Content Creation

We watched a video recently about the “Authentic Audience” in my The Coach course. In it we were asked to reflect on the possibility of opening up students’ work to a wider audience. In the video, Kim Cofino, my coaching mentor, discussed how content creation is happening all around us as teachers. However, often in classrooms, students are given only a few options in how they create content. She posed the question: “How can we help them to create better content?”

This video resonated heavily with me this week. It seems the concepts have been in my mind as sort of my driving force for a while, but I had not yet fully conceptualised it in the way that Kim explained it. I even have a t-shirt from Book Creator with the message: “Creating content is the ultimate demonstration of understanding.” I chose this to become my own motto when I became a Book Creator Ambassador because it resonated so strongly with me.

I have noticed that, as teachers, we often struggle to see how our students have taken knowledge and converted it to understanding. Creating content after consuming content is a good way to process your thinking. We often ask students to process their thinking through exit tickets, so could we ask them to process their thinking through content creation? I think that we can.

Yet, I can hear teachers saying:

  • “My students are too young.” If they are too young then maybe the creation medium is not the best fit for this task and these students. Is there another way to do it?
  • “My students will just copy what they have heard/seen/read/.” If they copy what they have heard, seen, or read, then this gives you data about where those students are in the process of converting knowledge to understanding. Often students who have not moved to understanding fill presentations with copied and pasted information. How can we insure that they move to understanding?
  • “My students don’t have that level of skill.” If they don’t have the skill level to complete the task then how can you ensure that they develop that skill before they are asked to use it? So that content creation becomes about the content and not the creation. Is this tool the best medium to use at this time? How can you build skill before students need to display competency in using that skill?
  • “How could I have the time to grade 14 completely different products?” If they create 14 completely different products then the assessment criteria will have to be based on the content knowledge and understanding. There are ways to assess content-specific skills regardless of the medium they use to demonstrate their understanding.

Here are some examples of universal skills (in student language):

  • I can use visual design to communicate my message.
  • I can publish my content to an audience.
  • I can plan my content.
  • I can manage my time.

In response I think, “There is no need to underestimate your students!” Let’s remove these four hurtles and instead ask ourselves, how can we allow students to demonstrate their understanding in more meaningful and content creative ways. The students are still providing you with valuable information on where they are in the knowledge to understanding continuum.

These obstacles can be challenging as an Integrationist/Coach when supporting teachers. For many reasons, teachers can find it overwhelming to work through these, so that their students can get to the point of content creation. Teachers often want to use technologies for summative assessments, in spite of the technology being brand new to students. Teachers can be shocked when I occasionally suggest a non tech medium for students to show their understanding, over the need to use new technology. For example, creating a poster is often more appropriate than trying to integrate a new piece of technology in an assessment, especially if the students have not yet learned the tech skills to create something equivalent. To refocus teachers, I might ask, “Is the point of your summative that they learn how to use tech, or that they show you their understanding of the content?” The tech may be appropriate, but it needs to be introduced to students in a timely fashion; so that it can be learned well before it is needed for something as critical as a summative assessment.

Which brings me to the point that students have been creating content long before digital technology was in the classroom. The difference between now and then is that the sheer number of mediums they now have available for the creation of content. Creating a pen and paper poster is creating content in exactly the same way that using Book Creator is creating content. The same design skills are needed. The only difference is the medium and the variety of choices available for how the audience experiences the product. The same amount of time is often given to the skills of creating a good poster as creating a good eBook.

There are an enormous number of standards for elementary classroom teachers to cover and it is easy for teachers to feel overwhelmed and want to say, “But I am not the art teacher. It isn’t my job to teach visual design.” I remember this challenge when I was in the classroom with my own students. Visual design had to become a part of everything that was created. It took time and consistency to establish expectations around visual presentations so that we weren’t always trying to fix a visual disaster after the fact. We talked about guidelines for presentation, such as the need to have a consistent font, or a limited number of fonts, in a single writing piece. We also talked about the reasoning behind this, such as it making it very difficult for anyone new to reading a Latin Alphabet or who struggles with reading, to cope with so many different fonts. This helped them not only to understand the guidelines, but also the reasons behind them for their audience.

One of the ways that I have tried to work through this as a Tech Coach is to keep our content creation apps in the front of people’s minds so they will use them more. Once they use the creation apps a few times they realize that they don’t have to spend so much energy teaching students the skills of the apps. Instead they can concentrate on helping students to plan and understand what is needed in the content of their creation. It is important to help teachers to see that, if they can use one of the apps early on in the year, in something a bit more prescriptive, then by the time they are ready to let students have more voice and choice in their medium, then students are able to see their own possibilities for how these apps can be used.

The role of a Tech Coach is to help teachers to develop an understanding of when to teach a particular skill, and how much time it will take. Asking for help well before the students will need that tool for content creation, allows the coach to guide the teacher through the process of planning the building of the skills that will be needed before projects are begun. This will enable students to focus on the content creation once the task begins, rather than on the tech skills needed. It is a common issue that people often don’t know what they don’t know. They might not realize that they needed to build skills before they planned a summative task. This is where timely professional development can help teachers to see which skills apps they will need.

It is worth the time and the effort to give students the skills to grow into good content creators. We have all watched badly created content. We all know what to avoid. Imagine what it would be like if good content creation was systematically introduced in school to the point where it became a natural extension of their skills like pen and pencils?

You can find more from Kim on this topic in her blog post The Power of Audience.

Thank you to my post editors: Jen and Beth

It All Takes Work

What’s a PLN you ask? Well, a Personal Learning Network is an essential part of being an educator these days, in my opinion. I can’t imagine how I would have survived the last 5.5 years without one. PLN’s allow you to connect with other educators in your field or just other like-minded educators. They are not always in similar jobs but generally have similar styles. My PLN journey started out small. A few contacts I had made through professional development (PD) that I would regularly email and ask questions. It began to grow when a Google Trainer told me this story about how to use Twitter. This started a journey that is continually developing as I wrote about in my post “It’s all about the PLN

One of my goals in that post was to become less of a lurker and participate more. I can’t say that I have made huge progress with that but I did try to make more effort during this course.

Staying involved in my PLN is what helped me complete my Course 5 project though. Without my PLN I would not have been able to move the project into Redefinition. It all started with this tweet to my PLN. This tweet resulted in two teachers working with me to help complete my project.

Another place that I am active in my PLN is Facebook. At first, Facebook was only for personal stuff. But now there are some very good PLN groups on Facebook and I find myself engaging with them more and more. For example, this one for Book Creator. Instead of traditional twitter chats, they have their chats online in a book. So instead of answering questions in posts, you answer questions by making pages in the book. Now with their new collaboration tool, it is even easier! I wasn’t going to be awake during this online discussion so I snuck in and added my answers to the book the morning before they held the chat!

I also try to share my expertise when I can through my PLN. I try helping out teachers who have questions when I can. My one caveat is that I make sure that I read the comments to see if my answer has already been stated. I hate nothing more than repeating what someone else has already said! That is what the “like” button is for!

Here are a few more examples of how I have participated in the Book Creator Facebook group.


My PLN is also a place for me to grow and develop. I learn new things every time I engage with my PLN. I am constantly forwarding myself posts to reread and review. I use Pocket to help collect articles to review at a later date or just collect ones that I may want to reference in the future.

My inbox in my school mail is full of articles that I want to re-read or share with my teachers. Sharing information with my teachers is actually one of the main reasons that I stay on top of latest changes. If I can give teachers information that will help make their lives easier than that is one of my goals!

One way that my teaching partner and I have been doing that is through interactive Google Drawings. I totally stole this idea from one of my PLN Peep Carrie Zimmer who creates Tech Tidbits. My teaching partner and I started creating our own. Here is one example, if you click on the link underneath you will be redirected to the interactive image (click around, though the cursor doesn’t change pretty much every image is a link).

Another way that I have begun to help my teachers develop their PLN skills is to create an in-house Seesaw Chat group. It is starting out with a few select teachers as a place that they can go and help themselves if needed by asking each other questions. It will also be a place where I share Seesaw information that I think they may want to see from my other sources. I think this has a lot of potential, but I will need to see where it goes in the future to see if it fully develops!

Are New Tools Changing Teaching and Learning?

EQ: Have (and if so, how have) teaching and learning changed with the introduction of new tools?

This is a very good question. The answer to this question is both Yes and No. Yes, teaching and learning are changing when you consider that teachers are becoming less experts in their subject areas and more mentors. But No, because teachers are still a necessary part of the process.

Yes, teaching and learning are needed for effective planning and guiding of experiences. No teachers are not needed to stand at the front of the room for every lesson and lecture.

I guess my point is that teaching and learning are transitioning from one “style” to another. That being said it isn’t a 100% switch. Teachers will still need to do things that are considered “traditional” at times, but the traditional system of the teacher as expert standing at the front of the room lecturing even to young students will be less and less frequent.

Part of the reason for this is because educators are tired of seeing students not succeed simply because this system doesn’t work for them. Teachers intrinsically want to see all students succeed. To have a student who doesn’t succeed for no other reason but that the system is not ideal for them is frustrating. Teachers, in general, hate that and try very hard to avoid it.

Education in some circles is moving away from one size fits all to everyone has their own size and we teach them what is best for them. I think that the tools that come with the introduction of technology can play a huge role in this. For example, a simple app Book Creator on the iPad and now Book Creator Web App on your browser are both simple apps that allow students to build resources for themselves to help throughout their schooling.

I have had classes use @BookCreator to create a math reference book. They started at the beginning of the year creating a page with each new math concept that they learned. The students would each create a page explaining the concept in their words, that they could reference in the future when they needed it. The first time we did this was with 5th graders but it could be started in any grade. This could absolutely be done to some level with a paper notebook. But the app allows this reference book to go into the modification level of the SAMR model, with the ability to add audio recordings and video recordings.

In this case, technology is changing elements of teaching and learning. But at the same time, the math concepts may be being taught in a traditional method. I think that the issues that many forward-thinking teachers get frustrated with the time it takes to get schools to move forward in the ways that they can see a school should. This goes back to my previous post that teachers can be hesitant to change. I think that admin falls into this as well.

I think it is very important for schools wanting to move forward to be sure to vet new staff for the mindset and attitude that will allow this to happen. I can think of several teachers at my school that I would like to clone because of their attitude towards change. These teachers see change as a challenge that they want to face head-on, but that they want support while doing it. Which is where I come in, my role as the ES Tech Integrationist is to help support teachers so that they can use technology. But it goes beyond that I am often times helping teachers see new ways to deliver lessons, collect evidence for assessment and plan for new experiences.

Friendship Books by: PK

The PK students had been studying how to be good friends and learning the language associated with friendship. Towards the end of their unit they created a book using the pictures that they had taken showing friendships. 

In previous lessons to remind them of how to take good pictures, they learned about what makes a good picture and how to hold the iPad. Then they were asked in small groups, to take a picture to show friendship happening in different parts of their room. 

This book is a result of follow up lessons to that where they learned to insert an imagine into their book. They they sat with me in their small group and recorded sentences about how the picture showed friendship. They created several pages and recordings each to show different ways that friendship is shown in their room. 

Then we exported our books as movies so that we could share them with our parents.


What is Winter by PK

Last week PK finished up their work on Winter. For IT we created short ChatterPix Kids videos on what winter meant for them. Then they downloaded their videos from Drive, inserted them into Book Creator and added their names. 

I then combined their books into one and exported it as a movie. Here is their final piece!