Wednesday, October 31, 2007

As simple as a laptop?

I am a fan of using technology to enhance learning for students. I truly believe that the tools that we are provided on the web will engage students, are authentic to the world that awaits them, and in many ways are tools they are already familiar with. You can really focus on the content if student have mastered the tools.

So I was interested to read study that was done as a result of Maine's program to give every student a laptop computer. According to the Boston Globe article, the program sought to eliminate the "digital divide" between wealthy and poorer students and provided more than 30,000 computers to seventh and eighth grade students in public schools in 2002 and 2003. The study focused on the results of the Maine Educational Assessment to see if the standardized test scores backed up the perception that the laptops helped improve student writing.

The results?
- 49% of eighth graders were proficient in writing in 2005, up from 29% in 2000
- math scores remained unchanged, while science went up 2 points
- reading scores dropped 3 points

Additionally, teachers noted that the writing improvement was the same whether the students used the laptops or pen-and-paper - apparently the good habits of writing transferred over.

The study has me wondering - was it really the laptops? Did teachers change how they taught writing? I wonder what the students say about writing before and after the laptops - is it easier, more fun? Why an increase in writing and not in reading?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Candle On the Water

I've always wanted this blog to be a place where people who felt as passionately as I did about writing could find a friendly voice. And selfishly, I wanted to learn from others - from their struggles, from what they did with their students. And, of course, I wanted to write with a purpose. So I've changed the look and feel (I hope) of this space to focus on Why Write?

Writing is a passion of mine because there is incredible power in the written word. We send messages that last for ages, manipulate two dimensional words to create multi-dimensional meaning, draft each paragraph until it is exactly what we want to say. We can savor it, rage against it, copy it.

And it can help us find our voice - who we are, what we want to be.

I've always felt that teachers were the lighthouses for our students - inspiring them, lighting the way. I want this blog to do the same thing for the writer inside all of us.

I'll be your candle on the water
My love for you will always burn
I know you're lost and drifting
But the clouds are lifting
Don't give up you'll have somewhere to turn
- Candle On the Water, Helen Reddy from Pete's Dragon

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Finding Your Voice

At the urging of a friend who knows how I appreciate reading books with compelling voice, I picked up Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. In a nutshell - it follows a woman's journey through Italy, India, and Indonesia in order to find herself. My friend was right - I was hooked, page after page. The writing is descriptive and engaging and I could picture myself in each of the places the author wrote about - both physically and spiritually.

This post is my 99th on this particular blog. Bloggers tend to make a big deal about their 100th post - but I have been delaying that milestone for sometime because I feel like I am still trying to figure out what this blog is all about. It started as a place to continue conversations about writing with participants in my workshops. It evolved into the development of my own thoughts about writing and the writing process in general. And now - I am no longer sure what it is!!

I had pushed the notion of really reflecting about the blog to the back of my mind until I read this extrememly compelling post by Konrad Glogowski. He writes about his struggle to find his role as "blogger" with his eighth grade students.

"In other words, I want the students to see me as yet another blogger in their community, as someone whose reason for being there is not only to support and instruct but also to learn. To learn from and with my students."

In a very compelling way - he takes us through how he has changed not only the appearance of his blog, but the content as well in order to make it more of himself. I am undergoing a similar type of reflection - thinking about why I blog and who I am. And so I leave this 99th blog with this thought:

"I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me." - Anna Quindlen

Friday, October 12, 2007

Connections all over the place...

I know I shouldn't be blogging right now....My "to do" pile only seems to be growing this Friday afternoon, I have been creating data reports all day, and the sun is shining. But as I take a break to sit upright and read, I am finding connections all over the place!! And from just one email newsletter from NCTE!

First - a blog post about the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. I was introduced to this site by a wonderful fifth grade teacher last year and blogged about it then. More recently - I had an opportunity to use it with teachers in talking about what makes a "good" website.

Then - I read an article about SE Hinton and the fortieth anniversary of "The Outsiders." I used Cris Tovani's Literary Histories this week in an inservice and more than one teacher brought up this book as an important piece of their past. I still remember reading it - and more importantly remember re-reading it with one of my eighth grade students who was a struggling reader. You go Devon!!

And THEN - I find a lesson plan to one of my favorite books to use with vocabulary: Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster!! Vocabulary was a topic of my inservice earlier this week - and it seems to be a thread that ran throughout the entire week. Each and every day of this very short, yet somehow incredibly long week, featured a discussion on vocabulary!!

And finally - I am intrigued by the ingenious teacher who decided to give the parents of his students homework by asking them to read the same things their children were and complete assignments on his blog!! Some interesting nuggets to chew on there!!

In a few more hours I will be connecting again - with my family and my couch and my weekend. In the meantime, I hope this finds you all well and rested!!

Photo from Jupiter Images.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Making Memories

As many readers know, my grandmother suffers from Alzheimer's Disease. Some members of my family and I walked in the annual Memory Walk in order to help raise funds for research, and even more importantly, for respite care. Each day, it seems that we lose more and more of my grandmother's stories and although my own Treasure Book tries to catch the snippets as she brings them up, I know there are many more that I have already missed.

The quote of the week comes from Ken Burns, who is referencing his latest WWII movie:

I'm in the memory business, and each time a person dies, it's a whole library of memories that leave.

Besides our writer's notebooks, what else could we do to help students capture memories - their own or those of others?