Museums Tell Stories: Behind the scenes of AMNH

Last night I had the amazing opportunity to go behind the scenes of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. It was early evening and the museum was closed to the public. My tour guide was a writer for the museum and she talked about finding the stories in exhibits.

Today, a writer’s job is not just to list the facts. Rather, people are drawn to stories and personal connections. The details presented on the exhibit walls are snippets of stories about our history, our world, our environment. The museum has more than 33 million artifacts and specimens in its collection and only a fraction are on view for the public. To learn more about some of the amazing stories about the artifacts behind the scenes of the museum, you can visit the AMNH blog Shelf Life which offers videos detailing the rarely seen items in the American Museum of Natural History.

My favorite episode so far is Episode Eight: The Voyage of a Giant Squid which describes how a giant frozen squid was transported from New Zealand to the United States. To get the giant squid through customs, it had to be identified as frozen seafood and sushi in order to be brought to the museum for research purposes. The references to giant squids in mythology and classical literature like Jules Verne’s 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea are brought to life when we see an actual giant squid or gargantuan size exhibit at the museums and listen to the tales told by scientists and paleontologists.

The museum also has an App that offers snippets of stories and backstories to the museum’s more famous items on display. To view the giant whale being cleaned or to learn how the giant sequoia tree was brought inside the museum, the app offers more photos and videos to the questions you want to know more about.

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Whether you live near New York City or are on the other side of the country, the American Museum of Natural History has resources available to ALL teachers and students with curious minds on it’s website. There are curriculum materials, online seminars, and professional development material connecting with the Common Core Standards that any teacher can access to learn more and to discover fascinating stories to share with our students about our world past and present.

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10 Picture Books that Celebrate Creativity, Invention & Genius

Okay, I will admit that I am a picture book junkie. Even as my own children outgrow picture books and move into chapter books, I still collect picture books to share with my students as well as read with my own kids. Picture books are glorious short stories with inspiring pictures that speak about big ideas in a limited amount of words.

Previously, I have written blog posts on the power of picture books to inspire students of all ages.  I have found so many new great titles that I will be sharing with my middle school students for read alouds, genius hour, and just for fun.

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5 Animated Shorts for Teaching Literary Concepts & Notice and Note Signposts

Short films are great ways to teach literary concepts, figurative language and Notice and Note Signposts.  I have pulled some of my favorite short animations with the help of the Jacob Burns Film Center.

Fridge Princess

This is a great short to use as a metaphor for the revision and editing process of writing.

A Kiss, Deferred

This memoir touches on so many elements from memoir, point of view, ah ha moments, contrasts and contradictions, flashback, and memory moments.

You Look Scary

This short gem of a film plays on color and character to emphasize point of view and contrasts and contradictions.

Mend and Make Do

A fascinating stop motion animation, is all a memory moment and words of the wiser.

Glued

Again, another good short animation for teaching point of view, conflict, contrasts and contradictions, and a ha moments.

 

The Four Hour Teacher: 10X Student & Teacher Output

When you look at your daily or weekly lessons, what are you filling up your time with in your classroom?

This is a question that I ask myself often to help strengthen student learning and reflect on my own teaching practices. My intentions in my classroom are to teach what is important, limit and eliminate wasteful worksheets or information to help my students succeed and learn in deep ways.

Before I address how teachers can do the same in their own classrooms, I want to talk about why and what prompted this vision for teaching.

I am a HUGE fan of Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week, The Four Hour Body, and The Four Hour Chef. The concept behind his books and podcasts are to strip down information to the essentials tools and knowledge in order to optimize output ten fold.  Ferriss is an entrepreneur, writer, and teacher. In fact, he has said he always thought that he would be a ninth grade English teacher. His books are like cliff notes to mastering cooking, weight loss, and managing time. His podcasts are interviews with amazing entrepreneurs that taps into their own successes, mindset, and rituals that got them to where they are.

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Work versus busy work. Efficiency. Filtering the “signal from the noise.” These are the ideas that I transfer into my teaching and classroom to accelerate learning. It’s about searching out what works in education and literacy learning to dedicate my class time to developing students’ reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing skills. This means “engaging students in the best learning opportunities” (Frey, Lapp, Hattie, 2016). In my own classroom these learning opportunities include: Genius Hour, Interactive Reading Notebooks, Gamification, Articles of the Week, Reading and Writing Workshop. These are the approaches and tools that help me meet the variety of learners in my classroom. At the same time, I hone in on the purpose, context, and timing of the practices students are engaged in my classroom on a daily basis.

What does that look like in my classroom? Here is the calendar I created  last week for the first semester of school (20 weeks). The calendar outlines the units of study I will dive into with my students along with the skills and topics I teach in order to provide students the opportunities to build on and improve their abilities as readers and writers.

Want more on Tim Ferriss?  Here are three of my favorite podcasts he has done that offer insight into this mindset and philosophy on learning.

  1. Tim Ferriss featured on Freakonomics
  2. Tim Ferriss interviews Malcolm Gladwell
  3. How to Think Like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos
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5 Professional Books to Strengthen Student Learning

I have spent the past two weeks binge reading professional books published this year. Reading professional books about teaching allows me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look into new ways to support the learners in my classroom. All of the books   inform my thinking about literacy in order to strengthen students’ reading and writing.

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Let’s begin by throwing out everything you know and teach about the literary essay in secondary school. The formula for teaching essays in schools is not really an “essay.” Katherine Bomer’s The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them (Heinemann, 2016) shares some of the most beautifully crafted essays throughout her book as she calls for the need to revise what we think we already know about teaching and writing essays. Each chapter of her book takes the reader through the “essaying” process from reading closely to crafting powerful essays. Bomer defines essays as “nonfiction prose, whose author unveils a central idea about the world and its occupants and invites – with bold, sometimes lyrical exposition and interesting kaleidoscope of facts, observations, memories, anecdotes, and quotes from others – readers to watch him or her think about that idea for a few pages.” (p.22) She argues the problems with standardized essays forms and supports utilizing the essay for the practice of “writing to think.” Bomer offers strategies to help get ideas down on paper and hones in on the craft moves of great essayists. The book includes powerful essays and essay excerpts from Brian Doyle, LeBron James, Roxane Gay, and dozens more.

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Fisher, Frey, and Lapp’s, Text Complexity: Stretching Readers With Texts and Tasks, 2nd Edition (Corwin & ILA, 2016) addresses the quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity so teachers can make instructional and assessment decisions to support students as readers. The authors discuss all the characteristics of the reader and a text to consider.  For example, when considering the reader teachers cannot ignore background knowledge, fluency, cultural knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge for text selection and teaching. When choosing a text, teachers must analyze the text for levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language and knowledge demands. These considerations allow teachers to “plan appropriate instruction and strategically guide the development of their learners.” (p. 67) The book contains a number of checklists and tables that highlight the strategies and skills needed to build students’ knowledge. Fisher, Fray and Lapp describe teacher led tasks like Think Alouds, Close Reading, Scaffolding, and Collaborative Conversations as examples of strategies to help students read more, read widely, and read deeply, in order to develop life long readers.

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Years ago I read a book by Robyn R. Jackson titled Never Work Harder Than Your Students (ACSD, 2009) which addressed having students do the difficult work of learning to build stamina and knowledge. Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse, 2016) takes a similar vein to Jackson’s work and looks specifically at Read Alouds, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading in order for teachers to push students towards leading the conversations about books and reading. By asking students, “What could you try?” puts students in the driver seat instead of scaffolding, front loading, or telling students the answers. We want students be in the driver seat rather than autopilot in our classrooms to thinking deeply and construct meaning versus teachers constructing meaning for students. Constructing meaning should be done by our students and Burkins and Yaris offer strategies and prompts that make stronger readers. Looking to maximize our students’ roles, teachers become facilitators so that students can apply what they know and think.
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Both Who’s Doing All the Work? and Text Complexity address a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). As Dweck states in an article for EdWeek, “Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”

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Struggle is natural and learning can be challenging, it’s how students respond to challenge, struggle, and the hard parts is what really matters.  Gravity Goldberg’s Mindsets & Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (Corwin, 2016) is an ode to growth mindset in the classroom. Building on the works of Dweck, Angela Duckwork’s Grit and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Goldberg describes the new role of teachers as miners, mirror, models, and mentors to encourage a “stronger appetite for learning” among our students. Teachers must first admire their students, give detailed and effective feedback, show students what we do as readers, and then guide students towards ways of reading that work for them. Goldberg offers a visual tour of effective classrooms through pictures, descriptions, charts, and lessons.

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Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Robert’s DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence (Heinemann, 2016) offered four teaching tools to bring into the classroom as scaffolds and supports for student learning. Teaching charts, Bookmarks, Micro Progression Charts, and Demonstration Notebooks are four visual tools that explain ideas, clarify, and illustrate skills and techniques so students can turn around and recall key ideas taught.  As a teacher who already uses charts and demonstration notebooks, the micro progression charts and bookmarks were two artifacts that I plan on bringing back to my classroom and utilizing with my students. The micro-progressions of skills chart articulates criteria for students the different levels of that skill and creates a model for each level. Below is a picture of an example of a micro progression chart.

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image from https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/565312636_295x166.jpg

We all have our favorite professional texts for teaching reading and writing. The books mentioned here offer great insight and teaching moves to support students as critical thinkers, readers, and writers.

If you have any professional books you recently read and find helpful with teaching literacy, please share in the Comments section on this blog.

 

 

 

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#ILA16 Take Aways

In her essay “Beyond Bread and Cheese: The Artisanal Approach to Teaching and Learning” (2016, Moffly Media) author and Head of School at The Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, Meera Viswanathan describes a trend in education away from “industrialized learning” towards something that more personalized, relational, and authentic.

Good teaching is not mass produced and neither are best practices. Engaged learning is artisinally-produced. Viswanathan writes, “Rather than following dicta set by others without reconsideration, the craftsman aspires to something more ideal, a transcendent possibility in both small and large ways.” Hence, good teachers are personal, relational, embrace possibility, and are always perfecting their craft – “that each endeavor is not a replica of what came before, but rather creative experimentation within a limited framework towards some new possibility, something better, something approaching the ideal.”

Attending the International Literacy Association Annual Conference this past weekend encouraged introspection, self-reflection, and critique of artisanal teaching practices and intentions.

  1. The classroom is a place to introduce students to new worlds, worlds that we could not have imagined and imagine for the better. Key note speakers, Adora Svitak and Kwame Alexander emphasized the need for teachers and students to work on understanding suffering that is going on in our communities as well as the suffering happening around the world in order to help imagine a better world. Literature is a catalyst to transform the world. Teachers need to teach diverse books and tackle tough topics. We gain so much when we read and write.IMG_6720
  2. The classroom should introduce students to the possibility of deep sustained engagement and wonder with ideas, the world, and life around us. Students are more invested when they are engaged. The theme of the conference was “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0” – Students have the power of technology to search and seek what they want to know. Learning in the classroom is not about the acquisition of information anymore. Our classrooms need to be places where students have VOICE and CHOICE to discover, explore, wonder about the world and their own interests. Reading and Writing Workshop, Genius Hour, and Passion Projects are all teaching practices that allow students to personalize learning and transcend what is. Technology has the power to expand the walls of our classrooms around the world and across the universe.IMG_6718
  3. Teachers and students must learn to question their own assumptions and recognize the limitations of their thoughts, thereby expanding horizons. Critique and self reflection are for the cultivation of alternative viewpoints and perspectives. Compassion and empathy are based on opening oneself up to others, ideas, and experiences. Students need to hear, read, and see diverse texts, genres, to learn about the world and what is possible. Engaging in conversations about the world and the recent events in our community can help empower young people. This can also help transform our classrooms into authentic, active, and relevant learning spaces all students want to participate and be a part of.
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Transforming Writer’s Lives With Digital Tools #ILA16

Later this week I will be heading to Boston for the International Literacy Association Annual Conference in Boston, MA. I am excited to be presenting with two of my esteemed colleagues: poet, Laura Purdie Salas and blogger and literacy consultant, Carol Varsalona.

Our hands on workshop will present a series of creative and collaborative activities  integrating art and technology with literacy. More than a dozen digital tools and resources will be featured to examine, explore, and share, including Google Docs, word clouds, KidBlog, photo-editing tools: PicMonkey, Canva, PicLits, and Wonderopolis so educators can model and integrate these resources into their instruction. Our objective is that participants will engage in conversations about the effect of digital literacy on classroom instructional practices and literacy learning to encourage teachers to build classrooms that promote choice and voice.

Here are sketch notes I created highlighting the tools and literacy strategies we will cover during our presentation.

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As technology continues to expand the way students and teachers engage in literacy, teachers need to embrace the role of digital media in the classroom to foster a culture of creativity and innovation. There are dozens of tech tools that help young people build literacy skills and simultaneously allow students to become writers, poets, and digitally literate meaning makers. Literacy 2.0 brings to the forefront digital tech tools that enhance learning and literacy in the digital age where students are content creators and critical thinkers.

Shifting teachers’ thinking about writing from a traditional sense to next generation literacy instruction utilizing digital toolkits, electronic devices, and digital platforms will allow students to become meaning makers where voice, choice, and perspective are honored.

How will you deepen your understanding of literacy development through Literacy 2.0? 

Here are some tools we will address in our workshop.

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Want to know more? I have included the slides to our presentation for more insight and digital literacy tools.

More to follow about literacy learning at #ILA16 in the next post.

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Reading and Writing Workshop is Relevant in the Digital Age

When I first began teaching in New York City many years ago, I utilized the reading and writing workshop during the 90 minute literacy blocks I taught daily. Today, I still welcome the reading and writing workshop into my middle school English classroom, although my schedule limits class time to 40 minute periods. I offer gradual release into the reading and writing workshop as we dive into book clubs, independent reading, and whole class novels throughout the school year. My students maintain reader’s notebooks and write about about the texts they read as well as the topics that are important to them.

Below are a few ideas and technology tools that I utilize in my Reading and Writing Workshop to help deepen my students’ comprehension, maintain accountable talk, and build writing portfolios.

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Reader’s Notebooks Still Matter – Even in the digital age where many teachers have moved into Google Classroom, I use interactive reader’s notebooks — Yes, a marble composition notebook. Inside the notebook students maintain data about their reading life (Reading Timeline, information about themselves as readers, and their reading goals), interactive foldables on what they are learning, including mini-lessons and read alouds. The notebook also contains graphic organizers, sketch notes, and written reflections that highlight student’s application of independent reading in written form. The notebook is a space for students to process information and reflect on their reading.

Face to Face Conversations are just as important as Digital Collaboration – Students need to practice talking to one another face to face, read body language, and cues. Verbal communication is a necessary skill both in and out of school. Students need to get in the habit of meeting with partners and small groups to interact face to face and share their thinking about the texts.

Digital Collaboration is Beneficial – Students can collaborate digitally on a wikipage, blog,  or Google Doc to help them capture their thinking about reading and highlight the conversations and accountable talk that is happening about text. Students can use digital applications to record the conversations using tools like @Recapthat or @Vine to showcase insights, questions, and new thinking.

Google Classroom as a Digital Writing Portfolio – Students can utilize Google Docs to create a portfolio of their writing about their reading. When we ask students to write long or write literary essays about their reading, it can be showcased online and shared with QR Codes or even create a digital Flip Book of student’s best writing.

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Flip The Reader’s and Writing Workshop – After reading Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul’s Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach (2016) I gained so many ideas to to create digital lessons that allow students to work at their own pace and target instruction to small groups and individuals. Creating a digital library of online lessons modeling writing strategies and setting reading goals help to free up more time for individualized instruction.

Here are a few trustworthy tech tools for Accountable Talk in Book Clubs and Reading Partnerships:

Backchannels:

Twitter

Vine

Today’s Meet

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Reflection Tools:

Recapthat (iPad and Laptops Only)

Polleverywhere – Utilize the new word cloud feature

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Padlet

Do Ink

Collaborate Ideas in Written Format:

Google Docs

Wikis

Participate Learning

Blogs

 

 

 

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Playing with Legos for Classroom Learning

I just finished reading Quinn Rollins’ book Play Like A Pirate: Engage Students with Toys, Games, and Comics and found more than a dozen ideas to bring into my classroom. As a huge fan of Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate, I knew this was going to be another resource filled with ideas to engage students and energize teaching.

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In each chapter, Rollins takes on a toy, board game, and kid favorite by sharing ideas and examples how he has used them in his own classroom to promote learning and understanding. Whether it is action figures, Minecraft, or games like Monopoly and UNO, his teaching tools go beyond worksheets and textbooks to “playfully” teach his content material. Bringing in these games and toys does not only bring an element of fun into the classroom, but is also allows students to use their own critical thinking, creativity, and analytical skills. The chapter on Action Figures gave me many ideas for sidequest projects this upcoming school year.

As a parent to a future Lego engineer, the over flow of the Legos in my home has ended up in my classroom. Two years ago, I was able to get my son (then eight) to help me recreate scenes of Midsummer Night’s Dream for a slide show to share with my students and help with their understanding of Shakespeare.

Rollins’ book bolstered the idea to put the Lego work in my students hands. In small groups, students selected the most telling quotes from each Act in Midsummer Night’s Dream and then created a Lego scene to depict the quote.

The final products were great. I talked with the students’ about taking multiple shot types to help find the best angle to convey the scene.

Rollins offers additional ideas for using Legos in the classroom:

Design a Minifigure – Students could design the four most important characters in a novel or a historic archetype, or four leaders of a particular movement from history.

Design a Set – Students design a Lego set about a historical event. For example, a set for the Great Depression can include a Lego representation of the Okies on the Road to California or a Hooverville.

Lego Stop Motion – Legos is a great tool to make stop motion animation videos. YouTube offers lots of amazing examples to inspire students creativity.

As the late Jim Henson said, “Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”

 

 

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Qualities of Great Speakers: Building Student Speaking Skills

What are the qualities of a great speaker?

Who are the great speakers we can model?

If you mentioned Martin Luther King, Jr., what makes his a historic speaker? What are the qualities that he exudes in his speech writing and public speaking? What are some of the aspects of his public speaking we want our students to model?

What were the words or phrases that stuck with you throughout the speech?

How does King use his voice and body language to captivate his audience?

How does MLK utilize repetition in his speech to leave an impression on the listener?

What other “moves” does MLK use in his speech to make a lasting impression on his listeners?

Check out a list of Rhetorical Devices and Strategies that King uses throughout his speech.

Now, let’s look at John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration Speech in January 1961.

Whereas MLK wrote his own speeches, JFK wrote his speech with the help of his speech writer, Ted Sorenson. The phrase, “Ask not what your country can do for you; but what you can do for your country” was taken from JFK’s headmaster at Choate School when he was a student. He headmaster was known to say, “Ask not what your school can do for your; but what you can do for your school.”

What public speaking skills does JFK bring to the conversation?

How are JFK and MLK similar and different at orators?

The majority of famous speakers today draw inspiration and borrow devices from great public speakers of the past like Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy.

The voice is unique in its ability to communicate. There is no one good speaking voice, but most audiences agree that a pleasant, expressive voice has certain pleasing qualities. A good speaking voice is not born, but developed through training and practice. Through proper use of breathing, resonance, articulation, and pitch we can communicate more effectively.

Your voice and the way that you speak says a lot about you.

Your voice is your most influential tool in a speech situation.

Similar to reading, students are expected to learn public speaking in secondary school. But many of our students are not comfortable speaking in front of the whole class and do not understand that listening requires a person to give their undivided attention to the speaker (eye contact, body at rest, mouth closed, all distractions put away).  Many of us will teach or are already teaching ELL students or students with limited English speaking skills along with student who are proficient speakers. How do we support all of our students as public speakers? 

Speaking and Listening is part of the Common Core and starting by the first grade, “students are expected to know and be able to do the following during small- and whole-group discussions: follow participation rules, build on others’ comments, and ask clarifying questions.” By middle and high school the conversations and group work is more demanding. Speaking and listening must go beyond the “turn and talk” or “think pair share” opportunities we offer students during class activities. Students must also be able to present information to small groups and large audiences. Students can utilize technology and podcast or video their presentations too.

 What are creative ways that you can have students practice speaking and build their communication skills?  

Our job is to excite students about the world, to help them see the role that they can play in making society a better place, to express their ideas powerfully, to see that our content area is about real world problems, issues, and possible solutions. Our content areas should show students the world, not just tell them about it. Our curriculum needs to include role plays, simulations, debates, formal speeches, and demonstrations. Screen-casts, podcasts, and video projects are all great venues that allow students to utilize speaking and listening skills.

 

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