BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

May 25, 2015
by blogwalker
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Kent State 45, Hmong 40

“The legend has become hazy, a half-remembered war story known only to a few veterans of Vietnam … Yeah, I remember. The Ravens – a weird bunch of guys who lived and fought out there in the jungle in the Other Theater somewhere. Hell, what was the name of the country?”  ~  Christopher Robbins, (Prologue) The Ravens – The Men Who Flew in America’s Secret War in Laos

This month marks the 45-year anniversary of the Kent State shootings, an event not likely to fade from my memory for a long time to come. At the time, I was completing my credential program at the University of Oregon.  President Nixon’s April 30, 1970, announcement on national television that the United States was invading Cambodia and would need to draft 150,000 more soldiers set off massive protests on campuses throughout the country. In Ohio, the governor dispatched 900 National Guardsmen to the Kent State campus. It seemed unthinkable that soldiers would fire at unarmed students. The outcry across the nation was instantaneous and exponential, 67 Shots that pierced the nation.

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40 Year Commemoration

As I have mentioned in a previous post, this month also marks the 40-year anniversary of the “Secret War in Laos.” Friday evening I headed to the steps of California’s State Capitol to take part in a candlelight vigil to commemorate the Hmong and Mien soldiers who lost their lives fighting to support our nation’s Vietnam War efforts.

When I joined the anti-war movement, my concern was to bring home American soldiers, many of whom were college or even childhood friends. In 1970, I knew nothing about the CIA’s covert operations in Laos and the many ways the Hmong and Mien supported the U.S. soldiers.

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Salute to flag during singing of National Anthem

The candlelight vigil opened with a young woman taking the microphone and beautifully leading us in our National Anthem. As I watched two rows of soldiers saluting our flag, I wished I knew then, 45 years ago, the high price these soldiers and their families would  pay for their alliances with our troops.

I am very grateful to Elk Grove City Councilmember Steve Ly (Elk Grove’s first Hmong councilman) for organizing this event – and for providing me with the opportunity on this Memorial Day weekend to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Vietnam War years and to thank those who served and survived.

“The least goddam thing somebody could do is come back and say, ‘I’m sorry.”  ~ “Pop” Buell, The Unconstitutionality of the Secret War in Laos

 

May 10, 2015
by blogwalker
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NWP 20, Hmong 40

Twenty years ago, I started on an amazing, ongoing professional development journey by applying for the Area 3 Writing Project’s Summer Institute (SI). I knew from the opening day that my SI experience would provide me with exceptional best practices in teaching writing and, equally important, with an incredible professional learning community. But in 1995, I certainly had no idea of the life-changing connections that would come my way as a result of my joining the NWP community. I’d like to share one of those connections.

At the close of the SI, A3WP director Jayne Marlink invited our group to a celebration at her home. As I entered her hallway, I was completely drawn into an elaborately decorated wall hanging. The intricate embroidery depicted groups of people clearly fleeing an area and attempting to cross a river. Soldiers were everywhere. That was my first time to see a Hmong story cloth. It was a gift, Jayne explained, from a former student, a Hmong student whose family had fled Laos after the U.S. pulled out of the Vietnam War.

I grew up with the Vietnam War. It was in the news during my high school years. By college, the war dominated the media, with an escalating protest movement on and beyond campuses. So I thought I knew about the Vietnam War, including its extension into Cambodia. But I do not remember any news coverage from Laos. The Hmong story cloth hanging in Jayne’s hallway was a new chapter for me. Over the years, I continued to “read” about the Hmong migration from Laos, mainly at Sacramento area farmers’ markets, where Hmong often sell story cloths along with their produce.

In 1998, I transferred from a small, semi-rural school district in the Sierra foothills to the Elk Grove School District, a rapidly-growing district in the south Sacramento area.  Prior to World War II, the Elk Grove-Florin area had been home to hundreds of Japanese-American families who farmed the region’s strawberry fields. When President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, authorizing the removal of all citizens of Japanese heritage from the West Coast, the history of this community overnight and forever changed. Few were able to return and reclaim their farms.

The Elk Grove USD annually commemorates the forced removal of its Japanese-American citizens through its Board Resolution 33: Day of Remembrance. As a technology integration specialist for the district, it has been my privilege to help document the internment stories through the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project.

History does have a tendency to repeat itself. Two wars later, the strawberry fields of Elk Grove-Florin are primarily farmed by Hmong and Mien. They are refugees of the “Secret War in Laos.” This year, 2015, marks the 40-year anniversary of the Hmong and Mien migration from Laos and Thailand to the United States. During the Vietnam War, the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency formed a secret alliance with the Hmong army to fight Laotian communists and the North Vietnamese. Shortly after the U.S. military abandoned Laos in 1974, the communist group Pathet Lao announced plans to wipe out both the Hmong and Mien. Their only option for survival was to flee Laos.

Yien Saetern: Elk Grove strawberry farm

It is through the vision and support of Steve Ly that have I become actively and deeply involved in researching and documenting the stories of the Secret War refugees. Steve’s family fled Laos when he was four. Thirty-eight years later, he was elected to the Elk Grove USD School Board, the first Hmong member. In his tenure, he introduced Board Resolution 59 to commemorate the critical role the Hmong played in supporting the U.S. during the Vietnam War, to celebrate relocation of over 100,000 Hmong to the U.S., and to encourage teaching students in grades 7-12 about the Secret War (in alignment with California AB 78). Forty years later, Steve now serves as the City of Elk Grove’s first Hmong City Councilman. Through text messages, emails, and phone calls, he keeps me in the loop on upcoming events in the Sacramento area, such as a recent CSU, Sacramento, presentation by author Gayle Morrison, or a local hosting of a Hmong Story 40 celebration.

Steve Ly: Thai refugee camp

To commemorate the 40-year anniversary of the Hmong and Mien exodus from Laos, my colleague, the very talented EGUSD graphic designer Kathleen Watt, and I have been developing and curating a new section on the TOR website: the Vietnam War. We currently have completed interviews with 10 Hmong and Mien refugees and are in the process of annotating each interview so that teachers can easily locate and share specific parts of the interviews. We’ve posted snippets of several interviews, and should have complete interviews available within the next few months. Thanks to Steve Ly, we’ve even connected with and interviewed five Ravens. Ravens were the U.S. fighter pilots used for forward air control in conjunction with the Central Intelligence Agency during America’s Vietnam War. The Ravens provided direction for most of the air strikes against communist Pathet Lao targets.

From my first foray into the Secret War in Laos via Jayne Marlink’s Hmong story cloth, I now have on my night stand a small but growing collection of publications on the Secret War: The Latehomecomer; Tragic Mountains; Hog’s Exit, Jerry Daniels, the Hmong, and the CIA; and The Ravens: The True Story of the Secret War. Kathleen and I connect almost daily to discuss “Secret War” updates to our TOR site and its accompanying TOR Talks site. Twenty years later, I could now confidently and enthusiastically provide a guided tour of Jayne’s story cloth, enriched by stories shared during our interviews.

It is through Writing Project networks that I’ve come to understand the value and importance of telling our stories. It is through the support of my department (EGUSD Technology Services), in partnership with our Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium, that I’ve been able to digitally document community stories from two separated yet connected wars.

As California commemorates the 40-year legacy of the Secret War in Laos, through projects such as Hmong Story 40, I eagerly anticipate expanding the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Archive and facilitating discussions on the TOR Talks site. Your input is warmly invited.

 

 

April 5, 2015
by blogwalker
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Digital Citizenship PSA Challenge – Please share with your students

If your students have some thoughts to share on digital citizenship issues, please tell them about the 2015 Digital Citizenship PSA Challenge. This year marks the 4th year the Digital ID Project has sponsored the event. Students are invited to submit a Public Service Announcement (up to 90 seconds, excuding the credits) on any of the following topics:

  • cyberbullying
  • digital footprints
  • intellectual property (copyright, fair use, and/or creative commons)
  • online privacy

In addition to a beautiful certificate awarded to all students listed in the PSA credits, a $25 iTunes card will be awarded to the lead student for each winning entry. Three entries per grade-level division (Elementary, Middle, and High School) will be selected.

Entries must be submitted (online) by midnight, May 6, 2015. For more information, visit the PSA Challenge page and download the 2015 PSA Challenge flyer.

 

March 30, 2015
by blogwalker
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CUE 2015 Take-Aways

Just returned from three fabulous days at CUE 2015. It was definitely worth the 10-hour drive (each way). Many thanks to Mike Lawrence and the CUE team for a well-organized, exciting event, start to finish. Below are a few of my take-aways.

Thursday

 

  • Common Core = Technology Integration – I was only able to attend the tail end of Jeremy Davis’s session. His workshop description sums the importance of meaningful technology integration for the elementary schools:

Gone are the days of teaching a “technology lesson” a few times a year, as the Common Core State Standards have technology integration and digital literacy skills embedded in standards starting in Kindergarten. Come dig into the standards and discuss the need for cultural change towards technology integration into all curriculum areas.”

Big take-away: I love how the Capistrano School District (Jeremy’s district) has built on and tweaked Long Beach’s CCSS K12 Technology Scope & Sequence Plan, starting with the title: (Draft) Digital Literacy in the K-12 Classroom. I agree with their statement that “This document provides a roadmap for teachers and administrators to adapt curriculum to ensure that students are building digital literacy competency as well as technological skills for college and career readiness and online assessment” and I applaud their K-12 vision (as opposed to separating elementary from secondary).

 

 

  • Teaching above the Line – OK, I didn’t actually make it to Pablo Diaz, Ann Kozma, and Holly Steele’s SAMR session, but, oh my, what a great resource their slideshow is. Thanks for sharing! Like Gene and Karen’s session (above), this team makes visible what “giving students a chance to develop their own voice and purpose in learning through SAMR” looks like.

 

 Friday

  • Jennie Magiera’s bring-down-the-house keynote – Wow! What an amazing kick-off to Friday morning’s events! I was fortunate to be in Jennie Magiera’s group during my 2012 Google Teacher Academy experience, so I already knew her keynote would be like no other. And, yes, that is California Superintendent of Ed Tom Torlakson dancing out in the audience.

 

  • Google Certified Teacher’s Panel – A great session that definitely lived up to its description: “The latest and greatest tips, tricks and tools for Google Apps, and other Googly things.” Loved the energy and the excellent tutorials each of the presenter provided. I think you’ll want to checkout all 9 presenters. Biggest take-away for me would probably = Alice Chen’s Choose Your Own Adventure template for Google Slides, with the sample of introducing class rules via interactive slides, as opposed to teacher going over the rules.

Saturday

#PopBOMB – Creating 7 second videos that can change the world – Sorry that Matt did not include a link to his presentation. It was awesome. I heard Matt speak three years ago at Fall CUE and have ever since been a huge fan all of the options KQED offers teachers and students – starting with DoNow.

Matt explained “#PopBomb” as “infiltrating stoical  media conversation with short, visual, satirical arguments.” He demoed how 3 apps – Twitter, Meme Generator, and Vine – can be used to build “#PopBombs.” His samples of parody and satire wonderful (and great example of arguments for “fair use.”):

  • SNL’s Mister Robinson’s Neighborhood – 10 years ago, this SNL series was a great sample of many to  many model – incredible democratization of media (participatory culture alaHenry Jenkins). But you needed some media background and skills create these.
  • Vader Sessions – Darth having nervous breakdown?!

The tools for digitizing mashups are now readily available to all of us: democratization is powerful!

Big take-away = Using Vine to create 7-second video that you can start and stop to make multiple cuts. Checkout the powerful juxtaposition of sweatshops and fashion juxtaposition in Matt’sine 7-second remix.

 

Be a Graphic Artist without Going to Art School –  Nick Cusumano’s was my last session for #CUE15. I attended because I wanted to explore Canva, a great resource for adding a graphic wow factor to your presentations. In a nutshell:

  • Register as an educator. If there’s a $ sign, you only pay when you print – It’s the pic that might have the fee, not the template. So you can upload your own images – which you can then download for free. You have 24 hours to use download – or you pay again.
  • Great for infographics – many freebies
  • You can share for collaboration
  • Try combining Canva + LucidPress for brochures. LucidPress for K12 and higher ed = free.

A few more take-aways:

  • Google Cultural Institute – Historic Moments – Google gives you a template to use. You can upload your own.
  • PicMonkey – Cool effects to add to images. Now a Google AddOn
  • photofunia.com – Just plain fun. Upload a principal’s photo, for instance, and convert it to a historical figure.

Again, a huge shoutout to Mike Lawrence and to all the great #CUE15 presenters for three amazing conference days!

January 19, 2015
by blogwalker
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Cyberbullying: What the Research Shows

This week I will be gathering resources on cyberbullying in preparation for an upcoming school board meeting. As I explained in a recent post, school districts in the Sacramento region are dealing with troubling, even tragic, stories of bullying/cyberbullying at a number of school sites. As a result of media coverage on the very real, very negative impact of bullying on students (targets, bullies, bystanders) within and beyond the school day, I think/hope all districts are revisiting this important topic.

As the co-curator of both a district and a global digital citizenship site, I am always on the lookout for new resources, lessons, and research. I really appreciate timely resources from two of my favorite digital citizenship organizations: Cyberbullying Research Center and Common Sense Media.

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Cyberbullying Research Center

Cyberbullying Quiz – What the Research Shows – Professors  Sameer Hinduja (Florida Atlantic University) and  Justin Patchin (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire) are the co-directors of the Center for Cyberbullying Research. As researchers, they delve into and provide “up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents.” I highly recommend using their newly released Cyberbullying Quiz to  jump start faculty discussions.  The quiz is short (15 true/false questions) and each answer also includes the supporting research.

In addition to the quiz, Hinduja and Patchin have  published a comprehensive Cyberbullying Fact Sheet that is written for educators, administrators, and parents. If you are looking for a professionally done handout for a Parent Night, I’d recommend the Fact Sheet.

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Common Sense Media, although not solely focused on cyberbullying, is also constantly updating and adding to their resources. The awesome Kelly Mendoza, director of program development for Common Sense Media’s education programs, recently hosted a webinar with Dr. Elizabeth Englander, professor of psychology at Bridgewater State University: Cyberbullying, Sexting, and Social Media Use. Both the audio and the video are excellent – as is the content! I learned a few new terms from Dr. Englander, such as self-cyberbullying:

“Another issue that is a little peculiar that you may have never heard of is something called self-cyberbullying. This is a problem where kids essentially go online, they create a second persona online, and they use their second identity to cyberbully their first identity themselves. And then they take evidence of this to either their friends or to adults, and they say essentially ‘see, I’m being cyberbullied.’ It’s one of these issues that I thought was going to be very rare. However, we’ve been tracking it for three years now, and we’ve found that about 15 percent of kids admit to doing this.”

Dr. Englander is also the director and founder of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, or MARC, “an academic Center in public higher education, committed to a public health model for bullying and cyberbullying prevention for the state of Massachusetts.” MARC’s K-12 cyberbullying “evidence-based” curriculum looks excellent, including their videos. I will definitely be sharing the K-5 video, Meanness Is Like Littering, with my district community:

Dr. Englander also champions the Great American No Bull Challenge, which includes wonderful student-created videos such as Numbskull:

 

In addition to cyberbullying research, lessons, and videos,  I am hoping to add links to printable posters to cyberbullying my cyberbullying resources. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

 

 

January 2, 2015
by blogwalker
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Teaching Kindness

It’s become quite clear that modern education must encompass more than just academics, and that matters of the heart must be taken seriously and nurtured as a matter of priority. Lisa Currie

The Challenge: Can kindness and empathy really be taught?

This morning I re-read Lisa Currie’s October post for Edutopia: Why Teaching Kindness in Schools Is Essential to Reducing Bullying. In the past couple of months, the impact of school-wide bullying in the Sacramento region has been disturbingly newsworthy: the tragic suicide of an 8th grader in one district; a bullying lawsuit in an adjoining district; a number of student suspensions for racist activities at another; and an embarrassing parent confrontation during a regional cyberbullying public event for another.  This recent stream of bad press highlights the need for districts to teach – and expect – kindness and civility (AKA good citizenship) – face-to-face and online.

In my current position as a technology integration specialist for a large public school district, I am a regular visitor in K-12 classrooms. Many school sites display banners and/or posters around the campus reflective of the sites’ character education programs. Many have added cyberbullying to their character ed programs or are offering it as a stand-alone part of their digital citizenship curriculum (all sites are required to have some type of #digcit program in place). I am proud of the way many of our students, particularly at the secondary level, have stepped up to the challenge of confronting bullying. At one site, for instance, through their Unbullyable project, I know students have had a positive impact on their own campus as well as on their feeder elementary and middle schools.

 

I am grateful I have not yet opened the SacBee to find one my district’s schools featured on the front page for hurtful or hateful acts. And I applaud the efforts of K-12 teachers across the district to support their students in standing up and speaking out against bullying/cyberbullying. Yet a number of times, at several high school campuses, as I make my way through throngs of students exiting at the end of the school day, I hear them yelling out to classmates with rude, racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., comments. As tempting as it is to keep walking (it’s just kids being kids, no? … I’m not actually a faculty member here, right?, etc.), when I stop and face the offending student (who probably had not realized there was an adult in their midst), he or she basically always has the same reply: “Oh … Sorry… I was just kidding.” It takes my standing there a while longer before they will generally say once again that they are sorry. It think/hope the difference is that the first “Sorry” is because I heard them; the second “Sorry,” the one that matters, is for having said the unkind slur in the first place.

 

Kindness can be taught, and it is a defining aspect of civilized human life. It belongs in every home, school, neighborhood, and society.” Maurice Elias, Rutgers University

Stepping Up to the Challenge

But really, can kindness be taught? Can school districts serve as hubs for promoting these essential, timeless life skills? As evidenced in the Unbullyable project, I think so. Part of my job involves checking that all sites are teaching digital citizenship. In the first quarter of the school year, each site submits how it plans to meet e-Rate requirements. So teaching a few lessons during an advisory period, for instance, from Common Sense Media’s wonderful offerings, meets the requirements and often generates thought-provoking, possibly behavior-changing conversations. But some sites go above and beyond the minimum requirements by supporting a variety of student-led initiatives. These sites recognize that, with bullying/cyberbullying, the most impactful campaigns are student-initiated and student-led. At several of these same sites, teachers are weaving discussions of current bullying issues (local, national, or global) into their literature and social studies units. Although I’ve not set up any type of formalized student surveys, I’d be willing to bet that at these sites bullying incidents are becoming less frequent and, hopefully, less devastating.

Tips and Resources for Teaching Kindness

So how do we teach kindness to our students? I believe in the power of stories to transform hearts and actions. Thankfully, there is a wealth of powerful literature, starting with picture books, that teachers can use to ignite ongoing conversations on what kindness looks like. Common Sense Media’s Books that Teach Empathy list is a great K-12 resource and includes some of my favorites, such as R.J. Palacio’s Wonder.

There are also a growing number of websites that offer action-based lessons, such as the National Council of Teachers of English’s  Read, Write, Think site. Their Living the Dream: 100 Acts of Kindness lesson/challenge would be a wonderful literature extension for primary grades to use in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s,legacy and upcoming birthday. For middle and high school, I recommend visiting Facing History and Ourselves and checking out their Bullying and Ostracism Collections for resources to help students “think critically about the dynamics and impact of bullying in schools and communities.”

It is from stories, whether fiction or nonfiction, recent or from the past, and the ensuing conversations, that students often come to understand the role of the bystander in allowing bad things to happen, from bullying on the playground to unthinkable, unspeakable acts of government sanctioned brutality. Students need examples of what it means to cross the line from bystander to upstander. They need opportunities for grade-level and cross-generation conversations on how the courage of a single person to stand up and speak out against bullying and social injustice can change the school climate or even the history of the world. One of my favorite upstander’s tools is the Upstanders, not Bystanders VoiceThread. I co-curate this VoiceThread with my Digital ID partner/National Writing Project colleague Natalie Bernasconi. In the two years since we started the Upstanders, not Bystanders project, we’ve come to value how all voices and stories matter, from our kindergarten contributors to our Rwandan genocide survivor. Teaching kindness and civility needs to start in the primary grades and continue through adulthood.

One tip I have for readers is to document the work of your school sites. In the Sacramento bullying samples I mentioned above, I believe three of the four districts are currently in the process of developing district-wide digital citizenship plans. The fourth district has curriculum and procedures in place, but refers to the program as digital literacy rather than digital citizenship. Although the broader title makes sense, in the likely need to CYA, I think it’s wise to intentionally single out how each site specifically implements the teaching of citizenship/digital citizenship. A simple procedure my district has put in place, in addition to each site submitting an implementation plan at the start of the year, is requiring each principal to sign a statement at the end of the year verifying that digital citizenship has been taught at his/her site.

As my district heads into the third year of requiring school sites to document their digital citizenship plans, one shift I’ve noticed is also one I strongly recommend: Rather than plug in your plan at the close of the school year (post testing), as some of our secondary sites initially did, start the year teaching kindness and civility. Whether it’s through a shared article, a story, an assembly, etc., if the activity is followed with classroom discussion, I am pretty sure you will find, as a number of our teachers have, that student buy-in will be greater as will instances of students actually putting their citizenship skills into practice. Once standards for online/offline behavior have been articulated across the site, students are more likely to speak up for others and to think twice before they hit the submit button.

Additional Resources

In addition to the resources listed above, another outstanding resource is the Cyberbullying Research Center. I love their Cyberbullying Quiz – What the Research Shows, and all the resources linked under their Related Posts section. This exceptional resource, and many more, are listed on the Stepping Up page of the Digital ID project – along with the invitation for your students to submit a PSA in the upcoming 2015 Digital ID PSA Challenge.

Edutopia! Lisa Currie’s article is part of the dynamic Bullying Prevention collection of resources on teaching kindness, empathy, and digital citizenship.

On my New Year’s Resolution List is the intent to update this post during the school year with samples of digital citizenship surveys for students, along with data on the results and impact of teaching kindness and civility. I welcome your input.

Best wishes to all school sites for a year of newsworthy positive accomplishments!

 

 

November 30, 2014
by blogwalker
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Helping Students Flex Their Reading Level/Lexile Muscles

I grew up in a home with books. In the room we referred to as the “den,” an entire wall was lined with my parents’ books and book collections. There was also a small glass three-shelf bookcase that did not require any climbing and reaching on my part and that held “the book.” It was The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rowlings. But it was N.C. Wyeth’s illustrations that drew me to this classic. Other than my dad’s golf books, few of their books were illustrated. N.C. Wyth’s illustrations were gripping and fueled the imagination, as you can see by scanning the online Project Gutenberg version.

I think it’s entirely possible that I actually learned to read at home, not at school. I remember being assigned to reading groups according to reading level. I can’t remember ever coming home wanting to talk about any great stories from the classroom readers. Although when my first or second grade teacher introduced me to Charlotte’s Web as a read aloud, I know I begged to have my own copy.

Back to The Yearling. When I first discovered the book, I was still in the primary grades. Even though I couldn’t read it, I could tell from the illustrations that it was an animal story, a favorite genre then (and still today). When I told my dad how much I wished I could read The Yearling, he gave me a great piece of advice: Just keep checking back every so often, because at some point you will be able to read it.

Looking back, I’m pretty sure it was the Nancy Drew detective series that helped boost my reading level up to The Yearling’s lexile. Although totally done as outside reading, separate from classroom readers/anthologies, I regularly brought my latest Nancy Drew book to school in order trade with friends. Sort of an organically organized early book club. I’m guessing it was about 5th or 6th grade when I realized The Yearling was now an accessible read.

Years later, as a parent, I watched my daughter jump start her reading with The Babysitter Club series, which she traded, just I had with Nancy Drew. When she was in 5th grade, we moved to a small two-school district – which, thankfully, used outstanding literature instead of readers/anthologies. She quickly moved on from the Babysitter Club to Anne of Green Gables and onward in her journey as an avid, life-long reader.

With my son, I watched him as a 2nd grader pick up a wrestling magazine with Hulk Hogan on the cover, and, on the spot, become a reader. Only weeks earlier, he’d had the opportunity to see Hulk Hogan live in Sacramento, a memorable event for a 7-year old! He opened to the magazine article with the confidence and content knowledge of a highly proficient reader – clearly no longer limited by any “lexile levels.” Like his sister, he too became hooked on great YA authors, such as Gary Paulsen, via the excellent literature introduced at school. Pretty impressive what interest level + background knowledge + teacher enthusiasm can do to boost a kid’s reading level.

A recent situation has prompted me to reflect back on when my children and I began flexing our reading level/lexile muscles. The event has to do with Accelerated Reader (AR) and what I now refer to as “AR non-best practices.” A teacher at one of my district’s elementary schools contacted me about changing the AR school year end dates to include the summer. I am the district administrator for the AR program (by assignment, not by choice). The site wanted to require that students take AR quizzes during their summer break. The AR points would then be factored into the students’ reading grades for the first trimester of the 2014-15 school year. Despite my attempts to present a case for summer being a time to read simply for the joy of reading, apparently the entire site, including the principal, wished to formally reward or penalize elementary students for their summer reading habits.

At least this was an isolated case of AR non-best practices … or so I thought. I shared the story with a colleague, who, as a parent, shared his frustration with teachers “making an advanced reader read below his/her level to meet class AR requirements.” As parents, we know we need to be advocates for our children, but it’s not easy to speak out within our own districts against a program once it’s ingrained in a school’s culture.

I shared both of the above the examples with a National Writing Project (NWP) colleague, who is now an elementary school administrator. She responded with a story from her previous district, where, during her first week as principal, she explained to the staff why their school library, which was organized by lexile, would be reorganized by author. She further explained that if a student became interested in a certain author, the student would be allowed to check out any of the author’s books, regardless of lexile. How about that for a AR non-best practices easy fix?!

For the most part, I remain quiet about programs such as AR, out of respect for colleagues who truly believe that the programs boost reading skills and promote a love of reading. Occasionally, I suggest that teachers go through Google Scholar to read the research on AR. Or I send links to articles such as Stephen Krashen’s 2003 journal article. Or maybe suggest reading what Kelly Gallagher has to say about AR in his wonderful Readicide piece.

This year, I’ve starting looking beyond elementary school to see how teachers at middle and high school are promoting a love of reading. In September, at the same time the elementary site was asking how to pull a report on summer AR quizzes, I read high school AP English teacher David Theriault’s post Why Do We Give Students Summer Assignments? Seriously, Why? I love his ideas for Alternatives to the typical Summer Activities section, especially Idea #1:

What if teachers on the campus created a Google Slide. One for each teacher. On the Google Slide was a list of ideas for students to learn about their world during the summer. Here’s an example:

 

Even if every teacher just had four ideas on a slide, students and their parents would have a ton of ideas and these ideas would help students and parents get to know the teachers better. Heck you could ask every staff member at your school to contribute including the district office. Can you imagine the conversations that would take place in the hallways the following school year?”

In October, with AR non-best practices still on my mind, middle school English teacher Pernille Ripp posted The Things I Did that Stopped the Love of Reading to her blog. Right off the bat, she addresses locking students into reading levels/lexiles:

Then:
I forced them to read certain books because I knew better.  Armed with levels and lessons, I have forced many a child in giving up the book they were certain to struggle through and handed them a better suited one.  Better suited based on levels, reading abilities, but typically not interest.

Now:
Students have free choice to read with few restrictions.  Throughout the year they have to read 25 books, 15 of which must be chapter books.  If a child is continuously abandoning books we discuss, adjust, and try new things.  We also spend time selecting books together and work on strategies to get through books that may be a bit out of their “level.”

In all fairness to AR (and to help sites justify the annual subscription renewal fees), I know I should also be collecting AR best practices examples. Here’s one: During a unit of the American Revolution, 5th grade students have access to books at their reading levels. Having taught 5th grade for several years, I can see the value in students being able to easily pick out books identified by reading level from the school library as they begin a new unit of study.  In my classroom, my personal American Revolution library included a wide reading range, including multiple copies of My Brother Sam Is Dead, which Scholastic marks as grades 6-8. Every year, students at all reading levels borrowed my copies of this book, with many reporting that they couldn’t put it down. No reading level/lexile limitations. No points earned for completing an online quiz. Just reading based on interest.

If there are more examples I could add to an AR best practices chart, I warmly invite you to share them.

More importantly, I would  love to learn about any districts that have opted out of AR – for reasons other than budget cuts. Was it a top-down decision or teacher driven? Was it research-based? Was it widely embraced? Any information and tips would be much appreciated.

 

November 22, 2014
by blogwalker
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It’s that time again: #eddies14

edublog_awards_170x290_v2-2h4n5ynI love the Annual Edublog Awards. Every year, the event puts me into a reflective mode, as I think back through memorable posts, tweets, and virtual connections.

In making my 2014 nominations, I’ve focused mainly on two areas that are very important to me:

Resources for a connected educators

Resources for primary grades (too often the marginal or missing component of tech conferences)

Resources for transitioning to Project-Based Learning (PBL)

So …. drumroll please ….

  • Best Individual Blog – Primary Preoccupation – Kathy Cassidy’s blog is the first resource I share with primary teachers in my district who are starting their journeys into connected learning with their young students.
  • Best Group Blog – Digital Is – Sponsored by the National Writing Project (NWP), the Digital Is blog and website continue to offer an amazing range of topics, discussions, resource, and best practices on teaching (digital) writing and promoting (digital) literacy and connected learning.
  • Best New Blog – Mrs. Petuya’s Class Blog – Oh, such joyful learning takes place in Cathe Petuya’s Kindergarten classroom (my district). She is a fearless explorer ever in search of ways and tools for developing and supporting student voice – beyond the walls of the classroom.
  • Best Class Blog – Mr. Bentley’s 5th/6th Grade Loop – For a journey into powerful PBL instruction, with young filmmakers at the helm, you will want to revisit Jim Bentley’s blog often. Amazing teaching and learning (my district)!
  • Best Teacher Blog – The Tempered Radical – Year after year and from the classroom trenches, middle school teacher and NWP colleague Bill Ferriter pushes my thinking and expands my teaching toolkit.
  • Best Ed Tech/ Resource Sharing Blog – Edutopia – If I went back over my Tweets for the year, I’m pretty sure Edutopia would be at the top. My #1 go-to place for PBL resources and tips.
  • Most Influential Blog Post of the Year – No Longer a Luxury – Digital Literacy Can’t Wait – Written by Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner and posted to the National Council for Teachers of English website, this is the article I continue to share with teachers and administrators.
  • Best Individual Tweeter – @LarryFerlazzo – From app recommendations (love Shadow Puppets) to ed articles, Larry continues to find, create, and Tweet about an incredible range of useful resources (starting with his Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day blog).
  • Best Free Web Tool – Twitter.
  • Best Use of Media – Ms. Cheung’s Terrific Kinders – This wonderful teacher (my district) started a new journey this year: teaching students in TK (Transitional Kindergarten). She is already tapping into the power of voice to document her students’ journeys into literacy and numeracy.
  • Best Educational Wiki – hickstro – I am a better teacher thanks to the incredible depth and breadth of resources Troy Hicks so generously and regularly shares.
  • Best PD/unconference/webinar – Teachers Teaching Teachers – Throughout the year, I try to keep Wednesday evenings free to join Paul Allison and the weekly gathering of innovative, thought-provoking educators who join this weekly Google Hangout. And the good news is if I can’t join the Hangout, Paul always posts it to the site.
  • Best Mobile App – Shadow Puppet Edu – Again, with my focus on finding resources for primary grades, finding an app that makes recording over images and embedding the image/topic/lesson into blog very easy, I’m glad to have discovered (thanks to a Tweet from Larry Ferlazzo) Shadow Puppet.
  • Lifetime Achievement – Suzie Boss - Suzie Boss’s support and documentation of classroom teachers – within and outside my district – who are empowering their students through Project-Based Learning has been ongoing and far reaching. From her Edutopia posts to her publications, EdChats, Tweets, and presentations, Suzie is responsible for a growing bank of best practices in PBL and 21st century teaching and learning.

I know I’m missing a few categories, so if you have recommendations, please post a comment.

Be back soon.

 

 

November 16, 2014
by blogwalker
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Fall CUE Take Away

fallcue

I had a great time at the 2014 Fall CUE Conference. In two jam-packed days, I attended some wonderful workshops, with Will Kimbley’s Google Forms workshop, Gene Tognetti and Karen Larson’s Discovering Student Voice with Chromebooks,  and Trevor Mattea’s Intro to Google session at the top of my conference take-aways list.

Two hours with Will flew by! Wish this engaging session had been recorded. I’ll definitely spend some follow-up time touring his website resources.

One of the challenges I face in my district job is bringing teachers on board with Chromebooks in a one-hour workshop. Gene and Karen nailed it with their Discovering Student Voice Through Chromebooks session! The trick is to select up to four awesome apps to showcase – and then build in 5 – 10 minutes for participants to play with each one. Check out their session slideshow to see how smoothly they introduced Powtoon, Little Bird Tales, Lucid Press, and Google Slides.

From Trevor, I am still in awe of such a simple yet powerful tip: Have elementary students share their Google Docs projects with classroom parents. What an incredible idea for providing students with feedback and, at the same time, providing working parents who would like to help in the classroom with a virtual way to do just that.

Next week, I’ll be sharing Trevor’s tip with an amazing group of elementary teachers in my district who are part of an action research project with Chromebooks and Google Apps. Can’t wait to see how parent volunteers working within Google Docs impacts student writing and communication skills.

September 8, 2014
by blogwalker
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Moonshot Thinking

If you haven’t seen the Moonshot Thinking video, I recommend it. It’s a great conversation starter for the new school year. The term “moonshot” stems from Google and refers the innovative projects underway at the company’s Google X lab:

“Moonshots live in the gray area between audacious projects and pure science fiction; instead of mere 10 percent gains, they aim for 10x improvements,” according to Google. “The combination of a huge problem, a radical solution, and the breakthrough technology that might just make that solution possible is the essence of a Moonshot.”

Last week, I’m pretty sure I was witnessing moonshot thinking as an elementary school in my district connected with NASA for a 20-minute Skype call to the International Space Station (ISS). Checkout the 4-minute video below for a glimpse into the event.

Note: Here’s a link to the complete Downlink call.

I’m looking forward to watching how this awesome event shapes teaching and learning at this wonderful school site. Somehow when teachers, students, administration, parents, and community members team up for the purpose of promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) activities, good things are bound to happen.