4 Ways to Energize Your PD

AARI Notes from the Classroom Oakland Writing Project Professional Learning

hub-course-searchThe best professional development has to inspire me, engage me, and challenge me to try something new. Some of my favorite conferences have been MACUL and NCTEI always leave feeling exhausted from attending so many amazing sessions, overwhelmed with all of the great resources I’ve been introduced to, and excited to try something new with students the next day, back in my classroom.  

But I can’t always attend the conferences, due to location or funding. So I’ve had to get creative with ways to provide comparable experiences in my professional life. Here are four virtual professional development ideas that have energized my teaching.

  1. Use Twitter Hashtags.
    I hope you are on Twitter.  If you find the right hashtags, you can learn a lot about the things that matter to you as an educator.  Want to learn more about using technology in your classroom?  Search #CEL16 or #4TDW and
    get lost in the conversations, links, images, and resources.  Teach English? Search #NCTE16 or #EngChat.  Once you start searching, you can find people that you might want to follow, based on their tweets.  If you are attending a conference, you might start tweeting with a hashtag and follow likeminded colleagues from different places.  And if you can’t attend a conference (like the recent NCTE conference), you can still benefit from the learning and thinking that took place because of hashtags.

  2. Attend a Webinar.
    This past October, I was a moderator for the 4TDW conference on digital writing.  As my partner and I were creating his session on using collaborative digital writing, I learned a lot about what goes into creating an effective, engaging webinar.  Much thought is put into creating a virtual space that fosters participation, focuses your learning in a short time, and pushes your thinking (many times you are able to gain SCECHs too).  Even if you can’t attend a live webinar, usually you can watch the recorded webinar on your own timetable.  Oakland Schools has a great series on vocabulary, word study, and grammar that you can still register for.  Best of all, these types of professional learning are usually FREE!

  3. Sign up for an Online Course in miPLACE.
    One of my new job responsibilities has been to help create engaging, online professional development for teachers who support struggling readers.  There are a ton of great modules created by teachers and
    teacher consultants in Oakland School’s virtual community, MiPlace.  If you haven’t been there to check them out yet, now is the time!  Once you create an account or log in, you can browse or search the Course Catalogue under the Hub tab.

  4. aari-hangoutCome Hangout!
    If you teach AARI, you can
    attend our next “Come Hangout!” on December 7th.  We use Adobe Connect to talk about relevant topics virtually, and from the comfort of your own home, you can have an experience like an after-school meeting. We had a great discussion about student engagement in September and created a resource document around our thinking.  Still, you don’t need a special platform like Adobe Connect to meet up virtually with colleagues.  You can create a Google Hangout or shared Google Doc with a group of colleagues from your building or beyond (maybe someone you follow on Twitter?!) around a topic you are interested in discussing.  It is rejuvenating and validating to talk with other teachers around shared topics to help each other, push each other, celebrate, and learn.

When you take control of your virtual professional learning, and make use of technology to fit it into your life, you can really enhance your teaching practice to benefit you and your students.

file-sep-29-8-45-18-pmCaroline Thompson (@TeacherThompson) taught middle school ELA for twelve years in Lake Orion before becoming a stay-at-home mom. She supports AARI teachers for Oakland Schools as an independent literacy consultant in the areas of digital media, professional development, and non-fiction resources. Caroline is a Reading and Writing Workshop advocate, a 2008 Oakland Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and a 2009 Oakland County Outstanding Teacher of the Year Nominee. She has a BA in English from Michigan State University and a Masters in the Art of Teaching Reading from Oakland University. She lives in Berkley, Michigan with her husband and their three year old daughter.

Early Choice = Engagement & Excitement

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_375784555So it’s November, and it may seem odd to see the title “early choice” in a blog post. It’s not early in the year, and yet for an elementary teacher whose students are blogging, it is.

It takes time to get students used to the blogging format, establish procedures, teach digital citizenship, and truly begin to use the blog purposefully. I’ve been blogging with my 5th graders for a few years now, and there are certain things I always like to do in the first few months of school. But we all know that life throws us curve balls and sometimes you have to improvise.

One lesson I always do on Halloween is based on The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, by Chris Van Allsburg. After reading the book to the students, they each choose one story from the book to complete. The story starters all lend themselves to heavy fantasy, which is a genre students don’t get much class time to enjoy in terms of writing.

The day after Halloween, I was unexpectedly out of the classroom (but still in the building) and decided to have the students spend their Language Arts time blogging their stories. (In the past, we had only published these on paper.) The excitement was palpable. Several students asked if I was serious. (“Yes.”) More asked if they could work on it from home. (“Yes!”) A few even asked if they could write more than one installment. (“Yes! Yes!”)

As I read through my student’s stories, I saw them using italics, bold print, and different font sizes, colors, and types of font, all for emphasis. These are things that would not be as easy or evident in regular paper or pencil writing:

I was in a dome made of green leaves and flowers. Then I stepped out and looked up. There were tree houses made of sticks, weeds, and bark. I saw little heads poke out of trees and windows. But there was something odd about the place. There was shimmering dust everywhere. And there seemed to be no end. The land seemed to grow bigger, like there was no end to it.

Giving Students a Reason to Be Excited

The ability to easily add emphasis inspired my students to be more creative and I think, in some cases, to write more. I have students who ended their posts with cliffhangers and promises to the reader that more would be coming. Writing in a digital format ensures them an audience and makes them feel their writing is purposeful, which inspires them to write more, even when it is not an assignment.

Moments like this remind me why I love teaching. It’s easy to become bogged down and overwhelmed by all of the demands on our time these days. But seeing how technology can inspire my students and transform the writing process inspires me to constantly push myself to let go a little more, trust my students, and let them fly.

I have a new post-it note at the bottom of my computer screen now: “Build in more choice.” In a child’s school world of “have to,” choice is freedom. Choice is fun. And from this teacher’s perspective, choice just might be the key to getting my students to new heights.

beth croppedBeth Rogers is a fifth grade teacher for Clarkston Community Schools, where she has been teaching full time since 2006.  She is  blessed to teach Language Arts and Social Studies for her class and her teaching partner’s class, while her partner  teaches all of their math and science. This enables them  to focus on their passions and do the best they can for kids. Beth was chosen as Teacher of the Year for 2013-2014 in her district. She earned a B.S. in Education at Kent State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology at Michigan State University. 

A Book to Spark a Conversation

Book Reviews Notes from the Classroom

all-american-boysI recently read a knock-out YA novel. It happens to be one of the choices for the Global Read Aloud, and it sent me into a recommending and discussing orbit through both my school and personal life.

With the media flooded with police shootings, attacks on officers, and Black Lives Matter events nationwide, All-American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, offers parents, teachers, and teens a perfect opportunity to open the door to a difficult but hopefully fruitful conversation.

The Plot

Rashad and Quinn go to the same school. They know some of the same people, but they’re not really friends. They are both headed to the same Friday night party when everything changes.

Quinn sees Rashad lying on the ground outside a convenience store. He’s been accused of theft and beaten severely–by a police officer, who is a close friend of Quinn’s family.

Quinn hopes that the whole event will blow over and that he’ll be able to erase the horrible image of a beaten and bloody Rashad from his mind. But as the week goes on, the community starts to divide and a movement starts to build–#RashadIsAbsentAgainToday. Now Quinn has to make a big decision. Which side is he on?

Why It’s Worth Reading

Adults who spends time with teenagers find themselves needing to have difficult conversations about the world around us. The interactions among high school students raise plenty of questions, not to mention the frequently unsettling events of the world at large.

As a worry-worst parent of two boys under four, the possibility of these complicated queries already keeps me up at night. (Is “Dad wanted to talk to you about that” an acceptable response?) As a teacher, I struggle to find the right balance between acknowledging concerns and encouraging students to seek understanding for themselves.

Enter a well-written, thought-provoking book like All-American Boys. Such a book puts the topic into play, eliminating the onus for an awkward introduction, and allowing all who partake to feel engaged in the global conversation.

This book moved me. It helped me clarify some feelings and ideas that, even as an adult, were difficult for me to summarize and express. It reminded me that good books have power–power to start a conversation, power to inspire change, power to foster empathy. I may soon start to annoy people because I won’t stop talking about this book, but this is a conversation that is worth starting.

Book Details:
Reading Level: AR = 4.9, Lexile = HL770L
ISBN: 9781481463331
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Atheneum
Publication Date: September 29, 2015
Awards/Accolades: 5 starred reviews & Jason Reynolds won the Coretta Scott King Author award in January, shortly after this book was published.

Bethany Bratney

Bethany Bratney (@nhslibrarylady) is a National Board Certified School Librarian at Novi High School and was the recipient of the 2015 Michigan School Librarian of the Year Award.  She reviews YA materials for School Library Connection magazine and for the LIBRES review group.  She is an active member of the Oakland Schools Library Media Leadership Consortium as well as the Michigan Association of Media in Education.  She received her BA in English from Michigan State University and her Masters of Library & Information Science from Wayne State University.

Teaching Elections: Part 2

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_114757342A few weeks ago I wrote about using the election in our classrooms. I said it was important to respect our students’ beliefs and try to keep our own political opinions out of the classroom. I suggested that focusing on skill development was key.

That was a lot easier before the election.

Now, after the election, I’m left wondering how to respond to my students. Some are upset and worrying about their futures in a country that doesn’t seem to value them. Others are excited and certain that now is the time America will finally rise to its full potential. It feels like focusing on skills would be artificial at best and probably just insensitive when they’re trying to process all of this.

As an adult who is highly engaged in political conversations, and as an educator who wants to help my students respond to this divisive election, what is my responsibility now? I still think it’s important to respect their beliefs and stay as neutral as possible, but tonight I’m wondering if focusing solely on skills is enough.

A Moment for Grit

Sometimes, answers pop up in incredibly unlikely places. Tonight, my answer, I think, is coming from Trolls. Not internet trolls–I’m talking about the fuzzy-haired singing ones in the recent Dreamworks movie. I took my four-year-old and seven-year-old to see Trolls last weekend, and throughout the whole movie, I kept thinking that the main character’s life perspective–keep trying, get back up again, etc.–was eerily reminiscent of a book pretty popular in education circles these days: Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. As the main character sang her way through all kinds of problems and, ultimately, succeeded because of her grit, I chuckled to myself about the parallels. The cartoon was like a commercial for grit–just with glitter.

Truth be told, I’ve always been a little skeptical of the whole “grit” concept. It seems a little shallow to look at a student drowning in problems and say, “Hey! Keep tryin’, buddy!” But, really, what other choice do we have? We want our students to be resilient. We want our students to respond with relentless positive action when they are faced with challenges. And, regardless of whether you saw this election result as a positive or negative, there’s no denying that this election has been challenging. This has been a rough fight, arguments have turned personal and people on both sides are hurting.

So perhaps this is the time when Language Arts teachers ask our students to respond with a little grit. Perhaps our response needs to be: What is your response? If your side won, what do you think we need to do to move forward? If your side lost, how can you stay engaged in the process? If this whole thing left you totally disillusioned and disengaged, what can you do to get back in the game?

Tomorrow, my AP Lang. students are comparing two texts. One is a speech given by Booker T. Washington during the Reconstruction Era. He believed African Americans should “cast down their buckets” where they were. He wanted them to accept low- or no-skill jobs and work their way up slowly in society. Another text is by W.E.B. Dubois, responding to Washington’s suggestions. He had a totally different response: seek higher education, demand opportunities. We will examine those two responses to a complicated, contentious time. Both men responded to a challenging time not by throwing up their hands in despair or gleefully skipping off into the sunset. They dug into the challenge and offered a way forward.

After we study the texts, I think the question for my students will be an obvious one. In this contentious time, what will you do next? What is your way forward?

If we ignore the outcome of this election and hope it will go away or that time will heal the wounds in our country, we are missing an opportunity. Before the results, I thought we could zero in on skills and use politics as our base. I still think that works. But today I’m thinking that we need to see political topics as a challenge for our students as well. The Common Core State Standards require us to teach students to “Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media in order to make informed decisions and solve problems.” Focusing on skills helps with the informed decisions part, but giving them space to write, talk, and think about how to solve problems is key to helping all of us move forward.

Hattie Maguire (@TeacherHattie) is an English teacher and Content Area Leader at Novi High School. She is spending her sixteenth year in the classroom teaching AP English Language and Composition, AP Seminar and doing Tier 2 writing intervention. She is a National Board Certified Teacher who earned her BS in English and MA in Curriculum and Teaching from Michigan State University.

A Nanobot of Sugar

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_116283283Our annual return-to-school professional development this year was a lovely buffet of technology-themed mini-workshops to help us navigate the ever-expanding realm of ed tech. The PD was well received, and it also got me thinking.  

I’ve never been a technology skeptic, nor does technology make me uneasy.  That being said, I’ve also rarely been the type to let any particular app or site or device really transform my classroom in any particular way. I adore Google Classroom and the entire suite of Google work tools (Docs, Slides, etc.), but I still think of them as supplements to my normal curriculum and pedagogy, as opposed to transformative additions (though Google Docs comes close with regard to writers workshops).  

A Nanobot of Sugar

Lately, though, I’ve started to realize that tiny doses of technology here and there have a pretty transformative impact on how we help our kids. I’m not offering this up as a revelation, but it’s worth thinking about what kids need in an English class and how we deliver it to them. Virtual and augmented reality are knocking at the door–Pokemon and PlayStation have already invited them in!–so we’d do well to think about what roles technology has performed well in inside our classrooms.

I’d encourage you to slow down your busy lesson planning routine to take similar stock of how and where you’re implementing technology.

To Infinity and Beyond: Traditional Assessments

Here are a few tech forays I’ve made into advanced approaches to very traditional English stuff.

Reading comprehension. My old failing in this arena was my continual insistence that students demonstrate their comprehension in written form. As I began to trust graded discussions more, I discovered how many students actually had a rather robust knowledge of the texts we were reading. These students, though, lacked the writing sophistication to express that knowledge in the only way I had been allowing them to.  

Oh, the irony, technology, you sly dog! It turns out, given a “safe space” where kids are typing (also known as “writing”) to each other–instead of to me–they suddenly reveal that very sophistication in their writing that I had found lacking.  

Technology is the key. In class I’m really fond of GoSoapBox, which allows for things like instant polling in addition to longer responses. It will also provide a printable transcript of any conversation the class produces. Google Classroom has similar features, but apps with a polling feature allow for some very interesting on-the-spot data: turns out kids get pretty honest when they’re provided a formative (absolutely key) and anonymous virtual space to share their thoughts.

Writing Feedback

I’ve written at length about the joys of audio feedback, which I began exploring last year using turnitin.com. This year I may explore other apps that provide kids a verbal walkthrough of their writing. My frustration has been that technology in this case was only addressing one side of the process–it’s great that I can talk to kids about their final product, but it seems almost MORE important for them to talk to ME.

toplogo2xEnter “Flipgrid,” a new app I discovered at a conference recently (thanks, AssisTechKnow!) that allows students to respond to a prompt with 90 seconds of video. If I can give them three minutes of summary about what I thought of their writing, it seems reasonable that they could give me half that amount in reflection on some area of the rubric I ask them to consider more closely. We’ll see how this turns out, but I’m surmising that speaking into a camera lens might have a sobering effect that traditional forms of reflection (“Fill out this self-reflection sheet–and be honest!”) simply do not.  

Exit Slips

Exit slips involve a bit more application of the same technology I’ve mentioned above, at least for now. I think Join.Me will play a role here too, eventually, allowing my students to share to the classroom’s center screen right from their seats. For now, though, I’m looking at smaller ways to gather fast, impactful formative data from my kids.

Right now it’s mostly online discussion or polling spaces, but there are apps out there that will allow kids to, say, take a photo of a page in their book and then annotate it with a drawing tool before submitting it to me on their way out the door. Imagine the usefulness of snippets of focused annotation from a struggling reader in response to a question–without having to photocopy a thing!

Like I said–nothing groundbreaking. Worth thinking about though: Are you using technology to fill gaps or to rethink failures…or are you just using it because it’s all the rage? I, for one, welcome our robot overlords…but that’s because I feel pretty good about all the toys they’ve brought.

Michael Ziegler

Michael Ziegler (@ZigThinks) is a Content Area Leader and teacher at Novi High School.  This is his 15th year in the classroom. He teaches 11th Grade English and IB Theory of Knowledge. He also coaches JV Girls Soccer and has spent time as a Creative Writing Club sponsor, Poetry Slam team coach, AdvancEd Chair, and Boys JV Soccer Coach. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Michigan, majoring in English, and earned his Masters in Administration from Michigan State University.  

Summer (Reading) Lovin’

Notes from the Classroom

tayrdgtentMy daughter, Taylor, just started her first grade year. She left kindergarten at grade level in reading, and at the end of the year, she was just starting to believe in herself as a reader.

But throughout the summer, Taylor showed no gains in reading, even though she’s surrounded by two parents who are teachers and who value reading, and a sister who values reading and offers lots (and lots!) of encouragement. Taylor offered eye rolls when met with reminders of using strategies or reading the picture; I’m sure to see more in the teenage years too! She stuck with easy books and passed off other books to the rest of us.

This was hard for me. Teaching students to read is–as I point out to my children–what I do. They have both expressed that they have no interest in my wearing my teaching hat at home. They want me in the Mom role. So I have to be subtle.

Which got me thinking about those households that don’t have teachers in them, or parents who don’t have the drive to spend each evening reading. We as teachers can’t change what happens at home. We can encourage and remind till we are blue in the face, but it doesn’t always work. The summer slide seems to be inevitable, until every school becomes year round.

The first week of school solidified this thought for me. Students need the learning environment all the time, and not just September to June. In her first week, Taylor came home, picked up a Mo Willems book, and started reading it. I tried not to let my chin hit the floor, but couldn’t stop the excitement I felt. She was reading, without even being asked to. And it was a brand new title for her!

Just being back in an environment with an expectation of learning and the encouragement of her classroom teacher had flipped the switch for her. 

Year-Round Reading

Since this can-read attitude is a goal for my own kindergarteners, I’ve already started thinking about how to maximize this mindset for them when summer arrives. Yes, I know we’ve just started school, but the thought is fresh in my mind and the problem is a big one!

Here are a few ideas:

  • Have parents send videos of their child reading. The teacher could send a video clip back. This could be done through email, Instagram, a classroom Facebook page, a Google classroom hangout, or even Twitter, depending on parents’ comfort.
  • Start a book club. Send out books, and have a focus (visualizing, predicting, retelling, connecting, etc.) for the students when they read. Parents could respond again through the options listed above. You could also provide a bag of books for the summer, along with a reading list. Remind 101 is a quick, text-message-based tool to send assignment reminders.
  • Meet the previous class at the park or the school playground. Give them that reminder: You are a learner even over the summer!
  • Invite future students to a meet and greet. Get the ball rolling early.
  • Set up a book club at the local library, and have the kids meet you there. The library may even order extra copies of the books.
  • Have the kids do video book reports. These can serve as recommendations to friends, and kids can post using the same channels listed above.
  • Start a book chain mail with your class. Media mail is cheaper. You don’t have to use new books; kids can send out a favorite they would like to share.
  • Meet at a book store. Work with a local book or comic book shop and see if they’ll let you meet there–or donate books to the cause.
  • Trade used books. Have a used book trade a few times over the summer, and stay after to read them under the stars with flashlights.

I’m not sure which I am going to try or what will work best for my class this year. As I get to know my students and parents, I will try to figure out what would work best to keep that learning attitude over the summer.

Also, a lot of these ideas could be done during the school year too! Hopefully you’ll be able to try some of these ideas, or can share some of your own in the comments.

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She is a part of the Walled Lake iCouncil (Instructional Council) team and is part of starting a coding club at her school this year. She is in her eleventh year of teaching, with nine in kindergarten and two in Second Grade. Prior to that she taught in the Walled Lake Great Start Readiness Program, which is a state-funded preschool program for at-risk students. Tricia attended Michigan State University for her undergraduate degree and specialization in Early Childhood. She then attended Wayne State University for her Master’s in Teacher Education.