Future of Reading & Writing Lightning Talk at Stanford University

On Monday, May 16th I delivered a Lightning Talk at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education on the future of reading and writing. My talk explores how technology is creating a growing divide between the classroom and life beyond. In my talk, I share specific strategies and tools educators can use to teach reading and writing for today’s students.

Note: 59 minutes into the video is a panel discussion about the future of reading and writing.

For tips on teaching reading and writing with technology, check out my latest book Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology!

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Conversations Instead of Grades

At the start of this year, I wrote a blog titled “Grading for Mastery and Redesigning My Gradebook,” which detailed my desire to rethink assessment in my classroom. I was tired of students always asking me about points and grades, instead of asking me about how they could improve their skills.

I wanted feedback and assessment to be an ongoing conversation. Too often students complete work at home in isolation. Then the teacher collects that work, takes it home, and grades it in isolation. This traditional workflow does not encourage face-to-face conversations about where each student is at in terms of his/her journey towards mastery.

Too often the time a teacher spends leaving comments and edits on student work is never used to improve those pieces. Students are often unsure of their own strengths and weaknesses. And many do not know how to improve on the skills they are struggling with. This is where conversations can be more powerful than grading.

For the last 3 class periods, my students have been engaged in either a Station Rotation lesson or independent work on their digital portfolios. As they work, I have conferenced with each individual student to discuss their most recent argumentative essays. Prior to these conversations, I synchronously edited their work on a shared Google Document. I provided detailed feedback and comments on their writing throughout the writing process. Then when they submitted their final drafts, I did not add any additional comments to their documents. Instead, I completed a simple rubric for each essay. The time I normally would have spent adding another round of comments to accompany the rubric was spent conferencing with my students.

During our face-to-face conversations, we discussed their specific areas of growth and I highlighted areas where they needed to continue to develop. I pointed students to videos and online resources I thought would support them in improving in these areas. I also ended every conversation by asking, “Is there anything you want to ask me?” It was interesting to watch their expressions as they contemplated this question. It was clear this isn’t a question they are asked very often. Many of my students asked about an aspect of writing they were confused about. Some asked about a comment I had previously made that they didn’t understand. I realized that many of my students will never ask these questions unless I create the time and space for them to do so.

As I conclude this year and reflect on what worked and what didn’t, I believe spending less time grading and more time having conversations with students about their progress has been one of the most rewarding shifts for me. Next year, I am determined to move assessment back into the classroom where it belongs!

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3 Ways to Shake Up The Station Rotation Model

Over the last two years, I’ve spent time exploring variations on the established blended learning models. In this post, I want to share three different ways teachers can shake up the traditional approach to the Station Rotation Model. This model does exactly what its name suggests. Students rotate through various stations in the classroom with at least one station being an online station. If teachers have ample access to technology, they can design multiple stations that incorporate technology.

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Stations can be composed of a variety of activities (including, but not limited to):

  • Teacher-led small group instruction
  • Collaborative small group work
  • Makerspace station
  • Computer time with adaptive software
  • Project-based learning time
  • Online research
  • Design and create (presentations, infographics, storybooks, etc.) with web tools
  • Individual work or one-on-one tutoring with the teacher

Given the limitless options for creating stations, I’ve played around with different approaches to the Station Rotation Model: Free Form Station Rotation, One Stop Differentiated Stations and Inspiration Stations.

#1 Free-Form Station Rotation

This spin on the Station Rotation Model encourages students to move through stations at their own pace. I break the class into groups and each group starts at a specific station. The number of stations will depend on how much time you have and how long you think each task will take students to complete. I typically design 3-4 stations for a 90 minute block period.  Then as individual students complete a task, they physically move to the next station. This gives students the opportunity to control the pace at which they move through stations and activities. It also allows students a degree of freedom in terms of their movement around the classroom, which they appreciate. For more on Free Form Station Rotation, check out my blog “Free-Form Station Rotation Lesson.”

#2 One Stop Differentiated Station Rotation

The One Stop Differentiated Station Rotation doesn’t actually require students to rotate around the room to various stations. Instead, there are multiple stations designed to challenge students at different skill levels. I typically design a One Stop Differentiated Station Rotation Lesson if we are focusing on a skill, like reading or writing, where there is a large degree of variation in the skills or abilities in a single class. I design tasks that target that skill at each station, but the degree of challenge is different. For example, if students are working on annotating and analyzing a text, I’ll pull an article from Newsela or Smithsonian Tween Tribune that is written at different Lexile levels and I design different tasks for each group. For more on One Stop Differentiated Station Rotation, check out my blog “One Stop Differentiated Station Rotation.”

#3 Inspiration Stations

Unlike most of our Station Rotation lessons, which are highly academic, Inspiration Stations are entirely creative. I design a variety of creative stations that incorporate music, art, photography, creative writing, etc. and allow students to select the station or stations they are most drawn to. The purpose is to build time into our class that encourages students to be creative and allows them the opportunity to decide how to express their creativity. It values creative play as an important part of learning. For more on Inspiration Stations, check out my blog “Inspiration Stations: A Creative Spin on the Station Rotation.”

It’s important to remember that the established blended learning models are just a starting place. Teachers should feel empowered to adapt, adjust and play with these models to make sure they work for their students!

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