Saturday, July 18, 2015

Digital Reading: What's Essential in Grades3-8, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 in Digital Reading:  What’s Essential in Grades 3-8, dealt with the issue of how to make digital learning authentic for students.  Workshop should not be designed around the technology; instead the technology should fit the need of that day.  There were so many great ideas in this chapter that helped me to reflect on the technology I’m currently using with my students, why I’m using it (does it fit the purpose), and what else we could include.  Some take-aways from the chapter for me were:

·      *      The students need to feel comfortable using the technology. One of our goals should be to expose the students to several different kinds of technology and then let the students chose the technology that best fits their needs.  This could include the type of text they choose to read, the type of response, etc.  For teachers this means that we need to feel comfortable giving up some control.  The easy way to teach is to assign the text and then assign the type of response we want the student to do.  Unfortunately by not allowing student choice we too often receive mediocre responses. Students don’t buy into the text or the response.  The key is choice for the text, the response, and the technology!

·     *      “Being readers ourselves is the best tool we have to keep our classroom workshops authentic.” p.30   Teachers need to do what they ask their students to do.  For the past few years I have regularly read books and kept a reader’s notebook along with my students.  At first I felt very self-conscious sharing my journal entries out loud with my classes.  But the students listened and asked questions!  And after a little while I began to notice something, students were writing more and the quality of the entries began to improve.  This was just the encouragement I needed to continue writing and sharing.

·      *     “…she didn’t have to teach every single skill for every tool; what she did have to do was explain herself as she was teaching so that students could not only see what she was doing with a specific tool but also know why she was doing it.” p.31 This is something that was always a roadblock for me when it came to adding new technology.  I felt as if I needed to become an expert first, before I introduced the tool to my students, otherwise I wouldn’t want to try it.  This too is a control issue.  I need to feel comfortable introducing students to the tools, sharing with them how I use it, and talking through the choices I make while I demonstrate using it. Then I need to let the students try it out for themselves and make their own decisions.  This will increase their ownership of the tool. And in fact I can learn from them!

·      *     There are so many online tools that can enhance the reading workshop.  Many of them we’ve already been using:  KIdBlog, Twitter, Skype, Edmodo.  One goal I have for this year is to make read-aloud more interactive for the students.  Tools such as Padlet and Corkulous are definitely something I want to try for student responses and formative assessments.  Both of these tools are also great for allowing students to see what their classmates think of the text, which helps to further build our reading community.


Now on to chapter 4!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Digital Reading: What Essential in Grades 3-8, Chapters 1 & 2

This summer I was excited to learn about the cyberPD group on Twitter that was going to be reading the book, Digital Reading:  What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 during July. As both a sixth grade literacy teacher and someone that enjoys using technology, I was excited to read this book and challenged myself to write about my reflections as I read.   This has proved more difficult than I originally thought as the book is filled with both great ideas and questions to ponder.  Thankfully I have my own copy of the book so I can freely mark the text as I read, then go back and reread, and then finally get my thoughts down on paper (digital paper in this case).  One important take-away that I’ve discovered so far is that I’m terrible with deadlines during the summer, so while the #cyberPD group will be buzzing through this book in one month’s time, it may take me a week or so longer. This is just my reading/reflecting style (an important idea I need to remember when working with students). Following is my post for chapters 1 and 2.

As I began reading, Digital Reading:  What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 by Franki Sibberson and William Bass, I felt fairly confident that I was already doing an adequate job of integrating digital reading into our daily reading workshop.  I allowed to students to read novels on devices that they brought from home, students weekly read nonfiction articles on both Wonderopolis and Newsela. We even had online book discussion groups on Edmodo.  However the issue of access, brought up in chapter one, had been a concern.  What to about the students that did not have online access at home?  How could I best help them feel connected? Then I realized that I needed to become more intentional about how I integrate technology use in our literacy classroom.  There is more to helping students become literate in this digital age than just having them read texts online.  I need to reflect on how we are using technology.  Are students able to use digital tools in meaningful ways that help them feel more connected and improve their understanding of complex text?  Are we using technology in an authentic manner? 

I agree with the authors that as teachers we are preparing our students to live and work in a digital world, therefore we need to encourage them to view technology as a tool that increases and improves their literacy skills.  I am concerned that many of the students I teach, while they have been exposed to technology all their lives, and most use it on a daily basis, are still at what the author refers to as the “superficial level.”  They know how to text, play games, post pictures and videos, but they are not truly digitally literate.  This is a golden opportunity for teachers to, “support our students’ literacy by helping them intentionally use digital tools for learning and make these tools part of their daily lives.”  This of course means that as the teacher, I need to be more intentional in how I integrate technology into workshop.  It cannot simply be an add-on.  Technology must be integrated in such a way that students view it as a necessary part or of their day-to-day work activities, a tool that will help them to understand increasingly complex text.

The three anchors of workshop, of authenticity, intentionality, and connectedness help to provide a basis or framework for how we organize reading workshop and make meaningful choices to include technology.  When planning lessons, our priority needs to be engagement.  If students aren’t engaged, they won’t learn.  We need to be intentional in our choices for both reading and technology.  Keeping lessons authentic will help students see the meaning in the lessons and transfer skills they’ve learned, hopefully helping them to form connections, to see the relevance, and gain new understandings.

Using a workshop format to teach reading allows many avenues to include technology while still staying true to the basic tenets or workshop:  time, choice and response.   While I felt I already was doing a good job of integrating technology, the author’s list, “What Role Do Digital Texts Play in My Literacy Workshop?” gave me so many more questions to consider as I plan.  For example, I had used nonfiction digital texts for mini-lessons, but why not blogs as well?  This would be a great tie-in with writing workshop. 


As a teacher today, I need to remember I’m teaching students that have always lived in the digital age.  In order for them to grow as readers and become truly literate, they need to be comfortable using different types of technology as tools to help them make sense and interact with the texts they read.  Digital tools need to be included in all facets of the workshop format, in both intentional and meaningful ways.  This will challenge me to think in new ways, to look at my practices, to adjust my teaching, and to grow and learn alongside my students in this ever-evolving era of technology.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Who does that?

“Who does that?”

Someone asked me that question today and it stopped me cold.  I honestly did not have an answer.  I didn’t know how to respond.

I had been out running errands and decided to treat myself and stop at the bookstore. I hadn’t really planned on purchasing anything (I’m making a conscious effort to utilize the library more).  Once at the store however I was so excited to discover The Lost Track of Time by Paige Britt, that I just couldn’t resist it!  First of all, the book is sized slightly larger than other books.  Whoever thought this up is a genius!  My eye was drawn to the book first because of its size.  Then I noticed the cover, beautiful!  The colors and illustrations work together to grab attention immediately.  So of course, I had to pick up the book and start paging through.  Then I noticed the pages! (This book hits it from all angles)  The pages are shiny and smooth (love the feel). And there are these incredible sketch-like purple illustrations sprinkled throughout the book, just enough to pique the imagination.  Finally I turned to the inside front cover to find out more about the story.  Unbelievable!  The story is about a young girl, Penelope, whose passion is to become a writer. Unfortunately, her mother does not share her passion and instead believes the key to success is to be busy and productive every minute of every day.  Then one day the unthinkable happens, Penelope finds herself with a completely free, unscheduled day!  How could this happen?!  She doesn’t have time to ponder the question because before she knows it, she has fallen through the "hole” in her schedule and landed in the “Realm of Possibility”! I didn’t have to read anymore, I was sold.  I needed this book!

As I was paying for the book, I shared with the store clerk how excited I was to have discovered this new book.  I noticed her quizzical expression;  So I explained to her how I am a teacher and every year I have a Mock Newbery Cub for my students.  We spend September through January reading and reviewing new middle grade novels, trying to determine the next winner of the John Newbery Award.  I went on to explain that while I do purchase several books for the students to read, I also check out 50 to 60 books from the public library so there are enough copies for all the students to share. In preparation for the launch of the club in September, I spend my summer “discovering” and reading new 2015 middle grade novels to include in the club. Now I truly enjoy discussing our Mock Newbery Club, and I know I tend to get a little excited and talk fast, so I slowed down and took a breath when I noticed the clerk’s expression.  The next thing she said was,
I could see she didn’t understand my excitement.

“Who does that?”

I was struck speechless.  That question had never occurred to me. I love what I do.  Teaching, reading, and sharing books are my passion.  I just stared at the clerk.  And then I answered,

“I do.”  


Monday, June 22, 2015

Making a Difference...

         The classroom has been packed up.  We’ve waved good-bye to all the students as the buses pulled away one last time.  This is always a bittersweet event, for teachers as well as students.  The prospect of a summer filled with warm weather, time to be outside, time to relax and enjoy favorite activities, time to just unwind, all of this makes summer a welcome respite.  Yet I had a student say to me this year, “I bet you’re looking forward to not having to deal with all these crazy kids soon.”  When she said that, I stopped cold and didn’t say anything for a minute.  I just looked at her as a million thoughts and images flashed through my mind.  And then I spoke. I explained that no, I would miss all the students terribly.  I told her how the students are the reason I love teaching as much as I do.  I love coming to school every day and seeing all my students.  I love reading wonderful books with them, getting excited over great books, and discussing the books.  I also love writing with my students, seeing the excitement they have when their writing takes off, and then the eagerness everyone has to share their writing once I become brave enough to share my own.  And finally, I look forward to coming to school everyday and laughing with my students, because no matter how stressful life can be, my students can always make me laugh.  When we’re in the classroom, whether we’re immersed in reading or writing, we are a community of learners that shares not only knowledge but also empathy, concern for each other, and humor.  I quietly explained all this to my student, and to others who by this time had wandered over to listen, curious after catching tidbits of my impassioned declaration.  In this moment I hoped my students realized how very much they all meant to me.  But as teachers sometimes we never really know for sure if we’ve reached our students, if we actually did make a difference in their lives. 
Another school year has ended.

So on the last day of school, when I returned to my classroom after waving good-bye to the buses filled with students, I found a note hastily scrawled on the chalkboard from one of my students.  In this note I received the best gift of all.  I had made a difference.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stars and Wishes: How a Mini Lesson Helped Me to Reflect on the Power of Positive Talk

Lately there’s been more and more discussion about the need for teachers to talk less and have the students talk more.  The adage,  “The one who’s doing the talking, is doing the learning’’, has been gaining in popularity.  Long story short, if we want kids to learn more, they need to be the ones doing the talking.  Hence, the need for teachers to develop more opportunities for students to collaborate with each other in a constructive, meaningful manner has never been more important.  Peer conferences are one avenue that our class has been exploring to provide just such opportunities.

            This week students completed their persuasive writing rough drafts.  I’ve always thought of persuasive writing as the writing genre with the most power.  When I introduce persuasive writing, I share examples of how the “pen is mightier than the sword”. It is in this writing genre that students truly begin to see the power words can have.
After previewing several persuasive topics and editorials, students are then free to choose their own topics for their persuasive essays.  There are mini lessons throughout the workshop on writing thesis statements, claims, research, supporting evidence, counterclaims, outlining, etc.
             Finally the rough drafts are complete and we’re ready to start revising.  But before we can start the work of making our writing even more powerful, we need to share it with others we trust, here is where the power of peer conferences and feedback can make all the difference in student writing.
            During peer conferences, it is important that the author reads his writing out loud to his or her partner. Writers need to hear how the words they’ve written sound when read aloud.  Much revision can be started with just this simple step.  However, it is important that the partner, the listener, have some direction to follow.  Too often the student doing the listening may be unsure what kind of help to provide the author.  Simple guidelines, such as a form to fill out while listening, will help the student to shape her thoughts into feedback that will be helpful to the writer.
            The conference/feedback form used for our persuasive writing provides areas for the listener to record the thesis statement, supporting reasons, and counterclaims.  There are also areas to note the type of evidence that is included for each supporting reason (this is an important area, adding more supporting evidence is a frequent area of revision with persuasive pieces).  However, the most important part of the form is on the back, the “stars and wishes” section.  I began including “stars and wishes” on writing conference forms a few years ago.  This is how I explain it to the students: 

 “Stars” are what you like about the writing.  Everyone needs to hear something good about his or her writing.  We all need to hear positive comments about the things we do.  Then I offer the students the following analogy:  if the principal were to come into my classroom everyday and tell me all the things I was doing wrong, what would happen? Eventually I would just give up.  I would feel like what’s the use?  I can’t do anything right, so I just wouldn’t try anymore.  People, all people, need to hear what they are doing right, so find something you like about your partner's paper and share it with them as a “star”.  The “wishes” section is for something you “wished” you had heard in your partner’s paper.  Give your partner an area to focus on.


Then the magic happens, I get to walk around the room and listen in on the writing conferences. So much good writing, listening and feedback in one room is inspiring!  But as I was doing this, I was also thinking about the advice I gave the students concerning the “stars”.  Too often, too many of us hear only what we’re doing wrong.  We all need to hear the “stars”.  Even as adults, we need that positive feedback to continue to grow as learners. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This is why I teach....

Today our Mock Newbery club held one of its bimonthly meetings for December.  I didn’t have to ask twice when I told the kids it’s alright to bring their lunches to my classroom.  Seventeen happy, excited students brought their bag lunches, hot lunches, milk, snacks, and most importantly, their 2014 Newbery contender books to my classroom so they could eat and discuss the great stories they been reading for the past two weeks.  This has got to be the highlight to my week, listening to my students eagerly discuss the books that made them laugh, cry and shudder in fear, all the while ensuring their classmates that, “this is a book you have to read!”  What truly made this moment memorable was that I have been reading the books right along with the students.  I was able to share in their excitement.  I fell in love with the Beedle in A Snicker of Magic. (“Can we please start our own Beedle club?”)  I cried at the gym when I read A Million Ways Home, and I got fighting mad during the eagle scene in Half a Chance.  Some of us have decided to try writing verse after reading Brown Girl Dreaming and The Crossover, while we all fell in love with Jackson Greene and his band of conspirators in The Great Greene Heist.  Finally The Fourteen Goldfish has captured many hearts and has students looking at their grandparents in a whole new light.


This is why I teach.  I teach for the kids.  I teach to make a difference in their lives, both now and in the future.  Look at all the smiling faces.  So many students just happy to be a part of a group that loves books.  These kids are on their way to becoming lifelong readers.  This is why I teach.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Chapters 2 & 3: Getting to Know Our Students & Planning for a Successful Year



A few years ago, I remember sitting in the bleachers at opening session listening to our superintendent deliver his yearly “welcome back” speech.  In his talk that day he shared with us an encounter he had had with some students over the summer.  During the town’s Fourth of July celebration, he had asked these students, “What is one piece of advice you wish you could share with your new teachers?”  He told us that the students wanted their teachers to take the time to get to know them. To get know who they really were, not just as students, put as people too.  To find out what they’re interested in, their hobbies, what’s easy for them, and what’s hard.  In a nutshell, the students wanted their new teachers to build relationships with them.  They wanted their new teachers to see them as more than just students. They wanted their new teachers to care about them.  As I thought about these ideas, I thought about my own three boys.  The teachers they liked the best, the classes they were the most successful in, were usually the classes where the teachers had taken the time to build relationships with them.  As a parent, I deeply appreciated this.  I wanted my children to not only be successful, but to like school and enjoy learning.  Teachers that take the time to build relationships with students honor that request.

In chapter two of Read, Write, Teach, Linda shares with us not only her beliefs on the importance of relationship building, but also several strategies, classroom routines, and even team challenges that help to facilitate this process.  Even the covers of the Reader’s/Writer’s notebooks become an opportunity for getting to know students. Linda has her students create collages of things they care deeply about on the covers.  Following her reflective style, Linda gathers evidence and takes careful anecdotal notes on the students as they participate in each activity.  She learns valuable information about her students, how they learn, their interests, what they care about, and how they work with others.  She is well on her way to building lasting relationships with each and every student within the first few weeks of school!

In chapter three, Linda allows us a peek inside her planning process for reading-writing workshop. Actually it’s more than a “peek”.  Linda generously shares her curriculum overview, the expectations she has for workshop and the writer’s-reader’s notebook, a pamphlet of information for parents (perfect for open house night!), and other forms and strategies she utilizes to help workshop run smoothly.  Again, I felt as if I had found a mentor. This is exactly the type of information I was searching for when I first starting teaching workshop.  Linda offers us ready-to-go ideas that she developed through years of research, working with students and constantly asking for their feedback.  In fact, asking for feedback and allowing for student choice, are reoccurring themes throughout her planning process.  What this chapter gives us is a framework.  This framework, combined with feedback from our own students and the power of choice built into the structure, will provide for a powerful readers/writers workshop.