Muddling through the blogosphere

January 8, 2012
by blogwalker

Feb 1 is Digital Learning Day!

Digital Learning Day – what a great way for schools to head into the New Year! If your district, like mine, is experiencing the weight of PI (Program Improvement) pressures, requirements and walk-throughs sucking the creative juices right out classrooms, Digital Learning Day will provide a much-needed celebration of innovative teachers and instructional strategies.

Started by the Alliance for Learning, and in partnership with the National Writing Project, Digital Learning Day will showcase powerful work going on in the many districts and classrooms where educators are making thoughtful use of the potential of digital tools to provide students with the skills they need to succeed in college, career, and life. The ultimate goal is for the event to ignite a “digital learning movement that truly provides a quality education for every child.”

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education (and former governor of West Virginia) speaks clearly and passionately in this video message on the commitment for Digital Learning Day to be more than a stand-alone event.

“Simply slapping a netbook on top of a textbook, however, will not necessarily lead to significant outcomes. Effective digital media combined with powerful teaching, rich content, and engaged students has the potential to take learning in the United States to a much higher level and provide all students with experiences that allow them to graduate prepared for college and a career.”

Across the nation, the Alliance for Learning and the National Writing Project (NWP) will be coordinating statewide and local Digital Learning Day events.  In California, under the direction of the California Writing Project (CWP), you have a number of opportunities showcase good things happening at your schools and districts:

  •  February 1 Sacramento/Capitol Area ShowcaseWriting Our Future: A Celebration of Students’ Digital Learning and Writing (4:00-6:00 pm, location TBA). CWP Director Jayne Marlink describes the event as “imagine a combination of a science fair and a gallery walk…Teams will share their approach to improving learning – the learning goals, the technological resources used, and the student work that resulted.” I am really looking forward to involving some of the amazing teachers in my district’s EETT grants and the ANU Teach 21 grant!
  • February 1 (and maybe during the following week) Road Tour – A tour of schools and classrooms across the state that will open their doors to invited guests and community members, so they can see great digital teaching and learning in action. There will also be an Online Road Tour of schools and classrooms that will be visited via the CWP website. Amazing middle school teacher Natalie Bernasconi, for instance, will invite visitors in for an exploration of digital writing as a powerful way for her ELL students to find their voices and share their stories.
  • Try One New Thing Digital Learning Day is not limited to February 1! Across California and the nation, Writing Project sites will be sponsoring workshops and conferences for teachers and administrators. Educators will be encouraged to “sample an online lesson, use mobile devices in class, start a wiki, use digital storytelling, start a project-based learning unit, but above all, challenge your teaching, learning, and pedagogy and see what digital technology can do for you and the students you serve!”

A great starting point for DLD resources are the toolkits, which are “are designed to help you think about how technology may strengthen your instructional strategies.” More resources and tips to come!

Digital Learning Day is a call for action “to leverage innovative uses of technology in our nation’s schools to ensure every student experiences personalized learning with great teaching.” It’s also a great opportunity – in this time of painful budget cuts – to showcase good things happening in public school classrooms.  I hope you will join me in publicizing this event in your districts and regions!

March 19, 2011
by blogwalker
1 Comment

Blogging 4 NWP

The tag cloud in my right-hand sidebar basically sums it up: NWP (National Writing Project) is central to my professional life.

In my 19 years in public education, the professional development I have received through the NWP is the single most important resource in my teaching toolkit. In case you are not familiar with the National Writing, it is an organization that supports teachers in sharing best practices around what works best to teach students writing skills that cross all academic content areas.

With great pride, I include at the top of my resume that I am a Writing Project Teacher Consultant (TC), which means I participated in a Summer Institute at a local writing project: the Area 3 Writing Project. Ask any TC and he/she will tell you how empowering it is as an educator to be part of the NWP community. We have the huge advantage of being able to draw on the support and research-based professional development needed to engage our students in writing across the curriculum and, as a result, push them to higher literacy levels.

In my own district and in my current position as a technology integration specialist, I have witnessed first-hand the impact of the NWP across our K-12 classrooms. Teachers who have participated in our local Area 3 Writing Project Summer Institutes, Saturday seminars, and grant-funded projects have a vision for taking district-adopted, scripted literacy programs and injecting them with innovative strategies – including new technologies – and crafting incredible, inspiring examples of best practices.

NWP teachers empower their students as writers and as 21st century citizens. Check out the amazing collection of lessons and resources posted to the Digital Is site, for instance, for a glimpse into the depth and breadth of this dynamic community.

This weekend, in response to Chad Sansing’s invitation, I join hundreds of colleagues in blogging and tweeting in support of the National Writing Project. This is why:

On March 2nd, 2001, President Obama signed a spending bill to keep the federal government operating during budget season. The bill cut federal funding to the NWP as part of a Congressional effort to eliminate earmarks – federal funds legislated to support certain programs like the NWP. While pork-barrel projects are, perhaps, easy political targets for elected officials looking to make names for themselves as no-nonsense fiscal conservatives, the NWP is not a pork-barrel project and it makes no sense to eliminate funding to the NWP, a program with a proven track record in raising student achievement that provides teachers and students with authentic opportunities for communication, inquiry, and problem-solving – opportunities to practice those deservedly ballyhooed skills our students need to be college-, community-, and life-ready.”

I hope you will join us in getting to word out to our elected officials to reintroduce federal funding for the NWP. For our teachers, for our students, for our communities – the National Writing Project should be saved.

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Oh, almost forgot….To maximize our efforts, here are some guidelines from Chad:

“Please support the NWP by sharing your experiences with the project, its institutes, its teacher consultants, and the resources it freely provides for all teachers. As you post,  send the links to Chad via Twitter (@chadsansing, by @ or DM), or email your link to him. He will collect and publish the links at his blog:  If you tweet about NWP, please include @EdPressSec, @Ed_Outreach, @nwpsiteleaders, and @whitehouse in your tweet. Let’s use the hashtag #blog4NWP. If you post before or after this weekend’s window, please let me know and/or use the hashtag to make sure I pick up your article for inclusion on the #blog4NWP archive post. Please also consider sending your writing as an email to your local and state representatives in federal government.”

December 5, 2010
by blogwalker

Passing the CTEL Exam…

ctelI won’t know for about 6 weeks if I passed the California Teachers of English Learners (CTEL) test , which I took yesterday at CSU, Sacramento. Taking the CTEL is an all day affair, if you’re planning to take all three sections. I signed up for all three.

From the parking lot, I joined a few other teachers also on their way to the test. Two were PE teachers, who were questioning the value of having to know the difference between a diphthong and a digraph; the other two were returning to retake the two sections they had previously failed and were fairly frustrated by both the certification requirement and the testing format. I kept my mouth shut.

What I did not share with my fellow CTEL test takers was how deeply interested I am in the topic of English language learners (ELs). Nor did I share my frustration at not being able to find some affordable workshops on the topic.  Our local COE canceled their CTEL workshop series based on low enrollment (with close to 300 of us showing up for Saturday’s event, that seems puzzling). And I also did my best not to get in a huff over the fact that I am permanently out $303 (something, admittedly, I could have avoided had I opted to take the test a few years back), whereas my four walking companions mentioned they will be reimbursed for the exam fee as soon as they have proof of passing.

But I’m not writing this post to complain about the CTEL exam. I’m writing to acknowledge four people who helped me prepare for the test, either in print, online, or face-to-face.  The first three people I’ve not yet met f2f; the 4th person, I know well:

  • Lynne Diaz-Rico – Thank you for your helpful book A Course for Teaching English Learners.  You provided the first step in preparing for the scope and sequence of the exam – and you reminded me, through research and samples, of the importance of promoting and supporting bilingual education.
  • Jeffery Heil – Thank you for your contributions to the CTEL wiki! Your PowerPoints helped prep me for the fact that careful reading of the multiple-choice questions would be critical (and sort of got me over the hump that although it was easy to eliminate two of the choices, for many of the questions, deciding between the two remaining answers, choosing the better of the two would not always be obvious). Lucky SDCOE to have you as a resource!
  • Carol Booth Olsen – Thanks to the Know Els ning (part of the National Writing Project network), I found your Cognitive Strategies Approach to Reading and Writing: Instruction for English Language Learners in Secondary School. On Friday, I had hit rock bottom in terms of getting bogged down with CTEL  EL-related acronyms and laws (which were completely missing from Saturday’s test, I might mention).  So, in search of a pre-test jitters/blues antidote, I headed to the Know ELs ning – and found your article. As I read about the Pathways Project, and noted the excellent strategies for building ELs’ language toolkits, my interest and enthusiasm for the topic resurfaced.  I ended my Friday study session feeling prepared  to sit for the test and hoping that the essay sections would provide a venue for showcasing powerful teaching strategies from Writing Project teachers.
  • And one last person I want to thank Lesley McKillop, 4th grade teacher, A3WP TC, and my friend. Through classroom visits, often extended via phone calls during my daily commute, I have watched you engage your elementary students and build EL strategies, much like Carol Booth Olson has done for secondary students. Three out of four of my CTEL essays were based on best practices from your classroom:

If you also spent Saturday taking the CTEL, I hope you passed!

And if you have CTEL stories and/or resources to add to this post, I’ll hope you’ll add a comment.

October 2, 2010
by blogwalker

NWP + Technology = Successful EETT Model

The video below will give you a window into my two-year journey as coordinator for my district’s EETT grant. In exchange for the funding to purchase laptop carts and cameras and to provide professional development for 4th and 5th grade teachers and students at three elementary sites, I was charged with helping teachers and students use more technology … in ways that would improve student writing.

We (my wonderful evaluator Carl Whithaus + 3 outstanding graduate research assistants + a little input from me) submitted our final EETT report to the Dept. of Ed last week. WE MORE THAN MET ALL GOALS OF THE GRANT!:-) 🙂

I facilitated workshops and support on blogging (Edublogs), podcasting (Audacity & VoiceThread), and movie making (Movie Maker 2). But the heart of the grant stemmed from workshops from Area 3 Writing Project (A3WP) teacher consultants, who shared strategies, resources, and best practices for grade-level specific topic and genres. Writing was at the center; the technology simply provided tools to extend writing beyond the walls of the classroom and to promote sharing, collaboration, and inclusion in online learning communities.

Would the grant have had the same results and impact without the A3WP partnership? I don’t think so.  Many  EETT teachers shared with me that they had attended technology trainings in the past, but somehow, regardless of the specific tool, it seemed more like an add-on or a “Fun Friday” kind of activity, not something that could be seamlessly integrated into the core curriculum.

The A3WP is a local chapter of the National Writing Project (NWP), an organization that is fighting for funding . An organization founded on the concept of “teachers teaching teachers.” An organization nationally recognized for being on the leading edge of blending digital media with writing. Similar to my EETT video, the videos on the NWP site demonstrate the depth, breadth, and commitment of Writing Project teachers to help fellow teachers realize “the tremendous benefits of using digital media tools to teach writing.” In a nutshell, so much depends on continued funding for the NWP.

NWP + Technology + EETT = Student Empowerment

September 28, 2010
by blogwalker

NAESP Grant – Bringing field journaling into the classroom and community

Just got the call from A3WP colleague Lesley McKillop to check the list of winners for the 2010 NAESP grant…We’re on it: Prairie Elementary’s Bird Chasers Project!

The grant will provide a set of field glasses and cameras to Lesley’s 4th graders. Last week, the students embarked on a year-long field journaling project that will connect science, art, and writing. The video below will give you a window into the genre of field journaling – and the students’ first steps in becoming experts on the plants and animals native to their school yard and their region.

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The students will also be connecting with the National Writing Project‘s Voices on the Gulf project, sharing their local bird and watershed stories with a national audience of environmentally concerned educators and classrooms. They are currently becoming experts on the “misunderstood crow,” and will be soon start tracking migratory birds out of the Gulf Coast.

The grant will allow Lesley’s Title 1 classroom to extend bird tracking and field journaling into the community. Parents, grandparents, and guardians will be able to check out field glasses and cameras over the weekend and contribute to West Coast observations on the impact of the BP oil spill.

Although the school is located in a high-poverty neighborhood, it’s also in the heart of the Sacramento flyway – rich in an array of local and migratory birds that nest within its confines.  With field journals, field glasses, cameras and an Internet connection, this group of 4th graders will gain – and share – an understanding of global citizenship, becoming, I predict,  future biologists and botanists on the way.

February 15, 2010
by blogwalker

What Works in Education – The National Writing Project

I choose my battles carefully. But I’m definitely jumping in on this one:

On February 1, the Obama administration released its 2011 budget proposal. In this proposed budget, funding for the NWP is consolidated with five other literacy programs under a new states-based competitive grants program that provides money for improving literacy. The NWP as a national network would not be eligible to compete for funding.”

If you visit the National Writing Project ning and scroll to the bottom, you’ll find examples of how the NWP supports local Writing Projects in building professional learning communities that empower teachers to make a difference in their students’ lives.

I’d like to share an example from the Area 3 Writing Project, my local project – a group that has profoundly influenced my commitment to support teachers in their efforts to structure a writing program and environment where students find their voices and write for change.

In my current role as coordinator for my district’s EETT grant, I’ve had the opportunity to view first-hand the impact of the A3WP partnership on student performance on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) in English/Language Arts, which includes a writing prompt. Of the three elementary schools in the grant, two are Title 1 and both are in “Program Improvement.”  At all three sites, students raised their E/LA CST scores.

Typically Program Improvement = drill, drill, and more drill, with little opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning. Thanks to our EETT/A3WP partnership, “drill ‘n kill” is not what you are likely to see when you when visit 4th and 5th grade classrooms at our targeted sites. Let’s take, for example, the 4th grade team at Prairie Elementary and let them show you what can happen when effective writing strategies are combined with technology:

  • Lutrica Hardaway will share that “In over 30 years in the district, the A3WP sessions were the most valuable writing workshops I’ve ever participated in.”  If you visit Lutricia’s class blog, and listen to her students’ Tree House podcasts or Barack Obama VoiceThread, you will have a window into the rich, multimedia writing environment her students have the good fortune to experience every day.
  • Lesley McKillop, with 20 years teaching experience, will tell you “I cannot emphasize enough the impact of the Writing Project on how I now weave the teaching of writing into my classroom practice, and, in so doing, empower my students as writers and as members of our classroom and school community in ways not possible with canned programs.” Her students have taken writing into a script-writing and movie-making venue, transporting their voices beyond the confines of community and poverty – and on to a major regional video competition for K12 students.  I’m betting you will be able to follow this movie made on the fly and to also understand why Lesley’s students were thanking their principal for driving them to the SEVA Awards Ceremony.
  • Halle Ferrier, a newcomer to teaching with four years of classroom experience will add to her colleagues’ comments: “Thanks to the strategies, lessons, and resources shared by Angela and Heather (two A3WP Teacher Consultants), I returned from each EETT workshop with ideas I could implement the next day. Although I’ve pretty much shied away from technology, when I saw how my students were growing as writers, I knew their voices deserved a larger audience than just me.” And a larger audience they indeed now have for their Letters from the Internment Camps VoiceThread, a piece that has merged genres, inspired other educators, and, at current count, has had over 20,000 viewers.

Teachers come into the Writing Project at a local level.  Wherever on the map their project might be, this isNWP where they begin membership in a community that for most will remain a lifetime connection. Local sites, as dynamic and amazing as they are, do not operate in isolation. Newcomers, understandably,  do not always have an immediate understanding of the many ways the National Writing Project  supports all local sites. Continued funding the the NWP is integral to the heart and sole of each local site.

As for myself…My first direct connection to the NWP happened eight years ago, when I traveled to Baltimore for my first-ever NWP Annual Meeting. It was there I joined the Technology Liaisons Network. Becoming a TL has provided me with a vision for teaching and writing in a digital age – and with the support to help transform that vision into a reality within a growing number of classrooms.

There is simply no other technology training or network that equals the vision and collaborative energy and reach of the NWP TL Network. It is wholly due to the ongoing input of the TL community, that I was able to craft the above-mentioned EETT proposal and to firmly ground the technology components of the grant in sound practice.

I hope that the thousands of teachers who have benefited from the NWP will join the effort in letting our politicians know that the National Writing Project is clearly an example of something that works in education.

February 5, 2010
by blogwalker

Giving Voice to Students – Academic Literacy Summit

The subtitle for yesterday’s Academic Literacy Summit was Writing to Think and Learn in All Content Areas. Definitely Giving Voice to Students was also an common thread running through all sessions – starting with my EETT team presentation Integrating Digital Literacies into Upper Elementary Classrooms;-).

Our lunch break was amazing. Students from the Sacramento Area Youth Speaks project shared their passion for poetry. If you are an educator in the greater Sacramento region, I encourage you to share the video below, get the word out to students in your district about the SAYS summer program – and find out how to arrange a SAYS site workshop!

1st Annual SAYS Summit (MAY 2009) from SAYS on Vimeo.

It would take a powerful speaker to follow on the heals to the SAYS presentation. Brandy DeAlba’s compelling, straight-from-the heart keynote (a mini-workshop in itself) was the perfect choice –

Through writing, students can discover their voices and be heard. They can learn to use writing as a learning tool as well as a powerful platform to success. Writing can help students find their place in our schools.”

Sorry but no sessions were streamed…I’m sending that on as a strong suggestion for next year’s event!

January 4, 2009
by blogwalker

Blogging with 4th Graders

Before the Winter Break, I introduced the 4th grade teachers in my EETT grant to blogs and blogging during a 3-hour whirlwind workshop. With only a week left before vacation, already several went “live” with their blogs and invited their students to post comments, noting that their students immediately took to blogging. One of the great things about introducing Web 2.0 tools is that kids like technology.

I am pretty sure that students who read and respond to blogs regularly – especially beyond the school day – are building their reading skills. But my EETT grant was funded based on my argument that students at three of my district’s lowest-performing elementary schools would improve their writing skills by integrating multi-modal, multimedia tools and strategies into the English/Language Arts program. The tools (blogs, podcasts, wikis, VoiceThread, and video editing) are only half of the program. Area 3 Writing Project Teacher Consultants are providing the other half: teacher-tested writing activities and strategies that have transformed writing in their own classrooms – and have helped raise scores on the 4th grade paper-and-pencil state writing assessment.

Technology is not a silver bullet. But if you combine powerful writing strategies – such as introducing emerging writers to the concept of strong verbs and prompting them, for example, to locate strong verbs in other bloggers’ posts and to respond with at least one strong verb – with Web 2.0 tools, then I predict this group of 4th graders will become better writers.

Over the break, I’ve been reading some outstanding posts by Silvia Tolisano, Kim Cofino, and Kevin Jarrett.

Drawing from many of the ideas and resources they’ve shared, here is my agenda for Tuesday’s EETT workshop:

Opening Session: Revisiting Blogs and Blogging

  • The Big Question: How can blogging help YOUR students?
  • End with my Sacto neighbor and thinking partner Alice Mercer’s video on Blogging with Students

Morning Workshop: Summary Writing – Facilitated by A3WP 4th grade teachers Angela Luna and Heather Koczian.

Afternoon Session = Podcasting for Absolute Beginners*

  • Start with a brief PowerPoint. I’m providing handouts for teachers to note how they will integrate podcasting – and summary writing – into their classrooms.
  • Introduce Audacity
  • Hands-on time for teachers to experiment with their first podcasts
  • End session with demo on podcasting from a cell phone via Gcast
  • Wrap Up – Sharing of ideas for incorporating podcasting – as a writing strategy – into the 4th grade curriculum.

*Note: I’ve posted links to podcasting tutorials and resources on ToolKit4BlogWalker.

As we move through this grant year, it is my hope that through access to powerful writing strategies and access to technology tools that provide authentic audience and authentic purpose, this group of 4th graders will experience academic growth – and excitement – and will add writing (most likely online writing) to their list of favorites.

Image copied from

December 25, 2008
by blogwalker

From Del Paso Heights to City Hall – A victory on many levels

I love it when a city unites to celebrate the accomplishments of a group of students – especially when those students have overcome the odds to reach a goal. And so it was on Tuesday when the City of Sacramento cheered on Grant High School’s Pacers, the underdogs who had just defeated Long Beach Poly High at the state football championships, as they set out on their victory parade from Del Paso Heights to City Hall where our newly elected Mayor Kevin Johnson presented the team with the keys to the city.

While probably less than 20 miles from Grant High School to downtown Sacramento, the distance traveled is more than just miles when you consider the high dropout rates, the gang-related violence, and extreme poverty levels this group of student atheletes has clearly not allowed to stand in their way.

Now that Grant High School is in the limelight for its sports accomplishments, I would also like the public – especially Mayor Johnson and his frequent advisor Michelle Rhee – to know about a group of English/Language Arts teachers, whose passion for teaching and dedication to providing Grant students with an achievable and academically rigorous program may have a subtle but more important impact. While I am sure Grant has similar groups of remarkable teachers across the disciplines, I know this particular group first-hand through their inspiring leadership at the Area 3 Writing Project (part of the National Writing Project). Year after year, they share at a regional, statewide, and national level, lessons and strategies that have made the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) attainable for “at risk” students.

But this group has also vowed to provide all students with the background, scaffolding, and requirements that will move them considerably past the CAHSEE and prepare them for the level of academic writing required to succeed at the university level. Each year, through the A3WP and California Writing Project, this team of teachers guides participating teachers through the highly successful ISAW program.

With Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and others in top educational positions promising “to shake up education” and advocating merit pay for teachers , I suspect – and I certainly can understand why – a number of effective teachers, for monetary reasons, will transfer to wealthier school districts. But the Writing Project teachers at the heart and soul of Grant High School’s English Department, well…I hope not.

August 17, 2008
by blogwalker

Wikis in K12 Education

Whether it be by voice, cell phone, email, iPod, blog, wiki, video, websites, or another as yet invented thing, I will communicate my message via any means that students will hear. I will not be afraid of the medium if it a highway to my students’ psyche. I will not erect roadblocks where I should build on ramps.”

I’m updating the wiki I use for my workshops to include some new resources such as Vicki Davis‘s slideshow presentation, which includes the above quote, and am thinking about some recent conversations with teachers who are fast becoming contributors to the blogosphere. Teachers from my local Writing Project, for instance, who are using their wikis to extend content resources beyond the school day. Take, for example, the fabulous Ms. Duenas, who has uploaded her entire set of PowerPoints to accompany her district’s 6th grade math program to her wiki. I suspect through Dee’s enthusiasm and commitment to sharing best practices, she’ll be bringing others at her site on board with Web 2.0 technologies.

I’d like to address two questions from teachers who have recently joined the blogosphere and have also added wikis to their toolkit.

The first question is about subscribing to a wiki. With, readers will not see the RSS button or link, so how do they follow? Here’s the answer:

Step 1: From the sidebar, click on the Recent Changes link.

Step 2: From the Recent Changes screen, click on the Notify Me tab. Decide whether you want notification when anything has been changed or just changes to specific pages in the wiki.

Step 3: Choose your reader and that’s it.

The second question is from one of the most dedicated, outstanding teachers I have ever worked with, who happened to join me for my A3WP Summer Tech Institute. I’ve know this teacher for 16 years. Believe me, the list of students whose lives she has changed and the teachers she has mentored and supported (including me!!)is an incredibly long one! She left the workshop with a blog and a wiki ready to go. Her immediate goal was to provide a strong school-to-home connection and to open the world to her students (from a location where the deepest differences diversity-wise are economic). She called yesterday with this question: What do I tell my superintendent in a meeting I’ve requested to talk about why the tech guy has blocked access to

I suggested maybe starting with Karl Fisch’s Did You Know? or Michael Wesch’s Information Revolution, plus the NCTE’s recent definition of 21st century literacies.

I’d like to keep adding to her list. What are your suggestions? How are you using wikis with your students and/or staff? What should I add to her list?

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