Archive for the ‘school’ Category

Class Sixteen – Questions

Today was a day of questions.

We did some writing first thing, and will continue doing so Tuesday and Wednesday, and talked about how to write ‘more’. The strategy I focused most on was questions. What questions are your reader going to have for you after reading your piece? Have you answered the who/what/where/when/how questions? I asked them some questions about their writing and they asked me a question about mine and we went to work answering them. It went okay for the first day. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow, I’ll have them switch and ask each other questions about the writing. My hope is that they start to think about these questions as they write.

Then we transitioned into questions about reading, QAR (Question-Answer Relationships). The four levels of questions,

  1. Right There – The answer is right in the text, easy-peasy.
  2. Think and Search – The answer is in the text, but you’re going to have to hunt for it.
  3. Author and You – The answer is not in the story, you have to use what you learned from the text and what you know to answer.
  4. On Your Own – This question is related to the topic of the reading but you do not have to have read it to answer the question.

I gave out an organizer, and a sheet that provided clues within the format of the question that help to determine what type of question it is, thereby knowing what you need to do to answer it. Then we went online and took this four-question quiz that provided a text, a question and answer and asked what type of question it is. Adam zipped ahead through the quiz as I helped Franklin, who thought everything was a “Right There” question. We focused on the question being asked and where it could be found and then looked at the handouts. They both got 2/4 (but so did I when I went through it yesterday to check it out. Let me know how you do.).

Then I had questions for them about their text for “A Circle of Friends”. I asked them to check to see if the story and wording was the way they wanted and if the words matched the images. They made some good changes. Franklin became distracted though and began making up words (and definitions) that he wanted to include in the story. Adam thought they were funny but wasn’t about to let them into the story. I thought that it was funny too and was interested in the form the words were taking, most of them ended in “-ion” and the definitions made them nouns. I don’t think that he could have verbalized his reasoning but it is obvious that he’s internalized that. His definitions also sounded like definitions, there is a level of awareness in this as well.

The final questions came from me. When picking up Franklin, I was told that he wants Franklin to have homework, structure, like the other student he brings has. He said that making up words was silly and it wasn’t what he was paying the program for. I was not ready for this. The program doesn’t really talk about homework other than reading on their own, the other student that he mentioned was working on the summer reading assignment great for that student to have this time to work on it – not an option in my case, but also not required. In writing the case studies for both students (and at the end of each year of teaching) I look back and think “Boy I should have. . . ” “I could have. . . ” “I wish I . . . ” Having this interaction at the end of the day threw me. If this had happened during the school year I would have been in the mindset to handle this and defend Franklin’s progress and lauded his creativity and word sense. Even now, hours later, I am questioning not only how I handled it but the instruction that I’ve given Franklin. I know that I know what I’m doing though, I know that Franklin, in the very brief time we’ve had, has learned, his presentation of “Falling Up” is proof, the decisions that he’s making as a reader on how to present it orally are partially in result of work we’ve done together, I know I shouldn’t doubt myself but it isn’t always easy. The good thing (I think) is that we have parent/teacher conferences the next two days and I will be able to talk about all of Franklin’s strengths at that point.

I will always have those questions about how I could have done a better job on a lesson, a unit, or a conversation. This is different from doubting, I know that I do the best job that I can – but I want to be better. I think that is what good teachers do; they question everything with the intent to be better for our students. When a teacher decides that what they do is ‘good enough’ then they are no longer teachers. A teacher must continue to strive, to grow, to increase their knowledge – not just of their content but of teaching strategies and educational theory, and, most importantly, of their students – so that they avoid stagnation. Not the most appropriate simile, but teachers are like sharks – when they stop moving they die. Okay that is more dramatic than I was going for but I think it makes the point. Teachers aren’t just teachers, they must be students too.


Review – “The Reading Zone” by Nancie Atwell

The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical ReadersThe Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers by Nancie Atwell

The message that I get from Atwell in this book is that getting students to read boils down to enjoyment. The key is to make a print rich environment where reading is modeled and valued.

Three highlights –

Pg 75 Dining room table metaphor for reading workshop – This is exactly what my ideal model would be, just open, thoughtful discussion about books. Setting up multiple dining room tables might address my constant fear of everyone not having the opportunity to participate (or the chance to require everyone to participate).

Pg 54 efferent (to learn) vs aesthetic (to enjoy) reading – I think that too often we forget that reading should be fun,/i>! If teachers only ask students to engage in efferent reading then students will not know that reading can be enjoyable. There is a balance and a conversation to be had with students around the different reasons for reading.

Pg 92 questions for readers while roaming – It’s always nice to get practical strategies from a book, and not just the philosophic, theoretical side of teaching. On this page you can find a list of questions, organized by what levels of answer is required.

One thing that struck me:

Pg 51 Teaching the 7 comprehension strategies distracts from the ‘zone’ – This is how Reading Workshop is structured at my school. I am torn on this point. The strategies are important and need some direct instruction, on the other hand using the dining room table model many of these strategies would make there way into conversation organically.

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Thoughts on Dept of Ed’s desire to link SS#’s to student records


via My High School Records | MAINE CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION.

An excerpt:

Remembering this incident makes me particularly worried about the Department of Education’s decision to create a database linking student records to social security numbers and sharing the database with other agencies. Would the disciplinary incident in my records have affected my life in a larger way if everyone in the world knew about it when I was 18, or if my employer’s had access to it now? And what about students that have more incidents like mine, who perhaps made poor choices when they were 14, but learned from their choices and improved over time? Should their childhood haunt them through their careers?

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First day of 2010-11 school year

It is rapidly approaching. I see tweets and blog posts everywhere about teachers and students who have already begun the school year. This will be my third year as an 8th grade English teacher (I’m trying to shift the vocabulary at my middle school to call it English in 8th grade instead of Language Arts, even though LA is a more appropriate title -I haven’t told anyone about my plans yet. More on this as it develops) and I am PSYCHED!  As a third year teacher I feel pretty confident in the content and can really work on my delivery and integration of technology, especially collaborative technology.

The word in the district is that we’ll be set up with Google for Education this year – I’ve been hoping, mentioning this since I started, along with some of my colleagues. This means Google docs – can I go paperless this year? I think that I’ll certainly use less. The blog helped with this goal and Google apps will further it. It will also fit nicely in with my belief that learning is collaborative – real-time collaboration is so effective. The class wiki is good (I use Wetpaint) but real-time collaboration can be tricky when people start saving and exiting the editing tools.

The other exciting thing that is happening in the 8th grade is Expeditionary Learning. You can read this previous entry about how this new model unfolded. We have done the bulk of the planning for a Spring expedition that is modeled after one we saw at King Middle School called Truth and Consequence. The team is on board, the administration is on board, and I’m certain that the students will be on board. I will be blogging about the process once we start in February.

There is also construction going on at the school. We recently changed from a 6-8 school to a 4-8 school and construction should be finished by February break (hey that’s when we’re kicking off our expedition, good unplanned timing!). The hallway to the new addition is going between 8th grade social studies room and 6th grade math room. These two rooms were gutted over the summer. A permanent wall was erected between my room and the SS room where before there was a movable wall. Most of my room is covered in dust and everything is smooshed against the opposite wall. This does have a plus side though, I can put things against this wall now. I think I will change the set up of my room and put the SmartBoard against this new room and make a horseshoe seating arrangement (I didn’t have the space for that before and had seating pods).

I’d love to hear about what you are going to do this year. Trying something new? Changing how you teach a lesson? Let me know!

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The Next Step: Integrating Technology into Every Classroom

I love technology. If there is a button, I will push it; if there is a switch, I will flip it; if there is a cool new gadget, I want to check it out and play with it. Many of our students are the same when it comes to technology. It is interesting to them and a big part of how they communicate in the world; if technology continues to advance and be welcomed into every part of society, it will also be integrated into everything they do as adults, and as teachers we need to make sure they are ready for that.

Bringing technology into the classroom is a logical step for educators to make. Once in the classroom, it can make our teaching more efficient, help us be more organized, let us share amongst ourselves and the world, engage students while they are in school, and provide the skills they will need to succeed when they leave school.

In her 2004 article, The digital whiteboard: A tool in early literacy instruction, Solvie discusses the affects of the use of a digital whiteboard with her first-graders. She found that, while the whiteboard did not “result in a significant improvement over traditional skill instruction, [she] found it to be effective in other ways.” (Solvie, 484). These “other ways” were text coding, following up on previous lessons, appealing to kinesthetic learners through physical manipulation of texts, increasing student engagement, and developing knowledge and vocabulary about the technology. The article ends with a cautionary note: “It’s important to keep the focus . . . not on the tool.” (Solvie, 487), in other words, remember that the digital whiteboard is only the vehicle for delivery, it is content that is important.

Barone and Wright (2008), explore Literacy Instruction With Digital and Media Technologies, and use author Wright’s fourth grade class to demonstrate and discuss the integration of technology into the classroom and the new literacies necessary to address within the classroom. Among these new literacies are “innovative text formats (multiple media of hybrid texts; Lemke, 1998), new reader expectations (reading nonlinearly; Warschauer, 2006), and new activities (website publication; Leu et al., 2004).” (Barone & Wright, 292). The authors created an amalgam of multiple students, whom they call Michael, and trace his actions during his day in Mr. Wright’s class. As in the Solvie (2004) article, technology is seen as a tool, not as the focus. It is important that the integration of technology into routines and lessons is seamless and does not seem forced or contrived just for the sake of using technology. Mr. Wright puts items onto a server that Michael accesses at the beginning of class and will need that day. Michael then engages in a vocabulary warm up in which he creates graphic and textual representations using software that is on his laptop. During reading time, students instant message each other about what they are reading, the class fills out a graphic organizer, and work in centers that often utilize technology. During recess students are allowed to stay in the room and engage in “sending IMs, checking and sending e-mail, and going online to enter kid-friendly virtual worlds” (Barone & Wright, 295), thus giving students who may not have access outside of school the opportunity to use technology in a more casual manner. Mr. Wright differentiates writing instruction through the help of a website that provides articles about a single subject at different reading levels.

The article’s focus then shifts to how to make the transition towards a classroom that seamlessly uses technology, notably gaining support from the administration, securing professional development, and having teachers that believe in this change. The school has a clear goal as well, lower grades begin using technology and each year a new piece is introduced and the other pieces are reinforced.

Gabriel and Gabriel (2010) in their article, Power in Pictures: How a Schoolwide Photo Library Can Build a Community of Readers and Writers, discuss how photographs can be used in a variety of ways to foster student reading and writing. The collection of the photographs provides opportunities for the development of useful technological skills. Using the photos for the creation of hybrid texts (such as “Alphabet books using images from around the building, Biographies of people, animals, or objects around the building, How-to books. . . Genre exercises. . . [and] Compare-and-contrast paragraphs, essays, graphs” (Gabriel and Gabriel, 681)) lends itself to differentiation and scaffolding for ELL students. The digital format allows the products to be published and shared easily. The authenticity of using student-generated photos engages students and provides relevant experiences to create texts around. These hybrid texts are then used as described in work by McVicker (2007) and Norton (2003) that I have written about previously.

September 2008 was my first year of teaching. I created a blog and a WebQuest while student teaching, my portfolio for my exit presentation from the Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine was created digitally in the form of a website (, but I had, and have, no formal instruction in any of the technologies I’ve used or currently use. I spend a substantial amount of time investigating technological opportunities and tools to use in my classroom. I explore the Internet, I speak with colleagues, and I make things up when it’s appropriate, and of course I learn from my mistakes.

So, when the librarian asked me if I wanted a Smart Board the third week of school, I gave him a very excited and emphatic “Yes!”. I spent hours before, during, and after school teaching myself how to use it and coming up with ways to use it in my classroom. I can speak to many of the things that Solvie (2004) writes about in her article as I have experienced what she describes. As soon as students realize that we’re using the Smart Board I have their attention (I emphasis ‘we’ because without it, there isn’t much difference from me writing on the whiteboard). When I model how I mark up a poem with my thoughts, the rhyme scheme, and other poetic devices it does two things: one, I don’t have to carefully erase everything from a dry erase board to start over, I click on another copy of the poem and the next class gets a brand new copy of the poem. The second benefit of this is that it provides me with another way to differentiate between classes; the class that has been struggling with metaphors can focus on that during the lesson. I can then save the modeled work from each class and put it on the website for all students to benefit from. Solvie (2004) also talks about the physical interaction with the board. This kinesthetic element benefits students whose learning style strength this is, and who are able to use that strength the least, by letting them physically interact with texts. Other students benefit from this interaction as well and the class benefits from having everyone engaged and thus effectively becomes the classroom management. Engaged kids do not pose behavior problems.

Solvie’s (2004) article was an introduction to digital whiteboards that spent time on how they work and other rudimentary aspects of the tool and its software. For this reason I found the article to be not as helpful to my own teaching as the other two articles I read. The common cautionary theme between Solvie (2004) and Barone and Wright (2008) to the reader to not make the technology the focus, along with the charge to look and treat technology as a tool to be used with traditional methods was a helpful reminder.

Barone and Wright’s (2008) account of Michael was astonishing and inspirational. One fact that stopped me was one they cited from Wells & Lewis (2006) that read “the average of U.S. students’ use of computers in school [is] 12 minutes per week.” (Barone & Wright, 292), I can only hope that in the four years since that statistic was reported use has gone up. It is mind-blowing that student use of computers per week could measure so dismally low. It does not clarify if this number is K-12 or some section therein. Barone & Wright (2008) note that, while many students have access outside of school to technology, they are not given time during school to use computers. I can conservatively estimate that my students use their laptops 2.5 hours a week, and that is just in my class! Of course it does help that Maine has the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) that puts 1:1 laptops in middle schools and has recently expanded to the high school level. To do anything less I think does a disservice to the students and puts them at a disadvantage.

I really appreciated the walk through of a student that demonstrated concrete ways technology can be used in the classroom, as well as the list of websites and other resource that were included by the authors. I would have liked to hear more about how Mr. Wright made this transition himself, how long it took him to reach the point that he is at now, and what specific support and challenges he had from the administration and district.

Photography is a hobby of mine. I started a photography club at my school and I try to bring photographs into lessons whenever appropriate. When I saw the title of Gabriel and Gabriel’s (2010) article, I was excited to find a resource that combined my personal and professional interests. It also relates to the topic of hybrid texts that I wrote about previously using works by McVicker (2007) and Norton (2003). The twist that Gabriel and Gabriel (2010) add is that the photographs are taken by students of subjects they know (school, people, places). This creates motivation and investment in the product that leads to greater engagement in the learning. This engagement leads to a richer learning experience.

My preferred style of teaching is to spend the least amount of time possible talking at the class and the most amount of time possible having the students engaged with the material, each other, and the class. Technology fosters this structural goal for me. I see the role of the teacher as similar to that of a cruise director; they must present material such that the students will get their brain out of its metaphorical seat and participating and engaging the subject matter. A cruise director is not the focus; it is the activity (material/lesson) that everyone is putting their energy into. Technology assists me in leading my students toward more self-directed, exploratory method of learning.

Of the three articles, Solvie (2004) does me the least good, as I am beyond the experience level of her target audience. Gabriel and Gabriel (2010), and Barone and Wright (2008) provided practical ways to further incorporate technology into my class. I starred activities and methods that I could implement in the Fall with my new students. Mr. Wright’s classroom stands as the apotheosis of technology integration for me to strive towards. I will begin directing students to sync their paper agenda books to the Google calendar that is embedded on the class website, which will ensure that everyone is up to date on due dates. The MacBooks that my students are provided with have web cams that we can use to take photographs, many students have digital cameras but this option will level the playing field that we can use to start creating our own photo library that they and future students can use and add to throughout the year.

Technology is a powerful tool the educators have to embrace, as their students already have. If we don’t employ the technology that students use daily and will have to use as they enter society then they will be lacking the knowledge and guidance that it is our job as educators to provide. Each of these articles mention the benefits students receive from exposure to technology in school; they begin to understand how it works (and can troubleshoot how to fix it), they use the vocabulary associated with the different technologies (so they enter the world knowing how to speak intelligently about these tools), and they can use the technology in a variety of ways to produce a variety of things. These are the 21st Century literacies that are crucial for our students to acquire. To make this happen teachers must take and embrace the next step: integrating technology into every classroom.


Barone, D., & Wright, T. (2008). Literacy Instruction With Digital and Media Technologies. Reading Teacher, 62(4), 292-303.

Gabriel, R., & Gabriel, M. (2010). Power in Pictures: How a Schoolwide Photo Library Can Build a Community of Readers and Writers. Reading Teacher, 63(8), 679-682.

McVicker, C. (2007). Comic strips as a text structure for learning to read. The Reading Teacher, 60(1), 85-88.

Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147.

Solvie, P. (2004). The digital whiteboard: A tool in early literacy instruction. Reading Teacher, 57(5), 484-487.

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Visual Literacy + Textual Literacy = Students Learning, Enjoying, and Making Meaning in regards to what they are Reading

Making meaning is the name of the game. Does it matter how that meaning is made? Does it matter what kind of texts students are using if they are employing effective literacy skills and strategies? My answer is no. I want kids to want to read; I know that when kids want to read they can read at levels beyond what any test may tell them their abilities lie. This is why engagement is so powerful and important, it creates connections between the reader and the text that allow for a deeper understanding, and makes it enjoyable. As an English teacher, especially in the middle school years, engagement is the key to all success. This means students must have a way to relate to and enjoy what they are reading, and also interact with the text. I am very much a technophile; I have a wiki that we use in my class that I maintain where students are able to add content, I set up a blog where students respond to prompts about their free choice book, and I have Smart Board in my room that we use for a variety of things. The information that kids engage with is no longer presented in a static, print only fashion. As teachers we need to be aware of how the world and word is changing and integrate that into our teaching. The articles of McVicker, Cowan and Albers, and Norton that I explore within this paper deal with understanding that ‘texts’ are not just made up of words, that teachers should be connecting the lives of students to what is happening in the classroom, and that kids already know how to use images and words together to make meaning from a text. All things that lead down the road to helping students gain important and valuable literacy skills.

McVicker describes her article, “Comic Strips as a Text Structure for Learning to Read”, as a presentation of “ways classroom teachers can use comics to build strategies to deepen their students’ understanding of content using visual literacy skills.” (McVicker, 2007). Children grow up with books that have images and words that interact; somewhere between Middle and High School students are expected to make the leap to books filled solely with words that have no support of visual representation. One idea to emerge is the use of the structure of the Comic Strip to teach reading. McVicker describes Comic Strips as “hybrid texts” (McVicker, 2007). These hybrid texts demand the use of visual literacy skills in tandem with text based practices; saying that a “picture extends the meaning of the text” (McVicker, 2007). She also points out that readers of all levels can benefit from the use of comics in the classroom, making it a perfect tool for differentiation. The point that is brought up over and over is that comics make the learning fun, and fun equals engagement in the lesson and a greater chance that the student will learn the skills being taught.

In their article, “Semiotic representations: Building complex literacy practices through the arts”, Cowan and Albers define literacy as “the ease with which learners can create or interpret others’ semiotic systems” (Cowan and Albers, 2006). In other words a person must be able to communicate and function within a given system of signs and symbols, e.g. in a math class or as a restaurant employee. Both of these examples requires the ability to understand and interpret and create the symbols and jargon specific to each setting. These authors suggest the use of hands on and visual representations of words and ideas to create connections that will improve comprehension and utilization of knowledge in students. In this case (as in the McVicker article) the use of visual literacy practices extends the students’ engagement with written word. Students create a visual representation, 2-D or 3-D, of a word or concept, write about the word or topic, and then discuss their work and the choices they made during the creation process with the class. This article has examples of student work that is a helpful addition, not to mention follows their theory of using multiple literacies to help readers create meaning.

Bonny Norton focuses on a specific comic read by elementary children in her article, “The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers”. She explores the appeal of the comic and how children define appropriate reading materials, and also the skills that are being employed by the students. Norton discovers that kids are sharing comics, talking about them extensively, and “debat[ing] the merits of different characters.” (Norton, 2003). There are also literary devices that the students are being exposed to and working with to create meaning such as ‘irony, puns, and plays on words” (Norton, 2003) these are sophisticated (especially irony) concepts to be encountering and understanding at the age level she is dealing with (9-12 years of age in this case). The other idea that Norton explores is what constitutes a ‘text’. She interviews two groups; one consists of student teachers, and the other of students. The student teachers did not think that the comic was a legitimate text, but some did concede that it was better than no reading at all. The kids were aware of this view of comics by teachers but were adamant about the value of Archie. The students, in their defense and discussion of the Archie comics, “spoke animatedly about their enjoyment of them and illustrated their comments with numerous references to Archie stories.” (Norton, 2003). [The kids are using textual evidence naturally in their conversations!] The interview also turned up an attitude about what a ‘text’ is; according to the student quoted, what makes a text legitimate “depends if it’s supposed to be fun or not” (Norton, 2003). This was discussed at length, trying to ferret out the reasons behind this attitude, the status quo was settled on in the end.

What I find most fascinating is the mention in all the articles of the changing world and the need for multiple literacy practices to be taught and nurtured in school. The Internet is a common example of how students already have multiple literacies that they use while surfing any number of web pages that have words and images working together to create meaning. The world is rapidly changing; technologies are bringing together parts of our world that were separate before. While we cannot teach students about each combination of literacies, what we can do is provide skills for approaching and engaging whatever forms texts and communications of the future takes.

Four of the major factors that influence comprehension are discussed in each of these articles: 1- Accessing prior knowledge, 2- Motivation and interest in the subject, 3- Text structure, and 4- Metacognitive awareness. Comics and comic strips are structures that students are aware of and have most likely interacted with before; therefore the motivation to read is based on prior positive experiences with these hybrid texts. Using semiotics builds a knowledge base built upon the students’ initial response to and research upon a topic in order to create a visual representation. The discussion of the students’ processes of creating their own hybrid texts provides them with an understanding of their own thinking (metacognition). So we can see that using McVickers’ ‘hybrid texts’ is just good practice, as they are vehicles to discussing, practicing, and monitoring the meaning making that kids are engaged in.

In each of these articles the main points are: accessing prior knowledge, connecting that knowledge with new knowledge (by using what they like and already do outside of school and using that in school), and developing and using multiple literacy practices.  Each strategy is part of a larger group of strategies that are used together. By designing lessons that require literacy practices that are not usually found inside the classroom, but typically encountered outside the school setting, the students are drawn in and are more invested in the lesson due to their own interests being used in class.

I did have some concerns while reading the articles. When I first saw the title for Norton’s article I assumed that it had been written decades before. I didn’t think that Archie comics were that popular and I am surprised that she didn’t use a more contemporary comic to base her research on. McVicker also references older comic strips (Garfield, Peanuts, and Family Circus). I think that their research would be more compelling if more recent comics had been used, I suspect this may have something to do with their own comfort levels with the texts they chose.

In the McVicker article the phrase that sticks out to me is not, “comics” (which I assume most would pause at), but “deepen their students’ understanding”, this is the goal is it not?  For the new or struggling reader the structure of the comic strip provides an engaging way to develop some sophisticated skills. Picture cues help with comprehension; comics depend on the interplay of the word and the image, one without the other is incomplete. In order to decode the meaning of a panel of the strip inference, deduction, and summarization all play a part. The students experience success in reading and this will aid in lowering their resistance, or fear, of reading; success that may even lead to reading for the sheer pleasure of it. We know that the more they read the better they’ll do in school so this should be a main goal of teachers. What I liked about this article was all the different ways comics were shown to have an impact. Reaching students across the stratification of reading abilities is a powerful support for bringing comics into the classroom. The changing literacy demands on humanity with the internet becoming more widely available and cell phones that have access to the web seemingly ubiquitous, teachers need to use the structures and semiotic representations students interact with on their own each day in order to ensure students having a clear understanding of how the world works and how they interact with it.

Cowan and Albers I think went to far in analyzing a piece of work done by a fifth grade student, Warren, saying it was a study in the use of the student’s use of “irony and ideological beliefs” (Cowan and Albers, 2006). An image of the work is included in the article and while I don’t argue that Warren’s work may indeed contain some irony and certainly is representational of his ideological beliefs but I do not think that they were put there consciously, as the authors imply. I think they maybe a bit overzealous in their demonstration of the product of their research.

Teachers ask students to read difficult texts, understand them, and form an opinion of them. In order for students to be ready for this, they must have a love of reading and the necessary skills needed to tackle difficult texts. A successful teacher is one who: fosters and encourages a love of reading through modeling, reading choice, discussion about required and free choice books, and provides tools, tips, and strategies to approaching challenging texts. All of these things happen within and through a safe, nurturing, and supported classroom environment. To gain the skills to become one of these successful teachers, one must be willing to step back from conventional practices and evaluate what works best for the students you have in your classroom.

I have already begun to think of ways that the use of multi-media literacy can be increased in my classroom. Differentiating is challenging for me, I am constantly asking myself how a lesson might be altered to fit different students. My fall back for differentiation is choice. I ask students to write about the book and use textual evidence but they can write about anything they want within those guidelines (and we brainstorm possible ideas). Or I provide fourteen questions over two chapters, students have to pick five to explore, free choice books are used to respond to writing prompts . . . you get the idea. Using hybrid texts, and creating hybrid texts really appeals to the techno-geek in me. These are the types of texts students see all the time; Facebook is awash with images and text, kids use Tumblr to write words, post pictures, and respond to each other. News sites, magazines, comics, and billboards are combinations of words and images. Students are bombarded by hybrid texts. It only makes sense to bring them into the classroom and discuss the structure, analyze it, use it, and bring the outside world into the school setting. That is really the overarching message in these articles – use the text structures that kids are engaged with outside of class (Facebook, Tumblr, Comics) in the class. Getting them engaged in the lesson is when real learning begins, and hybrid texts are clearly a way to do just that.


Albers, P., & Cowan, K. (2006). Semiotic representations: building complex literacy practices through the arts. The Reading Teacher, 60(2), 124-137.

McVicker, C. (2007). Comic strips as a text structure for learning to read. The Reading Teacher, 60(1), 85-88.

Norton, B. (2003). The motivating power of comic books: Insights from Archie comic readers. Reading Teacher, 57(2), 140-147. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

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A new model

I convinced my 8th grade colleagues, and the administration, that King Middle School‘s model of Expeditionary Learning (EL) is worth looking into and emulating. We visited the school yesterday and everyone is really fired up about it. I think that we’ll do our first expedition next year!

I am familiar with King because I interned there for 13 weeks while completing the Extended Teacher Education Program at the University of Southern Maine. (While at King, I taught the Laurie Halse Anderson‘s novel, Speak. You can learn more about that work here.)

If you aren’t familiar with Expeditionary Learning, it follows Outward Bound principles. An Expedition can be many things but at its center is careful planning, an authentic task, an authentic product, and an authentic audience. Notice the focus on authenticity; this drives both student and teacher to excellence. When you know that the public is going to see your work you are more likely to do what needs to be done and a bit more to make sure it is quality.  King’s website has examples of past and current Expeditions and products.

The culture of the school is amazing. We had two 8th grade students give us a tour of the school. Everybody, staff and students, was polite and helpful and excited for us to be there. Teachers waved us into their classrooms and were happy to talk to us. Even more impressive was that while there were 5 new adults in the room who were taking the teacher’s attention away, the students continued working quietly and without issue. We stopped a couple different students in the halls to ask questions and they were thoughtful, well spoken, and happy to help.

Everyone knows that integrating academic disciplines leads to higher student involvement, buy-in, and achievement. Everyone wants each student to be challenged appropriately to do their best, to learn and improve. Expeditionary learning combines all the things that we know about what is best for students and fits them all together. Instead of individual pieces, we have a cohesive whole. Differentiation within an Expedition becomes much easier. I think that it lessens the stigma that still surrounds ‘difference’, especially at the middle school. There is a great deal of structured independence embedded within this model, people work at different paces and perhaps in a different order. This means that it is no longer obvious that one student is doing something different than the rest of the kids. Traditional schools have kids move from class to class, subject to subject with no connections between. But think about it, if each class is working on a piece of a larger puzzle school starts to make more sense, the disconnect between classes is healed and, paired with the authenticity of the learning, students begin to discover the joys of learning and exploration and want to share what they know with others. It makes our job as a teacher more enjoyable and easier – the principal of King, Mike McCarthy, said during our meeting “Engagement trumps discipline.”  This is absolutely true, if kids are interested then they are not going to be a behavior problem.

Needless to say, I am very excited about this. I hope that the Administration continues to be fired up about it, that the school board will go see King’s “Celebration of Learning” and that Kittery can follow the shining example of King Middle.

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