Low Tech: Levels of Learning

I would love you tell you I invented this. I didn’t. I don’t remember where I found this, saw this, or read about this, but it works. Its pretty straightforward. After I do a mini-lesson, I ask them to write a number 1-4 on a post-it. I tell them a 1 is “I need 1 on 1 help”. Four is “I got this”. At this point I multitask. I collect numbers, briefly look at numbers, and I tell them that I reserve the right to move anyone at anytime for incorrect placement or off task behavior. I reinforce the idea that levels of learning is about getting what they need to be successful. I designate a table for each group based on quick check on numbers, tell them 30 to move and start the countdown. I countdown 30 seconds verbally and physically countdown on my hand in the air.  I sit with the ones and get them rolling. While the ones are working, I very quickly move around spot checking the other groups. As a class we do check ins about every 15 – 20 minutes depending on the level of engagement and task.


L.O.L FYI’s

  • Designate groups as needed.
    • Sometime I will mix ones with two or threes and fours if I have small ratios of any given number. NEVER ONES WITH FOURS!!!
    • Students dictate the groups NOT vice versa.
  • Be consistent
    • They may not be honest the first few rounds because they want to save face. Who doesn’t? This is where all that relationship building comes in handy. I find that even my most defiant or reluctant students will move if I approach them in a way that saves them face.
  • Build in some incentives
    • Music is life. Allowing some of the levels (usually not ones) to listen to music is great motivation.
  • Be flexible
    • Allow students to move from level to level as you or the student feels necessary.
  • Allow Noise
    • You can’t be at each level all the time, right? Empower the students at every level to discuss the work.
    • Model the conversation expectations. Give them a few it sounds like, looks like examples based on your expectations.
    • Post some conversation anchor charts around the room.

Bells and Whistles

Confession time. I have almost no concept of time. I am either really early or late. There is no in between for me. I do try to err on the side of early. With that being said, I use alarm clock and timers for everything. Onlineclock.net is a FREE website that has tons of timers and alarm clocks. I set an alarm for every period I teach. The great part is I can have several alarms and timers open simultaneously. This helps me with my lack of time management as well as teach the students time management. I love that I can set a timer with a background. Fireplaces, aquariums, rain, and Christmas trees. I can also set the size varying from small to extra large. One word of caution. When the alarm or timer goes off, there are memes. I have been using this site since August and haven’t seen any unsavory memes, yet. Luckily they’re at the bottom, so I move the timer from the screen before the students see the meme.


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Just a few of the many options available. Go explore!

Low Tech Material Management

Low/No Tech Tips Ikea  and the Dollar Tree are a teacher’s best friend when it comes to managing materials. Two of my favorite material management items come from these glorious stores.

FLUNS – 4/$0.99 @ Ikea

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These inexpensive beauties store one notebook, a library book, a work folder, and a pencil. Reinforce the bottom with some duct tape and label each one with a students name. I have done this for THREE years in a row. I have had ZERO pencils, ZERO notebooks, ZERO library books, ZERO work folders go M.I.A. Even with 160 students, this will only set you back about $40.00. Store them on a bookshelf.  Train your students to pick them up on the way in and put them up on the way out.  And voila! No more lost anything. My favorite saying, “boxes don’t get lost.” And guess what? One hundred times out of one hundred times, boxes and all the materials are fully recovered.

Three Compartment Caddy – $1.00 @ Dollar Tree

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Even though my classroom is “high tech”, I use an interactive notebook . An interactive notebook requires scissors, glue, highlighters, and color pencils. In order to manage all this madness, I used a caddy. I put three small cups the larger compartment for color pencils, the scissors in the medium compartment and glue sticks in the smaller compartment. In my class we generally used only three colors or pencils for writing, hence the reason I had three cups (color coded of course to match the color pencils). One variation that I did was to put boxes of color pencils in the larger compartment. I only put enough boxes of color pencils in the caddy so that each group had two boxes of color pencils. I assigned a caddy master to pass out supplies. Believe or not this was a prestigious honor. Kids would come out of the wood work to be a caddy master. I think maybe it is because they called a “caddy master.” Names have power. FYI scissors, glue and color pencils also came from the Dollar Tree.

Do you have a great classroom management tip? Feel free to share.

Plan to Make a Plan for the Plan for Technology

As a teacher, I make a plan to plan for the plan that needs to be planned. That’s a lot of planning and whenever I am planning to incorporate anything new in my class I plan for that more then I plan the lessons I plan to teach. Are you seeing a theme here? Technology integration like everything else we do in our classroom takes planning. A lot of planning. Well… Let me rephrase that. In order to incorporate technology effectively, you have to have a solid plan in place.  Even if you’re only wanting to use iPads for one lesson, for one day, in the entire year, you need to plan for that. If you’ve never used any technology beyond turning on the projector in your class, I highly recommend having a plan. Don’t get overwhelmed! This post with guide you through just about every phase of the initial set up.  First and foremost you have to decide how and why you are using technology. DO NOT put a tablet, laptop, computer, iPad, Kindle cell phone, etc. in front of a student regardless of their age for the sake of having “technology” in the classroom. Sorry, but that’s not effective incorporation of technology. You have to match the technology to the task (but that’s a different post). There are tons of tools and websites available. When I turn an assignment into a technology based assignment, I look at the paper assignment and then search for the technology based equivalent. For example, if I am wanting them to create a poster, I look for those places that I can have students created virtual posters (Don’t worry, I’ll blog about that soon).

The Set-Up

Once I have decided which technology and how I will incorporate it, I create my master list. The master list contains each student’s name, a note section in case I need to document anything, log-in info (kids forget EVERYTHING!) and the computer AND iPad OR device they will use in my classroom. A little bit more about and/or plus a confession. I am a super lazy teacher. Ok. Maybe not super lazy but I like every teacher in America am on a time crunch. I don’t like a lot of paperwork nor do I like complicated management systems. So here’s my secret: I assign everyone a number. Regardless of the device in the room on any given day they will always get the number assigned to them. I have a simple spreadsheet and I write their name and their desk number on the spreadsheet. I assign them numbers instead of devices because there are no guarantees that I will have the same kinds of devices every day,  (i.e. a laptop cart). So, for example, we had laptops today, and my Instructional Coach stole the laptops to give to another teacher. Tomorrow I will borrow the iPad cart from the library. When my students arrive to class, I will simply say, “get your iPad.” They already know which one to get because they have a number. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel so to speak. They know.  I do a quick number check and we get on with the day. Their number will never change and unless your campus or district does some kind of crazy system, you should get a cart of anything numbered 1-30 or whatever the case maybe. But what if you can’t get a whole cart and have to do small groups? Well I have a system for that too. When I plan my stations, I assign the devices to each person while they are in that station.  The image below is my planning sheet for stations. The “iStation” row is my technology station. I post the stations, and when my students come in they find their station. If they are at a technology station, they go to that specific device. This works for EVERYTHING including iPods and tape recorders. I do a quick sweep of the classroom to ensure everyone is where they need to be and we get on with the day.  Once my master list is created, I enlarge the list and print it out (see I am super lazy). I print the list and cut it out so I can give the students their log-in on day one.Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 6.23.15 PM

One Day: The Sermon

Day one is CRAZY! If your students have never had an iPad or any technology in any class, get ready for a Christmas in the classroom kind of moment. I am talking about walking into the room seeing a cart like they’re seeing gifts under the tree kind of crazy. Before I allow them to touch anything I give them my technology sermon. It goes something like this (please feel free to use any and all of my sermon): “Today we will be including some technology into the classroom.  I need you to understand that this is a huge privilege. These laptops do not belong to use. We are only borrowing them. I would like for us to use technology as much as we can. However, that will depend on your  treatment of your device. I have assigned everyone a number. That number belongs to you and will be your number for any device we have in this classroom. As soon as you get your device, you need to inspect your device for any damage. The reason why it is important to inspect for damages is because if there are any damages that are not reported, you will be responsible for it. Only 2 other people are assigned to this device. This will make it easy to figure out who is responsible for damages. Plus if we have a reputation for taking care of our devices, we will be able to use them more often. If he have a reputation of damaging them, we will not be able to use them. There are two simple rules for keeping your device. Stay on task and stay school appropriate. Any violations of those two rules will result in privileges being revoked and you will be given an alternate assignment. Please be responsible with the privilege I have given you.” Now even after giving the sermon I will at some point have a student who will have their privileges revoked for violating one or both rules. The great thing is, it only takes once. After being the only kid or group of kids that have to do paper and pencil, they don’t take the privilege lightly.

Still Day One: The Assigning and Logging On

This part is where all of the prep work will streamline the assigning of the technology. I usually have them work on a paper assignment or read while I do the assigning. This is crucial! They need to do something other than wait for a device.  While they are reading or working, I walk over to each student and give them their log in information and have them get their assigned computer. I designate a space in an agenda or notebook where their information is taped. If you’re worried about them losing this information, I suggest putting it on an index card and keeping them in a small box. My students have a class notebook, so they tape their information on the inside of the cover. How you log-in will be dependent on your district’s technology protocol. In my current district, students use their student id and district generated password to log-in. This is information we are given at the beginning of school. If you are not sure of your district’s protocol, contact the district or campus technology director and get this information BEFORE you create your master list.

Logging in can be done one of two ways: one on one (least chaotic, most time consuming), whole group (can be chaotic, least time consuming). Personally I prefer whole group with some directions front loaded. I give them three directions upfront:

  1. Use your log-in information to log-in into your computer; raise your hand for help
  2. Look to your left and to your right and help the person next to you if they are struggling
  3.  Once your logged in move your hands away from the mouse

I do a lot of monitoring while they are logging on.

At The End of the Day: Pack Up, Pick Up & Put Away

Now that you have survived your first lesson (another post, another time), its time to put it all away. Just like the assigning, this must be executed with detailed precision. This is a routine. Establish this NOW and be consistent. Before they close their lids, I walk around and inspect their laptops. In doing so, they know I am for real when I say they are accountable for damages. After the first week, I normally don’t have to check daily because they will report any damages. I am also going to brag on my students a little. They just don’t mistreat their devices. Consistency is key. Say what you mean, mean what you say and follow through. I then call them in groups of five. While the first group puts away their laptops, the other groups are doing other end of the class period tasks. I stand by the cart and ensure they put their device in the correct location and plug them in. After about two weeks or so of consistently monitoring the routine, I do a week where I check the cart for any devices out of order or not plugged in. I call those students back to correctly put away their device. After a month of consistent routine, I then assign a student as the laptop manager. This is a huge deal because this person leaves class first.

Sigh. That is a lot of information and a lot of planning. It is worth it. I assure you. The time you put in upfront will yield a smooth running, high tech, self sufficient class. And if your a Texas teacher it may even bump you up to a proficienct on that new T-TESS. Happy teching and happy Friday.


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How it all got started…

Integrating technology has been a great interest of mine since I attended NTCE in 2008, and watched a demo lesson on PBWikis. From that moment on, I made it my mission as an ELA teacher to somehow put technology in the hands of my students. I have incorporated PBwikis, streaming videos (in which I crashed an entire district’s network and received a personal phone call from the technology director), Mimio devices, interactive boards, Macbooks, Chromebooks, iPads, NearpodPreziQuizlet Live, and my personal favorite Google Classroom.  Of course this is a small list of technology I have used in the classroom.

I am sure you may be asking yourself, why am I sharing this now? Well, I like to troubleshoot. There is nothing worse than having a great tool that you can’t explain or teach effectively to others. Maybe its a hazard of the trade. So now that I have, at some point in my 10 year career, used these great technologies, I have launched this blog in hopes of sharing my knowledge with others . Check back on the first Fridays for the how to’s and the 101’s and FREE downloads for each 101 and how to.