Sunday, November 20, 2005

Adolescent Literacy

Kylene Beers

Kylene Beers was a very entertain and candid in her presentation. She asked us to think of something we are REALLY bad at, then imagine doing that for 8 hours a day. This is what many students experience most of their educational careers. If there is something we don't do well, we stop doing it. Often, the students' litany of excuses come from not having the necessary skills to do the work, not because they are lazy. Struggling students know they are struggling, they know they are different and isolated.

There were so many strategies and ideas Kylene gave. Here are some links to peruse:

All America Reads: About Kylene Beers and Reading Strategies
Heinemann Books: Author Profile
When Kids Can't Read What Teachers Can Do - book review

Linda Rief

When I was a first-year teacher, I taught in a very traditional school and had a very traditional mentor teacher. I was frustrated by the restrictive environment my students were in. I read Nancy Atwell’s seminal book, In the Middle, but was overwhelmed with her perfection and organization. I knew I couldn’t tackle that. Luckily I picked up Seeking Diversity and saw a clear vision of what I could do. With tears of gratitude and awe, I wrote Linda a letter expressing my great hopes and dreams. Within a month, she wrote in return a warm, supportive and encouraging letter; she even sent a CD and program of a musical her students had written. This was the mentor teacher that I wanted. I have read and reread that letter numerous times over the last 10 years, gaining hope and vision each time. At NCTE 2005, I finally was able to meet the woman that has truly inspired my teaching. Her presentation was awesome and she is as gracious in person and she was in text.

There are numerous resources from her, each one as good as the last:
Heinemann Books: Author Profile
Write in the Middle from Annenberg
In Conversation with Linda Rief

I would strong suggest a thorough reading of all her books. Her ideas and lessons are clear, to the point and easy to adapt to your situation.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Blogging: Class Blogs: Giving Students a Public Voice

Bernie Heidkamp

Bernie Heidkamp presented some interesting ideas about blogs and blogging. He believes that blogs are not ready to replace the four walled classroom, but they do reveal some limitations of the real classroom. Blogs are available after class is finished and allows students to interact with structure and thought time built in. An advantage of blogs is that people can post to the internet without having technical knowledge of programming, so it is quick, easy and current. The shy student may be more comfortable in a written format, but still has the opportunity to interact. Blogs allow for linking to other content on the intenet, which expands the conversation beyond the classroom even more. It is a public voice, so students have a larger audience and may influence students to see themselves more as readers and writers. Blogs are searchable by Google

However, blogs should not take the place of writing instruction and other forms of writing – it is an extension and different style. Compared to an oral conversation, blogs are stronger because students have the opportunity to think, provide more support for their arguments, and revise their ideas before posting.

According to the PEW Internet and American Life Project 57% of teenagers are online, 19% create their own blogs, and 38% read blog. Blogger are more likely to create other online material.

One of the most popular blogs is “Talking Points Memo” by Joshua Micah Marshall. It is a blog about the political scene in Washington, DC by an insider.

In Bernie's classroom, blogging is used as part of the participation grade.

Amy Majorawitz

Amy use blogs for several reasons. First, her school has a laptop program, so there is a strong push to use technology. She feels blogs help create a community between students and teachers. She gets to know her students better. Finally, she also believes blogging helps students find their voice.

In her experience, Amy found that students loved to blog. The traditional journal is written for the teacher so students usually said what was expected. She also found that students discussed ideas and issues that they might not otherwise express. The comments were supportive and helpful. She saw students using this space to work through their personal problems. She has two basic rules: 1) No names or personal information 2) No rants or belittling others. Based on her goals for the blog, Amy excepts informal, email-style language. Students receive participation points for thoughtful comments.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Middle Level Mosaic

For most of my teaching career, I’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants. In the Middle School Mosaic, I was finally able to meet the giants I’ve been standing on – Nancy Atwell, Tony Romano, Janet Allen, Jim Burke, Kylene Beers. It was like walking into a museum - each time I turned around, I saw another masterpiece.

Janet Allen

Janet Allen began the session with “Writing Between the Lines.” She focused on how to get kids to write. She recommended the book Freedom Writer's Diary: How a Teacher and 150 Teens Used Writing to Change Themselves and the World Around Them by The Freedom Writer's and Erin Cruwell. First, the teacher needs to met the kids at their level, not where they “should” be. There are some basic lessons that all student writers need to have:
1)Engagement and purpose
2)Getting started
3)Using word banks
4)Descriptive writing fluency
5)Understanding forms and functions of writing
6)Specific craft lessons
7)Grammar, usage and editing

She also stated that student choice only works when students know the forms, styles, and function of writing. If they don't have the background for these things, the teacher needs to do some explicit instruction, otherwise students will flounder. Students should show improvement with instruction, if they don't the teaching needs to change. When teaching revision, the questions she poses to students is, “What would you do if the teacher wasn't here? How would you apply this strategy?” This fosters independent use of strategies.

If you are not effective, it doesn't matter how efficient you are!

Tony Romano

Language has tremendous power, writing describes the world, argues for what we believe, frames our thinking, and changes how we think. Believing that you can fill the empty page takes faith and fearlessness. Part of our job as teachers of writing is to create the fearlessness. The choice of words determine how we think about things. All writing si creative – even forming an argument and describing a chemistry lab. The creativity is in the choice and arrangement of words. Language is the mother, not the handmaiden of thought.

In prompted writing, many students don't know what to write about or how to get their ideas. A writing teacher needs to open their own minds to the students to show the process. Interrupt students in the process of writing to have them examine their thinking, justify their choices, a critic their performance helps them be more cognizant of the process. A quick guide to writing to a prompt:
Focus – Start small – if the subject isn't given, you need to create that focus. Think about a character and his/her trait.
Organization – From the smallest part, a sentence, to paragraph and the entire piece, the writer needs to have a plan of organization. This should happen before the writing begins and will evolve through the writing.
Development – Strong examples and sensory details a necessary. When looking at the topic, visualize the ideas like a movie in your head.
Purpose – Everything is an argument, you have to prove a point. It could be persuasive, cause/effect, descriptive – but you are still trying to convince the reader of something.

Good readers tend to make these connections more easily. Reading feeds writing and writing feeds reading. It is a circle of cause and effect.

Nancy Atwell

Nancy has a new book coming out entitled “Naming the World” which is a great resource of over 200 poems and lesson ideas. I saw samples at the Heinemann booth and was very impressed! Her presentation focused on poetry and it was a pleasure to see this master teacher in action.
Poetry is important because it teaches 1) good writing 2) close reading 3) a structure to help students imagine what they will be as an adult. She begins every class with a poem. Kids have to have early success with writing in order to be motivated to stick with writing. Poetry is a good start as it is a short, easily managed length of text. It is not overwhelming. Poetry is especially good for boys because it: 1) helps them define and describe emotions 2) illustrate relationships 3) defines identity 4) preserves a moment in time for later reflection and remembrance 5) helps develop critical thinking.

Write Around

This was a neat activity that was a great way to reflect and summarize the Mosaic. It is a timed conversation, in writing that is passed to others for further comments. The timing begins short, about a minute, and as the reading becomes longer, the time increased. Each person has a sheet of paper. They write their initial and then spend about a minute reflecting on the topic given. At the end of the time, the sheet is passed to the next person. That person reads the writing before, writes their initial and then spend about a minute responding. This cycle continues with allotted time getting slightly longer. Three rules:
1) Always write your initial beside your writing
2) Use the entire time for writing.
3) Don't talk when passing.

I had the opportunity to express my overwhelming appreciation for the Mosaic and get to know two other wonderful people. In the future, I will always attend the Mosaic and would strongly encourage all others to attend this session. It was one of the true highlights of the conference for me.

Cyber English

Cyberenglish: Computers as Common Ground
Ted Nellen, Dawn Hogue and Patricia Schulze

Several years ago I stumbled on Ted Nellen’s website for his CyberEnglish class. I was fascinated by the idea of using technology seamlessly for all aspects of language arts. During this panel presentation, I was able to see two different CyberEnglish classrooms using technology for different purposes.

Mr. Nellen’s class begins with a 10 minute whole group meeting. During this time they discuss the agenda of work, review previous work for grammar and revision needs, and assign new projects. Generally students have at least three separate projects to be working on. The students need to manage their time effectively to complete these projects. The classroom has at least one computer per student, an interactive whiteboard, printers, scanners and a projector. Mr. Nellen believes that the extensive use of technology enhances his students’ quality of work and their engagement in the work. He presented several studies to support this. Web-based content and publication helps students think of text in new ways through the use of links and multi-media. In a CyberEnglish classroom there is shared authority between teacher and student, more freedom and creativity, and a de-centering of text. The style of research is changing in the world through the use of email, MUDs, and Moos. Researchers can instantly connect with experts and other classrooms.

Cyber English: The Practice

Ms. Hogue’s purpose of using technology with students is to create connections. She uses blogs as personal journals and expects students to write and respond to each other. She showed several examples of her students’ blogs and included the basics of how to set up a blog along with assignment criteria.
Cyber Engligh 9

Here is another Cyber English classroom
Cybercomp 10

A nice article by the three presentors, published by NCTE

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Frank McCourt

Years ago Angela’s Ashes hit the top of the book chart. Unfortunately, I was stubborn and decided that since everyone was reading it, I wasn’t going to be sucked into a publicity hype and read it. Then the movie came out and I didn’t take the time to see it. This week I found out how much I’ve been missing. Frank McCourt was the keynote speaker for the NCTE conference and I can’t remember ever seeing a more lively and engaging storyteller. He just recently published Teacher Man and used this opportunity to discuss the state of teaching in the U.S. and his own experiences in the classroom.

The beginning of his presentation, as he said, was his soap box time. He asked several questions and spend time giving his opinion. Who but the teacher knows best what goes on in the classroom? Teaching is high drama – hunger, horniness, break-ups, arguments, deaths – all these things come into the classroom with the children. To ignore that students have emotions that affect their performance is unrealistic. Teaching and learning is not a mechanical activity; it is a connection between teacher, student and content. The students assess the teacher immediately and are accurate judges of character. In addition, each class is different and each day is different. There isn’t a formula that will work with all classes all the time. Politicians and policy makers don’t understand the intricacies of this relationship and what it takes to get through the other issues to get to the learning.

This leads to the second question: When did we give over the business of education to the politicians? When did the politicians “hijack” the classrooms of our students? During elections, politicians go into classrooms, push the teacher aside and read to the children. This shows that they “know” what it takes to be a teacher and what goes on in a classroom. From this microscopic experience, the politicians take it upon themselves to allocate money, determine curriculum, and create policies of testing – reward and punishment. Why do we allow so much government interference in education when we can’t conceive of doing the same in medicine or law? We must certainly hate our children since we are testing them to death. This is sucking all the joy and creativity out of learning.

Finally, why aren’t teachers on talk shows? Why don’t they get the recognition they deserve? Mr. McCourt stated he was on the morning show on NBC with Katie Couric and asked this question. Politicians, actors, sports figures get recognition both for the good and bad that they do. Teachers have amazing stories – of inspiration, tragedy, and excellence. When the politicians are voted out, the actors are no longer making movies, and the sports figures retire, the teacher will still be in the classroom influencing the next generation. Teaching is not a glamorous profession. It isn’t “sexy”, but it is the most important job of all. The attrition rate for new teachers is tremendous. The issues of educational theory and content management are covered in teacher prep courses, but the real information – how to judge a kid’s mood, tuning in to the critical moments, and how to make a strong first impression – these things are learned through trial and error. There is an unrealistic image created by the media of the classroom experience. Just looking at any famous teacher movie – they have one class, have time to reflect and inspire, have lots of materials, and the kids are eager to learn. The Teach for American program gets people into the classroom as a charity program, but they don’t stay. They put in their time and move on to their real jobs – jobs that pay better and have better benefits.

On the opposite spectrum is the idea that teaching is easy and that it doesn’t take much to be a good teacher. People are insulting when they say, “Oh, you’re a teacher. You have so much time off, all the holidays and summer vacations. It must be an easy job.” Or even worse, the stickers that say, “Those who can – do. Those who can’t – teach. Teaching is a 24 hour a day job. It follows you wherever you go and you are thinking and planning constantly. The salaries are low compared to other profession and the respect is non-existent.

Mr. McCourt’s speech was interrupted several times by enthusiastic applause. Sadly, he was preaching to the choir. Everyone in the ballroom recognized the important work teachers do and the frustrations of working within an environment that does not value our professionalism. Hopefully, with the publication of Teacher Man and Mr. McCourt’s publicity tour, the stories of the teacher will become as important as the latest movie or the hottest sport star. When teachers are valued as much as actors and sports stars, when teachers are supported and respected, it will be the children and the future of the country that will benefit the most.

Susan Vreeland

Art and literature are what makes us human - shows our passions and despairs. Both forms slow down time to give us the chance to reflect on our experiences and, hopefully, learn from them and find beauty in them. Susan Vreeland combines both artistic forms in her books. At the Secondary Sectional Get-Together, she was the main speaker and a true storyteller.

To begin the session, each table was given an activity to complete. A stiff piece of paper was folded in thirds, to make a triptych. One section had an excerpt from one of Susan's books, one section had a piece of artwork which was related, and the three needed to have a poem. This was the topic for discussion at the table. There were 4-5 poems to choose from and after reading and discussing, we chose two of them. The poems were from different eras and poets and each gave a slightly different view of the situation. This was the purpose of the activity – to actively engage in the analysis of the art and literature.

Taking the podium, Susan's tan suit and black hat told me that this was going to be a unique experience. She alternated between prepared remarks, off-the-cuff comments, and interpretations of her writing. I was so fascinated, I forgot to take notes. In her experience, the way to students' attention is through their hearts. Poetry, literature and art speaks to this need to express and share our emotions. She shared a poem written about the day her hair fell out from chemotherapy. It wasn't about the cancer, it was a love story – the support and endurance of that love. There were few dry eyes in the room. Having read that poem to her own English class, she made an emotional connection to them. Later she read an excerpt from Girl in Hyacinth Blue that expressed the longing of a young girl (Vemeer's daughter) to paint, however, based on the time period, was not allowed to learn. Each vignette in the story spoke of the strong emotions we all have, yet often are reluctant, or unable to express.

I too, now feel a personal connection to Susan Vreeland. Her voice, the art and poetry swirled through my head as I boarded the T (electric train) to return to my hotel. Hopefully, this weekend I'll be able to pick up her books.

Life Studies
The Forest Lover
The Passion of Artemisia

NCTE in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh – Steel Town – and the host for the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention. Although language arts is my specialty as a teacher and I've always been a reader, I have not had the opportunity to attend this convention before. This year, being a bit closer to the States and having a more reasonable teaching schedule, I figured it was time check this convention out.

Unfortunately, I have not found Pittsburgh to be a convention friendly city. The hotels downtown, next to the convention center, are expensive. When your school is not paying for the trip, you tend to look for something more moderate. However, having a hotel outside of downtown means trying to figure out the public transportation. After living overseas for almost 10 years, it irritates me that I have difficulty using public transportation in my home country. The schedules were unreasonable – once an hour in the evening and not at all on Sundays. Taxis are available, for a long wait and more moola.

Being mid-November, Christmas is oozing out of every pore – what happened to waiting until December? A beautiful nativity stands outside the US Steel building, a massive tree will be lit in the center of an ice rink, and gingerbread cities are displayed in windows. A a sure commercial sign – Egg Nog Latte from Starbucks!

A cold snap blew through Pittsburgh. Not being prepared, I'm off to Kaufmann's for some fuzzy gloves and a hat.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Moving to the High School

This year I might have to change the heading of my blog. It states, “A middle school educator's reflections on teaching and learning.” However, this year I'm also teaching high school. So maybe the heading should state, “An adolescent educator's reflections on teaching and learning.” My middle school training has prepared me well for high school teaching. Although the content is at a different level, the constructivist view of a middle school teacher has a lot of value in the high school classroom.

Take for example - reading. At the beginning of the year, my students spent time reflecting on the reading process. Too often, at the high school level, students are asked to read more complex text, without being taught the skills and strategies to understand it. High school teachers cannot assume that students know how to actively read and comprehend. My students created comic strips to illustrate their reading process, then read a section from The Reader's Handbook from Great Source It suggests before, during and after reading strategies. Some students employed a few of the strategies before, but didn't consciously recognize reading as a process like they have been taught about writing. Now, when I give students a reading assignment, we talk about what strategies would be most appropriate for the type of text. I've also introduced double entry journals to the students. In the past, students were taught to “mark up” the text. Which, to begin with, is a good strategy. However, then they had to erase their marks to turn in the book, or, as it happens, I have a lot of novels with student writing in them. Much of this type of marking up consisted of simple comments like “Wow” of “Yuck.” Text was underlined or highlighted, but later, when the student returned to it, they didn't remember why. Double entry journals focus on the text, by requiring students to choose a portion of the text to quote on the left side, and explain the reason for selection on the right side. This teaches students to articulate their thoughts about the text more specifically.

Conversation is an important part of learning. I try to structure activities gives students opportunities to discuss what they are learning. One example of this is Literature Circles. Harvey Daniels pioneered the use of Literature Circles, in his book of the same name. Small groups of students read the same text. Each student receives a specific role, such as Discussion Director, Passage Picker, Word Wizard, Connector, and Summarizer. When the students get together to discuss the text, each student presents their role and encourages discussion from the rest of the group. In my experience, students end up discussing the same ideas that I would assign as questions, though since it is student generated, they feel more ownership for the work. In addition to Lit. Circles, I use a lot of graphic organizers to guide discussions in small groups or partners. Greece Central School District has some great examples of graphic organizers for reading, writing, and thinking. Many of these examples were developed by Jim Burke, who has other examples at his amazing website.

This year, I have been strengthening my writing instruction. The first practice I introduced to students was a daily 10 minutes writing exercise; most days are prompted and Friday is free choice. It is not a journal as I don't have students tell me about their day or unstructured free-writing. Most prompts lead the students into thinking about the topic for the day, or has them practice a style or type of writing. The goal is to develop fluency in writing, practice writing to a prompt and under timed circumstances, and focus students' attention each day. In the beginning, students complained about writing for 10 minutes straight. They didn't have the confidence in their own writing. After only two months of three times a week practice, the students don't even notice the time. I will be building self-reflection several times a quarter to help students identify their progress.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Touring Philadelphia

Philadelphia truly is the city of brotherly love. After NECC, my husband and I stuck around for another four days to enjoy the famous sites of our nation’s birth and being there during its birthday was even better!

NECC ended in the early afternoon, so we checked out the Independence Visitor Center to pick up information and timed tickets for Independence Hall. For dinner, we set out to find Johnny Rockets, a 50s inspired diner. It was well worth the long walk, as we had good food and nickels to spend on the table jukebox.

Our first stop again, was Independence Hall, to pick up our timed tickets. Since we had several hours before our tour began, we walked up to the US Mint and took a self-guided tour (no cameras or cell phones allowed, drop them off at Constitutional Center). In the Mint, we saw nickels and pennies being made along with displays of the history of making money and official medals in the US. We had lunch in Constitutional Center, which was fairly inexpensive and actually quite good. Then it was off to security to get into the Liberty Bell and Independence National Park. The Liberty Bell, although such a simple chunk of metal, is such a powerful symbol of freedom. Independence Hall was the place where the Declaration and Constitution was written, and these two documents changed the course of history. Standing in the room, 229 years later, where George Washington, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson thought, argued and wrote was poignant. Congress Hall stands next to Independence Hall and was the site of Washington and Adam’s inauguration and the signing of the Bill of Rights. After a nasty rainstorm, the sun returned and we went to see a Phillies game. Unfortunately, our streak was not broken and the home team lost.

The following day we put on our walking shoes and strolled the streets of Philadelphia to find some of the other historic buildings and places including Ben Franklin’s Court which has a 18th century printing shop. The museum is a bit rundown, but worth a quick look. Elfreth’s Alley is one of the nation’s oldest, continuously inhabited streets and has the look and feel of late 1700s. Nearby is City Tavern, a reconstructed tavern of the 1700s designed as Washington would have seen it. Up the road is Betsy Ross’s house. Being Fourth of July weekend, there were many activities available including a hilarious performance by “Joke and Dagger” a short sword fighting/comedian duo. Live 8 was in Philly, so we had to check that out too.

After a tour of Academy of Natural Sciences which had a great exhibit call “Dogs: Wolf, Myth, Hero, Friend.” Being fairly new dog owners, we had to check it out. A few meters away was the Franklin Institute a museum full of science activities. We played with electricity, walked through the heart, and learned about the science of fireworks. In the evening, we took the “Benjamin Franklin Parkway to see the parade, free concert and fireworks. This is really where Philadelphia shines! A half-million people lined the parkway, and overall, they were friendly, considerate and just there to have a good time. The concert, by Bryan Adams, Patti LaBelle, and Elton John was great and the fireworks were bright, loud and awesome. Our hotel, the TraveLodge, was conveniently located within walking distance. After a quick sleep, we sadly left the city of brotherly love, which had been so friendly to us.

If you can’t make it to Philadelphia yourself, try this virtual tour.

Thursday, June 30, 2005


Beyond PowerPoint Operations:Developing Students' Writing and Speaking Skills
Kathy Zawicki

Top 10 MistakesOrganization
Knowledge of the subject
Text – too much
Graphics – blurry, too many, unrelated
Animation – sounds and movement, inappropriate, districting
Speaking skills
Time Consuming
Lacking critical thinking

The ProcessCompose – gather information, organize information, draft, critical thinking
Visually Represent
Verbally Recompose

In many cases, PowerPoint presentations are made for the speaker, not for the listener. How can that model change? The information on the screen should engage the listener and the speech should compliment, not replicate the visual information.

Invisible Web

Invisible Web

Don Descy

Presentation available at -
Directories – are created by
people, categorized by hand, which means there are inconsistencies

Yahoo is one of the most famous directories

Open Directories – HotBot, Lycos,LookSmart

New Hartford, MN – Mankato site – false site

Search engines are different – quantity over quality, location on list may be paid. The list is
created by “spiders” that categorize pages by the words on them, which means they don't think about the content. More likely to index sites with more links to them, tends to focus on US and
commercial sites.

Google is the most popular search engine with Teoma coming in second.
Databases do not show up on regular searches because the the search of the database is dynamic – that is, the page doesn't exist until you put in the search terms.
Many also require logins or passwords to prevent the spiders from going in.
Sites to check

Librarians' Index to the Internet –

Compiled by librarians and very good.
About -
2,400,000 resources
Resource Discovery Network –
Database of databases
ProFusion –
The invisible web catalog, a quick search, sorted alphabetically or scored Have a savable search group. – a databases, mostly for medical

IncyWincy -
Mostly for kids, about 10,000 databases
Complete Planet -
Does research on the invisible web,
70,000 searchable databases

Infomine - scholarly internet resource collections
Academic Info – Educational Subject Directory

Direct Search –
Although is hasn't been updated lately, but is suppose to be good.

What to do

Search several sites

Used the advanded search feature

Search the term “invisible web” for IW search site
Add “database” to Google/Yahoo search
Search several IW sites

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


Abracadabra – The Magic of Technology Gadgets for Educators
Kathy Schrock - Links for all the gadgets

“Any significantly advance technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - A. C. Clark

“Buy it, try it . . . sell it on Ebay” - Kathy Schrock

Ms. Schrock led the audience down memory lane looking at the technologies she used during her higher education and early librarian days. We all had a good chuckle at the movie projectors, typewriters, audio-taped computers, punch cards, and 30 lb portable computers. She also showed many photos of forms of memory and universal readers. In split seconds, Schrock ran through the most current versions of data storage devises, from the most basic to the fashion accessories. Current external storage drives are able to store more, at a smaller physical size. The old way of purchasing music is ending, now file sharing and iTunes is taking over. Even the way we listen to and play music is changing as the speakers are becoming smaller and the players have more options. Our calendars have changed from paper-based TimeRunners to an integrated PDA/phone/music/computer devise. Presentation devises introduced a a pocket sized projector with a LED lightbulb from Mitsubishi. Next on the list was tablet PCs. Office devises are becoming more integrated with print, copy, fax etc all in one. Transporting technology illustrated some ways to uniquely carry technologies – coats, purses, and an iPod backpack (Pod in back with controls in the strap). With many side comments and fun pictures, this presentation was a great review of the coolest gadgets (though mostly unaffordable).

Educator's Guide to Blogs

Educator's Guide to Blogs in (and out) of the Classroom
Erica Brownstein and Robert Klein

Blogs have been around as long as the internet. However, education is a little behind in how to use them constructively. An example of a classroom blog included book talks, discussion of what to name the class pet, and update parents. Another example, of a high school physics class has more formal discussions of about 150 words. It was edited and a formal piece of writing, based on the assignment from the teacher. However, it allowed the students to participate when they wanted to. A third example was an 8th grade honors class that was based on the books they read.

Educational used of a blog. Students like Iming and emailing each other, why not harness that enthusiasm for class? At first, the teacher needs to figure out the goal – a reflection, construction of knowledge, response to work in class, review of knowledge (diary of work done in class), extension of knowledge (assignments outside of class), or rewriting of knowledge. An important point of blogs is that it gives voice to those students who tend not to talk in class. Communication, interaction, reflection, or learning.

The presenters used to set up a blog.

Presentation PDF is at

Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century

Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century David Warlick

Online handouts and lots of cool information is available at:

We are preparing our students for a future that they, and their children will be envisioning.

The workplace of the future will be different. The landline is obsolete – cellphones have taken over, and they are equipped with more than just the phone. They include GPS, video, audio tours, planners etc. We generate 5 exabytes of new information each year but only .01% is printed on paper. Therefore paper and books are obsolete. Video conferencing is becoming more popular. Large, face-to-face meetings will be unusual in the future. The desktop computer will be shrunk to a wearable computer, which includes the accessories. So, the workplace of the future is an unclear picture – what equipment will be there and what skills do students need?

We should stop integrating technology and we should start integrating literacy skills. In order to be literate, people need to be able to teach themselves. Not the old version of literacy – Reading, writing, and arithmetic. A new form of literacy includes evaluation and research skills. Students will be doing most of their reading online – do they know how to search for the origin of websites? Mr. Warlick showed how to backtrack on a webpage to find the author or organization of the webpage. A site about Dr. Martin Luther King was actually published by a white supremacist group. Without locating the origin, students will take the information at face value. Using Wikipedia would be a good place to help students look for information and then evaluate the information. Our current model of education assumes there is an authority with the correct information. However, that is no longer true. Anyone can put up a website.

What does it mean to be a reader in the 21st century? It isn't just reading the text, but also finding information, decoding text, images and multimedia, critically evaluate the information and organize the information. Currently people can share websites and bookmarks. People are also using arrogators that automatically find information based on a personalized list of topics.

Math skills will change too. In the past, most problems had a small amount of data. Now, the abundance of information gives dozens to hundreds of bits of information that need to be calculated, sorted, and interpreted. Math is telling a story with numbers. With the ability to digitize almost anything, sound is now numbers. There is more than just adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing to math. Can you answer questions with math?

The process of buying and selling has changed as people have gone digital. Downloading music, books, and movies from the internet. Not going to shops.

Writing will always be an important skills, however the genre of writing is changing. Blogging, wikis, emailing, and other forms of writing are emerging. Communication will become more multimedia and not just text. The successful information are those that get our attention. Therefore will need to be teaching students how to work with images and video. Mr. Warlick showed the example of a student produced video focusing on sweatshop conditions. The images, text, and music worked together to create a powerful message. Since the video went on the net, it has been seen in over 20 counties and the author has been contacted by several CEO of the companies she mentioned. An essay would have been read by one or two people.

“In conclusion, stop integrating technology, instead, redefine literacy, and integrate that.”

Five Regions of Technology

Five Regions of the Future: A New Paradigm for Understanding Technology – Joel Barker– find the latest examples of the five paradigms

John Nesbitt coined the term “hightech” which indicated that there was a low tech environment. However, in today's world, there is more then just two levels. We need to become more precise in our descriptions in order to truly understand technology. We live in a special time were there are more solutions than problems and technology is behind most of those solutions.

Five regions were settled on in 1984 and the purpose of the tech determines the placement of the tech in the region. This went from clusters of technology to technological ecosystems or technEcologies that give a view of what the world looks like in each ecosystem. This type of categorizing helps make sense of technologies, better descriptions, and an understanding of how they develop.

Supertech - overabundance, with enough time and money, science and tech can solve anything, given the choice, people would take leisure over work. Bigger is better! We can make it better than Mother Nature.

LimitsTech – Started as a criticism of SupeTech. Scarcity will happen soon so we should be careful of what we do. There are long term consequences to science and technology which need to be thought about before implementing new techs. Efficiency is beautiful. Education is a major goal, as it is the only resource that grows when used.

LocalTech – There is enough in the world for everyone. Humans are shepherds of Mother nature. Work helps us become more fully human. Local development is the best. Use what resources you have in a careful and planned way. Villages are the focus. Everything focuses on the short-range in location –food, resources and supplies.

NatureTech – Oldest in that thousands of years ago, cultures were tuned into the nature around them. However, it is also the newest, as science is helping to understand nature better. Humans are in a partnership with nature. Science role is to understand the solutions nature presents.

HumanTech – underneath the other four – it is located within us. The real needs of humans are not material. Science and technological is only just beginning to understand the nature of humans. To know ourselves is the greatest goal. Genetic manipulation is not needed. It is the base of all other regions and shows how little we know about ourselves.

To conclude, Mr. Barker indicated that as educators, we have a tremendously important job as we help other people understand these new technologies. As a superabundant nation,the US has a responsibility to be a leader in the discussion, as it produces many of the new technologies. Being a democracy, each person also has a responsibility to be involved in this discussion,because decisions will be may anyway, but do we want to live with the consequences?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Digital Images in the English Classroom

Enter Here – Digital Images in the English Classrooms
Sara Kajder

Students create a library of digital images to annotate their reading. It makes the reading more of their own, and shows meta-cognition.

During reading strategies –envisionments – the movie that goes on in the mind as a reader reads. It can start at static, single images and progress to digital storytelling.

Digital storytelling allows static images to become animated with video and added animation, and text. This teaching kids to use photos to tell a story. This can be a mode of teaching writing narrative. Elements of a digital story includes point of view, dramatic question, emotional content, voice,soundtrack, pacing, economy. To focus on the one topic, the students write the entire content on a 3x5 card, one side. Ms. Kajder uses Imovie from Apple.

Stages of a Developing a Digital Story
  1. Pre-writing – may give a prompt “What was in the pockets of your coats?” or “Map out your neighborhood?” or “Map your childhood bedroom”
  2. Artifact search – find things that will show the story. Two problems that showed up were either no artifacts of the family were available or parent not wanting to send in the artifact.
  3. Storyboard development – a picture of each screen and a script of the spoken narrative
  4. Script sharing circle – students share their script aloud with an adult available in each group. The discussion encourages revision. “If it were my story I would . . . “ This deflates the perception of attacking the person. There is the potential for some emotion discussion.
  5. Script revision
  6. Construction – 2 days, scanning, recording of script adding transitions. You MUST set some deadlines otherwise they will take much more time.
  7. Screening, viewing, and discussion – a big event of popcorn and other adults involved in the educational process

From creating the digital movies, Ms.Kajder's students had a discussion about the different types of reading voices – the recitation voice and the conversation voice. While reading assigned text, the students created an image timeline of when the recitation/conversation voice happens in their reading. The images are posted, the reading aloud is one audio track, and the other track is a voiced think-aloud. The images represent the emotions, ideas, and scenes from the reading.

Google Print – Google is trying to work with libraries to digitize primary sources and books to be available to all K-12 schools. This will allow multiple kids reading multiple stories and represent their learning in different ways. Blogs – picture blogs– Sara Kajder's website Tech Savvy English

Visual Literacy

I had seen Lynell Burmark about 4 years ago at an ECIS conference. At that time, it helped me better coach my students when using presentation software. Then her book "Visual Literacy" was a freebie for ASCD members. An easy read, it had some good ideas, though some of the lesson plans seem silly. I attended this session to see what new work she has done. Unfortunately, there wasn't much new.
Summary of "Visual Literacy" -Presented by Lynell Burmark

What do colors mean for us? Culturally we are taught to associate certain colors with certain things or events. For students now days, black and white means old. Sepia for older people is nostalgic, but just old for students. Yellow and red are the most attention getting colors. Yellow on blue is a good presentation color. Green is considered creative and healthy. The media knows this and uses it to create mood and tone. “My Many Color Days” by Dr. Suess – a book and video that projects the moods of the colors and sets them to music.
There is an estimated 30,000 PowerPoint presentations given each day. Most are text based – which should be given as a handout. The power of multi-media presentations are in the visual. There is some research that supports the idea that text based presentations can actually reduce retention. Limit the animation, especially the moving text. Blue is better for backgrounds. If you must use bullet points, keep it simple only about 3. Font styles have meaning too – the style needs to match the intent. Times New Roman is not the best font – Verdana would be better as it is simpler and spend out more. 6 x 6 rule – 6 words across and 6 words down. Write using lower case letters, using the shape of the words allows the reader to read faster.
The more concrete an image the less room for ambiguity.

Overcoming Obstacles to WebQuest Creation

Overcoming Obstacles to Quicker Webquest Creation

Bernie Dodge, PhD, San Diego State University
How many people can create a WebQuest in just a few hours? Webquests began about 10 years ago. To help streamline the process, Mr. Dodge created a template. However, to create a good WebQuest that engages students in real-world problem-solving still takes a tremendous amount of time.
What are some of the problems with creating WebQuests? Some listed problems pre-service teachers and in-service teachers' blogs: can't find previously started WebQuests, importing images, technical problems, uploading, the time that is takes, and fear of not being able to fix things. Mr. Dodge also surveyed WebQuest authors, classes at universities, and WebQuest users. Some of the same problems were stated. However, the survey found that the most time consuming part of WebQuest creation was finding good websites, designing the steps in the process section, and designing it to engage higher level thinking. Another question asked was what was hard? The responders said; finding good web sites, mechanics of making the pages, creating navigation buttons (writing html), making it pretty, process steps, scaffolding, aligning the evaluation with the task standards. In addition, uploading from home, losing pieces of the files, and creating higher order thinking problems were also stated as hard. The survey also asked what people would wish for to make it easier. The responders stated; templates in various forms, compatibility with Dreamweaver, library of images, flexibility in appearances, WYSIWYG text input, access to appropriate links, ability to customize current webquest, easy image inclusion, guidance on content for each section, access to standards, easy navigation and easy uploading.
Mr. Dodge stated that it truly is amazing that ANY webquests have ever been made – they are difficult and take a lot of time.WebQuest creation requires two parts. 1) Technical knowledge, including web editing, FTP (even just finding a host), searching, aesthetics (choice of colors, fonts, animation). 2) Pedagogical knowledge – constructivism, scaffolding, higher level thinking skills, cooperative learning.
What are some possible solutions?

Repeated practice in each area will help teachers learn.

FTP problems– use web-based FTP (many Open Source ones available), upload the Quest for the teacher, don't put the Quest online at all (local server, in text – disadvantage is that the WWW doesn't get to use it).

Web-Editing problems – use a browser-based editor, use Word or Powerpoint.

Searching – provide links to appropriate resources, or farm it out to the experts (library media
Aesthetics – provide pretty templates

Pedagogical Knowledge – provide templates preselected to engage higher level thiking and encourage cooperation

Authoring tools will help most teachers

Generateur do Missions Virtuelles - From Canada, in French - Teach-nology – provides space to host, a fill-in-the-blank
webquest form, have to be a member - PHPWebquest – written in Spain. Open Source - Instant WebQuest – Open Source, is a hosting sites - – Webquest hosting for free

Authoring Environments

Metcalfe's Law – the usefulness of a network is increased by the number of users. An example is


A place for great webquests to be grown. Experienced gardeners can help novice gardeners in creating webquests.

This new site will allow teachers to stop worrying about the technical aspects of the webquest and focus on the pedagogical aspects. It gives many hints and scaffolding to teach people how to create GOOD webquests. It has step by step guidance, browser based, emphasis on sharing resources and advice, ability for Webuest workshop leaders to monitor progress. The text formatting is WYSIWY and there is the ability to upload pictures, provide a glossary, and the design patterns are already there. Once a webquest is uploaded, it will be available to be downloaded and edited for other users. It is a regular webpage, so you can export it to any other sites. The style sheets limit the changing of fonts/colors but has the sheets that are good fonts and colors without distractions.

This will be available September 1 – and it will be free for a year. After that, there will be a $20 for a 2 year subscription.
- Bernie Dodge's blog about Webquests
- The WebQuest Page
– open source web-editor
- emints national center – theme-based list of links for lower

Read, Write and Blog

Read, Write and Blog
Susim Munshi, Susan Switzer

Most students use the internet typically for entertainment and not for education. They email, instant message, download songs etc. In schools, the internet is used mostly for locating pictures and some research. Blogs allow reading and writing to become public and give the students a wider audience – the whole world.

Using blogs in school can be a powerful motivator for students. Literacy is the focus, not the blog itself. However, if blogs are going to work in your school, there must be tailored teacher professional development. Teachers need easy to use tools to get their students online. At the Learn2Blog website, all the PD tools are available, including today's presentation, background of blogging, activities etc. An example of an activity is a character journal. Students write, but can also upload pictures and connect links. What is the difference between blog and discussion board? On a blog you can upload pictures, video etc. In a discussion board, mostly text is allowed.

In the Chicago area, there are about 15 schools using blogs within the language arts program. They are moving from traditional journalling in notebooks, which tend to be private and only shared between teacher and student, to blogs, which allow many people to read and comment on the content. One teacher is using blogs over the summer as a way to guide and encourage students to read and write over the summer. He told the students that he would give them credit for summer work.

The blog discussed in this workshop was hosted by, which was donated to the Chicago Public School System, along with the technical support. When a student logs in, they view the homepage with the teacher's name and then click on a teacher and the messages from him/her. Most teachers post prompts, links to read and directions of what to do. The student then responds. There is a inclination to want to fix the GUM errors, but the presenters suggested that blogs are not final drafts, but rather a historical record of progress.

Assessment is built in. The postings are time and date stamped. The artifacts support the frequency of communication. There can be a variety of activities and topics. There is a rubric for content available on the Learn2Web site.

If you are interested in beginning to blog, it is important to do some research. How do blogs work? Have a clear purpose for the blog. What is the purpose of the blog? What should students be able to do? Create guidelines and policies. A blog is a very public forum. Language and tone must be discussed. Finally, choose the right tool for the purpose.

To start your own blog, you will generally need an email. Try participating in a swchool's blog. Free blogs are good, but they do come with advertising. Subscription blog sites may cost, but don't have advertising links.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The New Shape of Knowledge

The New Shape of Knowledge

David Weinberger
Knowledge is organized with a physical model in mind – that everything CAN be classified and when classified, there is only one category. However, the nature of knowledge is changing. With the Greeks, knowledge was learned, remembered, and passed on through rhetoric. People had to evaluate the truthfulness of the speaker. Later, knowledge was paper-based. This led to more narrow classification of knowledge as it needed to be sorted and stored. Currently, knowledge is digital, which allows for multiple classifications and uses.
This means that knowledge is a “leaf on many branches.” It now longer needs to be placed in one category and stay there. It can be resorted based on the user's needs. “Messiness is a virtue.” When looking at links and the internet, the more links, the more prevalent the information. It isn't linear, even in text based documents. “Information is not owned.” People continually add to what is on the internet. At one time, the authority – author, publisher,
teacher – gave knowledge. Now, “Users are contributors.” Wikipedia is an excellent example of this. This encyclopedia is written by the people who read it. There is no limit to the size or topics.

With so many people contributing virtually, there is a reduced sense of competition. People don't have to be right all the time. The WWW is a big place and there is space for everyone.
Living with this kind of change in the shape of knowledge requires students to use different skills. We should be acknowledging that knowledge is an unending conversation – and if it is a conversation, then students should be looking at the context of the knowledge, learning how to listen, seek ambiguity, and love difference.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Admin Role and Cabinets

Administrator Role in CurriculumMapping - Dr. Susan Udelhofen

For curriculum mapping to make significant improvement in student achievement, the administrative team MUST fully support the work. It would be best if the administrative team could be trained in curriculum

  • Culture and climate
  • Relationship between admin and teachers
  • Other initiatives -How does this relate to current work? How will it benefit teachers?

  • Trust
    • This is not for evaluation
    • Admin should be able to say “I want to see what’s going on in the classroom.”
  • Honesty
    • Teachers are accurate in what they record
  • Time
  • Creating ownership and buy-in
    • May happen at different levels
We really are going to use these and share them. It isn’t a meaningless exercise.

How does CM work with/for other initiatives?
  • Differentiation – identify gaps, recognize areas to accelerate
  • Data Analysis – looking at test scores and reviewing curriculum
  • Reading – what strategies are being taught at what level?
CM should be an integrated part of whatever is already happening
  • Creating a Plan
  • Develop a core team that will help with training
  • Determine the best way to provide training to the full staff
  • Write a plan with specific activities and timeline
  • Remember – it is a cycle, plan for the long-term

    Moving to Site Based Councils and Cabinets – Dr. Jacobs

    Structures that Affect the Effectiveness
  • Time
  • School days – 180
  • School day and class period
  • Meetings – who meets with whom
  • Too many elem. grade level meetings or department meetings
  • Need more vertical meetings and HS grade level meetings
  • Too many meetings for the wrong reasons
  • Planned at the end of the day – poor time
  • Meetings with the wrong people
  • Plan for beyond year 1 – how will CM continue
Decision making process for curriculum?
  • Flow chart current way
  • Note external and internal influences
  • If and how assessment data is used
Curriculum CM Councils
  • Take the place of curriculum, assessment, and instruction committees
  • Meet monthly – work on curriculum, assessment and instruction
  • Curriculum should drive the schedule, not visa versa

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Increasing Student Learning

Increasing Student Learning

Best Practices for Building and Using CM to Improve Student and School Performance
Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs

Difference between standards, curriculum
  • Standards are guidelines
  • Many curriculum documents are well-intentioned pieces of fiction

    • Example – medicine, guidelines are not applied the same to all patients. Each
      patient has unique needs. In education, each school has a unique population and over time, within the school populations change.
    • Curriculum

      • Should reflect what is actually happening in the classroom
Isn’t this just another fad?
  • It is a very different environment now, than even ten years ago
  • Internet – can access schools from all over the world
  • Computers – allow for ease of recording and dissemination, plus linking of documents
  • Curriculum is not a static document any more – information and technology is changing
  • It is replacing the old model of a committee writing documents that aren’t used. The
    maps reflect reality, not fantasy
  • Difference between autonomy and isolated teachers, teaching what they want
  • Without an understanding of the total K-12 experience, teachers are in isolation
Curriculum – a path to run in small steps, Latin root
  • Internal alignment within maps
  • Assessment should reflect the skills that are listed
  • A pop quiz does not assess formation of hypothesis
  • Alignment between teachers – reflecting what actually happened each year
  • Goal of assessment is to improve students learning. It shouldn’t just be for
    • English teacher correcting mistakes doesn’t teach the student to do it
    • Coaches, music teacher etc don’t DO the work for the student, they coach and model

    Bi-Level Analysis

  • Look at the subject matter concepts and the skills required in the test
    • “Translate” the directions - explain how you do or figure out the way to do the
    • Talk about the words – explain how you did it - use thinking words
    • Highlight the requisite language capacity
  • Linguistic patterns –
    • length of passage
    • language used in questions/prompts – prepositions
  • High frequency words
  • Infer, analyze, determine etc
  • These words need to be posted and used within the content areas.
  • Specialized words
  • Subject specific or discipline specific
  • Looking it up isn’t showing knowledge or using the word
  • Kids should be speaking the words, not just reading
  • Editing and revising strategies
  • Word choice – strengthens the writing
  • Unit specific – word walls showing useful words for the unit
  • Revise for better adjectives
  • Paragraphing - What makes a paragraph complete?
  • Basic punctuation
  • Fuzzy spelling
  • Most assessments are short reading and writing responses – however, this is backward
    from how we learn language
  • We listen, speak, write, then read. Our classrooms assume the opposite
  • Curriculum Mapping is the hub for other issues – standards, literacy, technology. All
    can be represented on the maps. It gives a focal point for discussion.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Curriculum Mapping 101

Curriculum Mapping 101 – Gurnee,
IL with Dr. Susan Udelhofen

Why should we do mapping?

  • Allows for conversation between

  • Is a “professional”
    thing to do – gives credibility and value to our work 

  • Helps find gaps ad redundancies in
    the curriculum 

  • Is a communication tool in school and in community

Research that supports.  Looked at mentoring, professional
development and school improvement plans; 4 common goals.

  • Collaboration

  • Reflection 

  • Shared vision for professional.

  • Focus on student learning

Major change in idea of how to "do" school

  • Curriculum is not an individual
    thing – close my door and teach 

  • Maps become public 

  • Curriculum is not finished – put on the shelf waiting
    for the next revision;Revision is on-going and dynamic

What is curriculum mapping? List:

  • Content

  • Skills

    • Assessed, observed and described

    • Using action verbs

    • Not an activity – find the skills within the activity
    • Assessment

      • Every skill should be assessed, but doesn’t have to
        be assessed individually
      • Needs to be tangible – observations should be written

      • Standards

      • Essential questions
        • Not recommended if you don’t already do them.

Two types of maps

    • Projected – think about the year in advance

    • Journal/diary – record what happened at the end of the

Mapping Process

    • Complete individual maps - Every teacher needs to complete
      their own map – not a collaboration

    • Review groups of maps – above and below your level

    • Share reviews with colleagues

    • In a large group, share reviews.

    • Develop an action plan – some can be easy immediate
      changes, others may need research

    • Implement the action plan

The magic of mapping is when the review and sharing happens. It isn’t a personal curriculum anymore. Change happens -  Enthusiasm is contagious - Teachers are collaborating, reflecting,
creating a shared vision and focusing on students

Monday, June 13, 2005

Summer Learning

The first school year in Aruba has ended. It was one of the more pleasant end-of-school-years I’ve had. My middle school students, overall, stayed focused and on track with their work. The final exam I gave wasn’t too difficult, but did cap off the learning from this year. I’m pleased with the work and progress of my students.

However, for me, it didn’t really feel like an end of year. Being in a warm climate, there is no change of weather. Usually, the blooming trees and flowers give rise to spring fever and the smell of cut grass indicates the end of the year. In Aruba, it is always hot and there isn’t grass to cut. The physical signs of spring and summer never happened. This could be why I was teaching and giving homework up to the last day – it didn’t feel like school was ending.

Preparations have begun for the move to the new building. Every book, pencil, and stapler has been thrown into a box, to reappear at the new site. It really will be a new beginning next school year, as we all step into new classrooms and try to figure out how to use our new spaces. Organization has never been my strong point, and this move just makes that all too clear. My neighboring colleague has every box nicely labeled with the contents – I have my name and a one word description. I’m going to be kicking myself come August as I try to figure out where the really important stuff is.

Summer is always time for rejuvenation and new ideas. This summer I have the opportunity to attend two different profession development workshops. The first is about curriculum mapping and the second is the National Educational Computing Conference. I love having the chance to spend time with other professionals who are as excited about teaching as I am. It is incredibly invigorating. I especially enjoy spending professional time with my teacher husband. Our "romantic dinners" are spent talking about the speakers and ideas that were presented during the day.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Project Based Learning

This past quarter, I've been teaching a lot through projects. Rather than giving daily reading or writing, worksheets or questions to answer, students have been completing longer-term projects. Although the front-end work is tremendous for me, I believe that students are getting more out of their work and using a variety of skills to complete the tasks, which is more efficient use of learning time.

In our after-school study group, we've been talking about teaching in a creative classroom and how to develop creative units. Most of the teachers in the video discussed the idea of “beginning with the end in mind.” As I began planning for a World Cultures unit on Europe, I used this process to design the unit.

In a typical unit about Europe, students read a brief overview of each region's culture or complete a country report. However, having lived and traveled Europe, I realized that this type of classroom experience was very superficial and unrealistic. However, most of my students have had the experience of moving to a new country because their parents' jobs require that they move every three to six years. Often the parents have some choice of country, but the students didn't have an understanding of how their parents made that decision. In this unit, I wanted students to research two countries – economically, politically, technologically and culturally – in order to make a decision about which country would best support a growing business. Then they would present their results to the class. This would cover several skills – research, analysis, evaluation, and presentation.

The unit “Country X vs Country Y,” is especially good in combining a variety of social studies and life skills in a real life problem solving activity. The scenario required the students to think like a business person. They were the CEO of an export company that wished to enter the European market. Therefore, the company needed to choose a location for its European headquarters. Not only did the country need to support the business through a strong labor force, economy and transportation, but it also needed to be family-friendly with good education, health services and activities.

I broke the project into five tasks. The first task was to research the two different countries, which were randomly assigned to each student. Using a table, created in Star Office Writer, and teacher preselected websites, students were able to complete the research within a week. Task 2 was the analysis. Students categorized and highlighted information in five areas -business, health, technology, family, and safety. Then, using a template, students made a decision on which country would best support the new headquarters. The third task was to create a story-board of the presentation. This allowed me to check their understanding of the task. Once the story-board was complete, the fourth task was to complete the design of the presentation. Finally, each student orally presented their two countries and final recommendation.

My school has a block schedule. Each class meets for two periods of 80 minutes and one period of 40 minutes. The entire project took four weeks to complete. After viewing the presentations, students had a more realistic idea of each of the highlighted countries. The skills they learned in this unit will be useful as they later decided where to go for college or even a simpler choice such as finding a place for vacation.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

E + R = G

Experience plus reflection equals growth – John Dewey

Throughout my teacher education I remember hearing about becoming a “reflective practitioner.” I also had many assignments which asked me to “reflect” on the process of completing the project or after an observation in the classroom. Usually these assignments added up being a lot of “I” statements – I think . . . I saw. . . I believe etc. Once the professor read the assignment, it was either filed or tossed. This process didn't seem very reflective. There were few comments returned and almost no conversation. So did I learn how to be a “reflective practitioner” - not really.

I struggled with this idea once I become a teacher. As a first year teacher, I knew I had a lot to learn, but where was I going to learn it? The principal did the required two observations in my classroom, but otherwise, for 178 days, I was alone in the room trying to figure out how to teach middle schoolers. Obviously, being teenagers, I was getting constant feedback from them.“This sucks!” or “Why can't we go on more field trips?” or “When are we ever gonna use this?” However, I was just happy to have lesson plans and grading done, much less have the time to “observe” myself and learn from my own mistakes and successes. No master teacher was there to guide the apprentice and help me assess my strength and weaknesses and grow.

Now – ten years later, I'm still struggling with the idea of being a “reflective practitioner.” The school day is not designed to give time to a teacher to stop and think, ponder and communicate about their practices. Every moment is filled with prepping, teaching, supervising, meetings, after school activities etc. Carving out time to observe others and discuss ideas is almost sacrilege – there isn't a visible result, so how can we devote time or money to it? If a teacher isn't directly involved with students, isn't that a waste of taxpayer/tuition-payer money?

Even though most schools give lip service to the idea of having students “become more reflective learners” few forge strong reflective practices in their teachers. If teachers don't use these skills, they are less likely to teach and expect their students to use them.

Next week I am starting a study group using the information from Harvard's Project Zero and Disney Leaning Partnership. It is entitled “Teaching in the Creative Classroom.” My goal is to give teachers a forum to discuss teaching practices and have the time to really think about what goes on in their classroom. To be honest, this was a selfish endeavor, as I wanted a place and time to do that. As the old adage says, “Actions speak louder than words.” Hopefully these actions will carry over into the classroom.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

TGI-March: On a personal note

TGIM!!! Thank God it's March. February is such a difficult month for teachers and students' I didn't think the February blues would hit Aruba. It is still warm – high of 88 and low of 75 every day. Most days are sunny with a slight to strong breeze. The ocean is a beautiful turquoise blue. That's not a snowflake in sight or a scarf or sweater. Yet, most teachers and students act like it is blistery, depressing winter.

Teachers snap at students and each other. Students are not working hard and irritate each other and the teachers. Work piles up – lesson planning, grading, report writing, curriculum writing, scheduling, and ordering supplies. Everyone looks around and wonders, why am I doing this . . . does it really matter.

This blue funk has been a major discussion point on the MiddleWeb listserv. It seems to be a universal occurrence. So, how do teachers get through it? On the listserv, we've been sharing “Points of Joy” - those little moments that bring a smile to your face. Other teachers are “Standing for...” and telling the story of a student whose life was significantly impacted by their teachers.

I'm trying to leave school at school. This is such a hard thing for me to do. I always feel like I should be doing more. With six completely different classes to plan for, grade etc I'm always feeling behind. Yet if I take it home, then the homework doesn't get done – cooking, cleaning, washing etc. Then I feel guilty for not doing that. And what about fun? Should that be reserved for the weekends? I don't think so. As the old adage says, “All work and no play makes Jane a dull girl.”

I'm using a little more time to work on myself. I've joined WeightWatchers online and have been spending time learning about nutrition and health. This has been very eye-opening. I'm getting up early and trying to do yoga most mornings. With mid-quarter coming up, I have, unfortunately, skipped a few days. It feels good to have a gentle workout in the morning. I've never been into running, the closest gym is 30 minutes away, and definitely NOT open that early. I'm also reading two different books – and not professional ones. The first “A Women's Checklist for Life” is a short devotional book with reminders and checklists of what truly is important in life. The other book is “Peak Learning.” I heard the author speak at a conference and wanted to know more about his ideas. I'm about halfway through the book and have not learned much new about brain theory and research, but it is a good reminder of things I've forgotten.

My goals for the near future is to yoga at least three times a week. I'd like to pick up a few different videos of routines. I would also like to spend more time writing. I had thought that Aruba would be a slower pace of life and I could focus more on writing. However, that hasn't happened often. I need to plan more time for this. Finally, I need to be a little better balanced with the teacher vs civilian parts of me.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

3 Sections of Life

A few years ago a friend stated his philosophy of life like this: There are three aspect of your life – social, family, and work. One aspect can be out of kilter and you'll feel fine, but when any two are not going well, you will feel overwhelmed or depressed. I've though a lot about this over the years and believe that is true. For me, the separate “sections” of my life do spill over to the other sections. If I'm having a bad day with the students, I'll not be as pleasant as a wife as I should be. Lately, though, it seems that all three are chugging along happily. I feel confident in the classroom and see students learning real skills for life. They are engaged in the work and performing well. At home, I then feel more relaxed and able to do homey things without feeling guilty about school. This year we have chosen to limit our social life and spend more time at home. It was a conscious decision when taking this job. We knew we would be living in a fairly unpopulated part of the island and that going out would be expensive. I would like to be a little more connected with the world in general, and that happened last night. We are officially connected with DSL so I can use internet at home now. This will also improve my work for school as I can search for resources from the comfort of my own home.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Purpose of Education?

This Friday is the end of the semester and like many middle and high schools, we have semester exams. Since I only have 8th grade, I've been sitting on the sidelines for this one and pondering the great questions of educational theory. I decided to give my 8th graders a project, rather than an exam. However, within the school, there has been a short-lived discussion about the point of exams. Do we have to have them? Should they be two hours long? What are these students going to experience in college? Is it fair to have projects instead of tests? Is it fair to have a 1 ½ hour test when in college it could for 3 hours?

I think it comes back to the reason for type of educational system that exists. In Pre-K, students are “readied” for first grade and reading. Throughout elementary grades, students are taught what they need for middle school. In middle school we ready them for high school; and high school focuses on college. So what happens after that? Does college prepare students for their actual careers?

In my limited experience, no, it doesn't. As a teacher coming out of a teaching program, I felt very unprepared for the realities of the classroom and working with adults who all have their own agendas and unique personalities. Like many other teachers, the first years teaching were where I got my real education. In the case of my college roommate, she completed 4 years of Information Technology just to be retrained at her first job.

What should education focus on? I think Robert Fulghum was right – most of what we really need to know is learned in kindergarten, and then, unfortunately, unlearned throughout our lives.
To share
Play fair
Clean up your own messes
Say sorry when you hurt
Look – and be aware of the wonder
Live a balanced life
Hold hands and stick together

Teaching this should be simple – just model it in everyday life. But grading, well, that's a horse of a different color. Eight out of ten questions is easy – that's a 80% or a B-. Joey returned Jimmy's hat when it was taken away by a bully – where does that show up on the report card? I look at the daily problems in the classroom and I see students who forget, or never learned the basics of Kindergarten. And, I see a lot of adults who don't remember it either.

In this era of standards and benchmarks, the focus is to set benchmarks for things that can be measured. Explain the causes of the American Revolution. Use the formula to figure out the frequency of a sound wave. Illustrate how the character changes throughout the story. But how do you measure the kindness of the human heart? The outstretched hand for those who have fallen? The tender words for a broken spirit? These are the things we should be teaching, learning, assessing, and valuing. In 10 years, will it matter if a student can recite the causes of the Revolution? No, but if he cannot play fair at work, say sorry to his wife, and live a balanced life then he has truly learned nothing in school.