My roster of Edublog Award Nominations

It’s time for nominating some folks for the Edublog Awards of 2009. Here are some sites and folks that I consider worthwhile:

Best individual blog: Moving at the Speed of Creativity
Best Educational Use of Audio: Teachers Teaching Teachers
Best teacher blog:
Larry Ferlazzo
Best Classroom Blog: Watch out!
Best individual tweeter: Bud the Teacher
Best educational wiki: Teaching with Thinking and Technology
Best Resource Sharing Blog: Free Tech for Teachers
Best Group Blog: In Practice
Best Educational Use of Video: Longfellow Ten

That’s all I could think of.

Peace (in the nominations),

Kevin

More thoughts on Literacy for All Conference

This morning’s keynote speaker for the Literacy for All Conference was dynamic. Lester Laminak is a tour de force storytelling and he wasted no time in bringing us on a journey into the Wizard of Oz, playing all the parts, singing (repetition is key to learning, he reminded us) and dancing. While it was enjoyable (he was without notes), Lester slipped into teaching mode — reminding us that, like the journey to the unknown Oz, we must remember that our students must also be centered on a message of Home, the Mind, Courage and the Heart. And us, too. The teachers.
He asked us, provocatively, “What is your Oz?” and ventured to ask: “Is what you do in your classroom tempered by the heart that beats in your chest? Do you care?
It sounds schmaltzy on the screen, but it hit a nerve with us in the audience. At least, it did in the seat where I was sitting.
Lester then read through his own Declaration of A Dream for Schools and urged us as educators to become a more forceful voice in setting the agenda for school in our country and not let politicians and government officials set the agenda for the next ten years. “Use your literacy. Don’t just teach it. Use it,” he half-whispered, half-shouted from the stage.
At one point, Lester said teachers must also stop talking so much in the classroom and listen. “Let the babies speak,” is how he phrased it, and I held on to this phrase for much of the day, finally letting it form the opening of a poem.

Let the babies speak, Lester
says in that accent of his — eyes afire —
and voice clothed in such urgency that I sit
on the edge of my seat.

Today, I open my eyes
to their voices again and feel them
pushing in through the cracks of the window pane
like spring airm rustling after a closed-up winter —
fresh and strange and full of something wonderful.

The only other session that I attended (before hitting the road for the airport) was on Guided Writing, led by Lori Oczkus. She is a literacy coach and works with many schools around writing. I found her engaging and fun, if a bit too fast with her overhead sheets (yep, most presenters at this conference were still shuffling around folders of laminated sheets). Here are a few things I took from her session:

1. Use what she calles “cool tools” — which are just motivational concepts beyond writing on a piece of paper. She talked about using hand gestures to signal the kind of “start” a writer uses (such as the pantemime of a paint brush for using a description). Cool tools engages the interest of young writers, she said.
2. Use drama and acting during the writing process. Have students act out scenes as others read their stories. Give life to the words on the page. I like that and used to do it more than I do now. I don’t know why. Thanks Lori.
3.Integrate poetry throughout the entire year. Don’t wait for Spring! She showed how students use short poems to show knowledge of non-fiction text and how to move a piece of fiction in new directions with poetry. She put the emphasis on free-form poetry, and if you read my poems, you know she was talking my language.
4. Center specific lessons on how to start and end stories by looking at many sample texts.
5. Use what she calls a “Live Rubric.” This is a set of colored papers with words like Dialogue, Description, Action and other ideas that the audience holds up as a reader reads their work, giving visual clues to strengths and weaknesses of a piece. I love this idea.

All in all, the Literacy for All Conference was decent, not great. One of the organizers slipped me a note after we had been talking, asking if I might submit a proposal for next year. I guess we’ll see. I don’t have too many laminated files (ha).

Peace (in RI),
Kevin

Literacy for All Conference

I’m just back from a long day at the Literacy for All Conference here in Providence Rhode Island. The day has been somewhat mixed. The keynote addresses were fair, although I cut some slack for the first presenter — Linda Alston, author of the book Why We Teach — who got stuck in the Denver airport in a snow storm and was speaking on 24 hours of no sleep. Given that, her views on early literacy and the photographic tour of her classroom were magical. The afternoon speaker was Linda Gambrell, who used research in the field of literacy to really talk about the power of reading in the lives of our students.

I went to two break-out  sessions today.

The first was by Carl Anderson, who talked about establishing effective writing conferences for students. He showed us a few videos of him conferencing with students of a variety of ages, but I wish we had been engaged in some activity.

Here are my notes:

Predictable structure to conferences (not aimless conversation)
●                 Ask assessment questions
●                 Read student writing
●                 Make a decision on what to teach
●                 Give critical feedback
●                 Teach the mini-lesson
●                 Show sample of writing
●                 Have student talk through example
●                 Move towards independent writing


Ideas – advice

●                 Don’t be afraid of silent thinking by students before responding
●                 Take student responses and re-frame/re-state with writing discourse language
●                 Ultimately, the teacher can shift focus of conference
●                 Use your own writing experience in the questions that you ask
●                 Trust yourself with your questions and direction you take the conference
●                 Not necessary to read the whole piece by the student  — pieces of it are fine
●                 Use cues from students to know where to focus on a piece

And then I attended a session by Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer, about moving away from Whole Class Novel Reading. She had a great personality that led to some interesting discussions. Many of us in the room were upper elementary/middle school teachers.

Here are my notes:

Why do we use the class novel?
●     Common text
●     Exposes students to variety of genres/cultural texts
●     Teacher can invest a lot in teaching of the one book

What are concerns about using Whole Class Novels:
●     Varied reading levels and interests of students
●     Novels take too long
●     Extension activities reduce reading time

How to streamline approach to Whole Class Novel:
●     Shorten time on novels
●     Strip units of many activities and vocabulary work
●     More read aloud books and shared reading
●     Provide more for independent time for reading
●     Alternate Whole Class Novels with independent reading units
●     Provide instructional support for reading of novels

How to re-position reading instruction around Independent Reading:
●     Design instruction around genre studies, literary elements or comprehension strategies, not specific books
●     Create guiding questions and common assessment to be used for any book
●     Use common texts like short stories, articles, first chapters, etc.

More sessions on tap tomorrow.

Peace (in Rhode Island),
Kevin

Spending some time in the National Gallery on Writing

This notice from NCTE got my attention:

The National Gallery of Writing, hosted by NCTE, now boasts 2,136 galleries and 19,395 submissions at this writing!

That’s a pretty cool number, so I decided to tour around a bit. There is some wonderful writing in those galleries, although navigation through the labyrinth isn’t so easy. How to set up browsing through the online gallery must have caused a mighty headache for the NCTE folks and they clearly did the best they could.

I came at it from my usual lens: are there digital compositions represented in the writing in these Galleries? I’m still not sure, since my search queries mostly turned up empty. I found one that I did (see below) and found a beautiful digital story that my friend Troy did about his family, but mostly, I found … nothing digital. There were plenty of pieces of writing that examined or focused on the world of digital media (I was intrigued by a short story written as Tweets, for example, and filed that away in my head).

Part of the problem was that the format for submission did not exactly lend itself to digital compositions. I set up a gallery for digital stories from my students around their Dream Scenes, but abandoned it when I realized that even though the videos were very small, the site would not allow me to upload them directly and embed right there. I would have to go through some hoops, and I didn’t have the time. How many others stopped at that hurdle, I wonder?

It seems to me that if NCTE is truly committed to the concept of multimedia composition (as evidence by the strong papers it has put out in the last year), it would have built a system into the framework of the National Day on Writing to allow for folks to easily share digital stories, podcasting, etc.

What do you think?

Peace (in the galleries),
Kevin

PS — here is the digital story that I submitted to a gallery around teachers with stories to tell. You can see in the gallery I could only fit part of the written narrative and the links to the video and the full story are not even hyperlinks.


Core Principles of National Writing Project

The National Writing Project (0f which I am part of) recently released its updated Vision Statement. It is thoughtful and a great way to think about both the organization (inclusive, open and giving leadership to teachers) and writing itself.

Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. The NWP envisions a future where every person is an accomplished writer, engaged learner, and active participant in a digital, interconnected world.

Here are the Core Principles of NWP:

The core principles at the foundation of NWP’s national program model are:

  • Teachers at every level—from kindergarten through college—are the agents of reform; universities and schools are ideal partners for investing in that reform through professional development.
  • Writing can and should be taught, not just assigned, at every grade level. Professional development programs should provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.
  • Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.
  • There is no single right approach to teaching writing; however, some practices prove to be more effective than others. A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.
  • Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation. Collectively, teacher-leaders are our greatest resource for educational reform.

You can read the entire Mission Statement here.

Peace (in the words),

Kevin

The Disposable World

Here is the second in my series of Boolean Squared comics about Freejunk (ie, Freecycle) and also about the dangers that are some of the older computers that we just toss into the landfills. (In fact, this series of comics was as much inspired by the Freecycle movement as pictures of landfills with piles and piles of old desktop computers).

Peace (in the waste),

Kevin

What Obama Will Say

Last night, we received one of those automatic phone calls from our community’s School Superintendent, informing us that she is asking principals to show President Obama’s speech tomorrow. At the school where I teach, we are planning the same thing and my principal sent home a letter on Friday, alerting families.

This whole thing is crazy but it makes sense: when we showed our sixth graders the presidential inauguration, we got an angry phone call from a parent who was passionately opposed to his son watching with the event in school.

I know politics is alive and well, but to complain when the president wants to talk to kids about staying in school, show respect to teachers and other kids, and also to study hard for a better life — that seems absurd to me. I would not have complained if my kids watched a Republican Rightwinger President talk about those things.

My aim is to grab the text of the speech, pop it into Wordle and have my students examine themes and phrases that Obama uses, so that we can talk about rhetoric. Talk about a learning experience, right?

On Friday, I showed this interview with my students and they were impressed by the student reporter and by the president’s responses.


Peace (in the message),
Kevin

Found: A note to a teacher

This comes from Found Magazine, which is worth your time.

And my response:

Dear student,
You’ve probably had a lot of teachers who have fed you lessons and learning with little reason behind it. I know I did when I was growing up and it made me crazy. I hope I don’t do the same with you as your teacher, although there are going to be times when it may seem as if I am making you do things that are isolated and out of context. I hope to keep those activities to a minimum. Sometimes, we need to lay the groundwork for better things to come.
I want you to care about what you are doing because caring people shape this world for the better. You may be young, but you have a voice, and I want to help you find that voice and use it as best as I can. You should care because your interest and curiosity now will set the stage for an intriguing life later on. You should care because all of us have something inside us that drives — all of us are poets, all of us are scientists, all of us are musicians — and you nurture that kernel of being by caring for the world and yourself.
I can’t help you answer this question alone, though.
You need to be on the journey, too, and let me help you with your explorations. Let me show you how caring looks and then maybe, hopefully, you’ll see how one person can impact another in a positive way.
Sincerely,
Your Teacher

Peace (in answering that question),
Kevin