Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Gift of Giftedness: Effectively Teaching Gifted Students

I despised my elementary classes. I had to do additional work on topics I had no interest in.  I preferred reading a text of my choice, working on a project related to my interests, or researching something I enjoy.  These academic-related activities still would've developed me as a student, but the program didn't provide me with the freedom to make my own choices.

 Instead, I learned the content required for all students in my grade.  Then, once my teacher had covered the material, the other students practiced the new concept or skill.  In the meantime, a group of us, the AIG students, left the classroom to expand on what we had just learned.  We had to complete the same homework as the other students, but had additional homework from the separate lesson.  My teachers realized we, the AIG students, mastered new content more rapidly than other students, so they 'rewarded' us with more work.

My experience in elementary school didn't make me want to go to class.  I learned under the accelerated or AIG student program at my school, but the program didn't provide me with a desirable experience.  I spent most of my time in a normal classroom, but there were periods of additional lessons in a separate classroom.  Another teacher would take us in a separate room to learn different content.  These lessons were extremely structured, built around rigid content requirements.

I didn't enjoy my classes as much because I felt punished for my abilities.  Slowly, assignments changed from opportunities to explore and discover into tedious, unwanted work.  AIG students have certain characteristics leading them to be AIG.  These characteristics set them apart from their peers.

All students should enjoy the content they learn, but AIG students enjoy seeking out new knowledge in topics that interest them.  As a child, I enjoyed writing stories about sporting events, reading science fiction and sports books, and working with numbers as they related to sports statistics.  No one asked me or told me to do these activities; I took part because I wanted to.

A better understanding of AIG students and their approach to learning will help teachers better serve these students.  Each student deserves an enjoyable, adapted education experience and teachers can help provide their AIG students with this positive experience by getting to know more about AIG students and following the best practices for teaching AIG students.

AIG is an acronym for 'academically and/or intellectually gifted' and labels students who excel in one or more subject areas more than just being a good student.  These students shouldn't be defined by this broad, scientific definition.  The characteristics of AIG students set them apart from their peers, leading them to require differentiation.  Teachers with AIG students need to better understand this group of students so they can better adapt their instruction to their students.  There are instructional strategies better fitting AIG students, which, when implemented, significantly influence growth and achievement.

The major educational differences between AIG students and regular students can be divided into two categories, their interests and their learning approach.  First, AIG students are more likely to enjoy learning and the activities leading to learning.  According to a study conducted by Lu, Li, Stevens and Ye (2015), AIG students find greater joy in reading, read more often and read a greater variety of texts than their peers.  Perhaps, this greater enjoyment of learning stems from having stronger teacher-student relationships than their peers.  Second, AIG students tend to use higher level thinking strategies than normal students.  AIG students find analyzing through discussion and creating summaries as more effective strategies than other memorization strategies including reading the easy part and repeatedly reading.  Additionally, when learning new materials, AIG students prefer to make connections and develop understanding instead of just memorizing the new material.  These differences between students should direct teachers' instruction.  Understanding that AIG students enjoy reading and learning eliminates the necessity for mandated reading time.  The desire to understand and connect to new information means beginning at a simpler depth, like memorization, isn't functional (Lu et al., 2015).

Educators acknowledge AIG students have different educational needs than students labelled 'normal' or 'struggling' or 'learning disabled'.  However, there are differing approaches to addressing these needs.  Research supports simple changes to much more drastic changes (i.e. changing instruction styles) and addresses some common misconceptions regarding AIG students.

One often debated option for AIG students is pull-out programs or separate classrooms for AIG students.  In the spirit of inclusive classrooms, AIG students more commonly find themselves in a classroom with other students of different ability levels.  According to Scott Willis (1995), AIG students can be divided into subcategories.  Students with IQs above 145 require separate learning environments because their learning so too accelerated for a normal classroom.  In other cases, AIG students can be educated in a normal classroom.  When in a traditional classroom setting, the growth and learning of AIG students falls on the teachers in the class.

Teachers of AIG students have several strategies they can employ to challenge their AIG students and continue the growth of these students.  The main concept all teachers need to implement in their classrooms for AIG students is differentiation.  Despite the need for differentiation, the majority of teachers don't know proven differentiation strategies and techniques.  A few possible differentiation ideas are:
flexible grouping: different grouping for different assignments to enhance the learning experience
tiered assignments: upper level students do upper level thinking on an assignment while other students have other questions to respond to
ability-based reading groups: grouping students by reading level
ability-based discussion groups: grouping students by comprehension skills
learning centers: having different projects/questions for different students to complete
student contracts: working independently on a project created through student-teacher collaboration
research projects: independently, or in a small group, researching an academic topic
mentorship programs: a specialized education program for AIG students (Willis, 1995)


A study performed by Yuen et al. (2016), in Hong Kong illustrated the lack of knowledge related to differentiation and differentiation techniques.  Teachers in Hong Kong primary schools underwent training on differentiating instruction in their classrooms.  Following the training, the majority of teachers in the study reported an increased understanding of differentiation.  Additionally, these teachers felt more well-equipped to teach students with the unique academic needs of AIG students.

Another, more drastic, option for meeting the learning needs of AIG students is a learning model called REAPS.  REAPS stands for "Real Engagement in Active Problem Solving" and is an "evidence-based teaching-learning model ... designed to serve gifted and talented learners" (Maker, Zimmerman, Alhusaini, & Pease, 2015, p. 2).  This learning model combines three learning models, Problem Based Learning, Thinking Actively in a Social Context, and Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses, to create a newer, more dynamic model (Maker et al., 2015).

Problem Based Learning, PBL, uses complex, real-world problems to educate students on academic topics.  Teachers choose problems with multiple factors and multiple stakeholders.  From there, students must analyze the problem from multiple perspectives and create multiple realistic solutions to the problem.

Thinking Actively in a Social Context, TASC, gives students a process for solving real-world problems.  The process isn't linear.  Instead, students learn the process as a wheel with eight steps: "Gather and Organize, Identify the Task, Generate, Decide, Implement, Evaluate, Communicate, and Learn from Experience" (Maker et al., 2015, p. 3) The students learn through solving problems using these eight steps.

Discovering Intellectual Strengths and Capabilities while Observing Varied Ethnic Responses, DISCOVER, focuses on diversity and development of well-rounded students.  The DISCOVER learning model uses a problem-solving continuum to develop multiple abilities.  Through this learning, students identify their strengths, develop multiple skills/abilities, solve a variety of problems, work hands-on, and integrate culture and community while learning the required standards and themes (Maker et al., 2015).

All three of these learning models have flaws and weaknesses, but each model offers something new to REAPS, strengthening the REAPS model.  AIG students require a strong learning model that provides freedom, allows for creativity and discovery, and builds upper level thinking skills.  Students have the freedom in REAPS because the students have a voice in identifying the problems, designing the solutions, pacing of the project and the method of presentation.  The REAPS model creates variety and upper level thinking because they are real-world problems.  Real problems have multiple aspects, factors, and possible solutions allowing for creative minds to flourish and grow.  Lastly, the DISCOVER model focuses on discovery in its name, demonstrating the importance of discovery in REAPS.  The other models also promote discovery because students gather information or conduct research related to a problem, discovering new knowledge.

Research does support REAPS and each component of REAPS as valid, effective approaches to teaching AIG students.  Additionally, any of these learning models can be differentiated to meet the learning needs and goals of different students in a classroom of mixed abilities.  Each problem created for students can be developed to different levels of complexity and expectations set at different levels of achievement.  A teacher following any of these models would push AIG students and other high-achieving students to dig deeper and explore upper levels of thinking.  Students following a normal curriculum are still encouraged to dig deeper, but the expectations aren't for them to reach the same depth or complexity as the AIG students.  This differentiation allows for all students to gain the same base knowledge through the same problem, but gives AIG students the freedom to explore the complexities of real-world problems and develop high level solutions through their thinking (Maker et al., 2015).

In conclusion, AIG students can be a challenge for teachers in mixed ability classrooms.  When these students find themselves in mixed-ability classrooms, teachers need to understand their students' needs.  AIG students find joy in learning and exploring new information.  When teaching AIG students, teachers must differentiate their instruction to fit the AIG students in their classrooms.  One of the options for differentiating instruction in a classroom is the REAPS learning model.  This model is supported by research and contains all the components AIG students desire from their education experience.

Noah Diebel is a junior at High Point University in High Point, N.C.   He is studying Elementary Education, and he is originally from Buffalo, New York. Following undergraduate graduation, Noah plans to continue at High Point University in the Master's degree program for STEM Education. His long-term plans are to pursue teaching either abroad or in the southern United States.


References:
Holloway, J. (2003). Research Link / Grouping Gifted Students. Educational Leadership, 61(8). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct03/vol61/num02/-Grouping-Gifted-Students.aspx.

Lu, J., Li, D., Stevens, C., & Ye, R. (2015). Comparisons and analyses of gifted students’ characteristics and learning methods. Gifted Education International, 0261429414565160.

Maker, J., Zimmerman, R., Alhusaini, A., Pease, R. (2015). Real Engagement in Active Problem Solving (REAPS): An evidence based model that meets content, process, product, and learning environment principles recommended for gifted students. APEX: The New Zealand Journal of Gifted Education, 19(1). Retrieved from www.giftedchildren.org.nz/apex.

Willis, S. (1995). Mainstreaming the Gifted. Educational Leadership, 37(2). Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/feb95/vol37/num02/Mainstreaming-the-Gifted.aspx.

Yuen, M., Chan, S., Chan, C., Fung, D. C., Cheung, W. M., Kwan, T., & Leung, F. K. (2016). Differentiation in key learning areas for gifted students in regular classes A project for primary school teachers in Hong Kong. Gifted Education International, 0261429416649047.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The 4 C’s for Becoming a Successful Student Teacher

Obviously there is no simple template for becoming a student teacher. Even though I have aspired to be an elementary teacher for most of my life, it’s actually quite terrifying to stand in front of a class of students for the first time. Student teaching allows future teachers to get past that challenging first class and become much more comfortable with leading students to the next level.

As an education major at High Point University, I have had the good fortune to be challenged by my professors and my classmates to be prepared for the classroom and ready to try new techniques and methods for my students. In particular, I have come to appreciate what has come to be known as the “4 C’s for Teachers” and how important it is to embrace these skills.

Confidence—As student teachers, we are expected to enter into an established classroom and quickly position ourselves as the leader. This abrupt transition from quietly interacting with students individually to gaining full control of the class can be daunting, but especially exciting! It is critical to approach this new scenario with quiet but direct confidence. We have been thoroughly prepared for this aspect of our educational journey through the support of our professors and rich experiences in diverse classroom settings. This sense of poise allows us to take risks with instructional strategies and truly instill a passion for learning within students. In fact, our confident demeanor directly correlates with student academic achievement—if you know you are the boss, then the students will know that as well and they will set high expectations for themselves.

Control—Behavior management, behavior management, behavior management! If I had a dollar for every time my professors mentioned the vitality of an effective behavior management plan, I would be able to buy an iPad for every single student in my classroom. However, as I approach student teaching, I have finally realized the momentous value of my professors’ repeated efforts to prepare us. Teaching cannot occur until control has been established and recognized by the students in the classroom.

At the beginning of my Student Teaching Internship, I entered into my cooperating teacher’s classroom on their first day of school and was completely astonished by the respect that was immediately imparted by the teacher on the students. The students inherently knew what was expected of them and assisted their peers with the new procedures. As they filed into the classroom with the jitters of the first day of second grade, they immediately sat down and began to work quietly on their own. The maturity of the students was unlike anything I had ever witnessed before. From that day forward, I referred to my cooperating teacher as a sorcerer. She claimed, “the success of my students relies directly on how I control my classroom, therefore I must gain that control before anything else occurs.” My cooperating teacher was able to immediately establish control and expect accountability. The students were being held to expectations that would challenge them, but they were absolutely obtainable. For student teachers, this sense of control will emphasize success during the time in the classroom.

Consistency— This is what I like to call “Showcasing Best Practices.” In direct correlation with control, consistency assists in the maintenance of a coherent classroom. As student teachers educated in conjunction with 21st century skills, we are rich with engaging and interactive proficiencies that provide a new classroom experience for many students. This innovation is highly marketable and, moreover, beneficial for the performance of our students. However, we must remain consistent with our instructional strategies out of respect for our students’ needs. This consistency means that as an educator we should engage our students in innovative manners, but align these interactive activities with the academic proficiency of our students. It is important to use our position as student teachers to incorporate highly effective instructional techniques, while ensuring each student is learning and gaining a holistic understanding. Consistency comes from much practice and determination.

Collaboration—This is a word that is thrown around all too lightly in many educational settings. However, this word carries the most crucial outcome for any educator, specifically student teachers. As a student teacher, we are unsure of many procedures and ideas we have at our disposal. We rely heavily on the contributions and suggestions of our cooperating teacher and resourceful faculty. This collaborative effort should never be identified as a weakness, but rather applauded for its ultimate benefit for the students. As we enter into student teaching, we must use every resource available and work with those that share similar goals.

Although these four practices will help us develop into success as a student teacher, it will never fully capture the overwhelming joy and rewarding challenges that come from being a teacher. So as we prepare for student teaching, we must be confident, have control, remain consistent, and develop a collaborative approach—but most of all we must enter each day with optimism with our students at the forefront of our mind and with their futures in our hands.


Claudia Beard is a Senior at High Point University. She is originally from Chicago, IL but plans to stay in the area after she graduates this May. Claudia will graduate with a B.A. in Elementary Education and a minor in Spanish which she hopes to use as she travels abroad to teach. She plans to continue her education at HPU through the 5th Year Educational Leadership program. As her educational journey takes her through Student Teaching this Spring, Claudia is reminded of the importance of collaboration, confidence, consistency and control in providing a positive educational learning environment. Her passion for teaching is what inspired her to share these techniques with like-minded student teachers.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Make it Memorable

The field of education is slowly becoming mechanical.  Teachers are expected to complete more paperwork and prove that their students understand the concept using a variety of data points.  School days are micromanaged to the minute of what students are expected to be doing, where they go, and how they complete certain activities.  With our endless checklists and constant hustle to get from one activity to the next, we often forget to engage students to the point where we make learning memorable.

What are your students going to remember about your class next year? What will they remember when they their 30s?  Our students deserve to have fond memories of their elementary years. It is our duty to create safe places for our students to learn in a more memorable way.  Open your mind and think outside of the box.  What Problem Based Learning (PBL) ideas can you use?  Can you base your entire unit around one concept or idea?

This year in my third grade class we based our entire Forces and Motion, Heat Transfer, and Matter units on real-life events.  Through teaching in this manner I noticed that my students more engaged than with our normal science experiments and PBLs.

During these units we used the World Series to study forces at work in baseball.  We connected with what students were learning about in reading by experimenting with the Titanic.  We then completed a school-wide PBL on the Miracle on the Hudson, with each grade level connecting this event to their standards.  Every grade level visited Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte to view the actual Miracle on the Hudson airplane. The museum staff adapted their centers to tie into each grade level’s PBL.

We brought in a passenger from the Miracle on the Hudson to speak to the students about her experience on this flight.  The next day students arrived to see our classroom transformed into an airplane.  I portrayed a flight attendant, checking tickets for every student that boarded Flight 1549.  The tickets were created with real passenger names and seats.  We watched the safety video, then followed the audio from the cockpit as the plane descended into the Hudson River.  Students had to brace for impact and escape once the plane crash landed.
 


We had a discussion about the science behind the crash, then wrote stories from the point of view of the passengers on board.  We designed and weighed down paper airplanes with paperclips, then performed water landings using these airplanes.



We then paired with fifth grade and researched aviation throughout history.  Each class built a large model airplane of their assigned era.  Classes were split into six groups.  Five of these groups built one part of the airplane.  Group six was responsible for identifying problems during the building process and for putting the entire plane together.  Each group had to perfect their communication skills to make sure their airplane was symmetrical, that the sections fit together and that each piece was proportional.



As a culminating activity, our school partnered with Carolinas Aviation Museum for a Night at the Museum with stations set up for each grade level to showcase their products.  All of our families were able to attend for free.

The whole school PBL idea involved all of our students and made learning the curriculum memorable. These types of lessons and events are what make school more engaging and unforgettable.  I want to challenge you to make your teaching memorable.  Find more ways to bring excitement into your day.


About the Author:
Megan Charlton is a third grade STEM Teacher at Patriots STEM Elementary School in Concord, NC.  She has taught Kindergarten, Fifth Grade and Third Grade.  She is in her 12th year of teaching, all of which have been in North Carolina.  She graduated from Kentucky Christian University with a B.S. In Elementary Education and Bible.  Mrs. Charlton serves on the NCAEE Board as Teacher At Large.  She blogs at www.CharltoninCharge.com.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Who Are Your Students Writing For?

Have you ever stopped to think who your students are writing for?  If no one comes to mind then it is probably you!  Should students write for teachers?  Of course!  We are there to offer guidance and support but we want our students to become independent of us.  We want them to become authors, writing for a wider audience.

Students need to know why they are writing and who they are writing for. Authors write to share their ideas and creativity to the world and young writers need the same motivation. How many times during a day do you hear your name called and students say “look at this?” Students love sharing their work with teachers, parents and their peers. Even better young writers love sharing their pieces with anyone. 
How do you get your students to feel like authors? First they need to discuss their writing with their peers. Practice having students work in partners. Model how to ask questions about their pieces. Students gain more ideas about their writing when a partner asks questions about their pieces. Feedback drives students to write more adding details that answer their audience’s questions.

Digital publishing is another way for students to share their writing with a bigger stage. Digital publishing puts emphasis on a completed piece of writing and a quality piece of work. Digital writing is almost always meant for an audience. When students know they are writing for someone else besides the teachers it motivates them to do their best. 

Having students write in  Google Docs is an easy way to publish and share a digital piece. It is accessible from anywhere and is easily shared through a google account or shareable link. What is also great about using google documents is that teachers, parents and peers can give feedback right onto the document itself.
Chatterpix is another great way for young writers to publish their pieces. This free app allows students to record and animate their writing, which allows students practice reading their pieces for fluency. To use Chatterpix, students snap a picture of their writing and save it to the camera roll. Next, they open the Chatterpix app and upload picture. They then swipe across the picture to animate it. Lastly, they hit the record button and read their writing.

 Students can also add an illustration that goes with their writing and read as the picture talks.
After reading Spookley the Square Pumpkin, my students wrote about how to be a nice friend. Then they drew a picture to upload to Chatterpix and recorded themselves reading their piece. To publish their pieces, I made QR codes and placed the pumpkins in the hallway for everyone to scan. Sticky notes were placed beside each picture so anyone that listened could leave a comment. This is a simple way to publish to a wider audience. Students get really excited when they see that someone listened to their writing and left a comment. Follow the link below and see our adorable Spookleys.

Once young writers have the experience of talking about their writing, receiving feedback from their audience and having a platform to publish they will not only begin to see themselves as authors, they will become authors.

About the Author 

Lisa Fain is a NBCT who has been teaching for 23 years. She is a First Grade teacher who enjoys integrating technology into her classroom. She blogs at The Primary Sisters with her sister who also teachers First Grade with her at the same school. 





Sunday, December 11, 2016

Making Learning Visible Using Technology Tools

By Nancy Penchev

Technology is an amazing tool that can be used by both teachers and students to create, expand, and encourage learning. Using technology to make learning visible gives students ownership over their work and let’s them have freedom of expression. By providing students with an authentic mode of assessment, teachers are building in higher order thinking skills. But what tools are there that can be used that are simple, easy, and affordable? What tools can be used on iPads, Chromebooks, or other tech? Here are several technology tools that I love and students have enjoyed both viewing and using.

Presentations
MySimpleShow- This is a newer tool for me. They are a very responsive company and want to learn how teachers are using their tool. This tool allows you to create a movie, fairly quickly and easily. The movie shows pictures that match your words, can feature your voice or a voice provided by the company, and looks professionally made. This is a free, online tool so it can be accessed no matter what device you have. After publishing your video, you can upload to YouTube or other video sharing platforms or download as MP4 file.  MySimpleShow teacher example



Chatterpix/Blabberize- Chatterpix is an iOs app and Blabberize is an online version that makes a similar style presentation. They are both free and easy. In three steps you can create a cute, easy presentation. You upload a picture, draw a mouth, and record your voice. These tools are great for book reports, Science, and Social Studies. Chatterpix saves to your camera roll, making it easy to app smash and present with other presentation tools. Blabberize has been known to have glitches and saves to your computer.


Sock Puppets- Students love this iOs app. It is fun, fabulous, and free (but can purchase upgrades). In this simple app you select the puppets you want in your show, pick a background or upload the background of your choice, select your props, then record the message. The app changes your voice to a cartoon voice. The puppet’s mouths move based on the message recorded.


Tellagami- This presentation tool is another free, but upgrades available for pay. With this tool you create a gami (character), add a background of your choice or one preloaded, then record the message. You get 30 seconds on the free version. If you want more time you can pay to upgrade or simply record and save continually, then upload into Perfect Video to put the longer version together.




Perfect Video- Perfect Video is an iOs app that allows you to app smash, which means put together several projects into one presentation. With Perfect Video you can put together all the projects from the apps above. You can add text and voice.




Writing Technology Tools
Snap n Write- This is a great tool for having students create a postcard. It is simple and easy to use. You click the + sign to add text or pictures, add the “address”, and the stamp. My favorite part of the app is adding a stamp with the location. This is perfect for teaching students about summaries because they do not have a lot of room on the message portion. Once complete, you can save the postcard to your camera roll and app smash it into Perfect Video for a book report or other presentation. You can also print it, share it through email or social media. I put together a few different postcards into Perfect Video to make an example.

Mind maps- Popplet is a great tool to create mind maps. It is an iOs map, as well as a website. This can be used to do vocabulary maps, to organize ideas for writing, and as a note taking form during research. Mindmeister is a free tool similar to Popplet, but is a Chrome app. You can create mind maps and workflows.

Word Clouds- Tagxedo is a website, Word Clouds is an iOs, Quora is a Chrome app. All of these tools allow you to input a group of words and create a cloud of words. Students can paste words from their own writing, copy and paste from primary source documents, and many other ways.

For how to guides on these tools and more, check out my blog: www.nancypenchev.edublogs.org.
Nancy Stone Penchev is a Coding/I LAB Teacher and Instructional Technology Coordinator for grades K-5th grade. She has 18 years of teaching experience. Her degrees include a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education, Masters in Early Childhood, Masters in Instructional Technology, and she is currently working toward an EdD in Instructional Technology and Distance Learning. Nancy’s conference presentations include local, state, and international conferences. She has published articles about technology in Teaching in the Middle magazine, Association of Middle Level Educators, ISTE point/counterpoint, and was a focus for an article from Coca-Cola on 9 Ways Technology is Transforming the Classroom. She is an ambassador for Weebly, Commons Sense Media,and Wonder Workshop and was a local award winner for the National Council for Women in Information Technology.