Wednesday, July 17, 2013

#cyberPD Week 3 - Who Owns the Learning by Alan November

It's Week 3 already and we are discussing the final chapters of Alan November's Who Owns the Learning? Visit Laura Komos's blog at Ruminate and Invigorate to read more thoughts on these chapters and join in on the conversation. Now that I'm back from the beach and back to my computer, I look forward to reading and commenting more this week (wonderful beach house ... wifi, not so much!)

Chapter Five discusses a new student role - that of Global Communicator and Collaborator. Tying all the chapters together is the theme of Chapter 6. Here's what caught my attention in these chapters:

Like it or not, most of us are all heavily engaged in Common Core implementation in our classrooms. So when I read the beginning of Chapter 5 where the author asks clients, "What do you value? What are the most important skills you look for in your employees?", my brain immediately went to Common Core. Everything these days seems to be about "college and career readiness". I was pleasantly surprised and so happy to hear the answer --- Empathy! How refreshing! As teachers, we know how important empathy is in our classroom communities, but I hadn't quite thought about it for corporate success. I loved this discussion about how important empathy is in working with other people and truly hearing and considering others' perspectives on a problem. I've always told students that they'll need to work with all kinds of people no matter what kind of job they have, but it was so encouraging to hear this talk from the CEOs in the book. "Top global talent must understand and value other peoples' points of view." Wouldn't it be great to have parents talking to our kids about how empathy and understanding various points of view are part of their own day-to-day work? Point of view is addressed in our reading standards beginning in kindergarten (!) ... this discussion has me thinking about these standards from a different angle. (I am also itching to reread Peter Johnston's Opening Minds, Ellin Keene's Talk about Understanding, and anything Lester Laminack.)

I learned in these chapters that I know very little about how search engines work!  I found it very interesting that different people putting in the exact same search terms receive very different results (based on their past online behavior). I appreciate all the detailed descriptions of how to do more specific searches ... I do have so much to learn! But my own ineptness aside, I found it ironic that we use the internet to access information around the globe, expand our own experience but search engines may actually be limiting by matching links to our own previous history. Often perspectives similar to our own. "Without some real education about using the Internet for communicating and collaborating with an authentic, global audience, this marvelously rich medium will only narrow - not broaden - our perspective."

I love how social networking has helped people connect. Personally, I am always thrilled when I'm tweeting about a book and the author tweets back. I don't think I'll have get over how amazing that is. November provides such great ideas about helping kids to connect globally. The ePals site was new to me, but he refers to it as "the world's largest K-12 social learning network." So I went there, signed up, and checked it out.While there are products attached to it, it seems that you can locate classrooms around the world that share your interests. This may be an on-going relationship, but it could be a one-time event during a unit of study. For example, your class may be exploring the concept of urban communities and may want to connect to another classroom in a different country to hear their perspective on the topic. I need to look into this site and consider how I might use it this school year. I'm moving into a new classroom this year and don't know what technology to expect, but I did appreciate learning how to set up Skype even if you only have one computer. There are so many collaborative tools that are relatively easy to use - just need to take the plunge and use them!

The final chapter echoed previous ones especially in regards to the students' attitudes toward and engagement with authentic digital projects. In Garth Holman's classroom, he found that the students' work in developing their own on-line textbook "empowers them because it lives on." I loved how his classes each year took over where the previous class left off and continued to edit and revise the body of work. And the students often worked into the summer because they cared so much about it. That's pretty incredible!

Reflections on this year's #cyberPD:
I mentioned in my first post that this book wasn't in my to-read pile for the summer, but I'm glad that I did. Most of the situations in the book were more geared to middle school and high school but I think it's important to think beyond my own personal situation. I think about my Twitter friends who are reading books that they will never use with their own classes, but know it's important as educators to think beyond our own classrooms and be exposed to great literature at all levels. This book did that for me as well. With that being said, there are many applications for an elementary classroom, especially in thinking about how we can broaden our classroom community through collaboration with others.

I love the format of this PD event - reading a book over a few weeks and reading everyone's thoughts on it. Looking forward to next year!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CyberPD Week 2 - Who Owns the Learning

Welcome to week two of this year's #cyberPD - we are discussing Who Own's the Learning by Alan November. You can hop over to Jill Fisch's blog myprimarypassion.blogspot.com for more thoughts on chapters 3-4 this week. Right now, I am taking a break from the beach at sunny Emerald Isle, NC ... and attempting a blog post for the very first time on my IPad mini so bear with me!

Chapter 3 discusses the opportunity for students to take on the role of the class scribe. I haven't truly tried this in a classroom, but have experienced it in PD with teachers which was interesting! Although someone in the group was taking notes, others continued to take their own notes. A trust factor? Is note taking a way to stay engaged? What if what I deem important is not what the scribe latches onto? Many questions came to mind, but I did think that classroom culture is a big factor in the success of this role. As students learn to depend on each other for learning, this role could be very powerful. Here's some quotes that caught my attention:
Every voice speaks with the same volume.
I love any opportunity that shows kids that we all have something to contribute in this space. Giving all kids chances to take on the role of scribe improves their note taking skills and learning but also gives them "a chance to shine."
In the past, I'd have a student say to me "I don't understand," and we'd start the whole lesson from ground zero. So this was pretty powerful stuff.
So using students as class scribes is a great formative assessment (what do they know, what are the misconceptions, what do they not understand) AND a huge timesaver (both teacher and student).  I liked how the teacher encouraged a student who wasn't feeling comfortable with the content to just get her thoughts written and they would go from there.
The power of student legacy ...
When the notes of scribes are put on a blog or website, they are not only helping this one class today, but many classes in many places, today and tomorrow. Imagine how seriously students would take the role of being a scribe knowing they would be leaving this legacy of this class?

Chapter 4 discusses students as researchers. Now, all students research from time to time - our standards demand it. What made this idea different was having daily, authentic researching as it surfaced throughout the day.  What if that unused computer at the back of the room became the official research station where one student each day was responsible for  finding answers to questions in class?

This chapter also raises some important points that moves well beyond fact finding - What do students know about evaluating the validity of sites? How do researchers read closely to determine and weigh multiple perspectives? How do we transfer "paper literacy skills" to developing digital literacy skills? I particularly liked this set of questions as we approach research: What is your information path? What is your information need? Who is discussing your information?  As a primary teacher, I believe that even our youngest learners need to be thinking about the perspective of the writer and their point of view. I'll close today with this important quote: If we only teach one skill to prepare our students to survive in a web-based world, it should be that of critical thinking in the analysis of on-line information.

Until next week!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

#cyberPD Part 1 - Who Owns the Learning

This is my second year joining in with this on-line PD event. Last year, we read Peter Johnston's Opening Minds and up this year is Alan November's, Who Owns the Learning? - Preparing Students for Success in the Digital Age. Hop on over to Cathy Mere's blog, reflectandrefine.blogspot.com to hear more on this conversation!  Now I have a confession to make .... this book was not a part of my professional TBR stack this summer. In fact, there is nothing even close to this discussion about digital learning in my stack. But being part of a reading community does that to you - you pick up things you might not have selected on your own. So I am filling that book gap and joining in the conversation because I learned so much last summer.

As I read the introduction and first two chapters of this book, I decided that while this book is about digital learning, it's not just about digital learning. I think what it's really about is student motivation, engagement, and  providing students with the tools so they can be independent and purposeful in their own thinking and learning. For teachers, I think this book is a call to be honest with yourself and truly consider your own practices. We always say, "there are many teachers in this room", but how purposeful are we about developing the teaching skills of our students? In the Digital Learning Farm that November describes the critical skill is to learn how to learn as opposed to knowing how to be taught in a traditional school model.

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I am a collector of quotes, so I decided to pull quotes from the book that got me thinking:

In the Digital Learning Farm model ... students can become more engaged in the learning process; they do more, they think more, and they learn more.
First of all, I found the "farm" concept an interesting approach. Having an important role in the running of the farm gave children purpose and a sense of contribution that is now missing from our culture. For a variety of reasons, many people aren't experiencing this type of contribution until after high school or even college. The Digital Learning Farm model is an approach to provide authentic opportunities in our classrooms.  I was impressed with how students worked seriously and diligently on tutorials in Eric Marco's classroom, particularly giving their own time to "get it right" ... and without a grade! A common theme resonating throughout these chapters is that as students prepared their own digital presentations, they learned the content more deeply themselves. As teachers, we know that in order to teach someone else, you need to have a deep understanding of the content yourself. What a powerful thing for students to experience themselves!

Perhaps my most valuable lesson came from seeing the transforming power of authentic work for students who were traditionally unsuccessful in school. I realized that many students work harder to achieve a meaningful purpose than to earn a grade.
Extrinsic versus intrinsic rewards. I thought it was so smart of Eric Marco to not grade the students' tutorials. They weren't doing it for a grade - they were spending time creating the tutorials to help other students learn, not only in their own classrooms but across the globe. We have all experienced the joy and rewards of helping others learn - what an incredible experience for students who have always struggled, who have probably labelled themselves as poor students and suddenly, they're teaching concepts to others? Now, that's pretty powerful.

To put it plainly: give students a real audience, and they will do real work.
I've experienced this again and again in my teaching career - if students have a real purpose for work that they care about, the quality is amazing. Whether it's writing a letter to their parents inviting them to a school event or writing a book that others will read, the quality is high if they care and know their work has a real-life purpose.

Eric sees that students really respond to hearing their peers deliver information in an authoritative manner, but using their vocabulary and language style.
I think this idea is an important one for teachers to remember. Students may be saying essentially the same thing as their teacher, maybe even using many of the same words but when students are teaching students, their language style (and rapport) may be the very bridge that another student needs to truly understand the content.

It's important for educators to remember that tutorial designers are engaged in a creative process. That means that most of them won't want to repeat someone else's idea, and they prefer to be the first to take on a given topic.
Students aren't going to take the "easy" route when doing this type of work - they're going to do the work that's needed. I liked how the students in the examples built on each other's work, thus improving the quality of this body of work over time. While the teacher was insuring accuracy of content and making suggestions, it was truly through the sharing of the tutorials that students generated new ideas, both in content and presentation.

"... creating teachable content can occur anytime, anywhere ... it doesn't have to be a heavy production."
Phew! I think this is important to remember. These tutorials weren't assignments, but naturally evolved from the initial teaching. I'll be asking myself this year, "How can I develop opportunities for students to teach students in authentic, purposeful ways?"

Next week, chapters 3 - 4 ... I'm often to the beach this weekend but hope to continue to join in this conversation!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Summer Reading Kick-Off: Reading Is a Picnic

As summer break draws near, many teachers are looking forward to time for reading. It's that time of year when we can enjoy the nice weather, sit in the garden or by the pool, and read for extended time. Glorious! We want kids to look forward to extra reading time too. How do we encourage kids to look forward to summer reading too with that same "I can't wait!" attitude?

This year, my school decided to celebrate special literacy events throughout the year to further build our reading community. So we celebrated Picture Book Month, donated and selected books before winter break during our first Book Swap, shared poetry on Poem in Your Pocket Day, and enjoyed Read Across America Week. Instead of having a family literacy night this year, we decided to devote the last day of school to our summer reading kick-off. That way, every child could participate and leave our doors for the summer with books in hand and a reading plan in mind. Reading Is a Picnic was born!

In planning the events, we needed to keep it simple (and us!) and fun.  Here's the plan for the day:

* Our local librarian is coming to do two short assemblies (K-2, 3-4) to kick-off their summer reading program. These assemblies will be at the very beginning of the day to plant the seed - it's fun to read in the summer!

* Families have been donating books, teachers have been cleaning out classroom libraries, and our PTO donated  funds for the end-of-the-year Book Swap.  Kids will be selecting several books to take home for the summer - they were so excited about the swap in December so I know this part of the day will be a big hit! In Book Love, Penny Kittle talks about how many struggling readers don't have a future plan for reading - our kids need to have that plan and having access to books is a big part of it.

* We asked kids to recommend books to kids entering their grade level next year. Each child is going home with a kid-generated book recommendation list.

* Frankie Sibberson shared a blog post about having a Poetry Picnic in her library last year. Perfect! We are decorating tables in the library with cheery red checkered tablecloths and kids will have opportunities to enjoy poetry in many ways - reading poetry books with friends,  making poetry puzzles, and building and reading poetry on children's poetry websites. Each child will leave the Poetry Picnic with a list of poetry books, websites, and apps to try out this summer.

* Our artist-in-residence will be making special bookmarks with each class (we are an arts impact school). Kids will also receive a list of art-related books and suggestions on ways to be creative this summer.

* Teachers are taking their students to read outside on the front lawn - some are going as a grade level, some with their reading buddy classes.

* I want to put this question on our school sign throughout the summer: What are you reading today?

Looking forward to another fun day celebrating reading together as a school community!  What are your plans for encouraging your kids to read this summer? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

What Does Penny Kittle's Book Love Mean for Elementary Teaching?

I have been wanting to read this book by Penny Kittle for quite some time ... probably since the NCTE conference when everyone was tweeting about it. I was finally able to read it this past week.  This is such a powerful book in so many ways - it's a call to action for middle school and high school teachers to create more of a balance between required reading and independent reading, it reminds us how important it is for students to have a teacher who reads, and it reminds everyone that the real test of our teaching is what happens when kids aren't in school - over the weekend or summer, after high school, as parents themselves. I recently reread Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer and that book transformed many middle grade classrooms. Book Love has the potential to do the same thing for high schools. That would be so amazing!

My heart is in elementary teaching. I found out just this week that after five years of full-time literacy coaching, I can return to classroom teaching next year. I am over-the-moon excited to take all I've learned through professional reading and working with other teachers and apply it to my own work with kids. So as I read  Book Love this week, I kept a question in my reader's notebook: While this is a book about high school readers, what are the implications for elementary classrooms? What can I use in my reading workshop next year?  Here's what I'm thinking:

"The pathway to difficult reading begins with books they enjoy."
We are always on the quest to find "the book" that will set a nonreader on a path to becoming a reader. To do that, teachers need to be readers and know their books well. That also means knowing the preferences of students and reading books that may not be our favorite genre of books. My plan is to work on my book gaps (i.e., newer series, graphic novels) but also look for my classroom library gaps. I still have many of the books from my old classroom library, but need to update it. I may have to interview some 2nd and 3rd graders this spring to help create that list.

"The amount of reading students do matters.'
Text complexity is one of the hot topics with Common Core ... and one that creates confusion about what that means for elementary classrooms. We can't just throw away what we know about best practice in the name of getting more complex texts in kids' hands. We know that would be disastrous and work against our bigger goals. A common theme throughout this book is that kids need to increase the volume of reading that they do. It is through independent reading that we can develop the fluency and stamina that they need to approach increasingly more complex texts. I think we need to ask ourselves "How much are kids really reading?" and "What can I do about it?"  In Donalyn Miller's book, she talks about stealing more moments for reading and one way is eliminating morning work and replacing it with reading. My plan is to use those first 20 minutes of the day for kids to continue reading whatever they read for homework and then meet up with their reading partners to talk about their books. I think it will be a way to bridge home reading and school reading (and sneak in some more conferring). We already commit to ninety minutes a day for reading workshop, but adding this little chunk of extra reading time equals 75 more minutes of reading a week! It would be a great building-wide initiative.

"I think the combination of a long-term goal and monitoring progress on a weekly goal is important. Students need both."
I've used reading logs as a way to reflect and set goals which is great for long-term goal setting. These goals tend to be broad: "I'm going to try a new genre." or "I'm going to track my thinking in my reader's notebook more often."  I like the idea of a weekly plan too. Every Monday, I enjoy reading the "It's Monday - What Are You Reading" posts on Twitter. What a great way to start the week in classrooms - reflect on what we read last week and set a plan for next week. In Book Love, Penny Kittle talks about how nonreaders rarely have a future reading plan - we need to show them not only how to create one but how powerful that plan can be. My plan is to incorporate a weekly time for reflection on past reading and create plans for the coming week. Our reader's notebooks have a section for future reading, but I've noticed that most kids don't use that section. I want to emphasize that part of reading more.

"I never skip the book talk."
I am not a clock watcher. It's probably one of the reasons why elementary is a good fit for me, a level where we aren't so dictated by bells. I want to incorporate more book talks in reading workshop next year and like the sense of dedication to this quote: "I never skip the book talk." It's as regular as lunch. My plan is to make sure that I identify books each day that I want to share with kids (or that kids want to promote) and make it a commitment. If I want kids to read more, this part of the reading workshop is vital.

I wish I knew a high school English teacher well enough to pass this book onto. Maybe that will happen. My second wish is that someone writes a book like The Book Whisperer and Book Love for primary readers. You can never start too soon.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How Is Teaching Like Cooking

Today I received my new issue of Cooking Light and I always look forward to Scott Mowbray's column, "Note from the Editor".  This month, Scott wrote about how we need a special day to recognize all the cooks in our lives - those people who day in and day out, regularly cook meals for the ones they love. He wrote:

"We all know, we who cook, that cooking is not easy. Even simple cooking is not that easy. Even bad cooking is not that easy. Cooking requires intuitive timing, multitasking, finesse, dexterity, and improvisation, not to mention the handling of fire and sharp instruments, often while being harassed with questions like "What's for dinner?" and "When's dinner?" and "I thought we were having mac and cheese for dinner - why aren't we having mac and cheese for dinner?"

If you're a teacher, you probably thought the same thing I did as I read - "This sounds familiar!"  So thought I'd have some fun with Scott Mowbray's words and rewrite it from a teaching perspective. Here goes:

"We all know, we who teach, that teaching is not easy. Even simple teaching is not that easy. [Repeat after me, "Cut on the solid lines, fold on the dotted lines ...]. Even bad teaching is not that easy. Teaching requires intuitive timing, multitasking, finesse, dexterity, and improvisation [please, let the technology work today], not to mention the handling [and putting out] of fire and sharp instruments [staples, scissors, tongues], often while being harassed with questions like "What are we doing next?" and "When's lunch?" and "I thought we were having outdoor recess today - why aren't we having outdoor recess today?"


Have a great cooking and teaching week -  Be sure to thank the teachers and cooks in your life! :)



Sunday, March 3, 2013

Literacy Connection: The Book Whisperer Final Reflection

I finished rereading The Book Whisperer today and for this final post, I'm going to share my favorite quotes that I think capture the essence of this book.

"This is what I want for my students, to lose and find themselves in books."

"It is said that we make time for what we value, and if we value reading, we must make time for it."


"By allowing and encouraging students to read what they want, I also endorse their culture and their interests - something we do not do enough in school."

"My credibility with students and the reason they trust me when I recommend books to them stems from the fact that I read every day of my life and that I talk about reading constantly."

"Remember that you are the best reader in the room, the master reader. Embrace that, and wear your reading love proudly in front of your students every day."
(I think that we have to wear our reading love proudly in front of our colleagues too!)

"To keep our students reading, we have to let them."


For this last post, we were asked to share ways that we create a reading community in our classrooms. As a literacy coach, I don't have a classroom of my own but this year we have been working on ways to expand our reading community school-wide:
* Celebrated Picture Book Month in November with daily book reviews, emphasis on picture book reading, mystery readers, and a school wide assembly;
* Book Swap right before winter break so all readers in our school started winter break with "new" books in their hands;
* Read Across America Week in February - Activities: each day of the week, each student received a reading gift - bookmarks, pencils, lanyards, bracelets with a reading message, What Are You Reading Today stickers;  daily book reviews by students on the morning announcements;  students read Dr. Suess books with their Reading Buddies; each class decorated their door based on a grade level Dr. Suess book read by the librarian that week; PJ Day on Friday (staff wore special red and white scarves to celebrate the day).
* Future Plans - Poem in Your Pocket Day in April and our end of year Literacy Night with a focus on summer reading.

To close, here's a few of my favorite books to share with students:
Arthur, For the Very First Time by Patricia MacLachlan
Note: I've used this book as the first chapter book read aloud of the year in third grade. Great characters and story, but also one to show the power of using a notebook to work through a challenging time.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson
Note: Another good book for the beginning of the year. A book about the importance of kindness, but also a reminder that we may not always have the chance to make things right.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg.
Note: A board book that's appropriate for any grade in showing how any mistake can be transformed into something beautiful.

When the Soldiers Were Gone by Vera W. Propp
Note: I read this historical fiction book to my second graders every year. It's a powerful story of a young Jewish boy who discovers that all he knows - his identity, his family, his history is not as he believed. Post WWII from a child's perspective.

Emily Upham's Revenge by Avi.
Note: This book is definitely a lesser-known Avi book. Many historical fiction books are serious in nature and this one is definitely not! A fun adventure in the Old West. This book followed Sara Plain and Tall in my classroom as a way to show my students the range of historical fiction. Also liked that the two main characters were a boy and a girl.

Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood
Note: One of my favorite books from 2012 that will definitely be on my read aloud list next year when I return to the classroom.

Tsunami! by Kimiko Kajikawa
Note: I love a good picture book that can be read again and again. Beautiful illustrations and great one for exploring story elements and theme through an interesting folktale.