Sunday, December 19, 2010

Have You Upped Your Awesome?

My students certainly upped their awesome potential this week! 
Project for Awesome is coming to a soft close, the raffle goes through 12/20/10, but the commenting army is at rest. 
What a show last night on YouTube! Did you see it? If you'd like to see clips check out the P4A channel. My favorite clip? John Green talking from his heart about Esther Earl and the Make a Wish Foundation. 
Did you follow #p4a on twitter? Nerdfighters did it again trending tops several times over the past two days. 
Highlights for me? Commenting from school. Commenting with my 9 year-old son--he learned to reply--but I'll write more about that on Pink Stone Days later this week. 

Andrew's P4A Avatar for Twitter & YouTube
Nearly 75% of my students receive free  or reduced lunch benefits. Many do not have access to technology at home. But, they created YouTube accounts, some also create twitter identities for P4A. They learned how to use image editing software to create avatars , how to tweet, how to comment, how to capture their screens. Lots of purposeful learning around 21st century tools this week. 
The district unblocked YouTube Friday and though we had a slow start, it worked. Folks at the district don't arrive until 8ish. High school students get going around 7:15 a.m., so our first hour was a frustrating one as the filter hadn't fallen yet, but once we got going students swarmed each others pages commeting, rating and favoriting. How thankful am I that the district lowered the filters for us? I teach in the 11th largest district in the country. It was a big deal to get YouTube unblocked for the day. I am tremendously grateful. Thank you, thank you! 
What did I enjoy the most about P4A at school? Teaching students the process, a definite list topper. Seeing kids smile as I narrated my silly stop-motion animation P4A video. Sharing laughs--when I couldn't decide how to begin my video and nearly included the Manualist performing the 20th Century Fox Fanfare--we all had a good laugh over that one. But even better was the discussion it led to about audience, purpose and your digital identity. Actually seeing my students videos and their surprise at how many other P4A videos were posted to YouTube. 
The most fun? There were many most fun moments. One was when John Green wished Marquez happy birthday in comments. Lucky Marquez! We took a screen shot but it's at school. Marquez is a quiet, quiet student in my 6th period class. He totally surprised me by keeping count of comments and setting the pace during 6th period. Though I enjoyed the morning commenting on students' videos before P4A actually began, the afternoon was made of pure awesome. If I hadn't been finger-flying over the keyboard commenting with the Nerdfighter commenting army, I would have tweeted some of students' reactions. They said things like: 
"Miss! Miss Lee Ann! We are NOT the only ones in here!" Julian said this once we got into the swarm and kids realized that thousands of people were commenting on the same video at the same time.

"Oh my gosh--there are like 100 comments a minute. It's going so fast!" Said in response to seeing the comment stream fly automatically.

Those were just 2 of the ah-has, but there were many on Friday. Most of these student productions are a first for the kids who made them. First time creating a video; first time uploading to YouTube; first time commenting; first time replying to a comment. Lots of firsts, so be gentle with their learning. If you'd like to add your comments to my kids' videos follow the links below. 

And don't forget, there's still time to buy that $25 raffle ticket to win 49 signed books from NCTE and ALAN10! Sweet deal on hardcovers if I do say so myself. The money benefits Beat Bullying.

CCHS Poetry Club video

Ashley & Brandon's
Brick & Victor's
Foi's Trevor Project

Carl, John & Andrew

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Check out the raffle! in total $70K raised so far!!
Project for Awesome Raffle Page

When we’re spamwowing Project for Awesome videos it can sometimes be difficult to think about what to comment. I decided to comment using the first lines from the books I had signed to Nerdfighters at this year’s ALAN conference. I’ve not finished typing up all of the first lines, but I thought this chunk would get me started. 

I’m posting them here because apparently YouTube doesn’t mind when I copy and paste a comment from a web source, but it rejects copy and pasted comments from my word documents. Harrumph!
If you are interested in buying a $25 raffle ticket to win these 49 author signed books, be sure to drop by the Project for Awesome raffle! or go directly to the book raffle ticket spot .

After P4A I'll come back and clean these first lines up (take out the hashtag and raffle links) but for now, I've kept them just so I can copy and paste straight to YouTube or twitter for faster commenting. 


 “Doug came to, lying on his back in what felt and smelled like a field.” -Adam Rex, Fat Vampire #p4a raffle

“They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your yes, but that’s not how it happened for me.” -Lauren Oliver, Before I Fall #p4a raffle

“I’d always welcomed war, but in battle my passion rose unbidden.” –Andrea Cremer, Nightshade #p4a raffle

“Lia Khan is dead. I am Lia Khan.” – Robin Wasserman, Skinned #p4a raffle

 “On a sweltering June Sunday ,stunned residents of Black Creek, North Carolina pray for seventeen-year-old Patrick Truman, who was beaten and left for dead outside the convenience store where he works.” 
– Lauren Myracle, Shine #p4a raffle

“Marley was dead, to begin with.” Marley was dead, to begin with? What kind of studpid opening line is that? A Christmas Carol is supposed to be some sort of classic novel…” –Lisa Yee, Warp Speed #p4a raffle

“They took me in my nightgown.” – Ruta Sepetys, Between Shades of Gray #p4a raffle
“The executioner swung his axe—thwack!—and another head went rolling into the dust.” – Darren Shan, The Thin Executioner #p4a raffle

“It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.” – Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind of a Funny Story #p4a raffle

“Everyone thought she had made it up, and she had tolerated more taunting and teasing from other children, more lectures and punishments from gown-ups, than any eleven-year-old should have to bear.” -Frank Beddor, The Looking Glass Wars #p4a raffle

“Imagine this: You’re in your favorite bookstore, scanning the shelves. You get to the section where a favorite author’s books reside, and there, nestled in comfortabley between the incredibly familiar spines, sits a red notebook. What do you do?” – Rachel Cohn & Devid Levithan, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares #p4a raffle

“Having just died, I shouldn’t be starting my afterlife with a chicken sandwich,no matter what, especially one served up by nuns.” -Carlos Eire, Learning to Die in Miami #p4a raffle

“The world is drowning. Sinking. It’s being swallowed up. Glaciers are melting. Oceans are rising.” 
-Dana Reinhardt, How to Build a House #p4a raffle

“I knew today would be ugly.” -Robin Brande, Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature #p4a raffle

“It was a pleasure to burn.” – Tim Hamilton, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 the Authorized Adaptation #p4a raffle

“I’m in Hokepe Woods this morning, like I am every Sunday, delivering papers and keeping an eye out for Jonah Lukes.” –Katie Williams, The Space Between Trees #p4a raffle

“It’s always the same, not matter where in the world we happen to be.” -Laura Resau, The Indigo Notebook #p4a raffle

“In which a corset is loosened… There are so many exciting things in this book—a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle éclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of the Shipless Pirates—that is really does seem a shame to being with ladies underwear.” -Tom Angleberger, Horton Halfpott #p4a raffle

“You can’t know what it is like for us now—you will always be one step behind. Be thankful for that.” - David Levithan “A Word from the Nearly Distant Past” from-Michael Cart, editor, How Beautiful the Ordinary #p4a raffle

“The second act curtain was one chorus away when I spotted him.” – Judy Blundell, Strings Attached #p4a raffle

“Zero Period. You got that right. Fail one math test you’re up before the first chirp of day.” -Rita Williams-Garcia, Jumped #p4a raffle

“Han Alister squatted next to the staming mud spring, praying that the thermal crust would hold his weight.” -Cinda Williams Chima, The Demon King #p4a raffle

“Mirka liked her stepmother, Fruma, well enough. Fruma had the longest nose of anyone in Hereville, but her odd looks hadn’t take nMirka long to get used to.” -Barry Deutsch, Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword #p4a raffle

"The eunuchs said the windows were ceiling height to allow the concubines their privacy, but JinLian knew it was also a way to keep them trapped. - Cindy Pon, Silver Phoenix #p4a raffle

Project For Awesome: Cypress Creek Poetry Club

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Project for Awesome Update

Bryan, performed at Middle School Mosaic and NCTE this year.
He's editing the Poetry Club's P4A video.
Just when you think you've cleared the way...

My students are well on their way to finishing their Project for Awesome videos. Helbin has already uploaded to YouTube (early bird!). He's finished, but not finished. Today will be the day we talk revision and re-exporting.

What does Helbin need to revise? He needs to add the thumbnail. When P4A takes over the front page of YouTube all you will see are Project for Awesome thumbnails: Project for Awesome Spoken Word Press, Project for Awesome, Project for Awesome Greenpeace. Will YouTube be broken? My students asked me that yesterday. No, YouTube will still work but what you see when you first land on the page will be different, will be awesome.

So, we need the thumbnail. Picture this: we're in the media center, using the computers, twenty-five 14 year olds leaning in toward screens or stomping around with Flip cameras. I remind students about the thumbnail. Guess what? No downloading. Student log-ins are not permitted to download--anything. So, what's the work around?

We take a screen shot of the logo. We paste the logo into Photoshop CS3. We crop the screen. We save the logo as a jpg file. Error. Nope. We can't save the logo as a jpg file because the computer thinks ".jpg" already exists and asks us if we would like to replace it. Sure, replace ".jpg." Go to Movie Maker, import jpg, but no, "p4a-logo.jpt" does not exist in the student document folder. Try again. save as png. Error. ".Png" already exists. What? What is this? Regroup. Open Paint. Copy logo from Photoshop to Paint. Save image as p4a-logo dot bitmap.


The official kick off for P4A is somewhere around noon. See Hank's introduction for details. We're working or working around it. Friday I will blog and tweet links to the videos my students post. For most of my ninth grade students, this is their first experience with YouTube and social networking for good. We'd love for you to rate, favorite and comment on our videos.

See you Friday!


PS: Those books I got signed for Nerdfighters to auction off? Hank and John Green are adding to their raffle! Yes! Risk? Worth it!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

How Do You Take Notes?

                I want to start with stories. Three stories about my journal and meeting people at NCTE that I’d previously only met online.  The first is about the journal itself.
                Last year at NCTE I noticed a tribe member taking notes is a creamy-paged, sketchbook-style journal. Curious, I asked about it. Kim McCollum, Millersville professor, Nerdfighter and ECNing-er, told me she’d gotten the journal at “her favorite stationary store in Paris.”
                I think I really did sigh. How romantic is that? Flash forward six months to the summer. A mysterious soft-sided package arrives in the mail. The package is addressed to me. Kim’s address—her real address—is in the return spot on the mailer. What in the world? You’ll see. She sent me a journal. Pure magic, the surprise.
This year when I went to the session on mentoring new teachers (a session I wrote about here), Tony  Romano , Illinois state Author of the year and teacher phenom, smiled at me and said, “You’re the journal person.”
                “I am,” I smiled. You could call me that—a journal person, a person who journals. I do journal and color and draw and take notes and write and reflect and catalogue. Yes, that’s me.
                “I have been talking about your journal for a year!”
                Really?  Tony wasn’t the only one who’d been talking about my journals. Friends I’d made on the English Companion Ning remembered my journals too.
                At the ECN meet up Saturday night Karen LaBonte asked us to note the questions we’d begun to cultivate related to topic threads from the conference: grammar, writing, technology, etc. I opened my journal to scan my notes and gather my questions. I wasn’t 2 pages in when Jen Ansbach said, “can I see? You are going to post pages from your journal this year aren’t you? I’ve been talking about your journal all year.”


                Jen called her husband, Noah, over to take a picture. We got to talking. We talked through a session’s worth of notes. Soon there were six or so of us sitting in our section of the circle, talking about my journal .  
                So what? What matters? I think what matters is not my journal per se but the process, a process.
                How do you make your learning “visible and discussable” as Bud Hunt said (citing Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss)? What processes do we use as education evangelists—as committed teacher leaders—to  hold onto and extend our learning? Mine is but one. Surely there are an infinite number of ways we could systematize our note-taking. An infinite number of ways we could record, revisit, share and discuss. What matters, what’s important is that we do.
*             *             *
                So I’m sharing. I scanned the notes I took during Kittle, Gallagher and Anderson’s session as well as notes from our ECN meet up. I’ve also created a key to my codes. If you’d like to read my earlier post about why and how I journal , go here.  Because I don’t have permission to post photos of a few folks I have in my journal, you’ll see that I’ve blurred them out. Many thanks to Terry Heick for helping me figure out the inverse select tool in order to do that!

Notes also posted to Scridb.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Novel Gift

Participate in Readergirlz Novel Gift- click the picture!
Amazing things are happening and we're still more than a fortnight away from Project for Awesome!

Partnering with First Book, the Readergirlz are giving away more than 125,000 novels. Wow! Brand-new books going to teens that need them. What's the catch? Registration. The book fairy cannot read your mind or the map of your school's needs. Go to Readergirlz for all the details or go directly to the 5 minute registration site at First Book.

My students are anxiously waiting to dive into the new books I brought back from NCTE. Not the Project for Awesome auction books, but additional books I collected in the exhibit hall. Many are advance reading copies, or bargain books I purchased on the last day of the conference, unsigned, but definitely beautiful. I came home with 80 or so. We've made grand stacks on the back table. You should have seen my students hovering around the stacks yesterday as they finished their reading benchmark exams.

"Ooo... can I see this one?"
"Can I just look at this one?"
"Miss can I read...?"

Really? Better than chocolate cake their "can I" questions.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Does E-Bay Work Again?

Am I the only person in the world that knows naught about E-bay? Today is the day to discover what I need to know to run the Project for Awesome book auction to raise money for P4A Charities! So, what have I done so far? Gathered the books, gotten the books signed (that was the fun, fun part!), photographed the books. (See my kitchen photo shoot on the left. I love the quilt my Mom made out of my son's family drawing.

I've uploaded the book photos to my Nerdfighters' Ning page and now I need to learn about eBay.

I know Etsy. Do you know Etsy? I desscribe it as an E-bay for artists. It's one of my favorite places to buy gifts. I've opened an Etsy shop, Copper Monkey, but have not populated it with collage art and domino necklaces yet. I've got to file some DBA paperwork first. But I digress. Etsy is not an auction site like E-bay.

What I want is to post each signed book to E-bay and have folks participate in an auction for purchase. To do this do I need a separate email or account? Should I just use the spillarke account my husband and I have used on eBay before?

So many questions, I thought I'd list them and share with students when we get to talking about our Project for Awesome projects next week:

  • How much does eBay charge to list auction items?
  • Can I set a start and end date for the auction?
  • Does eBay notify you each time a person bids?
  • Is it self-regulating? Can you list and item and then ignore it until the auction closes?
  • What kind of write up do I need to post with each book?
  • Can descriptions of auction products be hyper linked to other web spaces where I could have more info? Or is it a plain text the only option?
  • How many pictures can I use in my listing? 
  • How much does eBay charge per listing?
  • Are listing rates different for differently priced items?
  • How much will it cost me to sell items on eBay?
  • How do you figure out shipping charges?
  • How long does media rate shipping take? (okay that's not really an eBay question)
  • Will I pay for eBay listings up front and when the sale ends?
  • How long will it take to list 50 items? 
  • What else do I need to know in order to make this eBay charity book auction successful? 
What do you think? Am I going to be to giving Nerdfighter books to everyone in my Christmas network? Or are we going to be able to raise some money for awesome? 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What's Your Quiet Signal?

My quiet signal is a llama hand sign. I was once a llama wrangler at Lost Trail Ranch in the Colorado Rockies. Four months at 13K feet sans electricity and indoor plumbing (guest had plumbing). Ninth graders are a lot like llamas and when I was looking for a quiet signal this year, Pammy and Dani of 5th period fame yelled llama, made the hand sign and that was that. Have you see the llama song on YouTube? I hadn't either--not one of the million viewers--I prefer the Green brother's Obama llama parody. But my students know it, so I looked it up.

Can you believe llama-ed it up at the English Companion Ning Meet Up? My students are going to laugh out loud. The room a buzz with conversation, What a time we had visiting.Here are the photos Noah took during the meet up:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What are You Risking for Your Network?

I'm still thinking about something  Bud Hunt ask last week at NCTE: "What are you modeling for your network?" If I think of my son and my students as my network, what do I want to model for them? Learning, curiosity, a can-do attitude, I also want to model taking a risk.

I am taking a risk for Project for Awesome this year. I discovered John Green and Hank Green 's, Project for Awesome in 2008. I wrote about my discovery on  Pink Stone Days, here.  At that time I 'd been volunteering with students at Give Kids the World Village once a month (for about 5 school years we did that), so when I discovered P4A I told the kids we needed to gather our photos and make a video. We did. I made the video. Last year was similar 2008 in terms of the video making. Students noted their ideas, I filmed and edited. We posted 1 video. However, on P4A day in class I tuned in to the live feed and tweeted the event the entire day while students watched and while we wrote and did other other work. If only I had saved the tweet @realjohngreen sent us in appreciation for bringing P4A into the school. Awesome is an understatement.

This year things will be different. I want students to be the Do-ers. I want students to create their own videos, upload them and join the commenting, favoriting, and twittering swarm of nerdfighters. You see Project for Awesome gets the word out about hundreds of charities by bubbling  up the charity videos to the most discussed list on YouTube and the top trending topic on twitter. That takes people power--that takes Nerdfighteria.

So where does the risk come in? Unblocking YouTube at school. Convincing our director of technology that the local unblock will be worth it. That it will teach kids something valuable, that it will be more valuable than my demonstration alone. I plan for my students to participate live and in the school library. How awesome will that be?

I'm taking another risk this year too. I'm trying something new. Instead of making a video promoting my own favorite charity, I've decided to auction off books I purchased or received at this year's NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) workshops. I took a risk asking published authors (many who still blind me with their star shine) to sign books "For Nerdfighters everywhere."

You know what? They did.

You know what else? They smiled. They laughed. They made my year. They asked what I was going to do with the books. And I told. Upon hearing others donated books. Wendy Lamb (who has her OWN IMPRINT) even told me to email her for more ARCs for the project! Can you believe it?

I'm going to auction off the signed Nerdfighter collection (nearly 50 books) to the highest bidder during Project for Awesome week. I want to ship the books by the 21st of December--before Christmas. I don't know how to run an online auction, but several folks to whom I've spoken seem to think E-bay (and keeping good records) is the best bet. After my students participate in P4A, I will let them vote which P4A charitites we should give the money to. Last year I donated money to 2 charities (yes, John's and Hank's). Remember Oprah's Pay It Forward Challenge? That's what I want to model for my network. I want to model taking a risk to make a difference.

What's the worst that can happen?  I fail. No one buys the books.  Is that really so bad? After all, I'm a nerdfighter too. Who doesn't like a book gift for Christmas?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Nerd Power

My husband and son came out to Disney to meet me last night. We went to dinner where my husband teased me about my nerdiness.

"Is Dad a nerd, Mom?" Collin asked.
"No," I replied. "Dad is not nerd. Not even a nerd by association."
"Yes, he is!" Collin insisted.
"Nope. He's not. He's a foodie. He reads magazines, goes fishing and brews root beer. Not a nerd."
"Am I nerd?"he asked.
"Hmmm, well, you read."
"I do read!" He finished the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book last night before going to bed. I'd given it to him at dinner.
"You play on the computer."
"I do."
"But you're missing something."
"What? What is it?"
"You don't have the pen. The pen clipped onto your shirt. See? Dad's not wearing one either--that's how you know. He's not a nerd."

So this morning, I get up and get to the ALAN room early. First for seats, up early to geek out, Rick and Collin met me here. Guess what? He clipped the hotel room pen to his t-shirt. Nerds unite!

 My son is going to sit with me at ALAN today: listen in to the author's speak, act as my book sherpa when needed, and soak up the passion for reading that is the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents. What a great day it's going to be!

Monday, November 22, 2010

What's Your Happy Dance?

Find The Nerdfighter Happy Dance Project here.
Do you have a happy dance? Young adult author extraordinaire, John Green and his awesome, gifted brother, Hank, have happy dances. Their tribe, the Nerdfighters, preserved and shared their happy dances a few years ago on YouTube. I am a Nerdfighter--perhaps the oldest Nerdfighter in all Nerdfighteria. Seeing an elder's happy dance is rare. Last night, this elder happy danced at the ALAN cocktail party.

Did I dance because I was swimming through a room of young adult authors? Book buzz all around me. Nope. Did I dance because I got the rare treat of re-connecting with and talking to ">Elizabeth Thomas, an organizer of Brave New Voices and an amazing performance poet. Nope. Well, to be honest, yes, Elizabeth did give me twinkle toes, but I wouldn't call it a full out dance.

She was not the impetus for the spontaneous outburst of happy dancing that left my hair standing straight up. What did? It goes something like this:

I was walking across the room for refreshments when I heard, "Ms. Spillane?" Good Lord I thought, there's not a student here is there?

Standing before me was Chuck. Charles Warren. Chuck who was in my 9th grade Global Technology English class at University High School nearly 10 years ago. Chuck, a member of the robotics team. Chuck, who was the only boy to give his teachers Christmas presents. Tall Chuck who, even then, stood more than a head taller than me. Wow.

"Ms. Spillane!"

Bear hugs ensued. Then Chuck turned to me and said, "I want to introduce you to my fiance. She's going to be an English teacher."

He's marrying an English teacher my stomach fluttered.

"Mindy, this is Ms. Spillane." Handshaking gave way to more hugs. "Mindy, this is the teacher that turned me into a reader." Wow.

I danced and danced, Snoopy feet, swirling fists, I laughed and Chuck grinned. He's a reader!


Sunday, November 21, 2010

NCTE #2: Blue Sky What Ifs

Today was cirrus clouds (though a cumulus is pictured here)  and sunshine. A blue sky “what if” kind of day, a writing and drawing and talking and sharing push and pull of ideas kind of day I had at NCTE today.

It started in Ballroom M with Gary Anderson, Kim McColumn, Teresa Buner and the amazing Tony Romano (the most down to earth & gracious state teacher of the year I've ever met) talking about how to mentor, coach and care for new teachers. All but Tony I met first online via Twitter or the English Companion Ning community. Kim and I have  Nerdfighter  hearts. Connecting with virtual colleagues at NCTE gives the convention the celebratory feel of a reunion with friends .

The session got me thinking about how I interact with and nurture my own junior intern. Have I “given” too much in the way of lesson plans? Have I listened ? Coached enough with questions that will guide her thinking about issues like differentiation and assessment? Does she understand my model? Does she soak up the sequence and routine I run, an English class Iditarod with kids pulling me forward.

Gary Anderson always makes me smile , his facility with a group, the sparkle—yes actual sparkling—of a learner in his eye. He made be wonder about interview questions and the hiring sequence. ‘If you’re one of the folks cleaning up the mess at the end of  a bad hire, then you should be involved on the front end too.” Makes sense as did the array of interview questions we shared and discussed with Gary giving nod to pre-service teachers in the room, “this is good stuff right here as you head into interviews.” Indeed it is good stuff. Tony Romano,

Gary’s partner in crime, Tony Romano, author, teacher, and mentor facilitates year 3 and 4 of his school’s mentoring program. Tony remembered me from last year saying “Oh, you’re the journal-er.” He told me he’s thought and talked about my journal many times this year. He has the link to my scanned pages favorited. I could sit at his feet and learn scads about public speaking. Both he and Gary have quite a presence. While Gary uses humor to engage, Tony more often uses puzzles. Yesterday’s puzzler involved roman numerals and re-creation. He’s like one of the Tapper brother’s. A voice of Chicago much like Click and Clack’s. His puzzle reminded me of their weekly “puzzler” on Car Talk.

Tony Romano’s school has a 4 year mentoring program for new teachers. Imagine that. Four years of someone looking out for you, feeding you nutritious teacher food (professional books, journal articles, good questions) and throwing in a bit of teacher bling (sticky notes, gel pens, highlighters).  Year 3, I believe is backwards planning a la Heidi Jacobs for Tony’s new faculty  and year 4 reflection. Do I even have a sequence I follow with new teachers I mentor? Am I purposefully in my talk with new teachers? Do I sequence their instruction in sense-making ways?

My Tech- to- Go session following theirs, so though Tony plugged my journaling and encouraged folks to talk to me about it (thanks Tony), I booked it back to  the exhibit hall and to set up the laptop. There was some confusion with the tech kiosks, another presenter whom I do not know thought he should be at the kiosk where I was set up and thought I should be at the empty kiosk across the room. After much consternation (on he and his partner’s part) and much back and forth with the lovely NCTE Wireless Queen (again just them), he said I must move because my name was on the other side. Indeed it was not as I tried to explain, pointing to the Get Connected with Collaboration Tools, listed on the board behind me, mentioning the schedule shifting that happened with Friday’s kiosks. Mox nix, didn’t matter, I unplugged, disconnected, gathered-up and moved to the opposite kiosk. People are interesting.

The people I met at high school matters? Fascinating. Sharon’s table session on Manga stoked my curiosity. I have a student who’s not the others, a stand out student, a different student, a student who’s best friends are manga characters and books. I am trying to connect with that student and to do that, I need manga knowledge. Wait until you see what I learned! This post is entirely too long, so I’ll save that bit.

I’ll probably also save my thinking about this small world, this open global community. I sat down next to Katie McKnight at High School Matters. I had never met Katie in person, but the day before I tweeted her a compliment a principal bestowed after attending her session on literature circles. Her only reply to my tweet was @spillarke. Hmm... I wondered.  Can you believe we were sitting next to each other at the manga table? What synchronicity.

I think my favorite part of the day was honoring Philippa Stratton

I should have taken pictures: the wild mushroom tart, the Boursin cheese stuffed dates, shredded crab dressed in finely minced fresh salsa served in miniature martini glasses replete with cocktail spoons. But beyond the gourmet menu, beyond the sparkle of crystal and beauty of the Grand, I stood surrounded by teachers who are also writers. Kelly Gallagher, who’s working on a new book on teaching teenage writers; I talked with Ruth Ayers who pounced on my  domino necklace when I first arrived. She delighted me by saying, "You're wearing one of those domino necklaces! When I told her I was the artist that made, she said well, I have your email then. I've given 3 as gifts here at NCTE. Can you believe she saw them? My favorite meet was Tim Gillespie who may skype into my classroom and talk criticism with my A.P. juniors. Imagine that!

I stood in awe of Philippa and the work she has brought to life –literally around the room—and wondered at the possibility of my own writing future. Not all of the folks under the trompe de l'oei rotunda were Stenhouse authors, Stephanie Harvey publishes with Heinemann doesn’t she? There were editors circling, Bill Varner and marketing guru / Newslinks editor Chuck Lerch— behind the scenes gems—rock  stars themselves who craft, push, question, critique, and edit their writers to greatness.

At the end of the day what can I say? What can I say to such a pink stone day*? Shakespeare, as always, said it first and best, “I can no other answer make, but, thanks and thanks.”

*To get the pink stone story think of Spinelli’s  Star Girl and click here for the rest.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Who's on Your Carpet Circle? NCTE 2010

Writing Time during Bud the Teacher’s session at NCTE Thursday:

Bud Hunt, or @budtheteacher on Twitter, posed provocative questions during his 21st century literacies session Thursday afternoon. I appreciated his skill as a facilitator. Bud set the stage for our learning by calling attention to the vocabulary, “two phrases” , he expected us to learn, he set goals and outlined our time together. He wove analogy and metaphor into his teaching-- reminding me of Rick Wormeli. The metaphor I most enjoyed was the kindergarten carpet circle. Remember the carpet circle? Learners hand-waving excited, gathered in community to share and build knowledge.

Bud asked us “Who’s in your circle? In your network?”  

I wonder.

Does he mean whom do I eavesdrop on? Does he mean which stars do I wish upon?  We’re at Disney after all.

He asks us, “Who’s listening in? What “productive eavesdropping” are you engaged in, or helping to foster? How are you making your work “visible and discussable."

Bud’s talking and  I’m feeling a sense of irony I can’t quite explain. You see, I am visible. Online, since before the last decade when I used the Florida Information Resource Network to dial in to a text based web. I “sailed the cyberseas” at the  Miami Museum of Science and learned how to use Netscape Composer to create. Not a coder, but a WYSIWYG geek, a pioneer, not digital native, in my English department, the first teacher to create and maintain a web site. At that time, Carla Beard was also online—The Web English Teacher and a personal hero. 

I so admired her collections of resources that my first attempt at web creation (Spillane Station) was content poor, link-rich  (to mention the image copyright issues). But,  I was learning. I was the geeky teacher who taught herself  how to network Apple 2Es together with a rudimentary daisy chain so that English teachers could have a “lab.” My students taught them how to use the software. I wrote about my earlier experiences in FETC Connections. Old school print, I know. So am I visible? Yes, then and now, I am visible.

But, is anyone listening? I wondered as Bud talked. @budtheteacher whom I follow but did not follow back, whom I friended but did not friend me back. To connect do we have to make connections both ways? Or can I just wish upon those stars—those educational and techie rock stars. I wonder.  I’m listening. I’m productively eavesdropping. I’ve lurked and learned. But I wondered?

What does it take to bring someone into your network? Are we all so busy marketing ourselves that we skate through conversations with folks we aren’t really connected to?

Whom am I really connected to? People I have relationships with. People I talk with, email with, see in person. My virtual friends –the one’s I’ve built relationships with—I’ve met. I’ve listened to. I’ve sat still and learned with them and from them.

So what?

So, I’m going to try and build relationships. If I want Bud and really more importantly, others to join my carpet circle, I’m going to keep raising my hand. Keep poking with the @reply. Keep trying to make my practice and the listening visible, accessible, and discussable.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's About the Learning

I'm a learner. I admit it. My name is Lee Ann Spillane and I spend hours reading, writing, surfing and learning about teaching. I am powerless in the face of those that teach and guide me.  Learning has not made my life unmanageable, but sometimes, I admit,  to not actually cooking dinner, so that I can listen in to #engchat. 

Learning and teaching is a vocation, a calling. I know that a higher power invested me in the literate lives of today's teens, so I lurk and learn. 

Book retailers love me. Amazon knows my name and thoughtfully suggests books I will like.  For my 40th birthday, aside from a llama pair or a pony,  I wanted built-in bookshelves.  Shelves were built with the promise of more to come. Books stand like sentinels in my rooms at home and at school. 

Far from perfect, I am still learning. Everyday, every moment is an opportunity. I love the turn of a higher level question. I bask in cognitive tasks.

Oh, I can't keep up the act, I'm a learning addict. Thus was I delighted with Sara Kajder's tweet this morning. A personal challenge? She takes it as a personal challenge to teach me something new. Oh  man! Sharpen the colored pencils, charge the laptop, I am in for a great day at NCTE today! Sara hasd  a galaxy of new ideas she could share with me.  I am thrilled by the prospect. 

My principal and I recently had a conversation about the gradual release of responsibility model of instruction. I was videotaped as an example of said instruction. The tape is being shown to middle and high school principals  in the district. My leader wondered why more high school teachers aren't teaching that way.  I wondered if I looked like an elephant on tape. She said, "You make it look easy, so why aren't more people doing it?" Embedded in her question is the idea that high school teachers are still lecturing, still transmitting content from the stage at the front of the room. It is not easy to step aside. 

"Do you know how many years I spent collecting questions in my journal?" I told. "How many years I wrote down and gathered what I call connecting language that would transition an audience from one idea to another smoothly?" Lots of journals, lots of purposeful listening, lots of notes and I am still learning, hardly perfect in my practice of putting the thinking and doing on kids.

I don't feel like an expert most days, but I do feel like a pioneer. A learner willing to take risks, to devote time and myself to changing my own classroom practice. In my mind, that process never ends--learning is continual. 

Are you a teacher learner? 

Talk at school and online has turned to NCTE in recent weeks. I'm exuberant. Is everyone in my teaching universe? Hardly. Take this simulated exchange:

"NCTE is next week! Are you going?"
"No, I've been before."

NCTE is an ever changing smorgasbord of ideas and innovation. At NCTE you can rub shoulders or have actual conversation with education's Rock Stars. And one of them is Sara Kajder. Professor at Virginia Tech, winner of the first National Technology fellowship in English language arts, author of the Tech Savvy English Teacher and Bringing the Outside In, national consultant, sitting in her session today--what a gift that will be! 

Really. How could you have "been there done that"?  Is it because teachers have other learning outlets? Other conferences they are holding out for? Perhaps they learn online. They read. They tweet. They blog? I wonder.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Do Those Jeans Fit You?

My English department decided to do common texts this year and ninth grade teachers chose 4 common texts: The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, Speak and Bronx Masquerade. We decided "to do", doesn't that sound funny? Who's doing in that sentence? What's the thinking behind studying works in common? At our school some of the thinking revolved around schedule changes and mobility rates. Students change classes at my school--throughout the year we have schedule changes for one reason or another. We also have a 30% mobility rate. Thirty percent of our students move, switch counties, shift apartments, and change schools.
These and other issues dictate the coming of a common curriculum in my district.

What do I dislike about a common curriculum? Students are different. Students have different needs.

Assuming that one work, like one pair of pants, can fit all students' needs is as ridiculous as the cowboy dog from Disney's Halloween pet parade. Those jeans don't fit that dog, nor are they engaging. So will one work, a common text, engage all students?

Intriguing  how different schools in one school district truly operate differently. At my former high school, and the one before that, departments taught nearly everything in common: short stories, whole-class novels, plays. One school gave teachers a choice of which stories, novels and plays and other dictated certain works each quarter. We had curriculum maps (after the district brought in Heidi Hayes Jacobs) and we revisited or updated them each fall. One school eventually moved to requiring specific skills (standards/benchmarks) be taught each quarter, connected said skills to genres on the maps and left specific work choices to teachers. By that time though, so many teachers were mired in the familiarity of x, y or z, few changed the works they taught.

What do I like about teaching common works? Students talk to each other about English class and literature outside the double wide (my teaching portable). I know they do because I hear them when I'm standing on the porch in between classes. I also know they do because I have a contingent of students begging to read Speak. They've been talking to Mrs. Owens's students. They are amped up to read the book. Talk about an anticipatory set--they want to read!

I  like that common works builds a reading culture at our school. It  builds a common core of literature we can talk about at any grade level. It helps me know what my eleventh graders have discussed or dipped into before they arrive in A.P. language and composition. Yes, discussed or dipped into--they've been exposed to the literature. Shouldn't that be a bad word? If my A.P. juniors have never read Greek myth or  delved into The Odyssey, they will miss many literary allusions in the texts we will read. That's just a fact and a difficult fact to take if you're a teacher who wants students to always have choices. But couldn't students get to the same common texts or ideas within a workshop setting which gave them choices?

Am I holding students back if we do a whole-class work? Or am I giving many students who wouldn't choose that particular work an opportunity to participate. Participate in a conversation--a  conversation about big ideas, that began long before either of us were in school and will continue long after we are gone?

Nancy Atwell's presentation at Middle School Mosaic last year is still with me. I'm still thinking about how she railed against the whole-class read. I'm reading about it. As Cris Tovani says in her foreward to Sam Bennet's That Workshop Book*, "I [am] struck by how much I still [have] to learn. Oddly, it [is] comforting. Knowing that I [am not] there yet [feels] invigorating" (xi).  The book is on my "to-buy" list for NCTE. I've read about it on blogs and at Heinemann, but I haven't held it in my hands yet or talked back to its text in the margins, so it's not quite mine yet.

Students have choices in my English class--but do they have enough choice? I don't think so.  People tell me I am incredibly organized, but I haven't felt organized enough to jump into a full-time workshop. Isn't choice, choice of reading materials, after all one way to differentiate instruction? That's where I'm heading  and this is what I'm thinking about.

*Bennett, Samantha. That Workshop Book: New Systems and Structures for Classrooms that Read, Write, Think. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Day in the Life

4:30 a.m. Wake up, get coffee, start computer, read or write online with morning coffee
6:00-6:20 a.m. Leave for school
6:45 a.m. Arrive at school, check school email, organize handouts, copies, materials for the day, check that agenda is posted, check in at front office (across 95 acre campus)
7:10 students begin arrive in classroom
7:20 teach, listen, teach, practice, teach
8:08 stand at door, smile, usher out and welcome in
8:14 second period begins: teach, teach, teach, read, read, write
9:02 second period ends, wait, fidget, wait, first student arrives, then run to bathroom, return before  6 minutes is up and bell rings to signal next class
9:08 teach, teach, monitor, encourage, smile, teach
9:54 usher out, welcome in
10:02 waiting for lunch time class starts: encourage, cajole, teach, smile, encourage
10:55 ahhh,  lunch
11:30 greet, greet, welcome, welcome, fifth period begins
12:25 sixth period, when did they arrive? was I picking up? shelving books? how did I miss the greet, greet, hello, hello at the door time. Rush into the last period of the day, teach, teach, monitor, modify, modify, support, cajole, smile, encourage.
It's over? already?
1:17 time to plan,
2:00 but wait, meeting, meeting, bathroom needing
2:45 p.m. back to class, quiet now, quiet
4:00 p.m. grading, grading still at school
cross town, extended-care pick up
grocery store someday
5:30 - 6:00 p.m. home depending on traffic and route
7:00 p.m. writing ,writing, planning ,planning, blog or occasional tweet

I've been thinking a lot about a teacher's day. What does a typical teacher look like? Are all teachers' days across our state similar at each level? Are teachers' days similar across the nation? Some teachers I've visited say no--others nod yes. It's hard to say. My schedule changes depending on the day or the week or the month of the school year. Above is a typical day where I'm in meetings after school for just a short time.

Today was a juggler. I participated in lesson study in the morning, then facilitated a different lesson study group in the afternoon. At the end of the school day, I met for an hour with student poets (Poetry Club) and took some time after that  to begin writing out my common board agenda for tomorrow.

I left school at 4 pm (though we are released from duty at 2:30). After picking up my son from school and voting, I arrived home at 7 p.m. The lines were long at my polling place, so I'm sure that added more than an hour. How was your day? How do you build in time to grade? plan? reflect? write? hone your craft?

These are just a few things I'm thinking about this week.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Grades, grades, grades

Grades are due this week and I am in the weeds; in restaurant speak that means behind. I have graded all of my students work--in fact the grading part has been going relatively smoothly this year. I stay late a day or two a week and knock out class sets of papers or I grade on the spot, walking the room and working grades at student's elbows where I can quick have a conversation with them about their work. But while I've been able to keep up with putting marks on papers or giving students feedback, I have not been able to keep up with grades into the computer. Two days this week found me up at 4 a.m. trying to do just that. I am working as hard as I can. So what got in the way?

Teaching surely. I mean I can't ignore students during class in order to input grades in the computer right? I have to be with them, guide them, facilitate their experiences--even if students are doing discovery work in groups, I need to be in their midst, not huddled behind my monitor. So grades are behind the scenes work that I do alone.
When can I get them done? On the new 7th period schedule finding time is challenging. I have a 45 minute planning period each day. I use that period twice a week to work with a junior intern from a local university. The remaining 3 planning periods, or 135 minutes I use to grade papers from nearly 150 students. That's not even a minute a paper were I to look at it that way. Of course students generate more than 1 assignment a week that needs feedback and a grade. How can I find the time? Well, teachers also have 40 minutes of common planning time after school each day. Two of those 40 minute slots (Tuesday and Wednesday) are filled with meetings. Poetry Club on Tuesdays and professional development time on each Wednesday. Parent conferences can be scheduled Mon., Tues., or Thurs. though I have only had 4 so far this year.

Students deserve to see their progress as we go from one week to the next. Grades should never be a surprise at the end of the quarter. I'm three weeks out of date. I take responsibility for that and I have apologized to students, but am I the only responsible party? Definitley not. There have been complications. Courses were not coded correctly in the schedule. Courses with reading trained teachers need to be specially coded so that "the state" can see that the school is complying with laws that say students who score low on standardized tests in reading must be with highly qualified teachers. I'm a highly qualified teacher, but my course names in the computer did not reflect that, so the courses names needed to be changed. When did the school make the changes? Six weeks in. So at the 6 week mark, I had to spend time transferring all of my assignments, re-setting up all of my classes with categories and weights and then I had to transfer students 1 by 1 from the old class into the new class. It took about an hour and a half for each class. How many classes do I have ? Six. How many hours is that? How many weeks would 8.5 hours take me? You get the gist.

I am running out of time, paid time anyway. Lately I've been thinking a lot about how education is funded, how teachers are paid. I hear a lot of complaints from teachers at my school about how teachers are asked to do too much or about how teachers should not be expected to work "for free" outside of their contracted work time. As Gary Larsen once capture in a Far Side cartoon, working for the railroad--doesn't it seem like students are being railroaded?-- means working all the live long day after all.

You know, when you sign up to be a teacher, you devote yourself to making a difference in the lives of children. Making a difference means doing what it takes. I belive that. It's in my heart. Sometimes doing what it takes can fit into the school day, most of the time it doesn't. Nearly every profession I've peeked into or experienced vicariously through friends and relatives has some amount of take home work time or extended hours. Doctors do. Lawyers do. Engineers might. Right? Why would teaching being any different?

Okay, back to putting my grades into the computer.