Muddling through the blogosphere

March 26, 2011
by blogwalker
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The NWP Does Not Offer a Finder’s Fee

If you are connected in any way with the National Writing Project (NWP), then I bet the scenario below is a familiar one:

On Tuesday I had an email from Skye Smith, a first grade teacher in my district, who wondered if I could offer her a bit of help using Movie Maker 2. In my current position as a technology integration specialist, I often have the privilege of witnessing outstanding teaching from teachers who create an environment that so exciting, inviting, and supportive that I’ve barely left their classroom before I’m already online or on the phone with other colleagues to share about my latest amazing-teacher find.

And that was exactly how it went on Tuesday. One of Skye Smith’s students, a budding writer (and also a Level 1 English Language Learner) had been inspired by the expression “ants in your pants” to create a hilarious story by drawing on the literal meaning of the words. Skye shared with me several video clips of the student reading her story to her classmates, who were clearly and completely enthralled.

Because the students were also following the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, they thought maybe if they turned Ants in Your Pants into a movie, they could share it with the children of Sendai, Japan, “to give them something to smile about, maybe even laugh about.”

Over the course of two days, Skye’s students busily and collaboratively transformed Ants in Your Pants from a vision to a full-on video production. And in the process took learning to action.

Barely out of the parking lot, I called Lesley McKillop, a 4th grade teacher at Skye’s site – who participated in last  summer’s NWP Summer Institute through our local Area 3 Writing Project. I prefaced my description of Skye’s teaching style and lesson by stating, “We have to bring Skye Smith into the Writing Project!”  Throughout our 5-minute phone call, we must have said at least 6 times, separately or simultaneously, “We have to bring Skye into the Writing Project!”

Rewind a year back at the same site (Prairie Elementary), and Lesley would have been the topic of my parking lot phone calls.  Following a visit to Lesley’s classrom and watching, for instance, her students transform “show-not-tell” writing into award-winning multmedia pieces, my phone calls were to NWP colleague Pam Bodnar – along with emails to A3WP director Karen Smith – to say, “We have to get Lesley McKillop into the Writing Project!”

No, the NWP does not award finder’s fees for bringing inspiring teachers into a Summer Institute.  The project is all about teachers teaching teachers. NWP is sort of a “give one/get one” concept that exponentially supports and promotes outstanding teachers on their journeys to becoming coaches and mentors beyond their own school sites. “NWP believes in knowledge that grows organically in and by the specific community of learners” (Joseph McCaleb).

I joined the NWP community 16 years ago.  Like so many of my fellow NWP colleagues who have more eloquently explained the importance and benefits of this vibrant, dynamic community, I realize that it has become second nature to me to actively recruit the best of the best for the A3WP. No finder’s fee needed.

From the bottom of my heart – and in view of my list of Teachers from My District Who Should Join the Writing Project, teachers whose expertise should be extended to a national audience – I hope we can convince our representatives to restore funding to the National Writing Project, a project that  “bridges that gap between what was not in our teacher education classes and what our students demand from us as we prepare them for their worlds” (Ellen Shelton, Mississippi Writing Project).

March 19, 2011
by blogwalker
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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.

3-19-2011 7-05-19 AM

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.

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.

May 4, 2010
by blogwalker

California’s Great ‘Bait and Switch’ Trick

saveedtechI’m headed to the Capitol this morning to fight for our EETT ARRA funding. CUE director Mike Lawrence sums up the issue in a sentence: “California directed schools and districts across the state to spend millions to support Educational Technology, then failed to distribute the over $72M in stimulus funds to pay for it!”

Having seen first-hand the positive ways the meaningful (beyond multiple-choice) integration of technology into the curriculum can impact teaching and learning in my district’s EETT classrooms, I have a few thoughts to share with our Assembly members:

Honorable Members of This Subcommittee:

My name is Gail Desler.  I am a technology support teacher for the Elk Grove Unified School District. I am here to today to urge you to honor the primary goal of the EETT ARRA grant:

“to improve student achievement of the state content standards and technology literacy in grades four through eight with expanded access to technology, electronic resources, professional development, and enhanced communications.”

In EETT Rounds 1, 2, and 4, the Elk Grove USD met and exceeded performance goals, with students in grades 7 and 8 at all 5 targeted middle schools showing substantial growth on California Standardized Tests (CSTs) in the academic area of English/Language Arts. As for technology proficiency, students and their teachers also exceeded performance objectives.

We are currently in our second year of EETT Round 7, this time working with grades 4 and 5 at three elementary sites.  Two have been classified as Title 1 for a number of years; the third school more than meets the requirement for free and reduced lunch and awaits reclassification.

I recognize that, when looking at student achievement, the State restricts its definition to standardized test scores.  Last year, all three EETT 4th grades improved their CST scores in English/Language Arts – and showed huge gains in technology proficiency.  At David Reese Elementary School, for example, 4th graders showed a 6-point gain in English/Language Arts (which included the 4th grade writing sample) over the previous school year and substantial gains in their abilities to use information technology.

Regardless of the EETT Round, thanks to the on-going assessments of our external evaluators, the explanation is clear and simple: the gains in student test scores can be attributed to the fact that EETT funding is being used as intended – providing students with access to digital literacy tools and providing teachers with the training to effectively integrate those tools into the English Language Arts curriculum.

Through a partnership with the Area 3 Writing Project (local affiliate of the National Writing Project), teachers receive professional development on  best practices for improving  literacy, with the recognition that new definitions for literacy no longer distinguish between literacy in general and technology literacy in particular.

At a time when low test scores have locked many Title 1 schools into a daily grind of students working in isolation on multiple-choice/fill-in-the-blanks test prep, I have watched our EETT sites use the training, support, and tools to unlock higher order thinking skills, allowing students to engage in complex tasks that foster collaboration and creativity, much like their counterparts at more affluent school sites. I have witnessed what can happen when EETT funding gets feet walks into classrooms.

I invite you to visit Elk Grove’s EETT sites so that you too can see first-hand how the technology and training are providing an at-risk student population with opportunities to expand and learn beyond the confines of ‘basic’ or ‘proficient,’ beyond the walls of the classroom, and beyond the margins of their surrounding communities.

California should seek alternative funding for the CALPADS program and not take away from this already established and effective program. On behalf of the Elk Grove USD and all the districts that have applied, I implore you to stop holding EETT ARRA dollars hostage and to immediately release the funding – while there is still time to ensure that teachers will receive the professional development needed to bridge unacceptable achievement gaps and digital divides.  Using the EETT ARRA money to provide students with better access to information technologies and teachers with the training on how to use those information technologies makes a key difference in our schools—not just in improving CST scores but also in increasing students’ and teachers’ abilities to use 21st-century literacy tools.

I’m told it’s basically a done deal: the Assembly will take the EETT money from the classroom and use it to fund the P-20 data-gathering program Calpads.  Already knowing that yet one more program for measuring academic acheivement is not likely to directly benefit students, I think it’s worth our time and effort to fight for a program that is making a difference, especially in our Title 1 schools.

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!

July 23, 2009
by blogwalker

A Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom

The great films have not been made yet. The ones who will make them are out there, though, riding a skateboard.” – Robert Altman

Why would a classroom teacher at any grade level or in any subject area consider adding one more activity into an already jam-packed curriculum? This is a question I ask myself repeatedly when teaching the filmmaking workshops I offer through the Area 3 Writing Project and through my school district.

Last October the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium (SECC) invited me, as part of their SEVA teacher training series, to give a workshop that would provide teachers with the justification to bring video production into the K12 curriculum. Having a workshop deadline to meet was just the motivation I needed to sit down and articulate why I believe all students should have access to filmmaking (aka digital storytelling, video production, etc.) as part of their instructional day.

I  had three arguments in mind before even turning on the computer.  Within an hour, I had my presentation ready to go. Three arguments expanded to six – and I was on a roll, having discovered in the process how strongly I felt about the topic.

The following week, a group of teachers willing to rise early on a Saturday filed into my SEVA workshop. I lucked out. Not only was this a very awake and participatory group, they also wanted to return to their own sites and present the case for filmmaking. Based the number of requests for my PowerPoint, SEVA organizer Doug Niva suggested uploading my slideshow to their website site.

As much as I appreciate the number of slideshows educators around the world have generously uploaded to such venues as YouTube, or SlideShare, or their blogs, I wish more content producers would also provide a written piece to document how they moved from an initial burning question or challenge to a final product or solution. What follows is my attempt to share my personal learning journey, an experience that has been shaped by first-hand interactions and observations in classrooms (mainly grades 4-12) and the research and advise of others, beginning with filmmaker Nikos Theodosakis and continuing with filmmaker and literacy coach (Los Angeles USD) Mathew Needleman and many colleagues from the National Writing Project (NWP).

So let’s return to my Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom presentation, starting with slide/argument #1:

#1: Addressing ethical use of the Internet – Picture the following scenario: an elementary teacher (yes, in my district), Googles herself. To her dismay she finds that on a day she was out, one of her students used a cell phone to film a lovely little scene of classroom chaos,  to which his middle school brother later helped him flavor with some racist, homophobic words, and then upload to YouTube. As school counselors in my district scramble to deal with an explosion of cyberbullying issues,  I argue that teaching the ethical use of video and the Internet must be woven into the elementary curriculum, before the onslaught of adolescent (mis)behavior.

In the case of the above siblings, the parents were clueless as to how their children were choosing to use both their cell phones and the computer in the kids’ bedroom. To illustrate the fact that too many students lack an ethical grounding in the appropriate use of the Internet,  I downloaded a YouTube video of a student getting his head bashed against a locker and linked it to Slide #1.

Try doing an Internet search on “locker room fight” and you’ll get back literally hundreds of links, such as the Norwood Middle School’s claim to fame. Granted, middle school is all about making wrong decisions, but what if districts wove media education into the elementary curriculum? It is my hope that such a program could play a pivotal role in keeping students safe from each other (i.e., cyberbullying) and from themselves (i.e, sexting) and in reversing what has become an alarming trend, too often ending tragically.

#2: Promoting critical media consumption – Thanks to support from the National Writing Project, I had the opportunity to attend last summer’s NCTE Institute on 21st Century Literacies.  The seed for this post was planted when Ernest Morrell took to the podium to deliver his Critical Literacy and Urban Youth: Pedagogies of Access, Dissent, and Liberation keynote address. Ernest opened with four questions that begged for discussion:

  1. What will be demanded of students in terms of literacy in the 21st century?
  2. In what ways is the nature of literacy changing?
  3. How should the discipline of English change in response to the changes in literacy?
  4. What are the ways that your students practice literacy when they are not in class?

No surprise that he answered question #4 with:

  • filmmaking
  • video games
  • virtual worlds – adopting different identities

Slide #2 is similar to one Ernest used, maybe not the same Seventeen Magazine cover, but definitely the same image from 50 Cents, complete with its phallic symbols and suggestions of violence.  I don’t know that the images from the covers of Seventeen, with the pitch, for instance,  on how to Get amazing abs!, actually promote any safer or healthier life style than 50 Cents‘ collection.  Given that the age range of Seventeen readers spans from 12-17,  I argue that there is a critical need to provide upper elementary and middle school students with first-hand opportunities to explore and manipulate media so that they might become as skilled in reading and interpreting images as they are with decoding traditional text.

#3: Providing students with multiple ways to access core content – No matter how many times I visit CogDogRoo’s (Alan Levine) 50+ Ways to Tell a Story, each time I find new Web 2.0  resources and tools for incorporating digital storytelling across the curriculum. Whereas filmmaking was once a medium that required expensive equipment and major technical expertise,  “we are at the point now where we can do some very compelling content creation with nothing more complex than a web browser.” Why would we not offer students filmmaking opportunities and options? To answer that question, I’ll call on an elementary school SEVA film producer and a middle school SEVA film producer to share their perspectives on how the process of filmmaking translates into learning venues.

A year ago, I drafted the RFP for my district’s application for Round 7 of the EETT Grant.  My goal was to integrate Web 2.0 tools into the 4th grade (Year One) and 5th grade (Year Two) English/Language Arts program.  In thinking back to the one-page summary that must precede the grant narrative, I remember pondering over this sentence: “Target teachers will participate in 42 hours of professional development on 21 century technologies followed by hands-on explorations with specific Web 2.0 tools (blogs, wikis, podcasts, and multimedia applications) that will ‘power up’ Open Court lessons and engage students in the learning process.”  Given that every administrator will say “Yes!” when asked if he/she would like to be involved in a technology grant, often without understanding the professional development required to support teachers in adopting new tools, I hesitated to be too specific about exactly which ‘multimedia applications’ would be included, knowing that over a two-year period, new tools would emerge, adding to an already robust menu (i.e., Movie Maker2/iMovie, PhotoStory 3, VoiceThread, Animoto). But I definitely did not want the grant to be all about learning PowerPoint!

At the October EETT kickoff meeting, I noted a look of shear panic by at least four or five teachers as we started the day by connecting for an interactive videoconference with Mathew Needleman and ended the day by passing out a complete camera set (bag, tripod, microphone, two cameras) for each site. I wondered if I was being overly ambitious in my vision for taking student voices beyond the classroom via video production.  But eight months later, as we approached the end of the school year and with movie making projects happening at all three EETT sites, I had the opportunity to observe students firsthand as they moved though various stages of multimedia writing. EETT teacher Tara McCartney’s commitment to providing her students with multiple modes of writing is clearly making language arts standards more attainable for her 4th graders:

#4 Supporting a collaborative learning environment – In his book The Director in the classroom: How filmmaking Inspires Learning, Nikios Theodosakis points out that “Filmmaking is a collaborative art, requiring dozens of passionate craftspeople to bring about a focused vision onto the screen.  Each brings with them their own experiences and insights and makes the final film richer and truer than the director originally imagined” (p 7). Yet not all students have access to such 21st century skills as collaborating, connecting, and creating . The more high-poverty + low-performing a school site is, the greater the pressure is on administrators and teachers to deliver instruction per the ‘sit ‘n get’ model. I stand in awe of those educators who seek innovative ways to make learning engaging and memorable – despite top-down mandates that can lead to what teacher/writer Kelly Gallagher refers as “apartheid programs,” effectively denying students access to the “participatory culture” described in Henry Jenkin’s white paper.

Florin High School English teacher Bob LeVin is one of the innovators.   I met Bob five years ago when I sent out an email to my district’s Technology Advisory Committee asking if anyone knew an English teacher who might be interested connecting with other classrooms in the Youth Voices online project. Bob’s enthusiastic response was the start of a yearly connection in which we meet at the start of each new school year to talk about tools and possibilities for taking his students’ voices beyond the confines of their school site and and increasingly impoverished community.  What began in the first two years with a productive exploration of blogging has evolved into an annual integration of filmmaking into Bob’s program.  Former student Michael Fuentes explains well the benefits of making a movie:

On the ‘same side of the tracks’ as Florin High School, Prairie Elementary School students in Lesley Mckillop’s  4th grade classroom have started the long journey to the red carpet, SEVA (Student Educational Video Awards) style. As Lesley’s young filmmakers made their way onto the stage to receive an Honorable Mention Award for Blog Safely!, I wondered if the crowd filling Sacramento’s historic Crest Theater to capacity understood what it meant to have students thanking their principal for driving them to the awards ceremony. Lesley, an innovator and an EETT teacher, came to me following the October kickoff and shared that she knew nothing about technology. Her initial reaction to bringing filmmaking to her 4th graders was the feeling of being completely overwhelmed while at the same time wanting to get on board and, more importantly, bring her class on board. By the time the school year drew to a close, all of her students had participated in the making of one or more movie productions, and for a handful, including the young man who is the last to step up to the microphone in the clip I’ve inserted at the end of this post, filmmaking has rocked their worlds.

# 5 Responding to current research – During the October SEVA workshop, I shared some snippets from Daniel Pink‘s A Whole New Mind and Thomas Friedman‘s The World Is Flat, passed around my Time Magazine issue, and promoted the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills – all of which point to the many “c” words associated with new literacies, such as  connecting, collaborating, and creating .

In April, I traveled down the road to Berkeley for a NWP Digital Is meeting, where I had the good fortune to meet Liz Stephens. As an opening activity, the meeting coordinators asked our cozy group of 12 to think about and share a “whack on the head” about the intersection between writing and technology.  Liz’s statement that  writing in a digital age is “more about ‘frames’ than ‘stages’ was an instant jolt for me and brought to mind recent conversations with teachers and students, such as Xavier Carillo (former student of Bob LeVin), who shares a “no duh”:

In a test-driven climate, it’s easy for teachers and administrators to view filmmaking as a ‘when-testing-is-over’ activity. I think if they could sit in on a session or two with students from my EETT classrooms, they would see that, unlike worksheets, as students delve into their filmmaking projects, a major shift happens. They typically begin a project with the idea of “completing an assignment.” And then the shift happens: they see themselves as producers of content that others will see and benefit from.  They have – with much enthusiasm and pride – ascended to the top level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (as revised in 2001 by Anderson and Krothwahl).

#6 Engaging students -Well this one is pretty much a no brainer.  No matter what their access is during or beyond the school day, students like technology. From brainstorming, to storyboarding, to filming, to narrating, to editing – many students find a niche in the filmmaking process that pushes them as learners, as contributors, as team players. As they shift from consumers to content producers, there is also a shift in ownership of the learning. Step into their classrooms, and you will see the collaborative efforts start to happen, you will feel the synergy, and you will witness new levels of student engagement.

It’s been my privilege over the past few years to watch colleague (same district, same Writing Project) Jim Faires weave filmmaking into his 6th grade curriculum at Butler Elementary School. Through filmmaking, Jim is often on the receiving end of inspiration.

But how does a teacher justify integrating filmmaking in a textbook and test-prep driven school day? In my state, California Standards for the Teaching Profession provide a ready-made argument. Checkout the first standard: ENGAGING AND SUPPORTING ALL STUDENTS IN LEARNING:

Teachers build on students’ prior knowledge, life experience, and interests to achieve learning goals for all students. Teachers use a variety of instructional strategies and resources that respond to students’ diverse needs. Teachers facilitate challenging learning experiences for all students in environments that promote autonomy, interaction and choice. Teachers actively engage all students in problem solving and critical thinking within and across subject matter areas. Concepts and skills are taught in ways that encourage students to apply them in real-life contexts that make subject matter meaningful. Teachers assist all students to become self-directed learners who are able to demonstrate, articulate, and evaluate what they learn.

Back to my initial question: How does a teacher find the time to integrate one more activity into the school day? Take three minutes to watch Lesley McKillop’s students as they ‘walk the red carpet.’ At the end of the this on-the-spot video, shot collectively (without a tripod) by her students, Lesley provides an answer to that important and often-asked question.

The Case for Filmmaking in the Classroom from Gail Desler on Vimeo.

I actually started this post several months ago but didn’t publish it, thinking there were probably more points and definitely more resources that I could add. I’ve recently rediscovered, for instance, Edutopia’s What Works in Public Education site. A search on ‘filmmaking the classroom’ brought up a list of great articles – more than enough to justify my hitting the Publish button. If you have ideas and/or resources to add, I invite you to join me in this conversation and post a comment. I’m pretty sure my six arguments could easily be expanded to a dozen or more!

February 7, 2009
by blogwalker

BAWP: Scaffolding for Success – One digital story at a time

I first learned of the Bay Area Writing Project when my daughter was in 2nd grade at Rooftop Elementary School in San Francisco. At a PTA meeting, teachers enthusiastically shared how a summer institute across the bay had completely changed the way they would be delivering writing curriculum to their students.

And I remember my daughter coming home with her writer’s notebook and talking about “sloppy copy” and “author’s chair” and, just, well, wanting to talk about her writing.

We moved the following year out of the Bay Area and up to the Sierra foothills, where I eventually fell into a teaching job at my daughter’s school – and where I learned about the Area 3 Writing Project, the Sacramento region’s counterpart to the BAWP. I had the good fortune in 1995 to attend the A3WP Summer Institute.  Like the Rooftop teachers, I began the next school year with a commitment to bring out the writer in every student.

It’s easy to make commitments like the above when you know you can count on the support of the amazing Writing Project network.  For example, checkout what I found this morning while browsing the National Writing Project website: Literacy, ELL, and Digital Storytelling: 21st Century Learning in Action. I’ve had the pleasure of attending Clifford Lee’s Digital Stoytelling session live during an NWP conference. But now, thanks to a collaborative effort between the BAWP, NWP, and the Pearson Foundation, Cliff’s wonderful immigration project is online.  This video is but one of the many resources posted to the site, providing the scaffolding for teachers thinking about structuring an immigration project – or any kind of documentary project.

What a gift to have 24/7 access to best practices for digital storytelling from teachers like Clifford Lee and his colleague Yumi Matsui!

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.

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