Sunday, August 31, 2008

21st Century Literacy: Getting Clear on the Concept

I spent quite a while today working on my edline page. Our school uses edline as our web space to communicate with parents. This year is our second year of using it, so hopefully more parents will become interested and use the tool. Last year we posted information on edline but also printed out every bit of info and sent home notices with students, often in triplicate. This year our school claims to be going green and part of this commitment is to stop sending home so many pieces of paper. 

Some of my goals for this year:
•to post student projects online, in one place. I still haven't figured out exactly how this will look or how I will do it, as one program that we use a LOT doesn't convert easily to a format for web. 
•to be clear and communicative with students, teachers and parents about technology and 21st century media literacy. I have always known that I do not teach computers, but I must do a better job of communicating that fact. The more I read, the more I participate in the ongoing, online conversations, the deeper my own understanding. Hopefully this will translate into a better ability to communicate. 

A large part of the problem is that until people realize that technology is so much more than "learning computers" they are not very interested in what the kids are doing with technology. So no one reads my edline page. Therein lies the dilemma: I am using my page to share info that might, hopefully, get them to want to read my page. Of course, I try to communicate my message in many other ways, too. 
Here is the page:

At (name of school), technology means much more than computer proficiency. 21st Century Media Literacy encompasses the skills that our students will need to succeed in a world transformed by technology. As our students work on creating, communicating, collaborating, innovating, researching, problem solving, and learning digital citizenship, they will develop proficiency with the computer. Please click on the link to review the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) to find out more about what our students are expected to know and be able to do with technology. 

One of my goals for this year is to put all student projects online in one place. If you are a parent who does not want your child's work online, please let me know. Please take a moment to look at the projects our students are doing. I think you will be quite amazed at the creativity and technological abilities our students are developing. 

I am looking forward to a great year!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Can you spell W-H-Y? (Please write it 5 times and use it in a sentence.)

This post is a little bit about teaching spelling. It is really about the ludicriousness of the way some things are taught, without looking at the whole -I think this is what Clay Burell calls "schooliness." Spelling just provides an easy example.

Skipping over the cute example of why spell check doesn't work for every situation- you've probably already seen it- how is spelling taught in your corner of the world?
You know the little vignette, so often dragged out to illustrate how schools are bastions of a time gone by, where the person wakes up after 100-year nap and doesn't recognize anything until he steps into a school? I'm sure the napper in the story walked in on a "spelling lesson."

When I first started teaching, I taught spelling the way I had been taught spelling in school. I devised lists of words I thought my students should know how to spell, gave assignments based on the words and then a Friday spelling test. My students generally did pretty well on the tests, but their spelling in their written work never reflected the fact that they had supposedly learned how to spell the words. It didn't take me too long to come to the conclusion that memorizing a list of words did not equal learning.

So, two questions.
1. What is the best way to teach spelling?
2. How come I learned how to spell? Remember, this is how I was taught spelling...I'm a pretty good speller. Did this approach work for me? If so, why?

I'll answer #2 first. I think that I became a good speller because I was (and still am) an avid reader. I was the kid who always had a book in front of my face. My favorite outing was the library (my idea of heaven on earth) or the bookstore (my parents would drop me off at the bookstore and go shopping, coming back an hour or so later to pick me up). I think that looking at so many words spelled correctly built my visual memory for correct spelling. I am the type who writes the word to look at it to see if it is spelled correctly. Of course, this was only one gift that being a reader gave me.

As for #1: There is a program I like called "Words Their Way" that approaches spelling from a developmental standpoint. It uses the term "word study" rather than spelling or phonics. This appeals to me because I think it is appropriate for students to spend some time deconstructing words to find patterns. It uses various centers and activities and is differentiated, based on stages of spelling development. Of course, it takes a lot of work, on the part of the teacher, to implement a program like this in the classroom. It is much easier to follow a spelling book or use a workbook, have students memorize and give weekly tests.

When I first did away with spelling tests, I found that parents were understanding once I explained my reasoning and approach. It was colleagues that were stunned. "You don't give spelling tests?" It was said with disbelief, even anger, as if I was depriving my students.

Ok? So what...I guess I should get to "the point." Now that I'm a parent, I find myself battling against the tide as my child comes home with homework to memorize a list of words and use them in sentences or occasionally in a story. My daughter is only 7 and yet she already claims to "hate school" and "doesn't like reading." This is extremely painful for me to hear, as you can imagine. My daughter spends 7.5 hours a day in school and often comes home with 30 minutes or more of homework consisting of math worksheets and the aforementioned spelling. I am a strong believer that children need down-time, time for playing and relaxing, time to play sports, time to eat dinner as a family, time to go to sleep early, TIME TO READ FOR PLEASURE. I really believe that the best homework, especially for the early elementary grades, is to read for 30 minutes a night. That's it. I could cite a bunch of research, too, to back me up, but this is just my opinion take it for that.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Help if you are able

One of my favorite bloggers is Stephanie Nielson "NieNie." She is a young mother of 4 who chronicles her life with her children in the sweetest photographs. Where I would see a banana peel on the couch and yell at the perp who left it there, NieNie will photograph it, write "Ollie was here" on the photo and post it on her blog.  
I just found out that Stephanie and her husband, Christian were in a plane crash and have survived. They are in critical condition. Her sister has posted updates on her own blog and has requested prayers and, if anyone is so inclined, donations toward their recovery.  I thought I would post the info and button here.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

As Real as Gravity

When thinking of a name for my blog, I almost chose As Real as Gravity from a favorite quote about positive energy being as real as gravity. Positive energy spreads and builds and creates more positive energy. Nowhere is this truer than in schools (ok, well, maybe it is truer elsewhere, but how would I know?).

One of the special things about teaching is that we have the opportunity to create an environment where learning takes place. As I prepare for another year, I thought I'd share a few resources for positivity, some of them simply quotes, stories or memories. I have been so fortunate to have had some incredible mentors over the years, people who've taught me well. And these days I have an amazing network of "teacher-friends" online, in my PLN, people whose blogs I read. 

TJ Shay shared this great site where you can get free posters for your classroom. These posters are terrific, the illustrations are really adorable. I plan to print some out and place them around the room. But I also love the idea of having the kids create their own posters with positive reminders and such. 

I've spent a lot of time lately reading the various blogs from Chet's Creek Elementary School, a local public school with a great reputation. I can see why it has the reputation for being an excellent school. As you read the teacher's blogs (impressive in itself just how many teacher-bloggers there are at Chet's Creek), you can feel the excitement and passion for teaching. It is only natural for students to catch on that "Learning is FUN!" As one of my earliest mentors used to say, "They (students) are in school because they're ALIVE!" (His class, overcrowded by anyone's standards, was always a place of excitement and engagement.) One of the Chet's Creek blogs featured First Day of School Stories which had lots of fun ideas. Here is one of my favorites:

Around Chets Creek in 180 Days via kwout

Just reading that, I know that I would like to be one of Mr. Ruark's 5th grade students. 

Here was my own daughter's first day of 2nd grade homework: the students were each given a paper bag filled with a few, little items and the following instructions:

Opening, reading and sharing this bag of goodies with your parents is part of your first homework assignment.

1. The toothpick is to remind you to "pick out" the good qualities in your classmates and in yourself.

2. The gold thread is to remind you that friendship ties our hearts together. 

3. The chocolate kiss reminds you that you can always come to me if you need someone to talk to.

4. The star is to remind you to shine and always do your best. 

5. The penny is to remind you that you are valuable and special.

6. The band-aid is to remind you to heal hurt feelings in your friends and in yourself. 

7. The rubber band is to remind you to hug someone.

8. The eraser is to remind you that everyone makes mistakes and that is ok. 

9. The tissue is to remind you to help dry someone's tears. 

10. The sticker is to remind you that we all stick together and help each other. 

Now I would like for you to think of something that you could add to this bag. Write 3-4 sentences explaining why the item you chose would be useful and why it is important for us to remember to use all of the other items that are in the bag. 

My daughter's other teacher kept telling us, at back to school "Meet and Greet" that she does this or that because "the kid's love it, it makes them happy, it makes them feel good, that she just wants them to love learning, to love the subject she teaches." I can't tell you how happy that made me as a parent. If my child loves learning and feels positive about herself as a person, a friend and a learner...I know it will take her the distance and allow her to learn what she needs and wants to learn, to attack challenging problems with confidence, to make a contribution to the world.

For our pre-planning in-service this year, we participated in a workshop from Operation Respect. At the start of the workshop, the facilitator asked us this question, "If you had one last class to teach, and that day you were given magic powers that would guarantee that the students would truly, deeply learn one lesson from you, what would you teach?

Are you surprised to know that not one person answered with a concept from math or science, grammar or spelling? All of the answers had to do with self-awareness and awareness of others, being a good person. Those are the lessons that truly matter. 

Graphic from "The North Star" gallery, from the book "The North Star" by Peter H. Reynolds. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A New School Year...

I'm back from a relaxing and rejuvenating summer break. Ready to jump right in...well, except for the fact that I just found out that our first two days of school have been cancelled due to the fact that we are right in the path of a hurricane!

My "theme" for the lab this year was inspired by the book I started reading this summer (and am still reading) The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. I've posted the largest maps I could fit on the wall and plan to use them with students as we use our computers to connect, communicate and collaborate with others around the world. I've also taken heading words from the NETS for students and posted those around the room as well. 
I am so lucky to have a job that allows me to learn, grow and express creativity, as well as to hopefully touch the lives of others in a positive way.