Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sharing Authors' Personal Stories with our Students

Anchor Chart image from Teaching and Tapas

My 7 yr-old son is a tough audience when it comes to books.  He enjoys having me read novels to him, but he has yet to find the right books that he is completely interested in reading himself.  I thought about what his favorite pastime is and decided to try to write a story with that hobby as the major part of the plot to interest him.  I have never been a creative writer, but he absolutely loved what I wrote and asked me where the rest was!  Before he went to bed on Saturday night, he gave me my homework: "You can NOT go to sleep until you write me 2 more chapters to read in the morning, ok Mom?!"  I tweeted his homework assignment out to my PLN to share my humorous situation and got the following reply:

I was intrigued and started reading about the author, Rick Riordan, on his website .  As I read through his page on "Advice for Writers," I realized how important it is for our students to learn more about the authors whose books they are reading.  In one of his answers, Rick has a list of tips, including:
"Secondly, read a lot! Read everything you can get your hands on.  You will learn the craft of writing by immersing yourself in the voices, styles, and structures of writers who have gone before you. Don't be afraid that you'll start sounding like a particular writer you admire.  That just means you need to read MORE, not less.
Thirdly, write every day! Keep a journal.  Jot down interesting stories you heard. Write descriptions of people you see.  It doesn't really matter what you write, but you must keep up practice. Writing is like a sport -- you only get better if you practice.  If you don't keep at it, the writing muscles atrophy."

What incredible advice from an author that many of our students (in upper grades) love to read!  As I thought back to my classroom days, I recalled having "author studies," where we read several picture books from the same author, comparing/contrasting among them.  I can't recall ever taking the time to share with students the authors' stories behind why they wrote each book or any other information they shared about what they do to write. 

Do you take time to share any of this with your students?  I'd love to hear about how it has impacted your students' writing.  Here are some websites I found with resources on authors:
The Stacks list of authors from Scholastic

You can also google almost any author to find their homepage where they include far more information. Here's some that I know are popular authors to our students:
And an author that is new to me, but I'm sure our students will love after he visits our school this week, is... Michael Scotto

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I have a secret...

I am leading a session on use of specific apps on the iPad for teachers in my building tomorrow and I am NOT an expert on any of the apps I'm sharing. That's right. I'm showing how to use them, giving ideas of how they can be used and I don't know everything about each of them and I probably can't answer all the questions that may be asked of me.

But, I do know that if there are any questions I can't answer I can tweet them out and am 99.9% sure that someone in my Twitter PLN will have the answer for us.  I have used Educreations in 4 classrooms, showing the teacher and the students all at once how to use it.  Each time, a student (or the teacher) discovered something new or came up with a tip to help everyone.  Every time I use it, I learn something new.  Even if I did become an expert on any one of these apps, the developers are constantly listening to feedback from the users and updating the features, so I would have new features to learn about each time they are updated. I also know that as teachers begin using the apps in their classrooms they will come up with great new ways of using them for student learning and share them with others.

We do not have to be experts at the tools...we have to be experts at learning and show students what it is like in real life to not know the answer or not know how to do something.  To be successful in life you need to know how to find it out.  Or as Will Richardson says we have to be able to "learn, unlearn and relearn."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why School?

Image from Edtechworkshop

This weekend I downloaded the book Why School? by Will Richardson after seeing numerous educators on Twitter recommend it.  It was a whopping $2.99, but one of the best reads (and a quick read) to challenge our thinking about school.

Here is a TEDTalk given by the author, Will Richardson, talking about how the internet resources available to us today are making learning different.  Even if you don't watch the entire video (which is 14 minutes) please watch the first 1:28 minutes of it as he tells the story of his daughter learning to play Journey on the piano.

I cringed when he told about the piano teacher saying his daughter wasn't ready to play Journey yet.  I then wondered if there are any times that we put similar limits on our students?

Why School? is a great summary of why schools must be different than they were when we went through school.  Schools are no longer the place to go to receive information and then memorize it to regurgitate it on a worksheet or a test.  That is the type of school that prepared children for factory work.  We are now preparing students for jobs that do not even exist today.  Richardson quotes psychologist Herbert Gerjuoy who predicts that "the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write. The illiterate will be those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."  I had to think deeply about that quote, but really can connect to how true it is with changing technologies. Think about how many times you have had to change something you do technology-wise because the program has updated (Microsoft word is the perfect example) or had to completely stop using a program and learn a new one (ex: change of gradebook to a new student information system).  At the rate web 2.0 tools are coming out, this learning, unlearning and relearning can happen daily!

In the video clip above (which was from 2011 so I'm sure the numbers have changed), Richardson says that by using their phones, a student could have access to 2 billion potential, not certified teachers, but people who can teach them how to do something.  Information and knowledge is everywhere, not just in the teacher's heads to impart to students.  I just checked the web history on our home computer and found that we have learned the following in the past month from youtube/google:

For our students to be successful, they will need to know how to find accurate information, think about and solve real world problems, be able to create and share with others and collaborate with others...not just in the classroom but at a global level.

Here are some of the "nuggets" I highlighted in Why School?:
  • "Remaking assessment starts with this: Stop asking questions on tests that can be answered by a google search." 
  •  "Performance-based assessments, where students actually have to do something with what they know, tell us volumes more about their readiness for life than bubble sheets or contrived essays."
  • "We can raise the teaching profession by sharing what works, by taking the best of what we do and hanging it on the virtual wall. Many would argue that it is now the duty of teachers to do so."
  • "We have to stop delivering the curriculum to kids. We have to start discovering it with them." 
  • Be a master learner..."in times of great change, learners will inherit the earth, while the learned will be beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists." (quote from philosopher Eric Hoffer).  
  • "There's no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn't care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know."
  •  Do real work for real audiences.
  •  "Don't teach my child science; instead, teach my child how to learn science -or history or math or music."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Is there a basal series for Daily 5?

Here is a cross-post from  "Monday Musings" post on my staff blog this week...

Recently a principal from Twitter contacted me regarding Daily5/Cafe and asked if I could recommend a reading basal series that is conducive to Daily5/Cafe.  Once I got over my immediate cringe at the word "basal" I asked why were they looking for a basal?  This principal was worried about the amount of time required of teachers to plan to teach with Daily5/Cafe,because it is much easier for them to open up a basal and teach from it.

We had a great discussion on the impact I have seen in our building since implementing Daily5/Cafe and I just wanted to share with you some of my reflections on this, because it does all come back to the work that YOU all have done and continue to do each day...

Teaching from a basal is easy.  Everything is in there ready to go for you, aside from possibly having to make additional copies of worksheets and decide what components will be used, because a basal series typically has too much planned for 1 week.  Essentially, all you have to do is open it up each day, read the teacher notes and teach from it.

There is a great deal of research that supports the notion that this is NOT good for kids.  Stephen Krashen says "we are denying students access to the one activity that has been proven over and over again to increase their language acquisition and competence as communicators: free, voluntary reading." (The Book Whisperer, page 51).  A reading basal is "one size" and we know that one size does not fit all.

Since we dropped our basal series and implemented Daily5/Cafe, here's what I have seen change...

  • Students reading and writing.  That's it.  No more drill-and-kill worksheets with low level comprehension questions that have minimal transfer to actual reading. 
  • Teachers continuing to read/learn to become experts at literacy and teaching struggling students to read and higher readers to comprehend/discuss higher level texts. 
  • Classroom libraries continuing to grow so they are filled with high interest books that students want to read.  These libraries are filled with a variety of genre that are often organized by the students which helps them to know what books are there and where to find them.
  • Students (and teachers) enjoying reading.  I recall a teacher saying that reading used to be the worst part of the day, because it was SO boring.  Now, that teacher says Daily 5 time is the best time of the day.
  • Students and teachers talking about and recommending books to each other. 
  • Teachers sharing their "reading lives" with students, being a reading role model.
  • Teachers using what they know about student strengths, goals and interests to find books to "hook" students that haven't quite found the right book to get them to enjoy reading. 
  • Teachers using mini-lessons with a variety of picture books or parts of novels to model the meta-cognition that happens while reading text, creating Anchor charts with student input to refer back to in future lessons and giving students time to practice applying newly learned skills with teacher feedback.
  • Teachers introducing new authors through read-alouds that lead students to expand their reading to new genres and authors.
  • Students giving mini book-talks/book recommendations to their peers to help others expand their reading choices. 
  • Teachers conferring with students 1:1 for reading and writing, giving individual coaching sessions on what students are doing well and creating next step goals for what will help that student continue to become a better reader/writer.  Using this conference to model for the student and give practice again to provide feedback to the student, continuing to check in with the student on this goal until it becomes mastered.
Image from Clark Chatter
Yes, this is all much more work than opening up the reading basal, but it is SO much better! You are not just teaching children to read, you are teaching them to enjoy reading, which we know leads to more reading and builds their background for all future learning.  
Thank you for all that you do to lead our students to be readers and writers!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The #WIAmigos are at it again...

Wisconsin is a state filled with farm land and small school districts across rural areas.  Each district can feel like it's own island, but the educators on Twitter are working to connect those islands.  Over time as many of us Wisconsin Educators have become closely connected we have coined ourselves the #WIAmigos.  It is a great time to be an educator in Wisconsin!

During the past 4 years on Twitter, I have been fortunate to become connected with so many great educators and especially enjoying connecting with Wisconsin educators that I eventually get to meet in person at conferences.  I have presented with my principal colleagues Curt Rees, Matt Renwick and Jay Posick numerous times at conferences to help spread the word.  This week we were excited to have the following article published by ASCD:

Here's what else the #WIAmgios are "up to" when it comes to connected learning:

  • Curt, Matt and I will be presenting next week at #2013AWSA, the Elementary Administrators Conference. You can find handouts for our session here:
  • You can find other Wisconsin Educators to follow (and add yourself to this list) at
  • Wisconsin DPI is on Twitter: DPI has also started a Twitter account specifically for the Common Core State Standards:
  • The #WIAmigos have started a regular chat for Wisconsin Educators.  You can join the conversation using the hashtag #wischat on Sunday nights at 8pm. A huge thank you to John Gunnell for moderating this chat. 
  • A great day of awesome and FREE learning will take place on February 23 in Sun Prairie for #EdcampMadWi.  You can find out more about this awesome edcamp HERE
  • How fun are we?  We even have a t-shirt!  Huge thank you to Tom Whitford for putting this together!