Thursday, December 8, 2011

On NCTE, Meeting Heroes and Making Dreams Come True

NCTE in Chicago was magical. I'm not talking wands, butter beer, potions or theme parks. The kind of magic I experienced at NCTE ran deeper. I'm talking about make your day, hard to explain, once in a lifetime magic. It probably began last July when my 10 year-old son begged to come to NCTE. Yes, he asked, he inquired, he persisted. I'd let slip that John Green was going to speak at ALAN and Collin was intent on attending. He hasn't read John Green's books. Not yet, anyway, but he's a Nerdfighter and Vlogbrothers subscriber on YouTube. He's participated in Project for Awesome and he knows I taught John Green's genius brother, Hank. John and Hank are two of our heroes.

I registered Collin for ALAN in July. He's currently the youngest member of the organization; Stephen, Joan Kaywell's son holds the record for youngest registered member of all time. Stephen started coming to ALAN when he was a baby. Now he's like 7 feet tall and nearly graduated from college. You can see Stephen in the signing line behind Collin (white hoodie, blue shirt standing at least a foot over my friend Kym). The camera lens had smudge-y stuff on it--think of it as a "soft focus."  Collin worked ALAN as a book sherpa. He stood in the signing lines and got my box of books signed for the classroom. His box of books he had signed for Nerdfigheria. Pictured here, they will be auctioned off during Project for Awesome, December 17th and 18th,  to raise money for charity.

Bringing Collin to Chicago for ALAN was not the beginning of the magic for me. The magic actually began Thursday during Kittle, Rief and Kauffman's afternoon session on conferring with writers. Many of my Twitter friends were there: Jen Ansbach, Teresa Bunner, Donalyn Miller, Meenoo Rami, Chris Kervina, Gary Anderson, Tony Romano and more. The session reminded me of the importance of listening to writers read their work. The importance of sitting with student writers and asking them "How can I help you?" Focusing on the writer not the writing. Penny Kittle shared video footage from some of Don Graves' early work on conferring. Amazing. Linda Rief shared a conference video featuring an 8th grader reading an essay about putting the family dog to sleep. Two days before I'd put my 16 year-old dog to sleep, to say that the writer moved me is an understatement. The room wept as she read.



Friday evening I enjoyed spending time with old friends, Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger who introduced me to their friend Henry Sampson (King of Poetry Slam and Hemingway expert). We squeezed drinks and conversation between the last session of the day and 9 o'clock appointments. Afterwards,  I ran into Barry Lane.  He invited me to a party. Collin hadn't flown up yet, so I said yes. We ascended to the top floor of the hotel.  On the way, we talked about Florida's new teacher evaluation model and his experience at the Save Our Schools March on Washington this past summer. Barry's work as an activist and advocate reassures me that there are good people out there fighting for my right to teach.

I couldn't have scripted what came next. When we got to the party he introduced me to one of my heroes, Stephen Krashen.

Krashen and I spent the next couple of hours talking. We talked about reading and  about weightlifting. We talked about NCTE's stand on the Common Core and the misdirection of  the media and merit pay systems. He played the piano for me. I could see the Chicago skyline twinkling out the windows as I stood next to the baby grand.   Do you know how many times I've read his work? A dog-eared copy of The Power of Reading has sat on my desk at school within arm's reach since it was first published. Talking with Krashen in person? Absolute magic.

It wasn't all rock stars and fandom (honest). I learned a lot at NCTE and ALAN. Over the next couple of weeks I'll share lessons learned.  I'll be posting video and pages from my journal soon.

Bye for now,

Sunday, November 13, 2011

NCTE Approaches: Are You Going?



The other day while facilitating a group of science teachers through the first cycle of lesson study, I compared our professional development work together to a vacation. Teachers at my school feel overwhelmed. The science teachers are juggling a new end of course exam, a new teacher evaluation system, shortened class periods and a merry-go-round of meetings. Like them, I sometimes feel green-faced, a little sick over the turn education is taking in my state. Regardless, we still have students to teach, books to read, conversations to have, and things to learn. Learning, for me, is a vacation. I encouraged the science teachers to think of lesson study that way. Time out of our classrooms (and current edu-troubles) to learn with each other. NCTE is my time out.

Like Gary Anderson, I'm excited about learning with my friends at NCTE! Part of that learning happens while presenting. This year, I have the honor of presenting with dynamic duo, Gary Anderson and Tony Romano. Here are the details for our session:

Zapping Apathy: Creating a Sense of Community in English Classes, Friday, November 18, 2011: Session D.27.I'm going to talk about hands-on community building (The Marshmallow Challenge), writing in community (This I Believe Goes Global) and building community using technology (cell phones in the classroom).

NCTE is my time to listen and learn from the masters. The teacher-writers I call education Rock Stars. If I name a few and you search the NCTE convention program for their sessions, be sure to save me a seat if you beat me to the room!

Thursday I'm heading to the Waldorf Room in the Hilton at 2:30 p.m. for "Talking Writer to Writer" with Douglas Kauffman, Penny Kittle and Linda Rief. I'll follow that with Cris Crutcher keynoting the Secondary Section get together at 4:30 in the International Ballroom in the Hilton.

Top picks for Friday include "Defending Intellectual Freedom" with John Green, "Literary Criticism" with Tim Gillespie and colleagues from Lake Oswego High School, and "High School Matters" round table extravaganza.  Janet Allen, Gordon Korman, Linda Rief and Kate Messner are Saturday highlights. They will keynote the Middle Mosaic, one of my favorite sessions! Before the Mosaic though, I plan to tweet my way through the #engchat session with Menoo Rami, Donalyn Miller and Cynthia Minnich and then hop over to the Poetry Parade!

My son is meeting me on Sunday and staying through ALAN. He's registered for the conference and will likely fly up alone (a first). Joan Kaywell inspired me to register him after his visit to ALAN last year. He loved folding origami Yoda with Tom Ankleberger. He talked all year about meeting authors. This year he'll get his own box of books; we're going to use them for the Project for Awesome. I'm going to pay him $1 per book he gets signed. Joan Kaywell even suggested I let others pay him to stand in signing lines for them. Do you think he needs a work-for-hire shirt for that?

Kaywell used to do that for her son, Stephen. That way he earned money for Christmas. Isn't that a great idea? So, if you'd like to hire my son, Collin, just keep your eye out. He'll likely be the 10 year-old sitting in the front row with his Mom.

I can't visit Chicago without taking a field trip to the Art Institute, so that's a must for Sunday afternoon. Did you know they let you photograph the art? Looking through the lens changed my perspective last fall. I want to investigate a good restaurant or two and maybe walk the long green lawn to the Natural History museum like I did when I was 6.

It's going to be a great conference! I hope to see you in Chicago!








Monday, October 17, 2011

Skype and Literature Circles? Why not!

Interested in participating in literature circles? My 9th graders will choose to read one of the following titles for literature circles:
Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman,
Romiette and Julio by Sharon Draper
If You Come Softly by Jacquelyn Woodson.

Students will begin planning for literature circles and setting a reading schedule November 8th. This will be our first cycle of literature circles this year and we'll use  role sheets developed for Janet Allen's Plugged-in to Reading. Conversation is what counts though!

We hope to complete the circles before Winter break. Students will read outside of class and spend 2 days a week (for 2-3 weeks) meeting to talk about the book and their reading. Participating classes/students may Skype into the discussion once, twice or for the entire length of the circle. We will work out the details together based on our schedules.

Interested? Complete the Google form below and we will contact you with details.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Are You too Tired for PD?

Visit FCTE online!
It's professional development weekend in Florida! Are you learning with colleagues? I know many teachers that are not. They are taking a 3-day weekend instead of going to a conference or working at school or using the time to collaborate. That doesn't mean they're not working. Who doesn't take home lesson plans? Who doesn't carry the ubiquitous pile of papers to grade? Who doesn't read for school?

Teachers are suffering this year at my school. Many are demoralized by continuing demands. With the new teacher evaluation program in Florida we're grappling with big concepts (learning goals, formative assessments and value added models). We're frustrated by time thieves who steal instructional time away from real teaching. We're bullied by the press and the freight train pace of the 7 period.

I'm taking a time out this weekend. I'm attending and presenting at the Florida Council of Teachers of English. Sometimes professional development seems like that one more thing--the last straw of obligations in a teachers too busy life. It's not. It's life-giving. It's renewing. It's a moment out of the battle ground many schools have become. As Jimmy Santiago Baca said Friday, it's a gathering of teacher warriors at the hearth. A place for us to lay down our armor, set our weapons outside the gate and be refreshed and recharged by each others' stories.

 Alan Sitomer opened the conference with a rousing keynote Thursday night. I've heard Sitomer speak many times, but never has he sounded as authentic and impassioned as he did Thursday night. He talked about grit and how we Americans admire it. We admire it when we see people dig in and not give up. Whether it's weight loss (He shared a story about student, Edgar Ortiz who lost at least 100 pounds.) or overcoming life's trials. He railed against politicians and the freight train of the Common Core that's about to take us over. He encouraged us to not give up. To turn our faces toward the sun of optimism. He said that over and over, people that don't succeed give up just before success is to be had. We are on the cusp of a great change in education. Have hope, continue the good fight and the incredible work of teaching. "Do this job as if it is your life's work," he said.

Teaching IS my life's work. My students need me. That is why I often stay after school to give kids access to computers and my help. That's why I participate in school events. Students  are why I write and continue learning. My kids are counting on me. I bet yours are counting on you too. Don't give up.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Posting Reviews from Good Reads

I thought I'd try out Good Reads sharing feature that posts a review to your blog. Once you've written the review a window prompts you to share it (pictured below).


 The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Born from the dark depths of what you can imagine as a futuristic, elevator shade, Thomas arrives in "the Glade" knowing only his name. Surround by boys of various ages this reader first thought he'd be instantly attacked. But no. The boys are not savage (think Golding's Lord of the Flies crew meets the order of Bachortz's Candor). Instead they have organized a nearly self-sufficient and orderly civilization in the Glade, a place they've lived (without memories and under control of the Creators) for two years. Fans of dystopian novels, action and survival books will enjoy The Maze Runner.



For teachers, I can imagine using the opening chapter to teach a vocabulary strategy lesson. Before reading, I might have students predict the meaning of words in Gill's future-speak (shank, glade, griever, greenie, etc)and then revisit the text to examine/discuss context clues or how background knowledge affects our understanding of words to wrap up the mini-lesson.



View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy New Year


My double-wide, portable 29
After nearly 20 years you’d think this teaching gig would get easier, right? It does but it seems the more experience I have the more I question and refine my practice. 

What does reading look like in my classroom? I balance our reading work among the reading approaches: read aloud, shared reading, guided reading and independent reading. My students, by year’s end, traditionally develop robust reading habits. At least a third of our time is spent reading. Students choose the books they want to read for independent reading and they read them in class, on school buses, at lunch, at home and sometimes even while walking the campus. After listening to Nancie Atwell and others speak during Middle 
School Mosaic in 2009, I seriously questioned teaching whole class novels.  I have been questioning the whole class novel for some time (see Do These Jeans Fit You?).
Common texts are mandated at my school. Like Jim Burke, I have to teach Romeo and Juliet and The Odyssey. I also have to teach Speak. The Hunger Games is an optional common text at the ninth grade at my school. My reluctant and struggling readers need the magic a whole class read of a novel provides, but it's time for me to push the students enrolled in my honors class to do more independently.

I have taught whole-class novels every year. We read Romeo and Juliet, Bronx Masquerade, Anthem and more, together. Some of the reading is done in class and some at home (think Gallagher discussion of Carol Jago’s “guided tour” and “budget tour”) (79). In my best years we can read 8 novels together—those teaching days were during the block scheduling heyday in my county, something we have not had for more than 5 years. With 45 minute class periods, last year we only read 5. Though students read many more titles independently during reading workshop time, I want to make what we do together as authentic as our silent reading Mondays were last year (many students met and exceeded my  25 books a year expectation in the 9th grade).   I need to shift my thinking so that I can do more with students.

For more than I year I’ve been thinking and reading and talking to teachers about how to change how I use whole class novels. Right now, my answer is not to abandon the core text, but to use it differently. Meaning instead of reading 1 core text with an entire class, students will now have a choice of several titles. As Atwell said, “kids need the power of stories to invite, nurture and sustain.” Instead of doing the same book at the same time with all of the students in a class, I will immerse students in books and expect them to read one “assigned” book (from several choices) and one book for pleasure, any book of their own choosing.  This is not to say that we won’t ever read a text together. We will. Students need support. The magic of shared reading is often the spark my reluctant or alliterate students need. In addition, some texts demand it. Romeo & Juliet, for example, is like a foreign language to my ninth graders. Reading matters.

My direct instruction of strategies and English content will be connected to short texts (articles, short stories, and poetry) and then students will apply those strategies to the core novel they have chosen. Does that make sense? I can still meet the curricular demands of my school, by include excerpts from the common texts in my mini-lessons (and I’ll bet most if not all students will choose to read Speak and The Hunger Games though not at the same time). This way they won’t have to. If I increase autonomy and provide more choice, I should see an increase in motivation, at least according to Daniel Pink and my own experiences.

My revised curriculum map is embedded from Scribd below. I've included links to the short texts (and handouts of my own creation) when available. 
curric-map2011-page1

References

Atwell, Nancie. 21 Nov 2009. Middle School Mosaic Presentation. National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention, Philadelphia.

Gallagher, Kelly. 2009. Readicide. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Pink, Daniel. 2011. Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York, NY:          Riverhead Books.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ahh...Art

Immersing myself, submerging myself in art recharges me like almost nothing else. My son and I have been in New York City this week on what we've dubbed "the museum tour," so I thought I'd blog museum resources and ideas I'm going to take back to my classroom when school starts.

     “I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.” - Picasso

How can we, in lean budget times especially, help students "see" into the minds of artists? Resources online abound. Instead of going to the museum ourselves, we can visit virtually or visit vicariously by connecting with a class that goes. To layer virtual visits, I've annotated a few tools below.

Check iTunes for podcasts from the Museum of Modern Art like MoMA Audio: Kids or MoMA Audio: Teens, available in iTunes U or as podcasts these idea-rich broadcasts are created by and for teens.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art also publishes podcasts about special exhibitions. I'm thinking that episode 78, Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharoah would bean excellent pairing for A read aloud from Hatshepsut by Galford or from Curse of the Pharoahs by Hawass. In addition to the audio we'd visit the museums online.
A great feature on The Whitney Museum of America Art's site is the start your collection feature (bottom right on homepage). Imagine having students creating a character's art collection and justifying their choices. Ah, art always gives me ideas.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Copying iTunes Library

A few weeks ago I had to get a new hard drive put into my laptop. Fortunately, I keep ,most of my files on a portable hard drive which is stuck to the back of the lap top screen with Velcro. Unfortunately, I hadn't backed up my iTunes library. Lucky for me I had Florida Digital Educators training last week and there were plenty of people in the room who could help me figure out work-arounds for computer issues. Po, one of our facilitators, did some at-the-elbow-coaching and showed me how to easily copy the library files.

My former lap top screen bulb burnt out, so it's retired, but I knew I had my iTunes library, if not synced at least semi-populated. So I connected the retired laptop to a desktop monitor and went to my music folder. Then I opened the iTunes folder and copied all of the files. I dropped the files from the retired machine into the My Music folder on my current lap top and voila, my iTunes library is restored.

After restoring all, I updated all of the iTunes on the home machines and turned on home sharing. Home sharing with iTunes 10.3 allows you to share music across 5 computers if all of the computers use the same iTunes account. Find it under the Advanced tab in iTunes. Once you turn it on, everyone in the family can share music over our wireless network. Love it!

Monday, July 11, 2011

OTIS Training

OTIS training day 1
A county Technology Guru opened our 4-day OTIS institute by saying, "Your brains will explode over the next 4 days!" Can you imagine? Learning heaven. Take a peek at day 1 in the screen shot to the right.OTIS stands for Orange Technology Integration Specialist,  positions being created at many district schools in order to facilitate technology integration and meet the goal of delivery 50% digital content (a new state law) by 2015. Actually, it's not 50% digital content, it's 50% of the budget for purchasing content will be earmarked for digital content. So think about that. This summer elementary school textbooks (just 1 series, I imagine) cost the district more than $80K--the money is moving. Who's going to follow it? OTIS is grant funded and the actual instructional positions at the schools aren't necessarily paid. While we won't be paid additional monies for agreeing to train teachers, or attend training, we are paid in trade: ideas, tools and tech swag. My expectations are high. Let the learning begin.

Fossil Fuels and the End of the World

I couldn't find Florida Teen Reads titles in the local branch of my library this week, so I picked a few titles by author's I've enjoyed. It wasn't until I'd left the library that I realized I had a short set of end of the world fiction. The environment, fossil fuels, conservation, technology, all play a role in our future. These authors take the argument to a terminal degree.

EmptyEmpty by Suzanne Weyn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gas. Petroleum. Fuel. Energy. Do we have enough or are we running on empty? In the world Suzanne Weyn's creates, fossil fuels are only available on the black-market and Gwen, independent and fierce, has a brother who sells it. Gas is more than $40 a gallon. Heating oil, nonexistent for Niki's family once her father looses his job. When Gwen's house is destroyed in a fire, Tom must choose between the two girls. Will he rescue Gwen or Niki?

Girls will enjoy the budding romance, but plumb the depths of their thinking with debatable topics Weyn introduces: renewable energy, oil greed, conservation and more.


View all my reviews


This World We Live In (Last Survivors, #3)This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Is romance the second stage of the end of the world? In Pfeffer's sequel (as well as several other end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it books I've read this week it sure seems so. Fans of Life As We Knew It will be pleased to find the Evans family still surviving after the meteor's encounter with the moon. Electricity is an occasional luxury and though government stepped-in with food, it seems as if supplies are dwindling. Storms loom. Will the house survive? Can the Evans weather the storm or is it time to leave?


View all my reviews


Ashes, AshesAshes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the map of New York City at the start of the book. Maybe I'm like one of those kids Tom Angleberger talked about mapping things for at ALAN 2011. The map delighted me because we are going to NYC soon and I found myself imagining the places we'd go in terms of the brave new world Treggiari has created. Even after cataclysmic disasters, life, long and the world goes on. Good story. Strong girl. What's not to like?


View all my reviews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Matrix meets Asher's 13 Reasons Why who dates Nancy Werlin's Double Helix or Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox . Imagine a world of the future where cassette tapes are a technology of the past (we'll we're there, right?). Meet Kyle. Friend of Lilly, Simon and Danny. Enjoying a seemingly ho-hum summer when the talent show changes everything. Kyle tells readers what happened in his voice, recorded and preserved on the tapes. We hear the story from Kyle with historical footnotes added by an anonymous figure looking back at the tapes from the future. Instructing plot structure, the real twist comes when Danny hypnotizes 4 members of the audience as part of his talent show spot. Those 4 are the only remaining analog humans in the town and possibly on the planet. What would you do if the human race automatically updated and you were left behind? 






Thursday, July 7, 2011

Florida Teen Reads Titles round 1

Each year FAME (Florida Association for Media in Education) names 15 young adult titles to the Florida Teen Reads list. Titles are chosen by a committee of 13 media specialists and voted on at year's end by teens throughout the state. At my school, our reading coach, Dr. Beth Scanlon, plans grant-funded literacy events around the titles each year. Grant funds purchase sets of the titles for English teachers that request them and enable us to build a reading culture through monthly "Chat and Chew" lunch book clubs and after school celebrations (Family Literacy Night and the Florida Teen Reads Round Table Awards). My favorite is the final round table awards ceremony--imagine a media center nearly filled to capacity, students and teachers buzzing and book talking books. It's amazing. Teachers from all content areas, deans and even administrators "champion" a title from the Florida Teen Reads list and a round-robin session of book talking begins. Students move through 3 rounds of book chat at tables manned by book champions. We have Italian ice, vote on the best teen titles and give students tickets for participating that are drawn for door prizes provided by the wonderful Mary Ramsey, community relations manager extraordinaire from our local Barnes and Noble. This year even the principal championed a book! More than a thousand students participated in literacy events at school last year. Can you feel the excitement?

With a new school-year fast approaching, I need to read through this year's titles so that I can pick the book I want to champion. For the first time in many years the list came out with 15 titles I'd never read. I've finished four and am looking forward to reading the remaining 11 before July's end. Here are reviews to my  first four Teen Reads 2011 titles:

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Maze Runner (Maze Runner, #1)The Maze Runner by James Dashner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Born from the dark depths of what you can imagine as a futuristic, elevator shade, Thomas arrives in "the Glade" knowing only his name. Surround by boys of various ages this reader first thought he'd be instantly attacked. But no. The boys are not savage (think Golding's Lord of the Flies crew meets the order of Bachortz's Candor). Instead they have organized a nearly self-sufficient and orderly civilization in the Glade, a place they've lived (without memories and under control of the Creators) for two years. Fans of dystopian novels, action and survival books will enjoy The Maze Runner.


For teachers, I can imagine using the opening chapter to teach a vocabulary strategy lesson. Before reading, I might have students predict the meaning of words in Gill's future-speak (shank, glade, griever, greenie, etc)and then revisit the text to examine/discuss context clues or how background knowledge affects our understanding of words to wrap up the mini-lesson.


View all my reviews

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Who knew that the devil demands collateral on wish fulfilled, sold-soul purchases? At times, Gill's novel--a 2011 Florida Teen Reads pick--seemed like a fantastical game of "Would You Rather." Would you rather live with a "bruja" (witch) or be evicted? Run from the devil or face his minion in a basketball game? Bug Smoot's grandfather sold his soul for his dream car, a classic Cadillac, and used Bug as collateral. Paranormals, demons, seances, psychics and more will delight supernatural fans. Bug's grit and determination will keep girls cheering her on as she battles for her soul and perhaps love in the process.


My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A vintage pink convertible with leather seats and a glove box full of cash? Who wouldn't go for a ride? Destiny does and her journey becomes her "one fair day"-- a day full of coincidence and joy.

Despite a secret she must confront, Destiny and 3 friends experience crystalline moments where the sun shines, the blue sky brightens and all goes their way. "Small, in-between moments, where there is magic and purpose and design and they are so perfectly beautiful they ache"(252). If only my students lives were as filled with whimsy.


My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Imagine a world--living, watching, listening, shifting--around you. Such is Incarceron, a living prison created to be paradise. Finn, a starseer, believes outside exists and is driven to find it with the help of his friends. Will the crystal key take him to his dreams of another world?

Action packed, description-rich, Incarceron tests your ability to imagine an alternative world. If you like dystopian fiction or even the artwork of M.C. Escher, you'll delight in Incareron.



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Art


Aren't these amazing? This  book art was created by students, teachers and media specialist, Carol Stollard from Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma, Washington. Some have folded pages, others include collaged in items--all upcycled book discards!  The works are on display for the Plugged-in to Reading Institute we're doing here in Portland, Oregon. I'm inspired!

So beyond a beautiful display what purpose could such a project serve in my own classroom? Why integrate art?

Art smiles. Art unites. Art unifies. Art heals. Art extends. Art thinks. Art wonders. Art delights. As Elliott Eisner says, "Art is literacy of the heart." I could pair this project with reading about paper mills and their affect on our environment. We could begin with this elegantly simple video "Pay It Green" which demonstrates in a concrete, specific and practical way how each individual could reduce paper's impact on our environment. I could also point students toward exploring issues of reusing, recycling or (upcycling). We could virtually visit "Reframe: Making Sense of Waste" an exhibit from the San Fransico Art Museum.We could talk about the value to a community of re-purposing goods.  I want to teach students about "the power of you." Don't you?

What else could we connect? Engineering (the science and math behind the pop-up), reading (create a visual for a recent read like the student did with Yolanda's Genius), social studies (bring in the history of the book and printing press). Art connects. Art builds. Art enriches.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Organizing and Test Scores

School's out for summer! So exciting the end of the school year, especially for my ninth graders. Last week I began reorganizing the classroom library books. The books need constant maintenance and I am usually too busy teaching, planning, thinking, assessing--doing--with students that I don't take the time to patrol the books.

How do you organize your classroom library? Do you shelve by genre? Mimic the Dewey Decimal System? 

In my double-wide, portable classroom, books are grouped by genre, and then alpha by author.  Starting with the first bookcase on the left, the books run: fiction, nonfiction (after the window), short stories, poetry and picture books (near the projection screen) and then the Plugged-in to Nonfiction collection in the short green shelves. Behind my desk, not pictured) are bookshelves of professional books.

Why am I thinking about book organization? I'm thinking about it because I'd like to do it better next year. Do you "hire" classroom helpers? I would like to do that. I'd like to have students read about the workplace, create resumes, apply for jobs, sit for interviews and get hired. A brilliant teacher I had the pleasure of teaching down the hall from more than a decade ago was the best as managing a classroom workforce. I'm still awed by how he did. So in part I'm thinking and rethinking the book organization because I'd like to hire help or staff the books with parent volunteers next year.

I also keep coming back to the books and organization issues because my teacher-mind is worried about test scores. We got our results from the FCAT reading test last week. My students read like wild fire this year--or at least I thought they did. They talked about books. Not just any sort of character name dropping either. The kind of talk I heard is the "accountable talk" Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis discuss. Talk that tells my teacher ear students are really reading. Students self reported the number of books they read. Many said they read more this year than they'd ever read. We tracked started tracking the count--135 students read more than 1,500 books. So what? What matters?

To the state, the FCAT test results matter.  A reading test of 54 questions that takes less than 3 hours to administer over a two-day period determines these students' reading lives for next year. Score below a magic number and students lose an elective class in their schedule and  are placed in intensive reading classes to boost their skills. For me, for the first time in nearly 2 decades in the classroom, I didn't see the reading payoff in test scores that I usually do.  Scores for students tracked in honors classes mirror state averages. Scores for students tracked in regular classes fall short. I have a lot of questions about the test and test results:


  • What do the results say about my teaching?
  • What will the state think the results say about my teaching when Florida shifts to the "value-added" teacher evaluations?
  • Why could the change in test format (from the FCAT, Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test to FCAT 2.0) say about our curriculum and instruction? 
  • Are we teaching what the state is testing?
  • How can 1 test measure a year's worth of growth?
  • What do our scores in each strand tell us about curriculum?  


Vocabulary Reading Application Literary Analysis: Fiction and Nonfiction Informational Text and Research Process
Number of Points Possible
9 12 11 13
Orange Co.
7 7 7 8


77.00% 58.00% 63.00% 62.00%


Here are our average scores. I don't have mine. We get 1 document, pdf, listed students scores in alphabetical order. I did pull my students overall scores and change in developmental scale score (these are the learning gains NCLB accounts), but I have yet to examine my strand data. I had to return the file; pass it on to the next person. From the county averages you can see that we need to look at instruction in reading application. What does that mean? What is tested in that strand? How much of that is figurative language and how much is thinking/reading strategies such as inference and main idea? Those are questions our English department will surely discuss. But how much time do we devote to testing?

I re-read bits of Berlinger and Biddle's The Manufactured Crisis last week. Berlinger talks about his early claims in this article from School Leadership Briefing (You can read the beginning without a subscription).  As Krashen says, it's about poverty not test performance.   Last week was demoralizing for teachers and students. New pictures of our students and ourselves will emerge as we analyze and re-analyze and look at "the data" next fall. How much time do we spend crunching those 1-shot numbers?

So what will matter to me going into next year? How will my instruction change? How will I lift up the readers in my room?

What matters to me is turning kids into readers. Readers take control of their own learning. Reading is power both in the classroom and more importantly in the world. Why didn't students' test scores show off that power this year?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Read, read, read

I didn't participate in 48 hour book challenge this weekend. I discovered it while dipping into the Twitterverse this afternoon. What a great way to kick off summer reading!  Search the hashtag #48HBC to see what folks were reading and tweeting. I enjoyed dipping into the book blogs. As Jen Robinson's blog shows, the $48HBC is about much more than reading: reviewing, connecting, discussion. What a community!  Sarah's blog got me wondering how much time I'd actually spent reading this weekend, so I set out to write up my own reading weekend stats. Wouldn't this be a neat thing to do with students next year? Anyone want to try it? I wonder if my high school students would be up for it at the end of the school year? Or if this would be a good weekend after exams kick off? I'll have to think about that.

How much did I read this weekend?  Lately it seems as if I've been reading like a bear prepares for winter: storing up stories before I get writing this summer.  Here's my reading  weekend break down: 1675 pages, 4 books, 15 1/2 hours reading. No wonder I didn't get the laundry done!


Friday Night:  6 hours reading
4-5 pm Read Ann Rinaldi's Leigh Ann's Civil War
5-6 pm Figure out how to download Kindle app to hand-me-down iPhone (it works!)
6-6:30 Make end of 4th grade celebratory pizzas for son and friend (our school doesn't finish until next week)
6:30- 11:30 Read Victoria Roth's Divergent


Saturday: 6 hours
8 -9:30 am  finish Divergent 
9:30 -10 Shower, dress and depart
10- 10:30 pick up fixed laptop and other errands
10:30 am -3 pm Celebrate summer with bowling, pizza and arcade games
3 -4:00 Take son's friend home
4 - 5:30 finish Leigh Ann's Civil War by Ann Rinaldi
5:30 - 6 Fix dinner
6:00 - 8:00 finish The Girl Behind Glass by Jane Kelley (a reading dinner)
8:00- 9:00 start Spinning Out by David Stahler

Sunday: 3 1/2 hours
12 -2 read Spinning Out by David Stahler
2-3 nap
3-4:30 finish Spinning Out


My favorites from the weekend? Definitely Divergent by Veronica Roth. Dystopian novel where 16 year-olds choose their "faction"-future communities-based on value trait. Violent and action packed as the Hunger Games, I'm sure Tris would give Katniss a good fight. I also loved Spinning Out by David Stahler, the story of boy on the edge of Schizophrenia. Raw and well told, two class clowns change their image as they take on lead roles in the Man of La Mancha-Quixotic vision,  this book had me weeping for things lost.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Are You Building a Classroom Library?

Last week on #engchat, a Monday evening twitter talk session on English topics, Teresa Bunner talked about ways to build your classroom library. I missed the chat, but reading the archive had me thinking about classroom libraries all week, so I thought I'd blog a few library building tips from my classroom.

Shop sales. If you live near a Scholastic Book Fair Warehouse you can shop at their bi-annual sales (December and May here in Central Florida). Ten years ago my principal gave me $1,000. to buy books at such a warehouse sale. That year our goal was to help social studies teachers build classroom libraries. We did the same thing in following years for 9th grade English and reading teachers. Then, books were typically marked 1/2 price, but now discounts run even deeper. Can you imagine how fun it was to shop for $2000 worth of young adult literature? The best year, the book fair was at our school the week prior to the sale and instead of hauling the books I'd found in my car (all 35 or so boxes of them) , the book fair folks delivered them on a pallet when they came to pick up the book fair inventory. If you live near a book fair, go! Even in lean budget years when I am only shopping for my own classroom, $50 is $100 or more dollars worth of books depending on sale prices.

Shop conferences. Do you attend national conferences?  Exhibit halls or give-aways at NCTE, ALAN, IRA can build your library. I collect enouch ARCs each year at NCTE to fill an entire book shelf. ALAN, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, is a must-attend. For your registration fee, you get a fantastic collection of just-out YA books (see the picture on right). Best part? Most of the authors of the books you receive  are schedule to speak and sign books over the 2-day event.

Shop or trade online.  Have you ever purchased books on eBay? Did you know several sellers will sell class sets or literature circle sets? If you're looking for a specific title you really, really want to teach or add to your library, don't forget about eBay. I discovered a lit-circle set of 6 copies of Hiaasen's Hoot for $14 in Martha's Attic Emporium, a top-rated bookseller and  room-mom for my son's 4th grade class. Used books on Amazon.com can also be heavily discounted and don't forget Paperback Swap. Consider weeding titles from your home or classroom library that students no longer read or that you've not re-read in some time. You can list those titles on Paperback Swap. You pay postage to other swap members when they request your books and members return the favor when you request their titles.

Just a few ways you can build or add to your classroom library. Wouldn't it be fun for a group of us to join Paperback Swap and trade amongst ourselves?

For more ideas on how to build your own classroom library, visit the Google Doc Teresa Bunner started during #engchat. Next up? Keeping track of that inventory! How do you check books in and out of your classroom library?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Can Only Teach 5 Scenes: Which Would You Choose?

Glenda Funk led an excellent English Chat a few weeks ago on performance and teaching Shakespeare. The archived chat is available here. Since and because I am teaching Romeo and Juliet to ninth graders this spring, I've been rethinking my approaches to the play in class.

Yesterday I ask folks on twitter what 1 scene from each of the acts they would teach if they could only teach 5 scenes. Sarah from The Reading Zone replied right away, saying she would teach the prologue, the party scene, the balcony scene and Romeo's last speech. I loved the immediacy of her reply and the excitement I can hear as she wonders about a last scene to choose:

Like Sarah, my first instinct is to teach the prologue. It summarizes the action of the play and captures the essence of the plot. In years past I've begun by teaching students how to paraphrase using the prologue. Like Texas English teacher, Carrie Ross, I might follow the prologue with Mercutio's Queen Mab speech.

Figuring out if students transfer reading comprehension strategies from accessible (independent) texts to challenging texts such as Shakespeare interests me. I do an activity with students where I ask them to visualize Queen Mab and her chariot. We read the passage together but I don't explicate or support students by paraphrasing it for them. Students draw and label their drawings with words and phrases from the text. Questions arise during the drawing, so students recognize when meaning breaks down. They ask literal level questions like "What's an atomie?" Students drawings reveal where meaning is breaking down. If Queen Mab is huge and floating in the air, obviously they've not connected the ideas between her and the sleeping men's noses. I get too much out of the activity to skip the Queen Mab speech, so that would be included in my 5 scenes.

What I enjoyed about the tweet exchanges, as usual, is the conversation. The opportunity to rethink, reframe and retool how I will teach students using Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. If you'd like to add to the conversation, send me a line on twitter  @spillarke.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Poetry Slam...Word!

Picture this: the smooth gloss of a well varnished stage, the slick slip of the wood floor, bright lights throwing heat, a heavy, red-velvet curtain, more than 300 of your peers snapping, clapping or stomping in their seats, 3 minutes on stage, 2 microphones. Could you do it? Could you stand up in front of that audience and speak your piece? That is slam poetry.

Last week was Cypress Creek High School's 4th Annual Poetry Slam and I'd like to invite you to meet the student poets I am honored to coach. Head over to our YouTube channel and check out the kids' poems. Prepare to be amazed. More on slam and how you can set up your own or grow a program that invests in youth voices soon! In the meantime, here's Bryan, student poet, video editor and YouTube channel master:



Thursday, March 31, 2011

The National Writing Project

Schedule of Demonstration Lessons
"There is a connection between what writers have to say and the way they say it, good expository or narrative prose is born of deep investment and passion..."

- Milton Meltzer, Nonfiction for the Classroom

Are you a National Writing Project teacher? I am. In 1997 the NWP invested in me. I got a scholarship to the Central Florida Writing Project. Some $600 or so was given to me as a stipend to attend the writing project.  That was the first time in my teaching career I'd been paid to learn or to attend training. We met each day from 8:30- 3, writing our way through most of it. If you're unfamiliar with the Writing Project let me explain it. Teachers from a variety of grade levels and content areas come together to learn how to teach writing. We know, from Ralph Fletcher and Donald Graves and other writing gurus that the best teachers of writing are writers themselves, so that's what we became during our month long summer writing camp.  We lived the beliefs of the National Writing Project recopied here from my 1997 Writing Project binder:

  1. The writing problem affects both universities and schools. 
  2. Student writing can be improved by improving the teaching of writing.
  3. The best teacher of teachers is another teacher.
  4. Change can best be  accomplished by those who work in schools, not by transient consultants who briefly appear, never to be seen again and not by packets of teacher-proof materials.
  5. Programs designed to improve the teaching of writing should be made available to teachers at all grade levels from all subject areas.
  6. Classroom practice and research have generated a substantial body of knowledge on the teaching of writing.
  7. The intuition of teachers can be a productive guide for field-based research, and practicing teachers can conduct useful studies in their classrooms.
  8. Teachers of writing must write themselves.


In the morning we participated in a writing demonstration lesson given, the first week by UCF professors and local graduates of the Central Florida Writing Project. Our goal was to create a writing demonstration lesson we could take into our schools and beyond. One day we wrote about music with Dr. Judy Johnson. We wrote about the history of laughter after reading The Tickle Octopus with Kim Whitney, an elementary school teacher who is now an elementary school principal. We wrote and wrote and wrote ourselves new lives as teacher-consultants.

My summer with the Writing Project renewed by passion for writing. The experience grew my confidence as a teacher of writing and connected me with teachers who became important players in my professional life. When I think back about the writing demonstration lessons we created, I amazed not only at their breadth but also at how they foreshadowed our futures as educators. We wrote about space by reading about space and creating A to Z books about space. We created concept maps about ecology and used them to write a short story (mine is title "Reintroduction of Grizzly Bears into the Wilderness"). We wrote about food and memory and the human body and American immigration and the Revolutionary war and even math.

Many of the teacher consultants that year went on to work with Janet Allen in the literacy institutes she would run across the country for the next dozen years. Soon to become a fellow institute facilitator, Lee Corey introduced us to different countries with her writing demo and we created travel brochures based on what we learned. After the writing project she spent several years teaching Turkey; she's serving in  Department of Defense schools in Japan right now. Each teacher took a turn at writing the daily log. Christine Landaker's was titled "Donuts, Cake, and Berries, Oh My!" She's an amazing teacher, National Board certified in both social studies and language arts, she nows blogs about gardening and food.

The Central Florida Writing Project connected me with educators outside of my classroom, teachers' lounge or school. Suddenly there was a network of committed, like-minded teachers I could call upon to process instructional issues or to share ideas.  I knew then and I know now that the Writing Project gets results. Beyond the student achievement results, the Writing Project kept me in teaching, a field that weathers more than a 30% turnover rate in the first 5 years. Teacher turnover costs the nation an estimated 2.2 Billion dollars a year. How much did the National Writing Project cost us? According to the Appropriations Committee, 25.6 Million dollars. Million. Not billion. Can we afford not to retain quality teachers invested in learning?

Today I am asking Washington to continue to support the National Writing Project. NWP funding is labeled an earmark in the reductions. How is it defined as an earmark? An earmark to this voter signals special interests and pork bellies. Do teachers have a special interest in NWP funding. We do, so should parents. If you have a stake in students, if you want to support the National Writing Project, contact your representative (search for them on Twitter here). Search by zip code by using the search box on the bottom left. Blog about how the National Writing Project supported you as a teacher. Follow @writingproject, @chadsansing, and the #blog4nwp, or #nwp hashtags. Lend your support to those gathered in Washington today for the spring meeting of the National Writing Project. Let them know their work matters.

The Writing Project mattered to me. It showed me that I was not alone. I was valued as an educator, writer and teacher of writing. I learned from other teachers and they learned from me.  I saw my classroom as an extension of the learning I did professionally. I took responsibility for my own learning and for the learning of my students. I realized that teaching and learning could be joyful events which fed into a community much larger than my own classroom. The Writing Project empowered me and gave me voice. That made all the difference.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Books Read

Do you challenge yourself to read? How much? How many books? Do you aim for certain types of books? I joined Paul W. Hankins' The Centurions of 2011 group on Facebook this year. The goal? Read 111 book in 2011. Many folks track the books they've read using the note feature of Facebook editing the note at the end of each month. That's what I've done for the first two months, but Teri Lesesne's wall post this morning inspired me to blog my list instead.
Lesesne blogs each book she reads which never ceases to amaze me. I first heard Teri Lesesne speak at an institute day during NCTE. Janet Allen had organized a team of folks to present a day-long program prior to the official start of the conference (Secondary Reading or NCTE, I'll have to go back through my journals) . Who was there? Teri Lesesne, Bonnie Hill Campbell, Linda Rief and more. The day was organized with keynotes and round-table discussions. I led a round table. An eye-opening day early in my professional journey outside of the classroom, I'm not surprised that  more than a decade later I'm still finding inspiration  from Tere Lesesne. 

I don't  blog each book I read as Lesesne does. But I do I talk about them to friends quite a bit or my students. Feeling as if I had to write up each one would quickly sap the pleasure from the reading experience. Sometimes I'm moved to write or review, but I'll leave that to an occasional practice.  I'm a habitual reader. There are few things I enjoy more than diving into a good story.  Below are the books I read this month:
  1. The Sliver Chair, C.S. Lewis (February)
  2. The Last Battle, C.S. Lewis
  3. Witch & Wizard, James Patterson
  4. When the World Was Young, Tony Romano
  5. House Rules, Jodi Picoult
  6. The Looking Glass Wars, S.A. Bodeen
  7. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
  8. Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy, Carlos Eire
  9. S is for Spirit Bear: A British Columbia Alphabet (Alphabet Books), G.Gregory Roberts and Bob Douce
  10. Touching Spirit Bear, Ben Mikaelsen*
  11. Dear Author Letters of Hope, Joan Kaywell, ed.
  12. Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson*
  13. The Compound, S.A. Bodeed
  14. Huntress, Malinda Lo
*re-reads with students

So what does all of this reading mean? The first three books I read so that I could participate in my son's reading. We saw The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, so I dipped into his Narnia collection to read the last two. He asked me to read Patterson's Witch & Wizard after he read it, so I did and on our commutes from school one week we talked about the characters. A student in my first period class recommended The Looking Glass Wars--a futuristic Alice in Wonderland retelling. I wanted to honor his recommendation, knowing as Donalyn Miller writes in The Book Whisperer that he would be more open to my own title recommendations if I also took his. I've always believed that when it comes to independent reading in the classroom teachers need to follow Ralph Fletcher's advice. Though he talks to us about writing, his words are easily applied to our reading community classrooms: you need to know your students, know your resources and know how to teach [writing]. For me, knowing how to teach the readers in my room means knowing the books that will interest them. I read. I read what I can, when I can, as often as I can. It's that simple.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tweet Chat & Cheeseburgers

Did you dip in to #engchat last night? The weekly guest-hosted conversation about English language arts topics was hosted by one of my teaching-heroes,  Sara Kadjer last night. She talked or tweeted  about digital storytelling.  I'm mining the archive this morning, reviewing the resources and listening in after the fact. Isn't it amazing that the Internet let's us do that? Record, post, review, archive, collect, annotate, the process amazes me.
Hard as a rock, but no mold yet. Purchased 1-11-11.
Web 2.0 content is sort of like the month-old cheeseburger experiment I have running in my classroom right now. Content doesn't go away, doesn't decay, doesn't disappear or crumble. It's preserved. More on the cheeseburger later, to sum it up, we're running an experiment to test the claims made about fast food in the "McDonald's 4 year-old Cheeseburger" video about an aged Happy Meal (we're studying argument structure and reading Fast Food Nation; here's an excerpt).

A couple of weeks ago I hosted #engchat and like Kadjer's chat, the chat I hosted is also preserved, archived at the #engchat wiki. A whirlwind hour of abbreviated conversation on the gradual release of responsibility model, the chat darts and dashes between and around the hedgerows of teachers' ideas. I enjoy following the trails and revel in the rich resources shared. I debriefed with a critical friend the morning after my own chat. She's not sold on it as a means for her own learning. Too distracting, too "sound-byte-ish", too much to learn in terms of the tools to feel rewarded by the 140 character lines. Me? I get a lot out of twitter and twitter themed-chats: resources, questions, thoughts, teaching friends. Twitter and #engcat buoys my teaching spirits and opens my eyes to new resources while validating my practice and making me wonder about my own walk in the classroom. Have you tried it yet?

Next week, #engchat will will talk about the challenge of National Board Certification. I renewed my National Board certificate over a year ago now. It's one of the best professional development experiences I've ever had. The state of Florida pays National Board teachers a bonus for being certified--for the first ten year certification that is. The state also used to invest in teachers by paying NBCTs a bonus for 90 hours of mentoring.  Those monies have all but disappeared, but for teachers in my state I know the salary increase (nearly $10K at it's peak) worked to convince teachers to certify.  What motivates Florida teachers (and others) to become nationally certified now? I'm looking forward to hearing what others think about stepping up to the NBCT challenge. Check out the #engchat wiki for how-to help if you're new to twitter.  You can learn a lot lurking. If you haven't jump into the Twitter stream as a participant yet, why not try lurking? See what you think.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Teaching vs. Assigning

from John Holly's Compendium of of Strategies
What is the gradual release of responsibility? An instructional model developed by P. David Pearson, the gradual release of responsibility means that I show students how to do something before I ask them to do it on their own. Ultimately, "the reading goals are comprehension, understanding, enjoyment and insight for every child."

In my mind it's the difference between teaching and assigning. The model assumes teachers are the master craftsmen and students the apprentice. The master or expert in the room shows the apprentice how things are done. Gradual release in terms of reading means that the teacher takes on the responsibility first (for decoding or making meaning) then slowly releases the responsibility to the students. In my own high-school, English teacher mind, the gradual release of responsibility means what Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher call: I do, we do and you do.

Do you show students how to do something before asking them to do it by themselves. If I'm teaching my students how to analyze the rhetoric of fast food advertising (something we're doing in my A.P. language class this week), I can't just say, "choose a tray liner from a fast food restaurant and analyze the rhetoric in terms of purpose, audience and context." Well, I can say that, but chances are if I haven't demonstrated the process or taught the  "how to" lessons that the assignment assumes,  students will not understand the task or concepts involved.

When Kelly Gallagher plans reading lessons he asks himself several questions:
  1. Without my assistance, what will students take from this reading?
  2. With my assistance, what do  I want my students to take from this reading?
  3. What can I do to bridge the gap between what my students would learn on their own and what I want them to learn? What support should I offer ...?
  4. How will I know if my students "got it"? (Deeper Reading 215)
My mentor, Janet Allen, says "you've got to be the bridge." Whether I am teaching a strategy for reading or  writing, a genre, or a content concept such idioms or figurative language, there is a difference between teaching (modeling, demonstrating, showing how to) and assigning (telling students to read and answer questions, giving students a task without any help). Does that make sense? I like how one of the boy's in Jeff Wilhelm's study put it, "teachers give you hard things to do and then they don't help you." Modeling is the tool that helps students as  Wilhelm describes in this video clip which examines the gradual release model from a Vygotskian perspective.

This year my district asked to film me teaching and to use the video to teach administrators about the gradual release of responsibility.  Here's a copy compressed for the blog:



On Monday, 1/31 at 7 p.m., I'll be hosting a discussion of the gradual release of responsibility model on #engchat, a weekly English chat on Twitter. Selfishly, I'd love to talk about my questions.  How do you know when to "release" students--it's sort of scary, isn't it.  The Giver allusion aside, how do you decide? How much modeling do students need? How do we discover what students know so that we can maximize our time with them? These are few things I'm thinking about as Monday approaches.

If you'd like to join the conversation, sign in to twitter and follow the hashtag #engchat. Get more details and a "how to" join the conversation using Twitter tools here


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

6 Word Memoirs

For Christmas a friend gave me I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: 6 Word Memoirs by Teens Famous and Obscure. I made reading and writing 6 word memoirs our back to school community builder. We also need a transition day coming back to school after vacation and I planned to connect the memoirs to what we were discussing before we left.

In my AP class, students had just started to read Fast Food Nation. We're talking about obesity and health care and food. Before break we applied literary theory to Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men. I used handouts from Tim Gillespie's Doing Literary Criticism and had students in groups teach the theory by presenting an interpretation of the novel to the class. So using the 6 word memoir in AP looked different from using the 6 word memoir in my ninth grade classes. Here's the sequence I used in AP:


  1. Introduce 6 word memoirs with the video clip I Can't Keep My Own Secrets.
  2. Model applying 1 of the literary theories we studied to the 6 word memoir.
  3. Give students time to interpret a memoir from 2 theoretical perspectives.
  4. Read/watch additional 6 word memoirs from NPR's Six Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled.
  5. Brainstorm details and ideas using photographs and 5Ws and an H chart.
  6. Model altering a photograph and writing my own 6 word memoir using Photoshop.
  7. Give students time to write their own (one about food and one about a topic of their choice).
  8. Share out.
  
I asked students to post their memoirs, once they added altered art, to our Ning, Bear English. I'm struggling with how many students did and did not post them. I know each student wrote at least 2 in class. The breakdown seems to come with the computer. Is it access? Is it skill? What's holding more than half of my students back when it comes to using technology? I've got quite a divide in my classroom between students who can and will follow through with something on the computer and those that either cannot or will not.


PS: Be sure to check out the discussion of 6 word memoirs on the English Companion Ning! Lots of resources and good conversation.