Muddling through the blogosphere

August 26, 2018
by blogwalker

Rethinking Reading Logs

Renoir 1880 Young woman reading a Journal

Renoir 1880 Young woman reading a journal. Image in Public Domain.


I’ve been part of a book club for almost 18 years. Every month I look forward to sharing what I liked or didn’t like about the selected book with my fellow “Bookies” and listening to and enjoying their perspectives. Recently I tried to recall the title/author of a YA novel we had read a few years ago. I wanted to recommend it to a friend. Dang! I wish I had been keeping a reading log.

Reading by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images


Today I did a little research on the value of having students keep reading logs. Only minutes into my search, I could see that reading logs are a contentious issue in the K-12 community. The awesome Pernille Rip posted three years ago On Reading Logs, discussing both the pros and cons and giving five tips, with Keep it in class and Stop rewarding at the top.

The reason I am proposing reading logs is because I see them as a much better option than requiring students to use computer-based programs to track, rate, reward and/or restrict their reading. Although these programs can help students find books at their current reading level, reading levels are flexible. Too often reading levels are used to limit student choice and to impose forced point quotas, two steps guaranteed to kill the love of reading. If your school is still supporting these online programs, I highly recommend reading Pernille’s After Accelerated Reader and Donalyn Miller’s (AKA “the Book Whisperer”) How to Accelerate a Reader.

In line with Pernille’s tips, the purpose of the reading log would be to provide students with a place to keep track of what they have been reading and to become mindful of their own reading habits. The reading log would also provide teachers with a window into their students’ choices and interests.

The reading log would not require students to log hours/minutes or number of pages read. It would not require nightly parent signatures. I’m going with a Google Spreadsheet (inspired by the amazing Alice Keeler). Here’s a link to my first draft for a Student Reading Log (which could easily be shared with students via Google Classroom). I would love any feedback or questions you might have!

P.S. My book club is reading Barbara Shapiro’s The Art Forger this month. And, yes, I am going to start logging our books!

Photo by Tim Geers on / CC BY-SA

November 30, 2014
by blogwalker

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:

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.


January 16, 2010
by blogwalker

Accelerated Reader- Four questions for administrators

As school districts everywhere brace for yet another round of budget cuts, I have a question: Why not attendance7drop the annual online testing fee to Accelerated Reader? This question has been on my mind  ever since NCTE colleague and mentor Allen Webb shared his observation that “school districts tend to value programs they have to pay for – regardless of the actual value or impact of those programs.”

I fully support the first two components and possibilities of the AR program:

  • provide students with a rich library of books, from beginning to advanced reading levels, thereby making a wide range of topics accessible to all readers.
  • provide students with regular chunks (at least 15 minutes) of sustained silent reading (SSR) time.
  • It’s the third component – test the heck out of students with online multiple-choice tests – that I find troubling. As to the fourth component – provide students with prizes – I think researchers such as Alfie Kohn have already made a compelling case against reading incentive programs.

    I understand that change is hard, especially if it involves giving up programs sites are currently paying for. But given the realities of the  budget crisis, I think it reasonable for an administrator to consider the following questions before renewing the annual AR subscription:

    #1 Have you checked into the research on AR? No, I don’t mean the research the Renaissance Learning folks post about their own products.  I’m talking about research such as the above paper by Alfie Kohn, or recent findings by Stephen Krashen, who has generously shared his insights on the English Companion Ning:

    Accelerated Reader (AR) may be “the most influential reading program in the country” (“If you’re shopping, find the books that work for kids,” December 17) but there is no clear evidence that it works. It fact, it might be harmful.

    AR has four components: It makes sure children have access to books, provides time to read, quizzes children on what they read with a focus on details, and awards prizes for performance on the quizzes.

    It is well-established that providing books and time to read are effective, but AR research does not show that the quizzes and prizes are helpful. Studies claiming AR is effective compare AR to doing nothing; gains were probably due to the reading, not the tests and prizes.

    AR encourages an unnatural form of reading, reading focusing on often irrelevant details in order to pass tests.

    AR rewards children for doing something that is already pleasant: self-selected reading. Substantial research shows that rewarding an intrinsically pleasant activity sends the message that the activity is not pleasant, and that nobody would do it without a bribe. AR might be convincing children that reading is not pleasant. No studies have been done to see if this is true.”

    #2. Have you polled your parent community on their opinions about AR? NCTE collegue (and former district colleague) Teresa Bunner recently shared her perspective (which is very close to a scene and conversation I witnessed last year at my county library):

    As a mom it often irked me to no end to watch a big deal be made at awards assemblies for earning so many points on AR when I knew my kids read all the time, just not AR books or not short easy read books that earned them points quickly! … Truly, truly when we take time to match kids with the right books, they enjoy reading. I believe that having taught elementary, middle and high school.”

    #3. Have you started a conversation with your veteran teachers on their views on AR? About a year ago, I first blogged my AR concerns. I’d like to re-post comments by two educators/bloggers whose opinions I very much value:

    From Mathew Needleman:

    We had a similar but differently named program at my last school and I absolutely share your concerns. The program we had took over the computer. In other words, teachers would use that computer exclusively to run (insert program name here). In addition to leaving behind advances in computing/technology of the past decade, I too felt that the quizzes really weren’t getting to higher level thinking and were essentially replacing the SRA kits we used when I was in elementary school. If we can do it with paper and pencil, why use the expense and electricity to do it on a computer?”

    From Cathy Nelson:

    I would wager that the improvement in reading seen is not from “students reading and taking tests,” but rather just from reading. The more practice one has at something, the better they get, and testing (even a computerized commercial program) has nothing to do with it. Do you really want to give credit to a program for the hard work you have done in getting kids to read? Credit goes to the teacher, not the tool. AR is as good as the one who implements it–not the tool itself. Let’s not inflate the egos of Renaissance Learning anymore than they are already inflated. This is a tool and nothing more. Success is based solely on the implementation (by the teacher.)”

    #4. What are you students saying about AR? A teacher in my district recently shared with me that one of her 4th graders brags about being able to pass an AR quiz just by reading the write-up  on the book jacket. Hmmmm…..In taking a closer look at the winning entries in our district’s No Excuses…Go to School poster contest, I’m thinking  this winning entry by a middle school student provides a window into the student perspective. I wish I could see the title of the book the student is gripping as he hops the fence to skip school.  What do you bet it’s not on the AR list AND it’s got “the flow” going for this escaping student.

    I’m sure there’s a 5th question administrators should be asking of AR.  If you think of one, please post a comment.

    July 5, 2019
    by blogwalker

    Unpacking #ISTE19

    Oh my, #ISTE19, so many great sessions, presenters, and takeaways! Due to a fractured right hand (the result of a bike accident in Holland), my notes are a little sketchy, but, hopefully, will provide you with a window into this year’s amazing annual technology conference for educators.

    Day 1 (Sunday)

    Listen to This! Tech Tools for Listening/Speaking – Katherine Goyote: This year, a conference priority was to bring back resources and tips for boosting students’ speaking and listening skills (which are now included in my district’s new elementary report card). Katherine’s session was outstanding and her presentation is one of my top takeaways.

    Did you know that, via your device’s microphone, you can now enable closed captioning while presenting with Google Slides? What a powerful option, not only for hearing impaired students, but also for our ELs.

    Throughout the session, Katherine stressed the importance of listening as an active activity and that listening must be purposeful, with opportunities to interact. She encouraged us to explore speaking and listening tools such as Screencastify and resources like Eric Palmer: PVLEGS. How about a YouTube video to illustrate what active listening does NOT look like:

    Be sure to checkout Katherine’s blog: WonderExploreLearn.

    B.Y.O. Digital Citizenship: Hands-On Pathways to Drive Change – It was a privilege to join Dr. Mike Ribble (author, ISTE DigCit PLN), Dr. Marty Park (Chief Digital Officer, Kentucky Dept.of Ed.), Dr. Kerri Stubbs (BrainPop), Mike Jones (Illinois State University- Lab School), and students from Kentucky’s Bourbon High School for this dynamic panel discussion on digital citizenship resources. What a great audience we had, including teachers from Mexico City and Guadalajara.

    My big takeaway was Kentucky’s Digital Driver’s License program. Thanks to Marty Parks’ vision, teachers and students in Kentucky school districts need to complete the DDL requirements before signing out a school laptop. The goal is for students and staff to move from digital literacy to digital fluency. I’m excited to learn more about the collaborative efforts of Marty and Mike Ribble to seamlessly integrate digital citizenship into the school day and subject areas.

    Beyond the Slideshow: Unleashing Student Creativity With Google Slides – Eric Curts: I’ve been a long-time fan of Eric Curts. His generosity in sharing and posting technology tips and resources is much appreciated by a broad national audience (34.4K followers on Twitter). Eric’s session slideshow is the most complete walk thru of Google Slides I’ve ever seen. Did you know Google has recently made it easier to embed audio in a slide? Yay!

    When are Facts Not Facts? Media Literacy in 2019 – Susan Brooks-Young: Susan’s ISTE 2018 session on media literacy was one of my favorites, so I hurried across the convention center to join her 2019 session. Although she did not share her slideshow, here’s the link to her resources. Just added CBC Deep Fakes Explained Video to my #MediaLiteracy bookmarks.

    Day 2 (Monday)

    Creative Storytelling With Adobe Spark – Claudio Zavala: I became an instant fan of Adobe Spark earlier this year when I realized this free, high-quality Adobe presentation product automatically attached Creative Commons licensing to any images inserted from their Unsplash/Pixabay/Noun Project collections. Claudio Zavala, logically and stunningly, used Adobe Spark for his session presentation. He is a wonderful presenter and is right up there with Eric Curts in sharing and posting resources and tutorials on his website. Here is the link to his Adobe Spark tutorials playlist.

    Becoming an Awesome Digital Citizenship Leader – Dr. Mike Ribble and Dr. Marty Park: The link to Mike and Mark’s presentation will give you an idea of the scope and sequence of their session and their combined wealth of knowledge and resources. I’m looking forward to conversations back in my district on how to promote #DigCit leadership at our school sites. Kathleen Watt (co-director of our #DigCit program) and I are hoping that by opening our Digital Citizenship workshops to faculty and staff (not just our site coordinators), we will leave no grown ups behind in understanding and tapping into what it means to be a contributing citizen in a digital age.

    Copy of autographed book

    Digital Citizenship: 3 educators, 2 frameworks, 1 shared visionDr. LeeAnn Lindsey, Dr. Kristen Mattson, Nancy Watson: Loved having three of my major #DigCit role models presenting together, with each posting a page of great resources. I recommend starting with Nancy’s Everyday DigCit App:

    An important session takeaway: Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and #DigCit should go hand-in-hand across the school day.

    ”Not all adults in our students’ lives are positive #digcit role models. We can be that role model.” Nancy Watson

    Real or Fake? Strategies for Truth Finding – Dean Shareski: Although Dean did not share his presentation, the websites he shared for teaching media literacy were some of my best #ISTE19 takeaways:

    • – Facebook Status Generator: “Build your own fake Facebook Status and prank your friends. You can change ANYTHING, use emoticons and even upload your own profile photos for post and comments. This generator is in no way associated with Facebook. All graphical material is protected by the copyright owner. May only be used for personal use.”
    • Crap Detector Resources – From Howard Rheingold, inspired by Ernest Hemmingway’s words: “The essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, bullshit detector.”
    • Science VS – “Science Vs takes on fads, trends, and the opinionated mob to find out what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between. Science Vs is produced by Gimlet Media.”
    • – “Whether it’s removing the background from an image, making a double exposure, adding in text or retouching a favorite pic, Pixomatic photo editor has everything you need to customize your images.”
    • FotoForensics – “Submit a JPEG or PNG for forensic analysis.”
    • Media Bias/Fact Check – “We are the most comprehensive media bias resource on the internet. There are currently 2800+ media sources listed in our database and growing every day. Don’t be fooled by Fake News sources. Use the search feature above (Header) to check the bias of any source. Use name or url.”

    Monday Night Highlight: National Writing Project Reunion

    A wonderful #ISTE19 memory: An after dinner walk with Troy Hicks, Sandy Hayes, Erin Wilkey Oh, me, and Christina Cantrill = 13 years of a shared #NWP digital writing learning journey.

    Day 3 (Tuesday)

    Going Rogue With Microsoft — Complete With Tips and Tricks – Leslie Fisher: I’m excited about the multiple ways MS Office 360’s new tools take Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to new levels for accessibility, creating, and presenting. Thank you, Leslie, for sharing your session presentation.

    I recommend clicking on every single one of Leslie’s hyperlinks for insights into extending teaching and learning via MS Office 360, starting with the immersive reader tools for Word and the Presenter Coach in PowerPoint:

    Beyond SAMR: 6 Design Questions for Empowered Teaching and Learning – Alan November: Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of hearing Alan November present at a number of conferences…and every time I leave with new takeaways:

    • Bing VS. Google – Just a reminder not to limit searches to Google. Try using to see Bing and Google search results side-by-side.
    • MathTrain.TV – Students teaching students has always been the most powerful model for learning. “The evidence is overwhelming that students will watch student-created videos over & over.”
    • PRISM – “Prism was created by novice student developers in the Praxis Program. Prism is a tool for “crowd sourcing interpretation. Users are invited to provide an interpretation of a text by highlighting words according to different categories, or ‘facets.’Each individual interpretation then contributes to the generation of a visualization which demonstrates the combined interpretation of all the users. We envision Prism as a tool for both pedagogical use and scholarly exploration, revealing patterns that exist in the subjective experience of reading a text.”

    Common Sense Education #ISTE19 Booth – As a Common Sense Ambassador and long-time fan of the innovative, continually updated ways Common Sense “supports K-12 schools with free, timely, research-based tools that take the guesswork out of teaching in the digital age,” I loved joining the team in the vendor’s hall for a couple of hours to meet and greet the many educators who stopped by to learn more about Common Sense resources or who just wanted to thank this dynamic organization for its on-going commitment to supporting digital citizenship and media literacy education.

    Common Sense Team #ISTE19

    Day 4 (Wednesday)

    Hey Google … Take Me on a Trip – Tricia Louis: I loved this session. Tricia Louis delivered on her program description: “Explore tools that focus on how to use maps and other geographical-based information in any content area. Tools that will be shared will be Google MyMaps, Google Tour Builder, Google Earth, Google Tour Creator/Poly, Google Story Speaker and GeoGussr.”

    Over the past few years, I’ve dabbled a bit with most of these tools, but Tricia’s beautiful presentation is the motivation I need to revisit some of my travel posts, such as Holland with Hannie, and transform them into interactive explorations.

    Conscientious Creativity: Where Creation and Copyright IntersectDr. Monica Burns, Kerry Gallagher, Kristina Ishmael, Lynn Kleinmeyer: Copyright and fair use are topics I teach and follow with great interest, always on the lookout for new resources and insights. I’ve been sharing Kerry Gallagher’s Educator’s Guide to Creativity and Copyright in my workshops, so it was fun to hear her present this resource. And I’ve become a big fan of Monica Burn’s work with Adobe Spark – a free program for teachers and school districts that automatically includes Creative Commons licensing with any images uploaded from their collections (drawn from Unsplash, Pixabay, and the Noun Project) – a built in digital citizenship lesson.

    Besides the infused humor, pace, and inter-activeness of their presentation, I loved the simplicity and design of their session slideshow.

    ISTE Author Spotlight: Fighting Fake News: Teaching Media Literacy in the Digital Age – Darren Hudgins: I ran across 3 buildings to catch the last few minutes of Darren Hudgins‘ ISTE Authors Spotlight session. I left this last #ISTE19 session not only with an autographed copy of Fact VS. Fiction: Teaching Critical thinking in the Age of Fake News but also with a copy of the Fighting Fake News Jump Start Guide. (Note to Self: Find funding to purchase the Jump Start Guide as a give-away for upcoming Media Literacy workshops.)


    Thank you to the ISTE Team and all who presented and generously shared  insights and resources – and especially to Sandy Hayes and my @WritingProject colleagues – for making #ISTE19 an unforgettable learning experience. Philadelphia, I miss you already.

    January 29, 2019
    by blogwalker
    Comments Off on Resources & Curriculum

    Resources & Curriculum

    In a digital age, I love how easy it is to create, connect, collaborate, and share resources and lessons. I have enormously benefited from the many educators who, over the years, have posted (blogged, Tweeted, Skyped, etc.) their insights and best practices. I hope to do the same with this page.

    As an educator and technology integration specialist for a public school district south of Sacramento, California, two topics are near and dear to my heart:

    1. Documenting the stories of teachers and families in my district who survived the internment years of World War II and the refugee experience of the Vietnam War’s “Secret War in Laos.”
    2. Providing and supporting a district-wide digital citizenship initiative and program to ensure that all students have a clear sense of both their rights and responsibilities as citizens – both online and off-line.

    Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project (TOR)

    Logo for lesson on Executive Order 9066

    The Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project is in recognition that history is not something that happens in textbooks. History happens here in our own communities, one story at a time.  It is our hope that through the living voices of survivors and witnesses of World War II and the Vietnam War, students will gain an understanding of the common threads that connect the exclusion and forced removal of any group of people – and the importance of standing up and speaking out for the rights of all citizens.

    The videos below and accompanying lessons will provide you with a window into two seldom told stories from two separate wars that have greatly shaped the character and history of the Elk Grove Unified School District.

    World War II 


    Vietnam War


    • The Forbidden Treasure – My colleague Kathleen Watt and I created this hyperdoc lesson to introduce students to the folktale genre through See Lor’s beautifully told Hmong folktale. (Note: aligned to grade 2 Common Core State Standards, but also appropriate for grade 3.)
    • On Coming to America – Small Moments, Big Meanings– From Elk Grove Unified School District, with community input. Lesson introduces students to strategies and resources for conducting oral history research projects. (Note: appropriate for grades 5-12)
    • On Coming to America – Small Moments, Big Meanings Hyperdoc – Aligned to 8th Grade Standards but can easily be adapted to younger or older students.

    One More War: The 1994 Rwandan Genocide

    In 2016, I had the opportunity join 18 educators for a life-changing trip to Rwanda, led by Carl Wilkins, the only American to remain in Rwanda during the 100-day genocide. I shared my photos and reflections in Rwanda – Looking for the Good. Because many of our 9th grade World Geography teachers include a unit on Africa, I created a hyperdoc lesson based on Carl’s experiences and book, I’m Not Leaving.

    Graphic from lesson about 1994 Rwandan genocide.

    Note: The header photo for Blogwalker is from our day at Rwanda’s Murambi Memorial.

    Digital Citizenship

    Elk Grove USD's badge for digital citizenship

    As the co-director of my district’s Digital Citizenship program, I am committed to providing teachers, administrators, students, and parents with curriculum and resources to ensure that upon graduation, every student has established a positive digital footprint and “Googles well” when a future employer or college admissions office does an online background search. Our program focuses on four areas: Taking a stand on cyberbullying, building a positive digital footprint, respecting intellectual property, and protecting students’ online privacy.

    We also recognize that in an age of “fake news,” media literacy skills need to be woven into the school day and across grade levels and curriculum.

    Graphic showing Elk Grove USD,s four focus areas for digital citizenship: cyberbullying, digital footprint, intellectual property, student privacy.


    Infographic to show students how to read across a page and website, rather than reading down a page.

    More lessons and resources coming soon!


    December 30, 2018
    by blogwalker

    A Few Lingering Media Literacy Thoughts from 2018

    “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.”

    Mark Twain 

    Nope, the above quote is not from Mark Twain, despite being commonly attributed to him … and I admit – until just recently – to being one of the misquoters. For insight on how quotes become misquotes, I recommend Niraj Chokshi’s New York Times article That Wasn’t Mark Twain: How a Misquotation Is Born.

    Misquotes are just a small slice of an enormous bank of online misinformation (’s 2018 word of the year). For educators, I think the year has brought a greater awareness that we all need to be media literacy teachers, no matter what grade levels or subject areas we teach.

    I started the year by organizing resources in my Media Literacy in a Post-Truth Era site. (Note: post truth was the 2016 Oxford Dictionary word of the year.) Several months ago, I began gathering resources on a possible misinformation trend that emerged in 2017 and continued to spread throughout 2018: deepfakes. Like any technology, deepfakes can be used for good or for ill. Computer scientist Supasorn Suwajanakorn explains in the TED Talk below how a deepfake is created — “and the steps being taken to fight against its misuse.”

    We all need to get into the habit of “putting on our skepticals” (and a few other tips from BrainPop’s Tim and Moby) and recognize when to check if a person really said the words we’re hearing in a video.

    I’m ending the year with the realization that actually “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting its shoes on.”  Jonathan Swift (sort of)

    Over a holiday meal, I listened to an example of a low-tech misinformation story. Last summer, my daughter traveled to Fergus Falls, Minnesota, with her boyfriend to attend his cousin’s wedding. Two weeks ago, the cousin, Michele Anderson, made national and international news: The Relotius Scandal Reaches a Small Town in America. Michele and fellow Fergus Falls resident John Krohn fact checked Claas Relotius, the DER SPIEGEL journalist who published a “tendentious, malicious portrait of the small, rural town. The reporting contained so many falsehoods that Anderson and Krohn limited themselves to citing just the ‘”top 11 most absurd lies.”‘

    We all need to be fact checkers, willing to challenge and confront the spread of misinformation.

    High on my list of 2019 resolutions is a commitment to curate, create and share innovative media literacy resources, best practices, and lessons. I hope you will join me.

    Flex Your Fact-Checking Muscles –

    June 27, 2013
    by blogwalker

    ISTE 2013 Takeaways – Day 1

    ISTE 2013 Day 1

    So glad I made it to San Antonio in time for Sunday’s first round of Ignite sessions and the opening keynote with  gamification expert Jane McGonigal. What an inspiring start for an amazing conference!

    Ignite Takeaways:

    If you haven’t seen an Ignite session, here’s the format: each presenter has five minutes to speak and is limited to twenty slides, which automatically advance every fifteen seconds. Ignites are always fast-paced sessions that showcase ideas designed to inspire and energize educators.

    I enjoyed all 7 Ignite presentations, but my biggest take-away was from Jeff Piontek’s STEM education Ignite. Jeff pointed out the even though STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is where the money (funding) is and there’s a growing  movement for STEAM (adding the arts), we need “to turn STEM into STEAM into STREAM by adding reading and research.” STEM is the present need, and education follows the money. But we need the arts and reading and research. We don’t have to teach kids to be creative, they already are: we just have to stop assessing and start allowing the creativity to shine through.

    Opening Keynote Takeaways: Learning Is an Epic Win

    Jane McGonigal’s keynote was mind blowing. I came to the keynote with an understanding of the 21st century skills that gaming can build. When she shared Evoke, I saw the potential for gaming to change the world. Find the Future, which challenged 500 student authors to write a book in one night while inside the New York Public Library, served as a called to action to what we could be doing in our own communities to take collaboration and creativity to new levels.

    Take-away quote: “The opposite of play is not work; it’s depression.”

    Take-away read: Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

    I’ll be back soon with Takeaways from Day 2.



    March 20, 2013
    by blogwalker

    CUE 2013 – Day 1 Take-Aways

    Just returned from the 2013 CUE Conference, a 3-day event jam-packed with educators initiating conversations and sharing resources and best practices on innovative, effective technology integration.  This year the Common Core State Standards were at the core of the conference.

    Here are a few of my take-aways from Thursday, Day 1:

    Session 1 Collaboration Around the Common Core Using Brokers of Expertise – Eddy Avelar walked us through the layout and resources of the California K12 High Speed Network’s (K12 HSN) Brokers of Expertise site. I’m looking forward to connecting with and learning from the California CCSS group.

    Session 2Digital Tools for the ELA Common Core – Jonathan Brubaker has posted his session slides on, a new tool for me. Not only can you view his slides, but each tool he introduced for building students’ academic vocabulary is shown on his sqworl site.  I really like Big Picture, which features photos from, and ” lets you view and share photos in the style of The Big Picture,’s excellent photo blog.”

    Jonathan reminded participants that “text complexity” cannot be based on lexile alone. The Grapes of Wrath, for instance, has a 4th grade “quantitative level” but the “qualitative level” is much higher. One comment really resonated with me: “Text complexity should be a conversation  – don’t use it as an excuse for Readicide. Reading has to be the point – not lexile” (e.g., AR).  He ended the session with a huge shout out to Touchstones Discussion Project guides for building critical thinking and powerful classroom discussions.

    Session 3 – Making your (Google) Voice Heard – If you still haven’t created a Google Account,  Brandon Wislocki’s session would convince you to drop everything and set one up so you can start using Google’s free Voice program and app. A big advantage for teachers is being able to use Google Voice as an alternate number for students and parents to call.  But there are so many more possibilities! The fact that the messages are saved as embeddable mp3’s and are translated into text is just a starting point. Think of the possibilities for extending learning beyond the school day, especially for your ELs!

    Session 4 Online Writing that Meets the Common Core – Jason Saliskar started his session by laying out via grade levels what CCSS Anchor Standard 6 for Writing looks like by grade level. I love that it’s all there on his presentation link! A favorite take-away from Jason’s session is that in teaching writing in the Common Core era,  “writing short is going to matter as much as writing long” (from Pam Allyn). Loved the videos Jason included, such as a Teaching Channel look at poetry, technology, and CCSS from an elementary language arts teacher and the 3-minute video embedded below on Explaining the Common Core State Standards:

    Keynote Session – Ending Day 1 with Catlin Tucker’s inspiring keynote was a perfect close. Her session was recorded, so as soon as I have that link I’ll add it to this post. In the meantime, I encourage you to subscribe to Catlin’s blog and to follow her on Twitter (@CTuckerEnglish). In stating that “Technology can’t be an add-on – it has to replace and extend what we already do,” Catlin presents compelling ways to take powerful fiction, such as To Kill and Mockingbird and connect it real world issues, such as the death penalty. For high school English teachers who fear that CCSS means letting go of the classics, you definitely want to connect with Catlin Tucker. She takes 9th grade English, technology, and the Common Core to new levels.

    I’ll be back soon with some CUE Day 2 take-aways.

    October 23, 2010
    by blogwalker

    Building a News Story = Building 21st Century Literacies

    News 10’s Nick Monacelli’s September SECC session on Building a News Story was outstanding! And the good news for teachers – across grade levels and subject areas – who were not able to join us live at Channel 10 is that you and your students now have access to the entire presentation:


    As I’m writing this post, I’m also re-listening to Nick’s talk – and thinking that the samples, tips, and discussion all help  to make visible NCTE’s Definition for 21st century literacy:

    Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

    • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
    • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
    • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
    • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
    • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
    • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments”

    Many thanks to SECC and cameraman Doug Niva for hosting this wonderful resource.

    May 23, 2010
    by blogwalker

    Remembering Anne Frank


    Image from

    I was introduced to the Holocaust in 7th grade. Like many middle school students, I was given a window into the horrors of the Nazi “round ups”  through reading the Diary of Anne Frank.

    My long-time interest in Anne’s story was rekindled last weekend when I had the honor of meeting with Hannie Voyles, a schoolmate of Anne Frank’s. Hannie’s story of survival under five years of Nazi occupation of the Netherlands is every bit as compelling as Anne’s story. It is my hope that Hannie will soon share her story beyond her community (Chico, California). I just finished watching footage from a recent interview she did with a group of 8th grader peer mediators  from Chico’s Marsh Jr. High.  While Anne Frank was hidden away, Hannie and her sister were out on the streets everyday in the eye of the storm.*

    Teaching the Holocaust requires having age-appropriate resources.  I was initially taken aback when I discovered that the Open Court Reading Program includes a piece about Anne Frank in the 4th grade anthology. However, in working with several 4th grade classes (in my role as coordinator of my district’s EETT grant), I have come to see that elementary students are quite capable of delving into complex social issues that span communities and generations. If the materials and the manner in which the topic is introduced are age-appropriate, 4th graders are ready for and capable of joining in meaningful shared conversations on tough topics.

    Through my participation in the National Writing Project’s Holocaust Educator’s Network, I’ve accumulated a variety of resources for teaching about genocide in general and the Holocaust in particular.  After meeting with Hannie Voyles, I am now seeking resources that best tell the impact of Nazi occupation on school-age children and their families and that provide insights into the topic of resiliency of the human spirit. Anne Frank’s story will be my starting point.

    Here’s what I have so far:

    • Film footage of Anne Frank – Filmed in celebration of a neighbor’s wedding in July of 1941, shortly before the Frank family went into hiding, this is the only footage of Anne Frank.
    • We Remember Anne Frank – Scholastic’s unit includes interviews with Miep Gies, the loyal employee of the Frank family. Lessons are arranged by grade level, starting with grade 3.
    • Anne Frank, Writer – From EDSITEment (National Endowment for the Humanities), this site scaffolds their lessons and provides resources for connecting Anne’s story to other examples of racism and exclusion.
    • Anne Frank – Lessons in Humanity and Dignity – Provides activities for school and home.
    • Anne Frank Received Her Famous Diary in 1942 – From ReadWriteThink!, the unit introduces students to the importance of first-hand accounts in understanding historical events.
    • Diary of Anne Frank, the movie – PBS provides a Teacher’s Guide to accompany the DVD (which you can order from the site). The site also includes the Take Action page, a listing of projects and activities for empowering students to make a difference.  In the current test-driven climate, all too often the reading of powerful stories ends with the “what,” and students are not moving on to explore the next two components, so essential to meaningful learning: “so what” and “now what.”
    • Anne Frank Timeline – Part of the Secret Annex Online site, the timeline provides background and compelling images from Anne’s story, starting in 1914.

    * May 2011 Update:

    • Anne Frank the Writer: An Unfinished Story – From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the resources include a beautifully done tour of Anne Frank’s diary through images and audio clips.
    • Beyond Anne Frank.pdf – Created by Jennifer Norton, Regional Education Corps Member, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, to complement reading of The Diary of Anne Frank.
    • The Danish Solution – From Snag Learning, this documentary film is a tribute to the “upstanders” of Denmark.  It details how the Danish were able to save many of Denmark’s Jewish population when the Nazi’s Final Solution was implemented.  There are even discussion questions on the page, but thanks to Holocaust Educators Network (HEN) educator Diane Williams, here are two more thought-provoking, guiding questions:
      • What inspires us to act?  or Why act? (I think this is a question that gets to the root of what my students have grappled with over the years when studying the Holocaust – why did some act and some did not?)  This also allows them to look at fear as a motivator, principles, religious beliefs, humanitarian reasons.
      • What forms of resistance are the most effective?  When and Why?
    • An Interview with Hannie Voyles – Coming soon!! A year after first meeting Hannie, I traveled with videographer Doug Niva to Chico, California, to record an interview with Hannie. We hope to have video clips from the interview online within the next few weeks. The interview will be a wonderful resource to accompany her newly released Storming the Tulips, “A tightly-knit connection and complement to Anne Frank’s story.

    If you have Anne Frank resources to add to the list, I hope you will post a comment.  My goal is, over the summer, to develop a unit on name calling that could be used across grade levels and would help students make connections and comparisons between what was “then and there” (the Holocaust) to what is “here and now.”

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