Tuesday, September 13, 2011

For the love of reading

It is only our fifth day  in school and it fills me with such pleasure as I gaze around my classroom during SSR (Sustained Silent Reading) and see so many children ... all 21 of them with their heads lowered over the pages of the various texts they have selected.

 I'm not surprised by what I see.  The culture of reading in our school is well established.  If I walked down the corridor to our Grade 8 rooms, I would see the same sight!

It's just that seeing them all engrossed in books just a few days after the start of the school year means they are already doing something positive and powerful for themselves.  When I eventually move into lessons about characterization and word choice and conflict and connections to texts, we will already have that shared experience of becoming engaged as readers.

And shared it is essential for me to practice what I preach!  I vary my material - novels at MY reading level/interest, university texts, and of course I regularly read new books that have have been ordered for our class library.

The kids SEE me as a reader.  

They also KNOW I am a reader when I can speak in an informed way about the books I am recommending.  When I determine from their interest surveys or a conversation that they prefer mysteries I can suggest everything from Cam Jansen to "How Come the Best Clues are Always in the Garbage?" to Encyclopedia Brown.


With so many things on my proverbial plate at this time of year, it was very easy to lose the sense of momentum I had felt earlier and equally easy to not make the time to do something I have so enjoyed...blogging.

It is also somewhat overwhelming when I read so many wonderful blogs and I wonder where they find the time!?  I have come to realize, of course, they carve it out, they take it early in the morning before they go to work (that doesn't fit me!!) or in bits and pieces throughout the day/evening or even across the whole week.  Whatever it takes... they take because they want and need to blog.

So I begin again and will do what I can when I can!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Blogging: Assessment and Learning

My students blog.  Going to a computer to write a post was a regular occurrence last year;  often students worked on them at home "just because"!

Adding various audiovisual clips was something many undertook to enhance their piece.

Quite a few were able to use hyperlinks to connect other useful and interesting sites to their posts.

All of them provided feedback to each other and responded to the comments received, carrying on a enthusiastic conversation with other readers in other parts of the world.  In addition to their individual blogs, the kids collaborated on posts about topics of mutual interest (or just to share the 'work'!)

As the year went on and we became more comfortable with how and what to do, we had a discussion about how blogging fit in our 'photo album' approach to assessment:

~Not everything they do has to go in the album
~They have some say in choosing items to be considered for the album
~Some blurry 'shots' can be removed from the album
~Over time growth should be evident
~Sometimes pictures get taken that you don't necessarily want to be 'in' but you try to give your best 'smile'!]

By the end of the first term (September to November here) my kids are used to thinking about assessment in three ways:

When Teachers Cheat?

I was appalled when I picked up on the headlines that have blazed across the front pages of so many American newspapers recently.

Over 30 schools in New Jersey are being investigated because an unusually high number of answers were erased and corrected.  An ultimatum has been issued to teachers in Atlanta to resign or be fired over testing improprieties.

WHY would teachers cheat?  What could possibly be behind such unethical decision-making?  Why would so many risk their jobs?

I'm not condoning the choices made by these teachers and the principals involved but...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quick post about Quad-blogging

Not so long ago I was skimming my Twitter ( skimming 'because I was supposed to working on a grad course paper and having a quick look was my treat to myself!) and I noticed a post about blogging...which is coincidentally the thrust of my research! (more on that later perhaps).

It was a ReTweet ( RT ) ...about a variation of blogging called QUADblogging!  Coming from @coolcatteacher I knew it was worth having a look! : )

I immediately realized it had an added dimension that would build on the experience of blogging for my students.  I like to try something new each year!

In this activity, you sign up to be part of a group of four schools. For a week at a time, each school's class blog(s) will be the  center of attention! 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Begonias, Bookbags and Summer Reading

I have new residents for my perennial beds, patio and table tops! Many of my students, and parents, are aware of my love of gardening and so, among other thoughtful gifts I received last week, were bouquets of varying combinations and several potted plants!
A lovely pink Asiatic Lily is now tucked in front of my pink Monkshood in one of my perennial beds and two pots of hanging crimson begonias now sit on my back step greeting visitors as they knock on the door.  The vases full of cut flowers add a splash of brightness in several spots around my house!

I always feel strange about this tradition of gift-giving to teachers at year end.   I don't expect anything; and I know many of my parents cannot afford a hanging basket. I wish they all knew I'm not judging anything on the size or extravagance of the gift. I remind myself that many of the gifts come from the heart and to accept them graciously. The thank-you card or small box of chocolates they did send was equally touching.  Even the inexpensive but unattractive ornament sent along means something to me;  perhaps they noticed  the little things I did to try and boost their daughter's confidence or maybe it was to say thanks again for spending a few extra afternoons on reading place value charts with their son!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Time Flies

Can't I have a few more weeks? A month? They've come so far! They're just where I want them to be!   Can't I have just a little more time to reap the rewards of my work?  OUR work together. Please?!

 June arrived too quickly and with it  has come the realization that this wonderful, quirky bunch of ten year-olds will shortly be leaving on summer holidays.  I don't feel ready to let them leave...

Monday, May 23, 2011

So Worth It!

You know this kid.  He
~ grumbles about anything that looks like 'work',
~ takes forever to get supplies out of his cubicle,
~calls out across class to his buddy about what's on his mind,
~ slams his exercise book on the table with grunts of "I don't get this" or "whadda we got to learn that for?"
~runs when he's supposed to walk,
~ and is quick to find fault in any situation and  especially with what you're trying to do.

 He regularly tries your patience!

Last week I watched that kid race toward me across the grass with a piece of litter in his outstretched hand and I almost cried thinking our school year together is almost over.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

iPads, Playtime & Policy-making

Should young children be given iPads in school?  That's being debated in Auburn, Maine as the kindergartners there are taking part in a pilot project.  My first thought was "lucky class"!  However, I began to wonder if this wasn't a question to at least consider further, as I began to read Abigal Curtis' article .
We can't get away from the fact that gadgets: handheld electronic devices, cell phones, portable DVD players,mP3 players, DSIs, point and click digital cameras and computers in various shapes, sizes and colours, to name a few, are part and parcel of young children's life experiences.  We can only hope that they also get lots of opportunities to play outside in the mud, chase bubbles and curl up to someone sharing books with them before they come to school. 

As a former primary teacher, I am familiar with the necessity/dilemma of finding a balance between learning through play and learning in the expected 'academic style' – those more traditional paper and pencil/book learning tasks we associate with school.  How would having iPads change and impact the teaching and learning appropriate with such young students? Could it add to a teacher's repertoire or would it be more of a distraction?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Heritage Fairs and Passion-Based Learning

"I have a vegetable garden just like my pop did when he was a boy.  Can I do my project about that?"
"Can I do mine about my great aunt?  She used to be a postmistress and she used a telegraph like Marconi!"
"Miss, what was the name of that novel you read from? You know the one about the boy who was in the  Great War.  My great-grandfather was in that war."
" I'm doing mine about going fishing with Pop, even though I'm a girl."

One of the most intensely busy times in my classroom each year is when we take on our annual Heritage Fair projects.  Each student must choose a topic that will include various aspects of research, usually on an aspect of  our rich local history.  The goal is to find some personally interesting story in the closets, collections or cupboards of our homes and share them with classmates and the community at large!

We are fortunate to live in a historic community that has been settled for over four hundred years!  This small community on the most eastern coast of Canada  is said to be the landfall of Giovanni Caboto - John Cabot, the Italian explorer who 'discovered' the new-founde-lande for the King of England in 1947.  Many of the families have been here for generations with strong ties to the inshore fishery.  While much of the original infrastructure has been lost, there are over 1000 houses whose 'bones' are well over one hundred years old.

So...finding a family connection to a story is not difficult.  This year alone topics included  projects about relatives who served in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment,and the Royal Canadian Navy; local built heritage,  and Women's Work with projects focused on Quilting, Doing Laundry, Knitting, Making Bread, and Jam Making.  Hunting and trapping, particularly of rabbits and the more recently- introduced moose; farming traditions with the local connection to the use of root cellars, were also completed.

The students are fascinated to find out how to build these structures, how efficient and necessary they were for keeping vegetables and other foodstuffs over the winter and of course personal stories such as the one about accidently getting shut in one for a few hours!  They often work with family members to build replicas, with removable sod roofs  so visitors can view the interior storage areas.  The hands-on learning involved in the projects is invaluable to the cultural connections made.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Travel Plans

As I return from this Easter break and catch up on reading in Twitter and some updates from my favourite bloggers, I feel a little overwhelmed!  I am struck by how much is being done; how much is available to those of us trying to authentically integrate technology within our classrooms and curriculum.  I feel like I’m in a travel agency where there are attractive images all around me of beautiful places that entice me to many different destinations.  
Wish this is where I went for holiday!

The question almost seems to be do I take an e-tour; a package where I can take in the sites of many places of interest or do I customize my travels and spend longer in one area, really getting to know all that makes that place unique?  I’d say fellow travellers will say that both offer positive possibilities!
You can judge yourself accordingly.  How comfortable
 are you with technology?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Checking the List; Learning and Teaching in the 21st Century!

I read an interesting post tonight on  Cyndi Danner-Kuhn's blog Technology Bits Bytes And Nibbles that gave me pause for a moment.  It was a list of 21 things that indicate you are a 21st century teacher. I was delighted to see I have accomplished many, including:

1. You require your students to use a variety of sources for their research projects…and they cite blogs, podcasts, and interviews they've conducted via Skype.

Just beginning to but... room to grow for sure!  My students blog regularly, and have recently begun to collaborate in pairs and small groups to add to a second Class Blog.  They are beginning to look at other sites for research purposes as we continue with our Heritage Fair projects. (More on that in a later post, for sure!)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How Fast Should We Be Going?

We're definitely on a highway.  Some of the cars have powerful engines and can zip around our reliable model and zoom ahead, quickly disappearing ahead in the distance.  I understand.  I, too, have been in the car when my husband passed the driver hunched over the steering wheel trying to drive straight ahead at the same steady speed.  I have often wondered if there is anything to be gained by the five minute difference in arrival times!  Is there any advantage to getting there first?  I have pointed out (not too often!) that we're all headed in the same direction.  Do we really know what lies ahead?  What if there's something unexpected around the bend?

Monday, April 11, 2011

Collaborative Blogging, Sheep's Wool and Lots of Correcting

Ah, the reality of how I want to teach and how I am (sometimes) required to teach!  Two conflicting aspects of our teaching profession have both been quite evident today!

My students and I have decided to add another 'class' to our Kidblog site and use it to upload pieces they work on together.  They have lots of thing in mind: group book responses, our Beothuk projects, perhaps a 'newspaper' about our shared class experiences, Public Service Announcements, digital stories and so on. To walk around my room this morning and see the kids huddled at tables, on the floor and out in the hallway making plans is the kind of rewarding response I get in my classroom on a regular basis.  My kids are not expecting me to lead in all areas, to tell them what they want to learn about (all the time), nor do they think anymore I expect them to complete the same assignment on the same material.  And so I get things like this happening:

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Feedback Is Fantastic

Thanks to and the Twitter hashtag #comments4kids I sent out and /or adding our blog URL to Sue Walter's & team's great site The Edublogger , our Kidsblog site has heard from other teachers! And I thank those two teachers who took the time to drop in and respond to my post and to some of the writings of the children.  I don't know who was more excited - them or me!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Positive Points and Parent Talks

I love parent-teacher conferences, especially in second term.  I have so much more to say and so much more stuff to share!  By now, personalities have emerged along with academic strengths and weaknesses.  By now, the class dynamic has settled into productive and manageable relationships and routines. And by this time of the year the students have grown into their own in terms of the projects and such in their portfolios.

When parents/guardians came to visit our classroom today they were greeted with Art displays, Wordles created about different aspects of our curriculum, the Beothuk village, poetry anthologies, Math posters, and a Science project about mass and volume.  I'd like to think that parents of the few students who may be going home saying "nothing" to that proverbial question about their day in school, were left with a clearer impression of what we have been up to lately.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Making the Next Step

Well, we are nearly there!  After much talk, we are going to put it out there that we WANT comments!

To do that I am going to add our class blog to  and see what happens. Of course, as I explained to the kids, we may have to jump in and make the first move by commenting on another class's blog.  No problem!

Apparently another way to get the word out is to use a Twitter account and tweet something like the the following
  grade five class wanting comments #comments4kids.

Then anyone who is also interested in garnering followers for their class and sees that hashtag (that's the # followed by a group of words) will be able to make that connection!   And anyone who knows Twitter, knows that the word spreads by people retweeting that post!

 We should get a class commenting soon!

(Actually having a Twitter account is a terrific way to follow and connect with other like-minded teachers and educators! Or family and friends. Or a multitude of sources of information on any topic imaginable.  So you just might want to do it for yourself.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Time Constraints and Cups of Tea

The real world of my teaching life has kept me so busy lately and too busy to regularly get back to blogging.  The period of time before report cards go home to parents is filled with such activity; wrap-ups of units, some testing, gathering of work samples for portfolios, student self-assessments, group evaluations, reading logs, applying rubrics for Math journals and so on.

I have been so impressed by the students' engagement in the selection of work for their Language Arts portfolio.  I had them complete a template- "Three Stars and a Wish".  From their Workshop Folders (all independently chosen texts and topics) and their Writing Journals (Demand pieces in which the topic and genre is assigned to whole class) they were asked to choose their best work.

Then they had to indicate what in particular they felt this piece showcased.  It's amazing how they critiqued their own work and were able to say "Look at how I used figurative language here!", "I put more detail here so you can see what I'm talking about" or "I'll bet this opening really caught your attention!"

And the 'Wish'? Well, what piece do they wish they had spent more time on?  What would they have done to move it up?  Here many of them were tougher on themselves than you might think!!

After spending days going through all this material, came the reflection on how and what to say about each of the students in the comment section of the report card- a very small space to try and share all that I have come to know about that child in this second term.  I sat before the computer with my notes and hot cups of tea (that often went cold as I thought and thought) to try and capture the progress, the growth over the term made in so many ways.

The words sound trite, contrived, teacher-talky, incomplete somehow compared to the living, breathing, creative children I am writing about!  I do think some sincerity comes through as does a limited overview of where the children are right now but I am not satisfied with the report card itself at the end of the day.  I can only hope that the time spent examining their child's portfolio (not to mention conversations, calls and notes previously exchanged) will help paint the picture for parents that my words may not.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The World Wide Web of Kidbloggers!

The other day, right in the middle of silent reading no less, one of my students exclaimed, "There must be other kids doing it, too!"  After everyone stopped laughing  : ), he explained how he was wondering what and where other classrooms might be ... who also blogged.  This prompted a great discussion on what would we hope to see in these other blogs:
  • something about where their school/community is
  • information about their school day
  • examples of the type of projects they do~student work
  • creative pieces
  • book responses

The students then reflected on some ways we might build our blog to show similar things.  Several students are drafting independently chosen pieces to post.  Others suggested our recent Social Studies project on the Beothuk, including some of the snaps, should be a post.  Some work is going to be done about our town to be added.  This prompted another discussion ...this time about wikis.  

This blogging has been the inspiration for writing in a way that is sometimes more contrived and feels like an assignment. .

Needless to say that sent me back to the computer to look for classrooms that might be (actually I knew there MUST be) interested in such a relationship.   More on that after I make contact with these other learning communities!

Come on...Comment!

One of the goals of  having the students writing a blog is that they see a purpose in effectively communicating their thoughts, ideas, opinions and information.  Knowing that they have an 'outside audience', besides me, motivates them when they consider topics, organization, revision and editing.

Being able to comment on each other's posts has been a positive by-product of the on-line blogging process.  Seeing someone's words on the screen is a  terrific reinforcement.  Given that I can't provide feedback as often as I would like, enabling the students to respond to each other lessens this interesting but sometimes time-consuming task.  As well, the look on their face when they log on and see the comment number has changed is wonderful.

We have spent some time on how to provide feedback when commenting.  As we have already established the practice of constructive criticism in our writing circles/conferences, the students know how to look for positive (and authentic) things to say and how to ask a question that leads a writer to re-examine or clarify a point.

 "I really liked the point where you..."    "The part where you... worked well."    "I agree with you when you say ..." " If you tried...., this would be clearer to me."      "Could you tell me more about...."

So we are trying to build on that type of verbal, respectful response when we write to each other about our blog posts.

We are about to open up our site to parents who will have guest passwords.  I will be sending home, and posting, about how to respond  to their child, and others, in a similar manner.  The kids will know the difference between a real comment and the somewhat vacuous "good job!"

Though I am sure they will appreciate all the responses!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Learn As You Go!

Being new at something means you can try it, and revise it until you get closer to what it is you want to accomplish. This is true in blogging for sure! 
While the initial interest in blogging was high in my Grade Five classroom, it has not been sustained over the last few weeks, in particular. The level of participation has waned -only somewhat - but I want to re-examine what was happening, especially as it pertains to my classroom practice. (Many had been posting and commenting at home as well.)  Given that I had not set particular times in school for blogging but was letting it fit into the independent choices students could make was likely, I figured, to be the main factor. 

Blogs:Personal Learning Spaces

David Truss' video captures a shared point of view; that I want  a blog, my blog, to be my personal learning space!  I want to continue to find out about the role technology can play in the teaching and learning that occurs inside (and out of) my classroom.  I do hope to network with other educators and build my repertoire based on some of the activities already tried by other teachers!  (Perhaps I will be an influence on someone else.)
One of the things I have learned about myself as I began to incorporate more digital literacies into my practice is I enjoy trying new things and am not afraid of taking risks!  Everyone is a beginner, a novice until they become experienced! And there's only one way to get that! One step at a time or jumping in with two feet; whatever works!
I have plans for using blogs that I am confident will enhance my students' experiences this year (and next year and ...) That blogging will expand our shared learning space is obvious.  That blogging will give my students increased responsibility for their own learning is one of the positive side effects of blogging.

"The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught but that every child should be given the wish to learn." John Lubbock

I have no doubt that BLOGGING has the potential to make that wish come true!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Getting Started with Kid Blogging

I chose to use Kidblog, a highly recommended site for elementary students.  It was quick (and easy) to set up and I used our school password system as their entry point.  You can create simple passwords for your students if there isn't something already in place. Once you’re in, the dashboard makes keeping track of who and what simple!
To link blogging to Reading Responses already being created by my students, I asked them (in a blog post naturally!) to blog about the books they were reading in our Independent Reading Program.   This then became a self-paced activity, although I asked everyone to post within the first week.  Students may compose and save their posts as drafts first if they choose; allowing them the opportunity to re-read and revise their work before setting it as ‘pending (my) review’.
One of the discussions we had about writing a blog was about its form.  The Book Responses I set as their first blog/task can be written in different styles –journal, informational reports, letters, lists, and poems - structures they had been introduced to and were comfortable with.  That made it a less daunting activity (though I don’t think children find much of anything related to technology daunting!)

 These blogs rule. It rules beacuse I can post and share my opinion about my books.
 As we moved into self-generated pieces “Hot Topics”, we discussed the tone- almost conversational -that would be more appropriate.

Bike helmets should be mandatory because if you didn't have a helmet on you could fall off and hurt yourself by cracking you skull and doing more damage.  But with a helmet on it could SAVE your life!!!  I had an accident one time I was flying jumps on paddle bike with no helmet and badly hurt myself:(

Understanding that the dialogue / comments they make on each other’s posts would also be made public generated a discussion about respect –on and offline.  We have worked throughout the first half of the year on the practice of “constructive criticism” but the students had to be made even more aware of their ‘cyber-manners’.  We talked about sharing our thoughts, ideas and opinions in a considerate way while being true to our purpose.

Great Post Emily!!
I was wondering if you would recommend this book for me. I saw you reading it so I didn’t want to distract you.I was also wondering what genre it is.
Keep Reading (:

 As we move into blogs about our classroom activities, the notion of sharing events that are positive and respectful of all members of our classroom community will be revisited.
Kidblog allows you (the teacher) to view and edit all postings before they are ‘published’.  I asked my students what they thought of this feature.  They recognized and endorsed my role as ‘chief editor’ being important here, as their work would be shared with a much wider audience and it should look “polished”.  One of the things I like about using this platform is the easy access I have to pieces of work.   I can use this tool (from home) to leave quick comments and suggestions about editing, spelling strategies, word meanings and content like any other writing conference.   The students respond positively to seeing my feedback on their post (I often leave it in coloured font!) and they seem to be taking it in more readily than other mini-conferences I hold with them.

Hey there! I really liked the way you organized your thoughts about using bottled water in schools.  Remember the meeting we had about spelling there/their/they're?  You have two places where you could have used 'they are'; check that out and then we'll send this piece to the publisher!

It was made clear through discussion that the expectations for final draft quality would also apply to efforts in writing the blogs.  An ongoing concern of many (parents and teachers) relates to students’ use- or lack of- spelling strategies and using texting terms in their written responses.  Using Kidblog allows for a level of intervention that can be determined by the teacher.  You can leave it open; that depends on your comfort zone and the age of your students, I would think.  My intention is to use a model of gradual release as they develop that sense of ownership while learning/practicing effective revising/editing strategies (peer and independent).

Getting started is a little time-consuming but the results are definitely worth it! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why have our students blog?

Blogs have an incredible potential for learning, including the built-in opportunity to practice writing in an authentic way, the chance to reflect upon one’s thinking and that of others in an online community that can be wider than one can usually imagine!
Using a platforms like Kidblog allows a teacher to set up a forum that has many facets that support and enhance reading, writing, viewing, listening, creating, analyzing, responding...  It can be as simple as logging on and reacting to a post by the teacher, to completing open-ended responses and assignments.  As part of an in-class community, being able to interact with classmates about a variety of topics allows for respectful responses and constructive criticism. 
The blog can also be a journal of the class’ experiences together.  Sharing with parents, family, and the community at large provides a chance to highlight classroom activities while learning what to select as worthy of inclusion.  Taking into consideration the immediacy of the audience, the bloggers can be encouraged to write more descriptively; framing their writing with a ‘formal’ language appropriate to the situation.  Having that audience also provides a real reason for applying the conventions of written text-- what you communicate should be as clearly well-written as you can manage!
One of the other key reasons for blogging with our students lies with the nature of the technology involved in blogging.  Students today need to be introduced to the interactive, communicative reality of the Internet where they can create a wide variety of digital texts to share for a multitude of purposes. Blogging can, and should, move beyond the traditional print  level of response quickly as students learn to create, insert and embed audio, video and images from many sources. 
 The possibilities are endless, unique and intriguing!


Beginnings are important.  They are the signposts from which we gauge growth, change, our movement forward. This change is very evident when I look at the ways technology has become part of my life, and in particular my teaching practice.  It has been a gradual process but ever since I began, I have been excited about the many ways I can make use of the tools and technology in my classroom.
My own beginnings as a teacher, while relatively fresh in my mind, certainly indicate to me that I have changed, that I am no longer in the same spot!  That's a good thing.  From the first computers I used in school for (simple) games and word-processing to the multi-modal projects and global access now possible, there has been an incredible, fast-paced movement forward.  I look back to the 'beginning' and marvel what has become available since then!  There is no way I could remain static and comfortable doing the same things I did, even a few years ago, in today's digital world.
I believe that it is absolutely necessary that I strive to embed technologies in my daily practice, that I teach the children how to make the most of digital tools, collaboratively and purposefully with each other.  I also recognize that my students come to school, already competent with devices, programs and applications --knowledgeable in ways I need to use.  Learning from and with my students is part of the pleasure; we are on this trip together, a fact that I find immensely satisfying.  (I don't have to pretend I know it all already!)
So, to that end, this is a beginning for me; a promise to myself and my students to continue the journey.  I will keep an eye out for other 'travelers' who want to tag along. I will seek the expertise of those who are willing to share and head us in the 'right direction' (perhaps to a new 'treasure'?)  Any 'map' I can use, I will; though I love side trips so who knows where this might take me!