Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tag It! Metaphors

I thought I would try a new way to blog on this site - since I have been so lax in the traditional way!! Twitter and RSS feeds and other avenues feed my information stream and until a giant writing thought comes out - I often leave the blog alone. But I realize that the entire point of blogging is to share what we learn in more than 140 characters but not too much more.

So - on ocasion, I will post a "Tag It" feature - something that I saw that I "tagged" on my delicious account that I want to reference later for use in writing. If I tag it for me - you might want it too!

Here we go!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wonderful Teacher Leaders

I am sure that you all have them in your districts. Those teachers who rise above the others in their understanding of what works, how to reach and teach kids, how to make connections and who have a passion for teaching and learning. I am listening to five of them at a regional meeting as they share their work as literacy coaches. Three others are sitting with me in the audience, nodding their heads as they talk and picking up tips to take back to their districts. (Thank you Melodee, Karen, Jennifer, Darlene and Jill for sharing today!)

They are raising some very important points about the work but a pretty common thread is the support of administration. Good coaching takes time - time to build credibility and trust with the teachers, time to find out what works in the district and how to use that to work on the things that don't. Yet - in this time of financial crisis - these folks are often first on the line to have the positions eliminated. Don't worry about them - they will go back to their classrooms. But they will only impact 30 kids - not hundreds.

As districts prioritize budgets, I hope they continue to support these leaders!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Join us

I was pleasantly surprised as I checked the submissions for the local Gallery of Writing that I created. The authors of all the entries to date? Teachers. Principals.

I am still in awe of the pieces I reviewed yesterday. Poignant. Colorful. Amazing.

It makes me think about the conversations I have been having in and around schools lately about the teaching of writing. About folks reflecting that they are not good writers. About teachers being afraid to write with students because they may not be any good. About teachers being afraid without even knowing they are afraid.

Writing isn't always about a final product. It is about the process - the emptying out of our heads and our hearts onto paper or a computer screen or a napkin. It is about the magical interplay of words, the painting of a picture, the emotion that stays with you for days.

It is about false starts and scratch outs and sometimes silence. It is about sharing and polishing and tweaking. And even when it isn't perfect - it is about publishing. Putting our writing - and ourselves - out there.

Join us. Pick up your pen. Turn on the computer. Write.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Writing Round-Up

* Been procrastinating (like me attending to this blog)? This site will give you some tips - it really hit home for me on an article I need to submit!

* Local writer/teacher/coach shares updates from her Writer's Studio and this post on building a future generation of writing teachers is nothing short of inspiring!

* Great post on following your instinct with writing - and a list of writers who talk about their process at the bottom.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

From the "So What Are We Going to Do About It" Department

As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, two studies on writing have reached a similar conclusion: students are writing much more outside of class and are much more vested in what they're writing outside of class than they are in their academic writing.

I don't think there is a single teacher out there who participates or observes the power of technology that doesn't already inherently know this. I also don't think there is a teacher out there who has seen students pass notes, keep journals or heard an amazing (unassigned) poem who doesn't know this. My question is what are we going to DO about it?

The Stanford Study of Writing is very interesting - both for the content as well as how it has been made available on the web. Unlike traditional academic writing that comes to us in reams of paper (my own bias - sorry!) this site is chunked accordingly and full of hyperlinks and graphics. Very compelling graphics! Very, very compelling graphics!

I wonder what a similar study of American high schools might yield? Of middle schools? Of elementary schools?

The NCTE paper on Writing in the 21st Century recognizes the challenges and opportunities we face as "people write as never before:"

1. developing new models of writing
2. designing a new curriculum supporting those models
3. creating models for teaching that curriculum

I am the first to admit that I don't know where to begin with this - except to think about how my own writing has changed over the past few years, reflect on my success and my struggles and to begin to integrate that into my work with teachers. But that is me - outside of the classroom. I am wondering how teachers are beginning, how administrators are beginning, how students are beginning.

So - what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, June 11, 2009


“Obtaining a small town surf shop had always been a dream of Callies and now that her mother was gone there were no excuses.”

Hardly going to be the next American novel but it is the first thing that popped into my head after playing with the Brainstormer – a random word generator that gives you three words/phrases to jump over writer’s block or stretch your creative muscles.

You can click the random button in the middle (which is waaay too much fun!) or spin each dial separately.

Not quite as fun – but definitely interesting is the back story to how this delightful idea generator was created.

Write on!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Combine a love of words with a love of social networking and what do you get? My favorite new obsession on the Internet: Wordnik!

Created by Erin McKean (editor in chief of the Oxford American Dictionary!), Wordnik is a dictionary that evolves as language does. Users can add new words and meanings, tag words with related expressions, see real-time search word results from both Twitter and Flickr AND discover how many Scrabble points a particular word is worth!! I haven't been able to stop going back to it each time I think of a new word to enter!

I started with searching the word "network" since I have been spending a great deal of time thinking and writing about social networks and technology. In addition to definitions, I got amazing (and somewhat wordy) examples from literature, I learned that at this moment the word had been looked up 16 other times so far, I saw it's use being updated in real time from Twitter, saw images with this tag in Flickr and what I loved most of all was this:

A chart of how often the word was used in a year!!! (Love the implications of the use of network gathered around the 21st century!!)

There is a great interview with Erin over on the TED Blog as it seems the idea for Wordnik came from her TED talk and came to life after that! When asked about linking to Twitter and Flickr as it didn't seem "immediately intuitive" she responded:

It’s funny because it’s completely intuitive to dictionary editors. How can we show how a word is really used? The other day I tried to find out if “pants” was being used as a suffix and I found a tweet for “awesomepants.” Twitter is like overhearing people’s conversations, which is exactly what dictionary editors have been wishing we could do for years.

Flickr -- well, if you’ve looked at dictionary illustrations you know that they tend to be uninteresting, and so small. With Flickr, you get a lot of abstractions too. What dictionary would have pictures of “honor”? When you look “honor” up on Wordnik, you get pictures of women named Honor, which tells you that it’s also used as a proper noun. You also get images of flags and different symbols of the military. Now you can see what feelings words evoke.

Go play - and tell us what you found interesting about the word you put in!!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

What Student Writing Teaches Us

A book after my own heart!

From the Stenhouse Blog: "Read Mark Overmeyer’s new book online before it is published in mid-July and then join Mark and your fellow teachers in discussing this new, exciting title during a four-stop blog tour. Participate in our writing contest and win a free, signed copy of the book."

Visit the Stenhouse blog to see the blog "tour stops" where you can leave questions and engage in coversation, as well as to see details on the very interesting contest!

Friday, June 05, 2009

Summer Reading Fun

Quick reminder if you are looking for ways to encourage kids to read this summer! Both Barnes & Noble and Borders are offering incentives for reading just eight books!!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Uh-Oh Commas Again!

After reading this, perhaps I better rethink my position on commas!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Back to Blogging

In reviewing this blog since its inception, it seems I always go in fits and starts. Long gaps appear as I get frustrated with the blog or things happen in my life that take me away from the computer. But I always feel better when I write and so I always come back to the blog.

I have lots of posts in draft form as I cement my thoughts around things like using a writer's notebook, digital/connective writing, the revision of NYS ELA standards to include viewing and presenting and many, many other topics but I laughed out loud and felt the need to share when I watched this video by Scott Ginsberg, a prolific writer, who gives some pretty compelling reasons to blog.

What have you been doing if you haven’t been blogging?

Thanks to ConverStations for pointing the way to video!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Help Ban the R-Word!

Laura over at 25 Days to Make a Difference is an amazing young woman who continues to inspire those around her. I know she inspires me!! Today, along with the Special Olympics drive to end the use of the R-Word, she is hosting a "Blog Carnival" and you can read more details here. And maybe, you can win a little prize!

As a middle school teacher, I heard kids use lots of words. In fact, I think I may have even learned a few. One thing that I always stressed in my classroom is that words are powerful and therefore they must be chosen carefully. Name-calling and deragatory comments of any kind were simply not allowed. My "nails on the chalkboard" word was the r-word. It cut across race, gender, religion - it wounded everyone. More than that - it made those students with disabilities in my classroom feel excluded, even when it wasn't thrown at them. I worked hard to create a classroom atmosphere in which the differences that everyone had were accepted, where everyone acknowledged their learning difficulties and their strengths. That word, thoughtlessly thrown in anger or jest, threw up a fence each time it was used.

My family and friends also know of my disdain for the word - and yet somehow they think apologizing in advance for their use of the word ("I know you hate this word but that guy is really retarded") makes it OK. IT IS NOT OK!!

It is not OK to use any word that will demean or belittle anyone - and there are lots of those words out there! When we think about the history of some of the phrases and words people use today, many have their roots in prejudice and discrimination. Listing them here would only give them credence in a Google search so I won't - but we all know what they are.

Inspired by Laura, I decided to join in the Blog Carnival and to also take a bit of a risk. While I consider myself a writer, there are certain genre that I just won't touch. I'm changing that here - and below is my first draft of a poem to honor both Laura and the fight to end the use of the r-word:

Threaded carefully together they weave
A tapestry of emotion, of meaning
The smallest of them can evoke weighty feelings:
love, hate, never, always

Thrown about with abandon, carelessly tossed
They strike like hot iron against the skin
The smallest of them can evoke weighty feelings:
loser, bitch, fatty, retard

Words are the weapons of the powerful
Words are the weapons of the weak
Words are weapons
Choose them carefully

Monday, March 30, 2009

Technically Writing

I spent last week helping some of my teammates lead the regional scoring of the NYS Assessments in Mathematics. It was quite a relief to just have to "be there" this year as opposed to having to play an active role in the training! And that allowed me to really listen to and think about the conversations the teachers were having about student answers.

Being a social studies teacher with a passion for all things writing, I was struck by how much writing is required of students on the math assessments. Interestingly, it was often the writing that prevented students from receiving full credit on some of the answers. Many of the teachers complained about this, particularly as we moved onto the middle grade levels. Often, I heard comments like these:

"These kids clearly knew the answer - I don't know why we can't just give them full credit."

"These scoring guides penalize the students who can 'do math' in their heads and don't need to show their work."

I understand their arguments but I also know that NYS is trying to emphasize (through the standards as well as the assessments) the power of communicating in math. And in order to communicate well in math - they must do so using the very technical language of math. While these teachers found the issue to be one of math (and sometimes of reading), I really saw these as the students not being able to express themselves in the mathematical language. A few examples:

When asked to express their answer in exponential form, several students would provide the correct answer when writing "three to the sixth power" but could not receive full credit because they did not write it in correct form.

Some students would write to explain how they found a particular answer, but in a somewhat vague manner such as "because you have to find the straight 180 so you would subtract." Teachers would argue that it is evident that the students understood the notion of complementary angles, but in reality there is not enough detail in this statement. The straight 180 what? Subtract what? From what?

Writing in the disciplines is very content specific. I have long held the belief that each content area has its own literacy that goes beyond merely teaching students to use the English language. In social studies, students need to be able to read and communicate about maps using correct terms. They need to understand the symbolism in political cartoons and the trends in charts/graphs. In science, they need to understand scientific notation, the symbols in chemistry and how to write a chemical equation. I could go on and on but you get the picture. Each discipline requires a highly technical language and one that we must explicitly teach our students. Each of us truly is a teacher of literacy.

For my math friends, it didn't seem the appropriate time to share my thoughts about the difference between having students muscle through the math to come up with a correct answer and having them share their understandings of the process and relationship between numbers in written form. But you can bet that I will be learning more about the technical writing in other subjects so that I can help them teach writing there as well.

Cross-posted on Grand Rounds.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Round Up

There are no good excuses for having abandoned my blog writing for nearly a month but since I am taking a "staycation" this week and have finally caught up - I thought I would share some of what has caught my eye as it relates to the writing/reading world.

My friend and colleague Angela put a question out to Twitter recently about alternatives to the traditional book report and as a result, has created two amazing blog posts related to the answers. Not only are these some great things to think about to make learning more authentic - they show the incredible power of Twitter. Read - and share - these resources!!

Readers of this blog know my affinity for mentor texts. Just found these two great resources as mentor text for persuasive writing and student publication: Should There Be Zoos? and Should We Have Pets? I have traditionally used I Wanna Iguana when teaching about persuasive writing but I like the addition of real student work from these examples. With the advent of new and free Web 2.0 tools to allow for easy publication of work, these books are a nice addition to my collection. Thanks to A Year of Reading for the tip!

I've been spending a great deal of time reading and thinking about what the Web 2.0 tools that are available to us mean to writing - and in particular how we can write collaboratively. I love this idea shared at the Intrepid Teacher Blog for collaborative poems. Some nice use of tools featured here.

Finally, two of my favorite places to go on the web!! The Picnic Basket blog offers reader review copies of new books that are out there - a great way to increase your classroom library but also to learn about the new reads. And all you have to do is post your review of the book on the blog!! And the new English Companion Ning is a wonderful resource for English teachers. I am a big fan of Jim Burke's work and try to incorporate it into what I do - and now everyone can share their questions, lessons, and resources on this social networking site!!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seven Things Meme

Kate tagged me for this meme and since I think that they make some great writer's notebook prompts for students, I am doing mine here. But as I have thought about the theme of the meme, I realized that my sharing via Twitter has resulted in many more people knowing much more about me than they probably should. Sigh!

First - the rules:

1. Link your original tagger and list these rules on your blog
2. Share 7 facts about yourself in the post–some random, some weird
3. Tag 7 people at the end of your post
4. Let them know they’ve been tagged

Next - the disclosure:

1. I used to be a practicing attorney. I know - I was one of "those" and please, I have heard just about every lawyer joke there is. I have not regretted one minute of my life since changing my profession but I have also not regretted taking that path. It made me a confident public speaker, honed my writing skills and taught me to think analytically - all great qualities for a teacher.

2. I graduated from my undergraduate college in three years. Yes, I know there seems to be an over-achieving thread here but it really was the result of two things: AP credit from high school and summer courses after I switched my major because,

3. I entered college to become a physical therapist!! I did it mostly because my family had my illustrious career as an attorney already mapped out for me and because I wanted to show them that I could (sciences are not my strong suit!). So it should be no surprise to anyone that

4. I have an F on my undergraduate transcript - in organic chemistry. It didn't matter how hard I tried or how many tutors I went through I just did not get it!! Ironically, however that particular course (regardless of the grade) just happened to help me land my first job as an attorney where

5. I worked as part of a team that represented an insurance company in the Love Canal case. It seems that Hooker Chemical (later Occidental Petroleum) wanted to have the insurance companies pay for all of the damages they had to pay out as a result of the lawsuit and it was the task of our firm to show that in fact they did know they were burying hazardous chemicals in locations that would later be playgrounds. Apparently any background in organic chemistry is helpful!!

6. Slightly more mundane - I have played the flute since high school and still break it out on occasion because playing it actually relaxes me. And no - I never let anyone hear me play!

7. My uncle is the Valu Man. I know this might not have relevance to many people outside of Western New York but there it is - my deepest, darkest secret. And yes, he really does dance like that.

Finally, I am supposed to tag seven people but most of my blogging network has already been tagged. So - if you are a reader of this blog - link to your meme or give us one good fact no one knows about you in the comments!!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Wordle Meme

Angela tagged me and some other friends for a Wordle meme. Knowing how much I love that little tool - I was interested to see what would appear. Before the big reveal, however, some rules for the meme:

1. Create a Wordle from your blog’s RSS feed.
2. Blog it, and share your reactions: any surprises?
3. Tag others to do the same.
4. Link back to this post or the post where you were first tagged.
5. Share other uses you have found for Wordle.

The final result for this blog can be found here.

I am not terribly surprised that "writing" and "scoring" came up as words that are used most often. After all, Angela tagged my writing blog (as opposed to the others that I keep) and we have spent a great deal of time in the region the past year talking and thinking about assessments and scoring student work.

What did surprise me is the large "family" that appears on the left hand side. Skimming back through some posts, I realize that in this space I have revealed quite a bit about myself and my family in order to make connections and to connect to my writing. I think that comes from my using my writer's notebook a bit more in my personal life - a goal that I had set for the past year. But I also think that it reflects the time I have taken away from the computer to pay attention to my family. They are the center of all that I do - and I certainly hope that those tales haven't driven anyone away.

I am puzzled a bit my the large size of "one" and "always" - couldn't seem to find a trend in going back through the posts but I am starting to wonder if I am speaking too much in absolutes. Am I adovcating one method as always working? Am I counting on always being able to use one tool? Am I always seeing things in one way?I need to reflect a bit more on that and really search what that might tell me about my writing on this blog to make more sense of it. Of course, input from readers on this piece would be very helpful!!

Angela already stated, and readers of this blog already know, how I like to use Wordle. Wishing that I had someone who followed me around and transcribed all that I said so that I could see if what I say and what I write is similar. But that aside, one thing that using Wordle has helped me realize is that I need to use tags better in my blogs - they are good ways for me to compare what I think I am writing about with what comes up on Wordle.

Thanks Angela for the fun! I'll have to dig up some other friends who blog to see if they will meme with us!