A Year (and a bit) with Assistive Technology

A little over a year ago my son was diagnosed with as being gifted, with a learning disability. Specifically, he struggled with short term memory.  And, like many people with LD, organization is a challenge. I joke that God doesn’t even know where the papers my son is supposed to bring home from school have gone.  I then comment that apples don’t fall far from trees, as I am also gifted LD, although my LD is in spelling.

Practicing Dictation

It was at this point my son was assigned a Chromebook as part of my province’s Assistive Technology program. He uses it to help alleviate the exhaustion that comes with writing. A side effect is that there are no more assignments on paper; everything is managed through Google Drive.

At this point, I need to point out that technology is not a panacea. My son experienced some growing pains as he and his teachers adapted to the new realities of what assistive technology could do. His French teacher started using Google Classroom to share work and Snapverter to convert the pdf files for my son. My son would use tools like Read and Write to read the French news stories that were his homework to him when he was tired. He would use the Talk&Type feature in Read and Write to dictate when his hands were tired.  I even saw him using my personal favourite, Eqautio, to do some multiplication work for math without me suggesting it!

Slowly, but surely, there were improvements.  By the middle of this school year, I was stopped by his Math and English teacher who told me that while she knew I was concerned about my son’s organizational skills, he was one of the best in the class about handing in his work. She commented that he always got his Chromebook out without prompting and got to work. There were minimal problems with inappropriate use.  A few weeks later, the school’s special education specialist mentioned how amazing my son was with his assistive technology. She suggested we make a video starring my son as he was a textbook example of why this program is important.

Assistive technology allowed my son’s creativity to come out.

It hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. My son fell into the trap at one point of trying to game the system with “find” and then “copy and paste” to answer comprehension questions. There have been a couple of supply and student teachers who have refused him the use of the Chromebook because they lack the understanding that it is an accommodation on his IEP and, therefore, a legal requirement. And there are still nights when my son is mentally exhausted from coping with his LD all day and homework time ends early with tears.

But there has been an improvement – My son even sees it. We discussed how he was doing as part of the preparation for this post.  He acknowledges that Assistive Technology has helped him improve academically. He also finds school easier than he did in the past. Like most students who use Assistive Technology, he rarely uses all of the features of the program he is using. Instead, he picks and chooses the tools that are appropriate for the task. And for how he is coping with the LD at that time.

As a parent, I see my son’s self-advocacy improving. He will speak up more often when he is struggling or when he meets the new adult in the classroom who doesn’t understand Assistive Technology. My son will also, matter of factly, tell his peers that he has a Learning Disability, something that all of us with LD need to start doing to begin removing the stigma and ignorance that surrounds that diagnosis.

An assignment and attempt to get something from us.

As a teacher, I also see the unintended benefits of my son’s teachers adapting and accommodating for my son’s use of Assistive Technology.  I have anecdotally heard from other parents in the class that their children also used things like Read and Write at home to listen to their French homework. They appreciate the use of Google Classroom for their children to access the work.

Overall, our family’s journey on this AT/LD road has been a positive one. There is still further to go, as technology and software are always improving and my son’s skills are always growing. But I would encourage any teacher thinking about starting to use Assistive Technology in their classroom to do so. The same for any parent hesitating to sign the form – My son concurs. When I asked what he would say to parents, students or teachers who were considering using Assistive Technology, his answer was “Do it! No, seriously, do it.”.

Teaching Critical Literacy in the Fake News Era

I recently had the opportunity to participate in the MAD PD as a presenter. I presented a webinar on a strategy to update our media literacy curriculum to reflect what our students are consuming outside of class

If you look at the average Media Literacy Curriculum, there is a lot about advertising and traditional media like TV and radio. But is there a media literacy curriculum that talks about Instagram influencers? Youtubers? Data mining? Search algorithms?

I would be surprised if you could show me any that mention social media and the Internet at all.

Yet where do our students spend their media time? Binge-watching anime on Netflix. Watching a Twitch livestream of their favourite gamer. Sending Snapchats to friends. Making Tik Tok videos.

We need to provide our students with the critical literacy skills to successfully navigate the 21st-century media landscape. But how do we do that when our curriculums are so rooted in the 20th century? Well my way is to invent my own and tie it back to the current curriculum.

I have been successfully doing this for several years now, looking at a variety of different forms of Internet Media. My units are dynamic, changing as they go. My students are engaged and begin to demonstrate the critical literacy skills they need to survive in the online world.

Rather than giving you a unit that only covers one specific type of media, I want to share with you a scaffold that you can apply to your classroom. I am a big fan of Jon Corippo and his EduProtocol method. So I want you to walk away with something that you can use, no matter what media you want to work with.

Steps to follow to create a new media unit:

Step 1: Determine the type of media or content you want to cover
The first step is to determine what type of media or content you want to cover. By media I mean form and by content I mean what that post is trying to achieve. So you may want to look at Tweets, which could have a broad range of topics, or you may want to focus on Fake News, which could span several mediums. The choices here are endless, and it may seem impossible to narrow it down into something that is manageable as a unit, but I would encourage you to talk to your students to find out what they are consuming and go with that.

Step 2: Consume it yourself
Next step is to spend some time consuming it yourself. What do you notice? Is there a standard format? Is there an overriding theme that gives you something to work with? What do the ads look like? How does the media monetize itself? Why does it appeal to your students?

Step 3: Tie it Back to the Curriculum
Take a look at the curriculum and figure out how you can tie it to what you want to cover. If you are lucky, you might be able to link it to your media literacy curriculum. Frequently, media literacy curriculums have expectations linked to advertising. Or look for bias in media coverage. If not, look at your writing curriculum. Having your student write a short analysis of an Instagram post might meet several of your writing curriculum expectations. If you are a subject-specific teacher, like science, can you use parts of the curriculum to look at fake health claims made online?

This is where you can get your learning goals and look-fors for this unit. You should also determine what your final products are at this point. I usually do an analysis piece, where students apply our co-created criteria to an example of the media we are studying. I also like to including a creative piece at the end of the unit where students create something related to the media being studied. These kind of units are also a wonderful opportunity for students to do a self-evaluation of their learning.

Step 4: Curate
Now you want to curate a collection of examples for your unit. Carefully select age-appropriate material for your students. You do not want to end up in a disciplinary hearing because you let your students access random social media feeds. Gather about 10 good examples. Focus on finding examples that are typical of the media you want to study. Leverage your students’ interests if you can. If they like hockey, look for content related to hockey. Don’t just go for shocking content.

It would also be a good idea for you to capture the media in some way. The Internet is mutable. It changes every day. You could find the perfect example of what you want to study at 8:00 am, only to return to it at 2:00 pm and have it be completely different. Learn how to use print screen or download video.

Step 5: Co-Create Criteria
This is probably the most important part of this unit. Share 3 or 4 of your curated examples with the students. As a class consume (read, watch or listen) and discuss them. Look for things they have in common with each other. Look for what makes that form of media unique (hashtags, visuals, etc.)

After three, co-create some criteria related to the media with your students. Put that somewhere in your classroom. It doesn’t have to be fancy, flip chart paper works fine, but it does have to be visible. You want your students referring to it through the course of the unit. If you are using something like Google Classroom, take a picture of your criteria and post it there as well.

This is also a good place to introduce concepts like bias or asking about the intent of the media piece being examined. Who made it? Why? Is it successful? Look at the intent behind the media, not just its form. This is where you can model the critical literacy skills you want your students to develop. Teach them that

Step 6: Practice Applying the Criteria
This is the section that gets into the deep teaching and learning part of the unit. This section is divided into three subsections.

Whole Class
Now we move to have them apply the criteria to multiple examples, first with the whole class. Start with showing the students another one of your curated examples and apply the criteria you have developed.

Groups
I usually use a scaffolded, small groups method here. I randomly group my students into groups of four. And then hand them one of my curated examples. They then apply the criteria we have developed and assess the example. I usually ask for a short answer written response, but you can choose whatever form of response best suits your students and your program.

The key here is to give them feedback on their analysis as soon as they finish it. I usually choose to give them oral feedback which I use the extension Doc Appender to help me record in my student files. I give them the chance to revise the work if they choose. Many do, and I can see both their writing and their understanding of the media we are studying improve.

I then have them repeat the process with a succession of smaller groups of three and two, all randomly selected. The random selection has lead to some interesting groupings, but it has also allowed me to give very specific feedback to help those students improve. Don’t be afraid to repeat a grouping size if your students need the extra practice. You know your kids.

This is also a great opportunity to display students work. I frequently use a bump-it up board to display leveled examples of their work. I have been blessed with teaching language to two classes, so I frequently cut off the student’s names and display one class’s work to the other and vice versa. I then lead class discussions before I share each curate media example on why responses are levelled as they are. This leads to a good discussion as to what the criteria are and how they can “bump up” their own work. The board remains as a references as students work on the next media example.

Also, if something emerges during this process that makes you or your students want to rethink your criteria, don’t be afraid to do that. The criteria are co-created, so if you or the students think they need to be revised, DO IT! Nothing will reinforce the idea that it is their criteria more than if they can change it.

Solo
Once you are satisfied that the students are ready, now you can move to the solo part of the process. Once again, choose one of your carefully curated pieces to distribute to your students. They will then apply the criteria for a dress rehearsal of the final assessment. When they are finished, you need to read it over and give them immediate feedback, as you have for the group work. Give them the option of incorporating your feedback to revise their work. Once again, use whatever your favourite method is for documentation of what you have seen.

Step 7: Final Analysis
Your students should be ready now to tackle a final piece of analysis. Once again, distribute another one of your curated pieces and ask the students to analyze it using the class criteria. You need to tell them this is for formal assessment ahead of time. The form of this analysis should be the exact same form you have been practicing all unit, using the very criteria the class has established. I would also make sure that you discuss this with your students so there are no surprises..

Step 8: Unleash Your Students’ Creativity!
This is the fun part! Back in the planning stages, you should have figured out what you wanted your students to create. Now you want to give them the space to do that. No matter what you decide, the criteria that you co-created with your students need to be part of the final product. And of the final assessment. Remember to share your look-fors and how you will be assessing this with the students at the beginning of the process. You should also give lots of feedback along the way so they can produce the most impressive final product.

You should also figure out a way to share their final products with an audience. We know that students will produce better work if they think it will be seen by more people than just the teacher. So go out and find people to look at their work. Examples include websites to share with other classes in other schools in the board, pitching ideas for PSA posters to the principal, sharing infographics with members of the community.

REMEMBER: You need to also think about age appropriateness and the media you are studying. It may be tempting to have all of your students create Snapchat posts, but you should think about how they create them. You may not want to use the media being studied to create the final product. My recommendation is to use your district approved tools.

Step 9: Reflect
This is the key. Have your students reflect on what they have learned. Journal entry, Flipgrid video, one on one interview, the format is not important. What is important is that your students think about what they have learned over the course of the unit and how they can continue to apply those skills in the real world. This is where those critical literacy skills will really shine. And take the time give them feedback on this reflection. Comment on it. Discuss it with them. Show them that you care about their own reflections on their learning.

Also, seek your students’ input on how this unit went. I like to use a Google Form to get feedback on how to the unit went. Contrary to what you think, I have never had a student use that as an opportunity to be mean. Instead, I have often found that their feedback is thoughtful and helps me make the unit better.

You also need to reflect. How did this whole process go? What worked? What didn’t? What did you not see coming? What impact did this project have on your students? On you? On the greater school community? How can you use the feedback from your students to make the next version of the unit better?

Step 10: Reinvent
Yes, I said next version of the unit. Because the Internet and the types of media it contains are always shifting and changing. New apps are released daily, and people find new ways to use them to speak to the world. The unit you just made and built will not be one that you use for years in your classroom. Instead, the framework will be. The content will shift to reflect the media your students are consuming.

And they will be better off for it. As will you. As will we all.

Email for Developmentally Delayed Students

As part of my job as an Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology, I have had the chance to visit a a number of different schools with a wide-range of different programs. This has allowed me to see a variety of approaches to a wide cross-section of students.

One of the more interesting things I have seen is the teaching of 21st century life skills to students who are developmentally delayed. A teacher at Carleton Heights Public School, Maureen Hogan, asked me to come in and work with her students. She was hoping they would be able to learn how to log in to a Chromebook and send an email to their parents. Maureen wanted her students to begin to develop some of the skills they would need for a world where services are increasingly accessed on-line.

She had already started the process by changing the students’ password to their name and a series of numbers. In addition to making it easier for these students to login in, the new password allowed students to practice typing their name. This also helped in some cases with students’ literacy goals.

Luckily for me, Chrome had recently implemented the ability to do dictation over top of GMail. With that, I simply had to set up an contact card for each student’s parents. Students were then be trained to click in the “To:” field, say their preferred diminutive for the parent in question. They could then move to the main body of the email and, using Chrome dictation feature, dictate their email.

Student dictating choosing to send an email to mom.

Maureen has now made sending an email a regular activity during literacy centers. It allows the students to practice some very real life skills, while allowing her to assess their understanding of how to communicate in an email.  As an added bonus, she also is able to reinforce lessons on pronunciation as Google will only write down what it hears, creating a very real consequence for students working on improving their diction.

A message to mom

Overall, the activity has been a success. Students have been excited to send their parents a message during the day. Parents have loved getting a message from their child. For Maureen, she has a real world activity that both engages her students, develops their literacy and helps them practice real world skills. And I have several other teachers in my district interested in having me in to help them set up a similar systems for them.

Equatio

Equatio is a program that is setting Teacher Twitter ablaze. It works on top of several different programs and browsers to allow you to do math on the computer. Unlike many other things on the market, the user still has to do the thinking and the work. It doesn’t do the math for you.

I was exposed to Equatio at the beginning of the year as part of my new job, Itinerant Teacher of Assistive Technology (ITAT). The ITAT team was looking for something to support students in STEM. We found Equatio and fell in love.

I have taught math for almost all of my career, and using the computer to prepare resources has always been difficult. I have become very adept at using superscript and inserting special characters. No student, even those who use a computer for all other work, has done their math on a computer in my 20 years of teaching. Equatio has the possibility of changing all of that.

With Equatio you can easily type math expressions and equations. The program allows you to type the name of an operation or other math symbols and insert it as an image. For example, typing “sq” brings up a menu with squared. Clicking on that inserts a 2 as an exponent. “Times” brings you a multiplication symbol and so on. You can also dictate your math, which blows my mind. Saying “open bracket, negative 7 plus 8, close bracket” brings you “(-7 + 8)”. If you have a touchscreen, you can even hand write math. Let me repeat, the computer turns my chicken scribbles into readable math. The program even has a mobile interface that gives you access to a touchscreen and mic if you don’t have one on your computer by using the touchscreen and built-in mic. The mobile interface will also allow you to take a picture of math, be it handwritten or typed, and add that to your document.

All of this math is turned into an image that is not only editable but can also be inserted into many G Suite products. (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Drawings). This means that math is as easy to do with a computer as language is now. And as a math teacher, that is really exciting.

I hope you take a minute to check it out. Or at least check out the resources on Equatio I have prepared below.

Character Databases

Recently on Twitter, Alice Keeler asked for activities that weren’t worksheets as part of her #worsheetlesswednesday post. I responded with the tweet below, which included some pictures of student work from my class.

Not only did Alice Keeler retweet it (insert fangirl squee here), but I received several requests for more information. This post is my attempt to explain and document what happened in my class.

First off, the character database is not my idea. I got it from Eric Curtis when he presented as part of the DitchSummit in December of 2017. He has a great explanation, including an example from the novel Wonder in his blog.

I used this idea in my literature circles. Students chose a novel from a short list and formed small groups. I gave them time in class to read and, in addition to the usual literature circle activities, each circle was responsible for creating a database of the characters in their novel. I shared the Wonder database with them and gave them some suggested categories but told them the database was theirs to build collectively.

Watching my students build the databases was fascinating, with their conversations proving to be quite rich in content. The “Holes” group came up with a category about whether or not the character was from the past or the present. At one point, one of the groups reading “The Hunger Games” got into a heated discussion about whether Effie Trinket was a primary or secondary character. They eventually decided that in this book, she was a secondary character but in later books she would take a larger role. My takeaway was that in almost 20 years of teaching, this was the most engaged I had ever seen my students in studying literature in my room.

The next step in the project was my extension to Eric Curtis’s database idea. As I also teach math to these two classes and we had just finished Data Management, having them graph the data seemed a natural next step. The Ontario Curriculum, in addition to wanting students to create databases from data they have collected, wants them to create graphs and tables from data. They are also expected to analyze graphs and draw conclusions. They had made the database from their novels, but I now wanted them to graph and analyze some of the data.

So I created “Novel by the Numbers”. I asked each student was to choose 3 categories from their data to graph. The form of the graph was up to them. Students were also asked to analyze the graphs, describing what they saw. I also asked them to theorize as to why the data looked the way it did. Finally, they had to share the graphs in some way (Google Sites, infographic, etc.). I showed the students how to make graphs using Google Sheets and stepped back.

Once again, there was rich discussion in the class, with the students asking each other’s opinions on some of the data. Some came to me to discuss their graph choices, which led to further discussion and feedback on which graph was a good choice given the data they had collected.

The final products are still coming in at this point, so I don’t have final thoughts. Overall, though, I am impressed with my students’ reaction to this project and will probably make it part of my literature circles from now on.

Zombie Math

Given that it is late in October, I wanted to do something Halloween-related in Math, but I didn’t want to do worksheets with ghosts and witches. Teaching grade 7 & 8 means that I have to deal with the cool factor. My students are quick to check out if they think the work is too “babyish”.

Luckily, I have been experimenting with Dan Meyer’s 3-Act Math once a week, so a real-world problem based on Zombies would work well. I know that the emergency preparedness people love the zombie scenario because it models the spread of the infectious diseases quite well. Also, because zombies are in the zeitgeist, their inclusion makes the exercise more fun and engaging.

I went to the web to try and find a zombie math activity that would be appropriate for a grade 7 and 8 math class. I found A LOT of zombie activities meant for the high school audience, centered around logarithms and exponential growth. But that is a little too advanced for what my muffins can do.

My Inspiration

Then I found this meme on the internet and found my great inspiration. I would set my scenario in our school. I was able to grab a few images from this video from Mash Up Math

I setup my Pear Deck and showed it to my students. When we do the 3-act math, I also have students incorporate a bit of the Thinking Classroom from Peter Liljedahl. There are randomly placed into groups of three, with one marker. One student takes on the role of thinker, one becomes the recorder and the final student is the calculator. All work is done on flip chart paper hung around the room. Every 10 minutes or so, student roles changes.

The results were more than I’d hoped for.

Table of Values solution

All students went immediately to the t-chart and started to power through the pattern. Our school, with 720 students, was done for between the 10th and 11th hour. Ottawa, our city went in the hour. Canada didn’t last much longer, falling to the zombie hordes by the hour. Some groups went as far as determine humanity had hours based on this pattern.

We are doomed

Many students started to try and figure out the pattern rule. Some students recognized there was an exponent involved, but couldn’t put their fingers on it. A few students recognized this was a variation on the penny problem we had done a few sessions before. One or two got (or remembered) the pattern rule of 2n-1.

But what was more interesting was the engagement I saw from my students. Several took it to the planet. (33 hours) One figured out to the exact second how long we had as a species. Several others started to ask about the effect people fighting back would have on the spread of zombies. But most amazing was when one young woman, who self-describes her relationship with math as “not good”, asked if her group could figure out how long the US would have under this pattern rule, for fun. For fun.

I teared up.

If you want to grab a copy of the Pear Deck, please feel free to do so here.

Markbooks

I was lucky enough to take Mathematics, Grades 7 and 8 from ETFO this summer. It was not the equivalent of my specialist, but it gave me a look at how to better teach math.

As part of the course, my instructor, Mark Chubb, had us watch this video from Rick Wormeli on Gradebooks. I thought it had a lot of good ideas. But it would require me to redo my mark book in a big way.

So I spent a week or so at the end of my course creating new markbooks for the school year. I am currently scheduled to teach English and Math to both a Grade ⅞  and a Grade 8 Immersion class, so I prepared a math and language version for both grade 7 and grade 8. That’s four new grade books in total.

The idea is that each student I teach will have their own individual copy of the gradebook for both Math and English rather than the usual one markbook per class. It makes sense though, because we are supposed to be doing standards-based assessment, so why do I need to have students in the same file?  I also hope using these new markbooks will help with my attempts to revitalize my assessment of tests.

Does this idea intrigue you? Please feel free to download your own copy of the markbooks below. Let me know how it went.

 

Grade 7 English

Grade 7 Math

Grade 8 English

Grade 8 Math

Hello World!

 

My name is Deanna Toxopeus and this is my professional blog. Here I talk about teaching and share resources. If you are looking for my class blog, please head here.

I have been teaching since 1999, so I am fast approaching my twentieth year in the business. I currently teach grade 7 & 8 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, but really, I have taught almost everything. I am a History specialist at the Intermediate level but have become a Math teacher. I enjoy teaching Math so much that I took a course from ETFO this summer to ensure I get to keep teaching this subject in the future. I also possess my Special Education Part 2 and my ESL Part 1. As part of my Special Education training, I took additional certification in Integration of Children with Exceptionalities in the Regular Classroom, Learning Disabilities, and Gifted Education.

So why the blog?

It’s hard to talk about yourself this way, but I have been encouraged by colleagues to share my ideas with the world. I have been repeatedly told that I am a creative and caring teacher and that others would benefit from my ideas. And I always thought I could do it later. “Later”, I would tell my friends, but something happened this year to show me that I had to stop saying “Later”. For many reasons, I needed to say “Now”.

So here we are.

Weird Name. What’s going on?

The name of this blog comes out of who I am as a teacher.

Shenanigans comes from my love of old-fashioned language. There are many words in the English language that have, sadly, fallen out of use. Shenanigans is one of these. I use it to describe the goofing-off I observe from students in class. They aren’t malicious about it, just silly and not thinking. I use the word with students, colleagues, and admin, so I am known for it.

Muffins comes from my tendency to use pet names with my students. “Sweetheart”, “Dear”, etc. are part of my vocabulary. I use them in place of students’ names all the time. I used to think that it was because I had a hard time with names at the beginning of the year, but then one year after I dismissed a class, a student hung back. He was a student who faced many challenges and was often alone. “Mrs. T,” he said, “The only other person who calls me sweetheart is my mom. Thanks.” And then he left my room.

It was a good thing I had a preparation period right after because I burst into tears. It was at this point that I realized that there are students in my class who need to hear that there are people at school who are happy to see them. My using those pet names may have started for selfish reasons, but I have continued it specifically for students like that young man who reached out to me. For a variety of reasons, “Muffins” has become my go-to name.

And it has become an interesting bit of culture in my class and school. Most students accept it as me being me. Some students object, claiming they are not a muffin but rather a cupcake or some other baked good. I tell them they can be whatever pastry they want after they graduate. Which leads to flights of fancy. “I am going to be baklava!” ”I want to be a donut!” “I am going to be a lemon pudding!” And the day after graduation, I refer to the grade 8s as the “students formerly known as muffins!”

So Muffins & Shenanigans seemed to be the perfect name of the for this blog.

I look forward to sharing ideas with you as this blog develops.

P.S. You can follow me on Twitter.