Muddling through the blogosphere

March 18, 2012
by blogwalker
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Digital ID Project – An invitation for collaboration

Bringing digital citizenship into the core curriculum

I just returned from a 4-day trip to the fabulous CUE Conference in fabulous Palm Springs, California. In addition to joining some outstanding speakers and sessions (which I’ll blog separately later today), the conference was also the first time my National Writing Project/MERIT colleague Natalie Bernasconi and I were able to co-present our Digital ID project.

We were fortunate to have a wonderful group of teachers and administrators, ranging from elementary through high school, joining us for the session – with a several jumping right in to join the wiki and add to the resources.

The goal of the Digital ID project is to collectively and collaboratively- in one online location – provide students, teachers, and parents with the resources and strategies to make digital citizenship an integral part of the core curriculum – while addressing the legal requirements of current legislation such a AB 307 and the Broadband Data Improvement Act.

Natalie and I warmly invite you to download, tweak, share, and contribute to our growing bank of resources. We especially want to draw your attention to our Digital Citizenship PSA Challenge. We would love to showcase your students’ projects!


January 21, 2012
by blogwalker

Gearing Up for Digital Learning Day

I’m starting the countdown to California’s February 1 Digital Learning Day celebration and feeling very fortunate to be attending the event with three outstanding teachers from my district.

Lesley McKillop, 4th gSplash-Channel3rade teacher at Prairie Elementary and Area 3 Writing Project colleague, will share how her students use filmmaking as tool for transforming their writing into social action, such as taking on the Sacramento Board of Directors to save Splash, an environmental education program. Checkout the video for an idea of the many ways Lesley takes student voices beyond the walls of the classroom.

Teresa Cheung, 4th grade teacher at David Reese Elementary, will share how her students use voice recorders, as part of the Stories from the Heart project, to interview family and community members to compare and contrast childhood experiences across generations, geographic areas, and cultures.

Terri Mills, 5th grade teacher at David Reese Elementary, will share See the Wind, a science and writing lesson in which she teams her 5th graders with 1st graders. With a little help from their big buddies, the first graders then take their writing and their voices out to the world via VoiceThread.

I’ll be sharing Digital ID, a collaborate project I’ve been working on this year with Writing Project and Merit 2011 colleague Natalie Bernasconi. But more about this project later in the week:-)

In the Sacramento region, thanks to the efforts of Digital Learning Day coordinator Jayne Marlink, the excitement is growing, along with DLDay resources.

Hope to see you there!

November 23, 2011
by blogwalker

4 Best 2011 NWP~NCTE Conference Sessions I Did Not Attend

Traveling to Chicago for the 2011 Annual National Writing Project (NWP) and National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE) Conferences was not in my budget this year, so I was delighted by the opportunity to attend three  four sessions virtually:

Whoohoo, just found/attended a 4th great NCTE session, thanks to a link from Paul Allison:

As much as I would have loved to have joined these three  four sessions in real time, I really appreciated having access to the next best thing: virtual attendance. And, of course, the upside is that I woke up this morning, already home, ready to start the Thanksgiving prep routine, minus the usual NWP/NCTE conference jet lag;-).

2011 NWP~NCTE Annual Conference – one more huge thing to be thankful for!

September 24, 2011
by blogwalker

Teaching Writing “Out of a Box” – Can we reverse the trend?

Writing in its many forms is the signature means of communication in the 21st century. ” (National Writing Project)

Image from the National Writing Project

I was not taught how to teach writing as part of my teacher credential program.  It is through my 16-year affiliation with the National Writing Project that I have joined conversations, learned strategies, and shared best practices on helping students improve their writing skills – in ways that help them see themselves as writers and to actually look forward to writing.

Following my participation in the Area 3 Writing Project’s 1995 Summer Institute, as I headed into the new school year, I could almost immediately see the difference in my 6th graders’ attitudes and progress as I revamped my writing program.  By the time we headed to science camp, many had already transitioned from “having to write” to “getting to write.” I can still remember our first stop on the way to camp, where the students had an hour to explore a sandy beach, watch the seals and seagulls, and marvel at the pounding surf.  I noticed a number of students sitting silently, counting on their fingers.  I realized that, in their heads, they were counting syllables – for words they would include in the haiku poetry they would write down that night in their notebooks. Writers in the making!

Not surprisingly, in our current test-driven climate, many school districts have adopted scripted, formulaic writing programs with the belief that writing can be taught step-by-step out of a box program. Sadly, I think districts often value most programs they have to pay for – over the knowledge and expertise of their own teachers on effective ways to improve students’ writing.

I started my morning reading Paula Stacey’s Let’s Stop Teaching Writing, an article by that was included in today’s National Writing Project Daily. I value Paula’s reflections on teaching writing to 3rd graders and share her belief that “In our desire to help students engage in the process of writing, we have defined a process that really isn’t writing.”

I am currently out of the classroom, working as a technology integration specialist, and therefore am not in a situation of having to take a stand with an administrator or “writing” coach on teaching a boxed program. To those of you who are in that situation, I recommend initiating grade level and site discussions around the National Writing Project’s Core Principles:

  • Teachers at every level—from kindergarten through college—are the agents of reform; universities and schools are ideal partners for investing in that reform through professional development.
  • Writing can and should be taught, not just assigned, at every grade level. Professional development programs should provide opportunities for teachers to work together to understand the full spectrum of writing development across grades and across subject areas.
  • Knowledge about the teaching of writing comes from many sources: theory and research, the analysis of practice, and the experience of writing. Effective professional development programs provide frequent and ongoing opportunities for teachers to write and to examine theory, research, and practice together systematically.
  • There is no single right approach to teaching writing; however, some practices prove to be more effective than others. A reflective and informed community of practice is in the best position to design and develop comprehensive writing programs.
  • Teachers who are well informed and effective in their practice can be successful teachers of other teachers as well as partners in educational research, development, and implementation. Collectively, teacher-leaders are our greatest resource for educational reform.”

Given the incredible amount of bureaucratic requirements and accountability issues administrators must deal with,  I think it’s easy for them to lose their vision of what students really need to thrive in today’s digital world. I recommend sending good resources their way. Resources such as Edutopia  to provide them with a window into “what works in education,” or the NCTE’s  working “definition of 2st century literacies,” or the NWP’s Digital Is  to inspire and re-energize them with a  “collection of ideas, reflections, and stories about what it means to teach writing in our digital, interconnected world.” Because writing matters.


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.

November 7, 2010
by blogwalker

Because Digital Writing Matters

On this rainy Sunday afternoon, I’m about to curl up in front of the fireplace and delve into my hot-off-the-press copy of the National Writing Project’s Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments. Through my on-going affiliation with the NWP, I’ve been privileged to work with, listen to, and learn from all three authors: visionary educators Danielle Nicole DeVoss, Elys Eidman-Aadahl, and Troy Hicks.

I have the book open in front of me and am already pulling the cap off my highlighter pen to mark basically all of page 1, Introduction: Why Digital Writing Matters, and have copied onto a sticky note that “‘much has changed in the landscape of what it means to ‘write’ and to ‘be a writer’ since 2003.

While BDWM is certainly a stand-alone read, my plan is to extend the introduction, each off the five chapters, and the afterword with side trips to the NWP’s much awaited Digital Is website. Over the next few weeks I’d like to create and post an annotated tour of BDWM via the Digital Is lessons, stories, resources, and insights.  I’m only 2 pages in to the book, but am already thinking that Bud Hunt’s piece What’s New, or What’s Good: On Writing Connectively will be one of my side trips for the Introduction.

If you’re also reading BDWM and touring the Digital Is site, I’d love to hear how you would annotate the chapters!

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.

9-28-2010 12-38-13 PM

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.

April 26, 2010
by blogwalker

What is the opposite of ‘inured’?

It was my good fortune this weekend to attend the National Writing Project’s 2010 Urban Sites Network conference, Writing Across the Margins: Illuminating Urban Voices.  The Friday morning kick-off was pretty amazing:

By Any Medium Necessary –   Oakland Leaf Youth Roots‘ interactive session on poetry is one I will remember for a long time to come.  As I watched this articulate team of four students from the flat lands of Oakland – along side their teacher G. Reyes – make visible how new literacies were empowering them to challenge the long-standing acceptance in their community of  “it is what it is,” it was clear to me that “passion” is the opposite of – and antidote for – becoming “inured.”

The decades of racism, poverty, and crime in the Oakland, California (where I was born), that have  “inured” (SAT prep word of choice by the Youth Roots team: “transitive verb to make somebody used to something unpleasant over a period of time, so that he or she no longer is bothered or upset by it) its residents of color into accepting ‘what it is,’ is now being challenged by  these young “word warriors” and “ARTivists,” who thanks to the passion ignited by G. Reyes, now believe that Oakland can become something better.

The evening entertainment of poets from Portland’s Jefferson high school and the samba drummers and dancers from a local middle school also stemmed from the passion of two teachers, committed to empowering the youth of their school communities to challenge “what it is.”

I realize that the opposite of any verb should also be a verb; however, the opposite of “inure” is “passion.”

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