Foster Parenting

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

OLW...End of Year Reflection

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Please visit their site to read other slices and leave a comment or two.


It's been a year of discovery for me.  Focusing on this One Little Word has helped me pay attention to the little things.  When I chose Discover as my word, I envisioned discovering new places to dine (my husband and I really like going out to eat), and new places to visit...maybe some new recipes (hmmm...things seem to revolve around food).  I did discover all of those things, but I also discovered so much more.

Once a month, I meet up with some friends for Sunday brunch.  Our friend Stella has organized us and she KNOWS our town.  We try new restaurants and we spend the next few hours laughing and sharing favorite books we've read.  I am currently reading The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year-Old Boy with Autism and can't wait to start The One Thing, both books I learned about at brunch.  Sharon shared The Best Yes, which was a great book for me to read.  I knew I needed to read it when I read the description:  Are you living with the stress of an overwhelmed schedule and aching with the sadness of an underwhelmed soul? And if you haven't heard about Serial, you need to check it out.  I'm hooked and find myself listening to this riveting podcast every time I'm in the car.  From the website:  Serial is a podcast from the creators of This American Life, and is hosted by Sarah Koenig. Serial tells one story - a true story - over the course of an entire season. Each season, we'll follow a plot and characters wherever they take us. And we won’t know what happens at the end until we get there, not long before you get there with us. Each week we bring you the next chapter in the story, so it's important to listen to the episodes in order, starting with Episode 1.   

I am on Episode 7 and am looking forward to listening to the rest of the series before winter break is over.

Franki shared TheSkimm and I'm so glad I discovered it this year. These two ladies have such great voice and I find myself trying to guess the story based on the headlines. So far, I'm not so great at it, but they make me chuckle. I read it in the morning before I go to work and it makes me feel like I can talk intelligently about what's going on in the world.

After two years of having no pets in the house, Scout and Jem adopted us right after Thanksgiving. I rediscovered how much fun (and work!) having puppies can be.
I watched both my mother and mother-in-law deal with serious health issues this summer and fall. I discovered what love looks like after 50 and 60 years of marriage. I saw sides of my dad and father-in-law that I hadn't seen before and it has been so beautiful to watch.

In fact, I discovered a lot about my dad this summer. After a brief explanation of hashtags on Twitter,
I started calling my dad #Awesome because he was literally awesome in how he took over Mom's care. I then got the nickname "#AwesomeToo. I spent quite a bit of time at their house before and after surgery. Some of the times I enjoyed the most were those Dad and I spent fixing dinner together. It turns out that we make a good team in the kitchen. Imagine my surprise when I opened my gift this Christmas.  

It's been a year of ups and downs. I've dealt with things that I never thought I'd deal with as a wife and mother, but in the end, I discovered some important truths...

  • Some things are worth fighting for, especially when the going is tough. 
  • Your kids never stop needing you. It doesn't matter how old they are. You never stop worrying and will do whatever is needed to help your kids, no matter how old they are. 
  • It's ok to ask for help. You don't need to be strong all the time and you don't need to have all the answers all the time. 
  • Family and friends are a lifeline. Sharing stories is healing. 
  • Prayer is essential. 
Discovery has been a good word for me this year. I'm still waiting for my new word to find me, although I think it's lurking nearby. 

Here's wishing you a very happy New Year!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Celebration Saturday

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for hosting Celebration Saturday.  It's a place for people to gather to celebrate the big and small things in their lives.  Please visit her site to read about others' celebrations.






Baking Christmas cookies ~ it's one of my favorite traditions.  I started so many years ago, standing on a kitchen chair next to my mom.  She taught me how to carefully measure - not over the bowl- but over the sink.  It wouldn't do to have extra salt or flour falling into the bowl.  She taught me how to crack an egg without getting any shell into the batter.  She taught me the difference between folding and mixing.  I knew it was getting close to Christmas baking time as an assortment of containers began piling cream tubs, gift boxes, Cool-Whip containers, anything that would hold cookies in the freezer. When she ran out of freezer space, Mom started stacking containers in the frigid garage.  

Every Christmas Eve, we gathered at my Aunt Cathi's house.  Grandma, Pop, aunts, uncles and loads of cousins filled her house.  It was a night of laughter, love and lots of good food to eat.  My mom and aunts brought their specialties.  I couldn't wait for my Aunt Cathi's Spritz and Peanut Butter Blossoms, Mom's Butterballs (known as Mexican Wedding Cakes to most people) and iced sugar cookies  and Aunt Janey's Molasses cookies sprinkled with red and green sugar.  

 Today, I continued the tradition.  Candle light flickered, Christmas music filled the background and I began...sifting, cracking, mixing, scooping, and rolling.  As the aroma of cinnamon and chocolate swirled throughout my kitchen, my mind wandered back to those early days of baking with my mom and how much I loved spending time with her and my aunts.   I wondered what went through their minds when they were doing their baking all those years ago.  Did they reminisce about the important women in their pasts like I did today?  I hope so.

And now tonight, it's my table that's filled with these old favorites.   It's just not Christmas without them.   It's been my favorite kind of day.

Wishing all of you a very happy and blessed holiday season.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Taking Ownership of Blogging

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Please check her site to see how others are using technology in their classrooms.

The first grade teachers in my building have taken the dive into blogging with their students.  We began with looking at mentors and doing some shared blogging.  And that's where the similarity ended.

Each teacher has now taken ownership of blogging in their classrooms,  going  in the direction that works for their kids.  It's been my privilege to go into their rooms and see the excitement on the kids' faces this week.  Everybody is in a different place.  Here's a glimpse into the three classrooms I visited this week.

We did our first shared blog in Mrs. Miller's classroom.  The kids were very excited to share the learning they are doing with their eighth grade buddies.  Check out their blog at  

In Mrs. Shell's room, students created their own blogs for the first time and left comments for each other.  (URL to come soon.)  There were some popular topics...the running test in gym, another student's birthday, to name a few.

This little guy just posted his first blog.

She is reading her first comment.

Abbey decided to create blog teams.  Her students are most excited about getting comments from their parents and she thought this would be a good way for them to get started.  I had never even thought about team blogging and I loved the idea.   Here is the text she sent me on Friday afternoon after they posted their first team blog.

Team bloggers from Mrs. Cochran's class.

Please check out Mrs. Cochran's team blog at  Leave a comment about your favorite holiday tradition.

Mrs. Klochak's class has done a few blogs on their own.  Her student blogs are at

I so appreciate that each teacher is willing to take the risk of taking their students' writing outside their classroom walls.  Because I've seen the power of blogging in my own classroom, it's very exciting for me to watch the kids as they begin these first steps in becoming digital writers.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Reflecting Digitally

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  You can stop by her site, Reflections on the Teche and read how other educators are using technology in their classrooms.

As I prepared for my NCTE presentation on raising the quality of student digital compositions by using mentor texts, I wanted to share some of my students' reflections.  Last year, I began to use screencasting as a way to let students share their process with me and others.

We spend a lot of time in class looking at author's craft in both traditional and digital texts.  Students are anxious to try these moves in their own compositions.  While conferring with students, I often will ask them to explain why they chose a certain image or graphic or text feature.  I want to know if they are making cognizant decisions that reflect their purpose.  We have all had the experience of students clicking away changing fonts, adding animated graphics, or whatever else they think "looks cool" but add nothing to the intended message.

When we get to the point of publication, I ask students to reflect on the decisions they made.  I think this is important because it gives them the message that their decisions matter.  These reflections give me a glimpse into the process that I might not have otherwise known.  In addition, the students learn from each other as they listen to students' choices.  I will soon see others try some of the same things in their writing.  Likewise, the more reflecting students do, the quality of their writing improves.

I've used both Educreations and Explain Everything for these reflections.  The apps are on our iPads at school, so it's easy to access either.  For the NCTE presentation, I used Explain Everything because I wanted to learn more about it.  I was able to import the students' work (website, Animoto slideshow, blog) into the app.  The students could then scroll through their work as they talked about the decisions they made.  They can use the tools to draw on the screen, make arrows and add text.  Below you will find an excerpt from Alex as she shared the decisions she made about her Norway website.  I uploaded the file from Explain Everything into iMovie and edited it.  The original is 8 minutes long (too long for an NCTE presentation).

I learned a lot from Alex as I listened to her explain her decisions.  She got the idea for the organization of her site from a book she read.  She thought about the text as a whole when she decided to add an image of a train station at the end, which signified the end of the journey through Norway and her web page.  She made conscious decisions about images, layout design, color, topics, and the inclusion of video.  It was evident that she had put a lot of thought into her work.

For more ideas on using technology to reflect on the writing process, read Katharine's Hale blog post.

How do you ask students to reflect on their writing?  Please leave a comment.  I'd love to continue the conversation.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Never Say Never...

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space for our celebrations.  It's important to take the time to celebrate the big and small things in life.  Please check Ruth's site to read other celebrations.

Twenty-one years ago, we got our first pet when our oldest was 5 years old.  We had two dogs, one cat, and an assortment of fish through the years of raising our kids.  We had pets up until 2 years ago and we were sure that we wouldn't have any more.  We enjoyed being able to get up and go away whenever we wanted without having to worry about who was going to feed the dogs or cat.  The kids would hint that they'd like to have a dog, but we were more pets for us.  In fact, my friend Deb has been fostering a dog who had six puppies.  I sat across from her in a meeting last week, thinking to myself how glad I was that we didn't have a house full of puppies.

It happened again last night...Annie mentioned how nice it would be to have a dog.  I felt myself waver...
"If we get another dog, I want to get one who's a little older.  It would be trained and well behaved.

Then this showed up on my Facebook feed last night:

8:30 AM this morning, we were saw the puppies on TV.  Oh boy!  I sent Deb a promises, could we come look at the puppies.  

We left the house, knowing in our heart of hearts, that we were going to bring home a puppy.  

We walked into Deb's house and I turned to Keith, "I think we should get both of them.  They're going to be lonely without each other."

"Both of them?  Are you kidding?" he asked incredulously.

"I'm serious," I replied back.

So, here's my little celebration for today.  Meet Jem and Scout (yes, we had to find literary siblings as their namesakes).

We are starting over with the whole puppy thing.  I'm thinking it's got to be easier this time around since the last time we had a puppy, Annie was 6 weeks old, Zach was 2 1/2, and I was watching my sister's kids, aged 3 and 1 1/2.

They are darling and we love them already.  I'm glad we changed our minds.

Molly just asked if we could get a kitten too.  I'm pretty sure the answer to that question is going to be, "No!"  We'll be plenty busy taking care of these new little ones in our family.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Best Part of NCTE

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Take a moment to visit their site to meander through other slices.  You are sure to enjoy the stories.

I am still reeling from NCTE.  It's always a good time, but this year's convention was the best.  The difference?  The people.  Old friends. New friends. Digging deeper friends.  Wrapping my arms around people I've never personally met, yet I know their stories friends.

The importance of community struck me over and over again those 4 days in D.C.  The stories woven throughout that community make it even stronger.  We find a common thread that binds us even closer, and for that I am so grateful.  This community's foundation lies in relationships built over coffee at Panera, laughter around the table, and for far away friends, Google Hangouts, Twitter, and blogs.  Many of my new friends were discovered on Tuesdays, right here at Slice of Life.

The stories sustain me, lift me, and carry me forward.  I am looking forward to hearing more stories and nurturing these friendships in the next year.

I was thrilled to see Margaret Simon receive the Donald Graves Award.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Continuing the Digital Literacy Conversation

I was up early one morning this week  beginning to write the blog post below when I got a notification that Troy Hicks and Kristin Ziemke posted a response to Nancie Atwell's blog in our Facebook group Digital Literacy Workshop K-6.    I've had a few days to think about both articles and decide  how I wanted to continue with this blog post.  I have to agree with Troy and Kristen that the digital writing workshop in the upper elementary grades is so much more than using a computer as a word processor.  I've written many times about my fourth grade students making purposeful decisions about their digital compositions and articulating those decisions.  When using technology in thoughtful and authentic ways, our students are given one more avenue for both consuming and producing text.  In a true digital workshop, students have choice in how they read, respond, and write.  Sometimes they choose traditional tools, at other times they chose digital tools.  It depends on their purpose and comfort level.  In addition, the ability to receive feedback from others outside the classroom walls is powerful.  Connecting with others offers opportunities to share ideas, reflect, and consider new ideas.  While I do not have much experience in using technology with primary students, I am quickly learning in my new position as a literacy coach.  The teachers in my building are at the point that they want to incorporate digital reading and writing authentically into their workshops.  We are working together to envision and create opportunities for our youngest learners.

I am grateful to Troy and Kristin for sharing their thinking and for starting a conversation.  As educators, it is important that we consider diverse ideas and add our own voices.

Below you will find the blog post I began on Wednesday.  I hope that you will add your voice to the conversation by leaving a comment.

What We Learn About Writing and Writers from Blogging

People ask me if I miss being in the classroom.  Without a doubt, I do.  I miss reading about new ideas and trying them out in my room.  I miss the freedom and flexibility of arranging my schedule to accommodate trying out these ideas.  And I miss having 24 or so students that I know deeply as readers, writers, researchers, and mathematicians.

However, on the positive side, I get to work with lots of different people and kids at my school.  That means there are more opportunities for conversations about reading and writing and my favorite do we authentically weave digital reading and writing into our workshops.  It's an exciting time for me right now at Scioto Darby.  Teachers are looking for ways for their students to write for an audience that extends beyond their classroom walls.  I am surrounded by people who want to learn and are excited about the opportunities afforded by digital reading and writing.  These experiences and conversations give me time to reflect on what I know about reading and writing and help me refine my instruction.  I am continually learning through this whole process.

Most recently, I've been able to get into some first grade classrooms to get them started with blogging.  This week, I had the opportunity to visit Mrs. Shell's room.  As I always do when beginning a new type of writing, I share some mentor texts.  For that day's lesson, I shared this blog from 6 year-old Em.

Together, we wrote what we noticed and we came up with the following list:

  • Writers can blog about different things.
  • Writers write about what is interesting to them.
  • Writers choose a catchy title to grab their reader's attention.
  • The words tell a story.
  • The picture matches the words.
  • Writers can have a conversation through comments with their readers.
  • Writers can share their writing with people far away.
As you can see from this list, there is some deep thinking going on with these 6 year-olds.  I, for one, am excited to watch them and their teacher as they begin to use technology in other authentic ways within their day.

Thank you to Margaret Simon from Reflections on the Teche for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Please visit her site to read other posts about this topic and other ways teachers are using technology in authentic ways.  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Metamorphosis of A House

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Please visit their site to read other Slices and leave a comment.

I've been wanting/needing to write this story for awhile and the time didn't feel right until tonight.

It's the first time we've bought an existing home.  Our previous 2 homes were brand new when we moved in. I didn't know it wouldn't feel like home at first.  I wasn't prepared for the unsettledness.

I missed my big windows where light shone through every morning.

I missed my front porch.

I missed my gardens.

I missed the familiarity and comfort I felt in my old house.

I didn't feel like I was at home.

The call came while we were in Cleveland visiting my mother-in-law who was back in the hospital.  We were crawling into bed, the clock inching toward midnight when my phone rang.

It was hard to understand Annie's voice, "Mom, it's Zach.  He's in trouble and he needs you."

Ten minutes later, Keith and I were in the car headed for Cincinnati, a 5 hour drive at least.  We stopped half way to pick Annie up from college.

My heart raced.
My hand clung to Keith's.
I prayed.
I cried.
I prayed even harder.
I willed the car to go  faster because all I wanted to do was hold my son and see that he was ok.
I was more scared than I'd ever been as a parent.

We arrived a little after 4:30 am, inching down the dark street searching for the address.  I jumped out of the car as soon as he came out the door.  Standing on my tiptoes, I wrapped my arms around my son, letting him know that no matter what, we were going to be there for him.  We pulled into our driveway as the sun began to rise.  Both kids stumbled off to bed and I tucked them in, something I haven't done for years.  How I wished that a kiss and hug could heal the pain.

Molly, taking a redeye,  arrived from DC a few hours later.

For a week, our family stayed close.  Molly...Zach...Annie...our grownup children all together.

 The kids hung out, they teased, they laughed, they cooked, they went on a tour of bookstores and came home with books to lose themselves in.  Our house overflowed with love and gratitude for each other.

And my heart began to change.

It no longer mattered that I needed to turn on all the lamps even during the day.
I found that the patio overlooking the back yard was the perfect place for a morning cup of tea.
I saw the potential for new flower beds when I looked outside at the blank landscape.

That week, in my eyes, our house became our home.

The metamorphosis surprised me.  I knew the saying that home is where the heart is.  I had repeated it to myself over and over again, but, I didn't realize how much that was true until last month.

So, now, this new place we call home has become the space for healing and fresh starts.  I am filled with hope for new beginnings and gratitude for the things I hold most dear.  Because now I know, without a doubt, that my home is wherever I find Keith...Molly...Zach...and Annie.

They are who makes my house a home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why Blog with First Graders

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesday.  Please visit their site to read other Slice of Life stories.  There are so many wonderful stories out there.

As I talked with a friend today about some ideas I had for writing about digital writing, she asked me what my purpose was in blogging with my students.  It was one of those questions that made me think and then ask myself even more questions.  As teachers approach me about beginning digital writing in their classrooms, I find myself suggesting we start a blog.  Why is it that I suggest starting there?  

I can think of many reasons to blog with students, but one of the main reasons is the audience a blog provides.  Blogging gives students a wider audience with whom to share their writing.  For those of us who have been blogging for a long time, we know the power in receiving comments.  It motivates us to continue writing, it validates us, and we begin to build relationships with others outside our immediate community.  

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to experience first graders receiving their first comments on their blog...

Anticipating the excitement from my new blogging friends, I couldn't wait to visit Mrs. Klochak's class Monday morning.  After we posted our shared blog about Good Fit books on Friday, I had promised them I would return first thing on Monday to see if we received any comments over the weekend.  They were waiting for me at the meeting area ready to go.

As Mrs. Klochak brought up the site, an immediate murmur began winding its way among the students.  I could  hear giddy whispers of "Six.  Look we have six."  Some of them recognized the title of the post I had typed and saw that we had 6 comments.  I'm not sure who was more excited, Mrs. Klochak and me or the kids.

Then we started to scroll through the comments.  I will never forget the looks on their faces.  Beaming smiles filled the room.

I read the name of a commenter, and someone someone said, "Hey, that's my mom."  We repeated the process 8 more times as I read comments from parents.  You could feel the excitement in the air.  I wish I had turned on a video recorder, it was so powerful.

Needless to say, the students can't wait to write their next post.  I am returning on Friday to support Mrs. Klochak as she composes the next blog post with the students.  It'll be her first blog post!

If you have a chance, please take a look at this first grade post on Good Fit books and leave a comment for the students.  Knowing their words are being read by so many people will be a great motivator for them to continue on this blogging journey.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Celebrating New Bloggers

Thank you so much to Margaret Simon who hosts the DigiLit Sunday round up.  Please check out her website to read about how other educators are using technology in their classrooms.

As much as I love my new job as a literacy coach, I REALLY miss having my own classroom where I can explore technology and digital reading and writing with my own students.  However, there is a good side to all of this, because instead of working with 24 or so students, I am able to work with students in my whole building.  I felt a little bit like a rock star Thursday morning when a first grader asked me (with a big ole grin on his face), "Are you the blogging teacher?  When are you coming into our room?"  I was happy to let him know that I'd be there later in the day.

I had met with their teacher, Carol,  a few weeks ago to plan how we would introduce blogging to these young writers.  They have a good workshop routine set up, and they were ready to try something new.  Carol's been wanting to blog with her students for some time, but wasn't sure where to start.  Thinking back to my own experience  of beginning blogging with my  third graders, I recalled mayhem and chaos as I jumped in without really thinking through the whole process.  I wanted Carol's experience to be a little smoother.

I shared Cathy Mere's article from Choice Literacy about shared blogging.  If you are a member of Choice Literacy, you will be able to download the article.  It's full of useful information.  I went into the first grade classroom and we started by looking at some mentor blogs.  (Isn't that what we do when we introduce a new genre study to our students?)

I shared a few blogs from Edudemic's 30 Incredible Kids Blogs and we charted what we noticed.

  • Blogs can be about different things.
  • There are pictures.
  • The pictures match the words.
  • There is a title that tells about the story.
  • People can leave comments.
Who has an idea for a blog?
I then gave them a few minutes to share what they might want to blog about.  They eagerly shared their, brothers and sisters, school, pets, grandmas and grandpas, dangerous animals, etc.  They were excited to say the least.  I explained that we would so several blogs together before they learned how to write their own.  

I went back a week later so that we could do a shared writing of our first blog.  They wanted to blog about choosing Just Right books because they've been working on that in their classrooms.  I stopped in that morning to take some photos during their independent reading time so that I could put them into the blog post.  

Display in the hall shows how first graders choose Just Right books.  Sharing it on the blog allows students' thinking to be shared with a larger audience.

When I arrived, they were seated at their meeting area, ready to go.  I brought the Kidblog site up on the Smart Board and explained the dashboard.  Together, we decided on a good title, and they helped me compose the post.  We were able to reread, revise, and add some photos before hitting the publish button.

I will be updating this blog with the link to Mrs. Klochak's blog.  Unfortunately, Kidblog is down right now.  I invite you to check back and get the link so that you can leave a comment on their blog.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Slice of Life: Soothing Your Soul

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  Please visit their site to read other Slices and leave a comment or two.

Sometimes life hands you just a bit more than you can handle.  Instead of plowing through, I've found it's important for me to slow down and give something to myself.   It doesn't have to be big.  It doesn't need to cost a lot of money.  The little things can be huge to help soothe the rough edges life gives us.  

More often than not, my soul is soothed when I am in the kitchen.  


It calms me.  It brings me back to what's important.  

Today's therapy came in the way a half bushel of Concord grapes and a new recipe for Concord Grape Pie.    The scent of grapes wafted through the house as I cooked down the grapes.  It brought back sweet memories of northeast Ohio where vineyards abound.  

The pie will make it to the dinner table tonight where I will sit with my husband and children.  



Soul Soothing.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Celebrating a Home

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for providing this space for us to share our celebrations.  I am happy to be back posting this fall Saturday afternoon.

Today we are moving my in-laws to Cleveland where they will live with my their daughter and her husband.  As I am sitting here in the living room, waiting for my mother-in-law to get home from the hospital, I can't help but marvel at all the love and laughter this house has seen.

They moved here 57 years ago last Saturday.  Shirley tells me that the walls were chartreuse throughout the house.  Apparently, it was the builder's special color.  Kirk was three and Kathy was two.  Grant was a young electrical engineer and it was hard to find a house in Ashtabula, the town was booming.  Two years later, they brought home a new baby, Keith (my husband).  They raised three children in this wonderful house with three bedrooms and one bathroom.

Today's been a day of remembering...

  • Kathy broke her collar bone when she and Keith decided to go out and "ice skate" on the driveway when they were supposed to be inside doing their homework.
  • Phil Nolan broke through the screen door when Kathy had stolen the ball the boys were playing with and she brought it into the house.  No one was supposed to be in the house because Shirley and Grant were gone.  
  • Kathy had to grab the pizza while it was there because she was competing with two brothers who ate much faster than her.
  • Grant built his first computer in his basement and he met Bill Gates before Bill Gates was Bill Gates.  
  • This was the place for Wednesday computer club meetings which Grant hosted for many years.
Today I celebrate this house that has been filled with love and family.  And I celebrate that Shirley has come home and is feeling better.  That's the best celebration in the world.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

DigiLit Sunday...Write About This

Thank you to Margaret Simon from Reflections on the Teche for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Teachers who are trying new things with technology are linking to her blog on Sundays to share their experiences.  Please visit her blog to find out what's new.

I am so glad to be back to Sunday's DigiLit posts.  In my new role as a literacy coach, I'm finding it difficult to not be able to jump into my classroom to try new things with my students.  I now look at digital writing with a lens of a K - 5 teacher instead of a fourth grade teacher.  I also am thinking about how to support the teachers I work with.  Just as in any classroom, the teachers in my school are a diverse group when it comes to their familiarity with using technology in the classroom.  I am trying to find the balance of offering support without overwhelming anyone.

Now that beginning of the year assessments are almost done, some teachers are beginning to approach me about using technology in their reading and writing workshops.  I am thrilled to begin working with kids and teachers to show them the power of digital literacies.

About 3 weeks ago, I chatted with Brad Wilson about an app he and Bob Armbrister designed called Write About This.  Brad, a former fourth grade teacher,  is an educational technology consultant with Jackson ISD in Michigan.  I had a chance to explore the app today and know that I will share it with teachers in my building.

Write About This, "a visual writing prompt and creation platform" was easily navigated and one that students as young as first grade could use.  The app, which costs $3.99, houses photographs, each with 3 different prompts that students can respond to.  (There is also a free version).  If they so wish, students can use the device's camera to take their own photos and use their own in their writing.   In addition, students can add their recorded voices to their written draft.  Once finished, students can save their work to My Write Abouts.  My Write Abouts can be saved to the camera roll as a jpeg or video file.  From that point, students can share their work with their parents and teachers via email or upload their work to Google Drive or DropBox.

Here's a quick example of the Write About I created this afternoon.  I used the image provided in the app, but chose not to use the prompt.  I think it's important to always give kids the choice to use the prompt or not.

I saved my final piece to my iPad's camera roll and then uploaded it to Google Drive to share here on my blog.

There are 19 categories with many photos in each one.

After downloading the app from the Apple Store, I spent a few minutes reading the teacher information section.  From the settings page, a teacher or parent can select (or deselect)  text prompts, voice prompts, spell checker, create custom prompts (I especially like this feature), share by email, delete, and choose the prompt level (there are 3 different levels).  A teacher can also add student profiles.

There are 19 categories from which to choose.  Each category has several different photographs that are credited to the source.  In addition, each photo has 3 different writing suggestions (prompts) or students can do a free write.

Students can choose from 3 different prompts for each photograph or do a free write about the photo.

The prompts are aligned to the CCSS.

Students are also able to go back and edit their work if they so wish.

In addition, the authors have created Tell About This for younger children who are too young to type.  They can add their voice recordings to their images.

From what I can tell, this app is for short pieces of text.  I can see students and teachers using this app in different ways:
  • The images can help students come up with ideas when they are stuck.
  • The app could be used to help build writing fluency if used as a tool for free writes.
  • The app can serve as a digital writer's notebook where young authors can save seed ideas.
  • Students can share their learning in the content areas by taking a photo and recording their voices.
  • Students can take a photo of pictures they've made and add text and voice.  (I may try this with my kindergarten friends this week).  This piece could be a response to a book they've read, a short story they've written, etc.
  • Work is easily embedded into blogs, which would be great for students keeping digital portfolios.
  • Students could upload their own images of a favorite place, family member etc. to  write about.
  • A teacher could project an image and model her thinking as she writes about the image.
  • The piece of writing could also be embedded into Glogster as part of a digital multi-genre piece.
  • Narrative, opinion and informational texts all lend themselves to this app.
I'll be interested to see how teachers begin to use this app in their classrooms.  If you've used Write About This, please share your experiences in the comments section below.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Nourishing the Teacher Writer

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays. Please visit their site to read other Slices of Life.

I've been absent from my blog.  I've resisted any kind of writing.  Moving from our home of 17 years and changing jobs has taken me on an emotional roller coaster ride for the last 3 weeks.   Boxes needing to be unpacked permeate my life both in and out of school.  In addition, moving into a new role of literacy coach and Title Reading teacher has me wondering where I fit into my school community now.  I don't have 25 young learners in front of me every day.  I can no longer change my lesson plans at the last minute to try out a new idea I heard about on Twitter or read on a blog.  And I wonder, "What will my teacher writing voice be now that I am no longer in my own classroom?"  

According to the dictionary, nourishment is needed for growth and good health.  It's common knowledge that we need to eat healthy foods to keep us going.  (Although chocolate has played a major role in my diet lately).  In the same way, I know it's important to nourish the learner and teacher writer inside of me.  Today was a day that filled me with inspiration, energy, and a desire to get back to my writing.  I was surrounded by other teacher writers, both in person and virtually.  There's something about hanging out with others who share your passion and "get you."  We need those people in our lives to help us move forward when we get stuck.

Tonight I was fortunate to participate in a webinar with Troy Hicks and Penny Kittle.  Troy said something that will stick with me (and it made me smile).  He said, "Don't should on yourself," in reference to holding yourself to what you think you should be writing.  And that's exactly what the last 3 weeks has been for me:  "I should get up early and write."  "I should go back to that email and review the feedback and start over again with my draft."  "I should post on my blog."  I should, I should, I should.  

Earlier this afternoon, I spent an hour with a friend who has also changed roles at her school.  We bounced ideas off each other, shared our thinking and ate really good ice cream.  Good conversation and good ice cream:  what more could you want, right?  We're committed to meeting every few weeks to keep the conversation going.

So, for tonight, it feels good to return to my blog.  Slice of Life is the perfect space for this reflection because this community nourishes me too.  I've missed reading and commenting on what's going on in others' lives.  

I'm ready.

I'm ready to jump back in and work on some challenging writing, do some deep thinking, and play around with some other ideas.  

How do you nourish the writer inside of you?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

DigiLit Sunday: Connecting What We Know About Writing Workshop to "Going Digital"

Thank you to Margaret Simon for inviting teachers to share how they are using technology in their classrooms.  You can link up and/or read others' thinking at her blog Reflections on the Teche.  

This week I played more with Zeega to create my digital story, House Hunting Blues.  If you haven't seen it, you can view it on yesterday's post.  You can also read more about Zeega here, where Mashable explains what makes Zeega different from other storytelling platforms.

I find that the more I play (thank you #clmooc for providing this opportunity), the more I ask questions about where I've come from in the writing workshop world and where I'm going as I incorporate more and more digital composition. How did this experience mirror and differ from what I might do in a traditional writing workshop?
  • What could I do in my digital composition that I couldn't do in my written narrative? 
  • What other tools would give students the same access as Zeega?
  • Does one get my message across more clearly than the other?
How did my knowledge of writing narrative inform my digital composition? (What was the same?)
  • I had a message:  This house hunting business is crazy, but it all ends well.
  • My audience:  Family & friends, blog readers, Google+ community
  • It has a beginning, middle and end structure.
  • My lead tells a bit of the background story.
  • I wrote about something that was important to me.
  • I focused on the important details of the story.
  • My ending brings the story to closure
  • I revised as I composed.  
What was different?
  • The music I chose (Everything Gonna Be Alright by Bob Marley) helped me send the message that the story was going to have a good ending.  I could have chosen more chaotic type of music to show the frustration I was feeling when the story began.
  • I carefully chose images to show what I was thinking and feeling.
  • The cartoon of the person spiraling out of control and "Nope" swirling through the air shows my sense of helplessness at that time, which leads into the muppet running away, which is exactly what we did when we terminated the contract.
  • Charlie Brown's "I need help." indicates the point when I was at the end of my rope.
  • From that point, the images begin to show my sense of peace as I said a little prayer and moved through my day.
  • I edited images, took screen shots, and used a combination of my own images and those from the Internet.
  • I easily shared with Facebook, Google+, Twitter and through my blog.

  What could I do with my digital composition that I couldn't do with a traditional narrative?
  •  The choices afforded in Zeega made writing this composition very engaging.  I found myself in the flow.  
  • Using a combination of still images and gifs make my composition appealing and engaging to my audience.
  • I am able to connect with a wider audience (which I can also do through my blog).
  • I can add layers of meaning through the images (both still and gifs) and the music I've added.
Are there other tools I could have used?  Of course...and I'm sure I'm only hitting a few of the possibilities:
When comparing the written narrative to the Zeega, does one get my message across more clearly than the other?

I'd love to get feedback from my readers.  If you have time to look at yesterday's post and compare the two, please do and let me know your thoughts in the comment section.

Next week, when I post, I'll be one day away from moving.  Let's hope that this week is uneventful and the house hunting woes are finished.  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Saturday Celebrations: A God Moment

Thank you to Ruth Ayres for inviting others to share their celebrations.  You can go to her site to read other celebrations and add your own.

This week has been incredible...incredibly hectic, incredibly chaotic, incredibly frustrating and incredibly happy.  We were looking forward and at the same time dreading the house inspection on the house we were going to buy.  We knew it was a fixer upper and we worried that it might be too much for what we wanted to do at this time.  The inspector started at 10:00 that morning and didn't finish until 5:00 in the evening.  With each new thing he found, our hopes were dashed just a bit more.  Rewiring, roof work, brick work, septic system, pool...and those were the big things. There were even more little things that were wrong with the house, including not being able to get hot water out of the kitchen faucet because the handle bumped into the stone backsplash (I'm still trying to figure out how they washed their dishes).  On Tuesday morning, we told our realtor that we wanted to terminate the contract.  In that instant, I was relieved that we were not buying a money pit, and scared to death because we had to move in 13 days and we didn't know where we were going to go.

As I drove to school for Kindergarten testing on Tuesday morning, I said a little prayer.

Dear God, I know you have a plan for us.  Could you just give me a little sign please, because I'm hanging on by a thread right now.

As each person at school asked me how things were going with the move, I held back tears and said we had a change of plans and needed to make new arrangements.  I couldn't talk about it.  I made an appointment to see a rental house for 7:00 pm and went on with my morning testing kindergarteners.  They were a welcome reprieve from my worries as they shared their stories of summer fun.

At the end of the work day, I decided to drive out to the farmer's market in Plain City.  I wanted to buy peaches but I also wanted the distraction of driving around for a bit.  I couldn't face going home right then.  After buying some produce, I thought I might drive by a house that I knew was for sale.  I had seen it a couple of month before and had looked it up then.   It was more than we wanted to spend, and I hadn't given it another thought.   As I drove by, something made me stop and look it up again.  I have never done that before (Keith does it all the time, but not me).  I pulled over to the side of the road, typed the address into and saw that the owners had lowered the price by $40,000.00 THAT MORNING!  Was this my sign?

So, at 3:15, I'm texting my husband, asking him if we should take a look at it.  (I had told him and our realtor that morning that I did not want to look at any more houses.  We had to stop the madness and just find a place to rent).  He wanted to see it, so I sent the following text to our realtor.

He got an appointment for 5:00.  Oh, I felt badly for those poor owners.  It is no fun getting your house ready to show on short notice.  I knew that from experience.

We arrived at 5:00 and walked into a house that immediately felt like home to us.  It has everything I have always wanted in a house:  Keith and I have always liked cape cods, we both like water and there's a little stream that runs through the backyard, it has a window by the kitchen sink so I can look out while I wash dishes, and there's a space for me to write (that's the bonus).  Annie told us as we drove into the driveway that she could imagine bringing her children here to visit Grandma and Grandpa.

We put an offer on the house that night.  I feel at peace with this decision:  there are no lingering doubts like those I was feeling about the other house.  The owners have been kind enough to let us use their garage to store boxes since there is a 12 day difference between our move from our current house to our move into the new house.

We feel very lucky to have found this house.  I know it was more than luck though.  I believe that God heard my prayer that morning and he guided me down M V High Rd. that Tuesday afternoon.  I'm so looking forward to starting our life in our new home.

Do you have a similar experience that you'd like to share in the comments?  If so, please do.  I'd love to hear your story.

Since I've been participating in #clmooc this summer, I wanted to try using Zeega to tell my story digitally.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reflections on a Summer of Makes: DigiLit Sunday

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sundays where educators share how they are using technology in their classrooms.  Please visit her site to read other posts.

What a summer this has been.  I started out going strong...joining the #clmooc community, and two other summer challenges, all involving some kind of writing and creating.  Life happened and my journey got hijacked by circumstances beyond my control.  My mom had surgery, we sold our house, put an offer on a new one, and started to pack up 16 years of stuff.  I had to give myself permission to give up some of the things I started.  I let go of two of the challenges, knowing I can jump back in if the time is right.  I stuck with #clmooc, although I didn't get to participate as much as I wanted.  And I had to ask myself why I didn't let go of #clmooc.  What was it about #clmooc that kept me coming back?  What can I take from this experience to my school as I work with students and teachers?

I used Canva to create this graphic of my makes.

1.  I had fun and I owned my learning!   There was a sense of play and freedom as I took charge of my learning.  I tried new tools (Canva, Thinglink, BitStrips, Zeega, Imgflip (Meme Generator), Folding Story, Skitch, Google Draw), most of which I learned from the #clmooc group.  If I made a mistake, it was ok.  I learned as I went and if I needed help, the community was very supportive.  

2.  The experience was collaborative.  There was no judgment.  No one was keeping track of what I did and didn't do.  Every week, I hoped to be involved in a Twitter chat, but with all the craziness, it didn't happen.  Each week, I posted late (usually into the next make cycle), and my contribution was always welcomed by a supportive community.

3.  Some of the makes were way out of my comfort zone.  Making memes was really hard for me.  I felt like I was in my students' shoes who sit in my writing workshop not knowing where to start.  I had face my insecurity and give myself permission to not be perfect at this one.  It called for a growth mindset.  I might not be good at it yet, but I could still give it a try.   Having the community to fall back on was tremendously helpful.  I learned from what others were doing, using their work as mentor texts.  One of the makes came out on a week that I was not at my creative best.  My mom was having surgery the day the make cycle on light came out.  Kevin Hodgson created a space for origin stories that I used for my piece of writing.  I wrote my story while sitting in the surgery waiting room.  I felt like I took the easy way out that week, but again, I knew it was ok.  

4. Choice was huge.  The make cycles were so open-ended.  It was up to me to decide if I was going to use technology or not.  I got to choose what tools were going to help me get my message across.  There was time to experiment and play and get feedback from the community.  As I learned about different tools from those in the community, I had more choices to make and could make informed decisions about my composition. 

5.  I've been able to decompose my thinking as I worked through each make cycle.  For instance, when I created the Zeega about my Kitchen Memories, I had to be very purposeful in choosing the images and music.  I wanted to choose pictures that showed my kids growing up working alongside me in the kitchen.  Unfortunately, the photos of them when they were young are all in storage.  So, I was a little disappointed in that part of my work and may go back and edit it some day.  I spent over an hour choosing just the right song.  ( many times have I told kids to quit goofing around and choose something?)

6. Which brings me to time.  Time  to create is so very important.  When I'm in the classroom, it's easy to get caught up in the time constraints of getting a project done.  While I know that projects can't go on forever, I have a new understanding of the importance of giving enough time to kids and adults to create, revise, and get feedback from others in the community.

I created this simple graphic to guide my students as they think about creating a digital story.

As I reread through this post, the importance of a supportive community is validated.  And I am reminded of my Summer Institute experience in 2007 with the Columbus Area Writing Project.  The co-directors had a saying, "The answer is yes."  Whenever anyone asked, "Is it ok if I...," they replied back, "The answer is yes."  

So, are my take aways?  What is important for a learner to thrive?  What will I take with me?

The importance of: 
  • Support
  • Community
  • Collaboration
  • Respect
  • Choice
  • Time
  • Feedback
  • Ownership

I am so glad I joined the #clmooc community this summer.  I've connected with some great thinkers and educators and I look forward to where this experience takes me next.