We like tidy narratives. Heroes and villains. Beginnings, middles, and ends. You need only look at the latestMarvel Blockbusters to see the formula writ large. There is an inherent danger to this structure, as we impose labels and story-arcs over people and events that rarely, if ever, conform to such a convenient structure. The opposite, though, the absence of narrative, is no better.
Unfortunately, for an example of the latter, you could just watch the news.
Not only do we increasingly like our current event stories to be clear-cut, they often seem to move so quickly that there is no time for ambiguity or complexity to evolve. Google “news cycle” and you will see a plethora of quantitative data and existential hand-wringing about the increasing speed — or complete erasure — of the news cycle. “Donald Trump killed the news cycle,” writes the Columbia Journalism Review. “Self-contained storylines that once would have risen and fallen in distinct waves of public attention have given way to information overload and frequent confusion.” The New York Times opines that, “. . . nothing matters long enough to matter.”
Labels and the illusion of character arc are still present — look at any recent story about North Korea — but context is left behind.
Forget simplistic narratives; it seems that in the news we’re often left with no narrative at all.
What does this mean for educators? It means that we need to complicate. . . everything.
We can no more teach Westward Expansion as a clear-cut moral story than we can allow our students to believe that a story no longer being talked about consistently is equivalent to the story no longer existing.
Any educator who teaches in the humanities or has the opportunity to develop students’ civic engagement, whether in class or an advisory period, has the responsibility to help students make sense of the world around them.That means identifying fake news, reading multiple sources, and identifying bias and assumptions. It also means acknowledging that very, very few events have easy-to-trace beginnings and ends or fit into convenient, all-encompassing summaries.
Case in point: Syria. The war there, which started in 2011, is still happening. It is also very, very complicated. The same can be said for Yemen, which also isn’t exactly in great shape, though you aren’t likely to hear about it either if you glance at the latest headlines. And the justifiable uproar of family separation has masked the potentially more destructive removal of asylum for those seeking refuge from domestic abuse or gang violence.
It’s impossible for every teacher to help their students fully understand every one of these issues. It’s impossible for any person to fully understand every one of these issues. But we can refuse to buy into the mindset that nothing matters long enough to matter.
We should work with our students to identify issues they are interested in, research context, and follow events as they unfold over the course of a school year. This is different from just learning history or just talking about headlines. It’s a shift in the way we perceive time and learning. Instead of a predetermined lesson or objective, we have ambiguity. Instead of a backwards-planned unit, we have uncertainty. Instead of resolution, we have the beautiful, chaotic mess of life.
If we want our students to genuinely enact democracy, to engage with the world, then our classrooms need to authentically engage with the world while it is happening. As John Dewey wrote, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
I am not advocating that we forego curriculum in order to only follow current events, or that it’s even possible to track every major news story. (What counts as a “major” news story, anyway?), but I am advocating that we open our classrooms to uncertainty and vulnerability.
Watching the world unfold in real-time is a terrifying, wondrous proposition. Follow any story closely enough, and conflict will arise in your community. Students will have differing opinions, will question why something matters, will venture into realms that are uncomfortably personal. Rather than seen as a cause for concern, we should view this for what it is — a beautiful opportunity.
Conflict within the context of learning is an opportunity not just to speak about civics and civil discourse, but to actually practice it. Not just to speak about restorative justice, but to struggle through it. Not just to theorize about right and wrong, but to wrestle with its embodied meaning for us as human beings.
So, as you develop your curriculum for the upcoming year, schedule some room for ambiguity. Give students a chance to decide what stories they want to follow. Learn what matters to your community. Make a few predictions about issues that you think will become increasingly important. And then, over the course of the year, get to know the people involved. Research the places, the histories, the futures. Help students see the connections between the content you are studying and the events unfolding around them.
Situate your classroom in the world and dwell there. Let the world matter long enough to matter.
Guest Post by: Dan Thalkar (@dthalkar) Humanities Teacher in Los Angeles, CA
Even the most animated teachers know what it’s like to stand before a room full of glazed-over stares and drooping eyelids. Student engagement is often the toughest part of the job, and many educators struggle to “hook” their students and reel them into academic content.
The good news is, you don’t have to do backflips or pepper your lesson plans with the latest slang (you really, really don’t) to get your students interested, inspired, and ready to learn. ClassHook provides you with a simple way to hit refresh on your lessons. Here are three ways to engage your classroom using ClassHook and Kiddom:
Tip 1: Use ClassHook to bring a bit of interest, humor, and retention into the classroom
ClassHook is a full library of short film clips pulled from popular media that can be used to pique interest and make students feel more connected to the academic content. Let Bart Simpson explain the properties of metal. The Animaniacs remind students to carry their 1’s. Shrek schools them on literary tropes. How’s that for a mnemonic device!
Tip 2: Use a ClassHook video as a high-level primer for a new topic
Film is a familiar medium for young people, and leveraging media literacy is a powerful way to help students understand complex ideas. Use ClassHook to introduce or reinforce academic concepts. While students won’t receive all of the pertinent information just from watching these clips, it can be the spoonful of sugar needed to move through a lesson with ease. Each ClassHook clip is tagged by grade level, subject, and topic so it’s easy to find appropriate content to fortify any lesson.
Tip 3: Make homework more approachable
At the end of a class, use Kiddom to drag and drop a ClassHook video resource from Planner into student assignments for students to watch later at home. This kind of homework can can be quite helpful for retaining a lesson, and might be more approachable to those students who already have plenty of reading materials to study. This tip might be especially useful for teachers trying to keep students engaged over a break or a long weekend.
Kiddom integrates the most helpful teaching tools in one place so you can plan individualized lessons, assign curriculum, grade, and do your reporting all in one place. Along with our new Classhook integration, you can build your Kiddom lesson plans upon various other tools like CK-12, Newsela, LearnZillion, Quill, RocketLit, IXL Learning, and more!
Sign up for our newsletter to get Teacher Voice articles fresh off the press!
Teacher Voice is a blog for teachers, by teachers. Well, mostly teachers, give or take a few writers who wanted to be teachers, but couldn't make the cut. Join the Teacher Voice newsletter to get the latest stories, teaching tips, educational resources, product updates, and latest in the world of K-12 education.
Building relationships with administrators and teachers demands thoughtful inquiry, care, and reflection
Education is awash with efforts to personalize learning. But what does it mean for a company to personalize its support for the teachers who use its product? School leader, Jordan Silvestri and Kiddom representative, Melissa Giroux, describe what it takes for an edtech company to deliver the kind of personalized experience to its customers that teachers give to their students.
Jordan Silvestri: Our school focuses on preparing our students during their final years of academic involvement to gain and hone the skills that they will need to be successful after they graduate. We started Torah Academy in September 2016 with a strong vision for how and what we want our students to learn. Every class, student interaction, social setting and community learning experience is another opportunity to help our students see their potential and grow.
After our first year of running the school, we realized that one of our major challenges involved how we were tracking students’ progress. We needed a student-centered program that would be easy to function for the teachers and bring all of our work into one place.
Melissa Giroux: Our initial planning session with Torah Academy was extremely energizing. We were excited to meet a school leader who had great clarity around his team’s strengths and goals: Jordan wanted his team to become more accustomed to using data to drive daily instruction and he wanted technology to support consistent routines so his students could become independent learners. His concrete goals made us confident we could support his staff’s day-to-day work from afar.
Working together over the course of the year, we — at Torah Academy and Kiddom — together learned three powerful lessons about how to deliver personalized support to educators:
1. Lead with Inquiry
When teachers in professional development workshops push back on learning a new tech tool or question if a new platform might mean more work instead of less, it would be easy for a principal to double down on mandates and take a hardline stance.
Empathetic leaders respond with questions: “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” or “Can you walk me through the steps you currently take?” and most importantly, “How can I help?”
When teachers hear their administration pause to learn a little bit more about them, learning becomes collaborative. Rather than fighting, they work as a team to figure out if the platform can adapt to meet the needs of a range of educators.
Companies, too, need to build that kind of inquiry into every step of their work with educators.
Educators at Torah Academy teach courses that cover everything from Common Core mathematics to Judaic studies, as well as provide services including speech therapy and vocational training. A one-size-fits-all tutorial about edtech product features wasn’t going to cut it with such diverse staff goals.
The first session between teachers and Kiddom invited the educators to express their concerns so that together we could customize the platform to their teaching styles and goals. Teachers learned how to move their existing curriculum from Google Drive into collaborative Kiddom classes. Other workshops, using the Question Formulation Technique, helped teachers frame collective inquiry goals for professional learning communities.
The Right Question Institute frames this process well: “The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school.” We believe that same kind of questioning skill should characterize how teachers interact with edtech companies.
2. Walk the Talk
There’s nothing worse than a classroom full of students staring at you as error messages prevent you from moving on with a lesson. As an administrator, I (Jordan) was worried that some of my teachers might have technical difficulties with onboarding to new technology. The “competency test” for real customer service is simply this: Will it deliver when you need it?
One teacher, in particular, had reported that as she was working to set up her class over the weekend, she hit a snag. She struggled to figure out what was going on. Finally, she contacted Kiddom through the app and had a live troubleshooting conversation on a Sunday afternoon. I was floored by both the teacher’s proactive approach — and the fact that the company walked the talk, big time!
Just as important as responding quickly is speaking the language of the people you serve. The company’s support team has grown from a collection of part-time interns into a team of former educators — people who natively speak “teacher talk” — and avoid the kind of tech jargon that can confuse just about anyone.
No school is the same. Investing the time to send a company’s support team to visit schools and observe users in the field means that teacher advocates learn how to ask questions to troubleshoot and to gain context. They are not merely following tech support flow charts and giving standard responses; they’re relying on their knowledge of pedagogy and the challenging realities of everyday teaching to frame their responses.
3. Stop and Reflect
School-based staff don’t always have time to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities and reflect on successes and challenges. But particularly when you start a relationship with a company, educators must ask their partners: How are you measuring success?
As a school for students with special needs, Torah Academy does not use letter or number grades to assess student progress. Teachers focus on helping students master the skills they will need to be productive members of their community. This approach to assessment — with the ultimate goal of having students apply their goals to new environments and interactions — has been core to our program.
During one of our first joint meetings, the company introduced its mastery grading feature to Torah Academy teachers as if it were a new concept. Hardly the case! In response, teachers showed the Kiddom team how that construct fit right in with the school’s methodology, so that teachers could correlate lessons to goals and assess student progress in one fell swoop.
Throughout the year of working together, our joint team relied on routine check-ins to collect feedback, plan targeted professional development and to provide administrators with a sounding board for worries or celebrations.
But by mid-year, it became clear that educators were adopting the platform in very different ways and at different speeds. We consequently scheduled a mid-year professional development day. The Kiddom team spent the day working with individual teachers during their prep periods, to better differentiate and leverage relationships. Each conversation was private, which allowed for candid feedback and questions and supported individual needs. Some teachers desperately wanted more support in analyzing reports; others were still working on building classroom routines using the platform.
Building relationships between teachers and students takes thoughtful inquiry, care and reflection — and the relationship between an edtech company and the teachers who use its products demands the same. When both groups invest the time, authentic learning happens.
Use Library’s engaging resources to help your students study
With state exams, midterms, and finals around the corner in the United States, many teachers are focusing on preparing their students for the bubble sheets and answer booklets ahead. We’re all too familiar with the standard review packets, full of busy work, but seldom do those prioritize student needs. Where are they at now, and where can they do better?
Personalizing and differentiating review material can be a daunting task, especially if your resources are scattered and/or don’t meet students’ learning styles.
In an ideal world, teachers would be able to pinpoint the exact needs of a student and quickly share materials to meet those skill gaps. With Kiddom, this is a reality: spend less time reinventing the wheel and more time directly supporting student needs.
Know exactly where your students are
Prioritizing learning targets is half the battle, and that’s where we come in. Kiddom’s standard mastery reports allow teachers to efficiently investigate progress already made on specific standards/skills and quickly act on it. View your class’s progress towards a specific standard or skill so far, and plan to remediate.
Need an even closer look? No problem! Click on each standard to view which students need the most attention, and which ones are ready to move on. Kiddom lets you add as many standards to assignments as you want, so you never lose track of the skills associated to your assignments.
All the resources you need, a search away
Kiddom teachers can use our Library to find and assign free resources, including videos, quizzes, practice activities, and more, based on the data from your standard mastery reports. We understand it can be time consuming to select resources, so we’ve made our search options as specific or broad as you would like them to be across grade level, subject area, or media type. Need resources that are standards-aligned? No problem. Kiddom’s Library allows you to search by specific standards, and your mastery reports connect you directly to the appropriate resources.
Find exactly what you need by easily previewing the resource before you assign it. Assignments may already have standards aligned based on the standard group you are using, but you can always add your own.
All of your materials, in one place
Chances are, you’ve collected a lot of materials for the topics you Don’t worry: you’re covered there too. Kiddom’s Playlist functionality allows you to group resources into one contained playlist, so your resources aren’t scattered everywhere. Think of it as Pinterest specifically for your classroom. Since your Playlists are housed in your Planner, you can choose when to assign them, and who to assign them to. Simply click to expand the playlist, and drag and drop the assignment into Timeline to assign to everyone, or click a student beforehand to assign to only them.
Kiddom allows you to create as many playlists as you want, so the possibilities are endless for thematic, skill-based, or topical groupings. Create a playlist dedicated to enrichment resources and another for remediation, or create one based on topic and subject. Whatever organizational method works for you, Kiddom works with you to house all of your resources and ensure your students get exactly what they need. Need to organize multiple resources for students to review for a test? Create a playlist to group them all together, and simply drag and drop it over to a student’s timeline to send it. You can create multiple playlists to address specific needs for students for test prep: use your reports to see where students need help, and create a playlist with content just to address those needs. Your students will appreciate the personalized resources, since now they’re reviewing what they need to review, and not going through things they already know. Students and teachers alike can agree: “busy work” is necessary.
Gone are the days of the dreaded review packet, and long waits at the copier. Besides, cookie-cutter packets can be impersonal and can feel unimportant to a student: it’s just busy work and taking away from skills they should be focusing on. We hope you use our Library and Playlists to create engaging assignments, boosting student morale and skills in the process.
What are you waiting for? Explore Kiddom’s Library. And have fun!
Trace a student’s journey to mastery with this new feature
Educators in our pilot schools and districts have been using Kiddom this school year to create self-paced curriculum and personalized assignments. Their work is shifting towards student-centered, authentic projects and away from teacher-driven assignments with only one right answer.
This shift provides options for demonstrating mastery in both the processes students use and the artifacts they create. To support our pilot schools’ desires to build student ownership, we’ve expanded the ways teachers can send assignments and students can send evidence of demonstrating mastery.
Now, each assignment created by a teacher can have multiple attachments from their computer, Google Drive, or Kiddom’s content library.
Students benefit too — they can send teachers more than one attachment per assignment, allowing them to do more complex and rigorous work in a streamlined way.
How do multiple attachments support teaching and learning?
Choice: Provide students with choice by sending multiple attachments as a set of options to choose from. An English teacher might attach multiple readings to choose at the same Lexile level.
Modality: Help every student gain an understanding of the learning material by attaching a video, an audio file, and a reading to meet their needs.
Process: Let students share several drafts of a project within a single assignment, or offer checklists and graphic organizers in the same assignment as the final project.
Students will now be able to:
Attach multiple attachments before submitting an assignment
Access and attach items from Google Drive
Make multiple submissions over time on a single assignment
Teachers will be able to:
Send multiple attachments from a single assignment
Attach more than one curriculum resource from Library
Send more than one Google Drive attachment
Attach any combination of files (PDFs, screenshots, images, etc.)
We’d like to thank our pilot school communities for helping us understand why allowing for multiple attachments is critical for classrooms focused on promoting student choice and voice. We’re excited to learn how you’ll use this new functionality in your quest to unlock potential for all students.
P.S. If this is your first time hearing about our pilot program for schools and districts, click here to learn more. We do have some availability for learning communities interested in implementation spring 2018.
Dig deep into student performance on individual standards
As more and more teachers across the globe manage their classrooms using Kiddom, we’ve been thinking about how our reports can be even more actionable.
Simply put: we want teachers to be able to complete the instructional cycle for every student faster. And more efficiently. To do this, we believe teachers must need to be able to (1) investigate progress already made on specific standards/skills and (2) quickly act on it.
Well, we’re thrilled to announce this is now possible. Teachers, meet your new standard mastery reports and prepare to say, “Ooh la la…” 🤗
Standard Mastery Reports
To access your standard mastery reports, visit your reports page. Click on an individual standard from your reports to view a more detailed summary of your class performance on a specific standard.
At the very top, you’ll see a more detailed description of the standard you clicked on
Use the arrows next to this card to cycle between standards
The first reporting metric, Class Average, shows your overall class average for this standard
To the right, Class Average is distributed by mastery group
Use the graph below this to track the performance of your class on this standard over time
Sort the order of students by first name, last name, or by performance (e.g. sort by “lowest grade” to display students who need the most support first)
Individual Student Progress on Standards
From your standard mastery reports, scroll down and click on any student to open up individual student progress over time on specific standards.
At the top, you’ll see a graph you can use to track the performance of this student (on this particular standard) over time
Every assignment that is aligned to this standard (and assigned to that student) can be viewed here
Clicking on an assignment will open that particular student’s submission (where you’re welcome to add additional feedback and/or comments)
Find Resources Directly From Your Reports
Remember the, “we want teachers to be able to complete the instructional cycle for every student faster” thing we mentioned?
From your standard mastery reports, clicking “Find more assignments for this standard” will instantly open your resource library.
Use our library to find and assign free teaching resources (videos, quizzes, activities, and more) based on the intelligence you obtain from your standard mastery reports
Teaching resources here are meant to supplement/enrich instruction and offer teachers additional differentiation materials
We’re building Kiddom to be a place where teachers and learners can work together effortlessly, no matter where they are. We’re going to be focusing on one particular group of patient folks next: Android users. Stay tuned…