Literature Projects on Glogster

Today, I am hopeful that all of my students will finish up their Three Cups of Tea literature projects on our Glogster site. (see my earlier reflections on the process). We’ve run into time issues (not enough of it) and some audio issues (difficult to upload podcasts and the other day, all of the audio files got jammed up at the Glogster site), but for the most part, almost everyone is on the verge of completing their Three Things about Three Cups of Tea project.

And I need to get this done because now, in science, they are going to be using Glogster to create posters for a bridge as part of their Engineering class and part of their Bridge Construction/Destruction project. My science teacher colleague has been tinkering with Glogster this weekend, gearing herself up for the plunge into technology.

Here is one of the student’s Three Cups of Tea Projects. My goal now is to figure out a way to publish all of the projects in an easy format — a website of some kind.

Peace (on the glog),

Boolean Squared: Urth Inside

As I was developing this Boolean Squared story about the boys pulling a prank on Mr. Teach with his GPS unit, I realized that it might be fun to have Urth (who is inside the GPS) encounter a grumpy TomTom. And I figured TomTom could talk like Bob Dole, in the third person.

Peace (in the device),

Me, Outside my Zone of Proximal Development

Bear with me on this one …

Yesterday was full of music for me, but I was challenged in ways that I have not been challenged for some time and it made me reflect a bit on those students of mine whom we do push and cajole to move onto unfamiliar ground and how uncomfortable the experience can be in the moment for them, but how empowering the effect can be later on as a learning experience.

I have been asked to play my saxophone for a jazz-infused service at our family church in two weeks. With a bunch of professional jazz musicians. On songs that I really don’t know. On a saxophone I have not really touched much in the past seven or eight months. I said yes, but then, as I listened to the other guys at practice yesterday, I gulped and wondered if I had done the right thing. I am way, way out of my league with these guys. These folks play in touring bands, run music programs at colleges, they pull chords and melodies from their heads, they are immediately in sync with each other.


I was a fish out of water yesterday as we ran through the six or so songs that we will be playing, with two more to be written by the piano player “for the occasion.” They all nodded at that, but all I could think was: I sure as heck hope he writes it out for me.

I could feel my brain working overtime just to find the right notes as we played, since all of the music was in C concert key and I was on my tenor sax, which a Bb instrument. I had to transpose on the spot and then keep in time, and then take solos from time to time, and I really did not know what I was doing.

I was at the upper reaches of my Zone of Proximal Development, for sure, and they were unknowingly moving me forward. The trick for me was to keep going, to remember what I was learning so that I would not make the same mistakes the second (or third) time around, and then, now that I am home, to practice what I learned. I want to be near the Zone where these guys are, if only for this upcoming performance. I want to find a place inside this musical bubble.

Later in the day, I was with other musical friends. Now, here, I was on bass and we were practicing for the first time for a benefit concert coming up next month (more on that another day). I am not a bass player in the slightest and my fingers plodded along on the fretboard as I searched for root notes. But, like the morning jazz session, I was determined to keep up and by the end, I think I pretty much had it grooving. This was a little less stressful setting — no professional musicians in the house — but still a learning experience.

So, how does this all help me as a teacher?

My discomfort reminds me of those students who often venture into a new subject or a weak area and feel themselves grasping at straws just to keep up. Instead of swimming, they feel themselves sinking. For me, the musicians I was with in both settings yesterday were patient with me (although in my own head, I heard the invisible negative comments and I had to shush myself towards quiet) and this support allowed me to make mistakes. But I had a responsibility, too. I could not give up. My students also have to be encouraged to keep pushing forward when they run into a wall. To not give up. They need to see small steps of success to know that larger accomplishments lay around the corner. And we, as teachers, have to be there to help them swim. We can’t let them sink.

Yes, I was uncomfortable yesterday, but today, I woke up thinking of the structure and melody of Thad Jones “A Child is Born” and the bass line to “Collide” by Howie Day, and that little run on the original song performed by a former student for the concert, and the backup singing to “Fireflies” by Owl City, and how I am going to solo on “When the Saints Go Marching In” and how, darn it, I need to make time in my days ahead to practice so that I can push myself forward.

That’s called learning, right?

Peace (in the zone),

When Professional Development is about us, the teachers

On Friday, our school district held a half-day professional development sessions around literacy. This PD continues the work of our Literacy Initiative (still in its first year) and I want to give props to our administration for listening to the feedback from teachers after our Literacy Conference in November in which many of us asked for grade level meetings for sharing out some of our own best practices around literacy. The idea really echoes the philosophy of my National Writing Project, where teachers are at the center of the learning.

I am part of our district’s Literacy Committee (our district is a pretty large geographic area with five elementary schools and then a combined middle/high school — although the ms/hs folks apparently have “opted”out of the Literacy Initiative — which surprised me because I didn’t know staff would have that option …) and so I helped plan the day, and I was asked to co-facilitate the sixth grade teachers’ session with my co-teacher. The district had teachers in grades K-2 in one building in one town and 3-6 in another town because of space issues.

Every group first discussed the Five Components of Reading and how these ideas come together in our teaching practice, no matter what level you are at:

  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

We then each had ample time as grade level teachers to share out a lesson plan, an activity, a strategy or maybe some student work. (I brought in ideas around developing rubrics and questions around reading comprehension, for example).

As sixth grade teachers, we focused most on vocabulary and comprehension skills, and it was great just to have space to talk, chat, ask questions and learn ideas from each other. One of the projects we have in mind is to develop a summer reading list for upcoming sixth graders and I am already envisioning using Etherpad among my colleagues for collaborative writing around this idea. If nothing else, the meeting on Friday sparked us all to want to collaborate more on ideas and become more of a community of teachers.

At the end of our grade level sharing, all of the teachers in 3-6 gathered together to share out our points from our discussions, and I was the facilitator of this large group gathering as well.

Here are some things that I saw as themes emerging from the teacher-based discussions:

  • Playfulness with words enriches vocabulary instruction for students;
  • Reading skills are important beyond the Language Arts class. We must pay attention to reading in the content areas;
  • Moving students to think “beyond the text” has been a struggle for many of us (note: I personally think that the use of Accelerated Reader in some of the middle grades of our building is partially to blame and told our principal that after the conference);
  • Students benefit from skill of learning common roots, suffixes and prefixes;
  • Repetition and Practice in comprehension-style questions are crucial — also, in use of vocabulary;
  • Reading aloud, mixed with silent reading, benefits fluency;
  • There needs to be even more family support for reading and literacy at home forĀ  many of our students;
  • The question of how to appropriately reach all learners across the spectrum came up here and there — how to use differentiated instruction;
  • and more …

I did notice that much of our whole group discussion focused around vocabulary instruction more than comprehension, and fluency seemed to get very little attention.

I wonder how our colleagues in the K-2 grades did at their session (Gail?). Our administration is supposed to compile all of the general discussions into one file and share with all of the teachers so that we can all see any trends around our literacy instruction and identify possible ideas for improving what we are doing in the classroom.

I hope the focus continues to be on what teachers need and already do around literacy, and not some top-down, cannedĀ  Literacy Program that dictates what should be taught, when and how. I am hoping that the use of our time on Friday for teacher-led discussions is a good sign of where we are heading right now.

Peace (in the discussions),

20 Puppet Shows up and running

I worked feverishly to move the video performances of our class puppets shows from my digital camcorder to a website this week, so that I could have the site up and running for students and their families this weekend (There are 20 puppet shows, with one still to go — it was delayed due to sickness of one student). I succeeded, but in order to do so, I had to abandon my plan to use my new classroom Mac to make the movies. I returned to familiar ground with my PC and Moviemaker.

Next time …

If you are wondering how I went about creating the puppet show online site:

  • First, of course, my students had to write and perform the plays. This began in early December with brainstorming, collaborative writing, puppet making, and then moved into January with performances;
  • I used my digital camcorder to record them, keeping the rest of the class quiet (which normally is difficult, to be honest, but for times when we are recording, they are wonderful). I keep considering the value of using my Flip Camera for this part of things, but I would have to download between classes, and that doesn’t seem feasible. Plus, I like the quality of video from the camcorder. The sound abilities of Flip are not quite there yet. Of course, sound is always an issue, and my digital camcorder does not have a jack for an external microphone, so kids need to be loud to be heard.
  • I moved the videos from the camcorder to my PC (I am still on XP, by the way), and then dumped the raw videos into MovieMaker, where I added a quick title.
  • In MM, I created a small video file movie (I use the 2.1 m output, which is good for web). This part of the process — creating 21 small movies, essentially — is the most tedious and the longest part of the entire process;
  • I uploaded the videos into my Vimeo account. I pay for an advanced Vimeo account because I want to do different things, including removing all returning links to Vimeo. I just want to the video for embedding and that is it. But there is a free Vimeo account you can get and I have been happy with the hosting of all of my videos there, so far;
  • I went into and set up a free blog site (actually, I returned to the site I used last year, and made a new theme for this year). One of the nice things about WordPress is that it integrates perfectly with Vimeo, so all you need to do is grab the video number from Vimeo and use a macro shortcut [vimeo xxxxxx] and the video embeds automatically. I also tinker with the settings of the WordPress site so that there are NO auto-generated links to other related sites. This means turning off the option for making my site available for search engines. Since we are talking a school site, I don’t want any unsavory links to other sites popping up. Now, with, there is a possibility of advertising, but none of the handful of sites that I have used have had any advertising on it. Probably, there is not enough traffic. But it is something to keep an eye out on. (I also have an adblocker, so if you see ads at my site, please be a friend and let me know)
  • I add the videos under “categories” so that I can group them by class (I teach four classes) and then archive the previous year’s puppet shows under its own category.

And, the Puppet Show site is ready for viewing!

Peace (in the puppets),

PS — Here is a funny one — Sit On Your Head Day:

Boolean Squared: Pulling Pranks on the Teacher

I was riding in a car with a friend the other day. She uses her TomTom GPS to tell her where to drive and I kept getting startled by the voice (I have never used one before). I thought it might be funny to have the kids pull a prank on Mr. Teach by installing the voice of Urth into Mr. Teach’s GPS unit and the best person to turn to for help? Why, Jenni Peg and her mighty brain, of course.

Peace (in the prank),

Nearing the End of Puppet Season

All four of my classes performed their puppets shows yesterday and they really shined. Even the groups of reluctant writers and reluctant performers were able to rise to the occasion and entertain a room full of young kids (our audience were students from preschool through second grade).

What I find amazing is how charged up my sixth graders get when something they have written strikes a chord with the audience. It really brings to the forefront the concept of an authentic situation — writing for a real purpose and not just for me, the teacher.

Today, they will reflect on the entire puppet experience — from the initial brainstorming, to cooperative writing, to making puppets, to performing. This is how we end our Puppet Unit — with reflective writing. (And then, we are back to the Glogs for our literature project).

But my work goes on, as I am now creating videos of each puppet show, uploading into my Vimeo and then need to revamp our Puppet Play WordPress blog for the new shows. This allows us to share the plays with the world, their families and also, themselves. They will be able to see their own plays in action for the first time.

Peace (on a stick),