Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Donors Choose

This fall, I had a problem. I purchased a class set of Suzanne Collins' book The Hunger Games for my seniors. I though that they would get excited about reading it and that it would segue nicely into Lord of the Flies. I thought that they would be pulled in by the action and relate a little to the main character, Katniss, who grows up in a poor section of her country. I thought we'd have some interesting discussions and that they'd enjoy the experience as a whole.

And I was wrong. They were obsessed with the book. Every time I tried to do anything else, they'd glare at me and beg to read. It was getting to a point where I was afraid to try and do anything besides read the book with them. Plus, I'd already let them know that this book was a series book and that there was already another title out called Catching Fire. When they started to clamor for this title to be our next book, how could I say no?

On the other hand, with a frozen budget and the second book in the series still in hardcover at $17.99 a pop, how could I have said yes? I started to brainstorm ways to get a few copies of the book so that I could send it home as a free reading book for those interested, but it just wasn't going to happen. Then, I remembered a coworker showing me a camera that she'd received from an anonymous benefactor on the Donors Choose website. So, I sat down one Sunday afternoon and spent a couple of hours forming an online plea for help. Within twenty-four hours, we'd been funded. Catching Fire was in our classroom five days after I created an account on Donors Choose.

I couldn't believe it. I mean, as a teacher I am used to scrambling and begging and pleading for stuff for my students; it's what we do. I'm used to doing this at the school and community level, though. Not on the national scene! It blew my mind and when I told my students, I thought that they were going to cry. They were so touched, so genuinely affected by this outpouring of goodness that they couldn't wait to thank the kind folks who'd given them these books.

Since this first experience with Donors Choose, I've had three other projects funded. I'm supposed to remain anonymous as a teacher, so I'm not going to provide much in the way of details here. But, I will say that these four funded projects have totaled over one thousand dollars. For real.

If you are a teacher with students in need, you should definitely check this site out. Or if you're someone looking to give a large or small gift to a classroom in need, this may be your way to help out. Either way, it may be one of the most powerful experiences in giving and receiving that you'll ever have.

Monday, December 21, 2009

2010 Bibliophilic Book Challenge

I've been enjoying my first day of Christmas vacation. So far, I've managed to catch up on neglected projects and emails. This afternoon, I even had some extra time to check up on blogs I follow, and I'm certainly glad I did because I came a across a post that excited and inspired me to join the 2010 Bibliophilic Books Challenge!

What in the world is that, you ask? Well, it's this awesome challenge that's actually quite perfect for those interested in learning more about literacy. This challenge asks that you read books about reading. There are a number of books sitting on my not-yet-read shelf that are about reading. Really, I've read a number of books in the past year about this very subject. Lucky for me, there are so many more! I'll post reviews of the books I read for the Bibliophilic Challenge on this blog. To join in the fun, just visit this site and follow along or link your blog to the main site.

According to the site, these are the levels you can reach in the contest:

  • Bookworm: Read three books
  • Litlover: Read six books
  • Bibliomaniac: Read twelve books

  • Sounds like good, clean fun! Get a badge for your blog or wiki here.

    Friday, December 18, 2009

    How to Give Back: She's the First

    In scanning my favorite blogs, I found a post about a site called She's the First. It's an organization that helps match donors with girls in need of funds for education on an international level. This site offers several options for giving to a variety of countries. You can even team up with others to donate monthly. In some situations, the you can even keep in touch with the girl you're supporting.

    Maybe this is the perfect holiday gift for that hard-to-buy-for someone who already has everything?

    Sunday, December 13, 2009

    Critical Thinking Tool

    This past week, I spent some time searching for a web tool to use for a final project for a graduate course I'm taking. I had this big vision of creating a mosaic of pictures to fit this fairly complicated intersecting circle design that is the crux of the text I read as part of this class. I used google to search for picture mosaic programs, but was not able to find anything. Then, almost by accident, I can across a site called UMapper on a blog that I follow. As it turns out, this is an awesome site and everyone should be thinking about whether or not it is something that can be used in the classroom setting.

    I have not yet finished my project for the grad class, but you can view this work in progress if you'd like. I plan to add-in some text to explain the pictures and the intersecting circles. I'm also going to try to add some music to this. I can't wait to experiment with it. I've also been thinking of ways to incorporate it into my teaching. So far, I've thought of several character and vocabulary mapping ideas. I think that there are multiple ways that this technology could be used in a wide array of content areas.

    More importantly, this tool is an easy way to escalate the critical thinking levels in your classroom. The conceptual framework developed by students and the huge amounts of choice in design and delivery will ensure that students are using higher level thinking skills. I look forward to playing with this more and thinking about ways that I could use this in my classroom. Please let me know if you think of anything interesting or if you try this out in your classroom.

    What To Do With Inappropriate Posts

    For the first time, I had a student who wrote something that was very inappropriate in a blog post. I've used blogging with students for about a year now, and was very surprised that this student decided to use this platform to discuss such private information. The post was not mean or anything, it simply disclosed all kinds of personal information about her life and her family. As I read it, I had to decide just how I would deal with this issue.

    I did not want to come down so hard on this student that she felt discouraged from sharing her story with others. I needed her to understand that her student blog that is connected to other students and to the world through my classroom blog is not the appropriate place to post her inner most feelings about her childhood. As I read her post, it occurred to me that her writing felt like something I would read on myspace. Almost all of my students have some sort of social networking account; I did not realize that they would confuse the public and private sphere so drastically.

    This was a learning experience for me. I now plan to talk openly with my students about the identity they create when they write online. I don't think that many students understand that what they write online will follow them for the rest of their lives. Some students seem to have an awareness of this fact but many do not. I know now that I need to talk with them about their online persona and the different types of writing that they'll post online and what's appropriate where.

    Luckily, this student was completely understanding of the fact that her post was not appropriate for our classroom blog. I hope that she still feels like she can use her words to let out her frustrations and fears. Part of me wants to give her an old fashioned pen-and-paper journal as a place to record and collect her thoughts. Another part of me, though, is excited that she wrote pages and pages of what amounted to a good start to a personal memoir, à la Jeanette Walls or Tobias Wolff.

    Whatever comes of this for the student, I know that I need to think about backing up the train, so to speak, and starting the new year with a lesson on blogging without sharing personal information to the entire universe. After all, once your persona is out there, it's almost impossible to go back and recreate your online self.

    Friday, December 11, 2009

    Vote for Your Favorite Edublogs!

    The Edublog Awards are awesome. Many of my most treasured, reliable sources for edu-information have won these awards or have been nominated. Express your opinion by December 16th and help the people at Edublog decide which blogs are the best! There are all kinds of interesting categories and there are lots of great sites to find and follow from their lists, no matter what you teach. Have fun exploring and expressing yourself!

    Thursday, December 10, 2009

    Bloggers Unite!

    Recently, I came across a website called Bloggers Unite. The purpose of this site is to gather together bloggers who are interested in supporting any number of international events, like International AIDS Day, Human Rights Day, and International Animal Rights Day. I stumbled across this site as I was looking for information on International AIDS Day in conjunction with a lesson I was planning. Though I was not able to use this site with students for this event, there is serious potential to have students choose events or cause that they have some sort of belief or passion for and to support that interest by blogging.

    All of my students have blogs that we use on a regular basis. The challenge in using this platform with students, I believe, is to make it as relevant and real as possible. If students are burdened with artificial tasks on their blogs, their blog space will not become the reflective, representative place that it has the potential to be. I think that there is enormous promise in sites like bloggers unite to allow students a safe entry into the realm of editorial writing. Students can choose a cause that they read about on this site, blog about it, maybe research it a little to gain extra facts, and then upload one of the badges provided to show their support of that particular event. This is an easy way to get students connected to international issues and to allow them to develop their sense of global citizenship.

    Another way to use this site is to connect one of the events to whatever unit you're teaching at the time that the event occurs. For instance, I plan to use this site to get students blogging about International Human Rights Day in conjunction with A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. There are definitely instances of human rights abuses discussed in this memoir and my students are feeling the impact of those abuses through Beah's powerful use of language and imagery. Though my students are far removed from the setting of Beah's memoir, they can definitely use their online presence to support an increased awareness of this cause.

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    500th Post

    I can't believe that I just wrote the 500th post for my classroom blog. This is the third school year that I've used a blogging platform to communicate to students, parents, colleagues, and unnamed others around the world. Also, this blog has turned into a tool to help lead instruction during class rather than a mere one-sided report-out spot.

    I feel like this blog is one of the best representations of what it is like to be a student in my classroom. I try to make learning an exciting, interactive, intelligent enterprise. I hope that the blog shows this passion for teaching and learning.

    So, hurray for me and for my students and all of those people who've enjoyed this blog in the past. I hope to keep this going and can't wait to to write my next post!

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    K12 Online Conference 2009

    The theme of this year's K12 Online Conference is "Bridging the Divide". I can't think of a better title to capture the fact that there exists a huge divide in access to and information about how to effectively use technology in the 21st century classroom. As part of this free and user-friendly conference, you can listen to and participate in a huge variety of topics. Some topics are more content specific, but others are more about education in general.

    This conference runs for two weeks in December (the 7th-11th and the 14th-17th), but don't fret if you miss any of the sessions. You can listen to any of the sessions after they're completed. In fact, you can also listen to sessions from previous years from the K12 Online website.

    Please find the teaser video for session about Digital Writer's Workshop with Jackie Gerstein at the top of this post.

    Friday, December 4, 2009

    The Largest Professional Development Community Ever!

    For about nine months, I've belonged to an online community of English teachers called the English Companion Ning. On this ning, you can choose from a wide variety of groups that are labeled according to the theme or subject that is talked about on the group's page. I belong to a wide variety of groups, from Shakespeare to creative writing to blogging teachers. I've even started my own group, which is a book club focused on Young Adult Literature.

    This has been one of the best collaborative experiences I've ever had as an educator. I've engaged in a variety of conversations, shared ideas, shared documents, and met new educator colleagues from across the country as a result of joining this community. There's an awesome book club where the authors of each month's selection actually participate in the online conversations. It's amazing and I can't say enough about it!

    This ning turns one today. It was created on December 5th, 2008. If you're interested in joining, all you need to do is create an account right from the main page. You can participate as little or as often as you like and it's absolutely free! A great deal no matter how you look at it. As author/ teacher/ creator of this extraordinary site, Jim Burke, would say, "See you on the ning"!

    Monday, November 30, 2009

    A Novel Idea: One Book For All

    How do we promote literacy for all students and all teachers across ability levels and across content areas? One high school in New Jersey has found a model that has reached about 80% of its students and has engaged most of its teachers. As far as literacy initiatives go, this seems to be a successful venture. What did they do? They created a "One Book, One School" model where all students and all teachers are responsible for reading and talking about the same book.

    I think that this is an awesome idea. I would worry about the funding of this project, but it seems that if enough players are invested, then this type of initiative could have some success. I remember that when I attended the University of Maine at Farmington for my undergraduate degree there was a "One Book, One Campus" program where students and faculty were encouraged to use and talk about one title per year. I don't know if this initiative was successful or not, but they seem to have a similar program going on now. Its name has changed, but it seems to have the same flavor as the original program.

    Even if funding did not exist to buy enough books for every student to have a single copy, there could be an initiative to include as many people as possible lending library situation. There is even room to extend this initiative past the walls of the high school and to seek to include community members and younger students. This just might be a grant project in the making!

    Saturday, November 28, 2009

    Books for Boys

    One of the greatest challenges I face in teaching is finding good reads that male students can get excited about. Every young adult book I read feels like a bit of a search for a good plot, characters, and that extra little je ne sais quoi that will make the read a good read for the guys in my classroom.

    Whether this sounds sexist or not, I don't know. When I'm selected reads that are going to be read by the whole class, I know that I need to make sure that the book will appeal to my male readers. In most of my classes, there are more guys than girls. Girls seem to be okay reading a book no matter who the main characters are or the plot. Male students, not so much. I also find that girls are better at supplementing their reading and will read more free reading titles if they're not as interested in our whole class book. It can be a struggle to get my male students into a pattern of keeping a free reading book.

    Luckily, I stumbled across a site devoted to guys and what guys read. It's appropriately titled GUYS READ and offers a lot of information about books for guys of all ages, and even offers books for young boys. This site offers a wealth of information and seems like it could be helpful to both male and female teachers. I had a great time looking around this site and plan to use it when I think about purchasing good boy-approved titles this coming year.

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    National Day of Listening

    Please remember that this coming Friday is the National Day of Listening. In preparation for this important day, my practicum teacher and I have planned a project for our students to complete. The project is going to be titled "Rural Life 101" and will hopefully show viewers what it is like to grow up and live in Western Maine. This idea is based on the Ghetto Life 101 documentary that our students have been listening to in preparation for the novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers.

    This celebration is nicely placed on the calendar because it falls right over Thanksgiving vacation. I plan to take some time to interview my father, a man that I deeply admire and respect. I hope to save this interview and share it with future generations. There is no substitute for the sound of a loved one's voice when you haven't seen them in a long time, and I see my father very rarely. I just know that I'll listen to this recording whenever I miss him!

    Maybe there is someone in your life that you could interview. Maybe there's a way that you could adapt this project to use with your students. Even if they're not able to participate in the project this holiday week, there is may be some great interview opportunities in the upcoming weeks.

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Book Review: Teaching With Fire

    I've had the book Teaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner on my amazon wishlist for some time now. I've passed this title over several times in favor of other collections of poems. Recently, I decided to go and clean up my wishlist. I bought some titles used for great prices and others I eliminated completely. I am happy to report that this title made the cut and landed in my mailbox just yesterday.

    In this collection, selected poems are paired with an explanation written by the teachers who've chosen the poem. They explain why they selected the poem and how it represents their teaching or affected their teaching. This collection of poetry is as diverse as the nation of students we teach. There are selections from William Carlos Williams, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, Anne Sexton, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, and there are even a couple of Gary Snyder poems. And there's more. And, it all somehow comes together to form a powerful body of work.

    I am planning to give this book to my practicum teacher as a thank you gift for working with my students. I've come across nothing better to help inspire a future or practicing teacher to include more poetry in lesson planning. Of course, right after I decided that my practicum teacher would love this book, I had to go online and order another copy of this collection for myself!

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    The LEARN Act

    There's a new bill before the United States House and Senate. This bill was written by six organizations who are dedicated to providing literacy instruction for all learners. This coalition consists of: the Alliance for Excellent Education, the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Middle School Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

    I recently learned of this bill from the NCTE website. Here is a link to the NCTE site where you can read the PDF documents related to this initiative.

    This news is pretty exciting. I've read the NCTE document and most of the Senate proposal. I am excited by the possibilities for funding state and nation-wide literacy programs. Finally, it seems as though the need for a national focus on literacy will be heard. Write your state senators to ask them to help support literacy instruction in our public schools!

    Thursday, November 5, 2009

    There's a Poet in the House

    Apparently, President Obama is a fan of poetry. I am not surprised by this, as I have always been moved by his use of language in his speeches and his books. I don't know if this is a new idea or not, but President Obama has joined forces with several colleges to promote poetry. He even hosted a night of spoken-word poetry at the White House this past May.

    President Obama has further celebrated the arts by declaring this past October National Arts and Humanities Month. Lady Obama has extended this campaign into November by hosting a series of music performances featuring talented young artists.

    Here is a sample of the amazing poetry that the Obamas showcased this past May:

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Getting the GIST of Tough Reading Materials

    I love using the GIST with students because we can take all kinds of information and condense it rather quickly. Also, we can take reading materials that are difficult and work to create understanding as a group.

    I recently used this strategy with a group of juniors who are moving into an immigration unit where we'll study Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier as our primary text. This text is going to challenge a lot of the readers in my classroom because it is a more adult read than some are sued to. Also, the setting of the text is totally unfamiliar to this audience. Most of my students had no idea where Sierra Leone is located. Knowing that I needed to create a basic understanding of the issues and conflicts that are taking place in Sierra Leone before we read, I used the GIST to discuss a variety of issues with students.

    This activity took most of one class, bit has proven to be a valuable tool in creating a large pool of knowledge about the issues facing Sierra Leone right now. All of our news sources are current and we discussed a variety of issues, from rape to agriculture, all within the space of an hour and a half of class time. There is no way that my students would have been able to enter this text without knowing anything about Sierra Leone.

    Here's a link to my classroom blog post about the use of this strategy in connection with this text.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    NaNoWriMo is Here!

    NaNoWriMo is the abbreviation for the National Novel Writing Month. This is designed to get those of us who've always wanted to write a novel to actually do so. In a month!

    If you sign up with NaNoWriMo on their page, you can add-in your words to your novel every day in November. If you get over 50,000, you'll receive a "winner" badge. A surprising number of these books have actually been published, too, so you may also have a shot!

    For my students, the important idea here is that November is an awesome time of the year to be writing. I hope to urge them to join this challenge, but even if they are unable to meet the 50,000 words, I know that seeing thousands of people around the globe engaged in writing will be a huge inspiration for them. I know that some of my students do not feel connected to the world at large, and this is one simple way for me to get them to think globally.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Anticipation Guides

    I've used anticipation guides for two of the texts I teach. One is Arthur Miller's The Crucible. I chose to use an anticipation guide before reading and acting out this play with students because I wanted them to have some common ground with the characters in the play. Because this play is set so far in the past, I wanted to make sure that its basic issues and themes did not get lost in the translation from the world of the Puritans to our modern American culture. I used this strategy in conjunction with a Think-Pair-Share. This pairing worked quite well and prompted good conversation. We looked at these questions later in our reading and answered the same questions again from the point of view of the main characters. It was valuable to hear students' reflections on the similarities and differences between their opinions and the choices and opinions of the main characters.

    I used this same strategy to lead into Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games. I decided on this activity to start the book because there are several controversial issues presented in the text and I wanted students to be prepared. I used this strategy with senior students, and their discussion was so heated during our first conversation that I decided to revise my plan and break our discussion into more than one class. Luckily, a weekend and an outdoor discussion activity cooled the opinions of the more upset students.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    National Day of Listening

    One of the hardest areas of literacy to assess, in my opinion, is listening. How can an instructor tell when students are lacking or excelling in this area of literacy? Over the years, I have tried to incorporate opportunities for students to flex their listening muscles. This year, I'm going to ask my students (and myself) to participate in the National Day of Listening, which will be held on November 28th, 2009.

    At first, I was dismayed that this day falls during our Thanksgiving break. After some thought about how I would ask students to choose and record an interview, though, I feel like this is the best possible time of the year to ask for an interview. Traditionally, this is a time when families come together and talk. There is no other holiday like Thanksgiving that allows for talking and listening. Even students whose families do not have a Thanksgiving celebration will have a few days off from school to seek out a potential interviewee.

    As for material, there are some stock questions available at the National Day of Listening site. There are also some sample interviews and some powerful photos to go along with the stories. This site is powerful in its simplicity. I am totally inspired to hear the interviews students bring in and to listen to the people who surround my students' lives. I am also excited to use this assignment as an opportunity to record one of the most influential people in my life, my grandmother. Check back after Thanksgiving to see how this exercise in listening worked out in my classroom.

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Think-Pair-Share Poetry

    I've been doing a lot with poetry this year. I have made a commitment to myself and my students that we will engage with poetry on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I have always used poetry in my classrooms, but never to the extent that I have this year.

    One literacy or thinking strategy that seems to work well with poetry is the Think-Pair-Share. I like this model because students still have some alone time with a poem, we still read it aloud and silently, they get to work in pairs, and we talk about the poem as a whole group. With this model, students can talk about the poem in a variety of ways and hear about others' interpretations and interactions with poem.

    I recently tried this strategy with freshmen. I read the poem aloud for the group. As I read, they were responsible for highlighting the interesting structural and word choices they found. After this, they had a few silent minutes to explain why they highlighted those sections/ words/ lines in the margins of the paper. After this, students broke into pairs and explained their choices to their peers. In the end, I heard from all students and created a larger web of their comments on the whiteboard.

    I feel like today's poem analysis activity was a success. Students sometimes had a hard time listening to one another, but this is something that we need to work on anyway. I will definitely try this strategy again with other students and with this same group. I liked the way that this strategy allowed for a variety of interactions over a single poem. We did not quite finish our work in one class period, but we can always pick up where we left off!

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    At this year's Model Schools Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, I was lucky enough to listen to a presentation by Dr. Susan Szachowicz, principal of Brockton High School. I attended this session because I'd heard from others that this school has triumphed despite some serious obstacles and that everyone who left the session did so with tears in their eyes.

    I, too, left with some tears, but also with a whole new courage to go back to my school and persuade coworkers, students, parents, and the community that it they can do it, so can we. I was reminded of this resolve when I read a recent Boston Globe article touting the successes that have been achieved at Brockton High. This article focuses on the amazing turnaround in MCAS standardized test scores of Brockton High's students and the intense focus on literacy at Brockton High.

    When I saw Dr. Szachowicz, I was impressed with her "Boxer" attitude. (The school mascot is a boxer.) She came off as a no-nonsense, hard-lined professional who cares immensely about creating an environment where students feel supported and encouraged to overcome the poverty and hopelessness that surrounds their community. In our session, she described her vision for her school and how she drove out negative teachers who refused to work with her to achieve the high goals she set for her students and her staff. If a teacher disagreed with her about including direct literacy instruction in their classes, they were going to be looking for another job. If a staff member did not believe that Brockton High students could and should achieve high standards, they needed to go elsewhere.

    This attitude may seem extreme, but it has turned a "failing" school into one of the greatest success stories in Massachusetts. Dr, Szachowicz really made me think about those colleagues and students I've heard who do not believe that our rural population is capable or willing to reach for high standards and to make literacy a priority in our community. We have to drive out these negative thoughts and feelings. If Brockton High, with a population of over 4,5oo students, can work together to create a small-campus vibe, then surely we can work to instill that same feeling of community and positivity in our rural population.

    Kudos to the teachers, administration, students, and community of Brockton, Massachusetts, for exemplifying what is possible, rather than perpetuating a downward spiral of impossible.

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Is a Down Economy Good for Literacy?

    Though the article and interview entitled "The Triumph of Readers" with author Anne Patchett is a bit dated, it raises some interesting connections between the downturn in the economy and the upturn in those who're choosing to read more often. Patchett is the author of several novels and also serves on the board of her local library in Nashville. According to her article, readership and library use is on the raise. Could this be related to the fact that entertainment has become so expensive? Maybe it's because we're looking to escape the realities of a declining economy?

    Whatever the reason, it's important to remember to encourage donations of money and books to our local literacy organizations and libraries. We cannot use this time of financial distress to leave our most precious and precarious institutions to crumble. If we want our communities to thrive despite the lack of resources they normally enjoy, we need to do our part to help out. I know that our school library has already spent their entire budget for the year. They have new books, but will not have any more titles until next fall. Any of the new, exciting titles that may entice a reluctant reader to spend time reading will have to wait. This is a sad fact.

    I know that I have seen a rise in the amount of reading that my students are doing. I have been so thrilled to see them enjoying SSR time and choosing a huge variety of reading material. I know that I need to keep them going with fresh, current reads and am willing to sacrifice the cost of a couple of Young Adult titles per month to maintain this pro-reading trend. Plus, there's nothing more exciting for me than to know that my students have a whole range of titles and genres to choose from.

    Sadly, I have read more bad news than good in the last year or so. Thanks to Anne Patchett for this fresh look at the potential benefits to this horrible economy!

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Using Manipulatives in Critical Thinking Exercises

    It seems that the more I want to learn "best practice" for teaching high school, the more I know I need to look back and see what elementary teachers are doing on a regular basis. The tried-and-true high school methods I've been using for the past few years are beginning to feel a bit tired. I need to implement some new, fresh ways of getting to what my students are really thinking.

    Enter manipulatives. After listening to a colleague gush about a Lego workshop she attended while we were in Atlanta, I knew that I needed some Legos for my high school English classroom. Fast. What she was saying about young students and critical thinking made total sense. When children create abstract or even representative art, they need to explain it for an audience. Too often, we think that older students cannot or should not perform the tasks that younger kids participate in on a regular basis. We feel like kids will laugh at us if we suggest that they use Legos to express their thoughts or feelings. Well, we are wrong. There is something eternally hip and deep about using abstract objects and shapes to express thoughts and emotions.

    Now, I have yet to use actual Legos with students. I do have them, though. I plan to incorporate the use of these Legos into some of our work around poetry. Out of sheer curiosity, I did, though, break out some M&M's the other day and ask my sophomores to rate their experiences with SSR. A lot of students shaped their candies into smiley faces, but some made some pretty abstract representations of how they're feeling about SSR. The beauty of this activity is that students needed to be able to explain their thought process behind their creation, whether it was abstract or not. I feel like we had a deeper conversation than if I had just asked them their thoughts and feelings about SSR.

    I plan to go bigger and deeper with this type of manipulative activity. My sophomore students definitely showed me that there is nothing childish about taking some representational objects and using them to express yourself, especially if you get to eat the final product!

    Saturday, October 10, 2009

    Book Review: A Surge of Language

    During my student teaching, I was lucky enough to work with Baron Wormser for a couple of weeks. He had been invited to come and hold poetry writing workshops and I signed my classes up for every single one of them. Truly, it was an invaluable experience. I learned so much about poetry and about bringing poems out of students in those sessions.

    I have read some of Wormser's poetry and a book on teaching poetry before, but I have never read a book like A Surge of Language: Teaching Poetry Day By Day. For this book, Baron Wormser and David Cappella created a fictional teacher, Mr. P. This book is written as if it were Mr. P.'s teaching journal. He reflects about how is day went, what poems were read in class, which students responded to the words and lines of the poems, and what he learned from his day.

    The main message that I received from this captivating read is that poetry needs to have a place of importance in our curricula. We cannot include a poem here and there or "do" that poetry unit once per year and call it good. Because of this book, I've started a new practice of having students copy a poem down from dictation every Friday. I call this new practice Poetry Fridays.

    At first, I did not think that students would be at all enthusiastic about copying down a poem from dictation. I did not anticipate that they would engage in this process, but I was completely wrong. Certainly, some students groan when I remind them that every Friday is Poetry Friday. This is not a cure-all for normal teen behavior, but it is a way to get students talking about words, word choice, punctuation, structure, imagery, and a whole variety of poets.

    One way that my new practice differs from A Surge of Langauge is that I am choosing poems based on what we're already reading and talking about in class. I want students to make leaps in their thinking by connecting the words of a poet like Anne Sexton to Ophelia's situation Hamlet or relating the reclusive life of Emily Dickinson to the main character in Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. I do not want to interrupt their engagement with our main text by stuffing in poems that have no relationship with the literature we're reading in class. I want to deepen their critical thinking skills and have lots of conversations where we make connections between seemingly disconnected writings.

    I highly recommend this book for any teacher who's interested in making language a priority in the classroom. There are many, many more ideas contained in this book than I've listed here. This is a highly engaging and thought-filled read. I look forward to reading more selections from these talented authors.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    Connecting With Nonfiction Presentation

    Though I had some conflicting commitments and could not listen to the live version of this webcast, I had some extra time this morning to hear the entire broadcast of the School Library Journal's Connecting with Nonfiction: Techniques and Title Tips for Young Readers and Teens.

    In this hour-long presentation, I learned of a variety of new nonfiction titles. This webcast included some pictures of book covers as they were being presented. A couple of the presenters collected a variety of sound resources about a single topic or figure (space exploration and Abraham Lincoln are two examples) and other books were presented alone. I love that the presenters included a variety of children's books, but did not see a lot that older teens would be interested in reading. At the end, the main presenter did say that they were planning a segment for teens. I'll be the first in line for that one!

    The reason I'm posting about this webcast is that it there are a variety of informative presentations such as these available for teachers use. This presentation was only an hour long, but at the end I was able to download a certificate of attendance. I could easily use this experience toward CEU's or certification in my district. Also, I learned a lot in short period of time, all while sitting on my couch and drinking my morning coffee!

    Here are some of the books I wish-listed as a result of this presentation:

    Thanks to the School Library Journal for this opportunity!

    Saturday, October 3, 2009


    A couple of weeks ago, a friend mentioned that she was planning to attend some training sessions to become a Literacy Volunteer. I've always wanted to become more involved in the Literacy Volunteers, so I tagged along. I've just finished my second session (of three) of training and am loving the experience. I've learned so much about working with adults and teen who are not functionally literate.

    I guess that I've never really thought about what it would mean to be completely illiterate. A woman who led some parts of my training today spoke with great emotion about the process she undertook in learning to read and write. She was very crafty before she learned to read. She would almost trick people into helping her so that she would not have to admit that she couldn't perform tasks that most of us take for granted every day.

    In one powerful demonstration, she asked us to pretend that we could not read. She then took a bottle of yellow household cleaner and placed it next to a container of cooking oil. The bottles clearly resembled each other. How would a person who could not read tell the difference between the two when shopping? After this lesson, I realized that the entire world would become a confusing and stress-inducing place. How would you take a trip to a place you've never been if you couldn't read street signs? How would you pick out a birthday card for your child? How would you fill out the forms at the doctor's office? Questions like these have been queuing in my brain every night since beginning this training. I am amazed at the strength and courage of those who cannot read and write fluently.

    Though this training has taken away from some free time that I might have otherwise spent doing a whole host of other activities, I feel like none of this time has been wasted. If you'd like more information about this international organization, check out the ProLiteracy site.

    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    Book Review: Redefining Literacy 2.0

    I have to admit that I was a little disappointed with the first part of David Warlick's Redefining Literacy 2.0. I felt like it was moving a little slowly, and explaining too much about technology. Just as I was about to lose interest, though, I found his last three or four chapters. Now, I feel like a fanatic about this book.

    In this text, there are so many great statements, ideas, and links that I have basically saturated the last half of it with highlighter ink. I love the format of the book throughout. It's simple, easy to read, and Warlick provides a little boxed-off area at the bottom of pages where he's talked about links to give a little recap of those links in list form. The text is clean and straightforward, which adds to its usability.

    More importantly, Warlick's philosophy about the necessity of combining/ implementing literacy and technology education in our classrooms is direct and it makes sense. He brings together current research and marries that knowledge with great strategies and ideas for integrating technology to enhance students' literacy.

    I also loved that at the end of each chapter, Warlick provides a list of implications for a variety of audiences. He has lists of steps and considerations that directors of technology, principals, media specialists, school tech facilitators, teachers, students, and parents should be thinking about and implementing in schools.

    I highly recommend this text as a resource for any teacher, parent, or tech staff who is interested in thinking about where literacy is headed in the 21st century.

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    Word Teasers SAT Vocabulary Game

    This summer, I had the wonderful experience of having a little extra cash to spend on items for my classroom. I wanted to purchase some materials that would enhance my teaching and offer my students to play with language. One such purchase is an SAT vocabulary game called Word Teasers. I found it somewhere online and was able to purchase it through amazon.

    What I immediately loved about this game is that it does not give silly sentences that have no relevance to teens' lives. It asks questions that engage students. The questions, as I found when I first used this with some senior girls, also allow students to make personal connections between their real lives and SAT words. It was pretty amazing. For instance, a question like "name a characteristic of a friend who you venerate" sparked an awesome conversation about what it is that we admire and are potentially jealous of in our friends.

    I also love that the definition and pronunciation key are right on the back of the card. There's no fumbling around and feeling stupid if you don't know how to pronounce or define a word; simply turn it over and read from the card. This way, the questions are at the forefront and the potentially unfamiliar words are easily used right away.

    I love this game for all of the great conversations it has started and for the powerful words my students are using since playing it.

    Thursday, September 24, 2009

    Teach Handwriting or Technology or Both?

    I have been a bit stunned by the repeated conversations and articles I've seen over the past year or so concerning student handwriting, or penmanship. I've read articles where teachers and parents are lamenting the fact that their students cannot write using cursive handwriting. I know from experience in proctoring the SAT's every year that I need provide the cursive alphabet on the board so that students can figure out how to write their required "oath" in cursive.

    To me, though, this is a minor inconvenience. I don't really get the point of spending too much time honing children's ability to write in a way that can be pretty cumbersome and frustrating, especially given the fact that they may never need to write for an employer or professor using cursive penmanship. I would much rather spend time teaching students how to navigate the internet and use applications on their laptops. I feel like these are the skills that my students need for their future employment and learning.

    Click here for the article that inspired this rant. I found some of the support for teaching penmanship pretty weak, including the perennial: What if you were stranded on a deserted island without electricity? Seriously, folks! Just because students' cursive penmanship is not stellar does not mean that they will not be able to take a stick and carve the word HELP! into a sandy beach!

    Sunday, September 20, 2009

    Book Review: I Carry It Everywhere

    Recently, I had the pleasure of needing to spend a little of my budget at a local book store. I found a bunch of YA lit titles right off the bat, and was feeling pretty satisfied with my finds. Then I noticed a small, square book tucked in a corner bookshelf. On the front was a picture of a girl holding a sign that read I Carry It Everywhere: 50 Teenagers on What Really Matters. Immediately, I skimmed through the book and that it was a collection of short narratives mixed with photos of teens either holding signs or standing next to chalk boards that offered a simple personal belief statement.

    I just finished reading this collection this morning. It was amazing. As it turns out, this collection is an effort from the Telling Room, an organization from Portland, Maine. The voices included in this collection include many immigrant voices and some homegrown ones. Some of the stories will break your heart and others will inspire you. The text is well-written and the images are spread throughout the collection.

    I am excited by the format of this text and hope to use the ideas contained in this collection to form some creative writing assignments. There is nothing more powerful, I think, for students who're unsure of their voice than to see that other teens just like them are in print. It is also important for teens to read the words of peers from the same area of the country, I think. I know that some of my teenage students feel invisible living in rural Maine. Maybe if they have more opportunities to see peers who've spoken and written about their lives, they'll be more confident in doing so themselves.

    This is a great, fast read and will inspire many great creative writing assignments. You can order a copy of this book (or other collections by the same organization) through Longfellow Books.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Contrary to (Seemingly) Popular Belief

    Everywhere I go, I hear that students today are less literate than students of previous decades. I read that students are not writing letters, not buying books, making more spelling mistakes, are unable to pass standardized tests, and are just plain not as functionally literate as their forefathers.

    And then I read articles like this. New evidence suggests what most classroom teachers who use technology with their students know. Kids are writing more than ever and are getting better and better at targeting specific audiences in their writing. Yes, this evidence takes into account the number of blog posts, tweets, and facebook updates students type, but isn't that writing? And, isn't it pretty amazing to think that those short blurbs can illicit any number of responses from a sometimes huge audience? Powerful stuff when you think about it.

    I know that I spent most of my teen years glued to a telephone. Landline, not cell phone. I talked and talked until my father literally literally unplugged my phone from the jack and locked it in his file cabinet. But, after my phone was gone I did not start writing.

    For one, the internet was basically nonexistent until after I graduated from high school. Cell phones were not common until I was in my early twenties. Texting was not common until a few years ago. Blogging was not common and not as connected as it is now. There were just not as many opportunities for me to express myself with the written (or typed, more like) word as there are for today's teens.

    So, as a teacher, my response to those who complain about the spelling, grammar, and literacy of today's teens has to be something along the lines of "whaaa?". Spend any amount of time with an actual teenager and you'll see writing happening all day long.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Should Students Choose Reading Selections?

    A recent New York Times article gushes about the success of several teachers who've allowed students to have more (and in some cases total) choice over the reading selections for the year. Teachers who were interviewed for this article talked about increased student interest and interaction with their self-selected texts. Author Nancie Atwell's classroom is a focal point of the last part of the article. Her room is described as overflowing with books and readers. Some critics weigh in with fears that no one will read the great classics if they're no longer assigned in class.

    Basically, I feel like this article goes back to two perennial English teacher issues: How much, if any, of the canon needs to be taught and what happens when we shift control and choice from the whole sage-on-the-stage to guide-on-the-side?

    I know that I struggle with the first question. I feel like I have enjoyed many of the classics I've read and I've had some good experiences in teaching them to students. More and more, though, I've had better experiences and more amazing discussion with groups of students around well-written, high interest young adult titles. I've worked really, really hard to keep up with current YA titles so that I am able to match students with books that will interest them. I've tried to remember back to my early reading experiences and what it was that catapulted me into the realm of book addict. I tried to remember any of the titles I read in middle or high school and have found that I only remember two that I read as part of a whole-class unit: Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth. No wonder I am a bit obsessed with teaching Shakespeare!

    What I do remember about my high school reading is that I read books recommended to me by my peers. We passed books back and forth almost as if we were sharing secrets. I read lots of Jack Kerouac, I read Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and weird selections like The Taking of Patty Hearst. I did not read any of the canon besides those two Shakespeare plays, but I've managed to read a lot of it in the past ten years or so. I began to read the classics in college and for fun on school vacations. I enjoy them now, but I don't know that they would've made me the reader that I am today if I had been forced to read them in high school before I was ready.

    As for the sage versus guide issue, I do feel that it's important to allow students to engage in their own selections and to make choices based on their interests. I know that boys and girls have different interests and the same titles may not appeal to both. I am also amazed sometimes by the books they actually choose to read. Some are much more heady than I would assign in class. Others choose light fare, but I sometimes do too!

    This was an interesting article to read. I feel like it gives some credence to the choices I've made this year in terms of the amount of time I've dedicated to SSR and reading circles. It also justifies the amount of personal funds I've spent on creating a little classroom library for my students. Keeping kids in books is not cheap, but I can't resist those new YA titles when they come out. I guess that's the book addict in me!

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    Interesting Story

    As I was driving to work yesterday morning, I heard a story from NPR that made me think about the politics of students' behavior. I've been thinking about this story ever since, and it's making tons on sense. I've been thinking a lot lately about transforming the culture of my classroom. I feel like I have always tried to maintain a classroom climate that is positive and respectful, but I'm hoping for more this year.

    Here's what I want:

    -I want a classroom full of students who read ALL the time. I want my classroom to be a place where students are talking about books, poetry, magazine articles, comics, etc. ALL of the time.

    -I want my classroom to be a place where students can talk about their perceptions and feelings about their world. I want to talk about reality.

    -I want to make poetry a focal point of my lesson planning and teaching.

    -I want us to be surrounded by words and to never take lightly the power that a single word can carry.

    -I want us to write, write, write until our fingers are inflamed!

    Maybe some of this won't happen. Maybe some students won't want to write, write, write and will still talk about their weekend plans when I trying to bring the class to order. Maybe some students will groan when I announce that it's Poetry Friday. At the very least, I'm going to keep these "wants" of mine upfront and center when I'm thinking about my students and my teaching. I'll let you know how this all shakes out!

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    Holding On to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For by Thomas Newkirk

    I have to admit that it took me longer to read this book than I had anticipated. I don't know whether it was the fact that summer finally decided to appear in late July or the slow start to this text, but I did not plow through it with the same gusto as other selections that I finished long ago. Now that I've read the entire book, I can say that there are enough nuggets of wisdom and common sense to make this book a worthwhile read.

    What I liked most about this book were the end sections. This is where the author, Thomas Newkirk, talks about the promised "Six Literacy Principles" from the subtitle. These principles are explained in great depth through a combination of personal stories from Newkirk's high school and college teaching experience and a good deal of evidence from research. The six principles are:

    -Balance the basics
    -Expressive Writing
    -Popular culture as a literacy tool
    -Literacy and pleasure
    -Uncluttering the curriculum
    -Finding a language for difficulty

    All of these areas are explained in great depth. I found the chapters on popular culture and pleasure the most interesting and full of great points. The one issue that I have with this text is that it seems to end abruptly, without much of a conclusion that ties the whole together. Newkirk ends with a section on free reading, which could have been either developed more fully or a seventh principle, in my opinion. I was looking forward to this section the most, but it was only a few pages. In some ways, this felt a little rushed to me and I couldn't help but wonder why it did not go on longer or have any sort of conclusion.

    I would not say that reading this text was time or money wasted. I would definitely read another title by the same author and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

    Monday, September 7, 2009

    The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide

    Though I bought this last year sometime, I never really had the chance to look at it until this year. I had a bit of an emergency at the beginning of this school year where the study skills classes I teach are concerned. I've taught study skills for five years now, every other day, no problem. Until now.

    Not that what I have going on with the new version of study skills is exactly a problem. It's more like a challenge. For the first time, I've started teaching study skills every day for forty minutes twice in a period. So, the students I have for the first part of the period leave half way through and go to a math class and then I get kids who've just had math for forty minutes. All in all, I see about thirty students for first period every day.

    This is where The Freedom Writers Diary Teacher's Guide by Erin Gruwell has come in handy. I needed to revamp this course anyway, because it was becoming a bit boring, for me and for students. I needed some creative, thoughtful activities that could be easily completed in forty minutes and that would still have the same reflective, goal-oriented qualities as the ones I've always taught. Also, since we do not yet have any laptops in our classroom because they're all being imaged, I need to have activities that do not require technology.

    I like that each of the activities in this text comes with a good description of how it should be carried out, thoughtful quotations from students and teachers who've completed the activity, and blank reproducibles for easy photocopying or to use as examples for students. I'm not much of a photocopy-reproducible-type of teacher, but I am feeling some anxiety about the new set-up of this course and it's been comforting for me to have some back up, should I need it. Also, I have been excited by the products that kids have come up with. They're more than jsut busy work; students have poured a lot of thought and energy into their creation.

    Thanks to this resource, we're off to a good start in what could've been a pretty crazy situation.

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009

    The First Days of School by Harry & Rosemary Wong

    I was super excited to read this book after I saw Dr. Harry Wong present at this year's Model Schools Conference in Atlanta. Dr. Wong was so passionate, so like a rock star that I found myself running, not walking, to buy this book when it was over.

    It's not that I'm disappointed in the book, but it does seem a little more appropriate for a beginning or novice teacher. I found myself thinking that this book would be perfect as a present for a student teacher or as a text to use when mentoring a new hire. Certainly, I found some good ideas within this text, like how to structure the first day of school to ease student stress and to set up routines.

    All in all, I would totally recommend seeing Dr. Wong at a conference, but this text can be skipped if you feel like classroom management and your room set-up are not an issue for you. If you feel like having a refresher on either of these topics, then this might be a good read.

    Sunday, August 30, 2009

    Multiple Profiles on Facebook

    An interesting post on the Teach Paperless blog made me think about the way that teens create and recreate their identities when they use social networking sites like facebook. On Teach Paperless, there's a discussion going about teens and college students who establish more than one account so that they can create a public persona while also keeping other aspects of their lives private.

    I feel like this is a huge step forward for teens and college students. The notion that you can keep the antics and enjoyments of your private life mixed with information about your career or education is a short-sighted one. I know that I am super careful about what I say and write on my facebook because I have such a wide variety of contacts as "friends". If I write an inside joke or allude to something that seems unsavory, who knows how it could be construed?

    This is something I am definitely going to keep in mind for this fall. Once my students get their laptops (yay for 1:1), I am going to ask them to create new student accounts on facebook. This way, we can use some of the amazing features of facebook without the hassle of trying to keep our personal and private lives separate. That said, I still want to have some discussions with students about keeping all of their online writing and photos appropriate for potential employers and colleagues. We still have a long, long way to go before teens, college students, and even some adults understand that pictures of serious partying are not okay, ever.

    Wednesday, August 26, 2009

    Bloggers are Writers for Real

    If there is anything that I learned from seeing the movie Julie and Julia, it is not how to make the perfect hollandaise sauce, but that blogging is powerful and that bloggers are authors.

    Early on in the film, Julie is struggling with the fact that she never finished her novel and that she is not the writer she planned on becoming. She laments over and over that she never became a "real" author, until her ever-patient-in-the-face-of-whining husband suggests that she start a blog. Of course, this story starts in 2002, which is long before the term "blog" was recognized as an actual word. The notion that bloggers are writers was a new idea for Julie then, and it probably is for many, many Americans still.

    Since I started blogging with and for students, I have heard several remarks that basically boil down to this: students are not learning to write for real any more and they are just playing online when you assign blogging projects. I would like to point out that I think students are writing more now than I ever did when I was in high school. I never went home and chatted with friends using a computer. I never corresponded with the public (or the entire globe) through any of the writings I completed in high school. When I turned in a piece of writing, the teacher was probably going to be the only person to ever see it. End of story.

    Now, students have the ability and the want to communicate their ideas and findings with the outside world on a regular basis. Most are engaging in social networking daily. They have instant feedback and regular feedback on their thoughts and ideas when they update their status on facebook; shouldn't we give them the same opportunity for regular interaction and feedback from a global audience in our classrooms?

    As for Julie of Julie and Julia, I think that we all know how that turned out. Blogging led to public interest, which led to interviews and a book deal. Now there's a movie and Julie is probably feeling very comfortable with the idea that she, a blogger extraordinaire, is actually a writer. For real.

    * * *

    Further evidence of a writing revolution can be found in this article from Wired magazine.

    Sunday, August 23, 2009

    Facebook as a Tool for Learning

    When I first started using facebook, I was very literal about the word "friends" and had little understanding why all of these people who I barely knew would consider "adding" me as a "friend". Over time, and through some conversations with students, I started to understand that "friends" on facebook can be mere acquaintances and that the more "friends" you have, the more social connections you have.

    At first, I did not accept students as "friends". I told students who had requested me that we could become "friends" once they graduated from high school. After a while, though, I started to see the benefits in adding my students to my circle of friends. Some students moved away and I lost touch with them, others dropped out and I had no way of contacting them. Once I started to accept friend requests from students, I was able to engage in meaningful, rich conversations through the messaging and chat features on facebook. I've had students who've clarified homework expectations using facebook as a mode of communication and I've had students who've conversed about characters and plot lines that I've not assigned for reading. In short, I had actual conversations about books with students that were not required or graded and that happened in students' free time. Isn't this something that should be encouraged?

    This year, I'm going to find ways to utilize facebook in my teaching. I am not completely sure how I am going to do this and I am definitely accepting suggestions. I am finding this technology more and more exciting and less intimidating than before I started to use it on a regular basis. I feel like students will be more engaged in their learning if I use a mode of communication that is comfortable, accessible, and is something they already use on a daily basis.

    Here are some of the facebook applications that I plan to use:

    Notes: Notes could be very, very cool for classroom use. I love that students can tag one another and get responses to questions. I love that I could create discussion questions and tag students who can then answers questions and add to the discussion by tagging others.

    Visual Bookshelf: I am excited by the possibility of students sharing their independent, or free reads with one another through their virtual bookshelves. I have a circle of friends who read and share reviews of books through this application. This could put a whole new, cool spin on the traditional "book talk" routine.

    Photos: It can be challenging for students to share photos in class. I anticipate using photography more and more in my teaching, and I hope to utilize this facebook feature more in the future. I also love that we can tag photos for sharing. This way, discussions and group work could become much more efficient.

    Here's a link to another list of ideas for integrating facebook applications into the school setting.

    Thursday, August 20, 2009

    Because I so thoroughly enjoyed Kelly Gallagher's Readicide, I decided to try out another of his titles. I found Reading Reasons: Motivational Mini-Lessons for Middle and High School available online for a great price and with good reviews, so I ordered it.

    After having read Readicide so recently, I recognized some of the same arguments and ideas in Reading Reasons. I did not find this repetition annoying; rather, I felt like going back and rereading Readicide.

    The main difference between Readicide and Reading Reasons is the inclusion of many practical strategies and lesson ideas in the latter. Where Readicide seeks to rally, Reading Reasons is more a collection of time-tested ideas and lessons that have inspired students to become more involved in their reading. I definitely found Reading Reasons to be a great resource and I look forward to implementing some of the suggestions I read about this fall.

    After having read two titles by Gallagher, I am eagerly awaiting his next endeavor and will probably continue to read other titles he's penned in the past.

    Wednesday, July 8, 2009

    Interesting Article

    I am tired of fighting with students about their use of cell phones during school hours. I used to feel slighted or offended when a student would pull out his or her cell during class, but then I started to look at my own habits as a graduate student.

    Even during the most engaging discussions, I have my laptop open with my email and social networking sites up and running. I keep my cell phone next to me on vibrate. I have conducted several conversations via email or on a sort of IM platform with students and parents, all while listening and adding to the work going on around me. And, I am not alone when I do this. Does this make me a bad or disrespectful student? Does the quality of my work suffer? I feel like I am more focused because I am not wondering what's happening in all of the other arenas of my life. I am able to finish conversations and work that are abandoned when I leave school and head to the university. I feel like I am more content and focused because I am able to take care of my needs and participate in class.

    I'm beginning to feel like we need to see cell phones as the tools that they are and use students' interest and adeptness with them to further engage them in our lessons. I am looking for ways add them into my teaching.

    The article "Cell Phones Used to Deliver Course Content" provides some ideas about what's being done with cell phones at the college level.

    Sunday, June 21, 2009

    Articles that support using technology in the classroom:

    Tweeting Your Way to Better Grades by Zach Miners

    Job Seekers Find New Rules Of Recruitment by Yuki Noguchi

    Monday, June 15, 2009

    Book Review: Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy

    I've kept a personal blog for about ten years now. I keep this blog as a sort of journal and a way to keep in touch with friends and family with whom I would otherwise not have as much contact. I've found this space to be a creative outlet and a great tool for communication and creative writing.

    About a year and a half ago, I decided to create a blog for my students. I figured that I could reach out to parents with this blog and have a sort of reflective space where I could write what we accomplished in class for those who were absent and for my future planning. What I found is that students at first hated going to the blog because they wanted me to retell them what happened in class. As I got more and more into the routine of keeping a blog and using it as a tool to lead instruction, students used it more and more as well. Now, I don't even have to tell my absent students where to go to find out what they missed. In fact, if I forget or do not have time to post, I am chastised by my students. Also, several parents tune in on a regular basis to see what their kids are doing in class.

    I've been using this tool without much of a firm philosophy about why I needed to do it. So, when I found Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy: The Next Powerful Step in 21st-Century Learning, I couldn't wait to read it.

    I truly enjoyed reading this text because it has definitely helped me to firm-up my philosophical reasonings for blogging for (and now with) my students. I have truthfully seen a shift in student interest and attention whenever I mention that we're going to complete an assignment using their blogs. I've also heard from other faculty that my students talk with their peers about blogging in my class. I feel like this buzz creates a sort of pride and excitement for students who might otherwise be turned off from the traditional worksheet and notes approach to teaching.

    Not that this is going to be the sure-all in motivating disinterested students! I know that there will be and are students who would rather write than type, who are uncomfortable using technology, and who cannot handle the freedom that using a blog allows. I've dealt with this in several situations, but I still feel like the benefits outweigh the minuses.

    The book definitely addresses the fact that there are some dangers in using blogs with students. The author, Diane Penrod, talks about cyberbullying as well as online predators. In addition to providing warnings, though, the author cites a lot of research about how technology and gender and ethnicity play into the blogging interests and ability of students. She also addresses at-risk students in great detail.

    In sum, I truly feel like blogs are going to be an essential part of a lot of students' lives. And, even if blogs disappear tomorrow and are replaced by another format or forum for online journaling and conversation, the skills and literacies gained in practicing with a classroom blog cannot be ignored. I feel like using the blogs has allowed my students a bite of reality and a vision for the types of writing they might actually want to do after high school. Internet communication and collaboration is not a fad; we need to update our practices to expose students to real avenues for personal expression.

    Great read!

    Saturday, June 13, 2009

    Book Review: Reading Reminders

    I cannot say that I completely read all of Jim Burke's Reading Reminders: Tools, Tips, and Techniques because that would be a lie. I have, though, had it checked out from the library for a coupla months and have been flipping through it here and there. It is now due to go back to the library, so I'm going to record my thoughts about it before I forget what I did manage to read.

    The fact that I did not read this text in its entirety is not a reflection on the book but on my crazy/ busy schedule and the amount of other texts I've been reading. I would like to attempt this book again, but I actually don't know that it requires a thorough reading. The book is set up into very short, straightforward tips and explanations about a variety of strategies and techniques.

    Because of its skimable (not a word, but I like it) set up, I was able to find some really cool, student-centered, artistic ideas that I will definitely use next year. In particular, there are some promising graphic organizers that I plan to use in several of the classes I teach. I try not to use too many graphic organizers, because I feel like kids tend to get bombarded with them and they're not always that effective. The ones I found in this text seemed to truly organize thought and encourage deep thought. I liked that Burke included tons of students samples in this book. I look for student samples because I think that real samples often show me more about how I could use a potential strategy than do the instructions offered by the author.

    Though this text is getting somewhat dated (published in 2000), most of the ideas are fresh and relevant. Those that seem dated could easily be updated by adding-in new technologies. Really, this text seems user-friendly and timeless in its quality and understanding of the process of teaching and learning. Also, the ideas in this text could translate easily to content areas other than English. I look forward to finding more texts by this author.

    Thursday, June 11, 2009

    Book Review: Readicide

    Kelly Gallagher's new book Readicide: How Schools are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about It is engaging, real-world, honest, and important. It's definitely written for secondary English teachers by a secondary English teacher, but I think that there are ideas and lessons that all secondary teachers can take away from this book.

    I love this book because Gallagher is all about what's really happening in our schools where reading is concerned. He pulls together a huge array of resources, studies, quotations, and voices to comment on where our nation is headed in terms of "killing" any joy, interest, or ability students have in gained where reading is concerned. I am impressed at his candor about the problems he's witness and experienced in his own district and classroom, as well as his intriguing, interesting ideas for creating and maintaining a "flood" of reading in the secondary classroom. The student work he includes show real thought and excitement and --best of all-- it's authentic in a way that I've not seen in other professional texts.

    Simply put, I am excited about some of the strategies I'm going to try out in my classroom and I was pleased to read positive comments about the strategies I already use in my teaching. I feel like I now have a renewed understanding and excitement about SSR and why I spend so much money on high-interest free reading selections for my students.

    I would recommend this title to any teacher who is concerned about the state of reading, writing, and thinking among the US population (not just teens!) because Gallagher has some real suggestions on how we can improve the reading lives of those we teach.

    Monday, May 11, 2009

    Book Review: The Reading/ Writing Connection

    The Reading/ Writing Connection: Strategies for Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom by Carol Booth Olsen is a pretty amazing resource. I have to admit that I did not have time to read this text in its entirety before I needed to return it to the library, but what I did read was in-depth and well explained. In each chapter, the author addresses issues like "Creating a Community of Learners," "Strategies for Interacting with a Text," and "Teaching Literature". These are huge topics, but the author breaks down each topic by including research-backed ideas and reasonings, strategies to approach teaching and learning, specific lesson ideas, teachable materials (like short stories), sample worksheets, student work, and she addresses common problems she's encountered while teaching the material. Amazing!

    Like I said, I did not get a chance to read the entire text. I did, however, get to look at a few of the chapters in more depth, so I know that this is a complete resource that I'll want to use in the future. I will definitely borrow this from the library again in the future. My one criticism of this text is that it did not include much information or ideas about incorporating technology into the "reading/ writing connection," which I expected in this revised 2007 edition.

    Book Review: Literacy Matters

    In the text, Literacy Matters: Strategies Every Teacher Can Use by Robin Fogarty is a very, very general and quick resource for those seeking strategies. Given the other amazing texts I've recently read, I was not particularly impressed with this one. I found it to be lacking depth, research, and resources. It is not one that I would recommend to other secondary teachers interested in literacy strategies because it is a little too "fast food" for my taste. This review is in response to the second edition of this text.
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