Monday, December 1, 2008

MELS Reading Workshop

I attended another wonderful workshop today. It was all about the reading competency. Although it has been far too long since my last entry, I just had to write tonight.

It is incredible to me that in this group, avid readers who love books and teaching language arts, there are so many negative reading experiences. So many people talk about having bad feelings about themselves as readers at some point in their lives.. Others talk about flying under the radar and not really understanding what they read for a long time.

This is all so very different from my own experience. I was surrounded by books from an early age. When it wasn’t books, it was my father reciting poetry from memory. One morning, my mother found me with a stack of Dr. Seuss books. I announced that I could read them, and I could! I never looked back. Books were always there to be my friends when no one else would.
I have so many warm memories of books. My parents read aloud to me, rich books like “The Jungle Book”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “The Hobbit”, and “Anne of Green Gables”. I lent books I had read myself to my mother so that she could read them and discuss them with me. I was allowed to stay up an extra hour in the evenings as long as I was reading in bed. This is how I stormed through the Little House Books. When I graduated university as a teacher, my mother gave me picture books – “Thank-you Mr. Falker”, and “Koala Loo”. No gift could have been more meaningful.

In part, it is my love of reading that I hope to share with my students.

I will leave this workshop with a sense of urgency about reading instruction. We learned today that children need to develop the strategies and skills for decoding, understanding, and processing printed text by age 10-11. This age is just beyond that of the children I teach. I will be returning to my class with a new eye toward those students who are “learning at their own level and their own pace” but are not quite up to scratch. How can I support them to ensure that they not only love to read, but are learning to do it well?

The Assessment part of the workshop is tomorrow. I hope to write again with further thoughts.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

PLNs on Fast Forward

I am staring at my computer screen trying to decide how to condense Personal/Professional Learning Networks into a five minute presentation - for tomorrow!

The idea, as I understand it, is that I will be one of several people presenting to an international delegation visiting our school board. We will each do a ~5 minute presentation (which will last 10 minutes when allowing for the interpreter). The visitors have many questions about technology integration, so our presentations are meant to focus on a few key points which will create openings for questions and discussion.

Which brings me back to my dilema: how do I condense PLNs into five minutes without showing the whole thing on fast forward?

I really should hit on:
- Keeping my own blog
- Reading other blogs (some of my favourites by other reflective teachers)
- Nings (connecting with other teachers to collaboarate)
- Twitter (and all the great resources I learn about there)
- Social Bookmarking
- The WOW2.0 podcast
Plus, I was asked to touch on using wikis and blogs with my students.

I guess the real question is what can I leave out to allow time for the rest?

I'm still working on the answer...I've got about 9 hours left... help!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Goal Setting for the New School Year

The new school year is not so new anymore. The first month has slipped away in a blur of establishing routines and getting to know a new class.

I am back in a traditional classroom this year, the online teaching being too all consuming to be compatible with family life. Starting over in a new school has been hectic. I especially feel the pressure as part of my role is to provide some leadership in technology integration. I will be supporting my colleagues in their tech projects as doing projects with my own class. I think that this is just the right kind of challenge - attainable, but enough to push me a little throughout the year.

So, some goals for the year:

1 - I want to post at least two blog entries each month. Hopefully by the end of the year I will be able to work this up to once a week.

2 - I want to keep up with my feed reader. I want to read at least my must-read blogs at least once each week. This should include leaving at least 2 comments each week.

3 - I want to get a ning up and running for my school staff.

4 - I want to organize 2 telecollaborative projects this year and participate in 2 more. These projects should seamlessly integrate technology into my existing teaching.

5 - I want to further develop my PLN.

Well, in theory at least, these are all attainable. It is good to have something to shoot for, and now it's in print. Let's see how I do!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What!! No PD?

I’m in San Antonio for NECC. I am looking forward to a great week.

Right now I am thinking about professional development. At supper tonight, the DG of our school board was telling me about his recent trip to Uruguay. They are deploying OLPC laptops to all their students following the approved “saturation” approach. Apparently this involves getting the laptops out there, and letting the teachers and students figure things out. No PD!

I am appalled.

I teach in a school board with 1:1 laptops. Some teachers use them extensively, some hardly at all. Some use them well, others less so. Either way, they most certainly use them more and better than if they had received no professional development. Teachers who are intimidated by the laptops have at least become brave enough to use them a little. Teachers who are comfortable with the technology use them more creatively as a result of our PD.

In my experience, PD is essential for 1:1 laptops to work at all. Even the teachers who know how to use the technology benefit from hearing new ideas about how they can use the machines effectively. For those teachers who are less proficient, or who are resistant, the right kind of PD can show them how the technology fits with what they are already doing.

What a shame to simply pitch these machines willy-nilly into classrooms. Some will certainly be used, but the challenges will be too many for most to meet on their own.

Earlier today, Gary Stager posted the following on Twitter:PD to do what? (important question) PD doesn't work. Professionals develop autonomously in environments where it is supported and expected.”

PD to do what? If all I know about my laptop is that I can type text, and I never have an opportunity to learn otherwise, am I using my laptop well? If the challenges and frustrations are numerous, and I feel abandoned, helpless, and alone, will I use the laptops at all? PD does not need to be something that is done to 50 teachers in a room – far from it. What if the environment supports and expects teachers’ PD in collaborative environments? What if PD consists (in part) of time for half a dozen teachers to get together and talk about what they are doing? They can share ideas, what’s working, solutions for challenges, etc. They might also connect with a mentor teacher online using Skype.

Whatever the shape it takes, I believe that PD is a necessary part of 1:1 laptop deployment.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Growing Pains

We have a new student. That may not sound like much, but it is causing some big changes in what was a smooth routine. I have been working with three students since the end of January. They are a tight-knit group and as we approached the end of the year, our days ran like a well-oiled machine.

Two weeks ago, a new student joined us. Besides being new to the group she is completely new to online learning and does not seem to have too much computer experience.

The biggest challenge for me is that she is a very different learner than the others. We are used to chunks of discussion and instruction, either all together, in small groups or individually, during their morning to prepare for work time in the afternoon. This is very challenging to her as she has difficulty taking in all the information and multi-step instructions. She is a learner who requires tiny pieces of information or instructions in single steps at a time. There also seem to be many gaps in what she has learned previously, so she gets lost easily (e.g. she is grade 4 age and she does not know the word “author,” gets confused by the conversation). She does not say anything when she is confused or does not understand, she just imagines what I must want and plows on. From the other side of the online classroom, I cannot read her facial expressions or body language and I cannot class at work that she is beginning to make sure that she is on the right track.

I am having a lot of trouble re-structuring the class to accommodate her needs. I have tried having her follow another student’s day to get the idea, but she is overwhelmed. I have tried giving her a small step to go do while we are online. She was to come back and text me that she was ready. As it turns out, she did not understand what to do (despite having assured me that she did) and did something else. She then tried to type the something else into the text chat. Other times she daydreams or is “thinking,” for a very long time. She is not independent enough for this model.

We only have 14 classes left in the year. I hope we can push through the growing pains and find a solution soon.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Can Personal Connections Exist via the Internet?

As you may know, or have guessed from the name, I have been teaching in a virtual classroom this year. I am in Quebec, Canada while my students in grades 1-4 are in Tokyo, Japan.

I have had several conversations recently in which someone has asked whether I miss being with the kids in the classroom. These people often question the idea that it is possible for me to have a close, connected relationship with my students via the Internet. They can only see the machine in front of me.

I point to the drawing full of hearts with my name written by a beginning writer. It was sent to me by a first grade girl in the fall – just because she wanted to. It is very much like the drawings one receives from grade one students in a classroom. It is very special to me and I keep it posted on the wall beside my desk. It reminds me of the real little person halfway around the world who cares about me as I care about her.

I try to explain to doubters that the exchanges online are different, but in many ways more personal and more honest. We share little bits of ourselves each day. I am always very conscious that my voice is a vehicle that can carry encouragement, disappointment, frustration, elation, determination, and any number of other messages to my students. We cannot always rely on facial cues and body language, so we become energetic speakers and very careful listeners.

So what is your opinion? Do you believe that you can’t have real person-to-person connections without sharing physical space, or do you have your own wonderful personal connections with people around the world?

As for me, I care deeply about the young people in my class who never fail to wish me sweet dreams each night as we sign off. Maybe because there is no hug as they leave the classroom, I am more tuned in to the tone of their voices and the caring that makes it’s way back to me through my headset.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Looking for project collaborators gr1-5

Wow, has it really been that long since my last post? This job has crazy hours. I can’t even come close to keeping up with reading all my favourite blogs.

My students (gr1-4) and I have been reading and talking about Fairy Tales – both traditional and fractured for a couple of weeks. An idea has been slowly forming in the back of my head, and I think it is time to let it out. A Fairy Tale newspaper.

Of course, this is not a particularly new idea. My students could certainly write articles about Fairy Tale events from various points of view. We could make sure to include sports pages and comic strips. I’m sure that would be fun, and the parents might enjoy downloading the finished product from our class site.

What I have been thinking about is how to kick this project up to the next level. What if our newspaper had international correspondents writing articles? My students could choose the best work sent to them and work on the page layouts in addition to writing their own articles. There might even be room for some peer discussion between the correspondents and the publishers! Finally, our newspaper would have an international audience with friends and parents of correspondents from around the world downloading and reading it.

This could be a great enrichment project for a couple of kids or you could have your whole class prepare something. Writers could work individually, or in teams. If your class creates a large number of pieces, please have a selection process and forward the best for submission, I only have 4 students to read them all!

If you read this and you or someone you know would like to get involved, please email me (meacherteacherATgmailDOTcom).

The end of the year is a great time to do a special project!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

What is Media anyways?

Over the past 2 days I attended a wonderful workshop on teaching Media Literacy.

In Quebec, Media Literacy is one of the four strands of our Language Arts program, yet most teachers are a little vague about it. Teach reading – sure! Teach writing – No problem! Teach talk – We can do that! Teach Media Literacy – Ummm, so we could look at TV commercials and design cereal boxes maybe?

This workshop broadened our horizons about media literacy and our students' ability to be creators of media. We considered medias that we had not thought of before. A key for me was the following statement: “Media Literacy is not about having the right answers, it is about asking the right questions.” As life-long viewers of media, our students can figure this stuff out, we just need to send them in the right direction.

Thank goodness for wonderful workshops like this that allow me to recharge my batteries, and inspire me to try new things.

A big thanks to the MELS team for the great workshop.

Reading Pictures

I have been at a wonderful workshop today about media literacy. I am really excited about some of the things that we saw. I was really struck by the idea of “reading” photos.

When was the last time you read a photo? Not a photo covered with words in a magazine, but the actual “text” of the photo. We might think about whether we like the photo or not, but we are often at a lost to explain why. When we look at photos with students and use photographic language (like the point of view, framing…), we are giving them the tools they need to “read” and discuss photos themselves. Understanding the structures and subtext of photos allows students to consider the photographer’s purpose and the overall effectiveness of the picture.

Once students are familiar with the various elements to be considered, as well as the power exerted by the photographer’s choices, they are ready to take their own photos with purpose. They can use their photos to tell a story, convey an emotion, or any other use they can imagine.

Best of all, reading photos with a class of students requires very few resources; some found photos, photos brought in by students, a few old calendars... Creating them requires a camera, but I think most classes have access to a camera and many kids have access to one at home.

We often think of media literacy in the classroom in terms of advertisements and commercials, maybe the cereal box project. In the age of the digital camera, how can we ignore photo literacy?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Authentic Audience

Why do we write? We write because someone, someday, is going to read it. In the classroom, there is a group of peers to appreciate student writing. We also post writing in hallways and invite the principal into the class to comment on writing.

Since I work with such a small group of students, I cannot rely on a peer audience in the class. I feel very strongly that I need to generate an authentic audience for my students. Mem Fox writes about getting students to “ache with caring” about their writing. The way to do this is when they have a real audience who will read their words. I want my students to ache with caring about their writing.

I am hoping I will be able to create an audience for my students by posting their work to a blog. I am going to have to do a little more thinking about it, though. One of my students posted a blog about a book that he was reading. Only one person commented on his blog – the only way for him to become aware of the audience. The comments came from a student in a colleague’s class in our school board. I spent two days checking with other teachers and begging for participation to get that student involved – not something I can do for every project.

It is one thing to tell the students that anyone can read their writing on the web. It is another for them to realize that real people are reading it. I don’t want to promise an audience that I cannot deliver. As noted by the postings below (0 comments total), I am not sure how to get people to read and comment on a blog. I guess that I will have to do some research.

If you are reading this and you have any advice, I would love to hear it.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Plugging-in to Web 2.0

When did I fall so far behind?

For many years, I have been used to leading the way technology-wise in my school. This week it became clear that while I may be leading the way there, the rest of the world has forged ahead. I am not sure when it happened, but I have missed a few boats recently.

I have been generally aware of blogging for about a year now, and more vaguely aware that some people were blogging about education related stuff. I was not really aware that so many people were using blogging in the classroom. I have had a very vague concept of wikis as websites to which multiple people contribute, but only for a couple of months. Many things (Twitter, VoiceThread, and others) remain terms that I run into in the blogs that I have been reading, but that I really know nothing about.

How did the web become Web 2.0 without me noticing? I could blame the fact that I have been busy with my new teaching position, but that’s not much of an excuse. I could claim that it all takes too long on dial-up and we can’t get high speed at home, but that’s just another excuse.

So I did something about it.

I have spent quite a bit of time this week reading about wikis and blogs and how various people are using them with their students. It seemed a good place to start catching up. Firstly, I was humbled by the thought that these so quickly passed me by as I sat, complacent in the knowledge that I was making great use of the technology at my disposal. Secondly, I was reminded that I need to keep reading, keep learning, and just plain keep up in order to offer my best to my students. Thirdly, I was fired up. Learning something new that has broadened my horizons has got me excited about what I will do next.

I don’t have many students – just three at the moment, but I am making plans. Plans for getting my students connected with their peers around the world, maybe even collaborating with them. Plans for my students to be able to share their work with an authentic audience beyond the walls of their tiny classroom. Lots of plans.

I wonder how soon I can get started…

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Emergency Plans - Not So Easy

I’m sitting on this side of the Christmas school holiday, and somehow it seems shorter than it did at the beginning – always does, I guess. Now I must tackle the work that I promised to do over the break…emergency plans.
Now, this might sound simple, but it requires a great deal of thought. As a virtual teacher, there are no supply teachers who are trained to do what I do. There is no one who can step in, read over my lesson plans and carry-on as usually with just a few extra discipline problems.
If I am to be absent from class, I must pre-teach the lessons and record them. This is analogous to standing in front of an empty classroom and teaching to the video camera. When the students come into the digital classroom, I will not be there (they are, of course supervised at their end, but instruction comes from my end). They will be able to view the archived lessons that I have left for them. To continue the analogy, they will press “play” to watch the video of the lesson I made for them.
This situation is clearly far from ideal. What if the students have questions that I have not addressed? What about the interactive nature of the class? Where there are multiple students at a similar level, I can allow some time in the lesson for discussion amongst themselves (either by asking them to pause the lesson, or allowing it to play silently until I begin speaking again). Where a single student is involved in a lesson, I can pause for reflection time before sharing my own thoughts, allowing a semblance of conversation. This is an imperfect system, but is none-the-less a workable one for the occasional teacher absence. After all, we can’t always count on the quality of the lessons completed by conventional substitute teachers either.
A planned absence for a day is one thing, I simply record my lesson the previous afternoon based on where the students need to go next. It is like teaching an extra day, but it can be worth it for a really good workshop. What about an unplanned absence, illness for example, which would prevent the pre-recording? What if the unplanned absence spreads over 2-3 days? My colleague quite suddenly lost her voice for 3 days in December and was unable to teach. School could not be canceled? What to do?
And so we come to the emergency plan. I am to prepare a short unit to fill about 3 days of instruction and work time for my students. It should be appropriate for any time in the year (I can clearly not do an extra day’s teaching each week!). Ideally, it should be appropriate for multiple grade levels (we could use it next year too!).
So here I sit, searching for the “ah-ha” moment as the holiday minutes tick away. Anybody out there have a ready-made lesson for 3 days of project-based instruction for students in a variety of grade levels that requires not particular background knowledge? It should be relevant and engaging and of course make appropriate use of the time to cover important elements of the curriculum.
I’m coming up empty.