher, however, we have learned that our digital evolution flourishes in an environment attuned to collaboration, innovation, efficiency, and student engagement. Here are some of the ways these tenets have developed in our school.
Fostering a Digitally Literate Staff
From an instructional leadership perspective, the work of developing a digitally literate set of educators is not as much about specific professional development as it is about creating an atmosphere of ongoing learning for all school community members. Common planning meetings have become the vehicle for job-embedded professional development by allowing members to combine a commitment to collaborate with the encouragement to innovate. For example, when 8th grade English language arts (ELA) teacher Kate Lewis learned about Subtext, a free eReading app for iPad, she shared the tool with her ELA colleagues, who then shared it with their multidisciplinary teams. As a result, this app that transforms individual text annotation into an interactive, critical thinking activity is now introducing ELA, science, and social studies classes to new critical reading instructional approaches.
Creating a culture that invites collaboration and innovation means opening up not only meeting times but also the classroom itself. As part of their induction, for example, our new teachers participate in "learning walks," in which they visit several classrooms with an administrator to observe instructional strategies and discuss the lessons. These walks transform into a dialogue between new and veteran teachers when new teachers follow up with e-mailed questions or comments about observed practices.
This experience taught us that professional dialogue could be beneficial for all teachers. More of our teachers are getting involved with learning walks, either through direct or indirect observation. And because we are a 1:1 iPad school in grades 5–8, opening our classrooms has facilitated the spread of mobile device best practices throughout our school.
Refining Instruction in Real Time
From a teacher's perspective, collaborative professional development opportunities such as learning walks are providing an atmosphere where teachers are willing to take risks and think differently. For Lewis, these opportunities set the stage for using technology to transform her approach to assessment. It takes time to score assessments on paper, and that creates a lag between when students demonstrate need and when teachers are able to identify those needs and apply appropriate interventions. Technology introduces efficiencies that allow teachers to get feedback on student learning in real time, which can spark an evolution in how teachers plan instruction cycles. For example, students can take a formative assessment on their iPads, and then teachers can scan their results in real time using programs such as Socrative or Schoology. This expedited process allows teachers to adjust instruction to meet student needs or to provide interventions when students need them most. Instruction becomes more targeted and efficient, which translates into more student learning.
Designing Authentic Engagement
Although providing more targeted assessment and using data to inform instruction more efficiently is important, the biggest transformation of teaching in a 1:1 environment is the increase in student engagement and motivation. As a teacher, the most important question Lewis asks herself when planning is "How can I use technology to improve student learning and increase engagement?" The biggest evolution in her classroom took place when she realized students could use the iPad as a tool to gain a wider audience. In the past, students conducted research, completed a worksheet, and then had a class discussion or wrote a research report. Now, Lewis's students make websites about their research. They blog about their reading, create e-books that get distributed to other middle school students, and have video chats with other classes to discuss their research. Students are much more motivated, engaged, and invested in their learning when they know it extends beyond the four walls of the classroom.
By providing job-embedded professional development opportunities and creating an atmosphere where risk taking is the norm, administrators can foster an environment where teachers will embrace opportunities to integrate instead of avoid new digital technologies in their classrooms. As schools continue to encourage digital evolution, students will be more prepared to succeed in the technological world of today and tomorrow.
Prensky, M. (2013). "Our brains extended." Educational Leadership, 70(6), 22–27.
Ann M. Jones is the principal at Oak Middle School in Shrewsbury, Mass., and has more than 20 years of teaching and leadership experience at the middle level. Kate Lewis is an 8th grade English language arts teacher at Oak Middle School with 13 years of experience.
ASCD Express, Vol. 10, No. 17. Copyright 2015 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.