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.

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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.