Muddling through the blogosphere

August 15, 2011
by blogwalker

Do Teachers Really Come from the Bottom Third of Colleges?

NWP colleague Natalie Bernasconi recently shared with me the infographic below. We were both disturbed by one of the statistics cited: In the United States nearly half the teachers come from the lower 1/3 of their college classes.

Over a year ago, Larry Ferlazzo challenged the same data, researched its sources, and concluded: “This bottom-third thing does seem to me to be a bunch of baloney.”

Within my circle of district and NWP colleagues, I continually stand back in awe of the work they are doing. They create. They share. They impact the lives of teachers and their students. They continually seek innovative ways of rolling out the curriculum. They make a difference.  They care. They are not from the bottom 1/3 of anything.


August 11, 2011
by blogwalker

Teachers Teaching Teachers – via Google+ Hangout

I try to keep Wednesday evenings free (6:00-7:00 pm) so I can spend an hour with the always amazing group of educators joining EdTechTalk’s  Teachers Teaching Teachers session. With Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim at the helm, the TTT hour is an opportunity to learn about, discuss, and question innovative tools, strategies, and programs for energizing classroom practice.

Last night’s session was no exception. I had my first encounter with Google+ Hangout – and was impressed. Unlike our Skype audio sessions, 10 of us were able to participate via microphones and webcams – and I don’t think anyone lost their connection (as so often happens with Skype).

The main topic was Youth Voices,  “a school-based social network that was started in 2003 by a group of National Writing Project teachers…for the purpose of bringing students together in one site that lives beyond any particular class.”  A goal for the new school year is to bring more K-12 classrooms into the community. We also talked about building on “collaborative issues that tend to connect everyone” (such as last year’s Voices on the Gulf).

Looks as though gardening will be the opening collaborative issue, with multiple themes and possibilities:

  • Aquaponics: Adam Cohen shared his website and passion for aquaponics and urban farming.
  • Window farms: It was about a year ago that Teachers Teaching Teachers included a discussion on Woolly Gardens.  I am equally excited to start conversations with colleagues on creating window farms!
  • Horn of Africa: Paul Allison will be bringing his students on board this year with Peter Little’s work.

Once again, following a Teachers Teaching Teacher session, my head is spinning and I am in awe of the amount of thought-provoking content shared in a single hour.


July 4, 2011
by blogwalker

ISTE Day 4: Suzie Boss – Ripped from the Headlines – Real Events Yield Relevant Projects

I already knew when I saw Suzie Boss’s Ripped from the Headlines – Real Events Yield Relevant Projects listed on ISTE’s Wednesday session that I would be ending the conference with a bang. With Paul Allison (National Writing Project/Teachers Teaching Teachers),  Katherine Schulten (NYT Learning Network) , and Matt Baird (Science Leadership Academy) joining Suzie, this “lecture session” quickly became an interactive discussion session.

Suzie opened the session with Poll Everywhere question on current events: What makes a headline project-worthy?

  • messy problem – no “right” answer?
  • relevance, high interest?
  • ongoing issue or consequences (Weinergate, for instance, wouldn’t be lasting)?
  • connection to curriculum/standards?

We flashbacked to 2010 and the BP gulf oil spill and meaningful learning – Q: How do you design meaningful curriculum around a current event? Paul Allison shared Voices on the Gulf – a wonderful, year-long, National-Writing-Project connected project.  I was glad that he selected pieces created by Margaret Simon’s students. Having been involved with the Voices on the Gulf project, I really enjoyed watching Margaret’s students publish their thoughts and creative efforts around the oil spill to an authentic audience.

Suzie: “Students need to have empathy with people who are the front lines. Where can we help students develop empathy through current events selectively – without being ambulance chasers.

Matt  jumped in, opening with the June 26 Doonesbury cartoon that addresses the “just Google it” issue. His point: “When you’re looking for projects that will have meaningful transformative experiences – they should be something students can’t google.” The focus should be on the process of learning as opposed to content – “you’ll get richer learning.”  Microsoft Excel, for instance, rather than being taught as a stand-alone class, should be woven into an real topic, such as the Japan earthquake and tsunami. When students put together actuary tables of costs/benefits  in their math class, it spilled over into Matt’s history class. Cost of lives had not been considered in equation. Headlines don’t always have to be national/international.  With the BP oil spill, words such as “fracking” became increasingly woven into discussion. Philadelphia’s drinking water has changed to dead last. Are there any correlations? SLA Spanish classes, went to Dominican Republic to apply clean water ideas. Eleventh grader Humanities students had to come with elevator pitch – cross curriculum connections.

A Real Events Yield Relevant Projects approach to teaching and learning is about student voiceand choice, inquiry-driven learning. It’s about students getting “activated” – so they can go out and do something.

Question: How do you go from an event to a project?

  • PBL process guides inquiring learning – going deeper than a current-events chat
  • students make meaning, do or make something with what they have learned
  • results in authentic products

For an example of the above, checkout Kim Coffino’s  Quakestories wiki.

In the current test-driven climate, many K-12 classrooms have stopped weaving current events into the school day. Time to reverse this trend!

April 10, 2011
by blogwalker

Igniting National Poetry Month: An update

The 2011 National Poetry Month poster, designed by Stephen Doyle.

The 2011 National Poetry Month poster, designed by Stephen Doyle.

It’s April. Time to update last year’s Igniting National Poetry Month post with some wonderful new resources:


Update #1 -A year ago the New York Times Learning Network titled its poetry page as 11  Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month. They too have done some updating! This year you’ll find double the number of activities listed  on their Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month with the NY Times.

Be sure to checkout the Learning Network’s Second Annual Found Poem Challenge. What a great activity for kick-starting the week! The challenge includes links to samples and tools for scaffolding students through the process of building powerful “found poems,” such as NCTE’s Found and Headlines Poems article.

Update# 2 Poets. org – Last year I linked only to’s home page and the Poem in Your Pocket link. This year, I’d like to direct readers to a few more great  pages on this site, such as the Teaching Poetry Curriculum and Lesson Plans and the Tips for Teachers (on making poetry a more important part of the school day).

Update #3 – National Writing Project – If you’re looking for links sure to inspire, encourage, and support you in your efforts to nurture a love for poetry in your students, the NWP’s National Poetry page will not disappoint you. Their continually expanding resources include categories that range from Spotlight Poetry Programs for Teachers to Teachers as Poets, Poets as Teacher. It’s the voices of teachers sharing their challenges, successes, and strategies for bringing poetry into their students’ lives that makes this site so unique, so valuable. It’s the depth and breadth of articles from Writing Project teachers like Lesley Roessing, for example, sharing what she has learned about Creating Empathetic Connections to Literature that makes visible the power of “teachers teaching teachers.”


Addition #1Poetry Foundation – Their growing bank of resources includes a poetry tool, learning lab, glossary, audio and podcasts, children’s poetry, along with Poetry Outloud. Plus, you can download a free app with hundreds of poems.

Addition #2 PBS NewsHour Extra: Poetry includes lesson plans, links, rules and tools, teacher favorites, student poems, poetry submission and more. Links to Minstrel Man and  and I’m Nobody provide windows into the power of poetry to impact our students’ lives.

Voices from the Fields

Addition #3 – Interested in poetry as a tool for teaching for social justice? Check out the Voices from the Fields website.  I bought a copy of the book, which pairs poetry with personal narratives/oral histories, about 9 years ago, before there was an accompanying website. If you are looking for additional first-hand accounts of the migrant farm worker experience, here’s a link to a project I did eight years ago to connect elementary students with college students who spent their childhoods  working the fields of California.

Addition #4 – And just for fun, how about the exuberance and humor of  poet Carlos Andres Gomez, whose style might serve as a call to high students who thought they were not into poetry:

March 26, 2011
by blogwalker
1 Comment

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

Why the National Writing Project Matters – Some stolen thoughts and words

I often find myself at a loss for words when it comes to describing something I care deeply about. I am therefore pick-pocketing my way through the growing archive of National Writing Project bloggers who are sharing their thoughts on the impact and importance of a professional learning community that profoundly benefits teachers and, in turn, their students.  My pockets are now lined with gems I wish I had said because they nail down exactly what the NWP experience has meant to me and why we must fight for its continued funding.  I’d like to share a few of these stolen/borrowed thoughts:

  1. From the Mississippi Writing Project’s Ellen Shelton – “The National Writing Project 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.”
  2. From the National Writing Project’s Paul Oh – “We are each of us building upon the thoughts and questions and practices of others in order to form a collective vision of the future that is greater than what would otherwise be possible if we were toiling away in our own little silos.
  3. From the Virginia Writing Project’s Paula White – “Becoming a teacher is a lifelong endeavor to connect… to communicate… to encourage… to support… to challenge set ways of thinking… to scaffold learners to become smarter, more efficient and effective at learning in every way they can–while you, yourself, are doing the same.”
  4. From the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s Mary Tedrow – “In fact, I cannot think of a single move I make in the classroom that is not the end result of the close examination, sharing, and planning of the teaching consultants and fellows of the National Writing Project.”
  5. From the NWP at Rutger’s Kristen Turner – “My NWP community has grown  over the last decade from local, like-minded educators into a national network of teachers and researchers who I can call on to help me think hard about issues of literacy.”
  6. From the Red Cedar Writing Project’s Amanda Cornwell – “Each time, I think that I’ve “done” the writing project, there is some new program or initiative that offers a different challenge or task, with the same basic goal – to improve education for our students through teachers teaching teachers.”
  7. From the Oakland Writing Project’s Karen Allmen – “But the thing about Writing Project is that it has a way of affirming the fact that the best kind of professional development is teachers learning from other teachers.”
  8. From the New Hampshire Writing Project’s Meg Peterson – “Anyone who has been associated with the writing project will tell you that it works.  I would go so far as to say that it works miracles.  Honestly.”
  9. From the Ozark Writing Project’s Keri Franklin – “Our work is proven. Administrators and legislators want data–cold, hard facts. We have the cold, hard facts that teachers who participate in National Writing Project professional development have higher test scores than teachers who have not participated in NWP. NWP teachers stay in the profession. NWP is an improvement model that develops teacher leaders. More important to people like me, we have stories. We know personally, emphatically, that the National Writing Project changed our lives.”
  10. From Ira Socol – “The National Writing Project is much larger, and much more effective, than its title suggests. And in any given year its impact is 100 times, 1,000 times the positive effect on children of all Arne Duncan’s highly funded, political-donor connected initiatives in Race-to-the-Top and I3 grants combined.”
  11. From North Star of Texas Texas’ Writing Project’s Donalyn Miller (the Book Whisperer) – “It seems counterintuitive to me that policy pundits and politicians rant about improving teacher quality, while cutting programs like the National Writing Project, which is proven to do just that.”
  12. From the Chippewa River Writing Project’s Troy Hicks – “If Congress wants a liberal arts education to have value, putting universities in partnerships with local schools and community agencies, then its members should vote to keep the NWP.”

Having emptied my pockets of my first round of word snatching, I’m heading back into Chad Sansing’s the Cooperative Catalyst blog to find more gems to better explain why so much rides on the survival of the National Writing Project.

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.

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.”

March 6, 2011
by blogwalker

Day in a Sentence – Join the conversation!

dayinsentenceicon Thanks to an invitation from NWP colleague Bonnie Kaplan, I’m hosting this week’s Day in a Sentence.

If you’re new to DIAS, a warm welcome! We are an international community of educators that on a weekly basis do some kind of wrap-up of the past week. Often the host of the week will suggest a theme or format (e.g., “Wrap up your week in a 3-word sentence.”).

Considering our current economic realities, I’m pretty sure, to some degree, all of us are facing some challenges in our school communities. With so much bad news in the media (and in our lunch rooms too), I’d love to hear something that inspired you this week. Something that made the week worthwhile. But if you just need to vent a bit, that’s fine too.

So please click on the comment link and share your DIAS! At the end of the week, I’ll release all comments.  Hope to see yours there:-)

Here’s mine:

I spent Wednesday afternoon with a group of 5th graders at a Title 1 (high poverty) school, where students were wrapping up their documentary film Hope for Haiti, when a student shared, “I feel like I’ve done something good.”

January 1, 2011
by blogwalker

Reports from Cyberspace – Heading into the New Year

What a great start to the New Year! I woke up to beautiful snow (something we get only a few times a year here in Placerville, CA) and my morning edition of The nwp Daily, full of thought provoking posts, Tweets, and links for stepping into 2011.

The first link I clicked on took me to Troy Hicks’ Summarizing of Our Reports from Cyberspace. Attending the NWP / NCTE Annual Conference was just not in my budget this year, so I tried to attend virtually, which proved to be a challenge.  For example, following the Twitter stream of #nwp10 and #ncte10, proved to be a bad idea.  With the 140 character limit, session-goers tended to Tweet what a great session I was missing – something I already realized. And one session I really, really wanted to attend was TroyBud Hunt, and Sara Kjader’s Three Reports from Cyberspace workshop.

But thanks to Bud’s video editing and Troy’s post, this morning I was able to click on the YouTube link and virtually attend Sara’s excellent part of the threesome’s workshop – Assessment in the context of digital teaching and learning. There is something about viewing a presentation “live” that is simply more impactful than reading about the session. I’m starting the year with a firm resolution to think more deeply about assessment: assessment of learning; assessment for learning, and, more important, assessment as learning.

Also in The nwp Daily was Paul Allison’s link to a post by one of his 8th graders  – Speak with the Heart, an invitation for other students to collaborate on a multimodal piece that will be hosted on the Voices from the Gulf project.  I’m  imagining this project will fit Sara’s description of a “messy work in progress…making it authentic…making it ‘commentable.'” And “keeping it real,” to quote Paul’s take on teaching and learning in general. And such a good use of cyberspace!

Right up there with my New Year’s resolution to get a better handle on assessment in a digital age is my resolution

to delve more into technology as a tool for English Language Learners. I am fortunate, in my current position as technology integration specialist, to support K-12 teachers with their technology questions, concerns, and visions. Sure, I still visit classrooms that are having “test scrimmage” or “power down days,” but I also, on a very regular basis,  witness powerful teaching and learning. Heading into 2011, my reports from cyberspace will include sharing some of the best practices and tools for ELLs…starting with the Stories from the Heart project – with a shout out to Audacity.

Looking forward to a year of sharing, collaboration, learning, and attending some great conferences – in real time and/or virtually;-)

December 19, 2010
by blogwalker

How to Retain 90% of Everything You Learn

I like to start my mornings with a cup of coffee and the latest edition of The nwp Daily. I used to start the day with a visit to my Google Reader and Bloglines accounts to see if my favorite bloggers had posted anything new.  The nwp Daily has really streamlined the process of staying current for me because many of my smart, smart NWP colleagues are up before me, already gleaning the latest gems about teaching and learning – and not just blog posts, but Tweets too. Everyday I receive a wealth of thought-provoking ideas, questions, resources, research, etc., to ponder, to return to – and to share.

And so it was this morning, when I clicked on link in a Tweet from @mrami2 (Meenoo Rami), and opened‘ s article How to retain 90% of everything you learn. It’s not that the hierarchy is earth shattering; but it certainly affirms what good teaching – which certainly has a direct impact on learning – is all about:

To summarize the numbers (which sometimes get cited differently) learners retain approximately:
90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration.
20% of what they learn from audio-visual.
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading.
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture.”

This school year, I’m coordinating an Advancing Network Uses (ANU) grant from California’s K12 High Speed Network (via ARRA funding). The grant has allowed me to showcase teachers in my district who are extending teaching and learning by integrating technology into the core curriculum. To date, I’ve filmed 12 of the 21 classroom lessons I’ve promised the state. In all 12 lessons, students have opportunities to collaborate and create, part of the criteria for their teachers being selected for the grant.

Since reading the Psyhchotactics article, I now realize these talented teachers (fearless explorers) also bring one more gift to their students: whatever the final product might be, students’ collaborative work also involves students immediately teaching or implementing all or bits of the initial lesson. Kind of an “ah ha moment” for me.

For a peek into why I predict students in my ANU Teach 21 grant will retain 90% of what they learn, check out a field journaling lesson in Lesley McKillop’s class:


I’ll be back next month to share snippets of Teresa Cheung’s Stories from the Heart project and Terri Mills’ Listen to the Wind project (which are exemplary not only for all of the above reasons on retaining learning but also for learning English, both informal and academic).

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