Saturday, April 26, 2014

Professional Development, #edcamp Style

Meetings can leave us exhausted and overwhelmed.  Sometimes professional development opportunities feel more like something being placed upon us instead of something we can own.  That's not meant with any disrespect, the job of keeping large groups moving forward is daunting.  With time constraints, sometimes we have to take the fastest route forward as there isn't time to let learning unfold.    

Honestly, I believe the best professional development comes from creating our own learning journeys.  I'm a bit of a professional development junkie.  The first step is admitting you have a problem, right?  I switched to the district I currently teach, because I knew I would have many opportunities for professional development.  Working as a literacy coach for a few years, and sometimes in consulting, I have tried to figure out the characteristics of strong professional development.  Most of my experience, however, is as an educator seeking to know more and to make thoughtful changes to improve the work I do with young learners.  These days I find many opportunities for professional learning through Twitter, blogs, and online learning communities.

A few year ago I attended my first #edcamp.  Since then I have been fortunate to join conversations at #edcampCbus and #nerdcampbc (the literacy version of #edcamp).  There's something powerful in collaborative learning conversations.  The learning seems to grow exponentially.  So when our principal, Cindy Teske, said we were having #edcamp for our late start day, I was beyond excited.  I'm fortunate to teach in learning community in which I am continually supported, challenged, and inspired by my colleagues.  I knew I could learn a lot from them.

On Thursday morning, we all shuffled into the media center and our principal began to put things on the board.  She may have twisted an arm or two, but our board filled quickly with possibilities and the only complaints were that there wouldn't be enough time to go everywhere.  Here's what I loved about our day:

  1. Tapping Expertise:  Opportunities to learn from the expertise of others in our building.
  2. Timely:  Creating the board in the moment allowed us to create timely learning opportunities and discuss what we need to know now.
  3. Collaborative:  A chance to collaborate across grade levels which is sometimes hard within the time constraints of a school day.
  4. Supportive:  Conversations continued beyond the morning as teachers found one another to seek more information or support in next steps.  (to action)   
  5. Empowering:  Educators maintained ownership of the learning.   
  6. Energizing:  I left energized not overwhelmed.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

If Not for Franki….

There's a rumor floating around the blogosphere that today is Franki Sibberson's birthday.  What?  Franki's birthday.  Not just any birthday either ---- one of those big fun crazy ones.  What better time to take a moment to ponder:  if not for Franki….

I'm always amazed by Franki:  her energy, her advocacy, her friendship.  I'm always amazed by the way she brings a community together and knows just what each person has to offer.  If Franki says, "You should…," you better watch out!  I'm always amazed by all she accomplishes in just ONE day, let alone a week, a month or a year.  In these times when education can be tough and staying focused on children seems a challenge, Franki continues to push forward in a positive way.  She's always searching for the better way, but she always keeps children and literacy first.

Today, on her birthday, it seemed only right to honor her by trying a "new to me" application (Thanks, Linda Baie).  Today I honor, Franki, with a little Haiku Deck tribute.

Thank you, Franki.  You really will never know the impact you have had on me.


Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Growing Our Reading Community: Learning from Older Readers

Learning from Older Readers
This time of year, I always enjoy eavesdropping into conversations about books.  Students have learned so much about how to think about books across the year and this thinking seems to be woven into the conversations they have with friends.  Still, for young readers, the value of strong models is essential.  This spring we've paired with our fifth grade book buddies to focus on having thoughtful conversations around books.  All year we've been meeting with our fifth graders and the students have developed a strong learning friendship.

Readers talk together about books.  Across the year each fifth grader has been paired with one first grader.  They've been reading a book and then talking together about it.  As first graders have developed an ability to think and talk more deeply about their reading, it seemed like a good time to take a step back and look at the power of a conversation about a book.

Modeling a Book Talk
To help support the first graders in more focused book conversations, we put two pairs together.  Each pair read the same title and then came together to talk about the book.  During the first meeting, the fifth graders did most of the talking.  In our second meeting, the four readers all participated in the conversation.  During these meetings we chose books the first graders were already familiar with from our classroom;  books we had read aloud across the year.  We wanted them to be able to concentrate on the conversation.

A few days later, a group of fifth graders came down and modeled a book club talk in our circle.  We watched and then talked about our observations.  After watching the first graders noticed the way their older friends talked to each other.

  • The older readers always went back to the book to support their thinking.  
  • They took turns with one another. 
  • They really listened to their friends. 
  • They actually passed the book to one another and the one with the book was always talking.

They also noticed the way they talked about their reading.

  • They often talked about the setting of the story.
  • They shared their favorite part(s).
  • They talked about important details from their reading.
  • They talked about the character (action, intent, feelings, etc.). 
  • They made connections.
  • They talked together about confusing parts.

My students observations weren't just a matter of circumstance.  Our fifth graders plan carefully for these conversations.  They know my goals for my students, and they work to bridge vocabulary and language.  They spend much time looking at the books they'll be reading and preparing for their conversations.  They provide thoughtful guidance.  My students look up to these older readers and their relationships have grown across the year.

These conversations have helped us to deepen the book conversations in our classroom and help us move toward book clubs.  Our book buddies continue to meet every two weeks to discuss books.  Sometimes readers bring different books and sometimes they bring the same books.  They ask each other questions and talk about they author's message.  Most of all, they're sharing a love of books reinforced by these special peer relationships.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Literacy First

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learning, Margaret Simon has started a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  I'm joining the event for the first time today.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche to read, discover, and link.

The bell rang and students began entering the room, hanging up their coats, and chatting with friends.  After checking in with each other and completing the tasks of the morning, students began to settle into their work.  One student grabbed an iPad to read and comment on the most recent posts from friends on our Kidblog account.  Another went to the desktop to finish a post she had been working on the day before.  Still another grabbed yesterday's books to begin to enter titles into our community Shelfari account.  Some friends remained at tables reading books from baskets.

It wasn't long until we gathered around the carpet for our meeting, read aloud, and to begin our literacy block. Around the classroom during our literacy block, I noticed the quiet hum of the students.  They were grounded in their work as literacy learners.  Technology wasn't required for this, but was often a part of their choices.  In reader's workshop, students were reading independently and in pairs.  Some students were writing about their reading on dry erase boards and in their notebooks.  Students were using Pixie to share their thinking.  Others were stopping by Kidblog to read and comment.  Still others were using the time to read books on the recently discovered ToonBooks website.  In writer's workshop, students were writing stories on paper, some were painting their illustrations.  Others were using Pixie to write and illustrate books that could later be turned into podcasts.

Today there were a three iPads in the room, two laptops, and our three desktops, but students were focused on real world literacy.  What did they want to read?  What did they need to write?  What did they hope to learn?  What did they need to accomplish these goals?  I was struck by how seamlessly students used technology as they worked to make new discoveries.

Years ago, I remember "planning technology," but now it is just something that has become a part of the literacy work we do across our day.  It's been a journey and there is still much to learn.  I'm often asked how did we get to the place where students just know what they need and use the technology as they work.  I'm honestly not sure, and know it varies from year to year with different groups, but here are a few key elements to infusing technology into the literacy learning we do each day:

Staying Focused on Literacy:  In our workshops students choose to do the work of literacy learners.  They set literacy goals and consider the focus lesson in making choices across workshops.  They work to make meaning and share new understandings with others.

Ownership:  Students ultimately own the work.  They have time to pursue interests, develop new understandings, and make choices about their reading and writing.  They choose their books, topics for writing, and ways to share their thinking with others.

Availability:  Consistent access is needed for students to get in the routine of reading, writing, and responding in their literacy block using technology.  Students know they can use technology after finishing their morning message, in reader's workshop for reading and response work, and in writer's workshop to create and/or publish their writing for a wider audience.

Power Applications:  With young learners I try to choose 3-5 applications we will learn to use well in our year together.  Though we are not limited to these applications, having a core collection helps us to work independently.  I try to find applications that allow us to do a lot of different things within them.  In our classroom we utilize applications that allow students to create.  I look for applications that allow students to draw, type, insert images, and record voice.  Our go-to apps this year have been EduCreations, Pixie, Photo Booth, and Kidblog.  (We typically save work into Evernote, Google Drive, or DropBox.)

Gradual Release of Control:  As with anything we teach, students benefit from modeling, shared experiences, guided practice, and independent opportunities to try new learning.   For example, we begin our year with shared blogging, and studying mentors, as we work together to create posts for our readers about learning taking place in our classroom.  Then gradually students move toward independent practice and begin to utilize their personal blogging space for a variety of purposes.

Exploration:  Early in learning our "power applications" students have time to explore.  We usually begin using new applications together to create and share with others.  Most often we follow that with opportunities for students to try it and some time to just explore.  Students need time to try new things and not everything they create will be amazing, but everything will be something we can learn or build from in our next steps.

A Home Base:  We use Weebly for our learning community.  Through our Weebly site, Merely Learning Together, parents and students can access much of the work we do, websites we use, and other learning links from school or home.

Techsperts:  Each year I have students who rise to leading our use of technology.  The students in my classroom know who is savvy with particular applications, tasks such as saving, or general troubleshooting.  They often rely on these peers as I work with small groups and confer with individuals across workshops.

Time:  When using technology to read, write reading responses, create digital stories, and collaborate with others, students need time to work.

Trust:  In our classroom we talk a lot about possibilities for using tools to share our thinking.  We talk a lot about digital citizenship and our responsibilities with others in our learning community.  I've learned to trust them to make smart choices, to problem solve, and to try new ideas.  Most often, the students take our community places I never thought we'd go.

What is essential for infusing technology across your day?