Tuesday, July 21, 2015

#cyberPD - Digital Reading Part 3

My, how these three weeks have flown! Thanks to the smart, smart #cyberPD community, my thinking has grown, stretched, and has been challenged. Remember, next week will be our final (live) wrap-up Twitter chat.

As I read chapter six, the voices of Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan (authors of Assessment in Perspective and #cyberPD participants) were also whispering in my ear. I learn so much from their work, not the least of which is the idea that if we're going to assess kids, we need to make it useful in our day-to-day work. In my district, we have a required weekly reading test connected to our basal reading series (Reading Street.) I don't have a choice in whether or not I give the assessment, but I do have a choice as to what I do with the information collected. If I use it as a formative assessment to help drive the lesson planning decisions I make, it makes me feel slightly better about having to subject them to the test each week.

Reading chapter six made me think more about this and what other kinds of assessment I'm using. I thought long and hard about the list on page 90. I'm sad to admit that in the past two years that I've taught fourth grade, my conferring with students has taken a back seat to small group instruction. A lot of that has to do with expectations from my district, but a small part of it also has to do with getting to know what fourth grade is all about. I've come to the conclusion that it is still absolutely critical for me to meet with my students one-on-one to meet their individual learning needs. I appreciated all of the resources and ideas Franki and Bill shared in chapter six that will help me accomplish this.

It's funny how so much of this book has tied directly to goals I have for myself and for my students! Chapter 7 was no exception. As fortunate as we are to have 1:1 devices, we are still faced with educating parents so they can become a member of our digital community. I plan to begin this process at our Curriculum Night (held a few weeks into the school year.) Part of my presentation will include introducing our Haiku page (the learning management system my district uses) and our class Twitter account. I set out with the best intentions after our "Who Owns the Learning" #cyberPD conversation to have my kids gradually take over the responsibility of sharing our learning with parents and the community at large, but it didn't quite happen. I have a renewed sense of motivation and purpose for this after reading chapter 7 as well as my earlier read of the absolutely fabulous book by Paul Solarz titled Learn Like a Pirate.

Lastly, I simply loved the last paragraph of chapter 7 (page 108.) I believe these sentiments to be true not only for communicating with parents but also for our work with children. There is no magic list or a "one-size fits all" approach to making learning authentic, intentional and connected. We can pick a few tools and plan to stick with them, while keeping flexibility and student needs in mind. And of course, new possibilities will always be opened up though our PLNs... and those new ideas deserve our time and careful consideration as well.

Reflection Perfection up here in the woods of northern Wisconsin!
As I write this, I am spending time in the woods and on the lakes up in northern Wisconsin. I'm thoroughly enjoying the fishing and snuggles with my nieces, but I also find myself thinking a lot about the #cyberPD conversation and the upcoming school year. But it sure is a beautiful place to take a deep breath of fresh, pine-scented air and cast a line as my mind wanders...

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Recently, my mom and I embarked on an epic road trip, covering 14 states in 13 days and traveling close to 5,500 miles. I plan to write more about that in an upcoming post, but one moment on our trip has been weighing heavily on my mind.

It was astounding to see so many homeless people as we made our way across the Pacific Northwest. Living near Chicago and visiting the city at times, I've had my fair share of sightings of people surviving on the streets. But this... this was nothing like I've ever seen. Perhaps because the weather is milder on a year-round basis, perhaps because life seems to cost more out there. I'm not sure. But what I do know is that we saw these people everywhere.

Now, I'll admit; I very rarely hand over any cash to the homeless people I've encountered in Chicago. On occasion, I have. But more often than not, I don't.

One morning during our trip, my mom and I pulled in to get gas. As we turned into the parking lot, we noticed a man leaning up against a STOP sign, holding a sign. "Homeless. Will Work for Food," it read. He looked as though he hadn't had a good night's sleep in a while, hadn't showered, and was sporting more than a five o'clock shadow. And then we saw his dog. Being the animal lovers that we are, we both looked at each other and knew this might be one person we would not be able to pass up.

We filled up our tank and headed back to that very spot.
"What do you think?" my mom asked.
Without hesitating, I replied, "Give him some cash."

She rolled down the window and handed the man a folded up bill. He unfolded the twenty dollars and promptly turned to his canine companion, "C'mon, Buddy! We can get you some food now!"

Cue the tears. My mom and I looked at each other, sobbing.

He did call out a heartfelt thank you as we were pulling away, but the comment to his dog was enough of a thanks for me.

As we continued on our road trip, I thought of this man and his dog often. In fact, I'm still thinking about them. How do we know their story? Could they just be down on their luck? For all of those people who never get a second glance from some of us who are more fortunate, what do we know about how they ended up living on the streets?

This man and his dog also led me to think about my fourth graders who come from (mostly) upper middle class families. Do they know how lucky they are?

It made me pause and think about one little boy who was in my class during my first year of teaching... and how he was homeless before finding a home in our community.

But mostly, it reminded me of just how blessed I am.

Beautiful Pacific Ocean Beach on the Oregon Coast

Thursday, July 16, 2015

#cyberPD - Digital Reading Part 2

I've already learned so much more by reading and commenting on all of the incredible thinking people shared last week from the first two chapters! If you haven't already visited our Google Community, you will definitely want to head over there and take some time to drink it all in!

And don't miss out on...
Week of 7/20 - Reflecting on chapters 6 & 7
Week of 7/27 - Wrap-up Twitter chat


"Authenticity is evident when I look around the room and see kids using various tools that meet their needs at the moment." (p. 26)

I appreciated Franki's story about creating a book trailer and how it is so very easy for us to become wrapped up in the tools. So often, we hear, "It's not about the technology." While I wholeheartedly agree, I also wholeheartedly disagree. It's not about the technology, but it is about the technology. It's not about using technology in a lesson just for the sake of using it, but it is about using the technology in authentic, purposeful ways. So much of what I read in chapter three supports this idea; we are charged with introducing kids to new tools and how those tools might support/enhance their learning, thinking, and understanding. The questions on page 30 are ones I've pondered heavily. This concept of authenticity married with choice is absolutely crucial for learners today.

During a very eye-opening, honest conversation with my 4th graders back in May, they were sharing with me the apps and tools they use to interact with friends outside of school. 

My 4th graders are definitely connecting digitally!
During our discussion, students reported Facetime, Oovoo, and Snapchat as favorite ways to connect with friends. Instagram also appeared to be pretty popular and used by many. Going back to Angela Maiers' post mentioned in the book, how am I supporting kids who are tech comfy but not necessarily tech savvy?

Reading about intentionality in chapter four gave me so much to ponder. It also made me go back to the wise words of my friend Kristin Ziemke who advocates for learning a couple of really good tech tools and and using them well. This also helps to put the emphasis back on the learning rather than the novelty of the tools we're using. When introducing new concepts, tools, or ways of learning digitally, I have to remain vigilant about the WHY.

The descriptions of intentionality on page 48 really stood out to me. Isn't it so important for us, as teachers, to open the doors to the possible for kids and then step out of the doorway so they can make choices and figure things out for themselves?

Reading chapter five, I was contemplating how I've connected my kids in the past. How was I breaking down our classroom walls? Both in first and fourth grade, I created opportunities (mostly through my Twitter connections) for kids to interact on a more global level. We've blogged, interacted through our class Twitter account, have participated in Mystery Skypes, used a backchannel chat on Todays Meet to discuss a book, and made video calls to authors. But the more I pondered, the more I realized it's always been very "episodic" (as Franki and Bill called it!) Part of my goal this year is going to be to continue to find ways to weave these experiences more authentically into our learning and into our daily school lives. Again, I think if I keep my own connected life in mind, it will help me be even better at making sure I'm providing the same opportunities for my kids. I'm positive my Twitter friends will be an enormous help and inspiration for this goal!

Authenticity, intentionality, and connectedness will definitely be at the forefront of my mind as I continue to plan and ponder learning opportunities for my fourth graders!

"We believe strongly that if we create classrooms where reading is authentic, where students are connected to one another and to the world, and where students make intentional decisions as readers, we have created environments in which readers in the digital age can thrive." (p.86)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

#cyberPD - Digital Reading Part 1

Our #cyberPD event has become an integral part of summer professional development for so many outstanding educators! I am delighted to be co-hosting again this year, alongside Cathy Mere and Michelle Nero. This year, we're reading Digital Reading: What's Essential in Grades 3-8 by Bill Bass and Franki Sibberson. Our schedule is as follows:

Week of 7/6 - Chapters 1-2
Week of 7/13 - Chapters 3-5
Week of 7/20 - Chapters 6-7
Week of 7/27 - Wrap-up (live) Twitter Chat

We've moved our #cyberPD home to a Google Community this year! We still extend the invitation for people to visit individual blogs and comment there, but the Google Community will allow for yet another place to keep the conversation rolling. You can visit it by clicking here.


My thoughts this week are also influenced by the time I spent at NerdCamp in Franki's session on Digital Reading. She shared her slides publicly via Twitter, so I'm hoping it's okay that I provide the link HERE! You can peruse the slides to see more about the key points she made. My favorite quote from her session was from slide 17...

"Choice invites intentionality and purpose."

Can't stop thinking about this! I'm a huge fan of choice in the classroom, and I know we have to make sure we are providing supports as students navigate their learning journeys. These supports will allow them to be intentional, purposeful users of technology in their reading and writing lives.

In chapter 1, I kept going back to the idea of how and when I've been using digital texts/resources in our classroom and in my own learning. I teach in a school where every child has a device; for the past two years, that device was an Android tablet (Kuno.) In the fall, we'll be switching to Chromebooks. We have been fortunate to have connections at our fingertips, but the more I think, the more I realize I may not have been as intentional as I could've been about the choices I made regarding digital literacy.

Moving forward, the three anchors that Franki and Bill focus on will be absolutely essential! Authenticity, intentionality, and connectedness will definitely help me plan for future lessons and experiences for my fourth graders.

To that end, I also attended a session led by Pernille Ripp at NerdCamp and one thing in particular has really stuck with me. She said,

"We're not teaching digital natives. We're teaching kids who use technology."

That quote really supports what Bill and Franki were saying in the first chapter. Just because students are online doesn't necessarily mean they truly understand how to navigate successfully, how to make intentional choices, and how to truly "learn" digitally.

In chapter 2, I forced myself to think about the decisions I've made in my classroom in the past two years that I've been teaching fourth grade. Was I staying true to what I believe about reading and writing instruction, grounded in the workshop approach? Sadly, I feel like I lost sight of some of my beliefs as I've made the transition from first grade to fourth grade. This chapter in particular has really helped me be honest with myself! The questions Franki and Bill pose will be essential for me as I bring myself back to my roots. 

I especially love on page 22 how they included the structural components of reading workshop and how those don't change just because we may be doing things digitally. The questions posed on page 23 will also help me as I meet with my readers next year!

I'm excited to now go over to our Google Community and read what others took away from the first two chapters!