Planning a Night for Parents

With all the work we build into our classroom activities that uses the Chromebooks and iPads, my teaching partner Ray and I thought it might be helpful to share some of the tools with parents and teach them how we use tools like Google Docs with our students. We have put together a small presentation that we can offer to parents to help educate them on this. Below is a copy of the Agenda that we have outlined:

Parent Night Agenda

  1. Introductions/Housekeeping (5 minutes)

  1. What technology does your child use at home?  (Mindomo) (10 minutes)

  1. Presentation Objective:  To share some of the basic features of Google Docs in order to  become familiar with the tool. (5 minutes)

  1. Google Slides Presentation – Using Technology in Language, Science and Social Studies.  (10 minutes)

  1. Use Google Docs to create a shared document.  Parents will be supported through the process by Mrs. Davies and   Mr. Swinarchin by modelling on the projector circulating as parents work on task (25 minutes)

Parents will complete a table in a shared document

  • column one – four seasons

  • column two – insert image of season

  • column three – insert link to information about the season

Learning About Google Docs Parent Activity

  1. Questions/Comments  (10 minutes)

  1. Feedback – using Google Forms - Parent Workshop Feedback Form Some explanation of how Google Forms can be used in the classroom.  Parents will be shown Google Form and assisted as needed to complete the feedback form.

Back up plan:

If we have technical difficulties at any point or extra time we will have ipads available for parents to explore some of the apps that have been highlighted in the power point.

Materials/Equipment Needed

chromebooks projector ipads

 Here is the Google Slide Presentation that we will share:


One World Schoolhouse: More Thoughts

Here’s our next set of thoughts on The One World Schoolhouse, courtesy of Ray Swinarchin:

It seems only fitting that as I get ready to hand out progress reports to my students this week, I read through a chapter titled Tests and Testing in Sal Khan’s book One World Schoolhouse.  In this chapter, Khan suggests that educators need to question what level of learning is demonstrated through tests and what do test marks truly indicate about a student.  These are interesting concepts considering my last post, Evaluation, Reporting and Technology I suggested that an assigned mark ends the learning process for a student.  Testing, according to Khan, is a snapshot of the student’s learning and for a variety of reasons they do not truly represent the student’s potential.


Khan questions the validity of tests as they do not give the full picture of the student’s learning.  For example, he wonders howl long the learning is retained after a test.  While reading this, I reflected on how often I remind students that they need to carry skills learned earlier in the year forward and apply them to current work.  The students seem to miss the idea of connecting what they have learned to real life applications.  Khan also wonders if the tests actually show what is important.  Tests created by teachers differ and as a result what each finds to be an important concept may differ so student knowledge may differ.  A final thought is that tests isolate subjects and that learning is not connected to larger concepts.  As a result, Khan feels that testing filters out the creative thinkers who must focus on answer questions a certain way in order to meet the teacher’s requirements.  If they student does not meet the teacher’s expectations then the student will receive a poor mark.


This leads to Khan’s to further questions about tests, how valid are marks and what is an acceptable grade? First off, Khan questions what correct and incorrect answers tell the teacher.  A correct answer may be a result of deep understanding, a result of rote memorization or a lucky guess.  An incorrect answer may be a result of lack of understanding, missed lessons or careless mistakes.  The teacher must assume that when a correct answer is given in shows an understanding of content while errors means a lack of understanding.  What we need to remember as educators is that students are being given greater opportunity to show their learning in a number of ways.  Students can display knowledge through displays, pictures, models, use of technology. As educators we need to give students choice on how to express their learning and knowledge.


A final  interesting concept presented by Khan is what is an acceptable mark.  I know that when I was going to school I would be happy with 75% mark.  Khan flips this acceptable mark by stating that the mark indicates that the student is missing 25% of knowledge needed to be successful in this area.  How can a student possible move forward in their learn when they are missing a quarter of some concept that they will need to build upon in the future?  Khan feels that students should go back to review and then be retested until they gain all the knowledge that is needed to move forward.  Khan even questions a student who receives 95%; this means that the student has missed 5% of some key learning.  Again the foundation for future learning is not fully there.  Is it realistic to expect that every student reaches the mark of 100% on each test before they can move on?   At what point does a self paced classroom not meet the needs of the student?


A final thought, grades often define a student or it gives the student a label.  With labels, expectations and limitations are often attached.  How do we assess and evaluate students without giving grades?  Does the mark of an A truly mean that the student has a deep understanding of the subject or have they just mastered test writing?


How 21st Century Tools Can Improve Feedback and Evaluation

Authentic and timely feedback is often a hot topic in education. It is widely accepted that giving feedback quickly is the key to seeing improvement in student work. However, many educators will admit that they find this a challenge and that it is affecting the thoroughness of their assessment and evaluation practices. It is challenging for many teachers to keep on top of giving all of their many students feedback that is specific, detailed, and done quickly enough for them to make immediate improvements. The beauty of so many of the 21st Century tools that are now available is that they are providing us with more creative ways of giving feedback and assessing students. These tools are making it easier for teachers to give feedback quickly, to give more detail, and to follow up with more students. Thus in turn, allowing teachers to have more data to use in their assessment and evaluation practices. Below are ten technology tools that can help improve how teachers give feedback and evaluate students.

E-Portfolios:  E-portfolios, like the one that can be created on D2L, allow students a space where they can archive their work, achievements, make reflections and leave notes.  Students can use this space for their work and then reflect on their strengths and needs.  The portfolio also allows the user to allow others to share comments.  Using this feature a teacher could have students work on giving peer feedback.  Finally, the student could set up the portfolio that would allow the teacher to give feedback that could only be viewed by the student.  E-portfolios allow the student to collect work and see progression over the year by using and building upon the feedback and reflections of the students work.

Google Drive Forms:  Google Drive Forms can be used in two ways to evaluate student work.  The first way is to create a form that allows students to submit their work directly to the teacher.  This makes it easy for teachers to access a particular assignment and prevents students and teachers from misplacing work.  A second application for evaluation is to create a self-evaluation form.  Once work has beens submitted the teacher could set up a questionnaire that has students reflect on the task they have submitted.

Voice Thread:  Voice Thread can be used in many ways that allows students a way to show their work.  Students can insert pictures of their work and add their own comments about it.  By being able to record their thoughts, students can clearly express their knowledge verbally.  A practical application is to use Voice Thread during DRA.  Not only could the teacher record the student reading, the teacher could also have students give verbal responses to the comprehension questions.

Evernote: Is excellent for documenting anecdotal notes on students and can be used as a place to keep evidence of their learning. You could save photos of work samples, photograph and save any written feedback you have given. As well, you can later search for a note you made for a student easily because Evernote will search both text and images. This is useful when reflecting back with a student to previous feedback you had given.

Google Docs: Not only is Google Docs a great tool for student collaboration, but it’s also very handy for providing feedback as an assessment as learning tool. Students can submit work to you for commenting. The comment feature allows teachers to highlight specific sections of the document and comment on what they have done well or what needs improvement. In addition, if students share their work with their peers, peers can provide comments in a similar way; thus enhancing the use of peer feedback in the classroom.

Ipad: The iPad is another useful tool for assessment in so many ways. However apps aside, one of the simplest uses for evaluation is the camera tool to provide photo evidence. Rather than keeping endless samples of student work for reference when it comes time to write report cards or have handy for parent interviews; having photos of student work readily available on the iPad eliminates the clutter.

Document Camera: You can purchase dedicated document camera’s for your classroom. However, if limited the iPad can also double as a document camera if you have a stand for it to hold above the item you are viewing with your class. Using a document camera is very handy when providing whole class feedback for something most students need to improve on. Show them examples, write or highlight the text, place stickies near key ideas. All of this is projected to a larger screen when using a document camera, making it easier for students to see.

Lino:  Lino can be used in many ways for assessment.  Lino is an online tool that allows for collaboration, brainstorming, and sharing of information through sticky notes which can include text, hyperlinks, images and video. In our class, we used lino by having students post new learning on the board.  Lino could also be used as exit cards or as a way to share level of understanding of concepts being taught in class.

OneNote:  We have spoken of how OneNote can be used in a previous post.  OneNote allows students to place all their work in one area and allows teacher access to the information anywhere.  Teachers can monitor student progress and give instant feedback.  OneNote could be used to take notes during guided reading.  Pages could be set up for each student and using the audio/video tools, could capture student reading.  A quick note could be added to the reading that might include observations about the reading including strengths, needs and next steps.

Video Feedback: There are several tools available that can be used to give video feedback to students. The value of recording the feedback you give students is that students who need additional support can view the feedback multiple times. As well, if you are giving whole class feedback, students who were away can view the feedback that was given and not be left behind as the rest of the class moves forward in improving their work. Video feedback also has the advantage of being easily viewable by parents so that they are more aware of what their child needs to work on. Here is a link with a sample of how video feedback was used to take an assessment of learning task and turn it into an assessment for learning: Why Feedback Needs To Be Integrated Into Flipped Classrooms

What other technology tools do you use to help you be more effective in giving feedback and evaluating students?


Evaluation, Reporting and Technology

click image for source

A few more thoughts to add on OneNote and evaluation from Ray Swinarchin. Thanks so much Ray for putting our discussions into words that we can share!

As this week comes to an end, we are getting ready to send out progress reports to our students in the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board.  As the reports are completed, I had a discussion with some of my peers about the process.  One idea that was interesting to me was that once parents and students see a mark they ignore any other feedback.  Feedback is meant to give students an idea of what they did well and what steps they need to do in order to improve.  However, whether a student gets an A or F, it seems that the feedback does not matter to them.  The A students feel they have done things right and figures they do not need to do more while the F students feel they have failed so there is no point in trying further.  So how do teachers get around students’ (and parents’) fixation on marks?

The simple answer is to do away with marks and focus on feedback.   Many may question this idea, however, with the use of technology this is truly a possibility.  Consider report cards.  They are still being delivered in the same manner as they have been for a great number of years.  Teachers try and write a summary of each student’s learning three times a year to help inform parents about their children’s progress.  This made sense many years ago when it was difficult to reach parents.  However, today we can reach parents in many ways; e-mails, cell phone, blogs where parents and students can access classroom activities.  These tools give parents and students instant information about how well they are progressing.  Parents no longer need to wait for a report to find out how their children are managing, they could do this with the use of technology.

 To consider how using technology could change the way we report I began to explore how teachers are using OneNote in the classroom.  One teacher expressed that she liked OneNote because she could use it both as a textbook and an exercise book.  Everything was in one place and she and the student had access to this at all times.  The teacher can monitor how students are progressing and give feedback that is timely and specific to that students work.  If a parent was interesting in how they student was progressing all they would need to do is view the their child’s work and the feedback that is being given.  Since feedback should be focused on strengths and needs it would tell parents exactly what they did well and what they need to do to improve making a mark irrelevant.

On a final note about reporting and the use of technology, I have often heard administrators state, “There should be no surprises on the report cards for parents.”  The underlying message is that communicating with parents about their children ‘s progress should be ongoing. What better way of informing parents than using technology?  By using tools such as OneNote, or e-portfolios, parents can see students work all in one place with the teacher’s feedback.  The report card will have no surprises.

By using technology to give students regular and timely feedback on their work would there be a need for report cards?  What more could be crammed into the tiny space of the comment sections that could not be seen by having parents actually view their work?


21st Tools: Making it easier to fulfill the fundamental principles of Growing Success

Ontario’s Growing Success document outlines assessment, evaluation, and reporting policy for the Ontario Curriculum. It is based on seven fundamental principles which provide the foundation for the policy that is outlined in the document. Each of the policies outlined in the Growing Success document build upon these principles. These seven fundamental principles are as follows and suggest that “teachers use practices and procedures that:

  • are fair, transparent, and equitable for all students;

  • support all students, including those with special education needs, those who are learning the language of instruction (English or French), and those who are First Nation, Métis, or Inuit;

  • are carefully planned to relate to the curriculum expectations and learning goals and, as much as possible, to the interests, learning styles and preferences, needs, and experiences of all students;

  • are communicated clearly to students and parents at the beginning of the school year or course and at other appropriate points throughout the school year or course;

  • are ongoing, varied in nature, and administered over a period of time to provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate the full range of their learning;

  • provide ongoing descriptive feedback that is clear, specific, meaningful, and timely to support improved learning and achievement;

  • develop students’ self-assessment skills to enable them to assess their own learning, set specific goals, and plan next steps for their learning.

As I reflect on different aspects of the document I think about how the 21st Century tools we use in the classroom today impact our assessment and evaluation. In light of having recently completed progress reports, I consider how important students mastery of the learning skills are to a successful school year. Early in the year, we often focus on the learning skills of responsibility and organization. We work hard with students in September and October to ensure they are completing their work in a timely manner; and that they can create and follow plans to complete this work to the best of their abilities.

While we all hope that these skills come naturally to our students; in many cases these skills need to be taught. In light of the fundamental principles that ask us to be transparent and to communicate clearly with students and parents, technology makes it easier for us to do so and thus in turn also helps us to provide our students with further support in staying organized. For example, as I make greater use of my classroom blog I am also using it as a space to share what our class learnings have been, provide copies of handouts/homework that have been assigned, and share when deadlines are coming up. Having this additional tool not only helps to make students more accountable (because they can’t say they didn’t know when a test was), but it also teaches them how to use other tools to remain responsible and organized. My students know that if they forget to take their reading logs home on the weekend that they don’t have to come to school with their work incomplete on Monday. They can look on the class blog for a copy of the task choices they have to choose from and still ensure they have been responsible; completing their homework.

In addition to learning skills, using 21st Century tools allows us to be more effective in meeting several of the fundamental principles outlined in the document. For example, the use of some technologies allows us to ensure that feedback is clear and timely. This can be seen when students are using tools such as google documents or google slides to complete their work. The ability to highlight and comment right on specific section of their work ensures that students are clear on which aspect of their assignment you are speaking of. As well, tools that all us to give audio feedback allow teachers to give feedback faster and to ensure that the feedback is clear for all students, without the limitation of being able to read the teachers written word.

It is still possible to meet the seven fundamental principles from the document without incorporating technology into your practice. However, not only does technology allow us to better engage and support all students; it makes us more efficient at meeting these important guidelines around assessment and evaluation.


OneNote and Assessment

My teaching partner, Ray Swinarchin and I have been exploring the use of OneNote. Here are some thoughts he put together for us in a guest post. Thanks Ray!

Class notebook creator ap iconRecently, my teaching partner Chantelle Davies and I were exploring OneNote and decided to use it to complete on of our tasks for our course, Integration of Technology in the Classroom.  As we explored the program we discussed how it would be useful for assessment by creating tabs for each student and then adding annotated notes.  With this is in mind, I decided to further explore how to use OneNote for assessment with a focus on the audio and video features.  What I discovered was that OneNote offers an app called OneNote Class Notebook Creator.

OneNote Class Notebook Creator allows teachers to create a workspace for every student, offers content library for adding material, and a collaboration space.  With this tool students can work in their space and teachers can give feedback in the same place.  The work and feedback can be accessed anywhere any time.

According to OneNote’s site the app allows teachers to:

• Empower students to take naturally visual notes with ease—place images, text, printouts, tables, ink, screenshots, and files anywhere in OneNote’s “anything, anywhere” freeform canvas

• Keep tabs on student performance—see exactly which students soar and struggle by observing their full learning process, from note-taking, to problem solving, to submission

• Revolutionize homework feedback with real-time coaching while students work

• Encourage collaborative creativity between students with fast synchronization on pages

• Eliminate paper by replacing printouts on paper with printouts to OneNote

• Organize every lesson, handout, and assignment in flexible shared notebook structure

• Combine OneNote with the creative power of digital ink to deliver the most natural digital educational experiences possible

What I did find interesting is that OneNote allows teachers to write comments in each students space.  The teacher can also highlight work and add an audio recording to share feedback with the students.  Also, the audio feature allows teachers to add comments or instructions for students who may struggle with just written instructions.  The audio feature will also allow students to share their ideas and knowledge removing a barrier for those who have difficulty writing.

In a similar manner, students and teacher can both add video to the workspace.  For teachers, they can add video for those students who are visually inclined learners.  With videos inserted, students or teachers can comment on what is being shown.  Text or audio can be used to create a comment.  With the use of OneNote in class, teachers can have students share their knowledge in multiple ways allowing each student create work that suites their learning style best.  It also allows teachers to give feedback in a timely manner in a variety of formats (audio, video or text) or by using any combination of these.

As I explored OneNote offered to employees by the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, I found that though OneNote Class Notebook Creator app is free it is not currently available to staff.  I tried to download the app but was informed that an administrator needed to do so.

If anyone has used this in class, please share how you have done so.  What do you like about using OneNote and what challenges have you faced in the classroom while using OneNote?


OneNote For Teachers



Assistive Technology Access Triangle

More great info from Ray Swinarchin. Thanks for putting this guest post together on our behave Ray!

As I was exploring special educational supports across the district I rediscovered a site called Teacher’s Gateway to Special Education.  This link offers a great strategies and resources for teaching students with special needs. The teaching strategy and resource is broken down into Special Needs, Formal Exceptionalities Determined By IPRC and Diagnosed Medical/Psychological Conditions.  When a specific exceptionality is chosen the page shows common characteristics and teaching strategies including instructional, environmental and assessment.  This site is a great starting point that my lead you into exploring how to use assistive technology to help students achieve to their full potential.

I have created the following graphic pyramid that outlines access to assistive technology for students. To view the document please follow the following link:  Assitive Technology PDF.

Resource:  Special Education Report 2013 – 2014


Assistive Technology in Our School

In continue our discussions on assistive technology, here is another guest post by my amazing teaching partner Ray Swinarchin.

Technology can be advantageous for a broad range of students, in addition to those with special needs. Teachers can build supports using technology to ensure progress for all learners into their instruction methods and learning materials. Assistive technology plays an important role in the provision of instruction based on Universal Design (i.e., good for all, essential for some).Education for All, 2005; Learning for All, 2011)

Having had a conversation with the Resource Teacher, at my school, I contemplated the above idea about the use of assistive technology in the classroom and realized that while it is essential for some students, assistive technology can support any student who may be experiencing difficulties.  Our conversation focused around assistive technology that can be accessed by all and specific assistive technology that may be required to support the needs of individual students.  As with all technology, what is really important is that each student can be supported in a way that will allow them to succeed.

The RT shared with me a number of programs that would support any student who might be struggling with reading or writing.  These programs included WordQ, Clicker, Premier and Read and Write For Google.  These programs main features are that they can read student created material, they can predict words when students are writing and they can read text such as web articles, I have used WordQ and Read and Write in the past with a few students and the change in engagement from these students has been incredible. Work completion has increased and the students feel proud of their accomplishments.  It would greatly benefit other students in the class to use these programs as well however, the struggling students are the only ones who use this due to limited resources.  I have often wondered if by only allowing the struggling students the access to these programs, am I centering them out?

As we continued our conversation I asked about students who might require specialized technology in order for them to succeed in the classroom.  Our resource teacher explained that students could receive assistive technology to meet individual needs through Special Equipment Amount Claims. Special Equipment Amount Claims provide funding to school boards to assist with the costs of equipment needed to support students with special needs and where the need for specific equipment is recommended by a qualified professional.  The SEA Claim covers a variety of items including computers, software, computing related devices as well as training and technician costs.  The equipment the student receives moves with the student as it is essential for them to be independent and to succeed in the classroom.

As we talked about the SEA Claims, I recalled a student who had a DynaVox.  The DynaVox allowed the student to communicate with peers and the teacher.  This piece of assistive technology was something that allowed the student share knowledge, to write ideas and to express thinking.  This is a form of assistive technology that is specific to the needs of the student and thus it is important for teachers to embrace the technology and to have patients when using new technology.  To some teachers, new technologies in the class may feel like something else added to their plate, however for the student it may be the only means by which to be successful.

For students who struggle, assistive technology provides tools and supports that help the students become more independent learners by allowing them to control how they can process information.

On a final note I asked what is the most sought after tool?  The response was that in general there is a need for more technology.  Students with the highest needs receive tools but there is not enough resources to support every student’s needs.  As an observation, I noticed that while our RT worked with some of our most challenged students, she was doing so without assistive technology.  I began to wonder if the resource teacher or the resource room is overlooked when technology is distributed within schools?  Is this the last place that should be considered for technology or the first?


Associative Learning – One World Schoolhouse Reflections Continued

Associative LearningIn recent days I have picked up where I left off in listening to my audio book, The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan. In the book, Khan discusses the scientific side of how education happens. A phrase he used that really stuck with me was that, “we learn by deciding to learn.” So often, educators talk ‘at’ students hoping that they will at some point just absorb the material they are hearing. However, despite all of our repeating of concepts, if a student does not see any value in trying to learn the material; the chances are that he or she will not retain any of the information for any extended period of time. From time to time, when I’m trying to get a student to understand a concept they are not grasping well they will regurgitate the ‘correct’ answers back to me simply so they can move on and head back to their seat. Often this means that while they may briefly understand the concept, in a day or two I find they need further review as they have not logged this into their long term memory.

Khan explains that some of the research he has explored shows that students need to be able to relate new learning to something they have previously learned. This is called associative learning. Thus, students will retain information better if they can make meaningful connections to what they already know and they are more likely to want to learn the material if these links are there.

Khan asks why in our current system, do we chunk and separate concepts that we are teaching. Contrary to this thought, many teachers that I know do blend their subjects and learning concepts together. Well, at least in the lower grades they do. Language lessons are often intertwined with science and social studies lessons; while the arts are blended into assignments across all areas of the curriculum. The challenge with this comes as students get older and move to a rotary system where subjects are taught in isolation. When different teachers are teaching each subject, the separation as Khan discussed does indeed exist. When teachers don’t see students for multiple subjects, they are unable to find and demonstrate those natural learning links across the curriculum. Thus, stifling the associative learning. Should we then be re-evaluating the model commonly used in our middle schools and high schools? Is this another reason for elementary schools to avoid the rotary system?

 Khan, Salman, 2012.  One World Schoolhouse.  Retrieved from

Learning from an ATchat

Reading along with the most recent ATchat was my first experience with following a twitter chat. Although, it took some time to become accustom to following along several thought threads from a variety of people (with the limited content one can put into a single tweet); I did come to really appreciate that value of sharing thoughts about education with people from around the globe.

One of my initial challenges in following the chat was the need for a common vocabulary understanding. Terms like UDL and RTI were frequently used, and although they sounded familiar I had to jump over to do a google search to refresh my memory.

UDLAs I had first guessed, UDL was referring to the term Universal Design of Learning. If you are unfamiliar with this, this is the idea that educators can minimize barriers for students, while maximizing learning for all students. The theory is that if we support the students ‘between the lines’ of the majority, then we will benefit everyone. This is just like the idea that providing a ramp for someone in a wheelchair supports people with strollers, on bikes, with a walking cane, or someone on roller blades. UDL has three principals:

Representation – show learning in different ways

Action and Expression – allow students to approach learning tasks and demonstrate what they know in different ways

Engagement – offer options to engage students and keep their interests

Centre on UDL

RTI or Response to Intervention “is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs.”

I discovered that RTI relates to the three tiered intervention approach that I am already familiar with. I guess I just didn’t know the terms properly:

At the tier 1 stage, students who have been identified as struggling learners through a series of test and screenings receive instruction and support in addition to their regular learning that is completed in a time frame of up to eight weeks.

Children who are still struggling after the eight week intervention are moved into the tier 2 stage. Students then receive increasingly intense intervention support in a small-group setting.

Students who continue to show difficulties in their learning following their grading period where tier 2 intervention was offered, move into the tier 3 stage. It is in tier 3 where students receive individualized intensive instruction. Following individualized instruction, students may be referred for further evaluations that would allow for special education services offered by the school board.

So, from this chat I learned some new acronyms and I was also exposed to a few new tools. A lot of the talk in the ATchat was about the tools available on students devices that can support them in their learning, and the logic that was often presented was that many of these tools could benefit all students.

Two of the tools mentioned in the ATchat were WordTalk and Balabolka. Both of these are free text-to-speech software that will work well with Windows operating systems. I see the value in offering these tools because students that struggle to read many of the texts provided in class for learning (for example around science of social studies topics) can now feel more independent in reading the material given to the rest of the class. Students will definitely feel more engaged when they feel they can be successful. Further, the beauty of using a tool like WordTalk allows all students to approach their learning with this extra tool if they feel it would be helpful. Even the best readers in the class could use these tools to extend their learning and find other more advanced reading material on their learning topic to deepen their understanding of the material.