New Site

Everyone I have moved my blog over to I am in the process of porting old posts and building the pages. Please stop in and say hello.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Taking the Digital Out for Digital Learning Day

You see it in their faces first. Borderline Walking Dead extras staring blankly at a screen overcome by a mixture of exhaustion and frustration. They came to learn about digital teaching and learning. They wanted to use the latest digital texts and tools enhance their pedagogical goals. Yet they are lost.

Tumbling in a world of pixels grasping for the comfort of print.

And I am okay with that. You see at many professional development seminars I run the ultimate goal is for participants to leave with a curricular activity that utilizes digital teaching and learning. I, usually with my colleague +Ian O'Byrne, lead participants through our framework of online research and media skills.

Then after providing sessions about online collaborative inquiry, online content construction  and online collaborative inquiry participants are introduced to a variety of digital text and tools. Finally we conclude with digital workshop time to allow participants to develop their own ideas.

Granted this usually happens over a series of days, but as last day approaches I will inevitably stumble across a teacher that does not know where to begin. They were overwhelmed by the digital texts and tools, amazed by the possibilities, and still lost.

So I walk over and turn off their computer. They have print on the brain and that is okay.

Pre-writing in a pixel age is no different than prewriting in print age. Writer's block is still a lack of strategies for getting started. People need to recognize this. So when I see a student or teacher struggling to get started I turn of the machine an turn to my most potent tool the writing conference.

I ask them to think about their goal for the week. I ask them to consider their pedagogical outcomes they would like to enhance. Then I break out paper. We storyboard their videos or websites. We remove the digital from digital learning for awhile.

Then suddenly all is right for the world. Students and teachers begin to see the navigational links they require. They draft copy for their projects, and they think about images.

So digital learning day is upon us do not be afraid to take out the digital in learning for just a little while.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Education: There isn't an App for That

After a life imposed hiatus I have returned to my Twitter account. It truly is my best tool for professional development, but it was a recent tweet of mine that drew a lot of attention and retweets that made me rethink my conclusions about digital teaching and learning:
As you know I have been doing professional development all over the country on the integration of tablet computing (usually the iPad...though I would recommend the Chromebook over the iPad). The first item on every teachers agenda is like finding that perfect app to solve all of their pedagogical goals.

They are like students searching for the one website that has all of the evidence they need for a research paper. In both cases neither exists.

It was Colin Harrison @ColinHarrison who really cemented the idea at a symposium on tablet computing I organized for the Literacy Research Association. An audience member commented that they could not find an app for reading comprehension. They audience sounded very similar to the teachers I work with who search for the perfect app. Colin commented that what decades of research on comprehension have taught us is oral  language and talk are the best tools to improve comprehension.

No app will change that. Instead teachers need to identify ways in which to enhance their pedagogical goals using iPads and other 1:1 computing devices. The easiest approach it to identify what works well in your classroom and transform the lesson for a digital environment. Do not reinvent the wheel.


The iPad can be a wonderful tool for teaching text structure or completing close reading activities.
You can use:
  •  Fiction books available in the iBook (See Picture Book Tutorial)
  •  Informational texts in apps such as iStorybook.
  • Taking screenshots of informational texts and importing them into whiteboard apps.
Using your iPad as a document camera. 
The first step in using the iPad for think alouds is to create a text copy that can be annotated by the students.

Step one: Develop your learning activity.
  • Decide what aspect of reading you wish to teach.
  • Choose a text.
  • Preview the texts. Identify elements of the text and genre you wish to highlight with students.
  • Choose an additional text or sections for guided or independent practice.
Take screen shots of a text you are reading in class.
  • Open up the book and lay it flat in a well lit area.
  • Select the camera app on the iPad.
  • Take a picture of the page you wish to annotate.
  • Upload the image to a private file sharing system. Google Drive or Dropbox. Do not make the image public.
Model the think aloud for students. Make sure to annotate the text. Pay attention to text structure.

Have students then either open a screenshot or tae a screenshot. They can then complete a think aloud and record it using a whiteboard app.

Yes this lesson requires an app, but it is merely a tool. The learning is based on decades of research. The app just increases the efficacy and efficiency of classroom practices.