Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reading to Learn

Our work with teachers of elementary students and the students themselves is constantly in development where technology is concerned. Our focus, as the title of this blog suggests, is to empower student learning through the use of technology. We also know that there are certain grade levels where our focus is still on learning to use the technology itself. As their skills develop, these same students will eventually use the technology tools with more concentration on the learning possibilities.

When several of our teachers began to read and implement The Daily Five, we also discussed the role that technology would play in this literacy framework that includes: reading to self, read to someone, listen to reading, spelling/word work and writing. Technology supports these through the use of various pieces of software and web based resources so these teachers have been investigating all the possibilities.

The other day I met with a 3rd grade teacher. Our goal was to take a look at some very specific things she could do to improve the use of technology in her classroom to affect student achievement. We talked about the data analysis work that she'd recently been through, summer workshops and the strategies she'd learned and the technology sources she would have available to her at this grade level. We decided that, in addition to the Daily Five, that she would begin to add a sixth component that we'll be calling Read to Learn which would place an emphasis on working with non-fiction texts.

We want students to understand main idea and details and to sort important from non-important information in non-fiction text. So, we're going to teach students how to use word processing software to do this. We'll begin by taking some short articles from Time for Kids and pasting them into a word processor. Given a question specific to the article and the main idea, we'll model and have students practice eliminating any text that does not answer the question as well as the unimportant words in sentences. By going through this process, students will have created a set of phrases of the most important information. From there, we can begin to help them summarize the articles in a few short sentences.

We've begun some important conversations about using technology to learn here. Using this strategy will help us to better use technology for information. I'm looking forward to working with this teacher and others to continue developing this concept.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Supporting Teachers -Quick and Easy

One of my goals this year is to try to provide teachers with short tutorials to support the use of a variety of tools for instruction. I hadn't had a chance to use Slideshare for this until tonight. It's really quite easy to use! Here's a sample of a presentation I had created last Spring.

Cycling Our Attention

I had a great conversation with someone today who was talking about helping his son to locate some information online. The first part of the conversation had to do with teaching students the skills of the research process. He was amazed at his son's difficulty in dealing with the whole search process but that's another topic for later.

Then he remarked about what else was going on while he and his son were working on this task. He said that while they were working, his son was IM'ing three other friends of his. I said something about multitasking and that brain research tells us that we can't truly be multitaskers because the brain can really only pay attention to one thing at a time. Then he said that his son wasn't trying to multitask - it was more like he was cycling through all of the different things he wanted to pay attention to. The son was working with his dad on the research, then when an IM popped up his attention cycled to that and then cycled back to the research and then on to another IM and another and then back again to the research and so on.

I had to stop and think about that process for a minute. With basically 4 different things competing for his attention, this young man (about 14 years old) was able to cycle through each one paying attention to what he needed to each time it was demanded of him. Would he have stuck with just the research task if IM wasn't open on his computer? Probably, because his dad was sitting with him. But he had 4 things competing for his attention and, by all accounts, was able to handle it quite nicely.

How many times do we cycle our attention from one thing to another whether in front of or away from the computer? Are our brains flexible enough to handle all of that ongoing input/output of information? Or does it depend on the level of engagement we have with all of the things that are demanding our attention? I'm not sure what the answers to these questions are but I think this whole notion of cycling our attention is something we all do more than we realize. Are we/our students developing habits that will hinder learning or skills that will support learning?

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