Saturday, January 14, 2012

Keeping Kids Connected

Digital reading and writing has changed me as a learner. On June 24, 2007, I started my journey into blogging and for months before that I was glued to the screen of my computer inspired how other teachers, book lovers and writers could alter my thinking, energize me to begin more self-reflection and connect me with endless learning.

A Year of Reading and Amick's Articles were some of my first mentors as I began to reflect and blog on my own. The writers behind these blogs (Franki, Mary Lee and Sarah) helped model for me how to create my own voice and share ideas and books that meant something to me. They helped me feel apart of the reading and writing club. And then when I connected with them and others I began to feel like there were people out there who might even read what I have to say. I was gifted some identity. Then, I began connecting to others by linking to their thoughts, responding to other's posts and collaborating in events and now this series.

My point in all this is that digital reading and writing has kept me connected as a learner. So, knowing the excitement and energy I receive from the digital world, I think we owe it to our students to think about how we can keep kids connected as well. In my previous posts on digital reading and writing, I shared how embedding mentors into our best practice and using mentors authentically in digital writing deepens learning and invites risk taking. Today, I want to end this series of posts with how we can invite kids into playing with the possibilities of connecting school learning to home, providing access to digital mentors and inviting sharing with each other.

After all of the embedded work I have being experimenting with digital mentors in the classroom, I have been anxious to find a way to keep kids coming back to these. Knowing how kids need us to come back to the paper anchors we create in the classroom, these digital anchors need to be at kids fingertips as well. So, I played with a resource called Weebly that has allowed me to create a place that we access at school and home. Weebly has allowed me to customize a webpage that holds the learning we experience at school, the digital places we visit and easily embed video, pictures, and documents that are accessible to kids at home. So, in short, here are the top 3 reasons Weebly is working for us:

1. Weebly is allowing us to connect the learning we share at school to children's own homes.
Last year, I posted about the need for connected learning vs. homework. I shared my strategies as a parent for keeping connected with my own children as well as opportunities I provide my students for connecting school to home. Weebly has allowed me to open up our classroom to not only my students but to our parents as well. I have organized pages according to themes and subjects with each page reflecting the big messages kids are learning about through pictures, video and links. Just this week we read an e-book on Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears as well as sang a rhyming song (just the first verse ) about the states of matter on the scholastic site. My students began asking me immediately to please add them to the web page. I know they will come back to the link at home or during their computer choice at school.

2. Weebly has allowed me to scaffold for students. I am specifically thinking here about how the blog page feature. Helping first graders understand blogging has been much easier this year as we all have participated in commenting and posting once on a whole class blog page that is embedded on our webpage. It has allowed me to teach commenting with scaffolding and ease with one posting page instead of multiple pages that will appear later when kids are on their own kidblog page. We can study a comments made, make observations about what kids are writing, and note when a comment may need some depth. I also use the webpage as a scaffold for introducing digital sites (when I am organized) especially math games I embed during our choice time. I have the games organized on a symbaloo linked to our math page. So, when I am ready to study a new math concept and find a game that compliments some of our thinking, I add it to it and navigate kids through our webpage as I introduce it.

3. Weebly encourages sharing. Again, the blog page comes to mind when I think about the sharing kids are experiencing at home and school. This fall I introduced my students to creating stories using pixie software. As students created these digital stories, I have uploaded them to the blog for everyone to comment. What I like about the weebly blog page is that anyone can comment. Kids, parents, grandparents, and anyone with our password can log in and comment using a first name. It has been encouraging to see many family members get on and support our learning community. Weebly also allows me to share the videos and pictures of learning in action. The images allows parents and readers to feel apart of the our community and better understand our work.

My hope is that I can help guide even our youngest readers and writers to experience the excitement of connecting to learning outside the classroom. I know that using digital tools will support the 21st century skills and prepare them for their future. Maybe these little steps will help kids to see the importance of sharing, connecting and collaborating. Every little bit helps:)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Taking a Risk with Blogging

In my last post , I asked the questions:

What are the goals I have for my readers and writers?
How can digital mentors support these goals?

I want to continue with these goals by sharing my experiences using kidblog in the classroom knowing how the tool has allowed me to expose students to a deeper understanding of audience, sharing, publishing and connecting as readers and writers.

In Kevin's post, Considering Mentor Texts: Teachers as Mentors and Creators, he states:
What we need to be doing is constructing our own mentor text collections, even as we keep an eye out for what others are doing. This means, too, that we teachers need to be sharing our worlds of exploration with our colleagues, and with the world. Don’t keep your work hidden inside of your classroom. Use the tools of the modern publishing age to share out your expertise, and together, we can begin building a database of mentor texts in the digital age. And push the limits of what technology can do.

I too agree that we need to be in the practice of constructing our own mentor text. Beginning to introduce primary children to the notion of blogging gave my students and I many opportunities to do this. While immersed in blogging my students had time to read many blogs, explore and study mentor posts/ picture books, publish and share.

Immersing in Blogging:
Sites like National Geographic for Kids hosts a main blog with many posts surrounding different topics. I used this site to begin to introduce my kids to reading blogs as a class. We used the You are here posts that follow Ava through Australia before skyping with a parent who travelled to Sydney to help us build background. We also used the dogeared posts to help us study kid book reviews before writing some of our own. This site also has other kid blogs called green scene, news bites, and hands on explorer that might work as mentors for what you are studying or thinking about in the classroom.

I also started to bookmark kid blogs I found while surfing, many of them kids who are home schooled and blogging about what they are learning and loving. These blogs gave my students ideas for writing about what they love when posting.

Finally, I introduced my kids to an introductory type post we read here and my second graders introduced themselves to the world of blogging. My first graders (who blogged with Cathy's class last year about books we love) used a picture we made on pixie to help in our introductory posts after Cathy and I created mentors for the kids.

Exploring Mentors:

As kids began to post about what they know and love, I used began to use their posts as mentors for each other just as I would do with their written pieces in workshop. Students would compose new ideas on the blog and I invited them to share at the end of workshop. It was time they needed to play with ideas and blogging. My friend Lauren and I were talking about how kids have to be trusted to go out there and just blog. Yes, we have assessments we need to give and standards we need to teach but we have to strike a balance between play and performing for the teacher, a notion that Troy hits on his his post about the tension to allow students freedom in the classroom vs what we as teachers feel like we need to teach. Often kids best work is produced in a play -like atmosphere. I know Bud Hunt would agree as he writes about the need for purposeful play here.
Kids then chatted about what ideas they had after reading each others posts. They also began to comment often with ideas that reflected their "reading like a writer" thinking. We didn't leave our study of picture books when crafting and writing on the blog. Books like Sophie Peterman tells the Truth (where Sophie points out the stinky truth about babies) inspired Maddy to write the truth about hugs. Another student, Grace, began a series of short fiction stories about different animals in our blog all inspired by a book called Baby Animals (I can't find online). We kept charting and thinking about ideas as we blogged.

I also ventured into using the blog as a place for publishing. Books of poetry including: Toad by the Road, Lizards, Frogs and Polliwogs, Animal Poems and All the Small Poems and Fourteen More inspired lots of discussion after a spring visit to the Metro Park. My students were fascinated with loads of life science we witnessed including salamanders, toads, vernal pools and food chains that they had hands on time to learn about with our park naturalist. I decided to study the non-fiction poetry to compliment their learning.

Publishing and Sharing:

While publishing on the blog, we were able to use an option called revisions (at the bottom of the edit window) which allowed us to go back to look at a student's the piece overtime. This function was powerful for students to see the before and after of a student's poem in process. It helped deepen the questions students posed during share, it allowed me to infer more deeply about student process and gave students opportunities to explain the decisions they made when reviving and editing their piece.

Grace's piece about the food chain in the wetlands is one example of how the ease of publishing and sharing on the blog deepened her work. After sharing her first posts publicly, she was encouraged and guided by her classmates to reread so that her piece made sense, add description and end her poem. She was able to do this with help from the mentor poems we had read as well as the other poems written by her classmates.

One of the most exciting parts of the publishing process on the blog was the ability to comment and read students thoughts about each others pieces of writing. Commenting on the blog helped bring kids who would have never verbally raised their hand or told their partner about their thoughts, the ability to share in writing. It also allowed everyone to easily access each others pieces allowing kids more opportunities to comment. It allowed kids to take risks.

Thinking back about the goals I have for readers and writers, there really is nothing more powerful than playing and take new risks. This is when kids learn. This is when kids grow.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Embedding Digital Mentors

When my principal first asked me to consider collecting my thoughts on the work I have done integrating digital reading and writing in my classroom last spring, I began to think about how much of what I had experimented with was embedded into my practices that support student learning. When we can define our beliefs about student learning and teaching we begin to reflect on what is important to our own practice. The Digital Learning Collaborative state their beliefs about learning so clearly and simply:
Learning takes time.
Learning is a social practice.
Learning with technology should be embedded with sound instructional practice.

This third belief is what I want to concentrate on throughout the post. My beliefs about my own best practice have evolved over the years as I have learned more and taught more. For me, reading, writing and math workshop guide the learning that happens in my classroom. I want to begin with sound practice because I often think when working with technology, teachers feel like learning has to be about the tool. I know I have forgotten this simple premise and at times and needed others to remind me that embedding digital practices does not mean kids need to be able to use a tool perfectly. I think we can get caught up in kids knowing a tool rather than understanding how the tool can help us, share, collaborate or deepen our work around an instructional goal we have for our students. As teachers, we sometimes receive pressure and messages to try new tools without really understanding why and how it can help us or our students in the classroom. So, I think we have to constantly think about why and what we want our kids to be able to do and look thoughtfully for tools and mentors that will compliment our goals for students.
So I decided to share with you in this first post how digital mentors are assisting in my goals for the readers and writers in my primary classroom. When thinking about digital mentors, I am thinking about digital places where students can read, write and learn to support their work in workshop.

What are the goals I have for my readers and writers?
How can digital mentors support these goals? ( I will share 2 in this post and the rest in the following post)

1. I want my students to enjoy reading traditionally and digitally. After reading this article, Why Books Are Better Than E-Books, in the NY Times, I was a little disheartened about the work I am doing in the classroom to teach children about the value of digital reading. I know the value of children reading picture books as they turn the crisp pages anxious to see the next bright and beautiful image. Students sitting side by side a friend or a parent reading and talking about a picture book is irreplaceable. But, I also know that as a teacher I have to be a leader in teaching children how to read and access information online. Reading digitally has created an excitement for learning, allowed my students to easily come back to information, books or videos we explored at school, and read, share and comment on each other's ideas through the use of online reading and writing tools like blogs, wikis, etc.
Being able to read and think about the work that we do in the classroom only benefits students by deepening their learning.
I take time to introduce students to reading the same picture books we enjoy in the classroom online. Sites like Tumblebooks, AOL Kids, Toon Book Reader, Speakaboos and You Tube, National Geographic Kids , Pebble Go and Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears have supported the primary fiction and non-fiction reading we are exploring in the classroom. I love Tumble books because books like Duck Rabbit, Scaredy Squirrel, Diary of a Spider and Biscuit are all books kids can access and listen to on the site. AOL Kids features great books that I use for shared reading in the classroom. It has rhyming and song books that young kids need to hear again and again, it also has the entire Arthur series if you have Arthur fans in your room. Toon Book Reader features the graphic novel series for young readers and allows students to read the book on their own or have it read to them. Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears allowed us to read (ebook) and think about how real scientists live in Antarctica this week as we begin to think like scientists. I love this site because it offers stories for students about authentic issues in multiple forms and multiple levels ( texts though 5th grade and I would even use above). They have text only articles, text and picture print out books and e-books each with suggested grade level formats. So, I can introduce a text using the e-book, then later print out the same book for kids to add to their book bins. With three desktop computers in my classroom, children rotate turns during the independent portion of workshop allowing time for them to enjoy exploring and reading these sites. If I can lead them to smart places to read online, my hope is that they come back to explore these at home ( tools for how to help kids link to learning at school will come in later post) maybe alongside or more than the television character sites or online games.

2. I want my students to know authors. In the classroom, I have a number of strategies for helping my kids get to know authors. I place pictures of picture book authors on the baskets that line our bookshelves, I read the inside flap of a book sharing as much as I can about the person behind the story and I treat authors as movie stars when I talk about their ideas, craft and the messages they send in their writing. Then we create charts where we study what authors teach us in their books so students have a visual to help them remember what they can try in their own writing. I also think it is important to search for digital pieces that help us get to know authors. Book trailers, book introductions and readings and animated video featuring characters are all ways we can find more digitally about authors we love. A video of an author , I think can offer a more intimate and relatable way to show kids the person behind a book. As teachers we have to search for and introduce kids digitally to their favorites. Like, Bob Shea a picture book author that my kids love has a number of digital pieces that help us know him, why he writes and offers kids more to enjoy based his work with the Dinosaur vs. Bedtime series. After showing my students this video, I asked them to think about what they learned about Bob Shea.
Listening to him share why and who he writes for, seeing him in his living room and hearing his book, only helped my kids understand audience, purpose and the authenticity of a writer. This is a video I share in writer's workshop to help kids begin to identify their own audience and purpose for writing . Another digital mentor that kids not only enjoy but show them how authors create many stories from one idea are the dinosaur animated clips at Dinosaur vs. Disney. After showing these clips, I invite kids to think about the stories they have been writing and imagine more. When using the "making a movie in your mind" strategy to think back and more about a topic, kids can imagine more with a single idea. Alyssa for example wrote about the time she lost her tooth, then created 2 more books around this topic: putting it under her pillow and finding out what the tooth fairy brought the next day.

So much of the work I have been exploring using digital mentors has been embedded in my workshop. Whether a clip that introduces kids to thinking about a point I am making in mini lesson, or a place where kids can go to read deeper independently, kids are being introduced to places where they can think deeper. In my next post, I will continue to think about how digital mentors have made their way into our classroom supporting students sense of wonder, research, publishing and sharing.