#DigLitSunday “The Journey is Everything”

DigLitSundayA big SHOUT OUT to Margaret Simon for setting up a Twitter Chat on Aug. 28th with Katherine Bomer, author of The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them.  I wish this book made my summer reading list… I picked it up a few weeks ago at the HighAIMS summer institute and just today started reading it. So I will find myself following the chat to learn and then going back to the archive as I get more into the book (as I am only on page 22 right now).

Already I have been inspired by this text. As I read the essay “Joyas Voladoras” on page 3 (also found here), the reading teacher in me was coming up with so many teaching ideas for using this text with my 4th graders.  After reading Katherine’s inner dialogue, I realized the lens I was reading through was much different. I was not considering this text from a writing point of view but rather as a reader. However this is what makes close reading with students so fantastic. We interpret what we read in so many different ways… and there is no “one correct” way.

Thus I started to re-examine the essay and the use of language. So beautiful. If only I had more time with my students… I miss the chance to really help them develop voice as they write. Nevertheless as I examine the essay more as a writer myself through this book, I know I will find ways to squeeze in mini-lessons to help my students grow more.

For now, the ‘essay’ work my students will do comes in the form of reading response letters to me each week as homework. My students pick the text and have 2 menus of prompts to choose from (fiction and nonfiction). I scaffold them from writing a few sentences into full well-developed essays.  This year knowing I have about 90 eight to ten year olds to work with each day, I decided to “flip” my writing instruction and so I started a series of video lessons that take students through expectations as they “level up”. I know this is not the essence of Katherine’s book, but I do find that my more ‘structured’ essays give me a chance to teach and develop often very needed writing skills.

And so the mini-lessons are for students and families to access as needed: http://www.symbaloo.com/home/mix/responseletterresources

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 11.02.04 AM  I have 13 lessons so far for my new 3rd graders. Part 2 is working on taking students on from where this set ends; ideally as new 4th graders who have already leveled up…  The Journey to respond to text in a well written essay is everything for my readers at this time.

#DigLitSunday Digital Voice


When I think of “voice” in writing, I think of actually “hearing” the author speaking as I read their work. Student voice often comes through to me because I envision a conversation. I wish I had more time with my students to work on writing, but I am only “officially” a reading teacher for 3rd and 4th grade gifted students. With only one hour a day to spend with my precocious 8-10 year olds, I pack in everything I can.  So how do I integrate digital voice?

I take teaching discussion techniques very seriously. Children need to be taught how to have discourse: face-to-face and digitally. While I could write another post on ways I model face-to-face communication skills, I’m going to focus on digital discussion, and therefore how I promote students having a digital voice in my classroom. (On a side note, I explicitly teach 9 elements of digital citizenshipScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.17 PMScreen Shot 2016-05-22 at 3.51.31 PM

As a Level 1 Certified Google teacher, I love the commenting features of #GAfE. However, when it comes to discussing text, my “go-to” tool is NowComment! NowComment is a free web-based application that allows teachers to turn documents into conversations! Let some former students show you how it works! Here’s an infomercial they did:


It is pretty easy to use! I love that I can not only work on response to reading skills but also teach digital citizenship.  Here’s a collection of helpful set up videos to help ‘convince’ you and get you started!


(The collection includes a lesson plan as well from ISTE’s Project ReImagined Library!)


Stay tuned… I’ll add more as NowComment is about to release some exciting new features very soon!


#DigLitSunday : Crafting Digital Media

DigLitSundayCreating is the highest level of thinking on Bloom’s Taxonomy (revised). It involves combining parts to make a new whole and producing new or original work. One of my goals has always been to show my students how to not just be “consumers” of information, but “producers” as well. For this reason, I have tried each year to encourage them to “show what they have learned” in ways that they choose.

Last year I launched some new options for my 4th graders, focusing on using mostly Google tools. I gave students their learning goal, let them choose the resources (texts) they read and then they would analyze and evaluate their resource sharing their thinking with the tool of their choice. I got many slide decks, drawings, docs, and sheets to compare/contrast texts. The focus then became on the learning…not on the technology and yet students were learning so many tech skills through their creative products of learning.

This year I look to continue this but will add a few other tools to the list of choices: notably Educreations, audio recording/podcasting, and sketchnoting (both ‘analog’ and digital’). These are tools my students have explored in the past with specific projects, but now I look to open up accessibility. This is part of my plan for students to ‘level up’ and unlock more exciting classroom privileges.

The pinnacle of creation in the opinion of my 9-10 year olds however comes in the form of video production and website building/design. A few years ago I started experimenting with having students create videos when we did virtual field trips. Students worked in small groups to explore a virtual destination and then were invited to create a video sharing what they learned with others. There were some hysterical interpretations, including a Jeopardy match, an ‘interview’ broadcast, performing of a song (written to teach others about bioluminescence), and more (see 2014 on the site). We shot these using a standard video camera but the uploading process to the host site wasn’t strong so they are not so easy to access :0(

Year two I learned how to use a green screen and we had a great time exploring it. We learned some valuable lessons however…like if your classroom is designed to be ‘green’ and you have lighting that casts green, people in your videos look ‘transparent’! I also started to upload to YouTube for better streaming when videos were shared. Videos were recorded on an iPad (I found a WONDERFUL iPad tripod stand that made it easy for students to record themselves) and thanks to Donors Choose, we had a MacBook for students to do their own editing on iMovie. Students had a great time sharing what they learned with videos (see 2015 on the site). I learned so much about my kids as I watched them practice and record their videos. The process was more educational for them than the product!

As I headed into my 3rd year of gifted reading, I took advantage of Donors Choose to get puppets for even more creativity when making videos. As my 4th graders completed “must do” tasks, they started helping me ‘re-do’ some videos on figurative language. (I had some ‘flipped lessons’ that served the purpose but lacked interest and creativity). The puppets inspired some great scripts and nice videos for teaching others. (Check out these student creations: Oxymoron, Personification, Similes, and Onomatopoeia)

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.07.46 AM.png

By the end of the year, we were pretty comfortable with our video creation capabilities and so our video products in our virtual field trips were the best yet (see 2016 on the site).

One thing I had floating around in the back of my mind to explore is having students create digital portfolios with websites.  I knew the potential, but wasn’t so comfortable with the tools available. I use Weebly to build sites regularly and find it user friendly but couldn’t figure out a way for my students to really “own” their own (too much supervision required for 9-10 year olds; I am a HUGE believer in digital citizenship). Google sites at the time was hard (love the new updates…BTW). Still I had a few 4th graders who were eager and so I let them explore (hopefully the links work…sharing settings may need to be adjusted as the sites are owned by the students):

Ally and Reagan: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/the-learning-club/

Ben: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/pastandpresentsports-com/

Max: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/allaboutsp/

Ryan and Aaron: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/cool-sports/?pli=1

Ellie: https://sites.google.com/a/students.lovelandschools.org/ellie-s-experiences/ 

From Ellie’s site: Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.30.56 AM.png
Now fast forward to a new year… as I consider all that I’ve learned with my students, I look forward to helping my students really create more of their own digital media. The emphasis will be on ‘showing what they learn’ and my role will be to provide support and facilitate their creative processes as they craft their own digital media for others to view!

#DigLitSunday : Revisiting Digital Reading

DigLitSunday.png First I want to thank Margaret Simon for inviting me to join her #DigLitSunday community! I am always eager to learn with other passionate educators!.

With a new school year on the horizon, I once again find myself excited about implementing fresh ideas from my own learning. This summer was filled with so much more, as an unexpected foot surgery resulted in an excessive amount of time to read, learn, read, reflect, read, write… I am almost overwhelmed with all of the new learning I have to process and implement into my classroom.

However, an important part of the process for me is improving upon ideas I tried that need some refinement. That is where Digital Reading (Bass/Sibberson) from #cyberPD 2015 comes in. As I picked the book back up for a quick review, I found three things I considered last year that I am looking to pump up: (1) Digital Reading Survey to start the year, (2) Digital Reading Walls (and idea I took from Cathy Mere), and (3) Print vs. Digital views.

Starting with the survey, I adapted questions from page 89 to set up a Google form for students. The goal was to consider what they already knew and to get them thinking about digital reading. It was a great way to get to know new students and for parents to gain insight into types of reading that they did not consider. For instance, one of the questions is about audiobooks. Check the survey here. Last year I sent this to families before the year started and had a nice return on responses, but what I didn’t do was follow up with those that did not participate. This year, I will have students who didn’t participate from home add their thinking in class. I am also going to use it as a start to work on educating parents more on digital citizenship as their children start to venture more into exploring digital reading.

Next I am building “digital reading walls” for my new 3rd graders. Cathy Mere wrote a post last year about Creating a Reading History Archive for her students. While my student population (3rd/4th grade gifted readers) differs from her population, I loved her idea for using Padlet to create a wonderful visual archive of texts students read. My situation is a bit unique…I will see 90 8-10 year olds next year each day…that is a ton of children! Having only an hour with them is not much time to really get to know them as readers. I have shared texts we read for discussion and higher level analysis, evaluation, and thinking. I have them write responses to self-selected texts each week in a “letter” to me. But this still doesn’t give me the full picture of all of the reading my students do. Therefore I asked parents to start sending me pictures of their child holding books they were reading at home (ideally, snap a photo while the child is holding the book and reading it…) Then I put the pictures on Padlet to create their child’s digital reading wall. This is Trevor (whom I get to have as a 4th grader this year!)Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 9.39.35 AM.png

Trevor’s wall is a bit of an exception, as his mother was very much into sharing photos; I did not do a good enough job in reminding parents and students to keep up with the photos all year, so I plan to do that. I’m excited that I already have one incoming student wall started and just got an email yesterday from another incoming student filled with pictures! What I love about this is that it helps me gain insight into my student personalities and sharing the walls with everyone lets students see what they might have in common. Another benefit… my parents often ask me about how to get their children reading more “challenging” texts; that is they are not fans of some of the selections they see their child making as they consider them to “low level”. These walls gave me a chance to open dialogue…gifted learners often have asynchronous development and while my 8-9 year olds might be “able” to read at a high school level, they are emotionally no where near that. Those texts about characters that use “potty humor” are what many of my kids still relate to and so parents should let their children pursue these texts for independent selections.  In any event, I have a goal to really use the digital reading walls as a tool for assessing what my student interests are.

Finally the idea of “print vs. digital”; this was a topic that I really considered last summer during the book study and even made a video for my students and families “comparing” the benefits of a print resource and a digital resource. Screen Shot 2016-08-07 at 9.50.40 AM.png

In the video I use the same text but show what I like about the print version and what I like about the digital version. Doing this as a learner myself allowed me to realize that we should not view use of materials as “either, or” but rather “and”. Print and digital sources need to be used simultaneously in our classrooms, AND we need to be mindful of the need to explicitly teach our children strategies for reading digital text. (In Digital Reading, Sibberson told a tale of two 3rd graders: Marissa and Julia and stated that she had “come to learn that merely reading on a computer does not make a digital reader.” pgs. 1-3). This year I am more determined to be intentional in my use of both print and digital texts side by side and would like to spend some more time teaching how to read a digital source…it is easy for us to assume that our young learners know how to use a hyperlink and how to navigate back!

And so while I have many new ideas to implement and try this year in my classroom, I’m intentionally revisiting a few to improve digital literacy for my students!