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Preview: In the Heart of a Teacher is a Student

In the Heart of a Teacher is a Student

A middle/high school teacher and teacher educator's reflections on teaching and learning while negotiating the path of teacher/student/academic.

Updated: 2018-03-18T04:16:19.690-07:00


Different tools for different students


“For a moment, you imagine writing three different lessons each day and teaching each one to the right group of students, but the thought of all that work feels, well, unsustainable at best, especially knowing that any given lesson might miss the mark. How can you make sure your teaching matches your kids?” (pg. 71)            Differentiation is an overwhelming concept for many teachers, especially new teachers.  “How am I supposed to teach so many different lessons? I don’t have time!” is a frequent misunderstanding of what differentiation entails. The authors remind us that differentiation is not always teaching different lessons, but more often, providing different tools during a lesson.  This means that a teacher need to have a large tool chest of tools, and understand how each tools can support a learner. And, recognize (and articulate to students, parents and administration) that fair doesn’t mean the same, so various students will have different supports. Remember that picture? And, more importantly, once students get to know the tools also, they can differentiate for themselves. This is key – as my teaching motto states, “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary. (Thomas Carruthers)            Using the same tools introduced in previous chapters, the authors illustrate how demonstration notebooks, bookmarks, and micro-progression charts support meeting students where they are and helping them push forward.  In the demonstration notebook, the teacher can show (not just tell) students how to get to the next level in their writing or reading.  The strategies provided are drawn from what the teacher observes is a student (a group) needs and focuses on the WHAT and HOW to provide that model. An integral part of this is that the teacher needs to know that students – through conversation, observation and professional judgement, the teacher identifies the needs (not just some random test that is administered at the wrong time).            Another handy chart introduced was the “If/Then” chart.  The teacher considers some of the problems students might encounter when working on a task and creates an If/Then chart to help them find a solution. On one side of the chart was an If statement, “If you are struggling to find the main idea…”  And, on the other side were some ideas, “Then, read a section, stop and ask yourself, “What is the point of this section?’” Bookmarks can be created of any of these tools and provided to students when they need it as a reminder.             But, how do get students to pay attention to and USE the tools provided? In chapter 6, the authors provide some strategies to troubleshoot typical problems with using tools: Use pop culture to get students to pay attention Incorporate metaphors to help students relateWrite with kid-friendly language Shake things up sometimes Include student voices  Intentionally design the room to support student workSchedule time to think about and create the tools  Use design tools to create interest“The tools we make and the way we use them communicate message to our students…we have opportunities to give our students gifts of our knowledge through the handwritten message a tool holds” (pg. 105).  New teachers often fret about getting their classrooms ready and having the money to buy the pre-printed commercial products to stick on the walls.  But, the walls can and should be teaching and learning spaces create by, for, and with students to support their learning.  When I was a new teacher, I shared a room with a veteran teacher who believed that “stuff on walls distracts students.” I disliked teaching in that Pepto-Bismol pink room and I can’t imagine what the children thought (I was too new to realize tha[...]

#CyberPD Chapters 3-4 - Remember and Rigor


As I sit here writing this reflection blog, I face my home office wall and view my “teaching charts.” Useful Templates from They Say, I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing10 Tips on How to Write Less Badly Common Transition Words  BALANCE – Breathe, Allow, Learning, Adapt, Notice, Confide, Exercise  7 Habits  4 AgreementsThese are the things I need to remember when I sit down to write, grade, email, blog, think, and be the teacher and teacher-educator that I am.  As I am constantly busy, moving from one task to another, these visual reminders help me remember the skills and strategies that are important to my work.  It isn’t that I don’t know HOW to do these things, often I get caught up in the moment, focused on getting a task done, rather than a task done well. My “teaching charts” are my cues to use the practices that lift the level of my writing, thinking, and interacting with others. This is the theme of chapter 3 – how tools can help students remember the skills and strategies that have been introduced in lessons.  As the authors state, “There was a palpable tension between the sheer volume of information the student encountered in a day and the assumption of quick recall and application” (pg. 38). Whether in kindergarten, grade 12, or at the college level, students are constantly bombarded with “lessons” from instructors, tugged into social media or social interactions, and mired in their own personal issues.  To help them refocus their thoughts, and increase the level of thinking, tools such as repertoire charts (reminder of past lessons), personalized bookmarks of strategies that work, or micro-progression charts (that show increasing sophistication of a process) can be useful. These tools, being co-created or co-constructed with students, enable the students to review and re-interpret their understanding of the strategies.In today’s test-focused policies, rigor tends to mean that everyone must hit the same high standard, but the authors break rigor into two parts 1) The difficulty of the task and 2) a description of a behavior of performance (the work or effort). Rigor, using Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, means, “becoming is better than being” (pg. 54). In other words, “students seeing themselves as always working toward a new goal” (pg. 54).  However, to be able to reach for the next goal, students need to see what the goal is and envision the steps toward achievement. There’s a famous quote of Jerry Sienfield, from his 1993 book SienLanguage, about teachers giving feedback:“I always did well on essay tests. Just put everything you know on there, maybe you’ll hit it. And then you get the paper back from the teacher and she’s written just one word across the top of the page, “vague.” I thought “vague” was kind of vague. I’d write underneath it “unclear,” and send it back. She’d return it to me, “ambiguous.” I’d send it back to her, “cloudy.” We’re still corresponding to this day … “hazy” … “muddy”…”Using the tool of a micro-progression chart, students can see the progression from a low level of performance to higher levels of performance.  Basically, it is creating the criteria for a rubric, with specific examples, to show students how their work can become more sophisticated with the addition of different strategies and skills. Currently, I’m the edTPA coordinator for a small liberal arts college. The edTPA is a performance-based portfolio assessment for pre-service teachers. Although there are many issues with using this assessment as a high-stakes test, there are a few redeeming features of the process. In this assessment, student teachers need to complete three tasks – Planning, Instruction, and Assessment. The student teacher plans, teaches and video records 3-5 lessons, analyzes student work, and writes commentary using standardized prompts to show their thinking about how and what they taught. One of the characteristics of ac[...]

#CyberPD - DIY Literacy - Why tools?


One of my favorite teaching quotes is “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary” attributed to Thomas Carruthers.  In the classroom, whether it is PreK-12 or higher education, it is my goal to help students become, as Kate and Maggie state “DIY warriors of their own learning” (pg. 2). Like the authors of DIY Learning, I believe that introducing various tools to students allows them to “do more, better work on their own” (pg. 2).  This is why I’m looking forward to reading DIY Learning with the community of #CyberPD so I can learn about new tools that I haven’t used to introduce them to my own students.  Several years ago, I took a graduate course entitled “Tools for Thought” and it focused on the use of tools for thinking. One of the first tasks we had in class was to define a tool.  This isn’t as easy as you would think.  Try using a Frayer Model to complete this task. Think of all the various tools you use in everyday life and fill in the graphic organizer (which, BTW, is a tool). Frayer Model                ToolsEssential Characteristics Non-Essential Characteristics Examples Non-examples As a class, we spent most of the semester grappling with how to define a tool.  Tools generally help people accomplish tasks, such as a ruler measuring an object more accurately than eyeballing it, or a ramp allowing a person to place a heavy object at a higher level. When thought about in this way, almost everything could be categorized as a tool.  The definition of a tool that I finally arrived at is this: Tools are objects, ideas, beliefs, institutions and/or processes that are designed, adapted or utilized - which allows one to accomplish a task faster, easier, better, or more reliably than doing the same task without the tool.   But we mostly tend to think of physical tools such as a hammer or paper clip.  There are also tools for thought.  These tools allow people to remember, compute, reason or create ideas. So my definition of a tool for thought is: Tools for thought are objects, ideas, institutions and/or processes that are designed, adapted or utilized - which allows one to recall, reason, create and/or communicate in ways that are faster, easier, better, or more reliably than doing the same task without the tool. DIY Literacy is all about teaching tools that “help kids work hard and do better” plus, “help kids meet and match our deepest hope for them” (pg. 3). In addition, the tools should help organize and bring clarity to all the various reading and writing strategies that are introduced to children.  The authors state that they feel that using tools help learning stick because the tools are 1) Visual, 2) Making the abstract more concrete, and 3) Encourage repeated practice.  In chapter 2, the authors categorize their tools into various categories: ·         Teaching Charts ·         Demonstration Notebooks ·         Micro-progressions of Skills (I would call this a Storyboard) ·         Bookmarks As a classroom teacher, I’ve used several of these tools with my students and found they are useful. I have posted charts of graphic organizers, how-to directions, and illustration of process. My middle school students frequently used the bookmarks to prompt their thinking when reading and reacting to their independent reading. With my undergraduate students, I use presentation software, rather than a notebook for demonstration, but the idea is the same.  I believe in the power of tools. Have you ever checked out the professional bookcase of a teacher? I wonder if you would agree with my observations. I have found it interesting that I can estimate how long a person has been teaching based on the books in t[...]

Half of #nf10for10


This past semester, I had the great fortunate of working with a group of Child Life Specialists.  These people are the liaisons between hospitals/doctors and families when children are preparing to undergo procedures or treatments.  They have a strong understanding of both the medical system and child development.  I taught a Children’s Literature course for this group with a focus on using books to help children understanding their conditions/treatment; educate other children about conditions/treatment; provide comfort and connections for children dealing with medical issues; and provide entertainment and escape for children undergoing treatments. The books in my  #nf10for10 are the books we discovered together. Michael Rosen's Sad BookThe book is an honest and direct look at how grief can impact the daily life of a person.  The author lost his son and his mother and there are days he is sad.  His simple sentences and watercooler images show how the sadness feels to him.  However, there is hope as he realized his memories are comforting and grief, over time, is less painful. It sounds like a heavy topic for a children’s book, but with so much tragedy in the world, it provides children with identifiable situations and words and the hope of eventual healing. Tuesday Tucks Me In: The Loyal Bond between a Soldier and His Service Dog Luis Carlos Montalvan, Bret WitterThrough the voice of the dog and using actually photos, this book shows how a service dog provides assistance and comfort for a real veteran soldier through his activities of daily living including getting ready for the day, using public transportation, and eating at a restaurant.  It provides context for the use of service dogs and helps children understand the “hidden” disability of PTSD.Why Are You So Scared? A Child's Book about Parents with PTSDBeth Andrews, Katherine KirklandHaving a parent with PTSD can be scary and confusing.  This book helps children identify the behaviors they notice when their parents are struggling with PTSD – such as anger, depression, panic attacks etc.  It emphasizes that the parent’s mood and behavior is NOT the child’s fault and provides some suggestions on how the child can react to the scary behaviors of the parent. Scaredy Squirrel Melanie WattThis is more fiction than non-fiction, but it helps explain to children about fear and anxiety. Fear can be paralyzing, and the squirrel in this story is afraid of anything outside of his nest.  He imagines a lot of horrible things that could happen if he would leave his comfort zone. But, when he accidently loses his emergency kit, he goes after it and discovers that “the unknown” is not so bad.  There is a whole series of Scaredy Squirrel books – At Night; At a Party; Making a Friend. Plus, a fun website Book for Kids With Cansur: A Child's Autobiography of HopeJason Gaes This older title, written when the author was young and diagnosed with cancer, the book uses children’s drawing to talk about cancer and treatments, along with the fears of having cancer. It is a nice model to use to help children write/draw through some of their own issues. [...]

Picture Book 10 for 10 #pb10for10


I’ve lurked on the #PB 10for10 posts for the past few years and this year I decided was my year to post.  I’ve taught mostly grades 6-12 and am now a teacher educator, so I decided to post the books that I have used in my own teaching.    Charlie the CaterpillarBy Dom DeLuise (yes, the comedian/actor/director)Charlie is a curious caterpillar who eagerly wandered the world to meet new creatures. However, each time he meets new critters (monkeys, rabbits etc.) they don’t allow him to play with them because he is “an ugly caterpillar.”  After several experiences like this, Charlie begins to feel ugly and sad that no one wants to be around him.  However, as will happen with caterpillars, he spins a cocoon and over the fall and winter he sleeps and dreams of having a friend. When he emerges in spring, he is a beautiful butterfly. Then, all the creatures who insulted him want to be his friend. But, he realizes they would not be “real” friends because they only judged him by his looks. Instead, he meets Katie the caterpillar and helps her see the beauty in herself. This is a great beginning of the year read, and I reminder to middle schoolers to be wary of judging each other by appearance. Faithful Elephants: A True Story of Animal, People and WarBy Yukio TsuchiyThis true story will make you cry (and it is dealing with sensitive issues of death and war), and it highlights the way war and conflict hurt beyond the typical guns and bombs. It begins with a cheerful zoo in Japan in modern times that has a memorial dedicated to the animals who died in World War I – specifically the three performing elephants, John, Tonky, and Wanly.  One of the zookeepers tells the story of the memorial.  During WWI, Japan was being bombarded and the Army was afraid that the dangerous animal could get loose so they ordered the zoos to kill their animals.  But, the three elephants were smart and avoided all methods to euthanize them. Even under such horrible circumstances, the elephant continued to try and perform for their trainers. However, they finally died from starvation and the war continued. Yet, their legacy of being innocent victims of war continues to be told.  I used this with high school students along with Night by Elie Wiesel and our study of World War II. WestlandiaBy Paul FleischmanWelsey is an odd-looking boy who was bullied at school.  But over summer vacation, he decides to grow his own food and create a new civilization.  With a bit of magic, he garden grows unknown forms of eatable plants, and he begins to create his own clothes, language, and ways of doing things.  His former bullies become interested in his project, and he invites them into Weslandia.  He ends the summer glorying in his creativeness and difference and helps his classmates overcome their own need to conform. I used this in middle school to introduce our study of ancient civilizations and how culture develops. The Secret Knowledge of Grown-UpsBy David WisniewskiDeveloped as a Top Secret file, this book tells the “real” reason gown-ups say things like, “Eat your vegetables” and “Don’t bite your fingernails.” Each vignette begins with the admonition, the official reason for the admonition, and then the TRUTH – ie. If we don’t eat the vegetables, they will take over the earth.   As master model of creative fiction, I used this book to prompt middle school students to write their own “files” of admonitions from their parents.  The World That Jack BuiltBy Ruth BrownUsing the traditional “This is the house that Jack built” format, a cat and butterfly playfully wander through the backyard, forest, and fields. However, as they move through the landscape, it becomes increasing polluted until they come to the factory that Jack built that is spewing smoke and contaminated water. The illustrations are moving, detailed and a great example[...]

#CyberPD - Chapters 6-7: Re-thinking Our Existing Tools


As I was reading through chapters 6 and 7, I was struck with the theme of re-thinking our existing tools and re-visioning them for reading in the 21st century when “reading” is so much more than just consuming text.  Most of us have the foundations of good instruction, assessment and parent communication but we (meaning I) need to spend some time thinking about how our traditional methods translate into digital modes.Tool #1: Audio Books: Is it reading?One discussion that was brought up yesterday on the #CyberPD Twitter feed was a conversation about audio books.  Is this really reading? Mandy Robek @mandyrobek had been prompted by something @MrsWeberREAD had posted and Mandy replied, “I think about shared reading and shared writing as interactions with text, why not audio.” Heidi Weber @MrsWeberREAD said, “Makes me re-define “reading as interacting with text…”Franki Sibberson @frankisibberson chimed in, “I like what @Professor Nana says about audiobook… “I read with my ears.’”To which @mandyrobek replied, “Interesting question from @frankisibberson “Have you ever read an audio book? I would of said listen to. Hmm, rethinking.” In his book The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life Steve Leveen wonders if we could have a word for listening to books, and he makes up the word “ristening” to books.  In the past, I know audiobooks in schools have often been used as either a reward, a fill-in, or as remediation.  But what if we (meaning I) re-thought what is means to read and really recognized that reading is interacting with text  - any text – print, digital, audio, visual – and began to explore how to help our students navigate all the texts that they encounter in a day. Tool #2: The Beginning of the Year Survey: Privileging PrintLike many teachers who have used reading/writing workshop, I too used the standard survey with my students that privileged print books over any other media.  As a teacher educator, I continue to unconsciously privilege print books over other forms of text within my teaching.  Although I have explicitly stated in my syllabus that an e-book is an acceptable form of the course textbook, I have not really helped my college-level students look at the affordances or disadvantages to reading through different mediums.  In class, my students tell me that they like the search feature to return to sections they have read.  But I need to ask myself some questions: What other forms of text am I putting on my syllabus and in my coursework?  Am I privileging print over other forms?  What message does this send to my students and how will they take that into their classrooms?Tool #3: AssessmentIt may seem like an obvious question, but what is the purpose of assessment?  For many people, including myself, that answer tends to be, “To see how my students are doing.”  Frequently this entails comparing the student against a standard or grade level peers.  But, what if we (meaning I) re-thought the purpose of assessment and focused on the individual student and how he/she could increase their learning, not be stamped with a letter or number? The authors of Digital Reading state, “We believe strongly in this stance [that of the NCTE position that formative assessment is a verb] and agree that our assessment techniques should be about moving readers forward in their learning” (p. 90).Tool #4: ConferencesFranki discusses student-led conferences, which is something I have used in the past.  However, the conferences I had my students conduct were still very paper and print based.  It still required parents to take time to visit school at a designated time that was mostly convenient for the school, not for the parents, and all of the work of the quarter was discussed in a 20 minute conversation.  Digital portfolios or blogs can be updated regularl[...]

#CyberPD Chapts 3-5 - Authenticity, Intentionality, Connectedness


I’m going to start this reflection with a story.  A few years ago, as a graduate student, I was completing my preliminary exam.  I had two large questions that each required papers of about 30 pages. I decided to conduct a personal experiment (Or would it be called an action research project?).  For one question, I conducted the research, note-taking, drafting and revising in a traditional way.  I printed the articles I needed to read and highlighted or took notes on the printed copies. I hand-wrote summaries on the back side of the articles. If I used a book, I used sticky notes and paper clips to mark significant passages.  When I was finished reading, I spread out all my materials on the table before me and created a typical outline.  Then I sat down to type my paper from the outline.  When I quoted something, I had to re-type the quotes and I manually created the reference list.  I was constantly flipping between print resources and stacking and re-stacking the sources.For the next question, I decided to do everything digitally.  I used Mendeley for both my reference manager, reader and citation manager.  I created folders for different aspects of the question and dropped articles into the folders as I found them.  Book chapters became PDFs and my note-taking and highlighting occurred within the PDFs and Mendeley.  When I was finished reading, I basically had my outline created, because I had already created the folders. As I was writing, I used a second screen, so I could read my sources while writing and copy/paste quotations when needed.  Searching for ideas between sources was easy with the search feature or key words.  When the search results were displayed, I could instantly see how my various sources related to the key terms. I reflected on the two different methods of research and writing and learned a few things:1) Using the traditional method slowed me down – which wasn’t always a bad thing.  By flipping through sources and having all of them spread out around me, there were more incidents of serendipity.  By re-reading or glancing at something, I made new connections with other ideas. I had more time to reflect on and refine my thoughts when writing because I had to physically handle the sources. My physical interaction with the text also provided a different way to remember things.  I could visualize the text (pictures, page number and location of paragraph, along with my notes) and recall more about the details of the reading. 2) Using a fully digital method was more efficient and produced a longer paper.  Using the search feature allowed me to quickly identify the ideas I wanted and the copy/paste feature made using quotations easier – which led to me including more quotations (with explanations) than the traditional method. However, there was less serendipity.  Once I had filed articles and ideas in their folders, I didn’t cross over much and the search feature took me directly to the item I wanted without paging through other parts, which may have led to new considerations. 3) In the end, both methods worked.  I passed my prelims with favorable comments.  So, neither method was “better” for the end result. That means that when selecting the method (or tool) I need to consider other factors such as time, the need to collaborate, and whether or not I may re-use some of the source material in the future.But, what is the connection of this long story to Chapters 3-5 in Digital Reading? Authenticity is key!  In Chapter 3, Franki stated that students in her classroom “were not using technology because it was “cool” or because is was the assigned day for a particular tool or app.  They were using a particular piece of technology when it made sense for their learning” (p. 26).  As a [...]

#CyberPD 2015 - Chapt 1-2 - Why consider digital reading?


Mike Licht, NoltionsCapital.comSara’s words from Bill’s focus group resonated with my experience with students in many of today’s schools when she stated, “But if I really want to learn something, I do that outside of school” (p. 5).  My nephews have expressed this sentiment to me several times as the books they are given for required reading don’t interest them (therefore they are not motivated to read).  However, outside of school, my one nephew is an avid reader of hunting, fishing and outdoor life magazines and websites.  He is well-versed in the local hunting regulations and how to skin and sell pelts. This did not happen in school. My other nephew is a gamer and deeply understands the development of online game structure and the connections to others that playing online affords him. As a teacher educator of undergraduate students, I have encountered many pre-service teachers who understand social media as a personal space, not as a learning space.  Like the authors state, “Just because students are “good” with technology does not necessarily mean they are literate in the digital age” (p. 6).  I continue to show college-age students how to use the settings on Facebook to provide the type of access they want (or don’t want) and other features that support Facebook as a learning space.  I try to help them see Twitter as a place for professional connections and networking, not just personal promotion.  It can be difficult though, to re-envision a tool under new circumstances. It’s like reading “99 Extraordinary, Creative and Unusual Uses for Ordinary and Everyday Objects” and realizing that tennis balls and Coke can be very useful items in the house. “When children are invited to be part of a community and to spend time in school participating in authentic reading activities, they grow in amazing ways” (p. 16). As a classroom teacher, I’ve advocated for the workshop approach in my middle school classroom (and a modified version in high school) since my first year of teaching.  Choice, authentic texts, personal response, and time has been the foundation of how I’ve tried to teach English Language Arts.  However, I’m still trying to help people (students, parents, and administration) understand that reading is an active process that requires more than just Q & A at the end of a reading.  For deep thinking requires time, re-reading, and discussion – a tough sell in an environment of compliance. I loved the questions that Franki provided to re-imagine her workshop and review her use of digital reading.  One especially caught my eye as something I haven’t thought much about, “Do I use keyword tags, comments, links, and search features while reading aloud?” (p. 19).  When I submit articles, I have to include keywords and tags, when I search for items, I use them – but I haven’t explicitly talked with students about what they are and how to use them within the context of the reading.  Sure, when instructing students on Google searching, Boolean logic and keywords are important, but tags are different features.   In addition, I’ve never modelled how I make choices on whether to follow a link or not when I’m reading.  This deserves some thought.In doing this thinking, I want to consider what types of digital reading/writing I do:·         Audio books on my smart phone (mostly non-fiction)·         YouTube videos (mostly instructional – how to style)·         Personal book blog·         GoodReads account·         Personal and professional Twitter accounts·     [...]

#CyberPD book for 2015 . . . Digital Reading What’s Essential


(image) The pictures were sent in and the titles tallied . . . 
and the winner is . . . 

Digital Reading:  What's Essential in Grades 3-8
 by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass

 I was unfamiliar with this title but I noticed it in many people's stacks of summer reading. 

Rather than repeating information, here is the link to learn how to get the book and become a part of the conversation this summer:

But why, you might ask, would I want to become part of #CyberPD 2015?  Here are my reasons: (1) I get to read a book WITH other people (2) I am able to "talk" with other people about the book (3) I get glimpses into other teachers' classrooms (4) my own writing about the book deepens my understanding and pushes my thinking (5) I learn a lot from our community and (6) it is really fun!

If that isn't enough reason, you can also read Cathy Mere's thoughts about online professional learning

It is summer... that means it is time for #CyberPD... now in its fifth year!


I was eagerly awaiting and checking the #CyberPD hashtag on Twitter for hints at when it will start up for this summer.  I have a stack of books and can't wait to share them! 

For more information on the background and structure to #CyberPD, you can check out Cathy Mere's website

Well, I guess I might as well share them here!

Yes, it is a bit research heavy.  I'm hoping to learn more about self-study and maybe even start a self-study group in Fall. I spent some time at the Self-Study SIG ( sessions at #AERA15 and was quite fascinated by the wide variety of work being done in K-12 and higher education classrooms and beyond through self-study.  I especially enjoyed the unique ways of representing their learning and reflections from the presenters.

The other theme I'm currently investigating is mindfulness, both in the classroom and everyday life. I also attended a few sessions at AERA sponsored by the Holistic Education  Before that, I just finished reading The Way of Mindful Education by Daniel Rechtschaffen  One of his major points was that teachers need to practice mindfulness for themselves, not just because it has the potential to increase achievement or decrease behavior issues in the classroom. 

So, as a teacher and teacher educator, I've been trying to be more mindful.  I've been meddling around with some apps too, for my smart phone and the one that I especially like is Insight Timer  I've been using the free version for about 2 years, and finally bought the full version that allows for more customization.  There are so many features of this app that I enjoy - seeing the community of people I'm meditating with, having access to guided meditations and the statistic tracking, just to name a few.

Looking forward to seeing what book #CyberPD picks for this year!

Fostering Creativity - a lecture by John Cleese


“You know, when Video Arts asked me if I'd like to talk about creativity I said "no problem!" No problem! Because telling people how to be creative is easy, it's only being it that's difficult” allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="420"> So began John Cleese's 1991 lecture on creativity. (Transcript available here: News Genius: Lecture on Creativity.) I happened to stumble on this lecture late one night when I couldn't sleep. Cleese is best known for his work in Monty Python, which gives him great experience to talk about creativity because, as he states, he has been watching and working with creative people for most of his career. Cleese believes that creativity is not a talent, but rather a way of operating in the world and to foster creativity in oneself there are five factors that need to available to inspire more creative thinking: space, time, time, confidence and humor. With these factors in place, people are more open to possibilities and playful exploration which leads to creative thinking. As I was watching the video, I immediately thought about the institution of schooling and how, in modern times, the institution of schooling has fostered the complete opposite. Which is unfortunate, because Dr Richard Florida has stated, “Creativity is the new economy.” We are no longer living in an industrial society focused on manufacturing as we have out-sourced that to countries who can do it cheaper. Although the service industry will always be a part of our society, it is not the biggest economic driving factor in the US, nor is bartering in knowledge. Instead, according to Dr. Florida, what will be important in America's future is the development of innovative ideas and support for creative thinking. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="315" src="//" width="560"> So, returning to John Cleese, what are the five factors that foster creative thinking? And, I might add, how might classrooms foster this?Space – Cleese means both a physical space and a mental space free from the usual pressures of performance and interruptions. In practical terms, this means creating an environment without distractions of noise, social media, gossip, TV and other screens, and the anxiety of “doing it right.” Children used to have a creative space like this during recess – where they could choose what to do and how to do it. Unfortunately, there is less recess time and even the recess time available has been more structured. As children become older, there is even less unstructured, unpressured spaces available in middle and high school.Time – Not only is an open, undisturbed space needed but adequate time dedicated to playful creativity. Cleese suggests at least 90 minutes, because in the first 30 minutes, the mind will race with all the things we think we need to do “Because, as we all know, it's easier to do trivial things that are urgent than it is to do important things that are not urgent, like thinking. And it's also easier to do little things we know we can do, than to start on big things that we're not so sure about.” Envision this – taking 90 minutes a week to think, ponder and imagine. Now envision providing 90 minutes a week for students to do the same thing!Time – Separate from scheduling thinking time, according to Cleese, persistent time is important – time to persist with a problem or idea beyond the easy solution; to embrace the anxiety and unease of not having a solution or a decision. Too often we are driven by our To-Do Lists and feel that action is better than inaction. But, according to Cleese, the more creative ideas arise when decisions are deferred and pondering t[...]

Re-phrasing for Dynamic Learning


Edutopia re-posted an article today entitled 5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students because the talented  Krissy Venosdale at designed a cool classroom poster to remind ourselves to open more doors through our questions rather than closing them through statements. (ie dynamic rather than static thinking - see #CyberPD Opening Minds Chapters 1-3 ).

Here is an image of the poster, but if you would like a good version of it, go to Krissy Venosdale's Flickr site.  She also is offering a printed versions (for only $4.00) at MagCloud. Seems totally worth it!

#CyberPD Week 3 - Chapter 5 - Know Thyself


     Supposedly, Socrates uttered these words, "Know thyself" but the roots of  wanting to understand the self probably goes back much further.  Why would I bring philosophy into a conversation about literacy?  Well, chapter five is about Wild Readers Showing Preferences for reading - genres, authors, series etc.  To be able to have a preference, one must know thyself.  What do I like/dislike?  Why?  How might this help me select books I enjoy in the future?  How do I need to challenge myself as a reader?     At the beginning of the chapter, Donalyn reflects on her own preferences, therefore I reflected on mine.  Not only do I have clear preferences, but these preferences are dependent on the role I'm playing and the context I'm in.  I listen to non-fiction business and self-help books before bed to wind-down, but I don't read them. I enjoy a good science fiction book as an escapist read when I need to turn off my own thoughts for awhile. On an airplane, I prefer a realistic fiction book because it is easier to pick up and put down during interruptions and still follow the story. For some light or vacation reading, I'm currently collecting food-themed fiction and mystery books. Every few years I will re-read Anne McCaffrey, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott and Sue Bender.  In my professional life, I'm reading about language use, writing, and literacy as a cultural practice.  Resnick (1990) categorizes literacy practices into various purposes: the sacred, the informational, the pleasurable, the persuasive and the personal-familial.  Since we all read/write for different purposes, it would seem reasonable that we would have different preferences in different contexts.  I wonder if my students could create a list like this - not just what titles/authors they prefer, but when and where they prefer to read particular titles/authors/types/genres?     But, I will admit that I haven't "pushed [myself] to read widely in order to best serve our students" (p. 167) as Donalyn recommends.  There were some young adult titles that I would read summaries and recommendations about, rather than actually read the book.  I greatly depended on the Cooperative Children's Book Center to help me recommend titles of areas I was ignorant about.  Although many children learn the habits of networking to find books they enjoy, we need to be aware of the children who use vague terms like "scary" or "funny" books to describe their preferences.  This is an indication that the child hasn't read widely enough to start defining his/her specific preferences.  Might this relate back to not just personal taste, but reading in a variety of contexts?     As I was reading, I created what I imagined will be Hints or Guidelines for Teachers about helping students create preferences in reading:As teachers, we need to help students develop a more sophisticated understandings of genres to include the sub-genres.  As Donalyn highlighted, not all sci-fi books have robots in them.  In fact, one of my favorite sci-fi books is a re-telling of Jane Eyre (Jenna Starborn by  Sharon Shinn). Not all mysteries have a murder. Not all romances are happy.As teachers, we need to accommodate students' preferences while expanding their reading repertoires and challenging them to explore new styles.  This is a fine line to continue to encourage the text that students like AND introduce the unfamiliar. As readers, we need to expand our own understanding and acceptance for non-traditional genres.  Styles, genres, and modes of text are changing constantly.  Remember,[...]

#CyberPD - Reading in the Wild - Chapter 3 - Reading is a Social Activity - Chapter 4 - The Badge of a Wild Reader


      As firmly as I now believe that reading is a social activity, as a young reader I firmly believed in NOT sharing my reading with others. In school, no one “got” why I read what I read, I was frequently teased for always having my nose in a book, and no one really wanted to hear what I thought about what I read. Book reports were delivered to the sounds of crickets (think cartoon silence) and construction paper leaves for a tree or cars for a train lining the classroom walls were written up to prove my progress to a class goal of reading so many books. In high school, when we were finally allowed to “discuss” books, the conversation was very teacher driven and focused on proving we read the book and understood the symbolism. I did not experience a community of readers, who eagerly read, shared and supported each other, until I became a middle school teacher. Not only did I try to foster this type of environment in my classroom (surviving without a classroom library because my school didn't believe in such things) but as I attended my first professional conferences, I connected with other middle school teachers who enthusiastically shared their reading, made significant recommendations for books for my students (and me), and embodied lives of wild readers. In the challenging days of a first year teacher, these wild readers (like Linda Rief who actually wrote me encouraging letters and sent her own students' work) inspired me to “keep calm and read a book” and I continue to advocate for reading time in school, student choice, and, as chapter three details, help my students (both young and adults) to “share books and reading with other readers” (p. 87).     Donalyn quotes Jeff Wilhelm (who is another of my teacher idols) from a conference when he stated, “What's your bottom line? What do you really want to happen for your students? Now, how does what you do every day serve that bottom line?” (p. 89). I've been pondering this lately and I'm reminded of an activity my teacher-husband did with a group of high school students. They were reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teensby Sean Coveyand for Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind, my husband asked the students to create and design bumper stickers for their own life motto or mission statement. More recently, Daniel Pink asked the question,“What's your sentence?”  So, what is your literacy teaching mission/motto/sentence?I'm playing with this one:Donalyn describes many of the negative factors I experienced as a young reader – the demeaning social stereotypes of readers, the limited access to books at school and a school community that didn't support wild reading and social engagement with reading. Yet, even more importantly, Donalyn provides numerous suggestions on how to “foster school and home reading communities” (p. 91) and delineates the“benefits of reading communities” (p. 96). The main idea here is creating a sense of community – developing relationships and habits of mind both in school and at home that center around reading and writing. As I mentioned before, I had supportive reading parents and I learned to cherish the smell of bookshops and libraries and interact with readers outside of school. I wonder how much more would I have engaged in school and enjoyed it, if I didn't have to hide the reader side of my life? I wonder how many other children still feel this way?     Besides many suggestions on how a teacher, classroom and school can create and sustain community connections, Donalyn shows how to help a new teacher embrace a wild reading life. I wept in awe reading Malorie's (a stud[...]

#CyberPD - Reading in the Wild - Chapter 1-2 - Alleluia!


      As much as I love #CyberPD, I kind of think that by selecting this book, the choir is being preached to. Based on my experience in past years with #CyberPD, I think that most of the teachers and educators joining us will be singing, “Alleluia” as they read Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild as it confirms, validates, and supports many of the practices that we know are good for kids. And not in the “raise test scores” kind of good, but good in the way that helps students become life-long readers. As Donalyn states early in the Introduction, this is not a program to be implemented, but a way of thinking about how life-long readers and writers integrate reading and writing into their lives and then applying those principles to the classroom to help students develop the habits of life-long readers.     With all the current tension surrounding the implementation of Common Core, and in many states, the newly minted Smarter Balanced Assessment System, I found it interesting that Donalyn returned to the 1996 NAEP report for this quote, “Students must no only develop the ability to comprehend what they read, but also develop an orientation to literacy that leads to life-long reading and learning.” I don't know about your own school districts, but around me it seems like we are moving further away from this ideal – to not only create students who can demonstrate the skills of reading, but inspire students to actually want to read and write outside of school and develop positive dispositions towards engaging in literacy for their own purposes. Or, as Donalyn writes, to foster "their capacity to lead literate lives.” (p. xx) Wouldn't that be an amazing part of any school's mission statement?      Donalyn reminds us, “living a reading life requires some commitment” (p. 2) and highlights that too often, students have to wait until adulthood to create a readerly life because many literacy classrooms focus on skills and strategies, rather than the full experience of becoming a reader. I enjoyed reviewing the Classroom Non-Negotiables: 1) Provide time to read and write 2) Give choice to students 3) Provide multiple opportunities to respond to reading 4) Create a community around literacy and 5) Create structures to support students and teachers to learn more and assess their work together. Although these non-negotiables are very familiar (I was an early adopter of Atwell's workshop approach), it is good to be reminded of the essence of classrooms that foster the habits of life-long readers. These habits are so essential because those who become life-long readers are “readers who incorporate reading into their personal identities to the degree that it weaves into their lives along with everything else that interests them” (p. 3).      Managing time is one of the biggest factors in determining if one will become a life-long reader. With so many requirements, responsibilities and distractions, it is easy for reading to be pushed aside for other things. Chapter 1 focuses on how we can “practice living like readers” (p. 9) by snatching reading time on the edges (the multiple few minutes of time spent waiting that inevitable happens) and getting into the habit of always having book available for“reading emergencies” (p. 14). Lately I have gotten into the habit of downloading books to my smartphone. I have been amazed at how much more reading I've been doing just because I always have a book with me. Like many of Donalyn's students (and my own), I have been under the false assumption that I need to have long stretches of t[...]

#CyberPD - Reading in the Wild - Book for Summer 2014


#CyberPD is one of the best professional development over summer!  I have had the honor of participating in the last few years and this year promises to be even better!We will be reading and discussing Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller with Susan Kelley. If you are interested in participating, go to Literacy Learning Zone to find out how.#cyberPD 2014: Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks)July 9th   Chapters 1-2 Hosted by Cathy Mere at Reflect and RefineJuly 16th  Chapters 3-4 Hosted by Laura Komos at Ruminate and InvigorateJuly 23rd  Chapter 5 & Appendices Hosted by Michelle Nero at Literacy Learning ZoneJuly 30th @ 7 PM (CST) Twitter Chat with the author Donalyn Miller[...]

PowerPoint or Pointless


As a classroom teacher, I didn't use PowerPoint a lot, not because I couldn't, but because it was such a static medium.  I used the old fashioned overhead that allowed me to write, draw, and design visuals that followed the conversation we were having.  However, at times, PowerPoint was very relevant and I especially wanted to teach my students how to leverage PowerPoint to their advantage, and not stumble, like so many do, into creating slides with too much text and spending too much time reading their slides to the audience.

However, as an academic, I'm frequently speaking to large audiences in spaces that typically encourage, if not require, some sort of visual presentation.  Several years ago, I participated in a PechaKucha night and it was a revelation of what PPT could inspire.  Since then, I've had the pleasure of experiencing a few professional speakers and researchers who use PPT to strategically  illustrate points and/or reinforce the mood/tone of their speech, rather than provide the entire text of their speech.

Rebecca Schuman takes on the pointlessness of PPT in higher education with her entertaining and informative presentation PowerPointless: Digital slideshows are the scourge of higher education.  It blithely highlights the horrible habits we have all gotten into when using PPT and exposes what our students really feel about our use of text-heavy, dull, and outdated presentations. As she states, mid-way through her presentation, "A presentation, believe it or not, is the opening move of a conversation - not the entire conversation."

Although I continue to create presentations for conferences, I hope that my move toward the use of graphics and strategic selection of quoted data helps build the audience engagement in what I'm presenting.  A little later in her presentation, Schuman states, "If your audience can understand everything it needs to from your slides only . . . cut 50% of the slides and 90% of the text."  In other-words, if the slideshow can be read like a book, what's the point of me standing in front of you speaking?  You could read it on your own time!

What do you think?

Researchers as Writers - for whom and how?


Right now there is a major debate going on through multiple academic listservs.  It revolves around a recent article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times entitled "Professors, We Need You". He begins the piece with a provocative opening, "Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates."  He continues to point out the "the anti-intellectualism in American life" and how, at times, professors themselves are to blame for this - as generally, they are not (or are prevented from) engaging in public debates of importance.  As researchers/professors, publication is a crucial part of tenure, but the audience and purpose is not necessarily to impact local, state or national policies or programs.  Instead, too often, academic research is written for academic researchers.  And, to be part of that great conclave, one must learn and use the academic jargon (or Academic Jibberish as Stephen Krashen calls it), required for admission.  Instead of writing for the masses, professors are writing for the select free clip artIn my own dissertation, I selected to use the "three article option" rather than the traditional five chapter format.  In addition, I deliberately selected practitioner-read journals as my target journals, rather than academic elite journals.  My research focused on researching with and learning from teachers, and it was my goal that other teachers would be interested in and enjoy learning from them too.  To bridge the worlds of the researcher and the practitioner, I took Duke and Beck's advise to write the dissertation as a series of articles in a “genre authentic to the field” (1999, p. 34).However, Kristof is not only critiquing academic report writing, but he continues that "Professors today have a growing number of tools available to educate the public, from online courses to blogs to social media. Yet academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook."  This is not surprising to me, as many academics don't receive "credit" for non-official writing such as social media or local opinion pieces.  If the process of tenure rewarded public engagement, then I'm sure more professors would involve themselves in this.  An organization that has been trying to influence this policy is Imagining America Organization and it recognizes that public scholarship needs to be supported.Allen Berger, in his article "Writing about Reading for the Public" (The Reading Teacher, Sep. 1997), suggests that as literacy professionals, we need to learn how to write for publications that the public reads - which means understanding the style, format, length and audience for various publications.  In addition, according to Berger, we need to be reading the publications that influence public opinion and, rather than just responding to criticism, we need to be opening the doors to dialogue on issues and topics that we want to debate publicly.As an early career scholar, I've grown up academically with digital spaces supplementing my traditional training.  I read blogs from graduate students, international teachers, writers and professors to gain insight on the intellectual work they are doing and sharing through their "slice of life" blog entries.  I actively participate in Twitter chats as a teacher, teacher-educator, adjunct faculty, and writer.  These conversations, with other engaged and excited people continue to inspi[...]

Getting to Know the Characteristics of Good Teachers


(image) For most pre-service teachers, they have had 13+ years of "apprenticeship of observation" (Lortie, 1975) - that is, they  have been students in schools for thousands of hours and seem to know what teachers do everyday.  However, as any classroom teacher will tell you - there is a lot of time, thought and effort that goes on behind the scenes that students never see.  As a teacher-educator, I hope to help my pre-service teachers become more aware of how their previous experiences as students influences their understanding of teaching and learning and their own development as teachers.

 One of the first activities I ask my pre-service teachers to complete is a quick review of the "characteristics of effective teachers".  To accomplish this, I ask the students to search for and view four YouTube videos using search terms like - characteristics/qualities/traits and good/effective/excellent and teachers.  The students take notes on the author and purpose of the video and what characteristics were discussed.  Then, in small groups, the students combine their observations for a group list - which is then compared against the other groups.  It is not surprising, but the results are fairly consistent - passionate, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, fair, organized, supportive, patient, caring, friendly, respectful and creative.

I then introduce the book "Thank You, Mr. Falker" by  Patricia Polacco, which is a memoir of her struggles with dyslexia in school and the teacher who made a difference for her.  Jane Kaczmarek reads the story in this Screen Actors Guild video.  Using a Quick Write, students reflect on the teachers who have influenced them the most and share their responses with a partner.

Finally, in small groups, students draft a job description for a teacher.  This would include the objective, summary statement, qualifications, duties/responsibilities, required skills, and desired skills.  It could also include the salary range and hours. 

For many students, this was the first time they have broken down the actual job of a teacher into the smaller parts to consider the daily tasks of not just lesson planning and teaching, but communicating with staff and parents, assessment paperwork, additional duties like lunch and recess, after school activities, and assorted professional meetings.  I chuckled when one student commented, "Hmmm... I guess I should really look into actual job descriptions, considering this is what I want to do." 

Put One Word After Another Until Done


Publish or perish is the axiom for many scholars and academics, and it is true in many cases.  However, that proverb frames the practice of writing as an unwelcome dictum.  For the past few days, I've been gleaning words of inspiration, portraits of struggle, and motivation to continue to make meaning of my life, teaching and research through writing at the Living the Writerly Life session and study group at the Literacy Research Association conference 2013.  Although the genre of academic writing is a bit particular – there are a lot of useful tidbits for writers of all sorts.One of the most bountiful sessions for inspiration and advise was sponsored by the Living the Writerly Life study group organizers and was entitled “ We All Have Something to Say: Strategies for Living the Writerly Life.”  In this alternative format sessions, well-published scholars speed-dated us in small groups and shared their collective wisdom of writing.Julie Coiro, from the University of Rhode Island, encouraged many practices that writing teachers in schools encourage – read a lot with an eye to craft; keep a writer's notebook of ideas; write the first draft as a freewrite and craft it for specific purposes later; and find critical friends (especially classroom teachers) to get feedback.  It is important to clarify personal interests to focus a research agenda that is manageable.  As many others reiterated later – aim for a revise and resubmit (R&R), as that means a journal is interested and willing to work with you to craft the final piece.  Celebrate this!Beth Dobler, from Emporia State University, advised to find the kernel of a topic that you really care about because you will be with it for a while.  In addition, 85% of writing time is really pre-writing – the thinking, planning, and researching of a topic.  Provide the time to do this well and the final piece will be stronger.Lori Assaf, from Texas State University, counseled us to not just celebrate R&R, but to get them revised and resubmitted as soon as possible.  When they languish on the “to do” pile, they tend not to get done and as time passes, the piece becomes out of date.  As educational researchers, we need to be aware of the various audiences we need to interact with, therefore try to craft three different pieces on a topic or data set – one for a research journal, one for a practitioner journal, and one as an opinion piece.Laura Pardo, from Hope College, urged us to keep a writer's notebook.  A  consistent place for writing encourages writing as a habit and practice, and should include more than just academic writing.  She has sections and tabs in her notebook for different ideas and purposes.Doug Kauffman, from the University of Connecticut,  commented that “writing is a blue collar job rather than artistry”.  He encouraged us to get rid of the idea that writings needs to be pretty and artful.  Just get stuff on the page.  With something on the screen, there is something to revise.  If we think of revision as an act of play and experimentation, then we don't have to wait for inspiration to hit.  The artistry of writing comes through revision, not generation. Beth Maloch, from the University of Texas at Austin, talked about balancing teaching and research.  Her best advise was to hold fast to the suggested allocation of time that many research institutions use – the 40/40/20 of teaching, research and service.  In a 40 hours w[...]

Twas the Night Before LRA


Twas the night before LRA, and all through Love Field,
The teachers and researchers were departing their flights.
The program was set, with thoughtful reviews
In hopes that all attending scholars would happily choose.

The students back home were all snug with a substitute,
Or eagerly anticipating a day of peaceful solitude.
As academics with PPTs prepared to show off their learning,
We settled our brains for four days of discerning!

In the lobby of the Omni Hotel there arose such a clatter,
“I haven't seen you since last year – let's have a a quick chatter!”
Good friends and the colleagues we meet only here,
Enjoy the warmer climate of Dallas this year.

Dallas, a site of both cultural icons and historical meaning,
Provides a good space for our personal gleaning,
Transformative Literacy: Theory, Research, and Reform,
Our mission – that powerful, critical literacy becomes the norm.

With R. Beach and T. Rodgers we will soon understand
Digital Texts Through Social Practices, will be absolutely grand.
They soon will be joined by K. Chandler-Olcott, and A. F. Ball,
F. Boyd and T. McCarty – in Plenaries for all.

Besides large group sessions, there's papers for all:
Besides broad categories of quant and qual
We'll dive into case study, mixed methods, and more.
The possibilities are endless, it's so hard store!

As people engage in dynamic sessions,
The Twitter feed #LRA13 will ask many questions.
But don't forget to feed both your stomach and mind,
To be social and meet everyone, especially newbies, is kind.

An then in a twinkling, the conference will come to an end.
With new contacts and friendships, and papers to pen.
We will return to our schools and our colleges fresh,
Recognizing that our LRA community is truly blessed.

Dedicated people and volunteers galore
Provide yearly meetings that refresh us to the core.
Thank you all officers, elected and served,
Our gratitude is endless, and all is deserved.

Let's meet again next year, some place in the East,
While our daily work with powerful literacy will never cease.
And never forget Frederick Douglass's plea
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

Misunderstood Minds – An Introduction to Children Who Learn Differently


I recently discovered a wonderful resource to help teachers and parents better understand learning issues. Learning differences and difficulties are notoriously tough to understand and recognize. In the past, students who learned differently were often segregated to separate schools or classrooms and were denied a quality education. In the 1970s, with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), more attention was given to supporting students who learn differently in the regular classroom – however, it was still often seen as the Special Education department's job to identify and support students. Unfortunately, too often students needed to have significant achievement gaps, behavioral issues, or failures before support was provided. More recently, with the implementation of Response to Intervention (RTI), classroom teachers have the responsibility to identify students who need more individualized support in a proactive manner. The model in Wisconsin centers on culturally responsive practices, using collaboration, balanced assessment, and high quality instruction within a multilevel system of support to help students achieve academic standards.This has the potential to significantly decrease the referrals to special education for all students. It also challenges the traditional model of education that assumes all students learn the same and if not, the problem is with the student. Instead, RTI recognizes that students learn differently and some may need more individualized instruction based on their strengths (not just deficits) to achieve. An excellent resource to introduce teachers to the complexities of learning differences and difficulties is the PBS video "Misunderstood Minds." It follows three years in the lives of five families whose children struggle to learn. In addition, there is an excellent companion website that provides definitions, explanations, and resources for learning difficulties in reading, writing, math and attention. One of the most unique aspects of the website are the “Experience Firsthand” activities that simulate what it would look and feel like to have a particular learning difficulty. The video is about 90 minutes long but provides an excellent personal portrait of each of the children, the struggles of their families, and the complexities of understanding learning difficulties. I will provide a brief summary of the video.The first student introduced was Nathan VanHoy, who struggled to read. His struggles were masked by his strong verbal skills and ability to memorize, but he knew he wasn't reading like his classmates. After intensive testing, he was diagnosed with a phonemic awareness problem -- an inability to innately distinguish between the different letter sounds that form words. With great trepidation, his mother made the decision to have Nathan have lessons in the school's resource room which provided intensive training in phonemic awareness. He made progress, but also had plateaus. The next student profiled was Lauren Smith, who was creative, dramatic and social, but had difficulties with focus, attention, and organization. In addition to academic problems, Lauren had difficulty making and keeping friends. These issues helped her doctors diagnose an attention difficulty, that most likely resulted from an imbalance of dopamine in her brain. Hesitant to use medication for Lauren, her parents decided to try sending Lauren to a different school, which at first seemed to help. Bu[...]

Getting to Know You: Using Children's Literature to Introduce Working with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students


“There are some themes, some subjects, too large for adult fiction; they can only be dealt with adequately in a children's book.” ― Philip PullmanI was pondering how to introduce strategies and techniques for working with culturally and linguistically diverse students to my pre-service teachers. But beyond looking at English language learners as a group I wanted my students to personally identify with children who may be very different from themselves. I wanted them to be thinking about questions such as: What does it feel like to be an English Language Learner in a classroom? What are some of the hopes and fears of students who struggle to speak English in our classrooms? How do English language learners navigate in a society that is mostly monolingual?Children's literature has the unique characteristic of making a complex topics very personal and visual. I selected several illustrated children's books and asked groups of pre-service teachers to read the book together and summarize the storyline, list what they learned about English language learners, bilingual and/or immigrant students from the story, and how could they use the book in their own classrooms. This provided the students a repertoire of books to use with their students but also new perspectives of what it's like to be English language learner in American schools.Class Mom – Written by Margaret Mc Namara; Illustrated by Mike GordonSummary: Nia's class is having a party and Nia volunteers her mom to be in charge, even though she believes her Mama will not want to be in charge because she doesn't speak much English. Throughout the weekend Nia did not tell her mom about party. After much agony, and pretending that she was sick the morning of the party, Nia finally tells her mom about the party. However Mama pulls through and throws a great party. What the Students Learned: We learned that parents of English language learners may have a hard time volunteering in the classroom if they speak another language. What we, as teachers, may perceive as a lack of involvement does not mean disinterest. We also learned that it is important for students to connect their languages and cultures to the work in the classroom. Using the Book: We could use this book to show students how everyone's family is different and how parents may speak many languages. In English, Of Course – Written by Josephine Nobisso; Illustrated by Dasha ZiborovaSummary: Josephine just moved to the Bronx from Italy. Her teacher asked all the students to introduce themselves. The students were from all over the world and each began to introduce themselves, but Josephine was confused by what they said and how they said it. When Josephine tried to explain where she was from Naples Italy, the students and teacher did not understand her. Through patience, gestures and pictures the teacher helped Josephine tell her story and learn new words in English.What the Students Learned:We learned that the misconception of language can scare some students. English language learners may have a hard time coming up with sentences and the correct words to use, but they have a lot of ideas in their head. As teachers we need to provide patients and resources to students to help them build their language skills and confidenceUsing the Book: By using this book with our students in the classroom, they may also recognize that students who may not speak English very well may still have a lot to say and teach us.The [...]

Life Lessons in Children's Literature


Sometimes a book finds you – rather than you finding a book, and The Three Questions (based on a story by Leo Tolstoy) by Jon J. Muth is a book that found me. In the midst of looking for other topics, my eye was drawn to the muted water color and the fact that there is a children's book based on Tolstoy - not an easy author to understand. I settled down on the floor to enjoy the story.Nikolai wants to be a good person and sets out to find the answers to three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? Like most quest stories, Nikolai consulted several creatures: Sonya, the heron; Gogol, the monkey, and Pushkin, the dog. Each gave answers according to their own perspectives and experiences and their answers did not satisfy Nikolai. Figuring Leo, the wise turtle, might have better answers, Nikolai went to him. Leo was digging and Nikolai offered to help. In the midst of digging, Nikolia heard a cry for help and rescued an injured panda and her cub and cared for them. Through these experiences, Leo observed that Nikolia had the answers to his own questions, “Remember then that there is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the one who is standing at your side.”From: recently a teacher mentioned how discouraged she was with teaching - the Common Core mandates, a district imposed literacy curriculum, and general disrespect of the teaching profession. She said, “There are days that I wonder if it matters. What are we doing?” I reminded her of the tale of the boy walking down the beach and finding an old man throwing the stranded starfish back into the water. There were hundreds of the starfish on the beach and the boy exclaimed, “Why are you doing this? There is no way you can save them all!” The old man turned to the boy, while picking up another, and said, “It matters to this one.”The teachers I know matter. Each and every day they focus on doing the best they can for each child in their classroom – the ones standing by their side – even in the midst of overwhelming mandates, testing and general discourtesy. It matters – to each child – each day – every day.[...]

First Day Fears and Hopes


Another school year has begun, and this year, I'm teaching undergrad and graduate courses. But, it is still a new school year, and whether I'm teaching at a new school or just being introduced to a new group of students, I still have the first day jitters. And, I believe, if I ever lose this trait, it is time to hang up my teaching hat. I think the jitters are important to remind myself to constantly be learning about myself, my students, and my content and pedagogy. Like the actor's nightmare (showing up on stage and not knowing what play is being performed) I think there are teachers' nightmares. On my first day with my new practicum students, I shared my first day jitters and my yearly nightmare of not knowing what classes I'm teaching or having students standing on desks and throwing paper airplanes at me. I hear some teachers have the nightmare of showing up naked to class, though I've never had that one. As my practicum students move into their first classroom experiences, I wanted them to know that anxiety of new experiences is okay, but it shouldn't be paralyzing. I found a great illustrated children's book that really exemplifies this point.Mr. Ouchy's First Day by Barbara G. Hennessy is about a new fourth-grade teacher on his first day. Like many children, he prepares for the first day by buying new shoes, getting a haircut, has trouble sleeping thinking about the first day, and gets up early to make sure he is on time. At first, the children tease him about his unusual name, but as he begins to engage them in figuring out time, the children begin to discuss how a minute can be interpreted differently under various circumstances. And suddenly, it is recess time! The book then jumps to the end of the day and Mr. Ouchy and the children set goals for learning for the year. The children want to learn how to whistle, swing on a trapeze, train a cat, or make doughnuts. When Mr. Ouchy returns home, he is tired but anticipating the great learning for the year and begins to read up on the children's interests and dreams of his students accomplishing their goals.After sharing the book, I asked my practicum students to write down a fear, a hope, a question, and something they hope to learn through the year on post it notes. On the white board, I drew a chart with each sectioned labels. As the students thought of something, they could post it, and other students could read various responses. The ideas ranged from very practical (What school will I be at?) to very broad (How do I engage children of all abilities and ages?). Many were concerned about managing a classroom and they wanted to be the best teacher possible. Others wrote about their fear of failure and wanting to be an inspiring teacher. Although the hopes and fears don't change much from year to year – whether you are a student or a teacher, I think it is important to acknowledge that the first day of school is a day of both excitement and anxiety. Really, this is true for the first day of any new experience. During the roller-coaster of emotions, it is good to know that you are not alone and that these feelings are completely normal. I saw a poster once that said, “The only difference between fear and excitement is your attitude about it. - Unknown.” In the fear and excitement of the first day, I hope to encourage my students to focus on the excitement and let the engagement in lessons all[...]