Online Writing: Beauty and the Beast

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_348905468Each year I have my students engage in a variety of online writing experiences: blogging, Google documents, websites, and presentations. At this point in the year, I find that there are two sides to online writing, and finding a way to balance them is my greatest challenge.

The Beauty

I love having my students write online. Online writing is easier to edit, I can leave comments, and I don’t have to lug tons of notebooks back and forth. I can sit with my computer in my lap at night and toggle through a wealth of student writing. It is by no means faster (sometimes I feel like it takes a bit longer digging through my links) but I do love not having to worry about whether assignments were turned in, or if I left papers at school, or somehow something got lost.

Digital archive

Online writing allows me to have a digital archive of my students’ writing, which is invaluable at parent-teacher conferences in the spring. It is amazing to see the growth—or sadly sometimes the lack thereof—in student pieces. Because I give lots of craft assignments early on, I can easily show parents my assignment posts and their student’s writing in response. This allows for easier conversations about why a child is beginning, developing, or secure in his or her writing skills.

This encourages revision. With this kind of online portfolio, some students have asked to go back and revise and edit—a teacher’s dream! They actually want to do this? Sometimes I take screenshots of the “before” piece, so that I can have them to compare to the revised and edited work. This helps me when I confer with both student and parent.

Authentic audience

Establishing partnerships has been a beautiful thing as well. This year we are blogging partners with two 11454297503_e27946e4ff_h5th grade classes in Maine and we are participating in the Two Writing Teachers Classroom Slice of Life Challenge. My students are excited to log on each week to see what their long-distance partners have written, and to leave and receive feedback. In the classroom challenge, they are looking at writing from classrooms around the globe, which makes their own writing more purposeful. They grapple with their subject matter because now that they have an audience, they want it to be interesting.

Without fail, I have at least two or three students from each class who ask me what to write about. Convincing some of my students that they have moments that are writing-worthy is a constant challenge, but in spite of all this, I am finding every student engaged to a greater degree than they would be if they were only writing in their notebooks. That is beautiful.

The Beast

Of course, this all sounds great. What could possibly be a problem? Well…

Greater responsibilities for feedback

If I had the time each and every night to read and leave private comments on students’ blogs, life would be grand. But I don’t. So, I let the posts pile up, and pretty soon I am harassed by my students enough that I sit and power through countless blogs in one night.

I’m still not able to allow my students to comment freely on one another’s blogs, which means that I have comments to approve as well. All of this can become a monster to manage, and I confess that this year I have not done as well as I would like. Now that we have blogging partners, the SOLSC, and the interface on our blog has changed … it is very time consuming and at times, downright annoying.

Problems with technology

Every year, I have my students create individual Google Sites for our informational reading and writing units. For the units, we take notes, do our writing in packets, and then transfer our writing to the pages of our sites—my attempt to help them avoid plagiarism. Again, this allows for easy conferring on my part. It also unleashes a whole new animal.

Ten-year-olds often believe that they know more about technology than the adults around them. While this is frequently true, their tech confidence becomes a nightmare when working with certain programs. No matter how many directions I give, there is always that group of students that thinks they know better. (Or the group that totally misses the directions.) This leads to a lot of time spent undoing, re-doing, and re-teaching. Grr. My students discovered the hard way last year that copy-paste doesn’t work all of the time in Google Sites, even though someone had told them that. This resulted in many hours spent finding, downloading, saving and uploading pictures, not to mention having to create the citations all over again.

Happily Ever After?

At the end of each project, I find that I’ve learned something new that will help me (and my students) in the future. I also find new challenges with technology and the individuals who are in my classes. This is truly a never-ending journey, but one that I am still happy to be on.

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. 

Supporting Struggling Readers in the Content Area – Grades 6-12, Day 3 of 3

This workshop will help general and special educators at the Grade 3-5 level, understand struggling readers in content area texts in new, dynamic ways and give them better tools to support these students.  Teachers will learn strategies to use immediately in their classrooms and they will have the opportunity to practice those strategies with their colleagues and in their content during the workshop.  This is a two day workshop with the third day being optional.  The third day  will dive deeper into conprehansion strategies to reach content understanding.  Participants will explore critical methods of questioning and text map analysis with content area text.   Participants are encouraged to purchase the book “Teaching Dilemas and Solutions in Content Area Literacy”, with their registration.     Educator teams from schools and districts are welcome.

Facilitators: Dalyce Beegle

Kindergarten Research Project

Literacy & Technology Notes from the Classroom

061Yes, we have to do a research project in kindergarten!

Like it or not, the Common Core State Standards clearly require this work. For one standard, students must “participate in shared research and writing projects.” Another states: students must “use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.” And a third requires that, with guidance, students “gather information from provided sources to answer a question.”

Talk about stress—students who are just learning to read and write, who have to do research and write a report. It’s a challenge for everyone involved.

So last year we approached this differently than in the past, and ended up loving it.

Finding Animals

We began by choosing a handful of animals living at the Detroit Zoo. We pulled books from the library and magazines like Ranger Rick, and created easy-reader nonfiction books about these animals. We had these available in the classroom.

leopard_amur_01We also looked for kid-appropriate videos and zoos that had viewing cameras on the animals. The San Diego Zoo, for example, has a lot of great animal cams.

We started off the unit talking about the three things animals need to survive: food, water, and shelter. We had a deck of cards, with each card listing one of the needs to survive. Students took turns pulling three cards. If they didn’t have one of each need, they sat down. If they received one of each, they were able to get back in line for another turn.

When more than half the class was sitting down, we started discussing what they noticed. We then led the conversation toward the students’ understanding that animals need food, water, and shelter to survive. This segued into a discussion about endangered animals as compared to extinct ones.

Thinking Like Scientists

The next lesson focused on scientists. We talked about how scientists would do research and what they might need or want to know. The class came up with these questions and then it was game on!

  • What does the animal look like?
  • Where does the animal live (habitat)?
  • What does the animal eat?
  • What are some interesting facts?

As a class, we were researching an animal to practice how to find the information. The students also split into small groups and chose an animal.

Before we started our research, we wrote on a chart page what we already knew, or thought we knew, about our chosen animal. Then each day we chose one of the driving questions to focus on. As a class, we found the answer for our class animal, and then the groups split off and went to work.

Some groups wanted to watch the videos, while others hunted through the books. They had a packet to complete together with the information they found.

The culmination of this research project was my favorite part. The students had to create a model of the animal, its habitat, and food source. We encouraged them to incorporate the interesting facts they learned, too, and instructed them to label items. When they were completed, we recorded a video of each group showing us what they created and answering our driving questions. Students were so excited to share what they had completed, and they were so proud of themselves.

We celebrated a wonderful learning unit by going to the Detroit Zoo and teaching our chaperones about the animals we studied. Needless to say, the parents were impressed!

image1Tricia Ziegler (Twitter: @axf96; blog: http://kindergartentreasures.blogspot.com/) is a kindergarten teacher at Loon Lake Elementary, in the Walled Lake School District. She recently became part of the Walled Lake Teacher Leader Fellowship. She is in her tenth year of teaching, with eight 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.

Finding a Balance with State Testing

Notes from the Classroom

shutterstock_334073204As I write this, January is nearly over and we are starting to hear a little buzz about our state’s standardized testing. This buzz will likely turn to a loud roar as we get closer to April. In many districts, this testing is like a heavy weight that sits on the shoulders of students and teachers alike. Though I am blessed to work in a district that does not pressure us at all, I too feel the weight.

This year I am working on a webinar for Oakland Schools about Elementary M-STEP (our test), and it has caused me to think deeply about all of this: testing/not testing, prepping/not prepping, and my responsibilities as a teacher to my district and to my students.

First and foremost, I am here for my students. I need to provide the best education for them in ways that meet their needs as a diverse group of learners. I have a wealth of resources at my disposal, and I feel generally well equipped for the task at hand. I am able to teach my students about reading and writing in ways that push them to think deeply about text, and that move them to better understanding.

All of that comes first. Then I look at the test.

Here’s what I don’t do: I don’t consistently have my students read long passages of text online, where they have to scroll and scroll and scroll to complete it. I don’t have them read and answer questions by choosing the correct bubble. I don’t have them answer questions from screen to screen that connect to each other.

But maybe I should.

Why? It’s simply not fair to teach my students how to read and respond to text in long passages, but to never teach them how to read online and answer questions that are inferential. It’s not fair to give them copies of articles that they can read and highlight, along with graphic organizers to help them create a piece of writing, and then throw them into a test where they read everything online, and where they have a blank piece of paper to use in whatever way makes sense to them.

The teacher in me says I need to offer the best instruction for my students. But the teacher in me also says I need to give them exposure before test day to the format they will experience.

Prepping for the Format

shutterstock_142403371A colleague got me thinking about metaphors for all of this. The one that comes to mind for me is that we need to get students’ feet in the water, to ease them in before we throw them in alone and ask them to swim.

So, this year I will keep teaching our units of study and engaging my students in rich text. We will continue to have great conversations and write about our understanding and thinking.

But we will also go online and read and write. We will experience formats that are new and different.

On test day my students might not know everything, but when they look at the format, they will think, “Oh, I know about this. I can do this.” That’s the mindset that will unlock their best thinking.

To view the recent M-STEP Test Prep Webinar that Beth facilitated and to access the resources she shared, click here.

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. 

Supporting Struggling Readers in the Content Area – Grades 6-12, Day 1 of 3

This workshop will help general and special educators at the Grade 3-5 level, understand struggling readers in content area texts in new, dynamic ways and give them better tools to support these students.  Teachers will learn strategies to use immediately in their classrooms and they will have the opportunity to practice those strategies with their colleagues and in their content during the workshop.  This is a two day workshop with the third day being optional.  The third day  will dive deeper into conprehansion strategies to reach content understanding.  Participants will explore critical methods of questioning and text map analysis with content area text.   Participants are encouraged to purchase the book “Teaching Dilemas and Solutions in Content Area Literacy”, with their registration.     Educator teams from schools and districts are welcome.

Facilitators: Dalyce Beegle

Supporting Struggling Readers in the Content Area – Grades 3-5, Day 2 of 3

This workshop will help general and special educators at the Grade 3-5 level, understand struggling readers in content area texts in new, dynamic ways and give them better tools to support these students.  Teachers will learn strategies to use immediately in their classrooms and they will have the opportunity to practice those strategies with their colleagues and in their content during the workshop.  This is a two day workshop with the third day being optional.  The third day  will dive deeper into conprehansion strategies to reach content understanding.  Participants will explore critical methods of questioning and text map analysis with content area text.      Educator teams from schools and districts are welcome.

Facilitators: Dalyce Beegle and Les Howard

Readers Workshop (Grades 4-5), Day 5 of 5

The series will highlight the development of children as readers as well as the development of teachers as instructors and coaches in reading. Teachers should bring their own copy of the The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins. Additional teacher resources will be recommended on the first day of class. This series will help teachers understand the structures of Readers Workshop. It will focus on preparing teachers to teach and coach young learners in reading skills and strategies necessary to promote lifelong reading.

Teachers will learn how to develop mini-lessons, explore ways to balance small group differentiated instruction with guided reading and strategy lessons, sharpen their use of one-on-one and partner conferring, along with assessing student reading to plan and modify lessons based on student needs.

This series will also focus on developing units of study, which organize the content of the reading workshop. The developed units of study will help teachers plan for their teaching in a way that moves an entire reading community along while supporting individual learners.

Presenters: Michele Farah, Ph.D and Shawna Hackstock

Readers Workshop (Grades 2-3), Day 5 of 5

The series will highlight the development of children as readers as well as the development of teachers as instructors and coaches in reading. Teachers should bring their own copy of the The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins. Additional teacher resources will be recommended on the first day of class. This series will help teachers understand the structures of Readers Workshop. It will focus on preparing teachers to teach and coach young learners in reading skills and strategies necessary to promote lifelong reading.

Teachers will learn how to develop mini-lessons, explore ways to balance small group differentiated instruction with guided reading and strategy lessons, sharpen their use of one-on-one and partner conferring, along with assessing student reading to plan and modify lessons based on student needs.

This series will also focus on developing units of study, which organize the content of the reading workshop. The developed units of study will help teachers plan for their teaching in a way that moves an entire reading community along while supporting individual learners.

Presenters: Michele Farah, Ph.D and Shawna Hackstock

Readers Workshop (K-1), Day 5 of 5

The series will highlight the development of children as readers as well as the development of teachers as instructors and coaches in reading. Teachers should bring their own copy of the The Art of Teaching Reading by Lucy Calkins. Additional teacher resources will be recommended on the first day of class. This series will help teachers understand the structures of Readers Workshop. It will focus on preparing teachers to teach and coach young learners in reading skills and strategies necessary to promote lifelong reading.

Teachers will learn how to develop mini-lessons, explore ways to balance small group differentiated instruction with guided reading and strategy lessons, sharpen their use of one-on-one and partner conferring, along with assessing student reading to plan and modify lessons based on student needs.

This series will also focus on developing units of study, which organize the content of the reading workshop. The developed units of study will help teachers plan for their teaching in a way that moves an entire reading community along while supporting individual learners.

Presenters: Michele Farah, Ph.D and Shawna Hackstock

Supporting Struggling Readers in the Content Area – Grades 3-5, Day 1 of 3

This workshop will help general and special educators at the Grade 3-5 level, understand struggling readers in content area texts in new, dynamic ways and give them better tools to support these students.  Teachers will learn strategies to use immediately in their classrooms and they will have the opportunity to practice those strategies with their colleagues and in their content during the workshop.  This is a two day workshop with the third day being optional.  The third day  will dive deeper into conprehansion strategies to reach content understanding.  Participants will explore critical methods of questioning and text map analysis with content area text.      Educator teams from schools and districts are welcome.

Facilitators: Dalyce Beegle and Les Howard