31 December 2009


For the past five or so years, a good friend and I have been setting goals at the start of a new year. The hope has always been that by sharing our goals with each other, we could support one another as the going got tough.

Life gets busy, though. This past year we checked in with one another about once a month (we currently live 600 miles apart), but I couldn't even tell you what my goals for 2009 were without looking them up. So this year we're simplifying things and going with a single goal.

Why am I sharing this with you? My goal for 2010 is to maintain some semblance of balance in my life and one of the areas that throws me off-balance the most is work. Mostly because I love my job. It's always challenging, never dull, and no two days are the same. I'm also eager to watch and learn from others, to collaborate, and to do lots of reading and reflecting. However, while I try to never put work before my family, I will often sacrifice my personal time for work. And that doesn't make me the best husband or father (or teacher or friend, for that matter).

That being said, I need to lighten my load. I need to choose wisely where I devote my time and energy. I'd love to be doing more writing about the thinking that I've been doing as a part of our Comprehension and Collaboration book club, about the small group of folks who have committed to studying constructivism and inquiry and applying it in our upper elementary classrooms, or just about the learning I do in my own classroom on a daily basis. But as you may or may not have noticed, I haven't posted much here over the past month. I can't seem to find the time. Maybe it's the holidays. Maybe it's having a two year old at home (in addition to 3rd & 1st graders). [I've noticed recently that many of my favorite bloggers have kids that are at least high school age, if not older. Maybe there will be more time then?] Maybe I'm simply trying to juggle too much.

Anyhow, friends and colleagues, I'm asking for your encouragement to help me maintain balance. The next time you see me getting ready to jump into a new endeavor, remind me to think on it for day or so before committing. Also, this doesn't mean that I'm not interested in reading something new or working on a new project, I just hope to be more mindful about it.

So, thanks for listening. How about you? Any goals, personal or professional, for 2010?

[Photo credit: SlackLine by Speleo Perdido on Flickr.]

24 November 2009

ZPS PSD: Google Reader Session

Hello to the participants in Shari and Kip's session on using Google Reader.  Below you'll find links to blogs that you may be interested in following.  These are just a few starting points.  Remember, there is often a list of great blogs (a.k.a. a blog roll) in the sidebar of each blog.  Have fun exploring and remember to share anything that interests you!

A few of Shari and Kip's favorite blogs:
Or, if you trust Shari and I to choose good content, you can click on this link to subscribe to all of these sites in a bundle.

 The following articles contain lists of blogs from a wide range of topics:
I have created a Moodle site called The Connected Teacher for those who are interested in learning more about using blogs and Twitter for their professional learning.  You can either log in as a Guest or use the enrollment key: tweet.

Some other articles that you may find of interest:

18 November 2009

Our Workshop Schedule

One of my biggest challenges of teaching using reading and writing workshops is making sure that I confer with each student, check in with their reading response and writer's notebook, and give each student a chance to share each week.  As I tend to be an out-of-sight, out-of-mind person, when I saw index cards tacked to a bulletin board under the heading "Writing Conference" in a colleague's classroom a few years ago, I knew it was something that I had to try.  Over the past few years, our classroom workshop schedule has slowly evolved to what you see in the image below.

In an ideal week (does that exist?), a student will turn in his or her reading response notebook to me after independent reading, I'll read it that night and then have a chance to discuss their reading and their responses the following day when I confer with them.  On the following day when they have an opportunity to share some of their thinking from their independent reading book, I can prompt them for any particular thinking that we had discussed the previous day or that they shared in their reading response notebook.  The same process goes for writing. 

What systems or structures do you use in your reading and writing workshops? Or, borrowing words from Samantha Bennett in That Workshop Book, how do you help your "students [to] read, write, and talk about important content in order to learn how to read, write, talk, and develop their dispositions as thinkers?"

03 November 2009

Joy in School

Allow me to take you back eighteen years to the fall of 1991.  My high school twelfth grade IB English class was reading The Grapes of Wrath.  Groups of students were assigned the task of creating a product that would help the class further understand the time period in which the book takes place.  My group chose to create a photo essay using iconic, depression-era, black-and-white photos.

This was back in the day when the most we were taught to do on a computer (at least at our high school) was to program a turtle to move around the screen.  So, we headed for the library and checked out several coffee-table books containing photos from the depression and got to work selecting those that we felt had the greatest impact.  Then, we spent a long afternoon at the home of one of my group members using a tripod-mounted video camera to shoot a few seconds of video of each image.  Imagine: find the next image, lay it down flat, zoom in the camera, record for about five seconds, and then repeat.  Over and over for several hours.  It was a laborious process, but there was joy and camaraderie in the collaborative effort.  (Plus, I vividly recall the friend who was hosting our group making me a tape of U2's newly released Achtung Baby with some B-sides and rarities while we worked.  I still have that tape, but no tape player...)

To present the project in class, we played the video and, since we didn't have the capabilities to overdub the video with music, we played a CD of some melancholy bluegrass/folk music.  I can still recall sitting in class watching the video, feeling proud of the product, proud of our accomplishment, and emotional as it sank in what life was really like during the depression. 

So, why the trip down memory lane?  Yesterday morning, Alfie Kohn tweeted a link to a piece that he had written five years ago entitled, Feel-Bad Education: The Cult of Rigor and the Loss of Joy.  As I was home sick in bed, I had the time to read it and found it entered into my thoughts throughout the day.  Then, (and I love it when this happens) later in the day when I opened Google Reader I found a post by Dean Shareski with his reflections on the same article that he had seen on Twitter. 

Rather than share additional comments when I feel some great points have been made, I'd like to raise a few questions.  When I completed the photo essay group project, I felt a great deal of satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment and yes, joy.  Today, given the advances in technology, my fourth graders could create a more professional looking presentation with the same content in a fraction of the time.  But would they feel the same sense of accomplishment?  Can we ensure that our students will feel a sense of accomplishment--and joy--when they complete a project, with technology or without?  Is it all about making the project authentic and relevant?  Is that enough?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Image: Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange from the Wikipedia Commons

Top 100 Tools for Learning 2009

Yesterday morning, someone shared a link to the Top 100 Tools for Learning 2009.  It is a list that is currently being developed by learning professionals and hosted by a group in the UK.  Normally, I would just bookmark it and allow folks to see it in my Delicious list on the side of my blog.  However, I have personally found those items in the top 5 to be powerful tools in my own professional learning.  If you're a ZPS staff person who would like to know more about any of these tools, let me know and I'd be more than happy to get you started.
  1. Twitter
  2. Delicious
  3. Google Reader
  4. YouTube
  5. Google Docs

27 October 2009

"These teachers are constructivists, and they're the ones we remember."

While I don't plan on filling my blog with quotes from other folks, I came across this one as a dug into a book that I used for a class about eight years ago.
"During a workshop several years ago, a teacher, reflecting on her own education, noted that the teachers who influenced her most were the few who made difficult concepts accessible by seeking to understand what she knew at the time.  We have heard many people recount similar stories about their most memorable teachers.  For the most part, these remarkable teachers mattered so much because they were less concerned about covering material than they were about helping students connect their current ideas with new ones.  These teachers recognized that learning is a uniquely idiosyncratic endeavor controlled not by them but by their students, and they knew that conceptual understanding matter more than test scores.  These teachers are constructivists, and they're the ones we remember."

25 October 2009

"Presence is wisdom!"

"Wisdom is not the gathering of more facts and information, as if that would eventually coalesce into truth.  Wisdom is precisely a different way of seeing and knowing...  I suggest that wisdom is precisely the freedom to be present.  Wise people always know how to be present, but it is so much more than that.  Presence is wisdom!  People who are fully present know how to see fully, rightly, and truthfully.  Presence is the one thing necessary, and in many ways, the hardest thing of all."

Launching Writing Journals/Research Notebooks

In my district, students are working on the personal narrative mode of writing during first semester.  Each year, many of my students tell me that they don't have anything to write about.  For some, that's true.  They don't go very far from home or have opportunities for experiences that expand their minds.  For others, I believe it is a matter of not paying attention to life.

A variety of sources put the idea of a writing journal in my head.  The idea goes by many different names, but essentially I wanted a place that was separate from their writing notebook that contains the material they are drafting, revising and editing in the classroom.  Personally, I have used journals for about fifteen years to capture my thoughts, ponder life, and collect quotes, pictures, and other items that strike a cord with me.  I wondered if developing a similar practice of paying attention would help improve my students writing.

We began our writer's workshop by reading the first dozen or so pages of Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street.  As we read, we made note of the advice that was offered to Eva, the main character who couldn't find anything to write about.  We focused on Mr. Sim's advice (see image at the right) and began to talk about how we could pay attention to the "stage"" and the "players" using a writing journal.

I shared that I had seen a blog post the previous week at Two Writing Teachers that contained a video showing what one of the teachers includes in her writing journals.  Of course they wanted to see it, so I pulled it up and we watched it together and then expanded our list of items we could include in our writing journals.

I gave them the choice of either bringing in a journal or using one of the spiral notebooks I had in class.  On Friday we wrote Mr. Sim's quote on the first page and then made a short reminder list of some items to put in our writing notebooks this weekend.  

I'm hoping that not only will their writing journals be a source of writing ideas, but that they will also create a spark and interest in writing that many are expressing at this point in the year.

[I'm also hoping that their writing journals will double as their research notebooks that Harvey & Daniels write about in Collaboration and Comprehension (see p. 135), but that's a post for another day.]

20 September 2009

Classroom Blog

I'm trying an experiment this year with a classroom blog. Each year I set three goals for myself and each of the past four years communication with my students' families has been one of those goals. I'll admit that I'm not very good at sticking with it through the year. I'm hoping with the "push-button publishing" of Blogger it will be easier to keep up with it.

10 September 2009

The "Best Classroom?"

It's day three here and as my fourth graders work on writing our classroom guidelines they have been doing some brainstorming. What would the "worst classroom" look like, sound like, etc. and what would the "best classroom" contain?

Several of my students felt a best classroom would have students working quietly on worksheets all day while the teacher sat at his/her desk and did paperwork or played solitaire on the computer. No, they weren't joking. I'm working hard at changing their idea of what learning looks like to them.

We began generating this web together, and then as they filled in their own details, I filled in mine. It was one of my attempts to change some of their thinking.

What would a "best classroom" look like and sound like to you?

[As an aside, this post by Will Richardson has had me thinking a lot about what happens in my classroom. Plus, it has given me some good questions to ask my own 3rd and 1st graders at dinner.]

11 June 2009

The Connected Teacher

Yesterday Will Richardson posted a great piece where he uses a fictitious conversation between an educational leader and a journalist to share the benefits of using the social web in education. I have been thinking about the post throughout the day (while scraping paint off the side of our 98 year old home) and how great it would be if his "dream" became a reality.

I am by no means an expert at blogging, using Twitter, or participating in Nings. Yet, I can't possibly describe how much I have grown and been challenged as an educator since they became a part of my daily life.

About a month ago I had a similar vision for the staff of ZPS. What would it look like if more of us began following blogs, blogging, using Twitter, and the like? So I began putting together a simple Moodle course called The Connected Teacher. The goal is to get a small group of ZPS teachers together (this summer?) in order to support one another in using the social web for "personal professional development." Anyone is welcome to check out the Moodle course as a guest and if you're a ZPS teacher who would like to participate, send me an e-mail for the enrollment key.

13 May 2009

Creative Commons License

Last week, @wmchamberlain tweeted:

I had a general idea of what creative commons was about due to my hours of listening to NPR, but wondered what the license actually stated. After checking out Mr. C's classroom blog (quite an amazing place, I caught the tail end of a live Ustreamed Science lab a few weeks back), I got the link to the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

I felt like the license described my philosophy, both in education and in life: share. I enjoy offering ideas and am excited to share what I'm thinking in the hopes that someone will in return share their thoughts. It's also how I encourage my students to learn from each other.

So, if something in one of my random posts happens to get you thinking, please feel free to use it. Then, do us all a favor, and share your thoughts. Share and share alike.

05 May 2009

An Experiment: Using Wikis in Moodle with Literature Circles

[This is another reply to a question I posted on the Elementary Teachers - English Companion Ning.]

A few months ago, I wrote about a few different things that I wanted to try in my classroom in regards to exposing my students to the 21st Century Literacies. Last week I was doing some personal learning using 21st Century Literacies and experimenting with my students. I'd like to share some of my thinking, learning, and experimenting in the hopes that we can potentially put many minds together and see where this could take our students. This reply possibly belongs in the technology section of the Ning, but I am not as tech savvy as many that are out there and believe that many of us classroom teachers could pull this off with a little time and trial and error.

One of the things that I wanted to try this school year was having my 4th grade students create a wiki. I had talked to a high school teacher in my district who was using pbwiki.com, but the free version only allowed for one user name which her whole class shared. Then a week or so ago, I was on Twitter and @lasic, an Ed Tech in Australia, shared a link to a video he had created about using Moodle. [Moodle is free software, read more about it. Talk to your local tech person about getting you set up! :>)] I pulled up the video on YouTube and while I watched it I created a wiki within Moodle.

Part of the focus in our Reading Workshop for the week was Literature Circles. My students chose books on Monday and I asked them to finish by Friday. It was a tall order, and two of the groups with longer books had to discuss on the following Monday. Yet, they were motivated to dig in to their new books and have the opportunity to discuss them with their classmates on Friday. I knew that in order for their face-to-face discussions to go well, they would need an opportunity to work with the books during the week. This is where I saw my opportunity to use the wikis in Moodle.

On Tuesday, I explained to them in general terms how wikis work and that their group of five students would be working together to create a wiki that included a list of the characters with brief descriptions, a summary of what they had read so far, and what they felt was the theme with evidence from the text. As they read during workshop time and at home that night, they began to make notes in their response logs about what they would add to their group's wiki the following day. The following day, we spent 40 minutes in the computer lab explaining how to use a wiki and allowing them to get started. As a wiki only allows one person to edit at a time, I created separate discussion groups for them to discuss their books while they waited for their group member to finish editing. We had used the discussion (forum) feature of Moodle before, so they knew how to post questions and respond to their classmates. As Moodle allowed me to set up groups based upon the book they were reading, each student was only allowed to edit their own group's wiki and post in their book's discussion group. They could, however, view the other groups' wikis and discussions. We worked for another 45 minutes on Thursday and while they didn't finish their wikis or discussions, I believe they were better prepared for their face-to-face discussions on Friday because of the time spent thinking and working during the week.

If you'd like to take a look at the wikis they created (remember, the goal wasn't the product this week, they certainly are not final drafts), you're welcome to log in to our Moodle course as a guest. Use the enrollment key "path" to get in. Unfortunately, as I can't assign the guest to a particular book, you won't be able to view their discussions. It will tell you there hasn't been one started, but they're really just hidden.

Reflections... Could this same work have been achieved with a notebook and pencil? Sure. Would they have been as motivated to do it? Maybe, maybe not. Did they experience a little of what it means to collaborate using technology? Yes. Did I learn how to set up wikis within Moodle for projects next year? Yes. Did I share with my students how I used the 21st Century Literacies in my own learning how to set this up? Yes. All in all, a pretty good experiment.

02 May 2009

On Being Connected

Last week I joined my students in an attempt to remain screen free with the exception of work-related computer use. For the first 24 hours, it felt great to be disconnected -- like I had one less responsibility during the day. However, by Wednesday (day 3) it was feeling strange and after a colleague started a conversation about Twitter during morning recess I began to slide back into Twittering from time to time.

Staying away from the computer the rest of the week was a challenge and I would hop online for 15 minutes here or there, but I tried to remain committed to my promise to my students. It wasn't until the weekend when I sat down to peruse the 175 or so posts on my Reader that I realized what I was missing, connection.

In the past, I've held the opinion that connections, maybe relationships is a better word, could not be developed online. I felt they had to be developed in person first, then they could be maintained online. My participation in screen free week changed that opinion.

When I finally opened up my Reader it was like walking into a room full of great conversations that I had been missing out on, like I had shown up to the party late. As I read through the posts from the week, it was as if I could hear the authors' voices in my head. The voices of Will, Karl, Mary Lee and Franki, Kevin, Cole, and many others (too many to link) who fill my Reader with great thinking each week. I will probably never meet these folks face to face, but they have become a part of my professional community that challenges my thinking and helps me to see the great potential that exists within the walls of my classroom everyday.

[As I side note, it is interesting how connected one can be these days. I am writing this post from my in-laws' cabin in the northwoods of Michigan where even here there is wireless...]

19 April 2009

Turnoff Week & Mindfulness

Turnoff Week begins tomorrow morning at 8 AM. I think this will be my 9th or 10th year of participation with my students out of the past 13 years. TV is not hard for me to cut out, but staying away from the computer screen will be much more challenging. The Center for Screen-Time Awareness has great materials for participation with students and families and Adbusters has a Digital Detox Week campaign going at the same time (they even have a customized message for participants to copy and paste into Twitter or Facebook, which I will be doing tomorrow morning).

Ironically, perhaps, or perhaps they planned it, this week's program of Speaking of Faith featured one of my favorite authors, Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn is one of the country's foremost researchers on mindfulness and its application to stress-reduction and health, in gerenal. Two of his books, Wherever You Go, There You Are and Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, have greatly contributed to my understanding of mindfulness and ability to live in the present moment.

I wasn't able to listen to the entire show this morning while cooking pancakes for the kids, but the following caught my attention in a post on the show's blog this past week:
In the second half of our upcoming show with Jon Kabat-Zinn (first available in podcast on Thursday morning), he argues, to some degree, that the accelerated pace of technology and its significance in our lives doesn’t allow us to be mindful, to live in the present. All this communication and digital connectedness actually creates an inner dissonance — a disconnectedness with our own selves.

One memorable moment in Krista’s interview: Kabat-Zinn describes a person viewing a sunset. Instead of simply taking it in, he says, we either are thinking about how we might write about it (or perhaps tweet or blog it), or, that certain somebody standing next to you actually has to gab away and tell you how gorgeous it is — which completely removes you from the moment of recognition and contemplation. In other words, we have this compulsion to do something with the moment in order to make it meaningful. We are not being mindful.
While I certainly try to live in the present moment, my family, colleagues, and students would all probably attest to my getting lost in my thoughts from time to time. I will even admit to doing exactly what Kabat-Zinn spoke of in that second paragraph. Even this morning as I listened to the show and made breakfast for the kids, rather than enjoying the moment I was composing this blog post in my head. The worst part of it was that I knew I wasn't living in the present, but I was more interested in the ideas in my head than the pancakes on the griddle. However, I find comfort in the fact that Kabat-Zinn writes that knowing that one is not being mindful is a step in the right direction.

The ability to live in the present is also a great assest in the classroom. In two professional books that I have read this school year, Teaching with Intention and That Workshop Book, the authors share the importance of living in the present. Debbie Miller describes time and again how she listens to her students and takes notes on the things they say in an effort to truly understand what they are learning and where she needs to go next in her instruction. Samantha Bennett, likewise, reminds us that the key to a successful workshop environment is listening to students and really hearing what they have learned. I know that the days when I am not distracted by thinking about what I will be teaching later in the day or about how to handle a situation with a difficult student go so much smoother when I am present and therefore more connected with my students.

I'm sure my absense from the online community will not be noted by many this week, I rarely update my Twitter or Facebook status. However, I find myself checking in on a frequent basis, looking for new ideas or wondering what family and friends are up to. This week I hope that as I keep the computer turned off (at least most of the time), I'll find my thoughts slowing down, becoming more coherent, and I'll find myself enjoying the wonder of the present moment.

17 April 2009

Henri's book review

A few months ago I shared a book review from my second grade daughter. Now it's Henri's turn.

It should be noted that I disagree with him on one point, he does have too many toys. :>)

02 April 2009

What's in a name (change)?

When I first created this blog, I never intended for it to be for public eyes. In fact, it was set as private for the first month and a half or so. Eventually, I realized the same thing that we often tell our students - we need to know our audience. I wanted to put my thoughts into words, but also wanted to use more details than I needed if I were the sole reader.

Sometime in early to mid-January I opened it up and allowed it to come under public scrutiny. Thankfully, my few readers have been more than kind and encouraging as I share a thought or two here and there.

Then a problem came up - the name was, well, too long. A creative mess is better than idle neatness doesn't exactly roll right off the tongue, it doesn't fit well in Reader, and it is a lot to put in print. So, we'll try something new.

A Simple Workshop

Why A Simple Workshop?

A - Not The, simply A. One of many.

Simple - Simplicity has been a part of my life philosophy for years. It has been a part of my teaching philosophy as well. Give me a classroom library full of good books, a case of spiral notebooks, sharpened pencils, a stack of G.O.O.S. (good on one side) paper and I can teach. Oh, and a document camera as well. A class set of netbooks with access to a wireless network would be fun, too. But maybe not very simple. [I was recalling the other day about when Dr. Richard Allington spoke in our district a few years back, he shared that he would like to give teachers the option of teaching with a limited amount of copies and in exchange would provide them with an $800 gift card to Barnes & Noble. I would take him up on that offer.]

Workshop - I have written enough on workshop philosophy for you to know that I am a big advocate of it, and for more than just reading and writing. The reality of it is that it can be time consuming and "messy," but also, in my opinion, what is best for kids. I'll leave it at that for now.

So, there you have it. The name has changed, but everything remains the same (including the domain name and RSS feed settings).

[Photo in the header: A glimpse of my dad's workshop, Pinewood Studio, in northeastern Wisconsin.]

01 April 2009

Slice of Life: Wrap-Up

The Slice of Life Challenge was a new experience for my class and I this year. I went into the challenge, and the month, with high hopes for both myself and my students. At the start of the month, 19 of my 27 students had signed up and I was ready to go myself. I gave them all a new notebook to use for their "slices," I set up a daily forums on Moodle to allow students to post their writings there (if they so chose), and my blog was ready and waiting for all of my posts.

In the end, here's how the numbers played out:
  • 31 slices! = 3 students
  • 25-30 slices = 2 students
  • 20-24 slices = 1 student
  • 15-19 slices = 3 students
  • 10-14 slices = 3 students
  • 5-9 slices = 1 teacher :>)
  • 4 or fewer slices = 7 students
This afternoon my students and I celebrated our efforts. I think the biggest lesson I learned personally is that the writing life is all about discipline. Making oneself sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on a daily basis requires determination and an ability to stay focused on the task at hand (especially when the online world presents so many other options). Maybe I'd get more writing accomplished if I did it on paper? Something to think about for next year.

30 March 2009

Google Reader: Adding Subscriptions

This post was written for a very small audience, namely the members of our Literacy Book Club. If you happen to learn something from it, great. Better yet, if you can help expand the learning by sharing your own experiences with Google Reader, please leave a comment. Thanks!

There are several different ways to add subscriptions to Google Reader. Quite simply, look for the RSS feed icon. RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Once you begin to look for it, you'll see it almost everywhere. Here are a few of the places I've found it in the last few minutes...

...on the front page of the ZPS website

...on our Moodle forum

...in the sidebar of Karl Fisch's blog (subscribe to posts for now, we'll talk about comments later in the week)

Once you click on the RSS icon, if you're given a choice, choose the RSS feed and then add it to Google Reader.

There are other ways to subscribe as well:

at the bottom of the e-mail that I sent you via Google Reader

or by clicking "Add a subscription" within Reader, as we practiced on Friday.

The perfectionist in me wants to apologize for the visual appearance of this post. I wish Blogger allowed for the use of tables. Anybody want to give me a lesson in HTML code? :>)

29 March 2009

Google Reader: Getting Started

On Friday afternoon, I had the opportunity to share some of the professional learning, thinking, and experiences that have resulted from my use of Google Reader with my colleagues and fellow members of Shari's Literacy Book Club. I've used Google Reader for several years, but mostly for personal use -- following the blogs of family, friends, and writers who write on topics that interest me personally. However, about a year ago, I began following the A Year of Reading blog after reading about it on Choice Literacy.

The chance to read posts from other educators on topics that impacted me directly in the classroom was profound. I began to search out more blogs written by other teachers and I was hooked. Franki Sibberson, one of the bloggers from A Year of Reading, recently wrote a piece for Choice Literacy entitled Beyond Gadgets: What Does It Mean to Be a Literacy Teacher Today? I used the following from that piece to explain to our book club members what I had experienced through my use of Google Reader. She writes:
What is most valuable is that my literacy has expanded my communities. Instead of learning only from literacy leaders and the few authors I've been fortunate enough to hear at an annual conference or two, I can now learn from so many different people on a daily basis by accessing the internet. The thinking that is possible when I interact in new communities has been key to who I have become as a reader, writer and thinker. I love the way that I can become part of a community that I did not even know existed only a few years ago.
Fellow book club members, I hope that you've had a few moments to check in with Reader this weekend and learn something new. I'd love to hear what you find. If my week goes according to plan, I'll post a few additional suggestions in the coming days for using Reader and blogs for your own professional learning.

[Here's a link to the packet that I put together for our small group learning. It includes articles from Choice Literacy, Google Reader, and the ASCD. Why reinvent the wheel, right?]

20 March 2009

Our ten seconds of fame?

Back in October we asked my wife's friend and colleague, who also happens to be the Reading Specialist at our kids' school and a gifted photographer, to take some photos of our family. We had never had photos taken before, and felt like it was something that we should do before our kids got too much older.

Last night, Lara posted some of the photos she took on her photo blog. It was fun to see the snapshots from that moment in our lives (even in the five short months since then the kids have changed and Chloe is walking). After seeing the photos I asked if this counts as our family's ten seconds of fame. If so, it was fun while it lasted.

18 March 2009

Time to Reflect

I am, by nature, a reflective person. The gift can be both a blessing and a curse, it depends upon the day. Lately, I haven't been creating time to be reflective, and I feel like it shows. There has been a lot to accomplish, both at home and at school, but I don't feel like anything has been getting my best mental effort.

My students and I haven't been finding much time to reflect in the classroom either. Thankfully we have an uninterrupted ELA block in the morning for reading and writing workshops that allows for regular times of sharing and discussion. However, our content time for math, science, and social studies is often bracketed by lunch, recesses, and Specials. There often isn't enough time during these subjects to allow for a mini-lesson, student work time, and reflection, or "debrief," as Samantha Bennett calls it.

In That Workshop Book, Bennett writes:
If each day, a teacher focuses on students making meaning of important content--meaning that is inspired by the content of the minilesson, listened to during the worktime, and then labeled and celebrated in the debrief--then student thinking sits at the heart of each minute of school day.
She goes on to further explain the debrief,
During the debrief teaching can look like sharing student thinking and work, synthesizing student thinking, labeling patterns from the worktime, making connections from the minilesson, setting the stage for the next day, holding student thinking on an anchor chart to propel the next day of thinking, summarizing on purpose, asking students to self-assess, sharing student questions raised during worktime... the possibilities are endless if you believe that student thinking matters most.
I believe that "student thinking matters most," now I just need to make the time for it.

12 March 2009

Slice of Life: The fog has lifted

This slice is a little "thick" due to the fact that I haven't posted for the past seven days. Who would have thought the first week of March would have been so busy? No prizes for this guy this year, but the challenge has been good for me.

I have been living life in a sort of fog the past week or so. The sun has peeked through at various moments -- literally, last Thursday afternoon for an unseasonably warm glimpse of spring, and metaphorically, while on a weekend church retreat. Other than those moments, my mind has been clouded by illness (all five members of our family have been on antibiotics), preparations for and meeting with parents for spring conferences, and getting report cards ready for today's deadline. Of course, there have also been the other random assortment of distractions that life dishes out.

Today, I could tell that the fog had lifted. I was able to complete thoughts, speak somewhat coherent sentences, and actually help my kids clean their bedroom tonight even though my wife was teaching and I was responsible for getting all three of them to bed at a reasonable hour. I was also able to do some thinking about the project my students are working on and how I want them to publish it. The creative juices were flowing once again. It's good to be back in the sunshine again.

04 March 2009

Slice of Life: A drive

This afternoon as I left the school parking lot, I turned left, rather than right. I drove east, away from town, away from the big lake, away from the afternoon sun. As I drove I enjoyed the break from routine and began to savor the sights, familiar sights, but sights that I haven't seen for a while. I enjoyed driving through the rolling hills past the farms that haven't given in to the temptation of a quick dollar by selling out to developers.

As I continued heading east, I eventually passed the CSA farm that provides our family's vegetables for 20+ weeks during the summer and fall. It reminded me that in three short (long?!) months, we would be out in those fields -- transplanting, weeding, harvesting, washing -- helping to provide the food that we as shareholders have come to love and depend on.

After I reached my destination and had exchanged four clean, glass jars for four jars of fresh goats' milk, I headed for home. Thankful for a change in routine, thankful for a opportunity to get out into the country, thankful for the farmers that provide so much of our local fare.

03 March 2009

Slice of Life: Antibiotics

Azithromycin 100 MG.  Amoxicillin.  Azithromycin 200 MG.  

Take 6 ML by mouth daily.

Take one teaspoonful by mouth once daily for 5 days.

Take two teaspoonfuls by mouth twice daily for 10 days.

Three kids.

Three cases of strep throat.

Three diagnoses of pinkeye in as many days.

As Garrison Keillor says, "it could have been worse."

On an unrelated note, peace be to memory of Garrison's brother, John Keillor.  

02 March 2009

Slice of Life: Conjunctivitis

"She's heading for the love seat. Quick, grab the drops!" As this is currently the least favorite part of our family's morning routine, I picked up the small bottle with dread. I already knew what would follow. There would be wrestling, crying, tears. Getting eye drops into our 21 month old daughter's eyes is always a challenge.

My wife made it to the love seat first and started to get our daughter to lay down. My daughter knew what was coming next. Sure enough, the crying began and she began to try to hide her face from me. Then she pulled out a new trick: squeezing her eyes tightly shut.

It was then, amidst the tears and crying, that I think she began to think she had won. A slight grin began to form on her face. It was as if she was thinking, "as long as I keep my eyes shut tight, they won't be able to get the drops in." Well, to her credit, she was right.

Yet, perseverance always pays off and when just the slightest opening was available, I squeezed the bottle of pinkeye medication and got a drop in. One down, one to go. The second eye took two drops, but they were in and she was on the way (hopefully!) to clear eyes and happier days.

01 March 2009

Slice of Life: My daughter, the digital native

"Can I do the Slice of Life story contest, too?" my seven year old daughter asked. After getting her squared away with a notebook and a pencil, I got back to the ominous task of clearing off my desk at the back of my classroom. Within a few minutes she had written a "slice" from her day, a brief piece about joining me at school for the afternoon. More questions followed, about my students' writings and about my own.

"I'm going to post my daily Slice of Life writings to my blog," I told her.

"Can I have a blog?" she quickly asked, with excitement that I didn't want to squelch with a "someday" answer.

After a few minutes of brainstorming possibilities (our family's Google Apps site? Blogger?), checking out the age limitations on Blogger (one needs to be at least 13 years old), we settled on using my Blogger account to create a blog for her. It was an option that I felt good about, knowing that I could maintain a little "parental control" on the behind-the-scenes functions.

She named her blog and picked out a template and got to work. "Should I capitalize all of the words in my title? Do I type in this big box?" she wondered, and then she was off. Ten minutes later, her first Slice of Life writing was posted and she was on the way to being a blogger.

Later on, she had physically moved on to other tasks about my classroom, but her mind was still working on the new found wonder of blogging. It was this final question that reminded me of the stark contrast between her life as a digital native and mine as a digital immigrant. "Will they have computers at the retreat next weekend?"

"No," I explained, wondering where the question was going. "The church retreat is at a camp in the woods. Why?"

"I was just wondering how I was going to write my Slice of Life writing on my blog while we are there."

Now that is certainly not something that I ever wondered when I was seven.

Slice of Life Story Challenge

Eighteen of my twenty-seven students have signed up to participated in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Hopefully they are all working on their first writing this afternoon.

Check out the Two Writing Teachers blog for more information.

25 February 2009

Slice of Life: Sub Plans

My students will be participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge beginning on March 1st. Here's a sample I wrote for them...

I unlocked the door and flipped the light switches. As the cold fluorescent lights slowly warmed up to the idea of providing light, I glanced at the clock: 27 minutes after eight. Twelve hours earlier the hallway was filled with the sound of excited chatter, stories shared to get a laugh, and anticipation of a new day.

Our classroom has a different feel to it at night. There is a calm, but almost eerie, stillness. The feeling is such a stark contrast to the feeling in the morning. In the morning there is a feeling of potential, possibility, in the stillness.

As I sat down in front of my computer to write my sub plans, I wondered if my students would feel that potential the next morning despite my absence.

A pause

I took a personal day today to take some time to regroup.  Life has been moving too fast, my thoughts have been scattered, and I've been uncharacteristically impatient with both my students and my own kids.  

As I was browsing through a large envelope of quotes that I've collected from various sources over the past fifteen years, these two resonated with me today.

"Now and then it is good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy." - author unknown

For today, my goal is to be a person.

18 February 2009

How do my beliefs and practices line up?

As I've mentioned before, I began this blog as a result of a book study of Teaching With Intention. It was my purpose to look closely at what I believed and ask why I believed it. My goal for the coming months is to pick apart and analyze what I do in my classroom on a daily basis. As Debbie Miller writes:
Once I developed my belief statements, the next step was to align with my classroom practices. I looked closely at everything I did; I looked closely at everything I asked kids to do. From the beginning strains of the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" at the start of the day through the final chorus of "Happy Trails to You" at day's end, everything came under scrutiny. Nothing was sacred.

I'd ask myself questions about my practice: Where's the evidence of this belief in the classroom? What kinds of things should I be seeing, hearing, doing to support this belief? Where does this practice fit into what I say I value? What studies support this practice?
I'm not looking to rewrite Teaching With Intention, Debbie Miller did an excellent job the first time. I am, however, always working to do what is best for the students who call my classroom their "home away from home" for nine months of the year. I am also not afraid to be honest about what I know and don't know. Since moving to fourth grade almost three years ago, I've tended to feel like "all I know is that I know nothing" more often than not. It's my hope that by reflecting on my daily practices I will truly be "teaching with intention."

11 February 2009

21st Century Literacies in Elementary Classrooms

[Last week I posted a question on the Elementary Teachers - English Companion Ning. This is part of my reply to my own question.]

As I try to clarify my own thinking on the issue of integrating the 21st Century Literacies into my classroom, I find myself in the middle between the opposing sides of "stick to the basics" and making "tech geeks" out of my students. When I re-read my reply to Michael I felt like I sounded like a Neo-Luddite who didn't see a place for computers. In actuality, prior to coming to 4th grade almost three years ago, I taught at the middle level for ten years, primarily math, science, and computers. We had a two teacher team which allowed for a great deal of integration of technology and cross-curricular projects. In hindsight, I feel like I sometimes went too far to the extreme of integrating technology possibly to the detriment of the curriculum and the development of thinking skills in my students. So when I came to 4th grade I decided that I would focus on my core curriculum without the technology.

As I have moved closer to my personal philosophy of education and have become more comfortable with 4th grade curriculum and workshop philosophy, I have found myself integrating more technology. This time, however, I am making every effort to make sure that the "ends justify the means" and that student thinking and learning are enhanced by the technology they use. What follows are some of the ways that I either am integrating, am planning on integrating, or am brainstorming integrating technology.
  1. Moodle. Upper elementary teachers in our district are required to teach half an hour of keyboarding skills to our classes each week (in addition to an hour of computer instruction they receive every other week). Each Friday, my students and I head down to the computer lab where they use All The Right Type for twenty minutes and then we will often login to Moodle for a while to discuss a topic. I used Moodle with my 8th grade students in the past, but had been reluctant to use it with 4th graders. They are learning how to use it quite quickly (although some are more interested in posting 250-point font emoticons of smiling devils than the content they write - thank goodness for the the administrator delete feature). Recent topics have included: "What's the best book you've read this year?" "What's the most important thing you've learned this year?" or the basic "What are your plans over Christmas Break?"
  2. "Our Living Minute." This recent article on Choice Literacy has me wondering if adding this structure to our classroom's Morning Meeting routine would allow for opportunities for students to meet some of the standards of the 21st Century Literacies. I'm not sure, but it may be worth a try.
  3. Book Review Vodcasts. The reading teacher at my daughter and son's school has recently been creating vodcasts of book reviews by students at the K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 grade levels. I showed them to my students and they were quite interested in the project, but I have been wondering about the management of actually getting the videos recorded and edited. What's the quickest way to do it?
  4. Class Wiki. One of our larger 4th grade Science projects involves the study of the animals of the Great Lakes. In the past, students have researched an animal, created a life-like, 3-D model of it, and then written a small book on the attributes of that animal. Lately I have been wondering what it would look like to create a class wiki on the animals of the Great Lakes, incorporating their writing, an image of their model, and possibly some poetry similar to the text insectlopedia. Considering that most of my students are typing around 10 WPM, how long would it take to complete it and how much would I end up doing for them? Probably too much? Would the time spent be worth the learning that results?
So, those are a few of my ideas. Your thoughts?

That Workshop Book by Samantha Bennett

Yesterday I picked up a new book called That Workshop Book: New Systems and Structures for Classrooms That Read, Write, and Think. I first read about it last week when it was mentioned in an article called Our Living Minute on Choice Literacy. Evidently, I had missed its arrival some time last spring (or probably was just too overloaded at the time and hit "mark all as read" on my Reader).

Once I finally got all three kids to bed last night and sat down to tackle my nightly homework (scoring mid-year spelling assessments and reading the next three chapters of Nonfiction in Focus for next week's book club meeting were on last night's agenda), I found myself hooked before I finished the table of contents. I'm sure the other work will get done sometime this week...

It will be some time before I have any time to write my reflections on it, so in the meantime enjoy this review from A Year of Reading.

09 February 2009

A gentle reminder to myself

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while doing it.

05 February 2009

As a proud parent...

My seven year old daughter, Martha, is featured as one of the "Friday Book Reporters" at her school this week.

Two colleagues and I have been chatting about creating podcasts or vodcasts, possibly about the books they are reading. The technology is there... where's the time?

13 January 2009

Tech Tips for Teachers 102

[The second post in a series?]

I used to spend far too much time in front of a computer. Then I learned that I was a happier person when I spent less time in front of a screen (duh, right?). Anyway, my goal is now to get what I need from a computer and then get off as soon as possible. Here are two tools that I have found to make my professional life (and personal life) easier and get that information more quickly.


Delicious is a web-based application that stores your bookmarks so that you can access them from any computer. I used it for personal bookmarks for a couple of years, but this past summer I lost all of the bookmarks that I had been acquiring here at school since moving to 4th grade. So I began using Delicious for my teaching bookmarks as well. Here are the great things about using it:
  • They have a handy toolbar that you can install into any browser that you use (you can see it in the screen shot of Google Reader below)
  • You create tags that allow your bookmarks to be more easily searched
  • Other people can view your book marks unless you decide to keep it private. You can view my public bookmarks if you wish.
  • When you first sign up, it will ask if you want to import your bookmarks from your computer. I imported from multiple computers, getting some overlap (and some of my wife's bookmarks), but all of my bookmarks are in one place.
Google Reader

There are many different web-based applications (aka aggregators) available for keeping up with reading blogs or other web pages with RSS. My favorite is Google Reader simply because it integrates with my Gmail account so easily. Once you've added subscriptions, you can quickly view any new posts from any of your favorite blogs all from one page. Check it out.

02 January 2009

Everything is connected

I have been enjoying the process of putting my thoughts into words as I have been posting over the past few weeks. In years past (pre-blogging) I considered writing something, but never took the time to do it. Blogging is a creative solution as it allows for short writings and instant publishing.

However, I began this blog as an outlet for my reflections on teaching and learning and am now finding that it is difficult to compartmentalize my thoughts and ideas only to education. My views on life, parenting, and faith are all a part of who I am in a classroom. So, I am going to allow myself (I know, I don't need permission) to blog on topics other than my life in the classroom.