Saturday, August 29, 2015

Celebrating Life's Unexpected Opportunities

Over the past year, I've been given opportunities to learn what's important in life.  That's a nice way of saying that the unexpected turned our lives upside down.   I haven't written about them, because they were such personal experiences that affected my family, and yet, I needed to write.  I struggled with using this space.  This blog began as a place for reflection and sharing about my work with young readers and writers.  I learned, though, that I have so much more to write about.  This week, Bonnie's writing, coupled with Kevin's words, nudge me to come forward with more writing about what touches me deeply.  So, maybe the readers and writers I reference in the name of my blog, reference more than just the students I see before me each and every day.  I think it also needs to include myself...because I am also a reader and writer who is continually growing through words written by others as well as putting my thoughts down for others to read.

This week, our family was given one more opportunity to learn what's most important in life.  We welcomed two young girls into our home.  Their lives have been disrupted more than once, and we hope that our home will provide a place where they can settle in.  As soon as I knew they were coming to stay with us, I reached out to my school family and other foster parents.  I am overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support we've received.  Every day this week, I've walked to my office and classroom to find bags piled outside the doors...bedding, clothing, toys...all the things little girls need.  Women who have walked these steps before me, as foster and adoptive mothers of children who have suffered trauma, have reached out with words of advice and promises of being there for me when those rough days, that I know will happen, come along.  The school district where we live, has been nothing but supportive.  School secretaries bent over backwards to make sure the girls were in classrooms where they would be nurtured and supported.  The bus driver is keeping an eye out for them.  He called me after their first day of school to make sure they had had a good day at school and to let me know that they had found some nice kids to sit with on the bus.  My principal and teaching team have been nothing but supportive as I have to come in late or leave a little early as we all get settled into our new routines.  And my own family...our two grown children who  live at home while going to college have pitched in with not one complaint.  My husband and I are blessed indeed.

The girls are teaching us about resilience and bravery.  I fought back tears (and finally let them come the second time), after I left each girl at their new school.  They smiled at me as I said good-bye, and yet  the fear in their eyes still told me the truth.  They've never gone to the same school two years in a row and my heart breaks for that.

 I welcome new opportunities and joys that come with having young children in the house again...

  • Snuggling in bed and reading bedtime stories with a first grader who loves princess books.
  • Sitting around the dinner table playing the high/low game.
  • Leaving work by 4:00 because I have more important things to do than be at school.
  • Cuddling with puppies on the couch with a fifth grader and reading Harry Potter.
  • Watching my 20 and 22 year old children step outside of their busy worlds to lend a hand, play a game, watch a movie, or clean up a mess.  I feel as if I've been given a glimpse into the future and seeing the kind of parents they will be someday.  It makes my heart smile.

Thank you Ruth for providing this space to share celebrations.  I plan on coming back on a regular basis!  :)  Please visit Ruth's site to celebrate with others.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Starting the Year with Digital Writing

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday.  Please visit her site, Reflections on the Teche to read how other educators are integrating technology into their classrooms.

As the school year hovers ever so near, it's time for me to think very purposefully about how I will be integrating technology into my classroom.  One of my fundamental beliefs is that the technology tools available to us are just  They become one more tool, alongside pencils, pens, paper, books, and staplers (to name a few) in our writing workshop.  These tools allow for choice, one of the most important foundations of writing workshop.

So, where to start?  I've learned from past experiences that it's important to focus on a few core tools depending on my purpose.  It used to be I jumped on every new tool I learned and then wanted to share it with my students.  I'd create projects (oops..there goes the choice) for the students to do that incorporated these tools, and then we'd move forward to the next tool I wanted to try.  There wasn't time for the kids to learn the tool well, and be purposeful about which tool best served their needs.

While chatting with Kelly Riley, the new tech teacher assigned to our school, I talked to her about what those core tools should be and how we could help students understand the purpose of each.  Our plan is to let students explore each app/tool in small groups and create a chart that describes the tool and how it can be used.  Here are the tools we will begin with this year:

Google Apps for Education gives students access to:

  • word processing documents 
  • spreadsheets
  • presentations
  • drawing tool
  • saving photos
  • mind mapping tool
  • calendar
  • work is automatically saved
  • can be accessed from anywhere at any time
  • can be used collaboratively
  • other apps can be linked to it
  • can be shared with others

Explain Everything is an interactive screen casting whiteboard app that students can use to:
  •  annotate text
  • record presentations
  • share their learning with others

Pixie is a creation tool that allows students to share ideas using:
  • voice narration
  • text
  • images
  • original artwork
  • can be shared

Noteability is a note taking app that allows users to: 
  •  take handwritten notes with a stylus
  • type notes
  • annotate text
  • organize notes
  • record voice
  • can be shared

iMovie creation of video where students can:
  • import images
  • add voice narration
  • add background music
  • import video
  • add transitions
  • can be shared

In addition, my students will be blogging.  I'm still up in the air as to which tool I am going to choose for our blogging platform.  

Let's continue the conversation.  Which will be your core tools?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Unflattening the Classroom

Thank you to Margaret Simon for hosting DigiLit Sunday, a place for educators to share their experiences with technology in their classrooms.  Please visit her site to see what others are doing.

This week's CLMOOC make was to create a digital story about a public space and think about:

  • Why does this space matter?
  • How does this space shape you?
  • How do you shape this space?
I was all set to go, had my images and began to think about different digital tools, when I watched Tuesday's Make with Me where Nick Sousanis joined members of CLMOOC.  (And yes, I ordered his book, Unflattening while I watched the archived video).  He had so many great points, but one that stood out to me was the standardization of school, what testing does to students, and the importance of giving students voice and choice (my words, not his).  

I just finished reading Make Learning Personal, so I've been contemplating changes I want to make when I return to school in just a few weeks.  The math coach and I will be job sharing a 5th grade classroom (each of us teaching half day and coaching the other half).  In addition, we will be co-teaching with the special education teacher and about half of our students will have IEPs.  

I began to think about how I could "unflatten" school.  One of the first things that came to mind was the room arrangement.  Typically, on Meet the Teacher Night, students come in, find their name tags and choose a seat.  That becomes their seat until I decide it's time to change things up.  I wondered, "What would happen if we didn't have assigned seats?  How might our space change?"  I brainstormed some possibilities, knowing that it's important to get input from the kids when they return to school.  As I thought about what I might need as a learner, I thought about the following spaces that would help me:
  • a quiet place to work
  • a space to collaborate with others if needed
  • a space where I have access to technology
  • a space where I have access to tools to create
  • I need to be able to move around and spread out depending on what I'm doing
How could I create that environment for students?

I created this model during my initial thinking:

I envision a variety of places to sit, depending on students' needs:  tables, desks, plastic crates with cushions that can be moved around, and large pillows.  The large group meeting area is a non-negotiable.  The Quiet Zone is a place where students can work independently.  In the Creation Zone, students may work by themselves or with others.  It's a space where I imagine things are being made and problems are being solved.  In the Collaborative Work area, students may move desks around to form small groups.  And of course, there is a space to consult with the teacher.  Although, I can usually be found on the floor working with kids.  There will be no assigned seats.  Students will choose which space fits their purpose and needs.  We are also very fortunate because our students aren't confined to the walls in our room.  The special education teacher has a classroom that students will be able to use for small group work or if they need a place to work with no distractions.  The student always have access to areas in the hallway and media center too.  

Changing the classroom layout is only one tiny step in beginning to unflatten the classroom.  There are so many considerations as I begin to think about student choice, curriculum, lesson delivery, assessment, available tools, etc.  But it's a beginning.  

To read more about spaces, you can search the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter or the Google+ community.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

#CyberPD Digital Reading Chapters 6 & 7

I am participating in the summer #cyberPD group, joining others in reading and discussing Bill Bass and Franki Sibberson's Digital Reading:  What's Essential in Grades 3 - 8.  I invite you to visit the Google+ community and add your own thinking to the conversation.

As I read the chapter on assessment, I kept going back to the shift that occurs when we empower students with taking more ownership of assessing their learning as Bill describes in the section about digital portfolios.  It reminded me of the reading I've been doing about Assessment AS Learning from Making Learning Personal.  And is always the case, I end up with more questions.

What does it mean to "give students ownership of assessing their learning?"

In giving students more say in assessing their learning, the relationship between the teacher and student shifts to more of a partnership.  The first step, gathering information, includes sharing formative assessments with students as well as collecting information from them as to what they see as their needs.  There is so much information that can be gleaned from all the resources Franki mentions (anecdotal records, reading surveys, analysis of miscues and oral reading, artifacts of student work, analysis of comprehension, etc.)  It occurs to me that I have an abundance of information about my students, but I'm not sure how much of that information  they know and understand.  I am the one making decisions for what they learn next and how they will learn it.  I know that for my own learning, I am constantly reflecting and thinking about what's next for me.  I can't help but think that sharing this information with students will help them become more invested in their learning and help them set goals that are meaningful for them.  

How do I help students go through these steps?

Questions I might ask students to help them set goals, make a plan and reflect:
  • What do you notice?
  • What are you doing well?
  • What is difficult for you?
  • What would you like to improve?
  • How do you think we might work on that goal?
  • How will you show your learning?
  • How will you check your progress?
  • How will you know if you've mastered your goal?
It will be important that part of my conferring with students includes time for students to monitor their learning and reflect on what's next.  

How do I support students in sharing their learning with a larger audience?

One of my goals this new school year is to set up digital portfolios for my students.  Our district has  adopted a new LMS, Canvas, which has the ability to house portfolios for students from grades K - 12.  I'm also curious about using a wiki and plan on investigating some different spaces.   I hope to incorporate student led conferences this year that are meaningful for students and help them move forward in their learning.

 If we give students choice in these decisions, I believe that they will rise to the occasion.  I think it's important in today's world that we give students the tools to assess their learning and help them set goals.  As we prepare them for their future, we need to support them in being critical thinkers, problem solvers, and collaborators.  Making this slight shift in thinking about assessment and supplying the space for students to reflect on their learning is one of the first steps I'll be taking this new school year.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Missing The Chaos Slice of Life Story

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

Our oldest daughter Molly just left after spending the last five days at home.  She brought her new Samoyed puppy, Harper, with her.  We all eagerly awaited her arrival because we couldn't wait for our puppies to meet her puppy.  It was 5 days of craziness with all 3 kids home and 3 puppies either playing hard or sleeping soundly.  As I sit amidst the mess, I miss the craziness already.  Poetry seemed to fit my needs as a writer today.

Missing the Chaos

I snapped photos of each puppy sleeping in various
parts of the house after a hard afternoon of playing.
The house has quietedSettled from the flurry of


The quiet invites peace,And yet leaves a hole.Yearning for the next time.


Filling our house with

I cherish every single minute.

It Doesn't Take Much Slice of Life Story

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for hosting Slice of Life Tuesdays.  I invite you to visit their site to read and comment on other Slice of Life stories.

It doesn't take much to make me happy for my birthday.  If the day includes my family, a view of the water, good food, and good books, I am a happy girl.

And that's exactly what I got!
Click to play this Smilebox slideshow
Create your own slideshow - Powered by Smilebox
Another slideshow by Smilebox

If you live in central Ohio, check out The Smiling Daisy Cafe in Millford Center.

Heading to Lake Erie?  One of the nicest beaches is Headlands Beach in Mentor, Ohio. Stop at Scooter's Dawg House for ice cream and a hot dog.

I read The Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chamblis Bertman and really enjoyed it.  It reminded me a bit of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library.  I'm definitely buying a copy for my classroom library.

In the mood to bake?  Annie made Alisa Huntsman's Pistachio Cake (and took an hour to shell pistachios) and iced it with Honey Vanilla Buttercream (scroll to the bottom for the icing recipe).  Like the buttercream roses?  They're not hard to make.  Check out this video tutorial.  

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Continuing My Learning Journey #sol15

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

If I could be a professional student, I would do it in a heartbeat.  Today was one of those days filled with great conversation, meeting new people, and lots of learning.

It started innocently enough.  A few weeks ago, Cathy shared a link about Dr. Bill Kist's class on New Literacies being held at Kent State University this week.  I sent an email, he replied with a gracious invitation to visit class one day, and we responded with a very grateful, "YES!"

I've been looking forward to this day for so many reasons...hanging out with Cathy is always good for stretching my thinking and making me laugh, I knew about Dr. Kist's work and I'm always wanting to learn more about using technology in authentic ways in my reading and writing workshop, and finally, Kent State is my alma mater.   I was going to enjoy going back as a student, even if it was for only a day.

The day started out with a Twitter backchannel that led to some sharing of great ideas... 

which then led to the purchase of two new books (and a few more added to my cart).  I can't wait to get started with Using Technology to Enhance Reading  and Using Technology to Enhance Writing.

Most exciting was the validation for what I believe...
  • Choice is key.  Learners need to own their learning.
  • All learners bring experience and knowledge to the table.  Honor that.
  • Young children are capable of making intentional decisions when composing digital texts.
  • It's important to study craft moves in multimodal pieces, just as we do in print.  The conversations we have with kids around those moves will help them be purposeful in their own digital compositions.
  • It's not about the tools.  Technology affords us more choices in tools.
  • Literacy is a social construct.  Connections are important.  Growing connections is even more important. (I was able to follow a lot more people from class)
  • PD does not have to be face to face.  One student joined the class from Saudi Arabia.  
  • Visual literacy is an important piece of comprehending multimodal pieces.  
The day ended far too quickly.  I left feeling energized and excited to do more thinking about embedding technology into the classroom in such a way that it becomes just one more way to read and write at school.  My wheels are spinning for both my coaching work and my teaching.  

Thank you to Dr. Kist, all of his students, and Cathy for making this a wonderful day!