Friday, December 7, 2012

Otis and the Puppy

One of my favorite things about NCTE's annual convention is getting down to the exhibits.  Though finding time to get there is challenging, it is interesting to have time to visit the booths of publishers to see what new picture books are on their way to the world.  This year one of my favorite finds was at the Penguin table.  There I found Otis and the Puppy by Loren Long scheduled to arrive on shelves March 12, 2013.

Our class had just read, Otis, before I left for NCTE.  When I arrived with a sneak peek at the newest book about Otis my students were absolutely thrilled.  Young readers enjoy seeing the same character return in new picture books.  My class had fallen in love with Otis in his first book, and couldn't wait to see what adventures were ahead in this new story.

In, Otis and the Puppy, Otis lives happily on a farm where he busily helps the farmer and plays with his friends.  One day the farmer introduces a new puppy to everyone.  The puppy is supposed to be living in his doghouse in the front of the barn, but he is sad and lonely being there all by himself.  Otis the tractor comes quickly to the rescue.  The puppy and Otis become fast friends.

Days later the two are playing hide-and-seek near the woods.  The puppy becomes distracted by a butterfly and is soon lost.  Everyone is looking for the puppy, but he cannot be found.  When night falls, Otis is worried about his friend being out in the dark all alone so he decides to leave the barn to find him.  Will Otis be able to help puppy this time?  Will Otis be able to overcome his own fears of the dark to help his friend?

As you would expect, the illustrations in Long's book complement the story.  Long's story moves from full page illustrations to small scenes arranged within the text.  I always think these small pictures sprinkled within the text move the story along nicely and work well with the longer pauses of larger illustrations.  The way he moves from the bright colorful pictures of two friends playing together to the darker colors of night creates an unsettling feeling as young readers hope these two friends find one another again.

Our class loved this book, and cannot wait until it's March arrival so we can get a copy everyone can check out to read at home.  We also look forward to being able to add it to our Shelfari shelf of books we've read.  (You should have heard the students when the book wasn't even on Shelfari yet.)

A Note:  What?!?!  So I'm busily writing this post and linking to sites when I realize Loren Long has another Otis book recently released.  How did I not know this?  Do I live under a rock?  Anyway, I am on my way to search for a copy.  I think I'll surprise my students with it.  Oh, I can't wait!  #nerdybookclub comment for sure!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Telling Your Story in Pictures: A Visit from Christopher and Jeanette Canyon

"A journal gives us a place to explore our thoughts and develop our ideas in many ways." Christopher Canyon
On Monday illustrators, Christopher and Jeanette Canyon, visited our school to share their work.  It was interesting to get a glimpse into their process and learn about the very different way they both tell stories with pictures.

My students were fascinated by the work of Jeanette.  I think she had them at, "I use kitchen tools to make my illustrations."  Jeanette then showed the students her studio and the myriad of kitchen tools she uses to work with polymer clay.  It was interesting to see how she works with color and shape to create her illustrations.  It was interesting to watch her blend colors, sculpt shapes, and then create a page.

Jeanette Canyon also shared her research process for illustrating her book, Over in the Ocean:  In a Coral Reef.  Since she needed to know about a coral reef to create her illustrations she started by reading.  Then she went to the coral reef to study the creatures that live in this habitat.  She took pictures and then came back to decide how to best make these creatures for the pages of the book.  You can learn more about her process here.

Christopher also shared his work as an illustrator.  He talked about how he uses his notebook to practice his ideas and drawings.  He showed students how he draws a character in many different ways before beginning to work on the pages in a book.  Christopher Canyon, in addition to other work, illustrated a set of books based upon the songs of John Denver.  He talked about how he sketched his pages and using watercolors in his illustrations.  He shared how he experimented with different papers, different types of paints, and different techniques to find the best way to illustrate the books.

The Canyons reminded students to have fun creating and sharing stories.  Reminding students to share stories in all kinds of ways.  My students decided they wanted to add a post about the visit to our class blog.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

English Teachers in Vegas?

I had to laugh when a tweet came across #ncte12 of a participant rolling in her Vegas winnings....books.  So what happens when English teachers go to Vegas?  We all come away a little richer; not in money, as I didn't hear about too many slot machine winners.  Instead we return rich in energy, inspiration, and thinking.

Tweeted by Jennifer Heymoss @jheymossy

Here's What I Won

Meeting Amy LV
  • Connections New:  Always one of the best things about NCTE's convention is the conversations with other educators.  Opportunities to listen to speakers share their latest thinking, chat with colleagues, and discuss education in +140 characters with Twitter educators who always push my thinking.  Somehow I never manage to meet everyone I hope to meet, but this year I did get to meet Alyson Beecher (@alybee930), Kristin Ziemke (@1stgradethinks), and Amy (@amylvpoemfarm).  How fun to finally make connections with educators I've been learning from for such a long time.  
  • Connections Old:  NCTE is the place where I have time to talk with local colleagues, educators I've connected with in previous years, and those I've collaborated with in projects here and there.  I'm always happy to have time to reconnect with Ohio's contingent which is well represented:  Sharon Esswein, Mary Lee Hahn, Julie Johnson, Tony Keefer, Mandy Robek, Franki Sibberson, Karen Terlecky and Stella Villalba.  I was also able to reconnect with Patrick Allen, Ann Marie Corgill, Katie Keier, Pat Johnson, JoEllen McCarthy, Jen McDonough, Debbie Miller, Donalyn Miller and brief hellos with Katherine Sokolowski and Jen Vincent.    
  • Connections with New Books:  Squeezing in time for exhibits is challenging with so many great sessions.  I did manage to go to the exhibits for a morning to talk with publishers about new picture books.  I hit the jackpot with a variety of review copies of new picture books soon to hit the shelves.  I can't wait to share them with the young readers in my classroom to see what they think.  You'll be seeing a few of these great titles soon right here.  
  • Connections with New Authors:  There are always opportunities at NCTE to meet the authors whose work supports the learning in our classrooms every day.  I spotted Lester Laminack, Kate Messner, and Ralph Fletcher among the crowds.  While attending NCTE I also discover authors new to me.  This year I attended sessions with authors Marla Frazee (who answered questions from the young writers in Lisa Cleveland's classroom) and Marissa Moss (who shared her process as JoeEllen McCarthy & Erica Pecorale shared ways to use her books as mentor texts).  It was eye opening to see their work collected in one place and listen to them talk about their writing process.  I will be adding a few of their books to our classroom library immediately. 
Nuggets to Ponder
While attending sessions I won a few golden nuggets to ponder.  
  • Students Need Reading Communities:  Donalyn Miller reminded me that reading communities benefit readers by increasing the amount of reading of members, fostering connections with other readers, challenging readers to stretch themselves, encouraging mindfulness, building empathy for the world, and inspiring readers to write.  
  • Reading Communities Can Be Grown Online:  Franki Sibberson talked about the way she uses blogging to grow her reading community and that of her students.  She reminded me that blogging allows us to save our thinking in new ways, it creates traditions, builds conversations, and gives readers a chance to say things they thought of later or didn't have the confidence to share in the group.  
  • Students Need to Own Learning:  Sir Ken Robinson reminded me that "creativity is the way you live your life" and that imagination and creativity aren't the same as "to be creative you have to do something."  
  • Technology Helps Us to Make Thinking Visible:  Kristin Ziemke shared ways the young readers in her classroom thoughtfully use technology to discover, learn more, and share with others.  She shared ways her students read with a question in mind and then tell where they found the answer.  She shared ways she uses Croak ItBook CreatoreBookKeynote and Songify among other applications for first graders to share their thinking about reading. 
  • Students (and Teachers) Need Time to Reflect:  Kelly Gallagher, Tom Newkirk and Penny Kittle reminded me of the importance of having time for reflection and writing that matters to students.  Gallagher said, "We need the kind of writing that comes from reflection."  Kittle reminded us that "story drives all kinds of writing."  She shared ways she supports students to "find their own opinions, talk, and compose evidence" to support their thinking.  Newkirk reminded us that narrative is "the core of how we write ---- it's who we are."  
  • Students Need Opportunities to Find Their Stories:  Amy Ludwig VanDerwater reminded me that "writing is more about discipline than talent."  Marissa Moss suggests teachers help young writers to know their lives are interesting.  Georgia Heard suggests we try to figure out why children are writing something and what their beliefs are about writing.  JoEllen McCarthy reminds us that books are essential co-teachers of writing in our classrooms as authors help students to discover the ways to tell their stories.  Jen McDonough and Kristin Ackerman shared ways to set clear goals with students and support their growth as writers.  
  • My Tweets:  I've used Snap Bird and Google Drive to archive my tweets from the convention.  
Books Added to My "To Be Read" Pile 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Joy of Planning: Designing Minilesson Cycles

Today I finished reading The Joy of Planning:  Designing Minilesson Cycles in Grades 3-6 by Franki Sibberson and published by Choice Literacy.  If you don't teach grades 3-6, I still think you should read this book.  As a 1st grade teacher I found Franki's thoughts to be quite applicable to planning in primary as well (and am passing it to my husband who teaches middle school next).  Most of all, I found the book to be an enjoyable read that I know I will revisit again and again across this year as I plan.

Franki reminds us, "Minilessons should empower students and help them develop strong identities as readers."  This book not only helps us find ways to empower our readers, but I found it energizing and empowering for me as an educator.  Lately discussion in education has turned to measuring, sorting, comparing, and grouping learners.  This book reminds us that looking at data is just part of the work we have as teachers.  "When we know where we need to focus our teaching and what students need, then the hard work of planning and the important work of teaching can begin," according to Franki.

In this book, Franki revisits the significance of planning in instruction.   She shares the way she plans cycles of minilesssons and the way these cycles build upon one another.  She begins the discussion by talking about the key characteristics of minilessons and their importance in our classroom communities.  Then sharing the ways she uses what she knows about the students, the curriculum and the resources that will support and scaffold the study.  The goal always remains giving young learners the tools they need to grow as readers.

The Planning Process
In the book, Franki shares her thinking through the process of planning four different lesson cycles:
  • Readers Think as They Read
  • Exploring Character   
  • Theme
  • Nonfiction Reading
She demonstrates the way she breaks each cycle into smaller lessons and scaffolds students as they learn.  She talks about changing directions, the resources she uses, and the ways she monitors student understanding.  Franki's lesson samples provide a glimpse into her planning process and the way minilessons support readers in the classroom.  

Franki is refreshingly honest about her shifts in thinking across years of teaching.  In her chapter, "Nonfiction Reading:  Rethinking Lesson Cycles We've Always Taught," she shares the changes she's made in the way she has revisioned her nonfiction minilesson cycle to better support readers.  By reconsidering what students bring to the study, new types of nonfiction, demands upon the reader in nonfiction reading, and resources now available, Franki steps us through the process of planning this cycle of instruction through a new lens. 

Franki reminds us that the work we do is important.  The planning process cannot be replaced by companies and scripts that do not know the children that live in our classrooms.  I know this book will be invaluable as I plan and revision cycles of minilessons for learners.  Thanks for reminding us of the joy, Franki.

Read Other Reviews:

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Weebly: Our New Class Home

I know lately I've been raving about web 2.0 tools that make my teaching life easier.  I'm afraid today isn't any different.  This year I've moved my class webpage to Weebly.  It was awhile ago that Katie DiCesare shared her use of Weebly with me.  She talks about it here at Creative Literacy in Kids Stay Connected.  I knew this school year I wanted to work toward collaborating more with other classrooms around the world.  I thought we needed a place we could share with others, but I wanted to maintain a secure space for sharing photos and information with parents.

After meeting with Katie to see how she was using the site, I realized that Weebly would provide much flexibility for use in the classroom.  It has a variety of features that make it a useful tool for sharing and collaborating.  Weebly allows me to:
  • design my layout
  • link to sites using buttons
  • add photographs, slideshows, mosaics
  • embed YouTube videos (safely, students are kept on Weebly site)
  • embed html codes (useful for Shelfari, etc.)
  • attach documents
  • add text and format
  • arrange pages 
  • have secure/public pages
  • and much more!

Here's how we're using the site:

  1. To share general information:  Our home page, Merely Learning Together, allows me to share general information about the learning in our classroom.  At this time, this page shares information with parents and others hoping to find out more about the learning going on in our classroom.
  2. For shared blogging:  We are using our blog page on Weebly to share weekly news about our learning. At the end of each week students write a "family news" page to share at home.  On this page they share something important they learned, a new accomplishment, or big news from our week.  We use individual news to discuss all we have learned and accomplished in the week.  The class then chooses one topic to share "with the world."  Together we plan, write, and add photos to the post.  Discussing our posts and photo choices provides opportunities to discuss internet safety.   This shared blogging opportunity is helping students to learn about the purpose, planning, and composing aspects of writing a blog.  I think this will make our transition to Kidblog much easier.  Having an open blog also allows us to share our learning with others classrooms we are joining in learning. 
  3. For collaborating with other learning communities:  Weebly has worked well for centralizing our learning to share with others.  I've been able to add links to Twitter, Shelfari, and other collaborative platforms we are utilizing to work with other classrooms.  We are able to follow other classrooms to find out what learning is happening around the globe.  
  4. For students:  One of the things I really liked was the way Katie was using her webpage to for parents AND students.  Her students were linking to sites from her webpage.  The class webpage was a "home base" for everyone and the information that needed to be shared.  I've created Symbaloo content mixes to provide extra learning opportunities for students.  I was able to embed these mixes into our site to allow students to use these links for learning.  
  5. For secure sharing:  By purchasing Weebly Pro (something I do not normally do, but was well worth it in this case), I now have the ability to have public and private pages.  I've added pages to our website that remain secure.  These pages are perfect for sharing photos and work examples with parents while keeping safety in the forefront.  
  6. To share important dates with families:  Embedding a Google calendar into Weebly was a snap.  I'm able to select the calendar(s), I'd like to share on the site and the calendar automatically updates when I add new events.  
  7. For individual student pages:  Weebly includes the opportunity to add student accounts.  As the class becomes more tech-savvy, I look forward to the possibility of having students add their own webpages to our site.  These pages will allow students to attach files, publish digital writing pieces, link to blog posts, link to VoiceThread work, and other examples of work to illustrate their learning journeys.  
I'm sure there are many more ways I will discover I can use Weebly.  It's been well worth the investment so far.  

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Six Ways to Use Evernote to Capture Learning

Last week I participated in a Google hangout with several colleagues from Twitter and learned so much.  Our discussion was focused on the possibility of embedding a form in Evernote.  Many of us are using Evernote in our classrooms, but the challenge remaining has been putting forms into Evernote for use.  Evernote has basic word processing abilities, but doesn't seem to have to capability to create forms, tables and charts.  On Twitter Kristen Bispels had shared the way she created a Google form and placed it within Evernote.  This conversation led to many questions and a time for a hangout was planned.

As Kristin (@KrisBisBooks), Susan Dee (@literacydocent), Matt Renwick (@HowePrincipal), Katherine Sokolowski (@KatSok), Karen Terlecky (@karenterlecky),  and I talked about using Evernote I couldn't help but think about all of the ways I think Evernote helps me to be more efficient in my classroom.  For me, it is helpful that it has flexibility in the way it is used.  Being able to a capture a variety of information about student learning using tags and notebooks makes it an even better tool for the classroom.

So while I'm gushing with internet love for Evernote I thought I'd share some of the ways I use Evernote:

Conferring Notes  
For my students I have created a class stack.  Every time I sit down with a student I create a new note during the conference.  During the conference I record:

  • What the student was working on that day.
  • What I noticed about the work looking for new shifts in understanding.
  • Important information about our conversation.
  • The teaching point.  I record this at the top of the note so I can easily view it the next time I confer with the student.

Here I took a picture of writing
before and after focus lessons on
Snapshots of Learning
Being able to snap a picture of student work is sometimes worth a thousand words.  Here are a few ways I use pictures to capture thinking during our day:

  • class charts
  • student writing during writer's workshop
  • models created with manipulatives in math
  • quick checks done during our learning (often on a post-it) that illustrate new understandings or confusions
  • examples of student work in goal areas

Here's an example from a student's
work in that illustrates
revisions made to a piece.
Embedding Screenshots
Using screenshot commands on my computer I am able to capture pictures of student examples of Web 2.0 work, class data charts, webpages, and other pieces I may want to remember or view easily.  Evernote has a web clipper that works within its application as well.  

Here are notes during a poetry
study in which I used audio to
help a student hear where line
breaks might be added.
Having the ability to record students talking in a primary classroom is a powerful tool.  Oral language development is a key piece of literacy learning.  Here are some ways I use audio:
  • To record conferring conversations
  • To have students read or retell their stories in writer's workshop.  (This is especially useful for writers drawing pictures only, when writers tell more in their conversation than the words in their story, in helping young writers listen to hear if their stories make sense, etc.)
  • To record reading fluency.
  • To record retellings.
  • To have students explain their thinking of work done in math, science, and other content areas.
  • To record student thinking to share with peers and/or parents.
  • To have students restate their understanding of learning goals set and share plans of action.

One of the great things about Evernote is how it plays nicely with so many other applications.  Skitch can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.  Students can write on a whiteboard, a photograph, a piece of writing, and many other images to show their thinking.  Often I will take a picture of student work and mark the significant part of my observation to help.  I wish Skitch had audio ability so students could record conversations as they think, work, and share.  If anyone knows of an application that works with Evernote and allows simultaneous creating and audio recording, please let me know.  

Having the ability to now create forms and embed then in Evernote is going to open a new world of possibility.  After seeing the Google reading form created by Kristin Bisel (Kristin was inspired by this post at Doing the Daily 5) and watching this YouTube video about how Susan Dee is embedding Google forms into Evernote, I see a plethora of new possibilities.  I thought I'd give it a try and created a Google form for information from our fall Developmental Spelling Assessment as it was pretty concrete.  Now I'm working on a new form for collecting retelling information during conferences in reader's workshop.

Other Uses?
I know I'm only scratching the surface of Evernote.  I'm beginning to play with applications in the trunk and need to learn how to utilize sharing features more effectively.  How are you using Evernote?  I hope you'll take a second to comment to let me know.

Friday, August 10, 2012

3rd Annual Picture Book Event #pb10for10

It's here!  Today is our third annual picture book event:  August 10 for 10.  If you love picture books, you'll love this event which I'm excited to be hosting with Mandy Robek.  For weeks we've all been wrestling with the 10 picture books we just can't live without in our worlds.  You'll find picture books for your classroom, your library, and your bookshelves at home in this year's collection of posts.  If you'd like to have your blog linked to the conversation, just comment with the link for your picture book list here or at Enjoy and Embrace Learning.  You can also mention us in a link on Twitter using the event hashtag #pb10for10.  If you don't have a blog, but would like to join, there are lots of ways to participate. 

Past Lists

My 2012 Choices
The first year of this event, Mandy and I had been talking about books we couldn't live without in our classroom.  We decided it would be fun to see the shelves of other educators and decided to start this blogging event.  That year I chose THE 10 picture books I could not live without in my classroom.  The following year, 2011, I decided to share ten picture book authors I could not live without.  (Yes, that allowed me to sneak in a few extra books.)

This year, I have decided to share ten picture books we use as mentor texts for our writer's workshop.  In our classroom we write every day.  We learn how to work as writers from one another and the authors who fill the shelves of our classroom.  These authors teach us about sharing our stories.  By example, they help us learn how to make our writing interesting, use crafting techniques to make our message powerful, and much much more.

Mentor Texts for Young Writers 
Here are ten of my favorite mentor texts for teaching writing.  Of course, this is today's list and tomorrow's might be quite different.  These are ten titles I like for young writers.

I Don't Want a Cool Cat by Emma Dodd.  First of all, I am always a little partial to authors who illustrate their own books.  In this book, the character shares all the kinds of cats she doesn't want before telling us about the perfect cat for her.  The first graders in my classroom write and illustrate their own stories so it is fun to be able to share authors/illustrators that do the same.  This picture book is perfect for the beginning of the year when students are just getting comfortable writing.   The patterned text helps young writers to discover ways to dig deeper into a topic, use a repetitive sentence structure to share a message, and create a strong ending.  Her illustrations are also appealing to young writers as the characters are central to the page.  Emma Dodd's illustrations help to demonstrate how you can use shape to characters and other important parts of a story.

Guess What?  by Mem Fox, and illustrated by Vivienne Goodman, is another patterned text that can be used as a mentor for young writers.  I like to use this one particularly because of the way Mem Fox uses a question to give details about the character.  Young writers can envision ways a similar structure could be considered for other topics. In this book, Mem Fox uses a question, followed by the word "Guess," and then a response on the following page.  This repetitive pattern keeps kids turning the page to find out more.  Mem Fox has many books I like to use for mentors including:  Never Say Boo to a Good, Tough Boris, and Harriet You'll Drive Me Wild.  Mem has a way of playing with language and creating rhythms of words to capture the attention of young readers.

In My Yellow Shirt written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Hideko Takahashi is another favorite.  This picture book also has a "list-like" pattern, but it is wrapped in the story of a boy who gets a yellow shirt for his birthday.  His friends think a yellow shirt is a boring gift, but he explains all of the things he can pretend when he is in his yellow shirt.  The yellow shirt turns out to be the perfect birthday gift.  This book can be used to demonstrate a variety of crafting techniques.  I think it is perfect for talking about beginnings, endings, and building the middle of our stories with details.  I find this to be a good book for talking about word choice as well.

Hope Is an Open Heart by Lauren Thompson.  There are a lot of things I like about this book as a mentor text.  This story takes a look at the word hope and shares all the different things hope can be.  It is a great way to explore a word's meaning deeply.  Words often carry layers of meaning we don't often take time to consider.  Again, the repetitive text is an easy way for beginning writers to structure their thinking.  This book uses real photographs from around the world to illustrate the author's point.  Using photographs is a way for students to plan stories and a way to support writers who might have a hard time illustrating their thinking.

If You Find a Rock by Peggy Christian with photographs from Barbara Hirsch Lember.  The first time I read this book I loved its way with words.  I was delightfully surprised by how much my first graders loved it too.  Apparently, first graders think a lot more about rocks than I had realized.  This book sends the reader out on a journey to discover rocks: the way they look, the way they feel, and the many things you can do with each different kind of rock.  You could easily use this structure to write about a collection of similar ideas:  flowers, cats, pets, sports, etc..  This book would be perfect for writing more about the details of an object.  It is also a book that may be helpful in learning to look at things closely as a writer --- or a scientist.  My students were inspired to write poetry after discussing the crafting techniques of this author.

White Owl, Barn Owl by Nicola Davies and illustrated by Michael Foreman.  This book is better for study later in the school year when writers have more crafting techniques under control and when they've learned to pull apart a story to see what can be learned from the work of the author.  I consider this book to be useful in teaching students about literary nonfiction.  This book shares a story of a boy and his grandfather who build a nest in hopes that a barn owl will live within it.  The author shares information about barn owls as she weaves the story of the boy and his grandfather in their quest to attract an owl.  Each illustration has a small caption with barn owl information carefully placed.  This book is perfect for discussing the way authors weave a story and information together for readers.

Every Friday by Dan Yaccarino.  Writers write about things that are important to them.  This is one of my favorite stories for teaching young writer's about personal narrative.  The author shares a story of how he and his son have breakfast together every Friday.  It's a special day he looks forward to each week.  Young writers easily consider special places they go or special times they spend with important people in their lives.  The author's note allows students to take a peek inside the thinking and planning of this author.

The Leaving Morning by Angela Johnson and illustrated by David Soman (author of Ladybug Girl books).  Angela Johnson is one of my favorite authors.  I enjoy the variety of ways she is able to craft a story.  This book is one of my favorites as it helps us discuss the many reasons we write.  Authors capture moments in their lives that are significant.  They write to remember, to get through hard times, and to celebrate their lives.  This book is an example of writing about a time that was hard.  In this story, a young boy shares his goodbyes as he leaves his apartment to move to a new home.  Young writers have many significant stories to tell, and this book helps to start the conversations that lead to discovering new stories.

I love books about grandparents.  Maybe it is because I had four of the best grandparents one could ever hope to have.  The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster, and illustrated by Chris Raschka, is another mentor text I use often in my classroom.  Students always enjoy the story of the visit to grandpa and grandma's house.  The story works well for demonstrating the significance of things in our lives that remind us of places or people.  It helps illustrate the way we can shape stories from these memories.  Juster uses the hello-goodbye window as a lens from which to share his visits with his grandpa and grandma.  I like this book for talking about cracking open stories to tell more so our readers really understand how we feel about a topic.  Raschka's unique illustrations are useful in discussing the work of illustrators to tell a story with pictures.

Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes.  Kevin Henkes is another author that just had to make this list of writing mentors.  I use many of his books to demonstrate the ways authors craft stories for others.   Henkes use of repeating phrases, and his careful selection of words, helps make his point clear to his reader and keeps his story pulled tightly together around kitten's search for milk.  Henkes' decision to use black and white illustrations to tell his story is an interesting discussion to have with young writers.

What ten books do you recommend for my classroom?  Please leave a comment below or add a link to your post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Listening --- Really Listening: #cyberPD Final Thoughts

"A dialogic classroom is one in which there are lots of open questions and extended exchanges among students....classrooms in which their are multiple interpretations and perspectives." Peter Johnston (p. 52)

The Event
For the month of July a group of educators have been discussing Peter Johnston's book, Opening Minds:  Using Language to Change Lives (Stenhouse, 2012).  At the bottom of this post you will find many important links related to our 2nd annual #cyberPD event.  Today's final reflection is hosted by Carol Wilcox at Carol's Corner.  Stop by to read, comment, and join the conversation.

What's Next
I've been trying to wrap my head around all of the thinking in Johnston's book.  Thankfully, stopping by blogs of colleagues in this event has helped.  These blogs, however, have also made it necessary to pause to consider different perspectives and new thinking.  As I've been thinking about this post I've been asking myself a lot of questions:

  • What key ideas am I taking away from this book?
  • Can I get what I have learned down to one important word?
  • What teaching behaviors will I try to unlearn?
  • What changes will I make as a result of this conversation?
  • How will our learning community look different this year?

Listening --- Really Listening
Somewhere in my archives of pictures I have a photograph of a chart I made with one of my kindergarten classes years ago.  It was a chart about listening.  It is probably better that I cannot locate it, but it had a huge picture of a student sitting criss-cross on the carpet, hands in lap, eyes forward and attentive.  It said something like "listening is" and then listed a few characteristics: "Eyes on the person talking, hands in lap, sitting criss-cross, mouth closed, and ears listening."  It might not have been that extreme, but it likely was.

For years, actually since that chart, I've been on the journey toward helping young learners in the classroom community really learn to listen to one another.  Every year I get a little closer, but it is not an easy task with listeners whose developmental tendency is to be a bit egocentric.  For me, reading Johnston's book, and participating in the #cyberPD discussion with so many thoughtful colleagues, has provided more tools for helping to support students in learning to really listen to one another by thinking about the words of the friend speaking.

Listening to One Another Learning from One Another
Maybe this is all I need to do; change the way I talk with students about listening to one another.  It isn't the listening I'm so concerned with, though it is essential to the larger goal, it is the learning that happens each day in our classroom.  This year I really want students to understand all they can learn from one another.  I'm hoping to take myself out of the equation a little more.

  • Build learning conversations in share circles.  Johnston says, "We develop a metalanguage for thinking about group processes and establishing their significance as something to attend to. (p. 107)"  Perhaps we could say:  "I learned ____ from ____ when they shared ____.,  I was able to think about ____ because I/we _____."
  • Help students to see the power of learning together.  Johnston says, "A group can have intelligence that can be more (or less) than the sum of its members' intelligence. Group intelligence is related to...the average social sensitivity of the group and how evenly the group distributes conversational turns. (p. 96)"  Perhaps we could say: "____ tell ____ how you did that., When we started thinking we thought ____, but when we talked together we realized _____.,  Make sure each person has a chance to say something so that you're sure you don't miss different ways of thinking about it." 
  • Learn to recognize when our thinking is changed by someone else.  Johnston says, "Listening is the foundation of a conversation and it requires that we are open to the possibility of changing our thinking. (p. 102)"  Perhaps we could say:  "____ made me think about _____.,  When I heard _____ I thought _____.,  I never thought about it like that before."    
  • Know it's ok to disagree (and how to do that with kindness).  Johnston says, "We expect to have more interesting and powerful conversations when people bring different perspectives and when they disagree.  (p. 103)"  Perhaps we could say:  "Now I'm wondering...,  Could...., Do you think ____?,  What do you think about what ____ said?,  It looks like you might have another idea."
  • Learn to rephrase the thinking of friends:  This is likely going to be something I'm going to have to work to change.  Instead of rephrasing students' comments, have other learners talk about what they heard or find other ways to say the same thing.  Perhaps we could say:  "Can you explain what ____ said in another way _____?,  Would you tell _____ what ____ means?  Repeat what ____ said so we can think about it (p. 27)."
  • Develop skills to be flexible thinkers who build on the thinking of friends.  Johnston says, "They (students) understand that knowledge is constructed, that it is influenced by one's perspective and by different contexts, and that we should expect and value different perspectives because they help to expand our understanding." (p. 57) Perhaps we could say:  "Is there another way to do that?,  Is there a different way to think about that?"
  • Wonder together:  Johnston says, "It is the perception of uncertainty that enables dialogue." (p. 59)  I'm hoping we can set the tone to get comfortable with the unknown, the uncertain, and the unanswerable.  "I wonder..., What are you wondering?  When I heard ____ I wondered ____., I can't figure out ____, what do you think?"  
This is just my beginning thinking, and it may be a little soon to just put it out in the world.  Thankfully I know you will all consider it thoughtfully.  So what do you think?  Are there other aspects I should consider?  Different language?  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.  

Picture Books
As I read Peter's book and visited blogs I began to consider picture books that might support the community conversations I have to have.  Here are two Listmania lists I have started thanks to this thinking and some of the posts from our #cyberPD community.  These are growing lists.  I can't wait to get into my classroom to get my hands on my picture books so I can add more titles.  Let me know, if you have titles to add.

Paired Readings/Professional Books for Continued Conversation

Event Links

A huge thank you to Laura Komos and Jill Fisch for helping to create such an amazing event.  Thanks to all of the #cyberPD community for sharing your thinking, making me reflect, creating new resources, and collaborating in this professional learning conversation.  I know I will be able to continue to count on all of you to help me in my learning journey.  

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Building a Community of Learners: #cyberPD Part 3

"Intelligence, creativity, and caring are all properties of communities as much as of individuals, and teaching children with that in mind will result in individual achievement but also collaborative achievement and accompanying social and societal benefits."  Peter Johnston, Opening Minds (p. 123)
Today we will be discussing the final chapters of Peter Johnston's book, Opening Minds:  Using Language to Change Lives available from Stenhouse (at 20% off during Blogstitute event).

Today's #cyberPD conversation is hosted by Laura Komos at Our Camp Read-a-Lot.  If you are joining the conversation from your blog, you will want to leave your link there.

Important Event Links
  • Our Event Jog:  A collection of the posts from the entire event.  Just click on the table of contents on the left to move from page to page.  
  • #cyberPD wallwisher:  Stop by to leave important quotes, related links, or questions to ponder.  
  • Google.doc of Language:  Julie Balen began our Google.doc of language to consider for changing the lives of young learners.  Feel free to stop by to read, add, and share.  
Event Schedule
Building a Learning Community
For the last six years I have been back in a first grade classroom.  There are many things I enjoy about teaching a variety of age groups, but first graders are interesting in the amount of learning that happens in just one year.  In first grade, the amount of growth in learning is easily measured in student work.  You can see it in their writing.  You can hear it in their reading.  You understand it in their thinking and solving conversations.

Individual growth is easy to illustrate, but what about collaboration and social imagination?  One of the parts of my teaching I've been working on for the last few years is establishing stronger learning communities.  Our classroom structure allows for opportunities to own our learning.  It allows for collaboration, choice, goal setting, and time to learn among other things.  I've tried to spend more time talking about learning with peers, listening to one another, and thinking about what our friends say.

Reading "Opening Minds" has really helped me to think about ways to establish more of a community of learners where everyone has equal voice.  Johnston reminds us, "When each (my emphasis) person in the classroom community is viewed as able to contribute to the development of knowledge, there is not the typical hierarchy. (p. 102)"

How is this accomplished?  In our classroom we have learning conversations across our day.  When we are on the carpet together students have learning partners.  These partners share in thinking, learning, and collaborative talk.  Johnston reminds us that turning to talk isn't enough.  Students need to learn to value the thinking of their friends and build on the conversation to push the learning to a higher level.

Students often work together in pairs or small groups across our workshops.  At the end of each workshop, we gather to share our learning.  First graders love to share and tell what they've been doing, but helping them to value the thinking of their friends develops across the year.  Johnston says, "We develop a metalanguage for thinking about group processes and establishing their significance as something to attend to. (p. 107)"  In the typical busy academic day, it is sometimes hard to slow down for this important step.  I know I will need to take more time this year to have these conversations.

In what has become our world of testing, assessment, and data collection it is easy to forget the real goals of education.  I thank Johnston for reminding me of the bigger mission we must all accomplish - about the real significance of the work we do every day.  

Some Quotes
  • "Discipline that points out the consequence of prosocial behavior and attributes a motive of kindness and generosity is likely to be most effective.  (p. 88)"
  • "Conflicts are opportunities to examine our assumptions and values and they are exactly the places where students find morality most engaging.  Social problems offer concrete spaces for understanding different perspectives, understanding and managing emotions, learning strategies for negotiating social conflict, and asserting a commitment to fairness. (p. 91)"
  • "A group can have intelligence that can be more (or less) than the sum of its members' intelligence. Group intelligence is related to...the average social sensitivity of the group and how evenly the group distributes conversational turns. (p. 96)"
  • "Our ability to think alone is substantially dependent on our ability to think together. (p. 96)"
  • "Fostering more egalitarian relationships through collaborative talk emphasizes the class's work together and the value of each member of the classroom community in creating knowledge.  (p. 102)"
  • "Listening is the foundation of a conversation and it requires that we are open to the possibility of changing our thinking. (p. 102)"
  • "We expect to have more interesting and powerful conversations when people bring different perspectives and when they disagree.  (p. 103)"
  • "Each person's experience, what they notice, the logic they bring, and the assumptions they don't accept  enrich the conversation and, if we are trying to solve a problem, make a solution more likely. (p. 104)"
  • "We want our children to recognize when things are unfair and to act to make things right. (p. 116)"
  • "Children are more engaged when they have choice, a degree of autonomy, and when they see the activity as relevant.  (p. 118)"
Some Questions

  • How will I help shape a community that listens and values the thoughts of one another?
  • Is our classroom environment and community conducive to thinking and learning together?
  • Is there a hierarchy of learners in my classroom or does everyone have an equal voice?
  • Do our school teams value different perspectives, sensitivity to the thinking of others, and work toward distributing conversational turns equally?  Is everyone heard and valued?
  • What picture books might help to start conversations toward fairness and social justice?
  • Are students fully engaged in learning in our classroom? 
Language for the Classroom
  • "What's the problem?"
  • "How could you solve the problem?"
  • "You solved the problem.  You figured out what the problem was and you worked out a solution."
  • "Why do you think that?"
  • "Could you explain?"
  • "I agree, because..."
  • "I disagree, because..."
  • "Make sure each person has a chance to say something so that you're sure you don't miss different ways of thinking about it."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Using Skitch in Your Classroom

As you know, I've been slowly moving toward a paperless teaching world.  The recent purchase of an iPad, as well as the constant availability of an Elmo and projector, have rapidly changed the way we do business in our classroom.  I've been learning how to use a variety of applications for planning, teaching, collecting anecdotal notes, and capturing student learning.

One application I have found quite useful is now part of the Evernote family.  (For more on how I use Evernote see my Choice Literacy Article:  Capturing Student Learning with Evernote.)  If you haven't downloaded Skitch for your iPad, you should.  Skitch is available for most devices.  I have it on my Android phone, iPad and Mac.  Interestingly, it does not yet seem to be available for the iPhone.  Skitch allows you to take a photograph or screenshot and write directly on it to make your point quickly.  You can also use it more like a whiteboard as a drawing tool.

Learning to Use Skitch
Anytime I download an app - I do just what my students do - I start to play with it.  How could I use this application in my daily life?  Here's what I tried:

After taking a screenshot of one of our flowerbeds, I labeled the perennials planted for future reference.

After planing our garden I labeled the types of plants and their location.  This ended up being helpful since the rabbits decided to eat the eggplant and banana pepper plants.  It was easy to remember what to replant.

This is an idea I had for using Skitch with students in informational writing.  Students would choose a topic and tell one thing they had learned.  Then dig deeper into the information until they were layers beyond where they started.

In the Classroom
Then I started using it at school.  I have found it can be used for a variety of learning experiences.  It enhances discussions with students by helping to make learning more visible.  Here are a few ways I find Skitch to be useful:

Discuss student work:  Here is a picture taken during math workshop.  This student had discovered a way to count objects more efficiently by grouping them.  After taking a photograph and pulling it into Skitch, I was able to circle the sets as we counted together.  (Taking photos during math workshop has helped us to save time during the share at the end of our math workshop.  No longer do students need to drag tools to our circle to show friends their thinking.)

As a white board:  Here Skitch was used to rainbow write a word during a word study lesson.
To show places on a map:  Skitch has a world map that you can crop to show regions.  During Poetry Tag, a global poetry event started by Deb Frazier's class in April, a class from Guatemala left a poem.  We were able to locate Guatemala on the map during our discussion to see where it was located in relation to where we were.  Quick and easy.
To record student thinking:  In an accidental misplacement of myself during teaching, I found myself at my iPad when a discussion about what we had learned so far about clocks began.  I decided to use Skitch to record the conversation written in green.  Then in pink we discussed the challenges we still faced learning to tell time.  The change from a chart really captured student attention.  I could have easily printed this for reference.  In this case, I then walked around the room as students worked and recorded confusions I was noting.  Students did not see this part of the document.

To demonstrate use of a webpage:  Skitch allows you to capture a screenshot and write directly on it.  Here is an example of capturing a Kidblog page to demonstrate creating a post for our class blog.  The labels really help students to see the important parts of the print on the page.  I'm thinking this would be useful in teaching students to understand the set-up of web pages when looking for information and researching topics using the internet.

All of these examples are ways I'm using Skitch to have conversations about learning with students.  Students could do many of these things in their learning to demonstrate understanding if iPads or Macs are available for use.  I'm hoping you'll share your ideas for Skitch below.  

Here are a few links you might find helpful: