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Thursday, June 12, 2014

Video: Pushing Reading, Writing & Thinking Beyond our Classroom Walls

Hello!  Below you’ll find a two minute video interview with a student showcasing a project done in our sixth grade.  I’m particularly interested in classroom writing that has real world purpose and how this influences motivation.  You’ll hear our sixth grade friend talk about reading informative texts that address a compelling issue, composing texts, and using this information to explore iMovie as a means of sharing important learning with a wide audience. As I watched students at work, I sensed an amazing commitment to the project given the plan to spread the word about a topic they came to care deeply about.  Note how many Common Core reading, writing, speaking and listening standards are addressed by engaging students in this manner.  More importantly, note how this student describes his experience with depth and maturity.  

(A side note:  I knew students weren’t given a lot of direction for using the technology involved in the project, so I deliberately asked about this.  Sometimes we adults are a bit hesitant about diving into programs or apps given our own lack of experience, yet if we let the students lead, they’ll often surprise us with the outcomes (and we, too, learn along the way!).

(A side, side note:  In my zeal to keep the video interview short, I interrupted the student.  This is frustrating to hear since I believe he had more to say on some of the questions.  Videoing and reviewing our own work is the ultimate way to self-reflect and grow.  Keep growing!)



P.S. What catches your attention in this video interview?  I’d love to hear your comments.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Spreading the Love-Of-Reading Virus IRA Talk

“To create a community of engaged readers, peers, not teachers, are more influential.”  (Tweet from #IRA14)

      I’ll be sharing a quick talk today at IRA in New Orleans on promoting a love of reading in students.  As teachers, we naturally do a ton of things every day to achieve this goal:  we give book talks, we read aloud with expression and passion several times a day (and cry every year at the end of Stone Fox), we carefully create libraries that draw readers in and are the heart of our classrooms.  But, today, I’ve chosen to focus on how the students themselves can inspire one another to read with passion and vibrancy.  They are one another's most powerful force—students are drawn into each other's reading lives if we give them time to talk while honoring their voices, preferences, noticings, and wonderings.  If we highlight their thinking, if we promote their sharing, a love-of-reading-virus will spread from student to student and, believe me, once the talking starts and the excitement around reading wells up, the virus can’t be stopped!

Here’s a quick list of some of the strategies I’ll cover today. 
1. Buzz Groups (Steven Layne talks about this in his book Igniting a Passion for Reading):  Several times a week, students meet for ten minutes to share what’s catching their attention in the books they are currently reading.  You can form groups or allow students to create their own.  They can share annotations to let other readers in on their thinking (they love using sticky notes to interact with the texts).  I like to keep the talk in these groups open-ended, and listen in to see what’s ‘trending’ around their self-selected reading at any given time.  As I listen, I come across thinking I want to highlight in class lessons and I discover areas where I might push thinking forward.  I sometimes also assign a ‘focus’ for their sharing depending on what aspect of reading we’re studying.

2. “The Golden Easel:” Students can nominate books to be featured on the golden easel—a special place of honor for books. 
Readers who nominate books can add sticky notes to the covers, briefly sharing why they want to inspire other readers to read them.  Then, those who are interested can write their names on sticky tabs and put them on the books.  Viola!  A list of readers waiting for a title!...A bunch of readers making plans for their reading!  (Hint, place the ‘golden easel’ in high traffic areas, by the sink, for example.  Students are washing and find themselves cleverly drawn into a book commercial!)

3. Plastic Document Holders:  Love this strategy!  Again, place these strategically around the classroom (I like to have several by our door, so as students are waiting, they are once again drawn into reading one another's thoughts about notable books). Since they are clear, the COVERS of books are easily visible. Readers can add their thoughts on sticky notes along the bottom of the holders, and peers can comment on the sides.  I found the plastic holders at OfficeMax (they also come in sets of 3 attached holders, but I prefer the single ones so book covers have more visibility).

4. Glorious Plastic Frames:  “Pllllllllleeeeeeaaaaase, Ms. Wag., can I create something about this book and put it in a plastic frame?”  Students love this! Like the ‘golden easel,’ the plastic frames are special forums for sharing one’s excitement about particular titles.  Since they are free-standing, they can be placed anywhere (hint, hint, again, clever placement in high traffic ‘wait’ areas guarantees more exposure and potentially more infectious virus-spreading).  We also like to place these in the library (with the book standing alongside) to spread the infection school-wide.

5. “I Just HAVE TO Share” Parking Lot:  This is a poster where students can place sticky notes about things they simply MUST share with classmates.  When there are a few seconds here and there in a day, I have the student retrieve the note and share what must be said!  If I find we’re getting flooded with notes, I allow students a minute or two to come up, grab their note, find a buddy or group and share OR I simply tell them to take their note to lunch and share it with other readers!

6. “Reading Graffiti:” Donalyn Miller talks about this in her most recent book.  In my classroom, I like to give students a spot for their graffiti, but instead of writing right on the bulletin board, they post sticky notes so they can keep their notations fresh.  They keep ‘old’ graffiti in a spiral notebook. (It’s interesting to see how their thoughts about books develop over time—great stuff to spark thoughtful conversations about how we’re growing as readers!)

7. “Hello!  My book is…” labels:  You know these labels, the ones you get when you go to a meeting, “Hello my name is…” (or use the blank versions).  These can be used in a myriad of ways.  One of my favorites is this: after a student has given a book talk, s/he will wear the label on their shirt for the day (cross out 'my name is,' replace with 'my book is') to inspire readers outside our classroom to ask about the book!  Another idea: have the student put a favorite quote on the label to inspire questions about what s/he's reading.

   8. Televised book talks:  Many teachers record their students giving books talks.  Take it one step further:  televise them!  A TV strategically placed near the lunch line, where book talks are broadcast, can go a long way toward creating a culture of reading in a school.  Plus, students feel so empowered:  their reading lives are potentially affecting the reading lives of countless peers!

There are many other ideas we could note.  Think about the amount of talk that might happen, the number of books students are exposed to, and the positive energy these ideas generate around the act of reading.  When visitors walk into a classroom that is flooded with books and genuine talk about books, they know reading isn’t just a priority, it’s a passion.  Who knows, maybe they’ll stay awhile and get infected, too!  

Happy reading/writing/thinking and Happy Mother’s Day!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Poetry Month: Honoring L & R

Happy Poetry Month!  Three poems are posted here in celebration.  These first two are by "L," a second grade poet I had in my class several years ago...

As you can see, L had a knack for imagery, simplicity and profundity--putting words together in innovative ways.  We have a wall labeled "Poetry Place" in our classroom--a sort of 'open microphone' for anytime poetry.  I start the year with poetry on purpose.  Students experience quick success, surprise themselves and each other, smile about writing and get hooked!  I model jotting some words to capture small moments, reread my developing pieces with 'poetry reverence' (you can make almost anything sound good depending on your tone and timing) and things take off from there.  L planned to publish her small moment poetry in a book (that's why you see the edited spelling).  Tonight, I honor L, and think of the many little poets I've had the joy of working with over the years.  Where are they now?  Do they still compose poetry?

Pencils move
and stop
ceiling stares
to capture small moments
hanging there?

Here, here!
This wall is reserved
just for you
Post your thoughts
        your minutes 
        your imaginings.
We want to hear them.
Together we grow.

I am lonely
I power up and post
remembering little writers
brave, risk takers
Who have they become?
In a world so connected
it is oddly silent.
And lastly, one of my favorites from L's twin sister R.  She wrote this after we took a "Poetry Walk."  It was the first snowy day of the season so we grabbed our clipboards and went outside to see what we could capture.

Love that kind of capturing!  Have you captured any small moments today?

Pass a Note or Two: Making Even the Youngest Children Writers

Over the last few weeks, during several inservice sessions, I’ve shared this simple, yet keenly purposeful way to get even the youngest children writing.  Parents/teachers have raved about the idea, so I thought I’d put together a short post. 

Here’s the scene:  You’re driving and realize it’s time for dinner.  You stop at a McDonalds’ drive through.  The line is hideously long.  You, being a clever encourager of writing in all ways all days, reach for a sticky note and scrawl, “I love you.  You’re a great kid!,” passing it back to your child.

Depending on your child’s age and abilities, he may read the note or naturally ask, “What does this say?” 

“It says, ‘I love you.  You’re a great kid!’ I’d love it if you wrote one for me.”  (Since you are prepared, your child already has a canvas bag in the back next to his seat filled with books, colored pencils, pens, paper and sticky notes.)

“Here, Mom!”

You grab the scribbled note.  “Oh, this is great.  Read it to me.”

“It says, ‘You are fun!’ ”

Cue McDonald’s recording, “Today!  Try our new caramel, marshmallow encrusted latte with chocolate sauce!  Go ahead and order when you’re ready…”

Kids love writing notes back and forth and, with our lives as busy as they are, brief stops like this while traveling in the car present perfect opportunities to encourage a bit of writing.  I’ve done this with my son since he was very small and he writes sticky notes for all kinds of reasons now (actually if you refer to my Nov. 13, 2013 post, you’ll see sometimes things have gotten a bit out of hand).   In fact, he’s an avid six year old writer who views writing as just part of the stuff he does every day.  This is one strategy that helped get the writing ball rolling. 

As always, happy writing!  -Janiel

P.S. Just for fun:  Here’s a poem (Poetry Month!!) written by one of my second graders about passing notes.  Enjoy and go pass some notes!
Passing Notes
Passing notes
anything, perhaps
But when the teacher catches
I stop dead in my tracks


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Endless Possibilities with Educreations!

Hello!  I’m working on a keynote presentation I’ll be doing at the Gulf Coast Writing Conference this summer titled, “Why Am I Writing This?  Capitalizing on Purpose in the Writing Classroom.”  Planning to infuse some technology ideas, I came across a great example of using Educreations (a free ipad app) for sharing and celebrating writing.  Here a kindergarten student* shares his intentions in his writing by simply taking a picture, recording audio, then using tools to highlight specific aspects of the piece by circling them as he discusses each one.  Not only is this a unique way to celebrate student writing, but it adds purpose since students can teach others all kinds of writing lessons.  Just think of students contemplating how their writing might influence the writing of others! There’s a powerful motivator for them to engage with their writing at  higher levels.  Educreations can be posted on the internet and shared, increasing students’ potential audience.    
*This also happens to be my son, Max :)

Here is another: This is just me modeling another use of the app.  (It's a very basic example, using simple text from Students can take a photo of an excerpt from text then use the tools to highlight how they are using and elaborating on text evidence to support their opinions/arguments, while talking out how a speech or piece of writing might develop.  Obviously, a splash of fun is added by using the app, but more importantly, especially for students who are struggling, the app may support them in learning to use text evidence for a variety of purposes.  Additionally, students might photo excerpts of texts, then highlight, create annotations, and discuss portions to prepare for sharing in book clubs or for other purposes.  Excitement galore!

Educreations is more than simple to use! Students (and even non-techie adults like me) can figure it out in minutes.  There are endless ways the tool might be used and countless examples you can browse at  Get an account and share it with students. They’ll undoubtedly invent new and surprising ways to use the application.

Enjoy!  I’d love to hear how you use Educreations!  Have a wonderful reading/writing/thinking week!