How I Use My Document Camera

As part of the Engaged Classroom project that our district is sponsoring, we got a sweet document camera, the AverVision 300AF+.

It is perhaps the best piece of technology that I have added to my classroom. Here is why:
  1. It is easy to use
  2. Everyone can use it at the same time (by looking at it, not directly touching/using it)
  3. It allows me to model
  4. I can record videos
  5. I can take pictures of what the camera is seeing
  6. The students know exactly what they need to write down at each stage of an assignment
  7. Students (in Language Arts class) can receive immediate feedback from all students on their work
  8. It is easier for students to keep up and stay engaged in the lesson
If you go to my school website, you can see some videos that I have made of reading strategies. They are pretty boring to watch, but my kids love it when I am doing it live.

I did a small, very unscientific test, to see how well using this worked. In one class, I just gave instructions on an assignment with the document camera, and the students understood, had fewer questions, and paid attention for the entire time. With the other class, I delivered the same instruction, but didn't turn on the document camera. That class was more distracted, had more questions, and did the assignment at a lower quality.

The document camera is a simple thing, but it makes a big difference in student understanding.

Anybody else use a document camera? How do you use it? How can I use mine better?

Have a Good Life.

I am Officially Official

After two long years of slipping undergrad courses in with my graduate classes*, I have finally obtained my Utah Educator's Level I License. As Staci says, I don't need a piece of paper to show that I am a good teacher. (While that may be true, I do need a piece of paper to keep my job, not necessarily good teaching skills. Is that backwards? Yes.)

Anyway, I am glad to have my license, so only three more years of evaluations and I will be able to be a "career" teacher. Yippee for job security, if I make it that long!

*For those of you who don't know, I graduated with my Bachelor's degree in English, with an emphasis in professional writing, and a minor in Russian. After graduating, I decided that I wanted to be a teacher, and so I went through Alternative Routes to Licensure. The program lets me take a bunch of classes while still having a real teaching job. Personally, I learned far more on the job than I ever learned in the classrooms, and I think I am a better teacher for it. Someday, I'll give my ideas for what a real teacher preparation program should look like.

My Daughter Ate My Homework

Dang! I can't discredit this excuse anymore. 10 months old and she is full after just 1/4 of a paper.

Guided Reading in the Middle School

Twitter version: Guided reading is the best thing I can do to help my students. How can I do it better?

This summer, not only was my internship amazing at helping me prepare for my future job as a school administrator, but it also taught me how to be a much better teacher. My classroom management skills have increased so much, I didn't know I could be this good. My desire to be a great teacher has increased, and my ability to do the same has also increased. I am more dedicated and more professional. I work harder and smarter, and I am able to do some amazing things. Thank you Mrs. P.

The Philosophy

One of the things that I saw at the elementary school was guided reading. Guided reading is where a teacher takes a group of students who are at about the same reading level, and reads with them to help them become better readers. The teacher helps with fluency and comprehension. Seeing guided reading in action changed me. I knew as soon as I saw it that it could be the single most important thing I could do as a Language Arts teacher. I had heard of it, but I thought it wasn't that big a deal. As soon as I watched a great teacher actually do it, it was amazing, and I knew that I had to do it, too.

The best benefit is that I would be able to know how well my students are reading. I would be able to focus some time on each kid, if only just a little time, and help them read better. I sold it to the kids like this:

"You guys must read well. If you don't, your whole life will be miserable. If you can't read well, you will have a harder time finding a good job, and you might never get married! [dramatic pause] If you can't read well, you will not be able to understand the love notes that your boyfriend or girlfriend writes to you, and they will stop liking you!"

Maybe that is not entirely true, but to a bunch of 7th graders that are just learning that the other gender is attractive, this statement set off a round of giggles and sideward glances that made my heart happy.

Guided reading works really well in elementary school where you only see 35 kids a day. It gets harder in middle school where you see 35 kids six periods a day. Taking time to read with all your 200 students in one day is impossible.

How it Works

We did our first round this week. I spent the entire period Monday describing how the rotations would work and stressing the important things that they needed to remember as we rotated on Tuesdays and Wednesdays:
  1. The guided reading part with me is the most important
  2. We will rotate through the stations quickly and effeciently
  3. Everyone's best behavior is required, no excuses
  4. Each student will bring a book

After stressing each of these things for a full 46 minute period, the students understood how serious I was about it. As I explained, we rotated every couple minutes so the students could understand how it worked. Spending that time on Monday was vital to the success on Tuesday and Wednesday. The kids knew what was expected, and for the most part, everyone behaved appropriately.

To help it run smoothly, I invited the parents of all my students to come and help. I got quite a few responses, and some really great parents showed up and were invaluable helpers.

The hardest part of this is the work that goes into it. It always bugs me when teachers go home with a ton of stuff to correct and spend their entire lives working. My workload this year is way more than it ever has been, and I am trying really hard to get everything done at school. It doesn't always happen. To help me find balance, I go home and make sure that I play and read with my kids each night, and after I put them in bed, I stay up pretty late getting everything ready and organized.

This first week was probably the easiest one to prepare. Having parent volunteers every week is the only way I will be able to do this all year. Those kids need someone else there to help guide them along and keep them on task.

We had seven stations. The first station was reading with me. That was pretty much it this time, because I wanted everyone to get an idea of how it works. After reading with me, they work on a worksheet relating to the book that they are reading. Then the third station is our technology station. This week, they just played some language arts games online, and jumped on for a little bit.

The next station was an introduction to the iPod Touch. I got a grant from our PTSA that bought me three of them, and so I wanted the kids to know the basics, so we watched the guided tour (more on this later, because it is going to be awesome). After the iPods, they work on a writing assignment that we are doing at the time. The sixth station is another writing station, where we will focus on elements of writing (smiley-face tricks, 6 traits, figurative language, etc.). The final station is where the students read to get ready to meet with me.

The Challenges

Each rotation is only 10 minutes, so the kids have to really get on task right away. My challenge is creating something worthwhile for them to do for ten minutes that will teach them what they need to learn, and also allow them to create and learn something worthwhile.

The time challenge is fitting all that preparation time into my one 47-minute prep period. It is not easy, especially considering my other responsibilities (tech committee, steering committee, redesigning the school website, engaged classroom, and more). I certainly am not complaining because I love everything that I am working on right now.

The skill challenge is that I don't know how to do this guided reading stuff. I don't have a reading endorsement (though I will start on one as soon as time permits). I am majorly lacking in this area, and I didn't even know what this was until the 2nd to last week of my internship! I do have a great language arts consultant or specialist or whatever she is at the district level. She came out and gave some great suggestions about some things I could do, including having the kids read a driver license exam and talk about strategies for reading that difficult text. I will rely heavily on her.

The Question

What can I do with guided reading to make it more effective for my students, easier for me, and more beneficial for everyone? I am open to all suggestions.

Have a Good Life.

I did it.

I have been on overload the last couple months, and everything seems to be adding up. When you get overwhelmed, you sometimes need to take drastic steps. Well, that is what I did. I whittled my 274 Google Reader subscriptions down to just 15. I wish that I would have taken a picture when it was so many subscriptions, but you get the general idea from the screenshot above.

Since I still write for the The Apple Blog, I had to keep a lot of feeds that I use for that, and I put those on NetNewsWire, so it is a different place and a different mindset for me.

In other news, I downloaded this cool program called slife from This program tracks what you do on your computer throughout the day. It keeps detailed records, allows you to set "productivity goals," and even can track what you do and where you go on the internet. This sounds a little Big Brother-ish, but I don't mind being my own Big Brother. I think that is important. Slife Labs says that they don't report anything back to them, and that it all stays on your own computer. I am going to use this program for a couple weeks and see what things look like. My wife is also using it, and it will be much more telling for her, since this is the only computer she uses.

Have a Good Life.