Reading Challenges and Opportunties: Part 4 of 4

In Reading Challenges and Opportunities part 3, I described what my colleagues and I call the internal resources of our most successful students. Successful students are overcoming challenges to become proficient readers. Internal resources we observed in these successful students include: family loyalty, curiosity, and the capacity to persist in the face of challenges. In this post, Reading Challenges and Opportunities part 4, I will seek to explain how we used the program Scholastic Reading Counts to help all our students develop these internal resources.

Scholastic Reading Counts has helped our students build reading comprehension skills by rewarding them for regular practice reading real literature. Scholastic Reading Counts has quizzes to test how well a student has comprehended thousands of books. Students read books at their current reading level and take a quiz on the book.

Students are motivated to read more as they pass quizzes on the books they have read. Students like to keep track of how many quizzes they have passed and how many words they have read. Each of our classrooms has a large wall chart where we track how many quizzes students have passed and how many words each student has read. Students compare their own progress other students’ progress. We also track the number of words our whole class has read.

We have conferences with our students about their reading progress on a regular basis, ideally once every month. In that conference we review the quizzes they have passed, their growth in reading fluency and every two months their growth in reading comprehension as measured by the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI). In these conferences, students see the relationship between the number of quizzes they have passed and the trajectory of their SRI – reading comprehension score. Students who are making upward growth on the SRI are the same students who have been reading and passing SRC quizzes regularly. Students whose SRI scores have not grown review the number of quizzes taken and the difficulty of the books they have read and set goals to read more books that will help them increase their SRI score.

So, you may ask, how does the program help students develop the internal resources you identified? The internal resource of family loyalty and pride is developed because students like to show their parents how many quizzes they have passed and their growth in SRI scores. The program also helps parents be more motivated to encourage a regular reading habit as parents can clearly see the growth their child has made.

The internal resource of curiosity and love of learning is developed because students read more. As students read more they begin to be motivated by an enjoyment of learning, not just seeing the number of quizzes they have passed.

The internal resource of persisting in the face of challenges is developed, as the rewards for students’ efforts are so clearly evident.

Using the program regularly allows us to identify students who need more support to develop as readers. There are always a handful of students who struggle to pass quizzes, despite reasonable efforts. The program lets us know who needs more of our attention and gives us one more piece of evidence to pass on to reading specialists.

Thank you for reading this four-part post called, Reading Challenges and Opportunities. I began writing it with the intention of explaining how we use Scholastic Reading Counts with our students. As I wrote, I realized the program has been more than simply a reading quiz program. The program has helped students build internal resources that will help them be more successful in all areas of their lives. These internal resources will help them overcome the challenges they face as English Language Learners with low socio-economic status and low parent education levels.

GoNoodle – Brain and Body Breaks


GoNoodle Inspiration Blog

GoNoodle – Brain Breaks in the Classroom

 Every year, I notice a change in student behavior that starts a week or so before spring break and grows more challenging as the school year comes to a close. Sitting through a lesson becomes increasingly more difficult and even my model citizens have moments of foolishness. I blame it on spring fever, as the longer, warmer days of spring make us all want to spend more time outside. My students and I grow tired of the routines that worked so well for us since fall. Whatever causes this phenomenon, in spring of 2014, I decided to try adding brain breaks by to break up our daily routines. This new addition helped me and my students get through the end of the year drama with flying colors.

I found the GoNoodle online program while reading an article on the Edutopia Website. GoNoodle has a large selection of video clips to guide students in dance routines, and also breathing and mindfulness routines. The dance routines perked us up and the mindfulness exercises slowed us down and helped us refocus. I have a mounted projector hooked up to my computer, so it was easy to begin playing GoNoodle videos. My students were very excited and stayed attentive through lessons to earn the next Brain Break. As they did Brain Breaks, we earned minutes (these will be called points in the 2014-2015 school year) that my students found quite motivating. As our minutes added up, we had goofy characters called Champs who went through a metamorphosis from goofy looking small guys to wild looking big guys. My students observed that the more ugly the Champs were when they were little, the cooler they looked at the end. As we finished building up each Champ I printed out its picture and that became a highly coveted award that inspired good behavior.

Examining this classroom dilemma using the Action Research model, I began by reflecting on an Area of Concern, or classroom dilemma. The problem I wanted to address in a positive way was how to deal with student inattentiveness and misbehavior. This problem was beginning to increase just prior to our spring break in April of 2014. I knew from past experience that the challenge would grow as we approached the end of the school year. I wondered if this problem might be managed through the use of brain breaks provided by GoNoodle. I formed my problem into a question. What will be the effects of GoNoodle Brain Breaks on end of the school year wiggles?

The data I collected to study this classroom problem included student completion of tasks, focus on lessons and overall classroom mood before and after we began doing Brain Breaks. My students enjoyed the Brain Breaks, whether active or mindful, very much. Students worked hard to complete our lessons so that they could earn another Brain Break. Brain breaks increased a positive mood in our classroom, for students and for me. Whether we were trying our best to do a Zumba dance routine, or learning to breathe deeply while traveling around the country and learning interesting facts about places in the United States, students participated and I sensed more happy, positive energy and decreases in the inattentive, and unsettled behavior in my classroom.

Teachers as Action Researchers

In this next series of blog posts, I share some of the ways I use digital technologies to enhance student learning in my own classroom. As I implement new technologies I use an Action Research model to help me systematically explore each new program or tool.

How do I define Action Research and apply it to my classroom practice?

At the school where I teach, grade level teams meet in Professional Learning Communities (PLC) on a regular basis. In the last two years our practice has been to select 3-4 students in our classrooms to focus on as a team during the year. We selected reading fluency as an area of concern. We tried different strategies to build fluency, and then assessed fluency, shared successful strategies and described struggles. This sharing helped each of us grow and improve our practice. This work is a form of Action Research.

Action Research is something good teachers regularly do. We may not call it or think of it as research, but teachers regularly reflect on classroom practice and the effects of our practice on student learning. Through a lens of Action Research I become more aware and systematic.  Critically reflecting on classroom practice increases my sense of confidence and my understanding of teaching best practices.  Action Research is sometimes called Teacher Research.

Action Research begins as a teacher reflects on an area of concern, a problem or a classroom practice. I form a question related to the area of concern to guide the study. Examples from my classroom include:

How might digital audio recorders increase student engagement in reading fluency practice?

What effects does an online reading intervention program have on learners?

In what ways will the introduction of brief active breaks between class activities effect student behavior?

The Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher collects data, reflects on it and plans a course of action to study the question. The Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher  reflects regularly on the question and refines the study as the school year progresses.

Action Research generally takes place in a kind of upward spiral. After coming up with a question, designing and implementing an action plan, the Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher examines and reflects on the data collected in an ongoing cycle. Data might include the following:

  • Qualitative (written) data, such as interviews with students, and teacher notes of observations from the classroom.
  • Quantitative (numerical) data might include reading comprehension scores, attendance rates or reading fluency scores.

This data provides feedback that allows the teacher to adapt and refine the action plan.

Unlike traditional research there are no control groups and test groups. Students in a control group do not receive a treatment, and students in test groups do receive a treatment.  In Action Research there is only an intact group of students who receive the same treatment, usually with their classroom teacher as the Action Researcher/Teacher Researcher. The goal of Action Research in the classroom is to provide teachers with a systematic model to guide the study and improvement of teaching practice, while in the process of teaching.

Unlike other forms of research, Action Research is seldom written up into articles. Classroom teachers are busy planning and preparing to lead engaging lessons and activities and have little time or energy left for writing. But this is a shame, because such articles may give other teachers helpful information and inspiration to try new ways of approaching old problems.

The goal of this blog post has been to give you an overview of Action Research. I follow this model to help me systematically explore the use of new technologies for student learning in my own classroom. In this series of posts to my Blog,  I share some of the ways I use digital technologies to enhance student learning in my own classroom.

I welcome comments and constructive criticism as well as questions about what I have shared.

Some resources for further study of Action Research:

Santa Rosa City Schools Professional Development Center

Teacher’s Network Leadership Institute

Mohr, Marian – George Mason University Teacher and Action Research Resource website. July 20, 2014

Just a Classroom Teacher?

I began my teaching career in Spring of 1992. Prior to teaching I worked jobs that required me to use computers on a regular basis, so I was considered a relative computer whiz. I was quickly pulled from the classroom to run a computer lab.

It turned out I was pretty good at helping students and teachers learn how to integrate the use of computers in meaningful ways for learning. I continued to serve education in this way for the better part of 15 years, at school sites and at the district level. Over time however, the role of technology support at the district level became more and more focused on implementing assessment systems with little time spent helping teachers and students use technology to support multi-modal learning, creativity, writing and critical thinking. I grew less excited about my work; what I believed was great about technology for students had gone missing.

When the funding for my support role dried up, I chose to remain in my district and become a classroom teacher. That same year I completed an educational doctorate with an emphasis in Educational Leadership. I am often asked why I stay in the classroom, when I could be a principal or teach at the college level. Initially, the move was most expedient for me and my family, but now I believe the classroom is the best place for me to be. In the classroom I am able to do the kind of action research that is needed to find the best ways to implement new technologies in education.

As a technology loving teacher, I am always looking for ways that learning can be enriched by new technologies. Teaching fourth grade is an excellent incubator for this kind of study. My students are engaged by things as simple as digital audio recorders, which they use to practice reading fluency. This past year I began using Edmodo, which looks like a social media site, where students can interact. As teacher, I set up folders where students could view science videos and work with interactives. I linked to Voicethread slideshows with pictures from our science field trips. After viewing and playing I had students comment in the forum, take quizzes, do polls. I counted the use of Edmodo as a success from the first day when I logged in and students had logged on to work in the class forum from home. Even now, over summer break, I am finding students have logged on to Edmodo to use the learning platform.

So, I don’t consider myself to be “just a classroom teacher” and I hope none of my colleagues in the role do either. Every teacher I know is conducting “Action Research” whether or not they call it by that name. Our goal is always to improve our teaching, make learning engaging, fun and help all our students reach their learning goals. I will continue to refine the use of technology in my practice to enhance the learning experiences of my students. My goal is to write about my experiences with the hope that others find inspiration, and to counter some of the images in society about teachers.

Engage and Connect: Using Edmodo in a Fourth Grade Science Program

Image            This school year, there are three classes of fourth graders at our school.  We have 60 students total, all are English Language Learners ranging from level 2 to advanced/Fully English Proficient based on the California English Language Development Test.  We have two students who are newcomers at level one, twelve are at level two, about 24 are intermediate, level 3, students and 22 students scored at the level 4 or 5 or have been re-designated as “Fully English Proficient” based on CELDT levels and their performance on California state STAR tests.
We have high expectations for our students and use a variety of strategies to convey academic vocabulary and language.  Our goal is for our students to be successful in middle and high school and understand the opportunities they will have if they pursue education beyond high school, whether or not that education comes in the form of a four-year university model.  Our days feel focused on math, language arts and intervention to catch students up to grade level standards in language arts.  In this schedule, we often find that science and social studies instruction fall by the wayside unless we are very intentional about making time for these subjects.

            Over the past two years the three of us have been teaching together, we have noticed the high level of interest our students show when we do make time to teach science.  But each of us has a different area of strength in teaching science.  One of us excels at teaching academic vocabulary. She has taken on a note-booking project in which students learn to take notes in a special science journal and they also make diagrams and illustrate science concepts. Another teacher does well with teaching science through demonstrations and hands on activities and even using her skills as a former art teacher to help students draw sketches of science concepts, so she has taken on that aspect of our science instruction. I have a background in teaching students how to use computers and with using online resources such as science simulation activities to reinforce science concepts.  We decided it would be beneficial to all the students if we organized a rotation for all our fourth grade classes to work with each of us.

We discussed the types of technology skills our kids would need to feel confident and do well on the new CCSS online assessments. We wanted to ensure students mastered logging on to our new computer lab computers using their own ID and Password, which is new for them this year.  We also wanted them to write using the computers and navigate the Internet as much as possible without wasting time searching for learning websites on their own.   I took these goals and reflected on current available technologies that would help us meet them.

I first considered how I could best organize resources so students would quickly focus on and find the online simulation activities.  I wanted a way to quickly direct them to the activities and I wanted a way to document students’ thinking and learning from those activities.  I also thought it would be great to include a component of Social Media and organize activities that encourage online collaboration.  Using Social Media in the context of our classroom would allow kids to explore social media with my supervision and give us a reason to discuss appropriate use of social media.

I decided on Edmodo as the central web resource I would use.  In Edmodo I set up a group for my students to join.  Next I set up folders in which I set up links to access the online science simulations and videos I wanted the students to view.  I experimented with setting up polls that get students engaged with each other.  I set up simple quizzes, both multiple choice and short answer, to give all of us a chance to see how well they remembered key concepts.   Although I cannot say that every moment of this project has made me feel like a Master teacher, I was impressed by how easily our students took to the program, requiring minimal guidance to set up their accounts and navigate into the site once we got rolling.  My goal, now that the project is underway, is to learn how to set up a discussion board and encourage students to write more than the current “hi” and “wazzup” that they are currently posting to each other.  They are just beginning to understand that I am reading and moderating everything they post in the forums.

As I work with the students it is clear that there are basic skills they must learn such as how to make capital letters and other word processing skills to be ready to produce other kinds of writing.  Some students have been much more willing to write in the Edmodo forum than they are in a pencil and paper assignment, but their poor spelling and grammar skills show up in glaring fashion.  My initial assumption is, that this lack of accuracy in writing is why they are not confident in pencil and paper assignments.

Despite these challenges student buy in for interacting in the Edmodo program is huge.  They like the social media feeling of being connected to their peers.  They like the color scheme of Edmodo that makes them think they are using Facebook, with its similar blue rectangular elements format.  Students like to receive badges, so I have invented a few more of them to award.  About ten students went home after we set up our accounts, logged in and figured out how to change their profile pictures. I can see that my challenge will be to make logging in to Edmodo interesting for students and finding ways to allow students to interact, while  keeping our primary focus on the science concepts we want them to understand.

A teacher challenge is to help my co teachers embrace the educational value of the social media aspects of the forum. One teacher is concerned and wondering whether Social Media interaction has any educational value.  I believe it does, because it increases student engagement and also gives us a chance to discuss with students the right ways to interact with classmates and friends in social media.   I appreciate the collegial challenge to my work as it makes it clear to me that I must continue to reflect on my praxis and refine my thinking in that area.

As I move forward, my desire is to explore, identify and try out authoring apps that work in Edmodo so my students can be creators of evidence of their learning. I did find an app for traditional Word Processing that I added to Edmodo for the students.  My next steps will be to embed traditional word processing and keyboarding instruction into our coming unit on weathering and erosion.  But I also want the students to create visual presentations and perhaps video/audio that demonstrate their growing understanding of subjects.  I am searching for apps that will allow us to use photos, video, audio and drawing for more creative representations of our learning.


Using the Web with Fourth Grade Students

Decisions_clipartIt is probably obvious that sending elementary students off on an Internet search is not a really good use of class time.  First of all, a student on an Internet search will get links for millions of websites.  Rocks and Minerals, the topic we were studying at the time of this post in April 2012, got 3,670,000 links at the time of my search!

I regularly search for appropriate websites and then use links on my class website to direct my students to them. What are some guidelines for choosing appropriate websites for students?  I ask myself the following questions as I review websites for use by my students:

  • Is this website readable by my students?
  • Is the content appealing and engaging without too much advertising?
  • If there are interactive activities (aka games) are they educational or just distracting?
  • Is the information accurate and from a reliable source?
  • Do the activities work on the computers where students will be using them?
  • Will the activities require me to provide a lot of assistance to the students or can they figure things out by themselves, or with a peer helper?

Teachers don’t have to do all the work of previewing sites on their own, thanks to other educators who have begun the vetting process for them.  I use some of the following websites when I search for Interactive learning games and other online research resources for my students.



This BBC site offers some of my favorite science experiment simulations.

Room 6 – Mrs. Zykanov’s class website