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.