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:
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.
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.
I 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 ….
I know I’m missing a few categories, so if you have recommendations, please post a comment.
Be back soon.
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.
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.
The drive to Palo Alto’s Gunn High School to attend the July 19-20 GAFE Summit was definitely worth it! With so many great sessions to choose from, narrowing down my choices was a challenge. I enjoyed and learned from each one. Below are a few of my takeaways:
Toward Better Technology Integration – Scott McLeod – I’ve been following Scott McLeod, both through his blog and on Twitter, since first watching his Did You Know videos. A visit to his 2014 EdTech Summit Palo Alto page will provide you with a ton of cool resources as well as a window into his amazing session Toward Better Technology Integration (scroll down a ways). Because I was also presenting during session 1, I missed Part 1 of Scott’s presentation, but am very glad I made it to Part 2 – in which Scott walked us through trudacot (technology-rich unit design and classroom observation template).
Two weeks later, I am still thinking about the potential of trudacot to leverage the power of technology to power up a lesson or unit of study. The template moves beyond technology integration frameworks, such as TPACK and SAMR, by helping teachers figure how to redesign lessons so it’s not about the tool or tools; it’s about the learning. It’s also about providing the context to allow learning to become authentic. Students move beyond studying about “homelessness,” for instance, to figuring out solutions to homelessness (like PBL).
The starting point in redesigning lessons is to begin with someone else’s lessons. In grade-level teams, for example, once everyone is comfortable to with the trudacot model via practicing lesson upgrades (in both the lesson design and meaningful integration of technology tools) using “model lessons” such as the ones listed on Scott’s Summit page, they can move on to analyzing and improving their own lessons. In watching the sample lesson videos and then reading through the accompanying lessons, it was easy/energizing to go through the trudacot sections and discuss how the lesson met or did not meet the criteria, and then move on to ideas for bumping up the lesson – and learning.
What a great coaching model and mega takeaway!
Performing the Google Slide – Mark Hammons - Loved Mark’s design tips, including switching out bullet points for an image + powerful quote = telling a story. Very excited to start playing with Pear Deck and weaving it into my G Slides.
Doctopus and autoCrat – Diane Main – Great session, with lots of WOW factors in seeing what the new Doctopus add-on can do for you. Wish I had updated to the new Drive prior to Diane’s session, as the Doctopus add-on doesn’t really work in the old Drive.
Better Student Feedback with Kaizena - Karl Lindgren-Streicher - Love Karl’s presentation style: humor + insights from the trenches. His session link includes screenshots and tips to get started with this powerful Google add-on for providing students with audio feedback. In Karl’s words, “Kaizena allows you to give more, better, faster feedback on student work than any other tool.” Prior to Karl’s session, I’d thought of Kaizena more as a one-way flow of feedback – from teacher to student. I left the session thinking about the possibilities of two-way feedback/conversations. Awesome tool. Awesome presenter.
Critical Thinking and the Web: Searching in a Google-Infused World – Holly Clark - I ended my Summit experience with Holly’s session on searching skills. Having Google Search Anthropologist Dan Russell join the session as a participant transformed the session from a presentation to a highly interactive discussion. WOW! Great way to wrap up an amazing two days of connecting, comparing/sharing, and learning!
A huge thank you to the EdTechTeam for all time, energy, and vision you put into planning this event! It was a privilege to attend, both as a presenter and a participant. I’m already checking the upcoming GAFE Summits and looking forward to attending several in the new school year.
Loved ISTE 2014! Between the selection of sessions and presenters, connecting with friends before, during, and after sessions, and having my first-ever bison burger (at Ted’s Montana Grill), it was a wonderful four days in Atlanta.
Below are a few of my conference take-aways:
I’m already looking forward to ISTE 2015 in Philadelphia:-)
A year ago, a wonderful principal at one of my district’s elementary schools invited me to give a 1-hour workshop at his site on Project-Based Learning (PBL). I was thrilled to have the request come from an administrator and for the opportunity to organize my thoughts and resources into something useful for teachers.
I set to work on a Google slideshow, so that the teachers would have an easily-edible presentation to use with their students and parents. As you can see from the presentation (which includes the talking points), I pulled mainly from Edutopia and BIE (Buck Institute of Education), two rich, dynamic, free gold mines for PBL samples, resources, and best practices. The only thing missing from my slideshow was a PBL sample from my district, since this was an in-district workshop. Thanks to the amazing work of 5th/6th grade teacher Jim Bentley and his students, that missing district element no longer exists.
On Thursday, one year later, I’ll be headed to Jim’s site to co-facilitate a PBL workshop that’s open to all district teachers and administrators. What makes this workshop very special is that some of Jim’s students will also be presenting with us.
I celebrate that one year later, there is a small, but growing number of teachers in my district embracing PBL – with a common thread of having supportive administrators who recognize the value of students being engaged and feeling a genuine purpose for their work. So my idea is to offer our PBL workshop each quarter, with a different site/teacher(s)/students hosting the workshop.
In collaboration with Jim and other contributing PBL teachers, we’ll continue updating the slideshow. We’ll also be adding to our PBL digital handout. We would welcome more snippets of what PBL looks like from primary grades through high school, across the curriculum and content areas. If you have sources we should add, please share them via a comment.
If you are looking for opportunities for your students to speak out on digital citizenship issues, checkout the 2014 Digital Citizenship PSA Challenge. Students in grades 4-12 are invited to submit a 90-second (or less) PSA that addresses taking a stand on cyberbullying, building a positive digital footprint, respecting intellectual property, or protecting online privacy.
Prizes? Yes. Once again we* are offering $25 iTunes cards to student producers of the top three entries for elementary, middle, and high school categories.
Please let me know, by leaving a comment, if you have questions. Hope to see entries from your students!
*Disclaimer: I am a co-curator of the Digital ID project. As my fellow co-curator Natalie Bernasconi and I head into our 3rd year of sponsoring the PSA Challenge, we look forward to showcasing the work of students across the nation and globe. The Digital ID project and the PSA Challenge are in recognition that the most powerful, impactful teaching model is the students-teaching-students model.
In the eight years that I’ve been offering blogging workshops, I love watching teachers leave excited to start blogging with their students and with a vision of how blogging might transform teaching and learning. A great way to keep the excitement going is to connect them, directly or indirectly, with other classrooms – beyond their school sites and communities. The Edublogs Student Blogging Challenge is exactly that kind of opportunity – and it’s free!
Twice a school year (October and March), Edublogs sponsors the Student Blogging Challenge. The Challenge is a wonderful opportunity for students to practice and improve their digital writing skills – and for teachers to promote and support learning beyond the school day.
The March 2014 Challenge runs for 10 weeks, with weekly tasks designed to scaffold students’ online communication skills. The tasks range from digital citizenship to making global and local connections. Participating classrooms can complete all or as many tasks as they wish, and in any order.
Thank you, Sue Wyatt, Sue Waters, and Ronnie Burt, for continuing to support and host the Student Blogging Challenge. A huge time commitment on your part – but such a worthwhile project!
A week later, I’m still thinking about the Roseville GAFE Summit. What an amazing gathering of innovative educators! Here are some of my takeaways:
Based on the Roseville Summit, I’m pretty sure I’m on my way to becoming a Google Summit groupie.