Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Getting a Word in Edgewise: Wordle

Missed the Just One Hour workshop on Wordle? A recap:

Horizontal, vertical, or any-which-way, Wordle makes it fun to, well, get a word in edgewise—visually. Wordle is an easy web-based program at wordle.net that allows you to create a graphic representation of text. Because it quantifies text (the more often a word or phrase appears, the larger it is represented), it can be used to compile or summarize data.

Most important, students love it.

So, how can you use it to promote student thinking in your classroom? What kinds of text can you use?

21 Ways to Use Wordle
1. Visualize a brainstorm session
2. Compile data from classroom polls
3. Create a graphic autobiography
4. Guess the ___________________ (story, novel, event)
5. Write a headline for a current event
6. See similarities and differences
7. Identify criteria for ____________
8. Show class rules
9. Present spelling lists in various fonts
10. Examine student writing (Overused words? Important details missing?)
11. Study an author’s tone
12. Display your syllabus
13. Discover main ideas in text
14. Look for key ideas in important speeches
15. Draw inferences
16. Summarize
17. Show synonyms or antonyms
18. Make a custom illustration for a blog, story, essay, book report
19. Compare news stories for bias
20. Customize your word wall
21. Reflect on your thinking

On his blog Copy/Paste, Peter Pappas shares ways to use Wordle to promote literacy skills. Pappas suggests:

Defining skills
Before the dictionary comes out, give your students a new vocabulary word and ask them to brainstorm all the word they associate with it. Gather up all the brainstormed words for a Wordle. After the term has been formally defined, repeat the process and compare to the "pre-dictionary" Wordle.

Summarizing skills
As a pre-reading exercise, copy/paste text of reading into a Wordle and ask students to predict what the main ideas of the reading will be. Another pre-reading option: give them a Wordle of a non-fiction reading and ask them to use the Wordle to generate a title or headline before they see the real article. Post reading: ask them to reflect on the reading based on a prompt (for example, main idea, what you've learned, funniest element, etc). Then collect all their reflections into a Wordle.

Comparison skills
Give them two different accounts / essays on the same theme / event - let them compare the Wordles generated by each. Or you could generate Wordles for two different readings, then let student see if they can match the Wordle to its corresponding reading.

For GREAT Wordle ideas and tips created by teachers, see the collaborative project Tom Barrett and colleagues created as a PowerPoint slide show:

How to create your own Wordles for class (or, better, have your students create them)? Start here with a copy of our Just One Hour workshop handout, Then head to wordle.net.  It's really as easy as 1-2-3:  Click create, paste in any text, and click go.

A word of caution, it's addictive. In a good way. Have fun.


PS Just found this great post by Iowa teacher Becky Goerend with sample student work!

http://peterpappas.blogs.com/ (Twitter: edteck)
http://edte.ch/blog/ (Twitter: tombarrett)
http://mrsbmg.blogspot.com/ (Twitter: MrsBMG)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Blooming Butterfly

Don't you just love this?

This BLOOMing Butterfly graphic, based on Benjamin Bloom's taxonomy of thinking skills, was created by Learning Today under a Creative Commons license. That means you can print it and use it if 1) you attribute the source (already printed on the poster) and
2) you don't sell it.

Download it by clicking here and print it for your students, your classroom, or your parent newsletter. Thanks, Learning Today!


PS Learn more about Creative Commons here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

SIOP - Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol

What is more difficult than learning about the interactions of matter and energy throughout the lithosphere, hydrosphere and atmosphere? …Trying to learn about it in your non-native language!

Yet, English Language Learners (ELLs) face this challenge every day in classrooms across the nation. Not only are ELLs trying to master academic content, but they are still acquiring English language proficiency.

In order to support the learning and language needs of West Clermont’s ELL students, fourteen district teachers participated in Sheltered  Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) training.

SIOP is a research-based approach to lesson planning and implementation that has proven effective with ELL students. The model uses high quality features of instruction withinin a framework of eight components, i.e. lesson preparation, building background, comprehensible input, strategies, interaction, practice/application, lesson delivery, and review/assessment.

In the words of one WC teacher, “The SIOP model provides support to all students, but especially English Language Learners. The model provides meaningful access to the content, with the added benefit of practice in  reading, listening, speaking, and writing."                                         

Another teacher says, “SIOP is a way to take what we know about best practices, and make them even better by adding a language objective to every lesson."

Want to know more? Ask a member of our SIOP team or click here!


Sunday, December 13, 2009

One Book, One School

Seneca once said, "The best ideas are common property."

Isn't that the truth in teaching? In my school district, great ideas are passed up and down the hallways and in between school buildings. And thanks to the many kinds of electronic communication, lesson ideas are spreading instantaneously from up the street and around the world.

One Book, One School was one of those "common property" ideas for me. Let me explain.

I belong to a PLC that consists of Heinemann authors and consultants. Once a year we meet face to face, but mostly we connect via Elluminate and conference calls. Colleen Buddy is one of my colleagues in this PLC. She is truly an idea person! During one of our Heinemann retreats, Colleen shared an idea that brought her school closer together. The initiative was called One Book, One School. I listened to Colleen, scribbled down some notes, and went home ready to share. One Book, One School is simple. Inexpensive. Powerful. Here's how we made it work for us.

I met with our eight elementary principals, suggesting that we all read the same book at the same time, in every grade level at each school. The goal here is unity around a meaningful theme. And the coolest part about it is that it all begins with picture book.

As Colleen recommended, we settled on The Golden Rule for our first attempt. Written by Ilene Cooper and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska, this beautiful book reminds us all to treat others with the dignity and respect we want for ourselves. What greater message could be shared with our students?

Now we don't have a lot of money to spare, so in most cases we purchased a copy of The Golden Rule to be shared by each grade level at each school. During the first week of the school year, every child heard and discussed The Golden Rule with their classmates and teacher. Principals could stop in any classroom after the first few days of school and strike up a conversation about this age-old concept. The book's theme perfectly supported our district's anti-bullying initiative and classroom management plans.

We didn't stop there. Soon students were writing connections to the text and posting them in the hallways for all to see. Articles about The Golden Rule appeared in school-to-home newsletters and on school websites. Classroom teachers and their students brainstormed ways to practice The Golden Rule at school, on the bus and at home. Talking about The Golden Rule became part of weekly class meetings in the classrooms.
Several of our schools held additional One Book, One School weeks during the school year, like right after winter break and right before our high-stakes test week. The possibilities are endless!

With our hectic school schedules and filled-to-the-brim planning time, it is sometimes hard to come together around a common idea. One Book, One School is a wonderful, easy way to to do just that. It worked for us! And now this idea is officially "common property", just as Seneca said.

For more information, read this Education World article.


Sunday, December 6, 2009

What We Really Read

Love this graphic! Meant to spoof, perhaps, but LOL true. It illustrates the perennial teachers' conflict: teaching the classics ("the canon") or nurturing a love of reading. Forced to choose, I'd go with the latter. I'd rather be a reading catalyst. And you?


So, what are you really reading? For me, it's Barbara Kingsolver's newest, The Lacuna, with Curtis Bonk's The World is Open on deck.

Graphic from graphjam.com

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Doodling

Do your students like to doodle? Do you? What some might see as an off-task, even disrespectful behavior, I see as a way to process information. A way to make thinking visible.

My colleagues are used to my crazy notebook, pictured above (click on photo to enlarge). They don't bat an eye when I'm sitting in a formal meeting or important keynote address and I take out my Flair pens and manuscript book. With paper and pens at my disposal, I can focus. I can relax. I can think.

I'm not alone in my need to turn the audible into the visible. A few years ago I read a BBC article about how British Prime Minister Tony Blair was criticized when he inadvertently left some of his doodles on a table at Number 10 Downing Street. Those same critics were left speechless when it was discovered that the doodles didn't belong to Tony Blair at all. Instead, they were the creation of a guy named Bill Gates!

For two centuries, U.S. Presidents have doodled during critical briefings and while strategizing and brainstorming. Presidential Doodles showcases sketches from George Washington to George W. Bush, and almost every president in between. I was happy to discover this book. It lends a scholarly view to the practice that some of us, adults and kids alike, can't live without.

So what does this mean for classroom instruction? A recent study suggests that doodling aids in memory recall. Those who doodled while listening to information recalled 29% more than those who tried to attend without pen in hand. Consider asking students to sketch their way through a lecture, dry textbook passage or PowerPoint presentation. Allow students to create logos or other graphic representations of their learning, to aid in the synthesizing of new information. Encourage the use of color, creative font and multi-directionality on the page. Student engagement and motivation are sure to rise!

If you're a doodler, feel affirmed. If you're not, it's never too late. You, too, can join the ranks of John F. Kennedy and Bill Gates!


PS A shout-out to amazing educator Ian Jukes! Your recent keynote address in Columbus, Ohio inspired a page of colorful doodles and a mind full of new thinking for me. See Ian's signature right smack dab in the center of the photo.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

All Hands On Deck: Response to Intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI) is a problem solving process to assure success for struggling students. It is not a gateway to special education (nor a delay to special ed) and it is not a quick fix.

You’ll often hear us use the expression, “all kids, all schools, all hands on deck.” Following our Response to Intervention (RTI) professional learning session, I asked colleagues to help me create a recap. Here’s a compilation of what “all hands” have so say about RTI, plus helpful RTI links. 

What do teachers have to say?
RTI is a process teachers should use to help struggling students be successful in their classroom. It’s probably something teachers are already doing. But I think teachers need to do a better job of documenting the strategies that are in place for students and then collecting data over time to check and see if these strategies are helping the students be successful in the classroom. ~ Todd M, grade 8 Algebra teacher

RTI is something that most of us do most of the time, but in an unstructured, undocumented way. We do it for short term intervention and longer term intervention. In possible Special Ed cases, we need to make sure we have the documentation. In other cases, we need to make sure that the rigors of documentation don't cause teachers to avoid doing what they would normally do. ~ Ceil K, IB math teacher

RTI is a continuous process of pre-assessments, proper student placements into appropriate intervention groups, weekly progress monitoring to ensure that the intervention is working, followed by a post-assessment to document student progress backed with data. ~ Aarty S, ESL assistant

RTI is a multi-layered approach to get to the new/modern idea/ideal that all kids can learn at high levels. It’s a way of getting schools to move beyond the archaic idea that school is meant to be a "sorting" place. So, RTI is a real series of techniques to make this happen, but it's not a path to special education. It's sort of like scaffolding a whole-school response of what to do when kids hit a road block. ~ Angie F, freshman English teacher

How long does RTI take?
It’s a process without a specific time frame.  It’s okay for a student to have tiered supports in place throughout their schooling to help them be successful. ~ Julie C, work study coordinator

Why have we chosen this approach, K-12?
RTI allows us to focus our collective resources toward early intervention and toward providing appropriate help and supports that prevent academic and behavioral concerns from becoming bigger issues. Amy S, school psychologist

Most important to remember: We are all learners in this process. And we’re all in this together.

Here are some resources to help us as we learn. What resources or ideas do you have to share?


West Clermont’s RTI links
West Clermont's RTI Plan
National Center on RTI

Pyramid Respond to Intervention: RTI, PLCs, and How to Respond When Kids Don’t Learn
Raising the Bar and Closing the Gap

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Digital Dictionaries

                                                                            Photo Credit: iStockphoto

 What image comes to mind when you think of a dictionary? A heavy, thick book with an infinite supply of words? A useful tool, but boring read? Actually, Noah Webster's first American Dictionary of the English language, published in 1828, became one of the best selling books of the 1800's. Webster's dictionary had 70,000 entries and took 27 years to complete. His work lives on and led to today's standardized and "American" spellings, i.e. color instead of colour, plow instead of plough.

  However, even Mr. Webster has joined the digital age. Today's dictionaries are online with audio, video and other student-friendly features. Merriam-Webster offers a Visual Dictionary Online, connecting words with images... a winning combination for today's visual students. Merriam-Webster also features Word Central, a gaming site that allows students to build their word knowledge.

A favorite online dictionary for middle and high school students (and adults) is Word Ahead. This site features vocabulary videos of over 900 difficult words. It also includes a Study Room with video and flash cards for ACT/SAT vocabulary. (You have to see this!)

 Another interesting visual dictionary for middle school students and above is Visuwords. This site offers word meanings and associations in a diagram that resembles a neural network. Students can explore word meanings and their associations with other words and concepts. The interactive site allows students to click on the background to pan around and drag the individual word nodes.

Here are some other student-friendly dictionaries worth checking out.
Do you have some favorite digital dictionaries? If so..let us know. We can build a list of  favorites, and it won't take us 27 years to do it!


Friday, November 6, 2009

Day by Day, Child by Child

On November 3, teachers gathered for our annual convocation and celebration of teaching and teachers. The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Krista Ramsey was keynote speaker. Her remarks:

I work on the 19th floor of the Enquirer building, on the corner of Elm and 3rd streets very close to the Ohio River and, during baseball season, every time the Reds hit a home run, there are fireworks and, for a minute, everybody downtown stops working and takes notice.

I think the Ohio Department of Education, when it releases its list of Excellent schools, should set off fireworks across the state, in the middle of the day. It would be cool for every community with an excellent school system to hear the commotion and look up at the sky and say, hey, they’re winning!

But that, as we all know, is not how things work in the world of education. Unlike professional athletes, you are the quiet heroes. Your stunning plays are getting the girl who sits glowering in the back row to finally join a discussion. Your perfect record is 10 years of driving a bus accident free, keeping dozens of children safe day after day after day.

Your “save” is keeping the districts’ computers up and running every day, or filling every classroom that needs one with an excellent substitute teacher – or sending out good, clear information on the H1N1 virus, and patiently answering all the questions from angry, confused and frustrated parents that follow.

Your victories are quiet victories. If you waited for the fireworks, you’d wait your entire career. But you – and sometimes only you – know what you have won at the end of the day. You know when you see the socially-awkward kid who always glides along the edge of the hallway so no one notices him; suddenly find a friend in your classroom.

You know when the parents who have resisted for so long finally agree to have their child tested for learning disabilities.

You know when you as a guidance counselor have a student walk into your office to show you her college acceptance letter – and you know she’ll be the first generation in her family ever on a college campus.

You win when they win – when those children in your care as a principal or classroom aide or music teacher or basketball coach or food service worker or psychologist lose a little bit of their self-doubt or find the first inkling of something they’re good at.

But there are long stretches when you don’t think you’re winning at all. I was a teacher for eight years and I remember those stretches. I remember watching my 7th bell class walk out of my room – they were ALWAYS the rowdiest, most disrespectful class – and swearing that I was going to immediately go and apply to be one of those people who holds the SLOW and STOP signs on the highway crews.

Today I work on a daily newspaper. Every day, I have to produce a brand-new product. Every time I make a mistake, 200,000 people see it – and it seems like 50,000 blog about it. I am part of the media, surely one of the most suspect groups of workers in the world. And every day I have to answer to big and hairy editors who like to scream in people’s faces. And let me tell you, everything I do is way easier than being a classroom teacher.

I have been on the editorial board for the last six years, and in that position I have met with governors, ambassadors, presidential candidates, senators, county commissioners, Cabinet members, college presidents and CEOs. Some I have admired, some I have not. But over that time, I have come to realize that virtually none of them are the people who really hold the world together. The people who do that are far too busy to come in and meet with editorial boards. They are working in emergency rooms and counseling troubled teenagers, and doing therapy with stroke victims and caring for foster children and working in public schools.

YOU are the people who keep the world from splintering into pieces.

And if you’re tired of the feeling that the world expects you fix everything from teenage drinking to childhood obesity to bad grammar to poor hygiene, all I can say is I’m sorry.

Maybe we don’t actually EXPECT it, but we certainly do hope it.

You are the people we turn to again and again

  • to care for children who aren’t cared for anywhere else
  • to reach out to parents who have no one to turn to for advice
  • to model kind, considerate behavior for children who have been abused and neglected
  • to move the next generation of Americans to a new level of competence and creativity
  • to prepare today’s children for the world of tomorrow
  • to encourage, embolden and inspire.

Never think for a moment that your words or your actions are simply bouncing off the children you serve. Somewhere in this school year, every one of you will take some action that will change a child’s life.

It may be a simple kindness that made an unbearable day bearable. It may be praise that erases the misery of being absolutely average. It may be a second chance for a child who has almost resigned himself to being a failure.

Sometime this year, you will say something positive to a child that you will forget the next day, but that child will remember for the rest of his life.

There is no power on earth greater than that power.

So I challenge you to carry on with excellence. Not one drop of your energy, your intelligence, your passion, your compassion will be wasted.

I leave you today with one of my favorite quotes. The first time I read it, it was attributed to Shaquille O’Neal, but I came to find out he actually borrowed it from Socrates.

It is this: Excellence is a habit. We are what we repeatedly do.

Thank you for creating excellence day by day and child by child.


A former teacher, Krista Ramsey is columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer. She serves on their Editorial Boad. For a PDF copy of Krista's remarks, click here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Meet New Information. Change Your Mind.

Russian nesting dolls photo credit: Mollypop on Flickr Creative Commons
It's Monday after work, and I'm sitting in a Just One Hour PD session with Tanny McGregor and a great team of teachers. Hope she doesn't find my laptop notetaking a distraction while she's teaching. Today we're reviewing SYNTHESIS, in the Thinking Strategy Series. My notes:

Tanny likes to explain synthesis to students using concrete examples. She used the simile of nesting dolls. "When you think of synthesizing, picture nesting dolls," she says. One idea within another. As students continue to change their thinking, their thinking develops and grows. The original thinking may be embedded and still existing, but the new thinking is larger and different.

And Daniel Pink in A Whole New Mind uses the metaphor symphony. He writes, "Symphony...is the ability to put together the pieces. It is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair."

Love this quotation from Tanny: "Meet new information and change your mind."

Tanny tells about asking Steph Harvey to define synthesis. She shared Steph's defining sentence stem:
I used to think __________, but now I think _____________.

Debbie Miller used Thinking Quadrants when modeling synthesis for our primary teachers:
1. Right now I'm thinking...
2. And now I'm thinking...
3. And now I'm thinking...
4. Now that I'm finished, I think...
Each stem falls in a quadrant of a graphic organizer. Nothing fancy, Tanny says, just fold a piece of paper in fourths. Each quadrant captures student thinking before-during-after reading. "I really like the idea of the four square model for working with my English Language Learners," ESL teacher Rachel tells me.

Tanny shared a turn and talk strategy from Kylene Beers that helps student synthesize their thinking after reading text (fiction or non-fiction). Beers calls it "Say Something." Here are the rules:
1. With your partner, decide who will say something first.
2. When you say something, do one or more of the following: make a prediction, ask a question, clarify something you misunderstood, make a comment, or make a connection.
3. If you can't do one of those five things, then you need to reread.

We talked about and practiced genre reformulation. That is, take what you've read and turn it into something else.  Options: lyrics with a familiar tune, a graphic representation (logo, sketch), an alphabet list, a pattern book structure (like Brown Bear, Brown Bear or The Important Book).  

Tanny shared a six-word-synthesis idea adapted from Smith Magazine's six-word memoirs. Amy K shared that she had used the six-word-synthesis strategy as an exit ticket for her middle school students. The six-word-synthesis is a great way for teachers to check for understanding. 

Finally, we worked with partners and shared our own synthesis of the book Fox, by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks. (This children's book is so beautiful and its story so profound I think I'm going to recommend it for my turn at book club.) 

My six-word-synthesis of this Just One Hour: 
"Not literary analysis. Literary thinking. Anew."

Miss the session? Our next Just One Hour in the Thinking Strategies Series is November 30 on schema and inferring.


PS Here's the handout:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Getting to Know Gee

Have you met James Gee?

A virtual introduction is in order if you answer yes to any of the questions below.

  • Do you think our current use of textbooks could be improved?
  • Would you like to know how we can motivate students to love our lessons the way they love to play video games?
  • Should teachers support students as thinkers instead of memorizers? 
  • Would you like to understand how solid literacy instruction and 21st century skills can be taught in tandem?

James Paul Gee is the Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University, but that's just where he hangs his hat. His unique research extends around the world yet trickles down right into the classroom.  I first read Gee's work a few years ago when investigating the link between gaming and learning. It whet my appetite for more about kids in the 21st century and how we can embrace them as learners.

I could blog about Gee all day. Maybe you'd be interested, maybe not. The best way I can tell you about Gee, however, is to arrange a virtual introduction. Let's attend a lecture, read his bio and view a recent video clip. Then you'll see what I mean. Gee has a brilliant way of taking the here and now and merging it with best instructional practice.

Games, Not Grades
(from Edutopia, recently featured on Dan Pink's blog)

On Games and Learning
(from the MacArthur Foundation)

James Gee on The 4th Grade Slump
(from The Cooney Center)

Gee Bio Info
(from Wikipedia)

Visit these links and your thinking will be challenged and changed.

Every time I read or listen to James Gee, I walk away saying, "Gee, I never thought about it like that!"


(Graphic created with wordle.net)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What Did You Write Today? National Day on Writing

October 20 was the National Day on Writing sponsored by the National Writing Project. Early this morning I sent an email to a few teachers to see what students were writing today. Lots! 
  • "We've talked a lot about good readers making predictions," said Mr. Bertsch. Today his students wrote their predictions about the end of Arthur Miller's The Crucible
  • First graders in Mrs. Cramer's class wrote and drew about what they want to do at Sun Rock Farm. Field trip tomorrow!
  • Ms. Ferguson's freshmen have read Night by Elie Wiesel. Today they wrote in response to a section of a 5th grade German girl's social studies text used to promote Hitler propaganda about racial superiority.
  • In Intro to Video Productions, Mr. Hammer's students wrote short personal essays in the form of the "This I Believe."
  • "A White Heron" by Sarah Orne Jewett provided the prompt for Mr. Poince's class. "Today my students are writing symbolic and persuasive responses to the short story." 
  • Mrs. Wolff's 13-year-olds compared two nonfiction articles they read about detective work. High interest!
  • Macbeth's Act I was the backdrop for Ms. Yarchi's senior class. Today they wrote about Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's state of mind.  
  • AP Environmental Science students in Mr. Whitford's class wrote about forest fire management. 
  • Mrs. Henshey's eighth graders are writing personal narratives. "They're self-evaluating, peer editing and getting their papers ready for publishing," she said.
  • Today marked day one of Mrs. Ford's G/T students' after school Writing Club. They'll participate in the national Novel Writing Month, setting up online accounts to keep track of words written for the month and receive one-on-one creative writing instruction. 
What did YOU write today?
PS Count me in with 23 emails, one informational table, one blog post, two thank you letters, and four tweets.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

BrainPOP - A Recipe for Success

     It's easy...combine one classroom teacher, Ohio Academic Content Standards and BrainPOP. The result? A lesson that supports 21st Century Curriculum and Instruction, a digital learning environment and a classroom of engaged students who are not forced to "power-down" during school.

     BrainPOP is a web-based tool that creates animated, curriculum-based content aligned with Ohio (and other states') Academic Content Standards. Hundreds of short, animated movies are available with topics in Science, Social Studies, Math, English, Technology, Arts, Music and Health. In addition to the video animations, BrainPOP features interactive quizzes, graphic organizers and other activities to support student learning.

BrainPOP's user-friendly design allows teachers to:
  • introduce a new concept in a way that engages students
  • review material in order to consolidate learning
  • promote active viewing through discussion
  • provide exposure to content-area vocabulary
  • set a purpose for viewing by taking the interactive quiz before the content video
  • provide evidence of learning by using the interactive video at the end of the video
  • use supporting features that promote critical thinking and inquiry based learning.
  • collaboarate with colleagues on Facebook/BrainPOP and Twitter/brainpop.
     Evidence of the program's success is detailed in a study of 1,100 classrooms in Florida and New York. The study concluded that students who were in classrooms that used BrainPOP showed substantial gains in Science, Lanuage and Reading Comprehension on the Stanford 10. Students received 16-20 weeks of instruction, yet achieved the equivalence of one to two grade levels of growth when compared to the national sample of students in the Stanford 10 norm group.

     BrainPOP has also received numerous awards, including Learning magazine's 2010 Teacher Choice Award and the Technology and Learning award of excellence, 2007. Colleagues Heather C. and Jennifer H. give it the thumbs-up as well. Heather discovered helpful videos on the Educator's site (and also on Facebook and Twitter). Heather writes, "The [videos] show a few things that I'd never thought to do." Jennifer really likes the review quiz after each video. "When the students answer the questions they are immediately given feedfback on if they answered it correctly or not."

     But don't take our word for it... check out a video yourself. Click here to learn more!


Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons BrainPOP

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Virtual Text Trails

After enjoying condo life for 15 years, my family and I finally decided to go house-shopping last Fall. Even though the experience of finding and buying a house was stressful at times, there was one part I found to be enjoyable: Open House (not the occasional Open House I had to host...that was too much work... but the Open Houses of hopeful sellers). Every Sunday for 3 months or so, we'd pile in the SUV and check out what was on the market. How cool it was to walk through someone else's house, someone we didn't even know, and make inferences! (Maybe I need a life, but I thought it was fun. Doesn't take much for me, I guess.) After an Open House visit, I could tell you about the interests of the homeowners, how many people in their family, what colors and type of decor they favor. One of my favorite authors, Malcolm Gladwell, writes about the science behind this. In his 2007 book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Gladwell shows how just a walk through a room can help you learn a lot about the inhabitant. A person's space is a kind of definition of who they are. When I visited those countless Open House showings, I was following a trail of evidence as I walked from room to room.

A person's bookshelf is much the same, I think. One glance at my home office bookshelf and you'll know what I love: Frank Lloyd Wright, historical fiction, reading comprehension, The Beatles, old journals and Tracy Chevalier.  With every cover of every book, a memory is unleashed. I think about where I was when I read that volume and who recommended it or in what bookstore I purchased it. Sometimes I group books together by topic or color or genre. These "text trails" help me connect to my past and know just who I am.

With the advent of virtual bookshelves, however, now my colleagues and I can view each others bookshelves anyplace, anytime. I can know what Nancy and Mike are reading, what they've already read and what they plan to read next. I'm never without a great book recommendation, and I know my friends even better because I can follow their reading trails and they can follow mine. The books bring us together in amazing ways.

Since February 2008, I have enjoyed creating a virtual bookshelf at Shelfari.com. Shelfari is a great way to keep track of your own text trails, but other virtual bookshelf options are popping up everyday.

Library Thing
Chain Reading

Virtual bookshelves help you remember what you've read and what you want to read. They help you know yourself as a reader, and your colleagues, too. So blaze a trail! And let me know where to find you.

Happy trails to you,


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Similarities & Differences Part 2

At Friday's professional learning day 550 teachers, K-12, spent the morning going deeper with the what, why, and how of using "Similarities & Differences" as a continued instructional strategy. We reviewed the research and spent a lot of time talking about our own applications. Elementary teachers created a gallery walk of lessons, and secondary teachers shared successful strategies from their classes.

Why is explict teaching of similarities and differences critical for the learning brain?  And why does it work from kindergarten to calculus?  In The Strategic Teacher (ASCD, 2008), Silver, Strong, and Perini write:
  1. The use of comparisons increases our memory capacity. Two ideas linked together last longer than two ideas standing alone.
  2. Comparisons let us use old knowledge to make sense of new knowledge.
  3. Comparisons help us find connections and create new ideas.
  4. Comparisons make the invisible (or abstract) visible, the confusable (or easily mixed up with other content) clear, and the neglectable (or easily overlooked) unavoidable.
Gina, grade 4/5, reminded us that graphic organizers alone do not "teach" this strategy. Gina requires her students to add a conclusion statement to any graphic organizer they're using. Why does this work? It allows students to move from part to whole and synthesize their thinking and helps move their learning into long-term memory. And it requires them to make their thinking visible by communicating in writing.

We left the morning session with lots to process and try out. Here are some of the teacher resources from the workshop to add to our repetoire.

For teachers:

The Strategic Teacher: Selecting the Right Research-Based Strategy for Every Lesson by Silver, Strong, and Perini (ASCD, Paperback, 2008). See chapter 5 on compare and contrast and chapter 10 on metaphor.

Taking the Angst Out of Analogies from education.com.

IMS (Instructional Management System) on the Ohio Department of Ed site: Similarities & Differences.

Graphic Organizers galore from Holt Rinehart Winston. Remember to always add a conclusion/synthesis section.

And just for fun, I Never Metaphor I Didn't Like by Mardy Grothe (Harper, Hardcover, 2008).

For students:

Picture books using metaphor
Bang, Molly. 1998. When Sophie Gets Angry- Really, Really Angry
Carlstrom, Nancy White. 1991. Goodbye Geese
Chall, Marsha Wilson. 1992. Up North at the Cabin
Gregory, Valiska. 1991. Through the Mickle Woods
Martin, Rafe. 1992. The Rough-Face Girl
Mathews, Sally Schofer. 1991. The Sad Night: The Story of an Aztec Victory and Spanish Loss
Paterson, Katherine. 1991. The Tale of the Mandarin Ducks
Thomas, Joyce Carol. 1993. Brown Honey in Broomwheat Tea
Van Allsburg, Chris. 1986. The Stranger
Yolen, Jane. 1968. Greyling; 1987. Owl Moon; 1992. Encounter

Picture books that use simile
Goble, Paul. 1982. The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses
Johnston, Tony. 1996. The Wagon
Lorbiecki, Marybeth. 1996. Just One Flick of a Finger
Sheldon, Dyan. 1991. The Whales’ Song
Turner, Ann Warren. 1987. Nettie’s Trip South
Yolen, Jane. 1987. Owl Moon

Why does this matter and what can we do?
  • Students benefit by having similarities and differences pointed out by the teacher in an explicit manner. This can include rich discussion and inquiry, but allows students to focus on the relationhship or bridge to the new ideas.
  • Students also benefit when teachers ask them to create their own strategies for identifying similarities and differences. (Source: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory)
Wrote one Holly Hill teacher at the end of the day, "I can assimilate these concepts more overtly in my classroom. Step by step."

What is working for you in explicity teaching students to make connections? Share with us and we'll post your successes.

See also Similarities & Differences Part 1

The Wordle (wordle.net) was created from teachers' synthesis after our August professional learning session.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Huddle Up!

Not so long ago, being a teacher was like being a quarterback without a team. When I began teaching it was common practice to walk into the classroom in August, close the door, and walk out again in June. No team, no sense of community. I did the best I could every day. I called the plays. If I made a good call the students would advance down the field, but if I made a questionable play they might lose a few yards. I had no offense to help me plan the best instruction, and no defense to help me get back in the game.

Thank goodness things have changed! So far this year I have been part of several high school, middle school and elementary school Professional Learning Communities. I found myself in the middle of a team huddle. There were classroom teachers, Title 1 teachers, principals, intervention specialists and guidance counselors all having meaningful discussion about data, curriculum, intentional choice of instructional materials, etc. We were talking strategy. We were drawing Xs and Os. It was a real team effort with all the players... a winning combination!

In Results Now, Mike Schmoker describes how effective teamwork can produce a steady stream of successes, which in turn will create the magic of momentum. The secret is to "win small, win early, win often."

Professional Learning Communities are definitely a win. They create success and momentum through collaboration and informed decision making of all the team members. I hope to be a part of other PLCs this year. You might say... I'm their biggest fan. Huddle up!


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Thinking: Coming Soon to a Reader Near You!

Yes! Maurice Sendak on the big screen! I just can't wait until October 16th. Where the Wild Things Are has been one of my favorite picture books since it was first read to me in the 1960's, and now Spike Jonze is bringing it back to me 40 years later. I recall begging my mom to read the book slowly, to draw out those 10 sentences so I could wallow in the eerie-funny-imaginative world of disobedient Max.

10 sentences read aloud by my mom. One half-hour of fantasy for me.

10 sentences written by Maurice Sendak. One feature-length film from Spike Jonze.

This is precisely what we desire for every reader, isn't it? Thinking that travels deep into and beyond the printed page, thinking laced with emotion and escape. So what can we do to maximize the chances that this kind of real reading is available to every student?

There are obvious opportunities we can provide. Read aloud each and every day. Allow for student choice of text as often as possible. Build classroom libraries full of high-interest, level-appropriate books. Publicly model your own personal love affair with reading.

We can also get kids into the reading/thinking habit if we begin to offer and prompt metacognitive experiences. Through the years I've been banking a collection of thinking prompts, gleaned from conversations with colleagues, lab observations and online chatter. Partial list below.

  • How do you know when you don't understand something?
  • What do you do when your brain freezes/gets stuck?
  • How can making mistakes help your brain grow?
  • What kinds of questions do you ask yourself when you're reading?
  • When do you know you should stop and reread?
  • What do you do when you're reading and something just doesn't make sense?
  • Why do you sometimes abandon a book?
  • What kinds of connections do you make while reading?
  • Have you ever noticed your mind wandering when you're reading? What do you do then?
  • Do you ever make predictions while reading? Have you ever been right? Have you been wrong? How do you know?
  • Which of your senses do you use in your brain while reading? Can you see? Smell? Hear? Taste? Feel?
Consider offering up one of these ideas at the beginning of class as bell work, or at the end of a lesson for closure. Sometimes you have an unclaimed minute here or there, or need a journal topic for a quick-write. Keep this list handy for times just like that.

Thinking. Let the wild rumpus begin!


Far too numerous is the herd of such, who think too little and who talk too much.
John Dryden

Monday, September 7, 2009

Professional Development Not For Sale

There is no doubt about it. We are a nation of consumers. We are constantly assaulted with advertisements, telemarketers, and junk mail. (Thank goodness for pop-up blockers!) Everybody wants to sell you something. In fact, there is an entire branch of science devoted to consumer psychology.

Everyone is a potential consumer, including educators. Publishers and professional development services vie for educational dollars with the persistence of crabgrass, overtaking mailboxes with glossy brochures promising to increase student achievement.

I'll admit there was a time when I fell for it. I was always looking for a professional development opportunity that would help me perfect my craft. The Magic Bullet. Now I realize, as Mike Schmoker states in Results Now, the experts are among us. Who knew?

Schmoker goes on to state that "effective team-based learning communities - not workshops- are the very best kind of professional development (p. 109)." These professional learning communities begin to build a new culture of teaching, as teachers realize that knowledge of improvement can and should be generated from within.

So, here's to you... my colleagues. I look forward to working with you and learning from you as we begin another school year. Let's put our heads together and "grow" our own professional learning communities. No crabgrass, please.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Unplugged. Offline. Uni-tasking.

This weekend I spent Saturday on the McCready homestead in Chandlersville, an Ohio Century Farm, canning tomatoes, picking grapes and canning juice, and later, exhausted but content in the porch swing on the gazebo watching the sun go down. No cell service. No email. No texting.

In this über-connected 24/7 culture (there's even my BlackBerry app called ÜberTwitter), I'm working to give myself at least one day a week unplugged and offline. My department and I have vowed to allow weekends for respite, with at least one day of "no emailing" allowed. A genuine sabbath, rest and renewal, so we can return to work recharged.

That's hard in a society that admires multitasking.

I suspected I'd crossed the line of multi-tasking and constant e-connectivity when I started keeping my laptop on the breakfast table. You know, just to check emails and online news.

Here we have a small made-for-two drop leaf table in the kitchen with coffee mugs, cereal bowls, newspapers. And my computer.

Friday morning Bob says to me, "Do you need fish oil?"
"What's official?" I reply, not missing a Tweet, but missing the conversation across the table.

I've been reading recent research that shows not only the ineffectiveness, but even the dangers of multitasking (like using the cellphone while driving). We now know that multitasking may not lead to higher productivity.

Today's NYT carried a fun and sardonic (okay, snarky) article on the editorial page. The title: The Mediocre Multitasker. Ouch!

So, I'm working on slowing down and uni-tasking. Won't you join me? Let's take small steps toward slowing down, showing up, and doing just one thing at a time.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Instructional Season

Two-A-Days. If you've played high school football or marched with the high school band, you're already familiar with this term. If not, let me explain. Towards the end of summer vacation and the beginning of the school year, teams and bands often practice twice a day: once in the morning and again in the afternoon or evening. The purpose of Two-A-Days is not to tire out the kids (although that can be an added benefit!). Coaches and band directors structure this double dose of practice to help kids get into shape for the season and to give ample opportunities for players and musicians to learn new routines and procedures.

Maybe we should pay attention to what our extra-curricular colleagues can teach us. Here are a few practical ways to use Two-A-Days to create the kind of classroom you want, the kind your students need.

  • Have a routine or procedure in your classroom that just isn't going as smoothly as it should? Try a Two-A-Day. Practice once in the morning or at the beginning of the bell, then rehearse it again at the end.
  • Want to reinforce a student's appropriate behavior or praise a child who needs encouragement? Give them a double dose. Two-A-Days will let the student know that you care and that you're noticing their efforts.
  • Need to build your students' background knowledge for an upcoming unit or challenging topic? Create some new schema by reading short content-area text to your class...you guessed it, twice a day.

The list could go on and on. Two-A-Days are a reminder to us that redundancy is not always a bad thing. Sometimes it gives students an extra chance for needed practice, and gets us all in shape for the "instructional season" ahead. Let's get on the field and play!

For more ideas about academic routines and managerial procedures, check out this link from Scholastic. The research and practical tips given are perfect reading for this time of year. Maybe you should even read it twice!



Monday, August 24, 2009

Wired for Learning

Google, Skype, My Space, You Tube, Twitter, Wikis, voice threads and the list goes on. How did our students become so tech-savvy? Were they born that way? Sometimes it seems so. Today's students certainly know their way around the digital world, but are often forced to "power-down" at school.

The ability to use supportive technologies for inquiry- and problem-based learning is a critical skill for 21st century learners. As a result, critical literacies have been redefined. Basic literacy skills of decoding, predicting, and summarizing are not sufficient for today's students. Instead, students must become critical consumers of information from multiple sources, questioning the contexts, purposes, biases, and applications.

As a result, today's classrooms must be "elastic," going beyond the confining walls of physical space. Today's classroom environments must integrate virtual learning experiences, on-line learning, and cyberspace learning communities.

If you are like me, with one foot in the twentieth century and another foot in the twenty-first century, this requires a reality check (not to mention the acquisition of new skills and new ways of thinking). If you dare to join me on this digital learning journey, check out the links below.

Click here for a digital version of Bloom's Taxonomy (I LOVE this!)

Click here for Larry Ferlazzo's list of Top Tools for Learning (You have to look at this!)

Click here to learn more about 21st century skills

See you in cyberspace!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Build Classroom Community w/ Read Alouds

The first week of school is made of lesson plans, forgotten bus numbers and piles of emergency medical forms. It's a week filled with new routines & procedures, a week with not a minute to spare.

In spite of the crazy-busy pace we keep during the first week with our students, we know that one thing trumps all else when it comes to getting our classrooms up and going: building classroom community. The choices we make during this formative period of the school year influence everything that happens afterward.

Naturally, our new students want to know who their teachers are and what time their lunch period begins. But what they really want to know is, "Will my new teacher care about me?" Poet Kalli Dakos says it best in her poem, The Best Thing I Can Say About My Teacher.

"She did not care
As much about
Page 55,
As she did

Of course we can start to build community with our students right away.We can learn their names quickly and make connections with their families. We can plan activities that allow us to uncover their interests. We can also choose books to read aloud that emphasize the community values of our classrooms and foster personal, purposeful conversation about what matters most

Looking for a few great titles to read aloud during the first few days of school? Titles that strengthen classroom community? Look no further. Follow these links and you'll find books that emphasize persistence, cooperation, creativity and more.

Choice Literacy

Mad Hot Literacy

Education World

When the school year has started and the dust begins to settle, reply to this post and let us know what titles you selected for read alouds during the first week of school!


PS Thanks for being part of our little community.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Small Moments

It was a departure like many others throughout the years. Mom and Dad standing on the driveway waving good-bye, me fumbling around pretending to check the gas gauge while fighting the lump in my throat. After all these years, saying goodbye was still not easy.

And then I saw it. I looked up and saw my mother in a way I had never seen her before. She seemed more frail than I remembered. She looked smaller and a wisp of white hair hung down on her face. Her eyes still twinkled, but there were lines and a hollowness to her face that I had not seen before. I knew in that moment things had changed. I knew I would call her more often. I knew I would try to be a better daughter.

Small moments like this can teach us if we are open to learn, even in our professional lives. When August 24th arrives children will spill out of the buses, into our classrooms and into our hearts. We will be busy all year long... pouring over pacing guides and indicators, planning short-cycle assessments, making parent phone calls. We will arrive at school early and go home late. And we will continue to work at this frantic pace for 184 more days.

But within those 185 days there are thousands of small moments waiting to be discovered. Small moments with great lessons just waiting to be learned. Maybe it will be a lesson about you as a teacher. Maybe it will be a lesson about you as a colleague. Whatever the lesson, here's to wishing you many small moments throughout the 2009-10 school year. I hope you laugh, I hope you have a lump in your throat. For these are the small moments that make us real.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Celebrate the gate


There. I said it.

I have a love/hate relationship with this month. I hate it because it means less time with my family, less leisure, less sleep. To everything there is a season, however, as Ecclesiastes reminds us. My family will soon be moving into their busy new Fall schedules, anyway, and I'll start to treasure the extra leisure and sleep the weekends bring.

I love August because it signals an entrance to new learning, new experiences, new relationships. Since we're on a traditional schedule here at West Clermont, August is like a gate for us. It marks the time when we begin to write "2009-10" on every document, when we talk about last year like it was an eternity ago. It's a welcoming gate, unlocked, that bids us in with the promise of better times ahead.

I'm glad I have friends to walk with as we enter this month, friends in West Clermont and beyond. Let's stick together this year through email, telephone conversations, blog posts and Starbucks meetings, of course. Let's go through the gate together.


(Photo of Tanny's gate, this year's birthday present from her family. As seen through her kitchen window.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Try TeacherTube

Originally published in Winter 2009 as a T4 (Tanny's Tuesday Tech Tip)


2009 marks the 2-year anniversary of TeacherTube as an online community for sharing instructional videos. TeacherTube was the brainchild of Jason Smith, a veteran educator. It provides free videos & professional development with teachers teaching teachers.

With TeacherTube, you can:

  • Browse hundreds of videos uploaded by teachers around the globe.
  • Upload Support Files and attach them to your lesson plans.
  • Save your favorite videos and create playlists.

Here are links to some TeacherTube videos I’ve recently viewed:

Dr. Skateboard teaches about simple machines

50 States & Capitals Cartoon Song

Abraham Lincoln reads the Gettysburg Address

Try it out! Make TeacherTube part of your weekly planning for engaging classroom instruction!


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Learning Academic English

ALL learners, including native English language speakers, are continuing to learn "academic English." According to researcher Jim Cummins, Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) is proficiency in reading, writing, speaking, & listening related to content area material. Academic language acquisition isn't just the understanding of content area vocabulary. It includes skills such as comparing, classifying, synthesizing, evaluating, and inferring. This can take 5-7 years for ELLs to develop. (Doesn't this describe our work with ALL students?)

In contrast, basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) are language skills needed in social situations..."playground language." It usually takes only 6 months - 2 years to develop. Click here to learn more about BICS & CALP.

As the world is shrinking, we find ourselves working with students from all over the globe. We become learners ourselves in interacting with ELLs in the classroom. No matter what your experience or comfort level, just remember one thing..."Although there are hundreds of languages in the world, a smile speaks them all.” (author unknown)


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sideways Learning

I find it ironic to be considered a "teacher," when in reality I am more of a "learner." Currently,I am learning how to work with English Language Learners (ELLs), and how to navigate all the latest technology, while still trying to perfect my craft. Obviously, learning is a lifelong process and everyday there are new lessons to be learned... everyday I am still trying to "get it right."

This reminds me of "sideways learning," a term coined by E.J. Langer (1996). According to Langer, "sideways learning" is a mindful state that exists when one embodies an openness to new ideas, alertness to similarities and differences, sensitivity to particular contexts, implicit awareness of multiple perspectives, and awareness of what is occurring in the present .

Isn't that what we do as teachers? We must practice mindful teaching, reflecting on how our everyday actions support student learning. We must be mindful of the match between our instruction and the standards for which we are responsible, sensitive to the needs of different learners, and awareness of "who is getting it and who is not." The terms achievement gap, value-added and adequate yearly progress are now part of our mindful teaching and reflection. Is it any wonder we go home tired each afternoon?

We are constantly rethinking our instruction and trying to perfect our craft, knowing that tomorrow we will have another opportunity to support those students and close that achievement gap. So enjoy these last few weeks of summer, knowing that soon the school doors will open and each afternoon we will go home tired. Tired from "sideways learning," but anxious to get up in the morning and do it all over again.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Using Link Banks to support the English Language Learner

Originally published in March 2009 as a T4 (Tanny's Tuesday Tech Tip)

Did you know there are more than 5 million English Language Learners in American schools? Nationwide, one in every ten students is an ELL student.
Research tells us that all language learners have the same 2 critical needs, regardless of what language they speak. First of all, ELL’s need to become fluent speakers who can read & write English. Secondly, they need access to the same core curriculum as everyone else.

Here’s the top 10 ELL ranking, sequenced by # of speakers:
1. Spanish
2. Vietnamese
3. Hmong
4. Cantonese
5. Korean
6. Haitian Creole
7. Arabic
8. Russian
9. Tagalog
10. Navajo

A note about the acronyms: According to Dr. Stephen Cary from the University of San Francisco, LES/NES (Limited/Non-English Speaking) or LEP/NEP (Limited/Non-English Proficient) emphasizes what students lack instead of what they’re learning. ESL (English as a Second Language) refers to a certain kind of instruction, not a particular kind of student. The ELL (English Language Learner) acronym has gradually become dominant in local, state, and federal documents. Cary reminds us, however, that ELL could apply to all of us, however, since we never stop perfecting our abilities to read & write in English! (Working with English Language Learners, 2nd edition, Heinemann, 2007)

I’ve visited several West Clermont classrooms this year where the teacher expressed anxiety regarding the ELL student(s) in her/his classroom. WC teachers want to provide the best instruction possible to these students, but in many instances have not yet had the training they need. The following topic-specific list emphasizes free, web-based resources to help the classroom teacher quickly find strategies, lesson ideas, and ELL information. Directories such as these are known as link banks. Link banks are a big time saver for busy folks like us.

ELL Link Banks

I Love Languages
With over 200 languages represented here, this site provides hundreds of links to language learning resources.

Word Champ
Some WC high school teachers use this site. You can learn a language and get help from people around the world. Create online homework and activities for all ages and languages.

Isabel’s ESL Site
For the past 12 years, ESL teacher Isabel Perez Torres has maintained this amazing site. You’ll find language practice ideas, testing prompts, songs, games, and more.

ELL FYI: Ohio TESOL is a professional organization that has been around for 30 years. TESOL, or “Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages”, provides learning opportunities and resources to its members. For more information, visit www.ohiotesol.org/

Online Reading to Improve Your Practice

• Educational Leadership’s ELL issue: www.ascd.org/el

• Chapter 4 from Cary’s book, Working With English Language Learners: http://books.heinemann.com/shared/onlineresources/E00985/chapter1.pdf

Ahehee! Gracias! Cam on em! Shukran! Thank you!


Sites We Like

This summer I'm immersing myself in DIY professional development, reading and learning as much as I can about Web 2.0, social media, and other technologies for K-12 teaching and learning. I've opened a Twitter account to create my own Professional Learning Network, following teachers, admins, education experts, and writers from around the globe. Still learning. And eager to share with our westcler team.

For starters, let me introduce you to Free Tech 4 Teachers, an extraordinary site by real-life Maine social studies teacher, Richard Byrne, that chronicles all sorts of technology for you to examine, explore...and use in your classroom. What I like best (besides that it's all FREE) is that each post is short and simple and includes classroom applications and related sites. Subscribe, RSS, or bookmark Free Tech 4 Teachers.