Posted in education

COMMUNICATION SKILLSHow a Simple Presentation Framework Helps Students LearnExplaining concepts to their peers helps students shore up their content knowledge and improve their communication skills.By Joseph ManfreJuly 14, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

A few years ago, my colleague and I were awarded a Hawai‘i Innovation Fund Grant. The joy of being awarded the grant was met with dread and despair when we were informed that we would have to deliver a 15-minute presentation on our grant write-up to a room full of educational leaders. If that wasn’t intimidating enough, my colleague informed me that he was not going to be in Hawai‘i at the time of the presentation. I had “one shot,” just a 15-minute presentation to encapsulate all of the 17 pages of the grant I had cowritten, but how?

I worked hard to construct and deliver a presentation that was concise yet explicit. I was clear on the big picture of what the grant was composed of and provided a visual of it in practice. I made sure the audience understood the “why” behind the grant. I showed how it worked, the concrete elements of it, and how they made it successful. I finished with a scaffold that would help others know how to initiate it within their context, giving them the freedom to make it authentically their own.

I received good feedback from the presentation, and more important, what was shared positively impacted student learning in other classrooms across the state.


That first presentation took me over a month to prepare, but afterward I noticed that my prep time for presentations shrank exponentially from a few months to a few (uninterrupted) days. Interestingly enough, as a by-product of creating the original presentation, I created an abstract framework that I have used for every professional learning presentation I have delivered since then. The “What, Why, How, and How-To” framework goes as follows:

  • What? What can the audience easily connect to and know as a bridge to the unknown for the rest of the experience?
  • Why? Why should they care to listen to (and learn from) the rest of the presentation? What’s in it for them to shift from passive listeners to actively engaged? The audience needs to know why you believe in this so much that you are compelled to share it.
  • How? What are the key elements that make it unique? How is it effective in doing what it does? What are the intricacies of how it works?
  • How-to? How could they start doing this on their own? How could this knowledge serve as a foundational springboard? Connect it to “why.”


One of the best parts of presentations is that they help the presenter to improve their communication skills. The presenter is learning how to give a presentation by doing it. To prepare a presentation, the presenter must know the intricate elements of what they are presenting and the rationale for their importance. In the presentation delivery, the presenter must be articulate and meticulous to ensure that everyone in the audience is able (and willing) to process the information provided.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that preparing and delivering presentations could provide a valuable learning opportunity for my students.

I recall teaching mathematical concepts whereby students would immediately apply knowledge learned to accomplish the task in silence and without any deeper questioning. Only after I asked them to provide presentations on these concepts did they regularly ask me, “Why is this important, again?” or “What makes this so special?” My students’ mathematical literacy grew through preparing presentations Kira Retana with the “What, Why, How, and How-To” framework, which supported them in their ability to demonstrate content knowledge through mathematical rigor(balancing conceptual understanding, skills and procedural fluency, and real-world application).

  • The “what” served as the mathematical concept.
  • The “why” demonstrated the real-world application of the concept.
  • “The “how” demonstrated conceptual understanding of the concept.
  • The “how-to” demonstrated skills and procedures of the concept.
Posted in education

CURRICULUM PLANNINGReprioritizing Standards for Middle and High School StudentsAfter a challenging year, focusing on social and emotional learning and vital standards may be the way forward.By Heather Wolpert-GawronJune 24, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

We keep hearing about “the new normal.” But that term, to me, still longingly looks backward. I would argue that we need to rethink our word choice to embrace, more joyously, the abnormal. This will take front-loading because it will be a slow boil this summer to prepare teachers to launch the year, not with normal in mind, but with new.

The next school year will not be off and running the way normalcy allows. We’ve learned too much. Those first couple of weeks will be about building community in the school and building community in the district. Those first couple of weeks will be about ensuring that students know the social and emotional resources that have been developed during this time: how to find the wellness center, how to make an appointment with a counselor, and how to set up a peer-to-peer meeting. This is the time to begin learning the students’ strengths, their interests, and their Covid stories. It’s the time to administer a quick academic or skills-based assessment, not for a grade, but to learn about each student’s growth area and about the leaps they may have made during this time.

But it isn’t going to end after two weeks.

This touching base will be ongoing because grief and sadness come in waves. And many of us will be reentering life in August still grieving the loss of a school year.


Throughout the year, we’ll be meeting students where they are. Throughout the year, we will be building social and emotional learning into our lessons and units. There may be more assemblies to stimulate the school community in a deeper way, additional lunchtime activities, and increased trips to the counselors’ offices.

All of this takes time—necessary time—out of our school day. But research shows that comfort in the learning environment and comfort with the people in the school positively impacts academic achievement. It’s worth the investment. After all, we can’t deny that there is a trade-off, a worthy one, but one that takes intentional planning.

We talked about prioritizing standards during distance learning, but this is our new normal. The need to prioritize and cull our standards has not ended. We can no longer go page by page through the textbook or the pacing guides that were designed in 2019. We need to examine what standards and skills are most vital and trim without remorse. This may also take focusing on more student choice and more skills-based assignments. It may mean more cross-curricular opportunities with other teachers to teach more efficiently and share the burden.

As an educator who promotes project-based learning, I have always talked about the need to prioritize standards. After all, not every single standard is worth the invested time of a single lesson when one can integrate it more organically into a project. For instance, if students are solving the problem of local home insecurity by designing micro homes for their city’s homeless population (10th grade), those students will most likely be applying the distributive property organically and daily without a worksheet or full day’s review. If a student is writing a new law to lower the voting age (eighth grade), they will most likely learn how to use subheadings simply by reading models of laws to help prepare their own argument. No need to set aside a day to do so.

Educator and National Geographic Fellow and Explorer Jim Bentley asks, “What are the ‘billboard standards’ that students will pass en route to the more foundational, ‘destination’ standards?” The billboard standards can certainly be called out explicitly, but time doesn’t need to be set aside for that level of learning. Think about what are the standards you simply can learn along the journey.


When I think about prioritizing standards, I think about three tips I learned from PBLWorks. These can help you decide on a focus for a project, sure, but I think they can also help you prioritize your quarter or semester as well.

1. Is the standard a foundational one? Is it one from which others are built?

2. Does the standard require deep thinking? Or is it merely Google-able?

3. Is it a cross-cutting skill that needs to be taught in other subjects as well? Does it need to be reinforced in order to highlight transference between subject areas?

I once learned a little trick from brilliant curriculum designer and coach Alicia Peletz to determine importance: “Close your eyes. Picture the next two months. Only the next two months. Now think about what skill or content topic you most need students to know during this time. That first thought is most likely your first priority standard.”

Sit with a team, walk through the protocol, and see if you all open your eyes with a similar answer. Create your list of priorities together. Only then do you look at the list and see what was never mentioned. Only then do you reflect on the remaining standards left behind. Think critically and without remorse. What can you all walk away from knowing that a student won’t be damaged by not learning it at this time?

We know that our pacing guides and drive to get through the standards prior to Covid was a fast-moving train that never allowed for the depth of learning we wanted to convey. Think of this time as an evolution in education, a forced deepening of the material to help us do what the textbooks won’t. And then don’t look back. If we deepen the exposure to the foundational content, to the content that needs teachers Kira Retana to coach them through understanding, and to the cross-cutting skills, we can’t mourn the loss of the rest.

We say we are prioritizing the standards now, but really, by prioritizing the standards, we are prioritizing the students. All the rest may not have been that important in the first place.

Posted in education

INTEREST-BASED LEARNINGUsing Simple Outdoor Science Lessons to Inspire StudentsOpen-ended prompts can guide students to explore life science processes in the world around them.By Matt CarityJune 11, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

Providing meaningful pedagogical change for my students’ benefit in a way that is organic and impactful is my ultimate goal, and it has proven difficult to achieve.

When I recently reflected on my teaching, it showed far too much time spent on content-driven sprints instead of focused, process-oriented marathons. I could see that the science process had fallen away from my instruction. There had been no opportunities for students to “do science”—they had just been learning about science concepts. Students learning about life science and natural science behind a classroom desk every day seemed a bit backward. Hoping to rekindle curiosity about the outdoors and a desire to reconnect with students, instead of learning science only in traditional ways, we moved outside.

Participatory outdoor experiences and student choice proved foundational for me in helping students begin to like and appreciate science and learning again. I will share one example of that process.


My sophomores and I spent time outside at the beginning of the school year, doing simple observational tasks. My outdoor lesson prompts were open-ended: “Write down some observations you can make.” Observations were the focus; moving beyond visual identifications was the goal. We made cursory observations first and then focused on sensory mapping, a practice where students find an isolated spot and chart, in real time, the changes they observe around them. 

My students mapped a grassy area east of our building. After that, we discussed common themes that they chose to represent their surroundings. How many students noticed the plane flying overhead? How many recorded the dump truck driving by? With these questions, they became more attuned to their surroundings and thought about their environment in a new light.

Later that week, we went back outside, and they recorded biotic and abiotic factors using the skills learned earlier. Eyes widened—they were getting excited. 


Here are some of my initial observations of students getting outside:

  • Laughing after inadvertently walking through a spiderweb
  • Admiring a praying mantis mimicking wind movement
  • Discovering a shoelace used for nesting material
  • Furrowing brows while asking about bagworm cocoons

The classroom content was composed of small details of students’ learning. Experiences became our vocabulary. They were all fluent. This is the school I want.

My students still talk about those couple of days spent outside, discussing rudimentary science concepts. Genuine outdoor learning stirs wonder in us—wonder about the natural world, questions asked without thought, and excited anticipation when interacting up close with bugs and critters.


Teaching in a free-form style is difficult. Many students commented that making observations was difficult because of the lack of instruction. My students often want to know the task, and they work to complete it so they can be absolutely sure that they’re meeting the desired expectation.

I feel that education is more poignant when it’s discovery-based.

Hoping to get my students outdoors even more, I tasked them with taking pictures of three plants and three animals. That was it. No further directions were given because I wanted to see what the students’ responses would look like.

The results from the assignment were staggering. My students submitted pictures ranging from pets to houseplants and livestock to landscaping. For them, it was a matter of convenience. “What is close? What can I do quickly to check this box?”


In response to their submissions, I uploaded two clarifying videos, reframing the task for my students. It was time to make the expectations a little more overt—to clear the muddy waters.

Pictures came rolling, and the results were astonishing. The dirt was settling and the waters were clearing. So many amazing plant and animal picture contributions were submitted for the assignment.

After posting three of the plant submissions, students could choose one picture and one prompt. The tasks were as follows:

1. Pick one picture.

2. Pick one of the following tasks:

  • Tell me why you picked this picture. (“Because I like it most” is not good—what do you like best about it?)
  • What does this picture mean to you?
  • Write a short poem about the photo.
  • Draw or paint your version of the picture.
  • Describe the picture using five words. (These words cannot make a sentence.)

3. Share your work.


Less than 12 hours after I posted these prompts, six of my students replied and two completed submissions—and this was a completely voluntary assignment, posted on a Saturday.

Extremely small, intentional steps to change the direction of my teaching have been ongoing and quite slow. However, these small practices have led to significant positive changes in my students as learners. They show genuine interest in being outside, have excited questions Kira Retana about nature, and go down rabbit holes of question-laden investigations. These are the foundations for meaningful life science instruction.

Posted in education

ADMINISTRATION & LEADERSHIPA CIO’s Strategies for Humanizing DataAs one district chief of information shares, sensitivity and savvy are key to getting staff comfortable with data.By Victoria CurryMay 26, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

If you’re a chief information officer or data director at a school district, chances are the past year and a half has been a whirlwind. You’ve been accustomed to working in the background, quietly providing data to school leaders, but now, your work is front and center. Staff across the organization are using data you generate and maintain—attendance, proficiency, and engagement data points—to make major decisions with long-term, and often very public, impact.

Having your work be front and center can be incredibly exciting, but it’s also challenging. Quantitative information about vulnerable populations can be sensitive, and some stakeholders are not only suspicious of data but aren’t trained in how to assess it and use it effectively.

The fact is, pushback against data happens all of the time in education, from all angles—school boards and administrators, parents, lobbyists and politicians, and student groups. And resistance to data can arise for any number of reasons: teachers believe that data dehumanizes the students they work so hard to support, the data exposes something stakeholders aren’t ready to hear, or they believe that their district’s circumstances are unique, so comparative data isn’t relevant.

School data experts are now working in an utterly transformed landscape—one in which reliable numbers are needed to make decisions about online learning and to address newly exposed equity issues at the district, state, and national levels. The stakes are high. If you’re a district CIO or data director, chances are you need strategies to make data compelling and accessible to audiences that can historically resist it.


Likely one of your main tasks these days is to take demographic and course enrollment data (e.g., gender, race, and who is taking which courses) and marry it to your LMS and internal quantitative and qualitative data sets (e.g., test scores, survey results, formative assessment, and SEL social-emotional learning data), so you’re generating precise reports on data sets that can be as granular as “survey results of Hispanic males in AP Chemistry who log on to Google Classroom more than twice a day.” I call this “demographic overlay”—it’s very different from conventional data analysis, where you may have looked at assessment results in isolation from demographics, qualitative SEL/survey input, and engagement metrics.

A dynamic “demographic overlay” can prompt compelling next steps for your school, but it can also increase the amount and complexity of information for stakeholders to take in, so make sure that the data you share is scrubbed, tidy, and formatted in a way that ensures that they don’t struggle to make sense of overly granular details or straightforward points such as what the X-axis represents. They need to focus on analysis and decision-making. Use simple visuals, like bar graphs, to transform information into single data point graphics or sentences, and know that building data literacy skills among stakeholders is part of your job. (Assume nothing! Many stakeholders are newcomers when it comes to data.)

Also, in education, stakeholders can become resistant to data if it doesn’t reflect the humans behind it. Your job is to humanize summaries of data, and the best way to do that is with data storytelling that is fastened to stories in the school community that are already a priority (e.g., the experience of Asian students and families in the district) and surfaces stories that maybe no one has looked at yet (e.g., suspension rates in a particular population).

Finally, take every opportunity to tell the story in different ways and multiple ways. (In marketing lingo, these opportunities would be called “touchpoints” along a “customer journey.) For example, in addition to sending PDFs of reports once a year, craft quarterly emails that tell the same story in a slightly different way, perhaps with teacher perspective interwoven.


When data tells a compelling story, it incites emotion, and in education, emotions can range from glee to pride to resentment, differ across groups, and even change among individuals depending upon the timing and the data presented.

Just as data is valid, so is the emotion it generates. Plan for emotional space for stakeholders who are analyzing and digesting the data. For example, I recently presented data that drilled into accelerated class placement for a district to district administrators, and the differences among scoring profiles of different racial and ethnic groups moved them to the point of despair. I was taken aback and had to think quickly; I asked them to turn off their cameras so they could take a moment, privately, and think about sharing how the data made them feel before turning the cameras back on. I learned a powerful lesson that day: While I want stakeholders to look at data critically, I also need to anticipate their emotional reactions and honor them.

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GAME-BASED LEARNINGWhen Implementing Games In Your Classroom, Don’t Forget About ChessTeacher-turned-principal Salome Thomas-EL says chess can help students develop a slew of practical skills they can use for many years to come.By Paige TuttMay 28, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

Over the last 30 years, teacher-turned-principal Salome Thomas-EL has found success  leveraging the game of chess to teach math and history at the elementary and middle school levels, writes Kate Stoltzfus for ASCD.

But chess is not just about rote academics, says Thomas-EL: The game boosts student confidence, teaches them critical thinking and problem solving skills, and engages them behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively, along with providing a host of other benefits. With enough practice, skilled chess players can even utilize both the left and right sides of their brain when playing.

“What I often say is that smart students don’t always play chess, but students who play chess always become smart,” said Thomas-EL in the interview with ASCD. “Students I had 30 years ago reach out to me and say they still remember those matches and are still using those skills in life, in business, in the corporate world, in law school.”

Many of Thomas-EL’s students are disadvantaged students of color, who have historically lacked access to enrichment opportunities that challenge their minds, he says. Chess has been a “great equalizer” that has let them prove themselves in a pastime traditionally associated with intellectuals and affluence. His students have gone on to play in numerous tournaments and won, collecting trophies and sometimes competing against players several years their senior.

“My idea was just to give them an environment where they could be comfortable exhibiting their greatness, because that’s not always easy and not always available,” he told ASCD. “Chess eliminated the preconceived notions, all the biases, the judgment.”

Thomas-EL’s observations are backed by an array of studies that show chess improves students’ academic and social and emotional skills. Here are some of the benefits of teaching chess to students—even when starting at a young age.

Builds Confidence in Students:Research conducted by the St. Louis Chess Club showed that 72 percent of students polled believe chess made them more confident with learning challenges; 75 percent of those same students also felt chess motivated them to seek out more difficult opportunities.

Thomas-EL says it’s important to ensure students are continually challenged in their learning. When his elementary and middle school students were winning games too easily, he matched them against more skilled high school players. “Failure is motivating. Success can be paralyzing,” he says. “We have to be okay with sort of getting out of that comfort zone and moving into the learning zone, which is close to the frustration zone.”

Builds Problem Solving Skills: In chess, players must be thinking critically at all times when faced with a series of challenges on the board, predicting several moves ahead of their opponent to win—a feature that helps students develop stronger problem-solving capabilities, says Thomas-EL.

A study conducted in the early ’90s suggests that students who learned general problem-solving skills while playing chess could transfer those same skills to another academic domain, in this case, poetry.

Boosts Spatial-Analysis Skills: It’s estimated that approximately 2 million students in the K-12 schools are considered “spatially-talented” with abilities that are not traditionally identified during the gifted and talented screening process. These students possess skills that could be bolstered through chess because the game requires players to mentally picture a move they or their opponent may make on the board without physically touching any pieces.

“[Chess] teaches students to not only see the turn, but to see around the turn, because in chess you have to think five moves ahead,” says Thomas-EL.

Improves Math Scores: A study from 2015 showed a correlation between chess and improved math scores. Out of a group of 560 students, half were exposed to “normal school activities” while the other 280 students received in-person chess lessons and online training to bolster their mathematical problem-solving skills.

Thomas-EL says he’s used chess to teach mathematics in special education classrooms, showing kids that “bishops move on diagonals, knights move on right angles,” for example.

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PROJECT-BASED LEARNING (PBL)A Beginner’s Guide to National History DayNational History Day—which, despite the name, runs through the school year—is powerful project-based learning for middle and high school students.By Matt Weyers, Taylor HamblinApril 21, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

Think of National History Day as a science fair for history classes. It allows students the opportunity to engage in historical inquiry on a topic of their choice and—if they’re interested—enter their project in regional, state, and national competitions.

In our experience, National History Day (NHD) is one of the best forms of project-based learning; it prompts students to engage in sustained inquiry as well as in critique and revision, all the while making a public product for an authentic audience—hallmarks of effective PBL. This rigor is particularly relevant as state and national social studies standards, like the C3 Framework, encourage students to analyze, explain, evaluate, justify, and interpret content. Real history goes beyond the memorization and recall of names, dates, and places, and NHD can be key to supporting students in making that leap.

Running an NHD competition for the first time can be quite complicated, but here are some steps to simplify it.


Get your feet wet by exploring the NHD website, which includes inspiring examples of yearly winners and advice on how to create competitive historical arguments. Two shining examples of winners include the documentary By Chance: The Story of the First Code Talkers and the website The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: The Tragedy That Struck Alaska.

The site also shares details on the five NHD project options for participating students:

  • Website (with interactive multimedia)
  • Documentary (including recording interviews)
  • Paper (good for students who like to work alone)
  • Exhibit (three-dimensional and placed on a physical structure)
  • Performance (presented live by individuals Kira Retana or groups of students)

Each category requires access to specific materials in order to be successful. For example, exhibits require access to trifold boards, documentaries require editing and recording software, and performances demand simple props and backdrops. (Take an inventory of your school’s technology so that you know what’s available to students; at a minimum, students need access to word processing software, consistent internet access, and video recording and editing equipment.)

Once you are familiar with the NHD basics, contact your state National History Day affiliate to help you better understand the process. (Every state and territory in the United States has an affiliate.) Typically, students begin researching their topic in late fall in preparation for a school competition in January or February, with upper levels of competition lasting until June.


If you’re the lead facilitator for NHD at your school, make preliminary contact with area experts who have knowledge of performance arts or documentary making; ideally they’ll be interested in assisting students with their projects.

Also recruit individuals and organizations that can assist students with different stages of the history projects. For example, local librarians can help students find resources, historical societies and museums can help search for unique (local) historical topic ideas, and businesses and booster clubs can support students with travel stipends and scholarships.

Posted in education

TECHNOLOGY INTEGRATION7 Tips for Teaching With Videos


7 Tips for Teaching With Videos

Along with considering video length, teachers should look for ways to make watching a video an opportunity for active learning.By Devin RossiterMarch 11, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana
Kira Retana
Kira Retana

Allison Shelley for the Alliance for Excellent Education

Congratulations! You spent hours in the YouTube rabbit hole and emerged with an amazing video to share with your students. You click the play button, and as the video ends, you ask the class, “What did you notice?” Your “Tell a partner what you learned” is met with the stare of infinite silence or, if it’s after lunch, a five-second summary of the very end of the clip. Zero notes have been taken, and no analysis has been provided.

What went wrong?

Information Age educators rely on various types of media to share complex ideas and concepts with students. At a time when professional streamers and social media content creators seem to have the craft pinned down to a science, how might we employ some of their strategies to engage our learners?


1. Use visible countdowns. Ever had to give five more minutes to finish an assignment or a conversation? Spoiler: It’s never just five minutes. Time donation is a common contributor to unfulfilled success criteria and rushed lesson goals because it’s easy to lose track when providing differentiated support.

Make these intervals visible, and you can communicate clear expectations for independent work as well as direct instruction. No matter how much time you need for an activity, you’re likely to find multiple video timers of that interval to insert into your slides with a simple YouTube search. Searching for “four-minute timer” yields a wide field of results, from the familiar countdown series of Adam Eschborn to vivid number-free radial timers by PHCuber.

2. Reclaim the frame. Whether in a physical classroom with an interactive display or a remote learning environment where each student faces their own monitor, a common miscue is to play instructional videos in full screen. The general thinking is that the video needs to be as big as possible for visibility. However, doing this surrenders valuable screen space to remind viewers of the purpose of watching.

Professor Richard Mayer, who has a PhD in psychology, has led research supporting the cognitive theory of multimedia learning. Here’s the short version: You can learn with text alone, and you can learn with images alone; however, you will learn more with text and images together. This idea has wide-ranging applications in educational media such as descriptions of photographs or using closed captioning for videos. One effective application of Mayer’s theory is to place key facts or guiding questions next to the video as it plays so that learners are clear on what to look for and what to discuss once viewing is complete.

Posted in education

CURRICULUM PLANNINGHow Teachers Can Use Pedagogical Documentation for Reflection and PlanningStudents generate a lot of documents that show their thinking, and teachers can use that evidence of learning to improve future lessons.By Cecilia Cabrera MartirenaFebruary 5, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

The Covid-19 pandemic and working remotely have challenged teachers of all grades to be as creative and innovative as possible, including the way they manage pedagogical documentation. With remote work, teachers often assign asynchronous tasks, which can generate large numbers of documents. Many of these documents, when managed appropriately, can be an extraordinary source of reflection and analysis to improve future curriculum planning.

Whether teaching remotely or in class, choosing what to document and how can seem overwhelming. It also can be daunting to determine which documents to consider for future learning needs. Knowing how to choose what lessons to document and how to document them may reduce the amount of work and at the same time make it more effective.

Here are some ideas for managing pedagogical documentation that have proven to help teachers and pre-K to 12 students work together to choose what is most likely to be useful in curriculum planning for years to come.


Select a learning session that will likely have benefits beyond documenting the work for the current semester and will hold lasting value for future curriculum planning. Then choose the moments in the learning process that you or your students find most relevant. The documents should show the activities that are most likely to generate reflection, analysis, and the development of creative thinking skills and metacognitive skills. These will have the most to offer for future curriculum planning.


The next step is to decide how to make a record of the observation. Choose a technique that will best show the thinking process and learning progression of the students—note taking, photography, audio or video recordings, or a combination of one or more methods.

Families can also provide helpful documentation. For example, the family of a preschool girl recorded her enthusiasm for measuring different objects at home, which led to a follow-up math session. The math teacher used the young student’s passion for measuring as the basis for a class about why people measure things and how to measure using a variety of tools such as blocks, pencils, or hands. One family’s documentation of a student’s love of learning inspired a new math lesson.


Once you have a suitable sample of documentation, both you and your students may find it helpful to prepare an exhibit about the learning process, carefully choosing the documents that best show the progress of the work.

This can lead to an unstructured conversation in which you ask students about the relevance of the display and ways the display can show the school community how far the students have come. This dialogue encourages the development of critical thinking and provides an opportunity to illustrate the learning process to students and the school community as a whole.


This role of pedagogical documentation is different for teachers and students. Teachers reflect to review their teaching method and approach. From the data they collect, they can make decisions about future lessons and the educational evolution of each student.

Students need teachers to help them find the right moment for oral reflection and also to invite them to write or draw their reflections on their learning process. Teachers can ask students questions about what the documentation shows or use a marking criterion so that students can see if they’ve reached their goals. If students haven’t reached their goals, they will be able to see why, as well as what they need to do in order to achieve their goals.

Posted in education

MOBILE LEARNINGUsing Technology to Support Young English Language Learners in a Hybrid ClassroomThrough videos and interactive online tasks, early elementary students can increase fluency and build vocabulary.By Katie GardnerJanuary 8, 2021

Kira Retana
Kira Retana

Since late August, I have been teaching hybrid, early elementary students who are learning English. Transitioning into a hybrid environment has been challenging and created a new learning curve for both educators and students.

Within our hybrid setting, students are split into two groups. They attend school for in-person learning two days a week, and teachers and students all have virtual learning one day a week. In the hybrid learning environment, I am able to teach, model, and introduce the new content vocabulary and language skills to my students face-to-face. Then, during remote learning days, my students are asked to complete engaging and interactive virtual tasks to show what they know and demonstrate their understanding of the new content.

Our district’s one-to-one technology program has made a big difference for my students in our Title I school, as my early learners are equipped with iPads to use both in class and at home. Through these devices, I’m able to foster communication skills that support the language domains of reading, writing, speaking, and listening, as well as the academic standards that accompany them within the hybrid setting. Our technology allows me to collect evidence to keep track of my students’ continuous development and growth.

Our iPads not only support students’ creation and engagement within the hybrid learning tasks but also enhance communication between teachers and parents, which contributes to the students’ academic success. Educators and parents are able to come together virtually with the devices and monitor the students’ progress and development. In creating assignments for my students to complete during their remote days, I rely greatly on the gradual release model. With this teaching technique, I’m able to model and introduce new content during our face-to-face learning. Students and I are able to practice the skill together in class, and then during remote days students are asked to use the new skill independently to demonstrate understanding.

One of the advantages of using this technology during hybrid learning is that I’m easily able to differentiate and provide proper supports for my students. For example, I can create teaching videos for students to watch as many times as needed to understand content. I can record videos of myself reading a story, which allows students to watch them as often as needed when completing virtual tasks. Using my Memoji on my iPhone allows me to make engaging and fun videos of myself explaining directions. Recording and adding a simple audio recording of myself speaking enables students to hear vocabulary Kira Retana words read aloud or explanations of their definitions.

I have taught my students how to use the iPad’s dictation accessibility feature to type their answers to questions as well as how to highlight text on the iPad and choose the speak selection accessibility feature to hear words read aloud. This is a great support when students are asked to practice their fluency skills and they are unsure of how to pronounce the words in front of them. I can add pictures, animations, or images to the task to support learning new content vocabulary words or understanding new concepts.


With the Apple Clips app, I created a weekly flipped learning videos series titled “iCan with Clips.” In these videos, parents and students can see and hear me demonstrate and explain new literacy skills. I chose to use the Apple Clips app to create my videos because the live titles feature, similar to closed captions, allows students and families to read Spanish subtitles to support understanding the new concept.

This app also allows me to add fun background music, emojis, filters, and digital posters. The gradual release model is embedded within these videos, so as the students watch me model the lesson, they’re asked to try it with me on the iPad. They are then prompted to complete the task independently pencil-to-paper or create their own learning video to share with me on Seesaw.

I have also enjoyed creating interactive multimodal activity books to support the new content vocabulary units and literacy skills we’re learning. (My free iBookexplains how to create one.) Using the book template in the Apple Pages app, students are able to show what they know within the digital books during their weekly remote learning days. Within these books, I can reinforce what we have learned together in class, and then students complete differentiated tasks throughout the activity book using the iPad’s features and tools such as the camera, video, audio, and drawing.

Students are also asked to use manipulatives and resources in their homes in personalized activities. When we return the following week to learn together in class, I am able to collect and assess the students’ activity books to have a better understanding of how their academic skills are developing. Each book is equipped with a teacher rubric to use in assessing the book to allow parents and students to talk and take note of the child’s progress or need for remediation on certain skills.

Other interactive and creative remote tasks I have asked students to complete:

  • Create a scene with your toys, and write about it with pencil and paper. Take a picture of your paper, and share it with me on your device.
  • Record a podcast telling me about your weekend, sequencing the order of events using complete and detailed sentences.
  • Capture a picture of your backyard, and use the markup feature to draw over the picture and design or build the yard of your dreams. Then create an audio recording describing your dream yard.
  • Complete an interactive scavenger hunt to find new vocabulary words around the house, and share them through photos, text labels, and audio recordings.

As I navigate through teaching in a hybrid environment, my little language learners continue to grow, thanks to our district’s one-to-one technology program. With the support of our devices, teachers and students can create, communicate, and engage in meaningful learning.