Sunday, August 21, 2016

Raising Student Voices

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  This is a space to share our thinking about how we use digital reading and writing in our classrooms.  I invite you to visit her site to read what others are thinking and doing.

 
I believe with all I've got, that giving students the opportunity to express themselves digitally, gives them possibilities to raise their voices that they might not have using traditional means.  Students who tell themselves that they can't write discover that when the definition of writing expands to include a variety of digital composition, they can indeed write.  They begin to see themselves in a new light and their confidence grows.

I see it in their content.
I see it in the visuals they choose.
I see it in how they decide to publish their work.
I see it in their layout.
I see it in how their writing evolves and grows throughout the school year.
I see it in how they can talk about intentional decisions they make as writers and digital composers.

One thing I've learned is that the thinking behind some of their purposeful decisions isn't always evident to the casual observer.  I'v learned that it's important to have those conversations and ask them "why?"  I find that there is always some reason behind the final product.


What makes that difference?  Why does giving them digital opportunities allow them more freedom in how they express themselves?  How do digital tools help our students take risks and gain confidence?  How do digital tools allow our quieter students to get their voices "out there?"

These are questions I ponder and want to study.  I want to learn more about how digital tools help our students amplify their voices.  I will be putting on my "learner hat" and sharing what I learn as the year goes on.

Kiley shares her One Little Word.


Elisabeth created a survey for fellow students to complete.













Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How Lucky Am I?

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




Our superintendent is a visionary.  He has asked the elementary schools in our district to "re-vision" what elementary school might look like.  Who wouldn't love that challenge?  I don't know how many times I've said, "If only I could create my own school.  I would..."  We began the process by looking at what was working in our present educational system and what we wanted to change.  Ideas flowed back and forth.

Understanding the importance of community and wanting to strengthen relationships across grade levels, our principal proposed we restructure ourselves into vertical learning communities.  Together, our staff built a vision of what that might look like.  We have four learning communities: one community consists of K-1, and the other three consist of grades 2 through 5.   The principal also knew that in order to make this work, the schedule had to be tweaked.  Her next smart idea...a fourth special.  This year, our kids will have music, art, PE AND STEM.

This configuration allows our staff to work together to do an even better job of personalizing education for our students.  Learning communities are planning experiences where students will work across grade levels based on student interests and passions.   Teachers will collaborate as they look at kids across grade levels. Together we will build our knowledge and skill base on how to better meet the needs of each community as a whole, instead of looking at just a grade level, or even just a classroom of students.  Each teacher in the community has a stake in every single child.   Relationships between students of different ages will be strengthened as they get to know each other better.



I am amazed at what I see happening in our school.  Almost everyone moved their classrooms so that communities are housed together in the same hall.  Moving your classroom is HARD work.  Everyone pitched in to help.  Teachers are working with new colleagues.  Some are teaching new grade levels and new subjects.  Every single person is taking a risk in one way or another.  The change has breathed new life into our school.  The excitement and energy are palpable.  I am so excited for the new possibilities and opportunities that await both our students and our entire staff.  This will be a year of trying new things and learning from our experiences as we work together.

The key word here is together.  We know we can't do it alone.  Together we will build something that is indeed, a "re-vision" of what elementary school can be.

I will continue to document our journey on this blog.  I can't wait to see what happens next!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Learning the Craft




My husband and I are tiling our backsplash this weekend.  Neither one of us has done this kind of job before, which means that basically, neither one of us knows what we're doing.  How do we prepare the walls? What tools do we need?  What techniques will we need to master in order to be successful and have a beautiful finished product that we can be proud of?

These questions aren't that much different from the ones I ask myself as I start a new school year and I think about helping students begin to make purposeful decisions about crafting their own digital compositions.  What foundational tools are students going to need in order to create?  What skills do they need?  What mentors can we learn from?

My husband and I went right away to the experts.  We started by watching YouTube tutorials about tiling walls.  We rewound sections to study them more carefully and in some cases, even watched entire videos several times.  We took notes on the supplies we needed.  We talked to people who had tiling experience.  We wanted to learn more from the masters.

This intentional study of craft is what I want for students as well.  As we begin the school year, we will study mentors to learn more about digital composition.  Just as I do when immersing students in a new genre study, I will create a chart for us to complete as we dig into our digital mentors.  Our chart has these major headings along the top:

Title (Website/Video/Image)

What Do We Notice

Purpose

Other Examples

I will gather mentors, both those published on the web, as well as those published by former students.  I think it's important that we hold our students' work up as examples too.  It is empowering for our students to see work done by someone just like them.  Together, we will learn from the experts and students will try new things in their own compositions.  It is this apprenticeship in crafting that I find most fascinating in digital composition.  It is here that I see students take risks, share their thinking, and learn from each other.  It is here that I see students grow.

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sundays.  Please visit her site to read how others are using technology in their reading and writing workshops.