Reading Comprehension 101: Five Strategies for Scaffolding Challenging Texts for Not-English Teachers

Welcome, Teachers!

A few weeks ago, our instructional coach Val Hoose asked me to help her plan and run a professional development session on reading comprehension for teachers who teach math, science, social studies, and various electives, as well as for new and experienced English language arts teachers. I readily agreed.

Below, you’ll find all of the information from our professional development session, as well as links to various resources you may share with your colleagues. You may also participate in our professional development session from the comfort of your own home! Just follow the directions below! Continue reading

Professional Development 2.0


Greetings, dear reader! I have a question for you. How many professional development (PD) workshops, seminars, classes, trips, etc. have you attended this summer? Zero? One? Two? Or are you crazy like me and working on your fifth? Here’s another question for you: how many times have you attended a hyped-up workshop only to not change your own practice? It’s okay. We’ve all done it.

I attended a Promethean training earlier this week, and half way through I had an AHA moment (pun intended – go Jags!):

Project-based professional development workshops are much more effective than traditional, lecture-based professional development seminars.

How do I know? Because I was halfway through a traditional, lecture-based Promethean workshop, and I was bored to tears. Instead of learning strategy, I was stuck listening to a long, drawn out explanation of what a paint bucket does in ActivInspire. All I really wanted were ideas on how my Promethean Board could improve my teaching and deepen student understanding, but my idea factory was experiencing a forced furlough due to paint buckets and shape tools.

Two weeks ago I started the SAMR EdTech Series as a way to cope with the overwhelming amount of ideas threatening to consume my soul. Where did these ideas come from? My district’s Teacher Summer Tech Camp, of course! It was the best PD I’d ever attended. Instead of learning about tools, we learned about strategies, and in learning the strategy we learned the tool.

AppSmash! Teaching Perspective with ChatterPix, Tellagami, and iMovie

One such breakout session required us to create a perspective video using ChatterPix, Tellagami, and iMovie on iPads. Initially, I wasn’t sold. When I was asked to download ChatterPix and Tellagami, I knew this lesson would be geared toward elementary audiences. Nevertheless, I decided to stick around and give it a shot.

First, we watched a sample video in which an elementary student used ChatterPix and Tellagami to create an informative newscast on zoos. The news anchor was an avatar created through Tellagami. She interviewed different zoo animals – created through Google images and ChatterPix – about their experiences living in a zoo. The animals explained why zoos were bad from a first person perspective. They each responded in different voices (with lots of sass), and their mouths actually moved as they spoke! It was very cute.

After watching the sample video, we were asked to create our own. The instructors quickly walked us through the basic process of creating an avatar on Tellagami before giving us time to record footage for our own perspective videos. Then, we repeated the process with ChatterPix. Finally, we squished the videos from the two apps together using iMovie.

Why did it work? Because the focus was on what we could do with the tool, not on the tool itself. Since we spent most of the session time creating our own videos, the instructors were free to help individuals struggling with the programming while the rest of us were absorbed in our own projects. They understood that many of us would be able to figure out how to use the tool on our own, so they didn’t force us to listen to a remedial lesson on shape tools and paint buckets unless we needed it.

My AppSmash video is below. It’s a little creepy and a lot cheesy, but you get the idea.

While the I initially thought this would only work for elementary students, creating my video made it clear that secondary students can learn a lot from this activity as well. By having different characters from different books interact with each other, the students can explore how different texts explore similar themes, compare and contrast characterization techniques, and have a lot of fun in the process.

Using Keynote and iMovie to Reflect on Learning

I also attended a couple of breakout sessions on Keynote and iMovie. Initially, I didn’t have high expectations for these sessions. What can I say, I’m a tech snob. Keynote? Psh. I know how to use Keynote in the classroom: to make slide shows! Duh! And iMovie? Easy. There were limited breakout options though so I attend the sessions anyway. I figured I might learn something.

Learn something I did.

Like the AppSmash lesson, these sessions didn’t focus on iMovie or Keynote. They focused on strategies, specifically science labs.

Documenting Water Tension with Keynote

For the Keynote lesson, we were each given a cup of water, a water dropper, a paper towel, and four coins. We were told that we were going to experiment with water tension and document our findings using Keynote.

Apparently, Keynote can be used for more than slideshows. Who knew?

Curious? Check out my partially completed presentation lab notes in the video below.

Parachute Building: A Documentary

For the iMove lesson, we were given a coffee filter, four pieces of twine, a paper clip, and a binder clip. We were then told that we had five minutes to build a parachute. We were to use our iPads to take pictures and videos of our progress. We had another five minutes to test our parachute outside. When we finished experimenting, we used iMovie to create a documentary of our parachute experience.

My parachute video is below.

EdTech Speed Dating

Finally, after two days of breakout sessions we were given four or five hours to create something to use with our students. The instructors stayed on site to assist us if necessary. Camp ended with “speed dating,” which is exactly what it sounds like but from an EdTech perspective. We rotated from person to person and showed off our lovely techy creations. It was fun to see other teachers talk about flipping their lessons and putting more technology into kids’ hands. That’s where I learned about Aurasma (it is SO FREAKING COOL!), which I will write about next.

Why did speed dating work? Because we were able to collect more ideas, network with other tech savvy teachers in our district, and most importantly own the tool. Even though we weren’t given explicit instruction on how to use every feature every tool had to offer, we figured it out our own because we were motivated to do so. The tools were necessary to bring our great ideas to fruition and show them off to other teachers.

Final Thoughts

I keep reading posts about how difficult it is to actually get teachers to use available technology or to be innovative, and change is difficult and it takes time. A possible solution? Design PD that utilizes best practices. Ideas come from experiences, not lectures, so don’t give a lecture on how to teach without lecturing. Instead, provide teacher-centered PD that models new learning opportunities from a student perspective.

I created a handy-dandy chart highlighting the differences between traditional EdTech PD (Professional Development 1.0) and modern EdTech PD (Professional Development 2.0). Check it out below.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 3.04.22 PM

That’s all I’ve got for you today! If you want to read more about strategies using technology and the SAMR Model, check out my post on using Animoto in the classroom or my post on EDpuzzle. You can also read the first post in this series here.

Check out my next post on practical tips for flipping your classroom!

Poll Where? Everywhere!

polleverywhereTwo days ago I wrote about some of the basic concepts necessary for authentically integrating technology into the classroom. Today’s post is about a nifty web 2.0 tool you can use to enhance learning in your classroom. Introducing PollEverywhere!

PollEverywhere is a polling website that allows you to ask multiple users a question or a set of questions. On the surface, it is similar to other audience response systems such as Socrative and Kahoot, but dig a little deeper and you’ll discover a much sleeker program.

The First Day of School

Picture this: your freshmen walk into class on their first day of high school. You decide to use PollEverywhere as both an icebreaker and as an easy way to assess the students’ needs. The kids take out their SMS-enabled phones (flip-phones work too), you project a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation with directions for accessing the survey on the board, and they all take out their cell phones (you should probably have a conversation about appropriate cell phone use in the classroom first).

The first question pops up: “Which middle school did yPollEverywhere RealTime Responsesou attend last year?” The students use their cell phones to answer the question, and then the image on the board seamlessly changes to represent student responses in real-time. Cool, right?

Perhaps you also want the students to collaboratively create class norms. Just ask a short aimagesnswer question, and PollEverywhere will then automatically sort their answers into a word cloud, making it extremely easy for students to see what is most important to their peers. No more typing student responses into Wordle after school! 

Flip Your Classroom!

I’ve always wanted to try flipping some of my lessons, but the idea has always intimidated me a bit. How would I know if my students watched the video before coming to class? What do I do with the students who didn’t watch the video before coming to class? What programs do I use to make the videos?

I’ll write more about flipped classrooms later, but PollEverywhere has inspired me to actually try it this year. After assigning a video, I can have the students post questions to PollEverywhere before coming to class, or as a bell-ringer at the beginning of the period. If necessary, I can adjust my lesson for the day to reflect the students questions from the night before.

PollEverywhere and SAMR

So, how do my ideas for PollEverywhere fare against the SAMR Model? I’m not sure. PollEverywhere definitely passes the substitsamr_coffeeution stage because it acts as a direct substitute for having the students turn in their questions on a sheet of paper. PollEverywhere’s slick way of organizing and presenting data easily bumps it up to the augmentation stage, because it is much more functional and efficient than traditional paper polling. But does it “allow for significant task redesign” required to reach the Modification stage? I’m not sure. All I know is PollEverywhere will streamline assessment, giving teachers more time to adjust instruction to meet students’ needs.

Check out my post on using Animoto in the classroom! You can also check out my post on how the SAMR model can help you rock evaluative observations.

Doug, SAMR, and Me: Reflecting after a week of PD

Summer is officially here for most teachers across America (woohoo!) and unlike most summers, I decided not to take on the burden of a summer job this year. Doing so cleared up my schedule so much, that this has become one of the busiest summers of my career. 


May twenty-second was the last day of school, and I’ve spent twelve of the following thirteen weekdays being professionally developed by organizations such as ABC Community School Partnership, College Board, Apple, Discovery Education, Promethean, and APS’s Vanguard Team. And I still have eleven non-consecutive days of scheduled PD to go. 

Note to self: when scheduling PD next summer, leave buffer days for reflection and relaxation!

The best and worst thing about back to back PD is the overwhelming amount of new approaches to include in next year’s curriculum. I’m only half way through my jam-packed summer, and I already feel bogged down with ideas for the next school year. The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. So many new ideas! And strategies! And texts! And tools! And they’re coming at me so quickly that I’m afraid I’ll forget about something really cool before I’m able to include it in my plan for the new school year.

I’ve spent the past week learning all about new strategies to use with the technology available in my classroom. Now, before I continue, you should know that I describe myself a tech savvy, born-again, Apple purist, meaning I now own an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook Pro (well, it’s a school-issued computer but you get the idea). I try to integrate technology into my lessons as often as possible, and I rarely get excited about other people’s tech-strategies because I often feel like I have a better, techier (pronounced tech-E-er) way to do it.

But not this week. This week, I’ve felt a lot like Russell in Up when he and Carl Fredricksen meet Doug for the first time.

When it comes to new tech tools to use in the classroom, I’m sure many of you feel more like Carl Fredricksen than like Russell. I can think of a few Carl Fredricksens myself (Mr. Lee, anyone?).

Today, however, I started to feel a bit overwhelmed. There are just so many Dougs out there, all competing for my immediate attention!

Me trying to simultaneously nurture all of my ideas on how to use Schoology, Animoto, PollEverything, Tellagami, ChatterPix, ClassFlow, EdPuzzle, lino, iMovie, Keynote, Pages, ActiveInspire, and…and…and…inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

Consequently, I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing right now. They told us to focus on just one tech tool and design just one digitally infused lesson for the next two hours, but in order to sustain my sanity I’m going to use this time to start a series of posts on the awesome tech and my ideas from the past week so I can refer back to them later.

But first, the basic concepts of using technology in the classroom: The SAMR Model!

The SAMR Model: Bloom’s 2.0

When using technology in the classroom, it’s important to not just use it for the sake of using technology. I don’t knoScreen Shot 2015-06-12 at 9.02.29 AMw about other states, but New Mexico teachers will get a score of Highly Effective for Domain 2B on their evaluative observations if technology “is used skillfully by teachers as appropriate to the lesson.” If you’re anything like me though, Highly Effective isn’t good enough. You’re aiming for a score of Exemplary, in which case technology needs to be “used skillfully by teachers and students as appropriate to the lesson.”

At first glance, many of us (myself included) may think that our students are already using technology skillfully within our classrooms. I mean, they’re using Padlet to turn in their exit tickets! It’s like they’re slapping sticky notes onto a piece of chart paper, but they’re using technology! That qualifies as Exemplary for Domain 2B, right?

Wrong. This is where the SAMR Model comes into play:

Click on the picture! It will take you to a student-created YouTube video that explains the model.

The SAMR Model is like Bloom’s Taxonomy for technology. Check out the SAMR image above. There are four levels of technology integration in the SAMR Model, just as there are six levels of thinking in Bloom’s Taxonomy, and like Bloom’s Taxonomy, all levels have a time and a place in the classroom.

The Padlet exit ticket I mentioned earlier would be an example of simple substitution – if you don’t take advantage of Padlet’s accessibility. But what if, as homework, we make the students refer back to the Padlet exit ticket and summarize all of the different responses into one concise paragraph? We’ve just moved on to augmentation! Padlet is still being used as a substitute for traditional strategies, but we have improved functionality through easy access for anyone with an internet connection. But don’t get too excited. It’s a step towards Exemplary, but it isn’t enough.

At first, the SAMR Model was a bit inconvenient. It reminded me that I wasn’t using technology skillfully enough to be considered Exemplary because I was hanging out in the substitution and augmentation range. Effective? Yes. Highly Effective? Maybe, depending on my evaluator. But Exemplary? No. Rude. After attending a whole bunch of mini-lessons on how to meaningfully incorporate technology into my lessons, however, I no longer feel like giving the SAMR Model the cold shoulder.

Tech Talk – Know the Jargon! 

I forgot to tell you! I learned a new phrase this week: blended learning. ooOoh! Some of you may be shaking your heads at me, wondering how the heck I’ve made it this far in my career without knowing the term blended learning. Have you ever skipped over an unfamiliar term while reading a text of some sort instead of stopping and trying to figure out what it means like a good little reader? I know I’ve heard the term blended learning before, but I’ve never used it myself or stopped to figure out what it means. Here’s a list of terms you may have heard or read without attempting to process the definition.

  • Blended Learning: This term describes learning achieved through a combination of face-to-face traditional instruction and technology-based instruction that happens outside of the traditional classroom. Websites like My Big Campus, Edmodo, Schoology, and BlackBoard are considered blended-learning environments.
  • Web 1.0: This term describes websites that behave like a one-way street. When using Web 1.0 tools, students are passive recipients of information. Think of Web 1.0 tools as teacher-centered lectures. There is a time and a place for them, but if used too long or too often they lose their effectiveness.
  • Web 2.0: This term describes websites that behave like a two-way street. When using Web 2.0 tools, students are actively engaged in both receiving information from the internet and interacting with others through digital means. Think of Web 2.0 tools as student-centered activities.

Fun fact: Web 2.0 was the one-millionth word added to the English language! 

Now that we understand the basic concepts of digitally infused classrooms, we need to put them into practice with concrete lessons. Originally I was going to include a list of ideas describing how I plan on using these new tech tools with my students next year. Seeing as how I am already over 1200 words, however, I think I’ll save the actual ideas for another post (or series of posts) in order to keep from overwhelming you with a bunch of Dougs all at once.

Doug = so-awesome-it's-intimidating technology
Doug = so-awesome-it’s-intimidating technology

Putting Theory into Practice: EdTech Strategies

Put theory into practice and read more from this series!

1) Poll Where? Everywhere!

2) Simply Animoto

3) Flippin’ with EDpuzzle

4) Professional Development 2.0

5) Flippin’ Flipped Learning, Yo!

6) My First Flippin’ Video…In the Classroom

7) Support Learning with Aurasma

8) Final Thoughts

Check out my running list of awesome teacher tech tools.

Eleven Quotes About Social Networking For Educators

As you may already know, my school district has recently adopted a web-based program called My Big Campus, which is essentially a social networking site for the classroom. You can read more about in my earlier post, Teacher, Meet Technology. Since incorporating the program into my classroom, I’ve began to realize the value of social networking to education. Below are eleven quotes about social networking that I would like to share with fellow educators.

Why teachers need to embrace social networking in the classroom and why administrators should embrace social networking as a professional development tool

1) “More companies are discovering that an über-connected workplace is not just about implementing a new set of tools – it is also about embracing a cultural shift to create an open environment where employees are encouraged to share, innovate, and collaborate virtually.” – Karie Willyerd & Jeanne C. Meister,

2) “It’s natural online to go to the place where people are already consuming media. It’s less effort than to ask people to leave an environment they’re already in.” – Cheryl Calverley, U.K.’s Senior Global Manager for Axe Skin

3) “Social media is about sociology and psychology more than technology.” – Brian Solis, Principal of FutureWorks

4) “Innovation needs to be part of your culture. Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble.” – Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus

5) “To ignore social networking would be like early man ignoring fire.” – Barry Ross

Social networking and professionalism

6) “You can be professional while also ‘keeping it real’ with your customers. By interacting with customers in a less formal way, you’ll build a strong human connection that helps build brand loyalty.” – David Hauser

7) “How can you squander even one more day not taking advantage of the greatest shifts of our generation? How dare you settle for less when the world has made it so easy for you to be remarkable?” – Seth Godin, Seth’s Blog

How social networking can help you (and your students) succeed

8) “In the long history of humankind, those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” – Charles Darwin

9) “Twitter represents a collective collaboration that manifests our ability to unconsciously connect kindred voices though the experiences that move us. As such, Twitter is a human seismograph.” – Brian Solis, Principal of FutureWorks

Why social networking isn’t a “quick fix” – you need to know how to use it

10) “Social Media can be an enabler and an accelerator of existing core capabilities, values, attributes, and plans. It can even be a catalyst for change. But it can’t magically create what doesn’t exist.” – Denise Zimmerman, President of NetPlus Marketing

11) “Social media is just a buzzword until you come up with a plan.” – Zach Dunn


Teacher, Meet Technology

So, February 1st is Digital Literacy Day. It was also the day I led a My Big Campus workshop for the other teachers at my school. This was completely coincidental.

First, allow me to explain what My Big Campus is.

My Big Campus is a social networking site for school. It has all of the basic social networking features such as walls and profiles and private messaging, but it also allows teachers to create groups for each of their classes, assign quizzes, facilitate online discussions, and even more that I am not going to explain right now. While My Big Campus is a great motivational tool for the students, it will be most effective if every teacher uses it to some degree.

One of the reasons I love my school is because the staff is open to experimenting in the classroom…for the most part. If you have ever spent time in the education world you may know that it can be difficult to get teachers to adopt new methods into their classroom, especially if those teachers have been teaching for a long time. Now throw in computers and technology and it can be damn near impossible – depending on the teacher, that is.

So, because I am such an eager beaver teacher I wiggled my way into piloting My Big Campus for my school. I love My Big Campus, so naturally I think everyone else should too – but when I talked to other teachers about it I realized that they were not as eager to use it as I was. In fact, many of them were worried that they would get into trouble for using it given the recent headlines regarding teachers and Facebook. Others didn’t see how it could work in their classroom because they only have four or five computers, not thirty-two.

These are perfectly reasonable concerns. My solution: lead a My Big Campus workshop to clear up confusion and to help get teachers acquainted with the possibilities of the site. I talked to administration and they agreed that the February 1st early release day would be a good time to hold the workshop.

The workshop went well, but not as I had planned. First of all a handful of teachers were gone due to AVID responsibilities and the Special Ed. Department was pulled away for professional development. A few other teachers had to leave early for one reason or another, so I only had about sixteen show up.

Each teacher retrieved a netbook upon walking into the classroom. I showed them a Prezi on My Big Campus before launching into the details of the site. Most of the teachers were engaged, but one teacher, let’s call him Mr. Lee, was too busy writing on a post-it note to participate in the workshop. He did have a computer open in front of him though, so I just ignored him. A few minutes later I noticed that he hadn’t looked up from his post-it note, so I decided to look at his computer screen – perhaps he needed help.

The computer was turned off. This ticked me off a bit. I mean, I was volunteering my time and energy to help him out. He didn’t seem to notice my presence, so I got his attention.

Me: “Well, Mr. Lee, you won’t be able to set up My Big Campus if your computer is turned off!” I gave him a friendly smile and turned on his computer.

Mr. Lee: “Oh, well I was just working on this…”

Me: “Well we are working on My Big Campus.”

Mr. Lee: “Yes, I know, but we had talked about it already the other day so…”

Me: “So now we are setting it up!” I said with a smile. “Let me know when you’ve caught up.” I walked away.

I turned around and saw one of the other teachers shaking her head and laughing. She caught my eye and winked at me. Golly.

At first, I was annoyed with Mr. Lee for his rude behavior, but then I decided not to spend my energy dwelling on it. Instead, I decided to think about the reasons behind his actions and came up with the following ideas:

1. Mr. Lee has been teaching for about fifteen years(ish).
2. Mr. Lee is from a different cultural group than I am.
3. Mr. Lee is a digital immigrant.

Now, Mr. Lee’s behavior makes a bit more sense to me. When I think back to my job selling wedding dresses, I never liked it when a newer sales consultant tried to give me sales advice. I was meeting my sales goals perfectly fine on my own, thank you very much. I preferred to be the one doling out advice to the newbies.

Educational Psychology 310 pointed out that different cultural groups have different standards of socially acceptable behavior. Perhaps according to Mr. Lee’s culture he was giving support by simply showing up. Any participation thereafter was optional.

Finally, and I think this is the most important point, Mr. Lee is a digital immigrant (someone born before the cultural integration of modern technology). Digital immigrants are naturally more cautious and resistant towards new technology than digital natives (someone born after the cultural integration of modern technology), who embrace new technology and are able to master it much more efficiently.

I consider myself to be a digital native, even though some of my peers consider themselves to be digital immigrants. My family was always very up-to-date with new computers when I was growing up, and my dad now owns his own computer support business in North Carolina. My point is that I was given multiple digital learning opportunities during the critical period for language acquisition. Mr. Lee (I am assuming) was not.

So, the simple facts are: I am very comfortable with computers and the internet. Mr. Lee is not. I am a new teacher. Mr. Lee is not. I am excited about incorporating technology into my classroom. Mr. Lee is not.

Now I feel much better.