Thursday, November 30, 2023

7 Things We Say Instead Of "What Were You Thinking?" #EdChat

One of the things I find myself asking middle school students is "What were you thinking?" That phrase seems innocuous, but it really about the context and the tone. For example, a student is designing a project for class and added and interesting aspect to the design. I sit next to them and ask "What were you thinking when you designed this?" and the student explains their thought process. The other end of the spectrum is a student who blurts out an off topic question and I respond, "What were you thinking?" and they stare blankly back without an explanation. In one instance, I am asking for more information on a thoughtful piece of student work and the other is an exasperated response to a student behavior. I have been teaching for over 20 years and I still expect the 2nd student to provide an answer even though I know they do not have one. Asking that question in that situation is a bad habit I have improved on, but will still continue to work on until it is eliminated from my frustrated teacher vocabulary. 

Instead of asking that question, in any situation because of how students might have interacted with it in the past, there are some other ones that I use in place that allow for more conversation with the student. 

1. "Can you tell me more about your decision?"
This open-ended question invites explanation without judgment. It allows students to articulate their thought process, offering insights into their reasoning. For neurodiverse students, who might process information or approach problems differently, this question acknowledges and respects their unique perspectives. This question works on a few levels. The behavior levels allows the teacher to engage the student in an non threatening way. Asking them to think about what they did and why they did it. Putting their decision in context of the classroom can help them see why their actions might not work for that moment. On the classwork level, it asks students to explain how they got to their choice and that can help them understand and explain their own thought process.

2. "How did you arrive at this conclusion?"
Focusing on the process rather than the outcome encourages students to reflect on their methods. It promotes critical thinking and self-analysis, which are crucial skills in both academic and personal growth. Reviewing the steps of a solution can help students catch any errors along the way and, ultimately, have a better understanding of how they worked out the problem.

3. "What were your goals in this situation?"
Understanding a student's objectives can provide clarity on their actions. This question also implicitly supports the idea that making mistakes while pursuing a goal is a natural and valuable part of learning. I have found this to be very helpful with students who can sometimes get lost in the process of finding a solution. Refocusing on the goal can sometimes help move a student forward that has been stuck.

4. "Is there another way you might approach this problem?"
Encouraging students to consider alternative methods fosters creativity and adaptability. Sometimes I have to let students approach a problem in a way that I know will lead to failure because they need to experience that failure to fully learn why it didn't work. Asking them this question helps point them in another direction without feeling bad about their first idea.

5. "How can I support you in this learning process?"
This question shifts the focus from what the student did wrong to how they can be assisted in their learning journey. It is important to remind students that teachers can be the ultimate learning resource and that we are learning partners in class. It emphasizes the teacher's role as a guide and ally, rather than a critic.

6. "What have you learned from this experience?"
Emphasizing learning over failure, this question helps students recognize the value in making mistakes. It's a powerful way to build resilience and a growth mindset. The act of reflecting on tasks is so important when we are emphasizing growth over time. Making this a normal part of the conversation is important if we want to normalize reflection for students.

7. "What resources or strategies might help you next time?"
This approach encourages students to think constructively about future challenges. It's particularly beneficial for neurodiverse students who might need different resources or strategies to succeed. This can be tougher for younger students because they don't know what they don't know. If they are not sure how to answer this question, this is a good chance to showcase some of those resources and/or strategies so they are better prepared to use them when needed.

Not all of these work in every situation, but they can be helpful for a teacher that really wants the student to stop and think about their choices in a way that doesn't bring them shame when they do not have an answer to "What were you thinking?"

Do you have phrases you use to help students that would be better? Share them in the comments and/or social media.

Hugs and High Fives,

The Nerdy Teacher

Monday, November 20, 2023

How Do We Support Neurodivergent Students? #SpEd

One of the toughest things for a neurodivergent learner to do is is to ask for help. There is already so much self-shame for needing help, asking for it can just be too much for some students. As teachers, what can we do to support these students in a way that makes them feel comfortable asking and receiving the support they need to be successful in class? Here are some tips that can neurodivergent students be in a better place to ask for support when they need it. 

1. Environment Building - The term "safe space" has been mocked by other groups because it is seen as being too sensitive to learners who might be scared of different opinions, but that is not what this is about. Every classroom should be a safe space for many different reasons. One is that the environment needs to be such that a student feels comfortable asking for support when they need it. This is done by verbally stating it at the start of class and constantly restated throughout the year so students understand that asking for support is ok and encouraged for those students who might be struggling with the content in class. It is creating an environment where students feel comfortable expressing opposing opinions. As an HS ELA teacher, I made sure to verbalize on a regular basis that it is ok and encouraged to disagree with me in respectful ways. Neurodivergent students will often have a different way of looking at something and they need to feel comfortable sharing that distinct point of view. Culture building is not easy task, but it is important if we want all of our students to feel like they can share their thoughts and ask for help when they need it. 

2. Encourage Open Communication - Neurodivergent students need to know that the door is always open. Whether that is a real door during office hours or a metaphorical door for emails, knowing it is open can help relieve some of the anxiety neurodivergent students have over communication. It is important that emails from educators/admin to students should have a clear subject line and mention specifically what will be discussed. If the email is a vague, "Stop by when you have a chance" then students are going to spiral out of control until the meeting takes place. Make it clear at the start of the year what the communication expectations are on teacher and student. Write these down in a syllabus that is shared with class. Use tools like Remind or email blasts to keep students informed of what is happening in class. Neurodivergent students need to feel like they are not being a burden when it comes to communication with anyone. Providing clear terms on how communication is best to take place will help support those students. 

3. Identify Support Resources - Most neurodivergent students will need support services to be able to excel in their classes. It is important that these support services are clearly laid out to students and parents very early in the year. It should be something that is touched on at the start of the year, back to school night, and the first round of conferences. Most of the time, neurodivergent students do not remember what services are available to them or feel too embarrassed to ask for support. Using email or 1:1 meetings as way to discuss the resources and how a student might utilize them is key in getting students the best possible support. Again, there needs to be a culture built around using these services so students do not feel stigmatized when utilizing them. 

4. Re-evaluate Due Dates - One of the toughest things for neurodivergent students to hit are due dates. Things will pile up and students will feel hopeless. It is important that teachers can connect whenever possible and try to spread out the due dates of major projects or assessments so they do not all fall in the same window of time. Also, most neurodivergent students would benefit from extended time on work so they can make the last minute changes to meet their standards. I have also found having those students present on the second day of presentations can help some students because they get a chance to see what others are doing and can adjust their work as needed. Others preferred to go first because the anxiety of waiting was too much for them. The correct answer is to get to know your students and have conversations when them so the best option is available for every student. 

These are just a few ways you can help neurodivergent students in your classroom. Like most things, communication is key to a successful student/teacher relationship. The more that a student feel seen and heard, the more likely they are to ask for the support they need to be successful. Also, many of these changes also help neurotypical students as well. Consider making all of these changes for all of your students and see how some neurotypical students respond to the extra level of support. 

Sending Hugs and High Fives!

N Provenzano

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Book Creation And Digital Design With @AdobeExpress #AdobeEduCreative

I am so excited to share this lesson I just created I couldn't even wait for student examples!

My 2nd trimester Digital Design class is starting after Thanksgiving and I've been toying with different ideas on having students engage with design in different ways. I was struck with this idea for students to create different picture books for younger students. One of the cool things about having K12 on one campus is the ability to collaborate across vast grade levels. I am going to try and set up a connection between my class and the 1st or 2nd graders. Here is the lesson and feel free to use/alter/etc for your students. 

Step 1: Great a fill in the blank story that allows students to create their own nouns, adjectives, etc. I struggled with finding the perfect story I wanted to tell, so I used ChatGPT for support. Here is a link to my story. 

Step 2: Students fill in the blanks of the story with as much detail as possible. 

Step 3: Students will switch their stories with other students. 

Step 4: Students will use Adobe Express to create the story based on the descriptions. Each page will be a page of the story and they will add the text to match the imagery they are creating. Students are encouraged to use the text to image feature.

Step 5: Students will finish the book and share it with their partners. 

Here is my book if you want to see what a completed story will look like. 


Students completed their books using Gen AI and they had a blast. There was so much laughing as they tried to recreate the monsters the PreK students described. The learned about writing specific prompts and how word choice and word order can impact what is generated. They made their stories and worked on their proofreading skills and shared their work at home so they could proofread. They took the writing process very seriously because they recognized that it would be bad to give a book to an early reader that is filled with spelling and grammar mistakes. The changed audience impacted their engagement with the writing process in a wonderfully positive manner. Here are the copies of some of the books the students created. 


After finishing their books and going through the peer editing process, the students were ready to go back to the PreK and read their stories to their little partners. The PreK students were so excited to have their big buddies down there again and they loved the stories so much! One PreK student said they get to choose two picture books before bed and this book would be one of the two. My students walked away with a wonderful sense of accomplishment because they were able to see the impact of their work. It was a huge win for everyone. Here are some pics of the reading time. 

If you are able, I highly recommend that you give this lesson a try in your class. The students loved connecting with little students and the Gen AI feature of Adobe Express allowed all of the students to feel like artists/illustrators. I could see the students grow in confidence using Express and how their work can impact others. If you have any questions, please let me know!


Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Portfolios, Digital Media, and Student Assessment with @Seesaw and @AdobeExpress #AdobeEduCreative

One of the things that is always tough, is getting a clear picture of what a student has actually learned. The days of just throwing a multiple choice test to gauge learning are past. While some students are able to use those forms of assessments to showcase their learning, others do not perform well with those mediums and others know enough to game the system. At the end of the day, those assessments do not show enough of what a student knows. I've really leaned into portfolios as a way for students to showcase their work and truly demonstrate what they have learned. By adding the use of Adobe Express to the use of Seesaw, I have created a workflow that has students completing projects and then creating media to showcase their projects and then posting it all on Seesaw for me to assess and for their parents to see as well. Here is an example of the workflow I mentioned. 

Step 1: Seesaw

We use Seesaw as our LMS in the Middle and Elementary School. Every students has their Seesaw account and teachers create their class for students to join. From there, a teacher posts an Activity that outlines what the assignment is going to be. You can set a due date, add images, videos, templates, etc. to help break down the Activity is a way that helps students understand the assignment and how to complete it. Here is an example, 

I break down the different parts of the assignment and then I make sure to be very clear on what that project needs to have at the end. This really helps all students, but particularly neurodivergent students who can get lost in the text at times. 

Once the students have completed the assignment, they post it to Seesaw and it will appear like the image below. 

I can like the post to let the student know I have seen it and I can leave a comment. I leave a short comment here and then we would have a 1:1 conversation to reflect on their work. It does take time, but that feedback on their work is so helpful when they tackle the next project. With the correct settings in place, parents could like and comment on the video as well. With even more settings turned on, students from the class can see other student work as well. Since I use this as a 1:1 student/teacher portfolio, I leave this off so I can freely comment on student work without other students seeing what I have written about the project. 

Here is the video if you are itching to watch it,

The reason I am excited to showcase this on my website is the addition of Adobe Express and all of the upgrades that have taken place over the past few months. Generative AI features and Animate from Audio are just a couple of the reasons that Adobe Express has increased the level and quality of student work this year. I have students that are normally shy using the Animate from Audio feature to give a voice to their work through silly animated creatures. Parents have told me how much the of Express has given a creative outlet for their children in a way that used to be stifled because they did not feel they were "good enough" at art or design. Adobe Express is giving these students a chance to showcase what they have learned if fun and creative ways that make a different to how they feel about what they have created. With that, student engagement is higher and I am able to better assess what students do and do not understand. 

I understand that many schools use different LMS platforms for their classes and maybe they use other design software as well. The principles are still the same. By giving students a better way to make meaning and demonstrate understanding along with a system to aggregate their learning, educators can get a better sense of what learning looks like for that student. Over time, an entire portfolio of projects, writing, presentations, etc, can be collected and showcase the type of growth that can be hard to see month to month, but jumps out at everyone when we pull back and see that growth over a greater period of time.

Seesaw and Adobe Express works for me and many other teachers in my school and across the country. At a minimum, I hope you will consider how a portfolio approach to student assessment that includes media creation could support all of the diverse learners in your classroom and school. 

Hugs and High Fives,