Posts Tagged ‘University of Southern Maine’

My summer journey – class one

First let me say that the journey will not physically take me anywhere, well to Gorham Monday through Friday. No this journey is the last class of my Master of Education in Literacy Education at the University of Southern Maine. I have to journal daily for the class and give pass in a hard copy but I will also post them here for your reading enjoyment. You can take the class vicariously through me (you won’t get any credits though).

The class is EDU 639 Literacy Practicum, also known as the “USM Reading and Writing Workshop” (so says the information page). It is a four week, six credit, extravaganza of teaching and learning. During this time I will be paired with two students and tutor them for 2.5 hours four times a week (M-Th). I will assess where they are on the literacy continuum, look at the goals associated with that stage of literacy, and create individualized plans that will help them reach (for) those goals. I will create a lesson plan each day and write a page(ish) journal reflection on the previous day’s lesson. In addition to the tutoring the entire class will meet together, then we will split into our smaller groups with our own literacy coach.

Today was our first class. The students will arrive on Monday. This initial meeting was to give us the program’s beliefs of Literacy Learning, talked about ‘teaching with intention’, reviewed the stages of Literacy Development, and discussed how we will use the stages in our planning and teaching. Then we broke into our smaller groups.

  1. Beliefs of Literacy Learning [These were copied verbatim from slides, I added the formatting, parentheticals are my words)
    1. Becoming literate is a developmental process. (your literacy is ALWAYS developing, it is a continuum, it is never completed)
      1. People pass through distinct stages of growth throughout their lives, marked by targeted benchmarks of ability and behavior, as they continuously acquire habits, strategies, and skills of reading, writing, and the other language arts.
    2. People learn how to read and write through voluminous interactions with text.
      1. Through an extensive engagement with a wide variety of books and other print material, people increase in ability, experience, confidence, and motivation.
    3. Literacy learning and teaching is constructivist, rooted in meaning, and rich in purpose. (Teaching with intention)
      1. Explicit instruction supports learners as they move through the stages of development. The careful use and analysis of ongoing formative assessment leads teachers to design effective instruction.

I find that these beliefs fall in very comfortably with my own (lucky for me huh?). I never say that I’m going to work, I always say I’m going to school; I still see myself as a student, I learn every day, I grow every day, and I will never stop. I believe very strongly in the second in the list. Practice, practice, practice in ways that have low, or no, stakes. I am a firm believer in SSR, I’ve had to fight for it the last two years when people wanted to co-opt it for other things. I stood my ground though and will continue to defend the twenty-minute period where all we ask of students is to read a book they chose. ( I have to remember whose shoulders I stand on with this belief and bring them to the discussion!)

The idea of teaching with intent is not new (in fact Debbie Miller wrote a book with that title; Nancy and Peter swear she stole it from them!). I do think that it is important to stop and formulate that intent; I don’t think that this happens enough. Why am I using this strategy? Why am I using this piece of writing as an example? Why am I using this activity? If I don’t know then I shouldn’t do it. I would add a word to the phrase though and make it “Teaching with transparent intent” I made a goal for myself that students should know why we’re doing something. I don’t want to hear “Why are we doing this?” and not have a valid answer; in fact I want to answer this question before it is asked. I tell my students about this goal and ask them to help me keep it. This class is going to make me be even more critical of my instructional choices. With only two students there is no real room to ‘fake it’ (not that I’d ever try). What I mean is that there is no middle of the road choice – I am tailoring my instruction to individuals so I’d better have thought out the ‘why are we doing this’ question.

The stages of Literacy Development, let’s see if I can name them without looking, Initial, Emergent, Transitional, Basic, Refinement, and switch papers and check the answers. . . rats I mixed up the first two, I almost corrected it too. Obviously the review was a good thing. So just to have to correct order here: Emergent (typically 5 and under), Initial (typically age 5-7; grades K-2), Transitional (typically age 8-11; grades 2-5), Basic (typically age 10-13; grades 5-8), Refinement (typically age 12+; grades 7+). Notice the ‘typically’ when describing the ages/grade levels. Kids develop at different speeds, not everyone in a class will be on the same stage, no matter what the grade level.

  1. Using the stages (Again this is copied from a slide except the parentheticals)
    1. Conduct the Informal Reading Inventory (IRI) (This is to be used as a guide)
    2. Suggest a stage of development
    3. Analyze IRI results to target instruction based on goals for the stage.
    4. Select approaches that will best support the targeted instruction you will design and provide.
    5. Monitor effectiveness of instruction through student progress.

In our smaller groups we shared our Teacher Coat of Arms (you can see mine here). Talked about lesson plans, got a copy of the schedule (this is going to fly by), found out the names/ages/grade level of the students we’ll be working with (I have a boy and girl, both 13, both going into 8th grade), saw the library that has been set up (awesome! and I grabbed a couple books that I think I can use right away), and discussed what Monday and Tuesday will look like.

I’m pretty excited about this class, it should be intense, but also a lot of fun. The people seem great, the small group I’m a part of already has a great vibe to it (yes I said ‘vibe’), and everyone has a positive supportive attitude.

All right, I guess I’m off to plan the first two days. Till next time. . .


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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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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