Course 5: Executive Functions

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What are executive functions?

Where’s my phone? Where are my keys? I forgot my folder! I can’t finish this assignment! I can’t figure out this math word problem!  Executive function (EF) is the ability to plan and organize information in order to execute a task. Jacoby (n.d.) identified several aspects of EF: Attention, organization and planning, self-regulation, self-monitoring, problem-solving, working memory, memory retrieval, time management.

Attention: Focusing on one piece of information while ignoring the rest.

Organization: Ability to organize work space, materials and information.

Planning: Prioritize and sequence actions into achievement.

Self Regulation: Get started, maintaining effort to complete task.

Self monitoring: Evaluate self, adjust behavior.

Cognitive Flexibility: Change view or adapt approach to fit situation such as schedule or problem solve.

Working memory: Mentally retain and utilize information.

Memory Retrieval: Retrieving previously learned information.

Time management: estimate time, awareness of passage of time.

Challenges of Executive Functions

Having low EF skills, or executive dysfunction, can lead to issues socially, emotionally, and academically. These students with executive function disorder do not choose to not complete tasks or not remember to bring their folder from home. They lack the mental abilities to function the same as their peers. This may be due to underdevelopment, excess stress or anxiety, or brain injury. There is also research suggesting poor EF is hereditary. The bright side is EF skills can be taught and improved upon (Logsdon, 2020) through targeted strategies and accommodations (Executive Control Network, n.d.).

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Logsdon (2020) identified several signs to look for in a student you might be concerned about:

(1.) Difficulty in planning and completing projects, (2.) Problems understanding how long a project will take to complete, (3.) Struggling with telling a story in the right sequence with important details and minimal irrelevant details, (4.) Trouble communicating details in an organized, sequential manner; (5.) Problems initiating activities or tasks, or generating ideas independently; (6.) Difficulty retaining information while doing something with it such as remembering a phone number while dialing.

Executive Control Network (n.d.) explained executive function disorder is not an official disorder and it may even resemble Attention Deficit Disorder. Furthermore, intelligence is not directly related to EF either. For instance, a student with poor EF can have a high IQ, they just may not perform up to their potential.

“The key to unlocking content and ensuring a pathway to long-term memory is through executive function” (Sulla, 2018).


There are so many strategies to try with students. After a time, reevaluate if a strategy is helping. If it is, continue but if it is not, then try something else. Logsdon (2020) provided the following list:

      • Give clear step-by-step instructions with visual organizational aids.
      • Children with executive dysfunction may not make logical leaps to know what to do. Be as explicit as possible with instructions. Use visual models and hands-on activities when possible. Adjust your level of detail based on the student’s success.
      • Use planners, organizers, computers, or timers.
      • Provide visual schedules and review them at least every morning, after lunch, and in the afternoon. Review more frequently for people who need those reminders.
      • Pair written directions with spoken instructions and visual models whenever possible.
      • If possible, use a daily routine.
      • Create checklists and “to do” lists.
      • Use positive reinforcement to help kids stay on task.
      • Break long assignments into smaller tasks and assign mini-timelines for completion of each. If children become overwhelmed with lists of tasks, share only a few at a time.
      • Use visual calendars or wall planners to keep track of long-term assignments, deadlines, and activities.
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In conclusion

Executive Functions are abilities that may need to be taught to certain students so they can be more successful in the classroom. Most students are not purposely sloppy or slow. They just have not been given the strategies they need to reach their full potential, yet.


Course 5: Why is Writing so Difficult?

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Is writing the most difficult skill for students to learn?

While researching for my COETAIL final project, I came across a blog post by Erin Sturm. She explained three reasons why writing is so difficult, (1.) trying to be perfect, (2.) being out of practice, and (3.) fear of failure. As I was reading her post, I made a connection between how writing is as difficult for students as how completing COETAIL projects are difficult for me.

According to Erin, we have similar issues. First of all, I want my projects to be perfect; however, the idea “done is better than perfect” is a difficult concept to accept. I realized I tell students often to just start writing and not to worry about it being perfect. Usually, this is not helpful advice as they just do not listen to me. But I understand because I rarely take my own advice and still want to be perfect. This reminds me of how crippling it can be to initiate a task. Getting started is a difficult first step into the writing swimming pool when you are worried about getting the writing right. If we would just jump in and get started writing anything without first worrying about the quality, we would find we are able to swim through the writing process-one stroke at a time. Second, Erin advised we need to have a consistent writing routine. We should work on our writing every day for a few minutes to improve our productivity. Third, she described how a fear of failure can hold us back from being writers.

According to El-Koumy  (2020), many students struggle with expressing themselves through writing with complete, organized, and logical ideas. They get lost in the process and end up with a jumble of words on their paper that may not have characters or a clear goal for their story. Many of these students focus on their handwriting and spelling instead of their ideas. These microstructural elements of writing are not as important as being able to express ideas.

Teaching writing might be as complex as English grammar but it is also one the most important skills we teach. Students will need writing to be successful in the academic and professional worlds. Students who are good writers independently follow the writing processes:  plan, draft, revise, and edit. Students with poor writing skills need to be taught strategies for every step of the writing process to help them learn how to be efficient writers (El-Koumy, 2020).

Teaching the writing process is made up of several distinct skills and it is not easy to learn to put them all together. Research supports teaching writing with a focus on the writing process, instead of focusing on writing conventions, which establishes students who will enjoy writing, write more, and write better (El-Koumy, 2020).

Writing Strategies

El-Koumy (2020) outlined four strategies teachers should practice across all genres when teaching the writing process. First and foremost, teachers should model writing. This helps students to visualize what and how they should be writing. Teachers should verbally and visually model the four substages of the writing process – planning, drafting, revising, and editing. When verbalizing what the teacher is doing, she helps students better visualize the process. After the modeling stage, students should practice the writing strategies with a partner or small group before moving on to practicing the strategies independently.

Infographic made with Canva by Holly
Writing with technology can be motivational

Students have areas they need to improve in as well as their individual gifts. In my lived experience, using technology is one of the areas many students excel in. An eight-year-old student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) taught me how to use the tools in iMovie. Another student who was an English learner taught me how to maneuver around Google Classroom. My own children taught me how to play World of Warcraft and that game is complicated! Students do not seem timid to try new games, software, or new ways of completing their classwork. I am surrounded by dozens of change agents!

Holly’s new WOW mount-Hogrus, Swine of Good Fortune

The use of technology or access to the internet does not mean a student definitely will learn more or better. However, technology can provide students opportunities to try different ways to complete assignments. For example, in one study; English learning graduate students were judged with a pre and post-writing test. The experimental group blogged their essays, while the control group used pencil and paper. The experimental group was more motivated and found the writing more interesting (Kashani,  Mahmud, & Kalajahi, 2013). Had I been in this experimental group, I would have agreed with the others since I have had the experience with our COETAIL blogging. It is more interesting.

Can technology lighten the cognitive load when writing?

Sometimes having reluctant writers use assistive technology can ease the cognitive load so they are able to produce their ideas easier, quicker, and maybe with more fun. For example, students can narrate their learning as an alternative. I discovered during this unit sometimes it is necessary to differentiate the writing in order for the student to have enough time to show their learning in ways other than the written word. Students learning English and/or with learning disabilities need differentiated activities. They have the same high expectations for learning; however, they cannot be expected to always perform exactly like their peers. Alternative formative assessments can include the student speaking instead of writing with voice-to-text, using predictive text, spell check, online dictionaries, and thesauruses.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

In Nawal’s (2018) research, they found, “writing performance was improved by the reduction of unnecessary cognitive load, in this case by removing the use of dictionaries while writing.” Cognitive load theory explains there is only so much our brains can hang on to at one time so for students to achieve mastery, they need to learn one chunk at a time. Heick (n.d.) explained, “since the brain can only do so many things at once, we should be intentional about what we ask it to do.” If a teacher wants a student to show their spelling and handwriting skills then assistive technology (AT) is not the way but if she wants a student to show the writing process then it might not be a bad idea to allow for AT.

In conclusion

The writing process is a complicated system that is much more than spelling words correctly and having pretty handwriting. Students need to be taught explicitly the various steps and given grace for not being an expert right away. There should be many opportunities for practice and feedback plus students need to come away with positive feelings and a sense of being a successful writer. Writing may not be the most difficult skill a student learns in her educational career but it is towards the top of the list.

Course 5, Final Project

Holly’s final project video 

I have grown as a learner in numerous ways. First, I set my 2020-2021 goal for my  Professional Growth Plan (PGP) to complete the COETAIL certificate. I have explored and applied pedagogical approaches made possible by technology and reflect on their effectiveness (1a).

2020-21 PGP Goal

Staying Current with the Research

Second, I am attempting to, “stay current with research that supports improved student learning outcomes, including findings from the learning sciences” (1c) by researching questions I have about the practices we are implementing with our students. Our school has a subscription to Ebsco and I also use Google Scholar to investigate my wondering.

Professional Interests

Third, I have pursued my professional interests by participating in different professional online groups (1b). I noted in my community involvement blog several of the groups I follow and have started participating in, such as the Orton Gillingham Online Academy group and the Teachers Pay Teachers.

Empowered Learners

I have endeavored to help students to become empowered learners in two ways. First, I have “advocated for equitable access to educational technology, digital content and learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs of all students” (2b). I spearheaded a trial of the Google extension Read&Write for our Special Educational Needs department. This extension has the potential to help our students comprehend their grade-level content. I also encourage teachers to accept students’ written work done with voice-to-text and word suggestions. Second, I have tried to “model for colleagues the identification, exploration, evaluation, curation and adoption of new digital resources and tools for learning” (2c). Two examples are, I have shared with teachers how they can have their students create infographics to show their learning. Another example is, I have shown teachers how they can share their anchor charts with their students through Google Keep and the students have them next to their Google doc while writing on their Chromebooks. Finally, I am working with teachers on deciding how to best implement tech in our lesson planning.

 Video to classroom teacher

I have deepened my practice, initiated collaboration with my peers, challenged myself to rethink traditional approaches, and prepared students to drive their own learning.

I have “dedicated planning time to collaborate with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology” (4a) by meeting weekly with classroom teachers to plan lessons the differentiate for students’ needs. I typically make suggestions towards using technology when appropriate.

Traditional Approaches

When considering appropriate technology to integrate into lessons, I will consider the traditional approach and determine if the technological approach would be any better than the traditional approach. If the technology does not improve the lesson, then it is not used.

Students Drive their own Learning

I have helped to prepare students to drive their own learning by giving them voice-and-choice. For all projects, students have opportunities to pick their own topics and to pick how they would like to present their learning on their topics. They even can choose if they want to use traditional approaches such as creating a poster using pencils and markers or use a green screen to present their presentation.

Mikolaj presents
ISTE Standards for Students

My practice of authentically embedding the ISTE Standards for Students has improved because of becoming more aware of the ISTE Standards. Because I am more aware of the ISTE standards, it is becoming second nature to reinforce the standards with students throughout their learning. Even if the lessons were created by another teacher, I am now able to make small suggestions towards improving their learning and explaining to the classroom teacher why it would be a good idea to include that little something extra. For example, when researching online, students are learning to cite their sources (2c). This is a new concept and expectation of them. I had a conversation with a classroom teacher recently explaining, even if students are not correctly citing their sources now, by making the beginnings of an effort, it will be easier the next time they attempt to make citations. Another example is when I noticed students were not using their own drawings in a project. I went to the classroom teacher discussed the importance of the students learning to not just copy and paste from the internet. The teacher agreed and we made it a mandate the students must include at least one of their original drawings in their work (6b).

Learning from Course 4

During Course 4, I created a learning plan I would use in the future for the Course 5 final project. The reality of it worked out to be I made several changes. I narrowed my focus from the big picture of scientific writing down to specifically focusing on using assistive writing to help students improve the quality of their content.

scientific writing pacing calendar

I chose to introduce the Google extension, Read&Write. With this extension, students have several tools at their disposal to help with their writing, like voice-to-text and predictive text. After presenting this extension, I realized the reading aspects for researching are in addition to what iPads and Google already offer. In hindsight, I realized the writing tools are already available to the students. Of course, it was not a total waste of time. The advantage was I encouraged students to use these tools, practiced with them so they would be more proficient with them, and had the support of classroom teachers. Students struggling with learning differences are not “cheating” by using assistive technology, they are simply leveling the playing field by being able to be more successful with showing their learning.

Darja’s plants
My Reflection

Over the past year of my COETAIL learning journey, I learned much to improve my teaching practice. Learning how to design my blog to be more reader-friendly, how to design infographics, and being a contributor and not just a consumer of the world wide web were three areas I enjoyed significantly. One area I still want to work on is redesigning units to have superior technology integration. I am able to incorporate all of these topics when working with my students.

Learning how to “redefine (SAMR), transform (TIM), and find the balance of technological, pedagogical, & content knowledge (TPACK)” will be an area I will continue to work on after COETAIL and on into the near future. As a support teacher, I started at a disadvantage not having experience with building units. I have always tried to support units with differentiation for English learners and students with learning differences; however, rebuilding a unit is a huge undertaking. I do not teach entire units nor am present for an entire unit with my students. I am an inconsistent constant in the students’ learning! I am present in math, reading, writing, and Units of Inquiry; however, not every day for every student. This is not possible as a support teacher. Therefore, I did my best with the final project assignment and making it my own.

During Course 4, I chose the writing unit that would be happening during the Course 5 project. I choose writing because it is an area my students need the most help with. It is difficult for many to take the ideas they have and put them to paper. I believed focusing on integrating technology to help students with their scientific writing would be a win-win. I would have a unit to focus on for my COETAIL project and my students would have some new ways of working on improving their writing.

Google doc with my SAMR ladder graphic

We were introduced to the SAMR model during our COETAIL journey, and it has been a constant reminder to me to consider how I am integrating technology in my lessons. Am I only substituting or augmenting the work? Or could I improve my lesson plans and move up to modification and redefinition? It is a goal I strive to achieve more often.

Substitute sticky notes for scientific note-taking
Augmenting scientific method report with voice-to-text

During Course 4, I created a digital scientific notebook for students to use as a graphic organizer to help them with their scientific notetaking and article writing. If the students were simply typing on the sticky notes, that would be an example of substitution (SAMR). Many of my students have written expression issues so I encourage them to use voice-to-text, spell check,  and predictive text. This boosts the use of typing in the digital notebook to augmenting the learning. Finally, the students redefined their learning by taking the research they collected during the How the World Works Unit of Inquiry and their Scientific Writing unit and creating their own Bookcreator book. Students included text and narration. I strongly encouraged students to create their own drawings or take their own photographs for their final product; however, that was not very popular with the students and making a suggestion was not enough for students to make the switch from copy and pasting photos to creating their own. This will have to be another lesson!

Lev’s Book Creator
In conclusion

My COETAIL experience over the past year has been filled with learning opportunities, support from my peers, and our instructor. I do not feel this is the end of my “just another COTAIL journey” but the continuation of one. Thank you Joel and Lissa for all your help and a special thank you to Erika and Shalene for being the best of my COETAIL community members.

holly erika shalene


G3 Scientific Writing Slide Deck

G3 U2 – Reading to Learn and Scientific Writing

Holly’s Final Project Video for Course 5

ISTE Standards for Educators

ISTE Standards for Students

Lev’s Book Creator

Scientific writing pacing calendar

Course 5, Community Involvement

My COETAIL community
Facebook Groups

As part of my responsibilities as the support teacher for my grade level, I teach a reading intervention with students learning phonics called Orton Gillingham. I read posts on a FaceBook group called Orton Gillingham Online Academy (OGOA).  This is a moderated group associated with the organization I trained with. I routinely search for information to help improve my practice and make the intervention more interesting and effective. I find this Facebook group helpful. One example is finding out about the Bitmoji Chrome extension. This is a simple idea is something I had wondered how other teachers were adding their avatar to their slides but I had not bothered to ask but now I know.



Another helpful website I learned about in this group is  This website is a quick and easy resource to make activities and games using vocabulary. I have shared this site with my colleagues and they have started using it. We discuss how we are using it and share ideas. I have also created activities for the grade level so now not only are the special educational needs (SEN) students using the activities for learning vocabulary but every student in the grade level.

There is a community section for this resource and it allows for contributors to share their activities with others. I often search the community resources to find activities already made my students can use. There is no opportunity for discussion among the contributors. I once came across an activity I wanted to use but there was a misspelled word. I was not allowed to edit the activity and there is no way to contact the person who created it. I find this limiting in allowing for collaboration among the people using the website.

Teachers Pay Teachers

Another resource I use to find teaching material is Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT). I find inspiration for creating my own materials on this website and of course, I find activities to use in my teaching. With my learning from COETAIL, I came to realize I need to be a contributor and not just a consumer. I am proud to say I recently uploaded my first resource to my store on TpT!  “It is good to use TpT because it’s helpful when you’re creating your own materials and contributing back to others. First, you were searching for information now other people have an opportunity to find more,” said one student.

First TpT submission
SEN teachers WebEx Teams

This year our school switched to using WebEx instead of Google Meet for our platform for working online with students. One of the services WebEx offers is WebEx Teams. We are able to create collaboration groups to message ideas, questions, share files, etc. The most exciting advantage of using WebEx Teams is how quickly we can get answers to our questions. Emails traditionally are answered eventually; however, people respond to messages much quicker. The supervisor of my department created a group for the faculty and we collaborate often.

COETAIL Community

My school has the strongest COETAIL community! Last year, I embarked on this COETAIL journey with several colleagues from school. Right away we started a WhatsApp group called, “COETAIL group 2020” to collaborate with each other. We also had coaches in the group to help with any questions. Shout out to Cary and Paul for all their help!

Unfortunately, this group was not very active except for a few of us. To not annoy the silent ones with all the banter, we next created a smaller group. Shalene, Erika, Mooney, and I held continuous discussions via the smaller WhatsApp group, “the real coetail group” plus we would meet at times for a face-to-face work session  Shalene humorously dubbed “COETAIL Cocktails.” This professional learning support group community (PLsgC) helped with sharing information and ideas plus provided a safe place to ask for help or encouragement. We should totally have t-shirts made.


Online community involvement is a natural way to collaborate with others to create synergy towards improving our teaching practice. Through the process of reflecting on the ways I seek information, I have come to realize some of my interactions are not sustained beyond a topic. Other interactions are more continuous with a back-and-forth, give-and-take relationship where sharing information and expertise does happen more regularly. I was lucky to have my school colleagues completing the COETAIL course with me. Social media platforms are a great way to network; however, having a couple of in-person collaborators is even better.


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


Course 5: Assistive Technology for Struggling Writers

I recently attended an online workshop presented by Kelly Rasmussen from  GotSmartz Assistive Technology Coaching on the topic of Assistive Technology (AT) for Writing.  In the past, I thought of AT as students using the Voice to Text feature to help them with their writing. Or using the Read to Me feature in digital books to help with comprehending a reading. In the back of my mind, I assumed there was more available for us out there in the Kingdom of Unknown Knowledge but of course, I did not know what I did not know. After Kelly’s presentation, I am happy to say I now have more tools in my AT toolbox, and in addition to learning new tools, I learned a few new concepts plus I came to wonder about a couple of other points.

Benefits of using Assistive Technology for Writing

Kelly shared the benefits of using AT with our struggling writers which involved (1.) the students feeling included, (2.) it is an accommodation, (3.) it allows teachers to differentiate (i.e., making a voice note instead of writing for science), (4.) it gives students a voice, (5.) holds the students accountable for their learning, and (5.) provides the students better access to the curriculum.

Written Expression Disorder Defined

One wondering I have actually been considering off and on for quite a while was, I wonder why students have the ideas in their heads but have trouble getting them on paper? According to Kelly’s presentation, it may be because of a written expression disorder. This of course led me to wonder, what is Written Expression Disorder and what is Dysgraphia? 

Chung, Patel, and Nizami (2019) described it as, “dysgraphia and specific learning disorder in written expression are terms used to describe those individuals who, despite exposure to adequate instruction, demonstrate writing ability discordant with their cognitive level and age.” This is what I have been noticing in some of my students; however, none of them have been diagnosed with a written expression disorder.

Steps in the Writing Process

In searching for answers, I discovered I first needed to consider the writing process. Specifically, the process of writing a sentence includes,

(I) internally creating the desired statement; (II) segmenting the desired statements into sections for transcription; (III) retaining the sections in verbal working memory while executing the task of writing; and (IV) checking that the completed written product matches the original thought (Chung, Patel, & Nizami, 2019).

Steps in the Speech to Text Process

In her presentation, Kelly shared with us the Speech to Text & Word Prediction steps: Think it, Speak it, Check it,  Fix it. I found these steps similar to the writing process. Like we should teach students the writing process, we also should teach them how to use speech to text. 

Tools in the AT Toolbox

Several tools were shared during the workshop and the ones I plan to incorporate immediately are the Chrome Extensions (1.) Read&Write, (2.) Session Buddy, and (3.) Power Thesaurus. In addition, I want to use Google Keep to save Anchor Charts for students to be able to pull up when working on a Google doc.


The Read&Write extension is a tool students can use to help with reading and writing digital content. Some of the features include simplifying the language and screen masking on a webpage for easier reading. This would be helpful for students with lower reading skills. It also has a text and picture dictionary, word prediction, and read-aloud options.


The Power Thesaurus extension is a quick and easy way for students to be able to check their words and help find synonyms and antonyms.


When writing, students can use anchor charts to help them remember punctuation rules, transition words, or other concepts they are trying to use in their writing. Anchor Chart graphics can be kept in Google Keep for the students to pull up quickly for reference on the right side of their Google document. Kelly shared a How-To video on this topic. 

In Conclusion

While reflecting on how to start incorporating AT with students, I realized they have two devices available to them, iPads and Chromebooks. The iPad can go home with them and they are just starting to learn how to use Chromebooks so this will be a big step in the process of them learning to write with a device and use the assistive technology to help them with their writing. The iPad has its advantages; however, I feel the Chromebook is better suited for word processing.

The four tools I plan to incorporate right away with my students will happen one tool at a time. We will play around and explore the tool with the goal of the students becoming proficient when using them. Students do not have to have a diagnosis of dysgraphia or a written expression disorder to benefit from using assistive technology. In fact, I will be using AT as a role model for students to see an adult using them. I will also encourage the parents and classroom teachers to also model the use of AT in their daily lives.

Course 5 – Balancing Screen Time

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“Do not watch too much TV or play too many video games because it will cause learning and attention issues!” Pre-pandemic, parents and teachers were encouraged to keep the screen time to a minimum. However, during these times of the pandemic, teachers are being told to keep the students online in synchronous learning practically all school day. Educators strive to make research-based decisions; therefore, I wonder what research there is to back up this new way of teaching our students who are not in school? I also wonder if the positive aspects outweigh the negative aspects during these times with the necessity to have students online so much?
Negative aspects:

As a third-grade support teacher, I push into many online lessons. As the classroom teacher teaches away, sometimes I watch the students and observe what they are doing while they are listening to the lesson. These would be the students who bother to turn on their cameras because many do not. Needless to say, eight-year-olds can be super gross and/or super funny. The faces they make and the places they stick their fingers-incredible. The students become bored and tune out so quickly. It is very difficult to have a lesson flow and go well. As a reminder, the Learning Pyramid shows us what percentage of learning is retained through different modes. Teachers should also be keeping this in mind while planning online lessons. To make matters worse, getting students to participate online is difficult. They do not seem to want to answer any questions and they seem to be counting the seconds until they are excused from the online lesson. In their 2016 article Sharkins, Newton, Albaiz, and Ernest shared from their research,

“Some studies caution that children’s use of and exposure to media, technology, and screen time (MeTS) can lead to decreases in executive functioning (ability to attend to tasks), academic performance, quality social interactions with parents and peers, and creative play. In addition, MeTS has been shown to increase obesity, aggressive and violent behavior, bullying, desensitization to violence, lack of empathy to victims, fear, depression, nightmares and sleep disturbances.”

With all these negative results, it is clear educators and parents must work together to maintain a careful balance for our children. Education is important but of course, the children’s well-being is also. A child’s attention span is short and long lessons online are not enjoyed by the teachers or students. Besides, the likelihood students are actually learning something is doubtful, in my experience. It seems to me, teachers should provide a five to ten-minute lesson then have an activity or send the students off to be productive. In a recent Facebook forum discussion in the group, Instructional Designer, a member posed the question, “Max run time for video aimed at ages 8-15? Client thinks 20-30 minutes.” Over 100 comments were given and the consensus seemed to be five minutes or less- shorter is better.

Positive aspects:

Fred Rogers’ Center Position Statement on Technology and Interactive Media in Early Childhood Programs (2012) stated “technology is effective if it is active, hands-on, engaging, empowering, and child controlled.”  Teachers should plan their students’ screen time purposefully. For instance, screen time should be used to communicate and create.  During this pandemic it is especially important teachers understand the lessons they are creating should be not only in the best interests of the students’ education but also their mental health.

One surprising bit of information I found was from Scherer (2014). He shared a statement from Steve Graham, a professor of education at the University of Arizona, “Word processing has also been shown to improve the quality of student writing over longhand, even in the early grades. From first grade to 12th grade, we have the same effects. It’s basically a 20-percentile jump.” As a child,  I remember being told if you write neatly, your teacher will be more apt to give you a higher grade. Now I can switch that thinking over to wordprocessing. Students can do better writing through a keyboard than with traditional handwriting.

In conclusion,

During the pandemic, alternative forms are necessary for educating our students. We have to keep our distance and keep everyone healthy. Online synchronous learning is an option we have chosen. Parents and teachers are struggling to give the children the best education possible under the circumstances. Teachers need to plan engaging activities and minimize teacher talk time. Students need to be active, creative, and hopefully happy and healthy. So much screen time is not the best for our children; however, we do not yet have a better alternative for educating during this pandemic. We are all in this together and in the end, we will come out knowing we have done our best.

Photo by Ambreen Hasan on Unsplash


Instructional Designer Facebook Group. (2021). Retrieved from

Scherer, M. (2014). The Paperless Classroom is Coming. Time. 184(15), 36.  Retrieved from

Sharkins, K. A., Newton, A. B., Albaiz, N. E. A., & Ernest, J. M. (2016). Preschool Children’s Exposure to Media, Technology, and Screen Time: Perspectives of Caregivers from Three Early Childcare Settings. Early Childhood Education Journal44(5), 437–444.


Course 4, Final Project

Why this unit?

I think this scientific writing unit is a good possibility for my Course 5 project because writing is an area many of our special educational needs students struggle. It would be great if I could find a way to improve upon the unit to make being successful more of a possibility for all our students.

ISTE standards

The ISTE standards I chose were 1-Empowered Learner and 6-Creative Communicator. The standards will enhance the students’ understanding of the content by making the learning more student-driven and giving the students a voice and choice in their learning

ISTE Standards for Students, 1 (Empowered Learner) Students leverage technology to take an active role in choosing, achieving and demonstrating competency in their learning goals, informed by the learning sciences.

ISTE Standards for Students, 6 (Creative Communicator) Students communicate clearly and express themselves creatively for a variety of purposes using the platforms, tools, styles, formats and digital media appropriate to their goals.

Learning with COETAIL

This unit reflects my learning during COETAIL through synthesizing everything I have been learning about into a plan to incorporate technology to enhance students’ learning. This unit is different from other units I have designed or facilitated because I am not collaborating with others on this project. As a member of a grade-level team at my school and as a member of a COETAIL student team, we have always worked together to design and facilitate units. Not having the others’ expertise to draw from or rely on has been a huge loss for me and reminded me how great working on a team is.


One concept that has influenced me during COETAIL is the SAMR model. It is reflected in this final project when I created lessons that were not just substituting technology but also augmenting and modifying the work.


Some of my concerns about redesigning this unit are my lesson ideas will not really make the writing aspect easier for the students, maybe the lessons are still basic technology substitution, and there is an even better way to use technology to help my students be successful scientific writers.

Pedagogy shift

The shift in pedagogy this new unit will require from me is focusing on using the technology in a way for it to have a positive effect on the learning.  “Technology used without powerful teaching strategies (and deep learning tasks) does not get us very far”(Fullan and Langworthy, 2014). I have to find a way to make deep learning able to happen and I have to make sure the students are not bored but engaged and active in their learning. I am relenting my hold and the students are taking more of a lead with the learning. Also, I am keeping a focus on the assessment for this unit through the one-point rubric and will rewrite it in student-friendly language so the students can use the rubric as a guide to see what is expected of their products.

Photo by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič on Unsplash
Student attitudes

This new unit will require the students to be active in the learning process. They will not be able to simply “sit and get” but they will need to advocate for their own needs. They will need to question the activities and provide ideas to make them work better.


The outcomes I hope to see when students complete this unit are they will be able to write like a scientist and they will be able to collaborate with their peers to improve upon their work. I will know students have learned these concepts by them demonstrating growth through their scientific journal and conversations with their classmates.

Course 4, Week 5, Putting Deep Learning into Practice


Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

COETAIL course 4 has been about “exploring what it means to be designers and facilitators of learning” and this week has been learning about ways we can do that. The readings included several frameworks, processes, or means of how we can make it happen.

Challenge Based Learning

Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is a teaching framework in which students are engaged and active in relevant learning. CBL has hands-on learning, collaboration, and real-world problem solving using technology (Johnson & Adams, 2011). Students identify a challenge and they follow a framework to overcome it.

Augmented and Virtual Reality

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are innovative learning experiences that immerse the learner into a creative and engaging environment. Typically the curriculum is science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and the students use devices like headsets that allow them to see concepts virtually they would otherwise not be able to. This is an opportunity for students to better understand complex topics they are learning (Schneider & Radu, 2018).

Game-based learning

Gamification is creating learning games like Oregon Trail created in 1971 which is an example of one of the only successful educational games ever created. Gameful design is making a game out of what is being taught by using the basic elements of gaming. (Bell, 2018).

Gameful Design Rubric (Bell, 2018)
Project Based Learning explained Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. With a traditional project, teachers give students a project to complete at the end of a unit they taught and this can be referred to as a dessert project. The difference with PBL is the entire unit is the students use collaboration, high order thinking skills, and problem-solving to complete a project (

What is PBL?

There are seven essential project design elements to provide a framework for developing high quality projects: (1.) a challenging problem or question, (2.) sustained inquiry, (3.) authenticity, (4.) student voice and choice, (5.) reflection, (6.) critique and revision, and (7.) a public product (

There are also seven project based teaching practices to help teachers, schools, and organizations improve, calibrate, and assess their practice: (1.) design and plan, (2.) align to standards, (3.) build the culture, (4.) manage activities, (5.) scaffold student learning, (6.) assess student learning, and (7.) engage and coach (

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is an innovative process students and professionals from all industries use to creatively solve a problem (Spencer, 2019). The process is not necessarily a linear process but can be an overview of the ways to solve a problem or complete a project in school, work, or life (Friss Dam & Siang, 2020).

Student Achievement

Hattie Ranking: 252 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement is new information for me and I first heard about it during my COETAIL Course 4. I am beginning to understand what his research means and I am starting to wonder how I can use it in my practice. Using research seems logical; however, understanding how to use it is not necessarily intuitive. I noted “hinge point” was a new concept and I searched for its meaning. DeWitt (2016) defined it clearly, “Hinge Point – It has long been agreed upon by researchers over the last few decades that when a given approach has an effect size of .40 it means that the approach can offer, when done correctly, a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input. Anything over the .40 can offer more than a year’s growth. So, if we look at the given approach of classroom discussion, you can see that when done well that can lead to two year’s of growth.”  The implication of hinge point is important in my job working with students with learning differences and students learning English as an additional language. My students typically are  behind their peers academically. I need to know how I can help them make more than a year’s growth.

Assessment of Learning

Fullan and Langworthy  (2014) explained most measures still being used are standardized, content mastery assessments.  Along with the new pedagogies, they told us new measures are needed which would include,

“students’ deep learning competencies: 1) students’ mastery of the learning process, including their ability to master new content; 2) students’ key future skills, including their abilities to create new knowledge using the collaboration and communication skills necessary for high-level value creation; 3) students’ proactive dispositions and levels of perseverance in the face of challenges; and 4) the effect of students’ work products on intended audiences or problems.”

If the “ultimate goal for teachers, as John Hattie has described, is to “’help students to become their own teachers (Fullan and Langworthy  (2014).’” then, teachers will need to provide students the skills to be independently in control of their own learning.

Effective v. Ineffective New Pedagogies (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014)
The bottom line

Students are bored and teachers are not satisfied by teaching bored students (Fullen, 2015). The new pedagogies and the examples of different teaching methods we explored this week could lead to my students and me being excited and engaged with our learning. Some of the concepts I am considering are how do I put this all into practice? I am a support teacher and I have so little time with my students. How can I start implementing little changes now to improve my students’ learning experience? How can I measure the effectiveness of the teaching I am providing for my students?

I might assess and measure the impact of deep learning pedagogies with the use of rubrics. A rubric could clearly outline for the student the goal which they are aiming for and they could see what they need to do to achieve it. I would like to implement deep learning tasks in my practice. It might look like project based learning. I can see implementing PBL with my learning support students and English learners.   

I will support my students in becoming “independent, autonomous learners able to effectively design, pursue and achieve their own learning goals and personal aspirations as well as master curricular learning goals” by laying the groundwork for understanding they can be in charge of their own learning, they can learn about what interests them, and they can make suggestions and help me figure out how to make it more interesting, relevant, and engaging for them.

The learning frameworks and new pedagogies in my school include inquiry, design thinking, and project based learning in the secondary school. I have been learning about using the rapid design cycle the past two years. I have used gameful design elements in the past and I might put them into action in Course 5.


Bell, K., (7 May 2018). Gameful Design: A Potential Game Changer. Retrieved from

DeWitt, P., (13 September 2016). John Hattie's Research Doesn't Have to Be Complicated. Retrieved from

Friss Dam, R. and Siang, T., (2020). What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular? Retrieved from

Fullan, M., (2015). Topic Series 11 - Push & Pull: The Role of Technology. Retrieved from

Fullan, M. and Langworthy, M., (January 2014). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning. Retrieved from

Hattie Ranking: 252 Influences And Effect Sizes Related To Student Achievement. Retrieved from

Johnson, L. and Adams, S., (2011). Challenge Based Learning: The Report from the Implementation Project. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Schneider, B. and Radu, I., (28 August 2018). Using Augmented Reality to Promote Making with Understanding. Retrieved from
Spencer, J., (6 April 2019). What Is Design Thinking? Retrieved from

What is PBL? Retrieved from,question%2C%20problem%2C%20or%20challenge.

Course 4, Week 4-Unleashing Deep Learning

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Digital Tools and Resources

Fullan’s New Pedagogies is comprised of three core principles. Over the last weeks, we have read about learning partnerships and deep learning tasks. This week we read about the final new pedagogy principal, Digital Tools and Resources. Fullan and Langworthy (2014) began by sharing research data that showed having technology as part of a lesson has little to no effect on student learning. The research findings showed for technology to have a positive effect on learning, how it is integrated into the lesson makes the difference.

The evidence I have seen to support, “technology used without powerful teaching strategies (and deep learning tasks) does not get us very far” is from Fullan and Langworthy (2014). They shared research findings from John Hattie in A Rich Seam, Meta-analyses of the impact of technology on learning outcomes confirm that, up until now, technology use has had a below-average impact on learning relative to other interventions” (Fullan & Langworthy, 2014).

Leveraging technology in powerful ways, i.e. for collaboration and knowledge creation is not a simple task to plan for third-grade students. First, collaboration might be easier to figure out. I could possibly have students write to students in other schools to discuss different topics. I also might have students collaborate with students in other classes on a research project. A third possibility could be to have students create digital stories and share them with their families, friends, and classmates.

There are several tools I use to integrate technology for basic uses. For example, students use their iPads to research, word-process, use Google Apps like docs and slides, find pictures, practice their math skills level K ebooks

on websites like IXL, practice their spelling on websites like They can find more information about many topics on websites like and to read books on websites like Epic! and They can easily find books at their level on a variety of fiction and non-fiction topics.

My practice could allow “students to become independent learners who design and manage the learning process effectively” in different ways. One example could be instead of first teaching students how to write an essay with an introduction, body, and conclusion; I could challenge students to write a persuasive argument on a topic of their choosing and in their own opinion. Once they have finished writing their piece, we could go back and edit and revise as necessary, using their first draft as the basis of the teaching.


In Brown’s 2017 South by Southwest Keynote speech, she spoke about shame. She explained we need to understand the difference between emotions like shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. If we understand these nuances, we will be better prepared to deal with them when they happen in the classroom, home, or workplace. She encouraged teachers to create a safe classroom for their students to be able to learn. If students do not feel safe, if they feel shamed; they will not hear the teacher and they cannot learn.

I teach courage and develop a courageous classroom through flearning. I remind my students often the way to learn something is to make mistakes. I encourage them to be risk-takers, to not worry about being perfect, and when we fail, we’re given an opportunity to learn. I am vulnerable with my students by not hiding my mistakes, asking them for help and to teach me something new, and thanking them for their patience when I am learning new stuff.  I would like to think there is no shame in my classroom. My students are perfect just like they are and are accepted for who they are-all learning differences.

Dialogical Learning
(Kelly, 2019)

Kelly (2019) explained how Freire’s five ideas of dialogical learning added the communication between teachers and students necessary to allow learning to happen. A teacher who practices with humility, hope, faith, love, and allows students to think critically; will set up an optimum environment for student learning.

I recognize learners as equals so that true learning can take place. My students are young, short human beings who want to be treated with the same respect as adult humans. I demonstrate humility by asking students to share what they know with me. I give them hope by setting high expectations with attainable goals. I show them I have faith in their abilities by focusing on their strengths and helping them work on their weaknesses. I show them love by asking about them and their interests, truly listening to their answers. I promote critical thinking with my students by giving them the wait time they need to figure out the answers themselves. If they struggle and need help, I give them bits they can take and run with and come up with the answer themselves.  Students are encouraged with positive reinforcement to demonstrate these traits with their classmates and others.

In conclusion

Based on this week’s reading, I might shift in my practice in three ways. First, I will be finding more ways for my students to collaborate and create using technology. Also, I will be careful to point out when my students make mistakes, the thing they did wrong does not reflect on them as a person. They might make a mess, but they are not messy. Finally, I will be more mindful to use Freire’s five ideas for dialogical learning to increase the likelihood my students are able to learn. I want students to feel safe when they are learning with me and provide them the most optimum environment for learning.


Brown, B.(2017). Keynote, Daring Classrooms. Retrieved from

Fullan, M. & Langworthy, M. (January 2014). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning. Retrieved from
Kelly, M. (17 Sep 19). Paulo Freire’s Five Ideas for Dialogical Learning.Retrieved from

Terhart, E. (2011). Has John Hattie Really Found the Holy Grail of Research on Teaching? An Extended Review of “Visible Learning.” Journal of Curriculum Studies43(3), 425–438.

Course 4, Week 3: Learning Deeply, Digitally

Create a reality where all students can and will learn. -Fullan’s moral imperative

Deep learning tasks

Fullan’s New Pedagogies is comprised of three core principles. Last week we read about the first one, learning partnerships. This week we read about the second, deep learning tasks.

Infographic from A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning

Fullan and Langworthy (2014) explained deep learning “tasks harness the power of the new learning partnerships to engage students in practicing the process of deep learning through discovering and mastering existing knowledge and then creating and using new knowledge in the world.” They go on to say, “Deep learning tasks re-structure learning activities, involve knowledge construction, develop the 6 Cs or key future skills, and define clear learning goals.” If you would like to play around with these concepts, I have created the following Quizlet.

Re-structure students’ learning

In my school, when we use digital tools we can re-structure students’ learning of curricular content. For example, when writing a persuasive essay, students can use Book Creator as an alternative to handwriting or word processing. It becomes more engaging for some students. In addition, it can add a bit of a challenge for those who are ready to try a new digital tool.

Real experiences

We try to give students real experiences in creating and using new knowledge in the world beyond the classroom. For example, during the Save the Planet Unit of Inquiry, we have students design a plan and produce a prototype of an innovative way to Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and/or Repair (the 6Rs) plastic.


Using the plastic example from before, one way we can partner with students in designing the structure or process of the task by using the Rapid Design Process.
Authentic choice

We can give students authentic choice over what they learn and how they execute the learning by allowing them to decide on their own topics, such as with the rapid design process and allowing them to decide what opinion they want to choose to write about.

Learning goals

We connect the deep learning tasks to clear learning goals by sharing the learning goals and keeping them in mind during the unit. We also share the rubric for what the expectations will be for their final products.

Raising the bar

The expectations for all of our students are high. To begin with, the student population of our school scores mostly at or above grade level on the standardized MAP assessment. This naturally pushes the English learners and learning support students to strive to meet their peers’ performances. At times, we even have to remind ourselves that we must allow some students the time they need to meet the expectations. We meet students where they are currently and push them to excel, bit by bit.

Students can & will learn

At my school, all students can and will learn. Not only are their high expectations and the entire grade level is working approximately one year above grade level, but we also provide support to those students who need it. We have a strong Special Educational Needs department and we strive to help our students be as successful as possible and meet their potential. When a student is not performing to their potential, we give attention to what that student needs. It may be as simple as a six-week intervention.

Designing meaningful learning experiences

Teachers meet weekly and plan for deeper learning through the design of meaningful learning experiences. We collaborate and create lessons that allow students to chose their own learning interests.

Invisible bias

As an English language teacher, I am culturally sensitive; however, invisible bias is a new concept for me. I will need to think further about this phenomenon and create a plan for nurturing self-awareness in my students and colleagues. I would think a reasonable first step for me will be to keep an eye out for instances happening around me. When I notice them, I could bring attention to it in a friendly manner.

My practice

I can shift my practice based on this week’s readings in order to create an environment that embraces equitable deep learning tasks. I will need to plan lessons to maximize the potential of technology through active, deep learning. I will need to keep in mind SAMR and be sure to strive to use technology to redefine the learning experience. Creating a bias-free learning environment where students have choices, clear goals, and meaningful learning opportunities lends itself naturally towards more personalized learning experiences. As a special educational needs teacher, it is my job to assist classroom teachers to accommodate their students’ learning differences. It may be in the form of using voice to text instead of handwriting, working in a small group with a teacher, or working one-on-one with me to learn to read. The bottom line is creating deep learning experiences to meet the way students learn individually.


Fullan, M. & Langworthy, M. (January 2014). A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning. Retrieved from

Fullan, M. (16 March 2016). Topic Series 10 - The Moral Imperative. Retrieved from

Whiting, J. (4 September 2019). Everyone Has Invisible Bias. This Lesson Shows Students How to Recognize It. Retrieved from