SXSWedu Reflections


This past week, 2 of our team members attended the SXSWedu conference in Austin, TX. The conference brought together teachers, administrators, edtech developers, policy makers and more for a 4 day conference where they could learn together and exchange ideas. We spent the week attending panels and workshops in order to uncover emerging trends in education. Throughout the week, we began seeing patterns in the discourse. Here are some of the recurring concerns and trends we saw:

1. Access, access, access

In the workshop "Probing Needs and Prototyping Solutions: DT4EdTech" we worked with a group of teachers and administrators to develop a prototype of a corporate sponsorship to get recycled mobile hotspots in students' homes.

In the workshop “Probing Needs and Prototyping Solutions” we worked with teachers & administrators to develop a prototype of a corporate sponsorship to get mobile hotspots in students’ homes.

One thing we saw over and over again was that access was the key issue teachers and administrators are dealing with. As great as all of the newly available edtech is, there isn’t much schools can do with it if their students don’t have access. For many teachers, administrators and school CTOs, the issue of access was not one of putting devices in students’ hands, but one connecting those students and their devices to the Internet. We heard from people expressing concerns both about the ability of schools to keep up with demands for better, faster broadband access and about students’ ability to stay connected outside of school. It’s hard for teachers to integrate tech in the classroom when only half of their students have experience with using computers and the Internet at home.

2. Data

Vivienne and Norma Ming present their keynote, "Keeping the Promise of Educational Technology" on Day 2 of SXSWedu.

  Vivienne and Norma Ming present their keynote, “Keeping the Promise of Educational Technology” on Day 2 of SXSWedu.

Like many of the themes we saw at SXSWedu, the topic of data was  multi-faceted. On one side, there was a celebration of all that data  can help us achieve. By collecting and processing data through the  many software programs and apps that have come on the market,  we can pinpoint our students’ needs and personalize our teaching  to maximize their learning. On the other side of the topic however,  is the issue of privacy. As teachers, administrators and policy  makers, we need to be very careful of students’ privacy in our data  collection and storage. As testing and data storage move online,  this will be become an even bigger issue.

3. Personalized learning

Personalized learning and technology’s ability to help us achieve personalized learning plans for each and every students were huge at SXSWedu. Apps and programs like Khan Academy allow us to teach to every students’ learning level at once, not just to the middle. As access to technology increases, we will be able to target individual students’ learning needs and elevate them to new levels of learning and thinking. Many presenters seemed to view using data to create personal learning plans as the ultimate goal.

4. Communication between edtech developers and teachers/students

Edtech developers had a huge presence at SXSWedu, not just as sponsors and presenters, but also as activate audience members. We were excited to see that a repeated theme in presentations directed at edtech entrepreneurs was the need to include students and teachers in the development process. Schools do not need entrepreneurs to hand them solutions, they need to work with the edtech industry to solve existing problems. The most successful edtech programs are built with student and teacher voices in mind and adapt to the needs of the people they are developed for.

5. New Learning Models

Learning about people centered problem solving and design thinking during the workshop "Probing Need and Prototyping Solutions: DT4EdTech"

Learning about people centered problem solving and design thinking during the workshop “Probing Need and Prototyping Solutions: DT4EdTec

There were many new models of teaching and learning (and some old models that have been given a facelift with new vocabulary) that were discussed at the conference. Two of the biggest trends we saw were the Independent, or Self-Directed Learning model of getting kids out of the classroom and into real-world experiences and the Design Thinking model of learning through the process of finding solutions to real problems. Both highlighted the need for authentic learning opportunities with real-world applications. One of the most interesting things about these new models is that they can be administered piecemeal. Teachers can use what fits, and what they’re able to do with the resources they have, to personalize learning in a real, effective way. Flexibility and experimentation for both teachers and students are key.

Ten Strategies to Inspire and Motivate Lifelong Readers

The Common Core standards call for college and career readiness, which by definition means the capacity to read independently.  Let us guarantee that all children ascend the staircase of complexity by giving them time to independently explore, select and fall in love with a range of texts.

Here are LitLife’s 10 Strategies to Inspire and Motivate Lifelong Readers:

1. Give children access to multiple genres through the read aloud, small group instruction and independent reading.

Students have all different interests. When you expose children to a variety of text types, genres and subjects, they are sure to find something they love reading about. Engage all of your students in reading-time by including a range of narrative, informational, argument/opinion, and poetry texts during class.

2. Create daily time for the read aloud, differentiated small group instruction, and independent reading.

Students should be able to engage with texts in many different ways, every day. With time to just listen and enjoy, time to work through the text with peers and time to dive into texts on their own.

3. Honor student choice and purpose.

Celebrate a variety of purposes: To learn information, to get lost in a story, to learn new words, to read across an author’s work, to consider multiple perspectives.

book choice

4. Value browsing and rereading.

5. Build stamina through low and high tech channels.

¾ of all kids have access to mobile devices at home. Celebrate all types of reading in class to encourage all types of reading at home. Reading apps like Storia ebooks make reading fun and engaging for students no matter where they are.

reading 3 reading 5

6. Make close reading an essential part of instruction.

7.  Create accountability for independence:

How do we know what they know? Check children’s understanding of their independent reading texts with these tasks:

  • Respond to guiding questions and text-dependent questions
  • Maintain reading logs
  • Write diary entries from a character’s perspective
  • Write letters to characters
  • Create a book trailer
  • Share thinking with a peer
  • Act out an important scene
  • Performance Based Assessments

8. Empower English language learners as independent readers. 

Some great ways to do this include increasing exposure to texts in English, providing abundant exposure to native language texts wherever possible, and using native language skills to layer on new grammar and academic vocabulary in English.

9. Nurture capacities of students with special needs to read independently.

You will need more scaffolds in place in order to see success, BUT there is no less accountability. Some great scaffolding supports are to:

  • Maintain stamina with three different texts (instead of just one) during accountable independent reading time
  • Use partnerships to help build independence
  • Think about genres, authors, text type, environment and other factors to spur motivation

10. Bring families to the table as Core Ready partners.

reading 6

Common Core Spotlight: Flipping Lessons with Metta

Metta is a digital storytelling tool that allows you to integrate video, text, sound, quizzes and polls in one platform.


CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

Literacy is no longer just about reading and writing. Students need to be able to consume and share information in a variety of ways. The necessity for students to be able to interact with technology and information presented through diverse media is emphasized throughout the Common Core standards.  It is important that teachers give students the opportunity to create and publish using technology, as well as to consume and analyze digital media.  Tools like Metta let students work with digital materials in new and interesting ways.

How does Metta work?

Metta is a browser based app that allows you to create video presentations. You can sign up using your email address, or you can log in with an existing Gmail or Facebook account. For those teachers using Edmodo, you can find the Metta app on the Edmodo app store. When you log into Metta for the first time, a series of pop-ups walks you through the creation process. The interface is simple and easy to use. Videos are created one clip at a time and each clip can contain any combination of text, video, audio and an image. To add media to a clip, you can use the in-app search bar to find youtube videos, SoundCloud files, tweets and images. You can also insert links manually, drag and drop files from your desktop, or record audio directly in the app. The search feature is a great tool when you only have a general idea of what you’re looking for, but is not always useful when looking for very specific clips and images. It helps to know exactly where on the web your media lives, or to have it downloaded on your desktop so you can drag it to the app. Additional clips can be added with the click of a button and are easily arranged by dragging and dropping them on the timeline on the left side of the screen. You can add polls and quizzes into the video for students to respond to.  We created a quick sample video to highlight some of the app’s features:!20654

Click image to go to video

Click image to go to video

How Can I Use Metta in My Classroom?

  • Create flipped, interactive lessons for students to access outside of the classroom. Include polls and quizzes in your video to test students’ comprehension of the content. “Flip” the direct instruction portion of your class so students watch the video and respond to quizzes for homework, and then apply that learning to independent and group work in class.  You’ll be able to spend more in-class time working with students one-on-one and in small groups. Metta allows you to collect data on how often the video is watched and how your polls are answered (plus and pro accounts allow you to access even more data).
  • Use Metta instead of a traditional PowerPoint to present information in class. The mix of text, video, still images and audio allows students to take in information in a variety of ways all at once. Not only will this help students learn to integrate and evaluate information from diverse media, it also engages students with a variety of learning styles at the same time.
  • Allow students to create original videos to share research projects and presentations. Students can easily pull video and images to enhance their presentations from the internet without ever leaving the app. Students can share the video through Google Drive, Edmodo, or by emailing you the link.

Second Grade Wisdom: “If a school wants to be awesome it needs books”

How do you make school awesome? Just ask the kids. LitLife consultant Debbie Lera recently asked a group of second grade students to finish the prompt, “An awesome school has…” From mountains of books to caring teachers, from computer labs to a class goat, these unique answers give great insight into what makes a learning environment fun,  engaging, and of course, awesome.

an awesome school has

“I want to feel important and comfortable when I come in so I feel safe.  And not scared so that I can feel like I’m at home and not be afraid.  And feel free to learn.”

“If a school wants to be awesome, it needs books.  When a student is in a class, the students should feel important.  I like teachers that care and love kids.  The students should have fun at school always.  The students should have free time, too.”

“In the school maybe you could have some science.  I want to go to school and be able to make mistakes.  Maybe you could have a huge library.  You should have self portraits on the wall.  You should totally have a puppy as a class pet.  You should lots of furniture, and not like school furniture, but home furniture like couches and soft chairs and pillows.”

“You need tons of books.  Like mountains of them.  You need a nice teacher.  Nice classmates.  Art, AG, Spanish since Kindergarten, PE, reading workshop, writing workshop, friends, a computer lab.  Make it comfortable and not scary when you don’t know an answer.  Kids love to have jobs, too.”

“You will need some books, but make it so the kids can choose which ones they read.  In our class, we go book shopping every Monday and make our reading collection for the week.  I love that.  You might want some plants and you will need a cool playground.  An animals.”

“I think there should be a couch, a truck, a goat, and a cow.”

“I want to feel happy, important, and safe.  If I’m bad, I want her to just look at me and not make a big deal so I know I did something wrong.  If I’m bad again then I get in trouble.  In class at the end of the day, I would like to have free time on one day of the week to explore the class tools.  I would like a class pet.  I would like a journal for only me to see:  NOT THE TEACHER!”

“I think that you should make the children feel good and not afraid to ask questions.  I also think that enrichment classes are good idea too.  Do math games like Bump and Ten Turns so you can learn and talk and play at the same time.  I love games for anything.”

LitLife Leaders Teaching at Amherst College This Week

Rethinking Education: Solve a Real and Compelling Question

Katie Cunningham

Katie Cunningham

This week, LitLife’s Executive Director Pam Allyn and consultant Katie Cunningham are in Amherst, MA leading a one of a kind interim course for students at Amherst College. The course asks students from a variety of disciplines to come together to rethink education.

Pam Allyn

Pam Allyn

Rethinking Education begins with live visits from the New Jersey Commissioner of Education (former Deputy Commissioner for Education for the City of New York and New York’s Chief Advisor on Transformation) Christopher Cerf, and from Pam Allyn, educational leader and author of many books for teachers, leaders and parents. These two educational leaders will ask students to help them solve a compelling, education-related question and inquire into what really matters for learners in an increasingly diverse society.

First day of "Rethinking Education"

First day of “Rethinking Education”

The course will be framed around best practices for teaching children to become both college- and career-ready while simultaneously empowering them to think creatively and act humanely. It will include an exploration into whether the structure of schools themselves can open new opportunities for children’s and young adults’ success, engagement, and collaboration. The K-12 educational landscape is changing rapidly, as is how we read, write, and engage with the world. This course, with input from a variety of perspectives will reflect the excitement of that.

Common Core Spotlight: Reading Fluency with iPrompt Pro

Today’s blog post is the second post from our friend and guest blogger Monica Burns. For more on how Monica uses technology in her classroom, check out her blog:


Common Core Spotlight: Reading Fluency with iPrompt Pro


Children can practice their reading fluency using a teleprompter – customize the text and speed to meet the needs of your students.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.4 Read with sufficient accuracy and fluency to support comprehension. (in grades 1-5)

Students of all ages should be able to read grade level text fluently.  It is an important reading behavior that is essential for comprehension. This expectation is clearly outlined in the Common Core State Standards Reading: Foundational Skills in grades 1-5.  Children can practice their reading fluency in many ways.  iPrompt Pro is a free app for iPads and Android devices that gives teachers the ability to tailor this experience based on the needs of their students.

iPrompt Pro is designed to help users of any age read text off of a virtual teleprompter.  In a classroom environment, students who need to practice their reading fluency can benefit from this technology tool.  Truly customizable, iPrompt Pro offers teachers a fantastic option for promoting student engagement while mastering foundational skills.

How Does iPrompt Pro Work?

When teachers open iPrompt Pro they can tap the plus sign in the corner of the screen to add a new document.  You can either type in text or copy and paste text from another location.  This works great when copy and pasting an excerpt from an eBook, a student written speech, or a famous poem you’ve located on the Internet.  Once you’ve added this new document, there are lots of settings to manipulate on the left hand side of the screen.  Teachers can choose between different styles and sizes of fonts, as well as text and background colors.  It is up to you how fast you would like the words to scroll across the screen.  I would suggest starting at a low speed and showing students how they can increase the speed as they become fluent reading the passage aloud.  A great feature of iPrompt Pro is the ability to tap the screen to pause the movement of the text once it has started scrolling across the screen or tap twice to go back to the main menu to make any changes to the text or settings.

When Can I Use iPrompt Pro in My Classroom?

  • iPrompt Pro is a wonderful tool for promoting student engagement especially among reluctant readers.  If you work with children who shy away from small group instruction or are uncomfortable reading in front of their classmates, have them practice their fluency using this app independently.  iPrompt Pro is great for teachers with access to only one tablet who are looking for creative ways to offer intervention for struggling students.
  • If you have access to a few tablets, iPrompt Pro is perfect for partners or group work.  Students can practice their fluency through choral reading with a peer who is at the same reading level.  Both children can read a short text together as it scrolls across the screen.
  • Try using iPrompt Pro with students who are preparing for an oral presentation or will be reciting a speech or poem to their classmates.  Students who have typed their work on a computer or another device can email their speech and open it on the device running iPrompt Pro.  With a quick copy and paste students (or their teacher) can create a new document to scroll across the screen.  This app will build student confidence as it provides a platform for children to practice reading a text clearly and fluently.
  • There are many famous speeches, poems, and historical documents available on the Internet with a quick keyword search.  These texts can easily be copy and pasted from the Internet browser on your device to iPrompt Pro.  If you are looking for text to meet the need of individual children, try an Internet search by Lexile level to find the appropriate text for your students to practice reading aloud.

There are a variety of paid apps to create virtual teleprompters that give teachers extra features such as mirroring and recording.

Happy New Year from Everyone at LitLife!

2013 was an exciting year at LitLife and we would like to thank all of you for being a part of it. Thank you for helping us grow, for inviting us into your schools and classrooms, and for giving us the opportunity to create supportive, innovative learning environments for children.

This year was busy, busy as we took on new and exciting projects.  Our work in schools included writing a customized ELA curriculum for one charter school network and writing customized performance assessments for another. We were thrilled to create the social studies performance assessments for New York City schools and are currently working on writing the ELA performance assessments for the coming school year.

Here’s a quick recap of some of our favorite moments from 2013:

  1. In January we released the first of our Core Ready Lesson Sets with our Grades 3-5 books.Image
  2. In February we re-launched our blog and began working on forming our awesome Professional Learning Network on Twitter (Thanks for being a part of the conversation, guys!)
  3. In March we joined our friends at LitWorld to participate in World Read Aloud Day! (You can sign up for next year’s WRAD on March 5th here:
  4. In April, our Executive Director Pam Allyn delivered her feature presentation, “4 Doors to the Core: Organizing a Strategic Approach for Teaching Lifelong Literacy Skills in the New Era of the Common Core” at the International Reading Association’s 58th Annual Convention
  5. In July, our dear friend Vincent Ventura helped us launch LitLife Latin America. He’s been doing amazing work in Mexico, Columbia, and across Latin America ever since.Image
  6. In August we moved into our amazing new office space in the Financial District in NYC
  7. In October, Pam received the 2013 Literacy Champion Award from Scholastic at their annual Family and Community Engagement (FACE) Symposium.Image
  8. We also celebrated Stand Up for Girls with LitWorld in October, championing for equal educational opportunities for girls across the globe.
  9. In November, Pam presented two innovative sessions at the National Council for Teachers of English’s Annual Convention in Boston.
  10. Also in November, we released our Grades K-2 Lesson Sets in the Core Ready Series (Look for Grades 6-8 in 2014!).Image

Thank you again to everyone has helped to make this such an exciting year! We look forward to continuing to grow with you and to learn from you all in the New Year!