Friday, March 6, 2015

Global Reading & Writing Community for Kids

I've loved the way I have been able to learn and share with my Twitter community. Meeting teachers globally has helped me stay energized and on point with the trends of education today. In the fall, I wanted to create some kind of community like this for my students but since this is hard to do with just class Twitter accounts, I started a global hashtag called #readergrams and #writergrams. Each of these play the role of an instant telegram students can compose in class with their teacher. Rather than following others, simply searching this hashtag will filter all tweets to just ones of this reading or writing community. Below are 7 ways you and your students can use this hashtag!

1. READ ALOUDS: I first modeled how to tweet by tweeting about the book we are reading-aloud in class, Home of the Brave.
2. REAL AUTHORS: When we tweeted about our read-aloud, we tagged the author, Katherine Applegate (@kasauthor). Katherine happened to reply back to us that day and as you can imagine, my fifth graders wiggled and screamed with excitement. #Readergrams is a great way to connect with real authors.
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2. BOOK TALKS: My students also submit book recommendations on sticky notes and we tweet these to other classes around the country. I introduced them to a few 3rd-5th grade classes I know via twitter and we tag them on our tweets. Our twitter community is gradually growing. Check out Tony Keefer's (@MkWyverns) and Kristin Ziemke's (@OurKidsTeach) kids who also share on Instagram!
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3. LIBRARY CONNECTION: Our librarian, Meghan Fatouros (@mmflibrary), sent us a #readergrams about a book arriving soon to our school library. I thought this was a great way to stay connected with our library since we only get to go for 15 minutes each week.
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4. CHART SHARE: Katie Muhtaris's 5th grade class (@Burley5th302) tweeted us photos of their reading charts. We happened to see it before our reading workshop began and their chart called "A Community of Readers" sparked such a huge conversation we ended up creating our own version of this chart. We tweeted this back to them and tagged it with #readergrams. It made me realize how great it would be for students to see anchor charts curated under #readergrams. What a great way to highlight the value of charts and give them a global audience!
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5. EDITING SKILLS: About 95% of the tweets posted on our class twitter account is composed by my students. One student is the "tweeter" while everyone else act as editors. It makes me chuckle every time when I hear editors remind the "tweeter" to add a period or spell out "y-o-u" because saying "u" is not professional. ;)
6. WORD CHOICE: I am starting to love this 140 character limit.  It has challenged my students to decide what words are worth using in a tweet. They are starting to realize that things can be said in multiple ways. I am also loving how this is helping my struggling readers with fluency and vocabulary!
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7. READING RESPONSES: I will be introducing this one to my students this week now that we've learned a few ways to stop and jot. I would love to see readers share their post-its with other classes so that we can receive feedback or get ideas of other ways to respond to our reading. I would bet that if my students saw another class tweet a post-it where the student is using inference, my students would scramble to do the same in their own books.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snow Days Bring Readers and Writers Together

We had our first snow day for Arlington County yesterday and therefore, my instinct as a 1:1 iPad classroom teacher was to immediately resort to what I did last year: flip a lesson and send it to my students. BUT….I just couldn’t. I mean, come on! It was their first snow day and they’ve been working so hard. One day isn’t going to doom them for SOL tests. Let them go outside and play!
Then, I started to wonder what some of my students were really going to do on this snow day. I wondered how many of them would coop up inside napping, playing video games, and watching TV. How many of them knew that on a cold day like this, you can also read and write as part of enjoyment? Rather than giving them dreaded work to do, I thought it’d be much more meaningful and fun to show my students a reading and writing culture at home.
My county started a great hashtag, #snowdayAPS to get the community sharing all the fun and learning happening at home. Unfortunately, while my kids and I tweeted in class, they don’t have access to our Twitter account for safety reasons and therefore, wouldn’t be able to join in on our county’s hashtag. My solution was Padlet. Free and no account needed for anyone. Just a simple URL and we’re good to go. I made a board and shared it to friends and teachers I knew on Twitter, Facebook, and via email. I posted it on Schoology so my students could see it and gave them directions.
12 hours later, this is the result… (CLICK HERE TO GO TO LINK)
You know, we always talk about assessment being so crucial and we test the heck out of our students. This #snowdayAPS padlet gave me more information about my students as readers and writers than a standardized assessment. See, all of my students get notifications when I post on Schoology so I know all of them received it, but not all posted on Padlet. Those who did told me a lot about their growth this year as readers and writers. I didn’t tell any of them that they had to post. It was completely optional. It made me proud and I’m excited to go back and help instill a culture of reading/writing at home for my other students.
If you read carefully on the Padlet board, you’ll notice that my students who did post didn’t just tell you what they read. They gave us their rationale about it, posted a photo, really thought about what they wanted to say. Did you also notice the spelling and grammar? I promise you their writing did not look like this even two months ago. We started blogging in December focusing on their own “niche”. The authenticity of this writing made a huge impact on my students and it showed yesterday on the #snowdayAPS padlet. Their posts (remember, they’re only 10 years old) blended perfectly with the teachers and professionals who posted.
Sadly, I don’t think we’ll get another snow day but if you do, maybe give this a go! It was by far the most fun I’ve had as a teacher watching my students, colleagues, mentors, and friends from afar come together all for the love of reading and writing.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Power of Blogging

I used to think blogging was going out of a style and never understood the purpose of it. I remember trying to blog but never keep up with it because I didn't know what to write about. A little over a year ago, I realized it was difficult to share my teaching at school either because of time or because the staff wasn't ready to hear what I had to share. I also learned that intellectual property was difficult to hold on to and blogging is a way to protect it to some extent.

Since I started my personal blog about teaching with technology in innovative and authentic ways, doors have opened for me that I never thought existed. I remember reading somewhere that you need about 8-10 posts before your blog would get noticed. You also want to try and be consistent with posts on your blog so that your audience keeps coming back. I started to share ideas on my blog, tweet them out on my professional twitter account, and tagged people or companies that I mention in my blog posts.

Around January of last year, I received an email from one of my literacy role models, Katie Wood Ray. She had retired from her position and became an editor for Heinemann Publishing. Somehow, she had found my blog and was interested in me writing a book for Heinemann. While it took me a year to finally take her up on the offer, I realized that blogs have a tremendous power for teachers who want to be leaders. You never know who reads it and who you might meet via the web because of a blog!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Will They Be Good Writers Without You?

It's natural to believe you're doing a great job as a teacher when you're reading students' writing pieces after a writing unit. You've just taught a series of lessons about author's craft and grammar. You can check every box for each writing standard. According to your checklist or rubric, the students' writing meet grade level expectations.

Now, look at the text messages they send to each other, or read the notes they write to each other. That "I" is lowercased again. There are run on sentences everywhere. Even worse, when's the last time you've seen your students write during their free time? This is the realization I had come to a few months ago. I'm not doing my job as a teacher if these writing skills aren't being transfered to their real writing lives.

Plan B
I decided to break out of our classroom bubble and create a more authentic writing space for my fifth graders; one that had a real audience and a real purpose. Using the KidBlog platform, I set up safe blog webpages for my students from a single class account. Each student's blog is monitored by me, but public to the world.

The key to a successful blog is designing it with a specialty. Real blogs specialize in something. Whether it is cooking, traveling, or sports, it has to be about a topic that interests the writer. We spent a couple of days planning and designing our blogs making sure it is a specialty we can write a lot about and stick with for a while.

The Result
My students are practically bargaining with me to get more blogging time each day! While their blogs started off pretty rough around the edges, it started to blossom after daily mini-lessons and conferences. The volume and quality of writing has increased tremendously. One student even told me recently that she woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for her blog and couldn't sleep! We also have started "Author's Corners" that go at the end of each blog. The writer points out specific writing or grammatical strategies they've implemented and bring it to the reader's attention. This is my way of accountability rather than worksheets.

I highly recommend you consider the idea of creating a blogging environment with your students. Authentic audience and personalized writing topics are what has made all of my students fall in love with writing. It's hard to explain the magic until you give it a go. Be patient, use real blogs as examples, and have fun blogging yourself. Believe it or not, some of your most struggling writers may in fact become blogging rockstars!

Share and Comment!
Our blogs have received some attention from a couple of classes in Chicago and Canada. However, my students are writing voraciously in hopes of getting a larger audience. If you can, please check these out, share with your class or colleagues, and drop a comment or two on a post you like. It will make their day! Remember that with students, you need to teach a mini-lesson on what good commenting looks and sounds like before they start commenting on blogs.

Here are a few posts written by my Rockstar Bloggers:

Marisa's Cooking Blog
Maya's Fashion Blog (Incredible blog, scroll through all the blog posts!)
Sophie's DIY Blog
Olivia's Amazing Ballet Blog
Nardos's Reading Blog and another post about a reading strategy she's learned
Briana's Organization Blog
Finley's Sports Blog
Mary Glen's "Books with animals" Blog

All graphics and hyperlinks are designed and learned by students themselves. I have not yet explicitly taught a lesson on this.