Those who “get it” vs. those who don’t

(This is a map that I began to create for my own story example, showing the paths of the narrative.)

We started working on our Make Your Own Adventure Stories yesterday, using a wikispaces site. The students used a short story they started writing the other day and then began to plan out “story branches” that will become hyperlinked pages on the wiki.

Here is what I noticed: some kids “got it,” some just didn’t.

What I mean by that is that this idea of creating alternative paths for a story really taps into critical thinking skills. You have to envision possibilities and move beyond the linear telling of a story (lord knows how the authors of full-length Make Your Own Ending novels do it). Given our limited amount of time left in the year, I told my sixth graders they only had to create one branch, but that the ambitious of them should try multiple branches.

That concept clicked with some of them and they were off to the races with their ideas. The others, though, seemed very befuddled. They understood the concept of Make Your Own Adventure, but they could not envision it for their own stories. The had difficulty imagining any moment when the reader might be asked, should it go THIS way or THAT way. These are the same kids whose critical thinking skills have not yet developed on pace with peers, something we notice with them in other areas, but never so dramatically, I think. This project really delineated a critical thinking dividing line for me as the teacher.

In some ways, the fault is mine.

This project requires more time than I can give it, and more modeling (which Tony asked about in my other post), and more experimental time. I did show them my story map (see above) that I made in Google Docs (with the flow chart template) for my own story sample and pointed out the ways the story that I wrote unfolded. Still, I was hoping that by this point in the year, they would all be ready for this kind of story adventure. I guess not.

I can’t wait, though, to see what they complete on Friday, which is our last writing day of the school year and my last day with my young writers (I head off to a New Literacies Institute next week).

Peace (in the branches),

Creating Alternative Story Branches

Time, I realize, is running out but I am determined to do one last interesting writing activity with my sixth graders. Although I was off from school yesterday on some family errands, I had them writing a short story inspired by The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg.

Today, I am going to show them how to create “branches” for their stories — alternative narrative paths — and use our class wiki to create Make Your Own Adventure style stories in which the reader chooses which branch to take and follows the story. I don’t imagine the stories will get too complex, given the time frame, but I do want to show them some of the possibilities of using hyperlinks to your advantage when writing in an online space.

I did a sample story this morning based on the image called “Oscar and Alphonse,” if you are interested, and if any of the stories really rise to the surface as superior, I’ll share those out, too.

Using the wiki seems right for this, although I had to set up a visitor account for my students to use. While I have it set that anyone can edit a page on the wiki (which I will lock down later), only visitors with a wikispaces account can create a new page, which is how you create the story branches. So, it got a little more complicate than I had expected.

But not insurmountable, and once again, my own experimenting with the writing activity paid off, as it allowed me to do some troubleshooting as if I were writing like one of my students.

Peace (in the branches),

The Roc: A Cool Music Loop Creator

Here’s another free tool in the Aviary suite of tools: Roc. It allows you to create short loops and I had blast working with it yesterday. I think the loops you create here can later be added into the Myna audio editor (note to self: check on that).

The interface is built on the idea of dragging tracks to the editing station, where you then click your mouse to add “beats” of that sound to the loop, so you can visually see the sounds you are layering (sort of like a musical cake, but not quite as filling).

Here is what I created:

Peace (in the roc),

A “Play”-ful Artifact of My Beliefs

As I get ready to head off as  a teacher-leader of the New Literacies Initiative next week in Cambridge, MA,that is sponsored by our state Department of Education and features some bigwigs in the field, we are being asked to bring an “artifact” that represents our views on learning and working with teachers.

I thought about how I might do that. Honestly, I wasn’t interested in bringing a digital piece of work. It seems disjointed to have an artifact as a file on my computer. Or am I caught in some conundrum of the digital world of wanting something that doesn’t exist in my hand? No, I want something physical. But what? What represents my views? (And what is easy to travel with?)

It dawned on me that I could bring a Wiki Stix dude, which symbolizes (for me) the use of “play” with students in the classroom and with teachers during professional development sessions that I lead. I always view the work and learning through the prism of having time to play and explore. With teachers, that time set aside in a session is invaluable. Often, we teachers are lectured to by PD folks and then told to implement, but we rarely are given time to just explore a tool or technique or whatever.

Just like kids, adults need time to play around, and through that sense of play, we can try to figure out the possibilities of a tool or idea for the classroom.  If I want my students to make movies, I should be making movies, too. If I want my students to create a collaborative document, then I should, too. Glogging? Podcasting? All of it — I do it, too, so that I can share my experiences with my young learners.

My Wiki Stix guy — OK, I need a name here — is a representation of that concept because if you put some of this bendable material (often, I have used clay) in someone’s hands, it is unlikely they will be able to resist the urge to “create” something and that is what learning is all about.

I’m interesting in seeing what the other folks bring and whether or not my off-kilter artifact will fit right in. Or not.

Peace (in the sharing),

Teaching Online Reading Habits

Here is an area that I am weak in as a teacher — how to successfully guide students to read accurately and appropriately on task and with clear reading intent when it comes to online documents that integrate multimedia, hyperlinks and more. I was thinking about this yesterday as I was reading through a research article co-written by Dr. Donald Leu, who is one of the main leaders of a New Literacies Institute that I am taking part in next week as a teacher-leader.

The article is entitled New Literacies and Online Reading Comprehension and it quite interesting. The authors note how quickly the world of literacy has changed, and how we don’t really know all that much about how young people are learning not just to navigate content online, but how to read and comprehend the information there. Like many of you, I talk to my students about authenticity of content — to be critical readers online — but I don’t often guide them through how to read a webpage or a multimedia document.

Why is that? Do I think they just know how to do it? (a rationale that too many of us teachers make when it comes to kids and technology) I don’t make the same assumptions when it comes to thinking about theme and character development and point of view when it comes to our novels? Why don’t I do the same for the world where they spend most of their time — the online space?

The authors of this study adapted a reading comprehension strategy called Reciprocal Teaching, which has steps that move from teacher-centered work towards independent student work, and it seems to center around making reading comprehension strategies visible through talk-outs and other activities. Their Internet Reciprocal Teaching method does the same, through guided reading and questions around online reading activities with a push towards student inquiry around what they are reading.

In the article, the authors point to the difficulty of assessment, but give out two resources. The formative assessment tool known as Formative Assessment of  Students’ Emerging Knowledge of Internet Strategies (FASEKIT). It is referenced here in this book, but I could not find an actual tool online (kind of odd, eh?). This has to do with students verbalizing the strategies they use when they go online to read or encounter text. A performance-based assessment can also be developed along the lines of multiple choice and short response answers, according to the authors, who cite the ORCA test as one model (which I am not familiar with, but may be in line with the concept of the Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark System?)

So, I look forward to chatting with Dr. Leu next week and maybe, even as a teacher-leader at the institute, I need to come up with my own action plan that puts some of these ideas into motion for next year.

Peace (in the mulling of ideas),

Woodcarving as Lessons of Life

This is the tenth year that our art teacher has been able to secure funds to bring a local woodcarver to our school to work with the entire sixth grade on a large project that is their “legacy” to our school. It is such a phenomenal concept — getting kids to learn about art while using their hands to create something majestic and beautiful.

But Elton Braithwaite, originally from Jamaica, turns it into something more. He teaches them about life — about hard work, and success, and disappointment, and about keeping a focus on the goal. He inspires our students beyond the woodcarving project, and he reaches kids who are often difficult to reach with that message.

Meanwhile, the carving is done in the cafeteria, so the entire school has a view of the work underway, inspiring the rest of the students and creating a positive spotlight on the sixth graders. It’s fantastic.

This short video documentary is part of a larger DVD project that I did over the course of the week for our art teacher so she can show our PTO what their generous donation and funding of Elton has done for the school and the students. The art they are making this year is part of a multi-year project around the Arts and the six panelled woodcarving will eventually hang over the school stage.

Peace (in the arts),


WMWP Colleague is Mass Teacher of the Year

(Wilma Ortiz, on the left, with friend, Karen)

Yesterday, I received the news that a colleague of mine in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been chosen as the 2010 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Wilma Ortiz, who works at a local middle school, certainly deserves the recognition. She is compassionate and passionate about kids, particularly around English Language Arts. She will be a fierce advocate for social justice, too, and for making sure that the issues of equity will be in the minds of all the audiences she addresses.

Of that, I am sure.

See the news article about Wilma and another article

Peace (in inspiration),