Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

Set up a Digital PLN


When I mention to people that I’m on Twitter most respond “I don’t see the point” or “I don’t get it”. That is when I explain to them that I use it as a Personal Learning Network (PLN). If you set it up right, Twitter is a hotbed of links, resources, thought-provoking questions and statements, and support for educators. If you looked at the list of accounts I follow on Twitter you would see that they are all related to education and technology, this means my feed only (well 99% of the time) contains only items I have interest in (okay maybe I’m not interested in every post, but the chances are high that I will be).

Of course some of you are thinking – I can’t sign up for yet another site. The good news is that you can reap the benefits of Twitter without participating. As an educator we know that participation is a better model, it works without it but is so much better with it. By utilizing the search bar on the twitter site you can find tweets on just about any topic. Even better is to search for hashtags, that is a tag added to the tweet that provides a way to have a conversation. At the Google Apps for Education (GAFE) Summit people tweeted about what was going on using the hashtag #gafesummit This means that if you go to the search bar in twitter and put in #gafesummit (include the # symbol) you will see all the tweets. If you wanted to have students tweet about a novel their reading and have other students (within or outside the school) interact you could have them add a hashtag, e.g. students reading Lord of the Flies would add the hashtag #LOTF to let everyone quickly and easily be a part of the conversation.

There are lots of hashtags you can check out such as

Find me on twitter here. Look at who I follow (this is a great way to find new people to follow)

I also use Google+ as a PLN. The great thing about Google+ (and this is similar to Twitter) you can add people to circles and they don’t have to add you back. Being able to organize your contacts is great (so great that Facebook copied this), this allows flexibility, you can have a PLN circle (that’s what I call it), a friends circle, family circle, people you’ve met once but don’t really know circle – PEOPLE WILL NOT KNOW WHAT CIRCLE YOU’VE PUT THEM IN!!!!!

The advantages of Google+ are:

  • Not limited to 140 characters
  • Much easier to follow a conversation

If you don’t have a digital PLN start with Twitter and putz around there. Leave a comment with your tips/tricks/suggestions for follows/hashtags!



What is the “backchannel”?

The term “backchannel” refers to what teachers would call the side-conversations that happen during class. Now we know that not all of these conversations are off topic, sometimes students are getting clarification of directions, brainstorming, getting feedback, or engaging with the topic/material in some other way. Tapping into this backchannel brings all that to the attention of the group. It brings questions and answers, feedback, and other chatter that has the potential of creating a whole new level of engagement to your class. You don’t have to acknowledge everything that is posted and obviously some direction and modeling and practice using it will have to happen. You can archive these conversations and make them available for students to access later.

Todaysmeet is a free resource that allows you to create rooms that expire. (A different room for each unit? class block?) There is no signing up for you or students to use this site. Students enter a name to use and start typing. The downside is that students could put whatever name they want and you would have a hard time monitoring who is saying what (if you wanted to do that), easily dealt with by having clear expectations. The benefit of this site is that only people who have the link can join the room.

Twitter is also geared perfectly for this. The use of hashtags (#) keeps everyone together and allows for a more complicated organization to happen (if desired). This does need a (free) account for all who want to participate. The downside is the need of an account (it is free and easy to set up), and that it is public to anyone (they would have to be following a user or search for the hashtag which would limit the number of outside audience members). The benefit of this is that you could track who is saying what easier, it would be easy to access later, the conversation could continue after class ends.

Class Seventeen – Students thinking about Text/Image Relationship

Today we began again with writing and adding detail. We wrote and then passed our work around so that we could read each others and ask questions. This worked well. Each person (myself included) got their work returned with questions from two people. Then we went back and answered the questions. I think that both Franklin and Adam realized that they were leaving things out that their reader wanted to know. Tomorrow, I’ll ask them to ask questions of their own writing and try to answer them. My goal is to show them, while getting feedback from someone is good, how they can work on adding details to their writing to make it more interesting.

The work on “A Circle of Friends” is going well. I printed out the text for each page last night and today the guys cut them out and figured out where on the page they should go. A couple will have to get formatted to fit in a tall narrow spot and three or four got split between two pages or split to go in different spots on the page. They decided that two should involve the font getting bigger to make the image of the words reflect the meaning of the words. It really showed that they were thinking about the text and the relationship it has with the images. I simply made changes to the digital copy, and asked one or two questions; they did the work and the thinking – SCORE!! I was starting to wonder if this project purpose had gotten lost. Today showed me that it wasn’t and in fact it was better than I’d hoped for.

Tomorrow will be the big push to get all the projects done. In addition to the aforementioned project, Adam is creating a fake Facebook wall and Franklin is performing his reading of “Falling Up” that we will record and show. I hope it can all get done!! Time has really flown for these seventeen classes, I can’t believe that after two more it will be over and I’ll have my Masters – SWEET!!

Class Thirteen – Collaboration&Connections

We’ve reached a point where I’m able to refer back to things we’ve talked about: imagery, exploding the moment, making connections, visualizing, the relationship between words and images, etc – in relation to the work we’re doing now. It is satisfying to watch Adam and Franklin discuss if a page needs text or stands on its own, or if text on one page can cover two images and hear them reasoning it out and justifying it. Today they went through, looked at the notes I made for each of them, and took turns writing down the text for every other page of A Circle of Friends. They started out not really talking about it but as it became clear that they had to know what the other wrote they discussed what they wrote and made small changes as they went along. Tomorrow we’ll lay the text out and see what needs to be changed. I pointed out that they started in 3rd person, but Franklin began writing in 1st person. So, it flipped back and forth between 1st and 3rd. Adam thinks it sounds better in 1st, they’ll make that decision together tomorrow.

We started the day talking about storyboarding. I showed my example (Exploding!!!) that I wrote for EDU 566 and talked about that I didn’t have to storyboard but that it helped me pick a topic and to slow down a moment like we had talked about yesterday (Class Twelve – Progress). Then they tried it. I suggested things they could try based on previous things they wrote or to look back at the map we drew as a prompt. It was a bit of a struggle to get started but Adam chose a story he’d told me this morning about teaching a friend to dive and their subsequent belly flop. Franklin decided to make up a story but it was not as inventive as his usual stories. To do it again I would give him the opportunity to orally rehearse his story before having him represent it graphically. Once we had some pictures drawn we shared them and then I asked them to write based on the pictures, to slow time down and engage the readers’ senses. Adam got stuck on how to describe how the diving board moved and we sketched it out to try to figure out the best way to describe it. Franklin didn’t enjoy this; I suggested picking one of the squares from his storyboard and focusing on that. He tried but this just didn’t work for him. I’m okay with that though, each strategy doesn’t have to be a gem for every student. I’m just giving them tools to put into their tool box, maybe storyboarding will hang out at the bottom of the box and get dusty, but maybe one day he’ll find a need for it. The strategy worked well for Adam, he even went back to it while writing to figure out some details.

There isn’t much time left in the program, four more coaching day, six more days for me. I wasn’t sure what kind of impact I was going to make in such a short time but I do see it, it isn’t ginormous but it is there and with the four days left I know that the mini-lessons we’ve done will find a place in the projects we’re doing and find a solid home in their tool box.

Class Twelve – Progress

The interaction between Franklin and Adam has been an interesting thing to watch evolve. Yesterday Franklin wanted to go to the library, to which I said absolutely and made time for it. He picked out another Shel Silverstein book (Falling Up) and to my surprise Adam picked one out too (A Giraffe and a Half). Today Franklin read two poems aloud, acting out the first one. Adam read part of his book aloud and asked Franklin to read a part as fast as he could. They each tried. Franklin made a copy of the passage to turn into a rap. Franklin’s unabashed interest in reading (and performing) is having a positive impact on Adam, just as I’d hoped. A little conversation with Mom revealed that this “I don’t like to read” attitude is new since middle school. I hope that this summer’s workshop will change that attitude (and it seems to be already) and will carry over, or at least not slip as far back, once school starts.

The discussion on Theme today wasn’t terrific. They understood it but the heat was making it difficult for all of us. I used the Lorax as an example to talk about theme as we’d just read it yesterday. Adam came up with some good themes, Franklin seemed distracted but participated when I asked him directly. Then we tried to talk about When You Reach Me. Trying to pull a theme out of this book while half way through is difficult. I thought it was a good compliment to the Lorax to show them that the theme isn’t always obvious.

We got out of the building and found a cooler spot to spend SSR and Read Aloud time. As they read or I read, I asked them to make a note of a scene that they could picture in their mind and that we’d try to draw that scene after. Franklin had Read Aloud first and stopped me to point out three different scenes that he could picture. Adam chose one from his independent reading book.We trudged upstairs, grabbed materials and sat on the floor at the bottom of a stairwell where it was deliciously cool. They both enjoyed this activity and when I asked them why we try to visualize when we read Adam immediately said that it helps understand the book and Franklin said that it helps get into the book.

I truncated the explode the moment activity because of the heat. I talked about slowing a moment down, read an example that I wrote, showed some videos of slow motion (see them here and here and here) and talked about real-time and being able to slow it down as you write. I’d like to come back to it because I think it is fun and connect back to imagery.
Lastly they worked on their Fake Facebook walls (Adam’s for Hatchet and Franklin‘s for Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life -he hasn’t had as much time as Adam to work on it) and finished reading A Circle of Friends. Once both of the boys had finished going through A Circle of Friends and talking about each page I went through and put each of their sticky notes containing the brief description they’d given me together on each page. This way they can go through and see what the other came up with and collaboratively choose one or edit them together or come up with something else.

We headed back to the room so that Franklin could perform the poem he’d picked. He did a reading of the title poem from Falling Up to which he added some actions. Then he read another. Looking at the book it looked like he had marked a couple of poems. Back inside Adam shared (as I mentioned already) and while Franklin was transcribing the passage Adam looked at A Circle of Friends and a conversation sprung up between them “How did you know it was money? I thought it was a book!” They were discussing the process in which they made meaning of the images! It was brilliant. Then Franklin took the book and went through and narrated a story to it that was very good, his delivery is dramatic and ‘serious’, the vocabulary he chose and the way he crafted the sentences made it sound like there were words in the book he was reading instead of coming up with them right then.

I’m feeling pretty good about the project. I think that the boys will work well together and they will question each other’s choices in a productive way. I’m excited to get started on the next step.

Day six – Literacy Leaders

Literacy leaders hold tremendous potential for shaping and changing the world. – Mary Ellen Vogt

Fridays are professional development days – no students. The first 2/3 of the class was spent discussing the idea and practice of Literacy Leadership. I was introduced to the International Reading Association (IRA), something I should have heard of but hadn’t. The site is a wealth of information (a bit overwhelming at first) but Peter pointed us to two specific pages. The first was the Professional Standards as set out by the IRA. The second was a description of the role of the Reading Specialist.  I’ll comment on the standards once I’ve had a chance to read through them. The role of the Reading Specialist we spent some time on and is broken down into three areas [this is copy and pasted from the site]:

  • Instruction—The reading specialist supports classroom teaching, and works collaboratively to implement a quality reading program
  • Assessment—The reading specialist evaluates the literacy program in general, and can assess the reading strengths and needs of students and communicate these to classroom teachers, parents, and specialized personnel such as psychologists, special educators, or speech teachers
  • Leadership—The reading specialist is a resource to other educators, parents, and the community

Reflecting on these areas and the Literacy Specialist in the school I work in confirms that we are doing good work at Shapleigh. Our Literacy Specialist is awesome. She is very supportive of teachers and student needs and will work with either or both to brainstorm strategies or talk about books. She also has been working with teachers to implement our reading program by modeling in the classrooms, offering professional development, and collaborating with the staff on changing/tweaking the program. She also monitors SRI scores and plays a big part in standardized testing administration and analysis of the data from those tests. Through all this work she is a constant resource for me as a new teacher for bouncing ideas off, asking for advice about students, and of course books!

The last 1/3 of class we spent in our small group – wait I just have to say that I wish I could teach at a school with this group of amazing people, we could change the face of education – of course we’d only teach English, Spanish, and History (I don’t think we have any math or science teachers in our group but the Humanities would be covered!) – engaged, caring, curious, helpful, nice, excited, collaborative, open-minded people that I feel lucky to be able to work with for this short time.  So anyway, back to our regularly scheduled blog post. . .

In our small group we talked about the Instructional plans we’d drafted based on the IRI and our observations of our students (if you missed an installment you can read about all that here: Day three – the IRI and Day Four – Goals) It was helpful to talk about what we had come up with and clarify all the questions we had. After a group hashing out session we paired up and went through a protocol that helped us assess our Instructional plan.

This is my favorite kind of professional development. Sitting around a box of munchkins (Thanks Jenn!) talking about teaching and books and strategies and asking questions about what we’re doing and how long the case study has to be (2-4 pages if you’re wondering) and getting ideas and getting energized about what we do, what we’re doing, and what we’re going to try. This type of loosy-goosy, kind of unstructured but still focused discussion is what I benefit most from. I can chime in or sit back and just absorb it all either way I’m learning and growing as a teacher and person – so thanks again group (we really need a team name!).

If you wonder where I find some of the cool websites I’ve mentioned (ex. you might check out my twitter feed, it is all (okay mostly) education based.  I usually just re-tweet what others post about links and articles and advice.

The poetry of 8th grade

The students made this slide show collaboratively using Gdocs, each of them took one of the poems they wrote and created a slide to add to the show! The fact that this would be made public was motivational to many students. Once the district is fully transitioned to Google Apps then this project will be much easier.

This time I created a Google Presentation Doc and put a link to it on the Language Arts site. I had students create the slide first in Keynote (they all have Macbooks thanks to MLTI) and then realized that Gdocs only allow PowerPoint slides to be imported. Luckily Keynote allows you to save a presentation as a .PPT and then students were able to import their slide into the class presentation. This conversion and importing left its mark on some student’s work, odd characters, missing images and so on. Next time I will have them sign in to GApps, create a slide and import that slide, or just create a slide within the group presentation – to be honest I don’t know why I didn’t do that to begin with. . . lesson learned.

To see the 8th grade poetry book click here: If clicking doesn’t seem to work copy and paste the address.


When you’re done come back and leave me a comment about what you thought. I’ll pass them on to the kids.

%d bloggers like this: