Mark Your Calendars for K12Online Conference

What does “igniting innovation” mean to you?

Gamification

STEM

Genius Hour & Passion Driving Learning

Project Based Learning

If any of the above teaching practices came to your mind OR you want to know about exciting things teachers are doing around the world to spark interest and learning into their classrooms, then the K12 Online Conference is something you need to check out.

As stated on their website, the “K12 Online Conference is a FREE, online conference open to ANYONE organized by educators for educators around the world interested in integrating emerging technologies into classroom practice. A goal of the conference is to help educators make sense of and meet the needs of a continually changing learning landscape. This online conference provides an annual opportunity for educators around the world to share ideas and best practices relating to the use of web 2.0 tools for learning through an online conference.”

Every morning for the next two weeks (October 20th – October 31st), the conference posts video keynotes created by teachers on topics such as Gamification, STEAM & STEM, Stories for Learning, Genius Hour and Passion Driven Learning. This year’s keynotes include Joy Kirr, Kyle Dunbar, and Kevin Hodgson to name a few.

On October 30th, my presentation will also be part of the conference. “Moving From “Some Study I Used to Know” to Inquisitive Learning with Genius Hour & Passion Projects. Whether you are a veteran teacher of Genius Hour or looking to find out more about implementing Genius Hour in your classroom, this presentation addresses my own journey with my middle school students to implement Genius Hour with eighth grade students.

 

 
I based my presentation on the following video:

Here are additional resources mentioned in my presentation:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xFl9phtuOAwnHF4VsYVBr7Quvm9FJy09UEbh0fCM9Wo/pub

For the complete conference schedule Click Here.

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#ISTELitChat Sunday October 19, 2014 @8 PM EST

This upcoming Sunday I will be hosting a Twitter Chat for the ISTE Literacy PLN as part of Connected Educator Month. Please join us as we discuss literacy, technology, and ISTE.  Below are the questions to facilitate the chat. We hope that you can join us for an interesting and resourceful conversation.

Q1: Introduce yourself, where you are from and your role in education.

Q2:. How do you define literacy?

Q3: What does literacy in the content areas mean to you?

Q4: What does literacy in the content areas look like in your classroom/school? Please include a grade level and subject area.

Q5: What are you “go to” tech tools to promote literacy in the content areas?

Q6: How do you see technology supporting literacy in your content areas classroom?

Q7: Where do you learn about and or find inspiration for literacy and technology?

Q8: How can ISTE’s Literacy PLN support your needs to meet the literacy and technology standards embedded throughout the Common Core Learning Standards?

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Dolls, Vases, Fringes — Memoir Writing & Historical Artifacts

They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.

Dinner is a casual affair.

Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,

Tin flatware.

Two who are Mostly Good.

Two who have lived their day,

But keep on putting on their clothes

And putting things away.

And remembering . . .

Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,

As they lean over the beans in their rented back

room

that is full of beads and receipts and dolls

and cloths, tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.

– Gwendolyn Brooks

Dolls, Vases, & Fringes

We began class by reading aloud Gwendolyn Brook’s poem. Students were put into small groups and given an object from the cigar box pictured above. Students were to pretend that the object in their possession belonged to the couple described in the poem they just read. Students were to write a history of that object in the couple’s lives. Where did they get it? Why have they kept it? Where do they keep it in their rooms? What does it mean to them?

Students could write the collaborative piece in either the first person . . .”I remember when we got this . . .” or in third person . . .”The couple in the poem got this on the day they . . .” Be as specific as possible. Tell lots of details about the couple’s lives. Students were in effect, creating their memories. Making them as vivid and as interesting as possible.

After ten minutes we came together to share our histories as a whole class. Students also wrote down two or three possible titles for the poem.

The poem’s title is “The Bean Eaters” by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

This activity was designed by my classmate while at Syracuse University working on our teaching degrees. It is an activity that I use with both my middle school students as a text pairing with the short story “A Summer Tragedy” by Arna Bontemps. In addition, I use it with my graduate students to address the role of artifacts in our classroom to teach historical literacy and creative writing.

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Helping Students Build Better Introductory Paragraphs

I always begin the school year with my students writing an argumentative essay connected to their summer reading text.  I do not grade this first essay, but use it as a pre-assessment to gauge my students’ writing strengths and plan the lessons I need to  teach them to become better writers. To help my students understand the expectations for Common Core writing demands,  I spent three consecutive days in writing workshop mode to help my students rethink and revise their first essay for eighth grade.

Each day the workshop began with a ten mini lesson and interactive foldable about an element of the introductory paragraph and then the remaining twenty five minutes was used for writing workshop, revision, and individual conferences. The writing went from general and casual to specific textual details and elaboration with strong academic language. Below are the slides I used for the mini lessons and a handout that I created to help students break down the elements of the introductory paragraph.

 

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Get Them Writing!

I am currently in the middle of reading Kelly Sassi and Anne Ruggles Gere’s Writing on Demand for the Common Core State Standards Assessments (2014, Heinemann). My personal teaching goal this year is to focus on close writing with my students the way that I have focused on close reading. I plan to increase the amount of writing my students do to meet the demands of the Common Core Standards and improve their writing. I have always been told that in order to build better readers and writers, students need to read and write everyday in the classroom.

In Sassi and Gere’s text, three levels of writing are described:

Level 1 = writing is personal, informal, and ungraded

Level 2 = is for an audience, more formal, and graded

Level 3 = writing is public, formal, and high stakes

The authors state, “Writing skills are best developed at Level 1 and Level 2.” For every text my students read, they are writing Level 3 assessments. I am planning on bringing more Level 1 and 2 to engage my students in writing opportunities that engage  students. Below is a compilation of ten different writing opportunities I have compiled over the years that allow students opportunities to write for themselves and for pleasure.

1. Five Truths and One Lie – You probably know this ice breaker activity, students write down five true things about themselves and one lie. Their peers have to decipher the lie. Have students take one of the truths and tell a story.

2. Things that Irritate Me – Make a list of all the things that irritate you. Then choose one and write about it for five minutes, as a free write.

3. Writing Territories – I believe this writing activity comes from Nancie Atwell. Students brainstorm possible seed ideas and share out possible writing ideas. Students can take pieces and extend ideas or even write from a different point of view.

4. Write off One Line – Give your students a sentence starter to free write off of: “One thing about me that would surprise you…”

5. Talk to the Hand – Have students trace their hands and write in the hand interesting stories. Brainstorm all the things your hand has done today.

6. What I Wonder – Based on the book Ever Wonder Why, students generate a list of ten things they wonder about and then find the answer to write about. Students can compiled their own class set of Ever Wonder Why.

7. I am An Expert – Students generate a list of all their expertise and then write about what they know about these topics.

8. Worst Case Scenarios – Students write about a worst case scenario they fear the most.

9. The Most Boring Thing – What would be the most boring thing you can imagine. Write about it.

10. Write the Small Moments – Ralph Fletcher describes this strategy of giving students a visual photo to write about. Students pick a small moment from the photo and write about it. What is happening in the photo? Create the dialogue if there are people in the photo, what do they need to tell?

Students need to know that writing is important. Kelly Gallagher writes in Teaching Adolescent Writers, writing is hard, but hard is rewarding, writing makes you a better reader, and writing prepares you for the world of work.

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Tee Shirt Book Reports & Other Pin-spiration

Today my students brought their summer reading book reports on a tee shirt. The idea I found on Pinterest earlier this summer and cataloged with my “Must Use This” pin board. The shirts that my students designed were amazing.

The requirements of the assignment included the title and an image that represents the book on the front of the tee shirt. On the back, students were to write a summary about the book and include key quotes. I had students wear the shirts to class and then they each shared a 1-2 minute book talk about their book. I said fill up the canvas any which way they design: sharpies, paint, rhinestones, iron-ons. The outcomes were truly creative and unique.

We have decided to auction the tee shirts online in October and use the money raised to donate to the non-profit organization Give More Hugs. GMH strives to bring basic school supplies and resources to schools in need around the world. The auction link will be posted soon.

The concept for the tee shirt book report originated from The Polka Dotty Place Blog and Teaching My Friends blog. Even though both these blogs are elementary school level, my middle school students LOVED the project.

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#EdcampLI’s Rigor, Wonder, and Book Love

Saturday was amazing.  I attended #EdcampLI held at the Willet’s Road School in Roslyn Heights, Long Island and left energized and excited to go back to school on Monday. Some common threads addressed by the workshop leaders and attendees included: engagement, relevancy, growth mindset, and connections.

If you do not know much about EdCamps, they are anti-conferences or a choose your own professional development opportunity tied into one. Teachers and administrators show up to an Edcamp and can either lead a session or attend sessions presented by a host of educational experts. By educational experts I mean current teachers, administrators, authors, educational consultants and more. Edcamps are no to low cost and allow attendees to attend the workshops and discussions that are most meaningful to them. These unconferences are a great way to meet like-minded colleagues who are looking to improve and learn from one another.

Throughout the day I participated in four workshops, talked with a ton of people, tweeted nonstop, and made lots of connections. The two workshops left a lasting impression on me were Carol Varsalona and Blanca E. Duarte‘s interactive presentation Discovering Wonder: Increasing Student Engagement with Curiosity and Awe and JoEllen McCarthy‘s Book Love: New Titles, Tools and Tweeting to Energize All Readers & Writers!

Here are some sticking points:

Invite vigor and engagement into your classroom with wonder and passion.

To create WONDER in your classroom:

Redesign the literacy landscape — think outside of the box and create a classroom that promotes inquiry and excitement right when they walk in the door. It is not just about what you are doing in your classroom but also how your classroom is set up and looks. You want your classroom to be inviting and pleasing to one’s eyes.

Never stop learning. Use websites like Wonderopolis, Google Cultural Institute, Google Wonder Projects, Google Art Projects, and How Stuff Works with your students.

Check out and download Scholastic’s Open a World of Possible ebook that is filled with amazing essays written by authors, educators, and celebrities about their love of reading the role that books play in their lives.

Pair and Layer Texts

If you do not already follow The Nerdy Book Club on Twitter and the blog, then you should!

Here is one last secret that I will to share. I am currently in the process of organizing EdcampMville at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY for K-12 educators and also those in Higher Education this upcoming Spring 2015. The idea is to bridge educators of all grade levels and content areas together for a day of conversation, collaboration, and connecting. I will be sharing a lot more about this endeavor over the next few months. If you are interested in participating, please contact me.

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Sign Along the Dotted Line: Grading Contracts in the Classroom

Grading is tricky and as much as I would love to throw away all numerical and letter grades in my classroom, it is not a reality in the school where I currently teach. I envy those teachers who have created successful classrooms without grades like Pernilles Ripp author of the blog, BloggingThrough the Fourth Dimension. But until the opportunity arises in my district to eliminate those numbers and letters that are loaded with emotions, expectations, judgements, and measurement limitations, I have turned to contract grading as a way to balance my own concerns about the grading dilemma.

What is contract grading?

Think of a grading contract a clear set of guidelines. Students need to complete all the requirements in order to earn a possible grade. I allow my students to contract for an A or a B. Nothing less. The contract offers multiple opportunities for students to earn a specific grade, there is no “one shot grading.” Students are working throughout the marking period to earn the grade. Students determine how much effort they wish to put into the class and take responsibility for their own work. Individuals must meet a minimum of the requirements of the assignments as defined by the rubric. There are no letter or numerical grades for the specific requirements. Thus students’ grades are based on effort and achievement of meeting standards. I tell my students their efforts and participation have real effects on their own and other students’ abilities to learn and develop in class. 

Each marking period, 40% of my students’ grade in English 8 is based on the grading contract below.

Thus, 40% of a students’ grade is based on their own conscientious efforts and participation.  The criteria for each potential grade is directly tied to how much the student wishes to participate and how hard s/he is willing to work. 

Here are some elements of the current grading contract I have in place:

Characteristics of “B” Quality Work in English 8

  • Be fully prepared every day so that you can engage with the work of that day. Have all assigned reading and writing completed according to the specifications of the assignment and available at the beginning of the class period.
  • Bring a writing utensil and your Interactive Reading Journal to class every day.
  • Actively engage in a positive manner to class and group discussions:  pay close attention to what others are saying; respond respectfully and thoughtfully to others’ ideas; and be willing to offer input on a regular basis.
  • Be on time consistently.
  • Turn in all formal and informal assignments at the appropriate time and meet all the criteria for the assignment.
  • Maintain a neat and legible Interactive Reading Journal.
  • Read an Outside Reading (OSR) book each quarter and complete a project on the book. 
  • Complete a Genius Hour Project that positively impacts the community each semester and share your final product with the class

Characteristics of “A” Quality Work in English 8

Students will complete all the components of the “B” Quality Work and in addition,

  • Make revisions on formative & summative writing assessments – extending or changing the thinking or organization – not just touching up or editing minor errors.
  • Volunteer to participate in a Going Global* collaborative project  – come to x-period twice a month to complete a small project in collaboration with students around the world. *Going Global is a closed networking site through the Japan Society that allows teachers and students to interact, collaborate, and share ideas beyond our classroom walls.
  • Read an additional OSR book each quarter and participate in twitter book chats about the additional text.
  • Publish the Genius Hour Project  in a TED-style reflective presentation on the entire experience  

 

 

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25 Ways to Tell Your Students They Are Great

As another school year begins, I continue to brainstorm ways to give my students positive reinforcement. Below is a list of 25 ways to tell my students they are awesome and what they did is great. If you have additional ideas please post them in the comment section of this blog.

1. Super job!

2. Gold metal performance!

3. WOW!

4. Keep up the terrific work!

5. Intelligence strikes again!

6. Splendid Success!

7. You’re amazing!

8. First class all the way!

9. Unforgettable!

10. Unbelievably well done!

11. I admire what you’ve done!

12. You’re destined for greatness!

13. You always do your best!

14. You’ve exceeded my expectations!

15. Exemplary!

16. You really met the challenge!

17. Nothing is impossible for you!

18. Do it again!

19. Positively peak performance!

20. Your brilliance never ceases to amaze me!

21. Marvelous contribution!

22. Nice going!

23. You just keep getting better!

24. Exceptional!

25. You’re an inspiration to others!

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Alternative Book Reports to Promote Literature Rich Classrooms

What are our objectives when using literature in the classroom and curriculum?

To help you people find books that will be meaningful to them.

To help young people develop the habits of good readers – active readers – who make meaning of words on the page and take an active stance while reading.

Emphasize gender-fair and multicultural resources and the attitudes, interests, problems, and opportunities of young adults in contemporary society.

This summer I have gone on a young adult book binge and I am currently rethinking some of the book assessments that I offer to my students. I believe that teachers need to be interacting with young adult literature on a regular basis to explore current publications, revisit favorites, and discover new and renewed ways to connect young readers with books.  I strongly feel that teachers need to create options for students in assignments and culminating assessments. Projects should promote authentic learning and writing for real purposes.

Below are three different book assessments I have had my middle school students complete in lieu of a test to show me their reading and understanding of an independent reading text.

1. Bookseller’s Day – Hold a bookseller’s day in your classroom where each student will try and sell their independent reading book in a book talk and display. Students create a “pitch” to review and promote their book to whole class. Props, costumes, and music are encouraged and visual aids might include posters, book jackets of your own design, stickers, bookmarks, business cards, or postcards. Students prepare a  brief summary of the book, a book review, and if the book has been made into a movie, compare and contrast the book and the film.

2. Author’s Study allows students with a favorite author to complete an author’s study project. Students write a report or create a presentation that offers key biographical information about the author, genre of writing, key quotes from the author about their writing life and craft, pictures of the author and images of book covers. Students can create an annotated bibliography of the books the author has published and a one page reflection about how this writer inspired or influenced them.

3. Book Reviews – To help students dig deeper in reflection about a book he or she has read – and to avoid surface plot retelling that comes with traditional book report assignments – book reviews found in newspapers and magazines are an authentic method for evaluating a text. I often give my students guidelines for writing book reviews. Paragraph 1 offers a brief summary of the plot in 2-4 sentences with an attention grabber in the first sentence. Paragraph 2 addressed whether or not the reviewer recommends the book with reasons to back up his or her opinions. Paragraph 3 – When the book is finished, what stays with you?

Looking for more project ideas, I have written in previous posts about video projects and technology based projects to do with students as alternative book reports and assessments.

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