Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Literacy Coaches - Join Us!!

Angela Stockman, who I am proud to call both friend and colleague, has been a wonderful resource for literacy leaders in the Western New York region for quite some time and has recently agreed to help the teachers that I work with by facilitating a regional meeting of literacy coaches and leaders. We are calling it WNYLIT.  (Read about our first formal meeting here.)

As a result of that work, she has created the WNYLIT Ning which I encourage you to join and participate.

I stress the "and participate" part because forums, whether online or face-to-face, are only as good as what everyone is able to contribute.  In an effort to share our experiences, avoid having to re-invent the wheel when resources (both financial and personal) are scarce and to break down the proverbial classroom walls - we hope to have great discussions going on here!!  Including a book to read "together" this summer!!

Jump in and join us!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Poetry Links!

Did you know that April 29th is "Poem in Your Pocket Day?"

I love this idea of finding a favorite poem, carrying it around and sharing it whenever you can.   What a great way to spark the love of words and rhythm of poetry in others!!

In honor of preparing for that day, some resources:

Writer's Almanac Poem of the Day:  Sign up to get a daily email with a poem - what a great way to start your day!! (Via Choice Literacy)

30 Days, 30 Poets: A new, previously unpublished poem for every day in April!! (Via Choice Literacy)

Playable Poems: "These three poems are not just interactive, they are games. You play them by trying different things until you find one of the "endings". Each of these games has multiple endings, and some of the endings are not easy to find. This creates a challenge and an incentive to overcome that challenge."

Magnetic Poetry for Kids: Yup - online! If you have an interactive whiteboard - think of all the fun!!

Poetic Table of the Elements: Poetry + Science = Who Knew??

And of course, two of my favorite books related to poetry.  First, for kids "Gooney Bird is So Absurd" (Love this line from Mrs. Pidgeon "Poetry is not to be judged. You just savor it.")  and for adults "Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach" (one of my coffee table books for inspiration!)

Feel free to see other things I have "tagged" related to poetry at my delicious account!! And be sure to share what your favorite poem is on April 29th!

Friday, March 26, 2010


What should schools that are preparing students for the future look like?
If we really valued creativity and creation - what would our assessments look like?
What if all teachers taught writing?

One of the entries for a Writer's Notebook is to capture "wonders."  I say capture, but I really should say "encourage."  We don't often find examples where we encourage students to ponder and question lately.  The wonderings at the top of the page are mine - and have been in my own writer's notebook for just about a year.  I've probably thought about them for a bit longer than that - but a year ago, I put them in a notebook.  They now get transferred to each new notebook as they are wonderings that I continually refine and have lots and lots to write about.

To teach wonderings this week - I started with this fantastic poem from Georgia Heard:

Straight Line

by Georgia Heard

All the kindergarteners
walk to recess and back
in a perfectly straight line
no words between them.
They must stifle their small voices,
their laughter, they must
stop the little skip in their walk,
they must not dance or hop
or run or exclaim.
They must line up
at the water fountain
straight, and in perfect form,
like the brick wall behind them.
One of their own given the job
of informer – guard of quiet,
soldier of stillness.
If they talk
or make a sound
they will lose their stars. (read the rest of the poem here)

I then showed the teachers this TED Talk video by Sir Ken Robinson:

Finally, we wrote our wonderings about the future of education and the future of our students.

I invite you to follow our path and share your wonderings in the comments below.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Qualities of a Writer

Today is the day that I will be working with teachers on developing Writer's Notebooks and I am very excited!!  Of course, we will be looking at some mentor texts and I thought I would share one of my new favorites:

Library Mouse is really named Sam and at night he sneaks out of his home behind the reference materials to read, read, read.  Inspired - he decides to become an author and writes and illustrates his first book: Squeak! A Mouse's Life.  His books are discovered by the library patrons who eat them up (sorry - couldn't resist!) and the librarian soon invites him to "Meet the Author Day."  I won't tell  you the rest - but will tell you that it warms my little writing teacher heart.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

So you want to write?

I am very lucky to have a person in my life who I am going to call my Zen Fairy.  Beginning on my birthday last year - a milestone birthday that I was having some diifculty accepting - she and another friend gave me a wonderful gift:

Wreck This Journal is a fantastic journey in not just writing but having a little bit of fun.  Let me tell you - you will never look at fruit stickers the same again!!

This year for my birthday - the Zen Fairy gave me another gift:

I can't explain how amazing the Awe-Manac has been not only for my writing but for my sense of me.  If you are my friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter, you will sometimes get gems from me that come right from this book.  My only regret is that it is so heavy I can't take it with me when I travel!!

Since my birthday is in January, I couldn't wait for the Zen Fairy to acquire this book that she shared with me and I bought it yesterday:

Life is a Verb has been keeping me company while I travel and added to my list of resources to share with teachers this week as we explore  Writer's Notebooks.

I hope you all have a Zen Fairy in your life - but if you don't, start with one of these to jump start your writing and your zen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Tag This! Random Word Generator

I am working with teachers on using Writer's Notebooks this week so many of the posts for the week will feature elements of Writer's Notebooks.

Aimee Buckner shares a writing fluency strategy in "Notebook Know-How" called Writing from a Word.  In this strategy - students are given a noun (or adjective, verbs, adverbs, etc) and asked to write for 20 minutes or so thinking about the word and then just writing, writing, writing.   The goal is to write for the entire time period - even if the writing veers off topic. 

I like using this Random Word Generator to come up with the word that can be written about.  One small problem that I am having with the site is that the word that comes up does not always match the part of speech that I put in.  So - if you are focusing on parts of speech in addition to building up writing stamina and generating ideas, this might not be ideal.

But still - Tag This!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tag This! Guess the Wordle

I have posted about using Wordle and other word cloud generators here in the past.  While there are lots of ways to use word clouds with students, I was excited to find this resource via my PLN:

This site provides a wordle for classroom teachers to use with their students that follow the following format:

Monday & Wednesday Wordles

Monday's Wordle will be easy. All the words will have ONE thing in common.
Wednesday's Wordle will be a bit more complex. All the words will have TWO things in common.
Tuesday, Thursday, Friday Wordles
Tuesday's Wordle will be the date of a famous event in world history.
Thursday's Wordle will be the title of a book, poem, song, fable, etc.
Friday's Wordle will be a famous location.

If you like using visuals and word clouds in your classroom, Tag This!!

My thanks again to Melissa at Technology for the link to the resource!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tag This! Writing Across the Curriculum

Stumbled across this wiki on Writing Across the Curriculum via my PLN recently and thought I would share some great resources from it:
Tag it!

Thanks to Melissa over at Technology for posting the initial link.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Literacy Defined

By now - you must have heard about/seen/read/reviewed the draft of the common core standards that have been developed and are now available for public comment. (If you haven't - please be sure to review them and register your feedback before April 2nd!!)

One of the interesting components of the new English Language Arts standards that have been proposed is the section on Literacy in History/Social Studies and Science.  This is something I have been pretty passionate about for quite a while - long believing that the literacy required of students in my social studies course was quite different from the traditional concepts of reading and writing that have been taught in ELA. 

This has been a hard concept for folks to embrace - because understanding literacy and specifically content literacy can be a tricky thing.  To understand a little of what this looks like, take some time to consider this podcast by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium, as he talks about scientific literacy.

While he focuses on scientific literacy, Tyson makes some important points regarding teaching, learning, teachers and literacy that are applicable to us all:

  • Science literacy is not the know-it-all who’s fluent in science jargon; science literacy is the person who knows how to question the world around them, and en route to an answer that’s deeper than you would otherwise get.
  • Passion is an important cog but is not specific to science literacy – it is the ability to ignite science interest from teacher to student. Most teachers don’t have this – if they did, we would have more than 3-4 teachers who we remember as impacting our lives
  • Educational system needs to reflect upon what it takes to succeed in life and have that be reflected in the classroom
  • We need to take our essential content and figure out a way to make a lesson plan that is a living expression of that content - so that students experience it, are curious about it and want to learn more
  • You have cast a learner into the world – the most powerful thing you can do as a teacher
These are my quick notes from the almost 30 minute podcast - I encourage you to listen to the entire thing in order to truly understand the context in which he speaks about literacy. 

I am sensing the beginning of a shift in how we think about (and teach) literacy.  What do you think?

Thanks to Presentation Zen for the link to the podcast and a fantastic post on learning from storiesand experiences.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Beware the Ides of March!

Not really - just hoping to grab your attention with a title!!  Since this is the month of the Roman god, Mars and the day was generally marked with a military parade in his honor, I thought instead that a parade of resources for the literacy soldiers amongst us was appropriate.

The spring issue of The Big Fresh - one of my "go to" resources for literacy has been published with 30 links to amazing resources!! I have just started to go through them all - so don't be surprised to see posts later this week that highlight one or two.

This year, the links are organized by categories such as Multimedia Sites, Conflicts with Colleagues, and Offbeat and Fun (I am starting there!!)

Thank you to Choice Literacy and enjoy the links!!  If you find one you really enjoy - share it in the comments below!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Using WallWisher

I was intrigued by all the members of my PLN who were using WallWisher and similar sites so I decided to try in with a regional Social Studies forum that I host.  Our WallWisher is here:

While I didn't get as many folks posting resources during the session as I had hoped (we had about 20 teachers in the room) - I really like it as a workshop tool and as a tool for teachers.  So it was fantastic to find 17 Interesting Ways to Use WallWisher in Your Classroom.

How have you been using WallWisher?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tag This! Fotobabble

As stated in the last post, I am a fan of assessing what students understand in quick summary statements.  Fotobabble allows students to upload a photo, record a 60 second message and then share using an email link or embed code.

This Fotobabble from Mole555 on educational applications sums it up:

Tag this!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One Minute Literature

The process of condensing information down to "sound bites" can be a critical thinking skill as you have to diffuse the language without losing any of the meaning.  So I found 60Second Recap an interesting way to not only think about introducing new books to students, but also as an alternative to the "book report."

The pick of the week also highlights some current books - and I have already added a few to my wish list!!

Thanks to Dangerously Irrelevent for the tip!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Tag This! PaperRater

Many folks in my PLN have been abuzz about PaperRater - an online source that "pre-grades" papers by checking grammar, offering writing suggestions and determining if the paper contains plagiarized text.  The site is developed by linguistics professors and graduate students and looks to be a powerful tool for students to proofread their papers before turning them in.

Digging around the site, I also found it has a "Vocabulary Builder" which provides a random word, the definition and appropriate usage in a sentence.

Tag This!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010


Do you have a book club with your students? Thinking about starting one? 

KidsBuzz is an amazing resource featuring book giveaways and author stories.  In the March 1st edition you will find:

  • The story behind Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins which looks to be an interesting historical fiction piece!! Read an excerpt here.
  • Information on By the Time You  Read This, I'll Be Dead - a story about bullycide, suicide becauae of bullying.
  • News on the Riot Brothers new book!
Many of these authors are on Facebook or Twitter and are willing to call or Skype into your classroom!!

Monday, March 08, 2010

Tag This! Exploratree

Via FreeTech4Teachers  I found Exploratree - an online library of "thinking guides" from the UK.   These guides can be printed, edited online and stored or you can create your own.

These guides are also great for use in planning or visioning activities with students or faculty.

Tag this!

Friday, March 05, 2010

"Rules" for Writing

I am not a big fan of following rules - I tend to stretch and bend them a bit.  I wouldn't call myself a "rule breaker" per se - I just think that there are something things (like writing) that cannot be contained by rules!!

But I really enjoyed reading the list of rules that The Guardian (UK) compiled from authors about writing fiction.  Check out the lists to find your own gems. Some of my favorites include:

  • Read it aloud to yourself because that's the only way to be sure the rhythms of the sentences are OK (prose rhythms are too complex and subtle to be thought out – they can be got right only by ear). Diana Athill
  • Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it. Geoff Dyer
  • Increase your word power. Words are the raw material of our craft. The greater your vocabulary the more ­effective your writing. We who write in English are fortunate to have the richest and most versatile language in the world. Respect it. PD James
Borrow from this list - create your own or even better - have your students create their lists!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Goal Setting

Apparently - many of us miss an amazing opportunity for learning at the Dublin Literacy Conference!!
Thanks to  A Year of Reading,   I have been able to explore what others have been learning there and I fell in love with the idea of student self-assessment and goal setting as described here.

The templates (shared in Google Doc format) as well as a list of picture books related to goal setting are a treasure!!

How do you help your students set goals?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Tag This! In Search of the Novel

"Discover creative strategies for bringing novels to life for middle and high school students with this workshop, featuring the words and works of 10 novelists, including Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley, J. K. Rowling, and Toni Morrison. Within the framework of real classroom practice, the workshop offers interviews with contemporary authors, literary critics, teachers, and students, as well as film clips from adaptations of the novels featured. In Search of the Novel poses basic questions that can help you examine the genre from multiple perspectives and bring it to life for your students."
In Search of the Novel is a free professional development resource for middle and high school teachers from Annenberg Media.  In addition to 8 workshops on topics such as "Who owns the novel?" and "What's In it For Me?" - there is an email discussion forum to participate in.

Tag This!

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Revision Fun!

That's right - I said fun.  I truly think that revision can be an opportunity for writers to have some fun with their work, to take it in a new direction.  In fact, I love this definition found through a quick Google search:

revise/revision – the process of reworking or reseeing writing, which includes: considering changes in audience, purpose, focus, organization, style; elaborating, emphasizing, clarifying, or simplifying text (adding, deleting, reordering, or substituting) [Source here]

Roy Peter Clark shares some fabulous resources for seeing author's revisions - a great model for students.  From Shelley to Elvis -these resources are a great visual for revision.

Or you could try your own hand at creating something similar with Crocodoc, a fun web-based tool to share and revise documents! You can share and revise PDF and Word documents (see a fun demo here) as well as power point slides!!  A great tool for peer review!!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Musings on March

Hard to believe that it is March already! Here in Western New York we spent the weekend blanketed in heavy, wet snow - a reminder that Spring is still a bit away!!

March was originally the first month on the Roman calendar - one that was named after Mars, the Roman God of War.  So it is understandable that after being bumped to the third month it is a little cranky and shows it in the weather!!

March has much to celebrate! It is Music in Schools month - something we should all celebrate and keep in mind in this age of budget cuts! It is also International Ideas Month!!

And so - for March, think of writing activities that celebrate ideas.  Use new "brainstorming" activities in class, celebrate the funniest or most original idea of the day.  And of course, have music playing in the background!

Happy March!!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia