Educators Sharing #WhyIWrite to Celebrate The National Day on Writing

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In 2009, the Senate passed a resolution recognizing October 20 as the National Day on Writing.

Every year, thousands of educators, students, and writers celebrate by tweeting reasons why they write using the hashtag #WhyIWrite. Celebrations and activities are planned in classrooms across the nation uniting writers, recognizing the benefits of writing, and voicing the importance of writing!

Getting Students Involved

In the classroom, my former students shared their voices on Twitter. Beautiful and profound statements were succinctly tweeted followed by a curation of their favorite tweets throughout the day. As a class, my students gathered their favorite tweets from the #WhyIWrite feed and created multimodal projects sharing the many voices. For example, some  used Storify to collect and share their favorite tweets. Other tools my students used to collect, create and share were:  iMovie, YouTube, Pinterest, blogs, and Word Cloud generators.

This year I challenged educators to share #WhyIWrite.

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More Information

Thank You and Be Sure to Follow

If you have a #WhyIWrite message to share, please send it to me and I will add it!

4 Brain-Friendly Practices in a Student-Centered​ Classroom

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Adolescence is a vital time for our students. During the ages of 11 through 18, young people are making habits that last a lifetime. And since many of their waking hours are spent in school, it is important for educators to incorporate brain-friendly practices into their classrooms. These practices, when consistently incorporated, impact the whole child and help to develop habits of mind that will support students throughout their lifetime.

4 Brain-Friendly Practices in a Student-Centered Classroom:

  1. Choice – Provide choice! This simple concept is one that research shows not only increases reading achievement when a child chooses what they read, but also engagement when the choice is theirs to make. Move from teacher-centered to student-centered through choice, for instance, provide choice in content. With a learning objective as a skill in the writing process, student choice can be given in paper content. Or choice can be given in end product; why limit the demonstration of understanding to just text? Multimedia products are a perfect way for students to demonstrate understanding.
  2. Task Design – In a student-centered classroom, brain research can be applied to task design. Chunking information, using graphic organizers or guiding questions, connecting learning experiences to a larger concept are all brain-friendly practices that educators can incorporate while designing lessons or units. Our brain naturally identifies patterns, groups, and organizes items.
  3. Peers – Teaching others is a highly effective, brain-friendly practice and during adolescence, nothing is more important to young people than their peers. When students teach each other it boosts understanding to both partners and is often taught in a different way than a teacher could explain.
  4. Authentic – Brain-friendly practice includes authenticity in learning. Read, write, and create for real purposes instead of doing school for school’s sake. In a student-centered classroom, an example of authentic writing is Blogging. Through blogging, students share their voice with a global audience, a shift from the traditional, lone teacher.

Sources:

Thomas Armstrong

BrainLady

3 Needs I Have as a Parent-Educator and How Bloomz Can Help

File_000 (5).jpegThis year, around 55 million students are heading back to school and I am the mom of two of them.

Wearing multiple hats as both a mother and an educator can be a difficult job that many in this field experience. The beginning of the school year is a time when I delicately place the care of my children in the hands of a fellow teacher and trust that they will return happy, challenged, and successful. School to home communication is never more important than at the beginning of the school year.

As a parent, I have 3 main needs this communication must answer:

  1. Show me you care!
  2. How is my child doing?
  3.  How can I help?

Effective school to home communication includes utilizing multiple platforms and modes to communicate to the widest possible audience and using technology provides timely, fast, and easy communication options. Recently, I was introduced to Bloomz, a mobile and web app used for communication, and am quickly falling in love with its ease of use and options available to both educators and parents. Bloomz is also a perfect fit to meet the needs I have as a parent. It can easily help keep the lines of communication open between parents and teachers, addressing the needs that we all have.

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 8.40.16 AMShow me you care!

As a parent, I witness the love of learning in my own children when they have a caring relationship with their teacher. I look to my child’s teacher to guide and support them, not only in the areas of math and reading but also interpersonal skills. Bloomz provides teachers the ability to send messages and share pictures in a safe and self-contained environment. A daily recap message or weekly update, photos from the classroom or of my child reading in the nook all help to promote a transparent classroom, letting parents know that relationships are being built in a caring environment.

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 8.42.30 AMHow’s is my child doing?

Nothing is more rewarding than receiving recognition on the good your child exhibits. Whether displaying my child’s talent in writing or praising their kindness to a new student, educators can rarely over-communicate with a parent. And just as I want to hear the good, it is important to be informed if my child is struggling with a math concept or isn’t following directions in science class. As school to home communication expert, Steven Anderson told me, “It is better to be proactive rather than reactive.” Again I found this need to know as a parent met with the Bloomz app. First, I could download it on my phone, which alleviates the multiple clicks I must endure trying to locate information on my child on other platforms. It also provides large-group, small-group, and individual messaging so that success can be shared and concerns targeted. Translation into multiple languages is available with Bloomz, as well as a new behavior tracking, which means no more stickers slapped on my child’s shirt or public clip-down charts of shame. 

Screenshot 2016-08-31 at 8.51.48 AMHow can I help?

Finally, as a parent, I want to know what I can do at home to support my child’s learning. What specific needs are there for the classroom? Are there volunteer opportunities for reading days, field trips, etc.? As a parent, I love reading to Grace Ann’s class, volunteering to chaperone Aiden’s field trip, or donating a dessert for conference nights. With Bloomz, teachers can share calendars, send event invites, request, and assign volunteers, and even post reminders.

As the school year begins and my hat shifts between being a parent and being an educator, I am reminded of the importance of a transparent classroom and the communication between school and home that is necessary to support my children as they embark on a new journey. A letter home, a classroom website, or even an app like Bloomz helps qualm those burning needs that many parents have and establishes a positive line of communication.

3 Instructional Strategies to Support Literacy in all Classrooms

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“All educators are teachers of literacy”

– a common phrase I echo when speaking or writing. Notice, I did not say “All educators are teachers of reading,” which would demand a skill set many educators do not have, although that is often what most people think when they hear the first statement. There are no expectations for educators at the middle and high school grades to understand reading instruction (phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, etc.), instead, expectations reside in supporting student understanding in literacy acquisition in discipline-specific consumption and creation.

The Question Becomes How?

With this lens, fears often subside and educators realize that they are the EXPERT in that content area. The question then turns to – How? Zooming out to a wider view of discipline literacy, one understands that much content learning by students is done through reading or viewing and their demonstration of understanding is exhibited through writing or communicating in some form. From the larger view, teachers can then zoom back into specific disciplines and ask themselves what are the skills a student must possess to tackle discipline-specific texts (which includes multiple modes) and what components of communication do I need to teach in order for students write and create in a discipline-specific way.

3 Instructional Strategies

The How is one area that I am often asked to address with staff. I offer 3 Instructional Strategies that are applicable to any discipline and support literacy in any classroom:

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ExamplesA History Teacher demonstrating how historians read and make sense of primary sources. Read/think aloud text – Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A reading strategy historians often use is to consider the time period it was written in and what was happening in the world during that time to help them understand meaning and context. This would be modeled aloud to students.  Math –  Rafranz Davis shared with me a movement among math educators, shifting the focus from test made questions to real-world problems. During a read/think aloud in math class,  Davis suggests utilizing Polya’s 4 Step Method as a model to demonstrate to students – 1. Understand the problem. 2. Devise a plan. 3. Carry out the plan. 4. Look Back. Students can call upon this strategy anytime they approach an unfamiliar example.

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ExampleAlice Keeler provided the perfect example foridentifying Concept and Label vocabulary in a math classroom. Students are given a problem to solve and explain their thinking around parabolic, cubic, and porabolas within the context of 2 illustrations, one is a visual of a climbing path for El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the other a water fountain. Parabolic would be an example of a Concept vocabulary term, as opposed to Yosemite, bagging the peak, or bushwhacking. The last 3 terms are ones the teacher would define for students and move on, on the other hand, concept vocabulary would demand more attention in both the instruction via the teacher and the acquisition and demonstration by the student. Providing a non-example, such as the climbing path, also pushes kids to think differently and solidify their demonstration of understanding of a concept.

 

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Example – A science teacher uses multiple lab reports published in a scientific journal as a mentor example. Students examine how the data sets were organized, recurring vocabulary, and structure. The content of the lab report may not be an area that is covered in the course, but as a mentor example, students to grasp the essential components of a lab report – how labels work to inform to support the format, the proper way to insert lists and data into the report, and when longer explanations are needed in paragraph form on lab reports.

 

Once educators understand the Why of discipline-specific literacy, the How is the next step in learning. Applying these 3 instructional strategies will help students consume and create discipline-specific literacies.

Sources:

Polya – Berkely  

What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why it Matters – Shanahan & Shanahan 

Top 4 Take-Aways from EdcampUSA

edcampusaIt’s been less than 24 hours since I left Washington DC and returned home to Iowa after having the privilege to attend Edcamp Us DOED a collaborative effort between the Edcamp Foundation  and the United States Department of Education. This ” intimate gathering of teacher leaders and policy leaders in order to discuss the most important issues in education” ignited excitement in the heart of this small-town Iowa girl.

On July 8th, 150 educators from across the nation, members of the US Department of Education, and other educational thought leaders gathered at the US Department of Education for EdcampUSA. The majestic ambiance of the location, along with the professional discourse throughout the day makes me proud to be an educator.

Edcamp is a Global Movement, and together, we CAN create change! Three incredible women helped make EdcampUSA possible: Hadley Ferguson, Shannon Montague (Hamilton Fanatic, email junkie, and general organizer of chaos), and JoLisa Hoover  (whose warm smile lit up the room and who also has a new role this fall with our youngest learners).

I was fortunate to reconnect with Hadley Ferguson and talk a bit of Edcamp shop. As Executive Director of the Edcamp Foundation, Hadley’s role is multifaceted. During our conversation, two points resonated with me, first, no one knows for sure how many edcamps there have been or how many educators have participated. Collecting that data is difficult and relies heavily on self-reporting; still, it is essential to have this information for future funding and discussions. Second, Edcamps have been attended by thousands of educators and continue to grow by the month. Together, that collective voice could be strong – so how do we harness this power to work together, and how do we encourage other educators who are unaware of Edcamps to attend and join the conversation? (Please send all easy answers to Hadley and Shaelynn)

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John King, Secretary of the US Department of Education gave the opening address. Mr. King took some time to reflect upon the current violence happening in our nation and the effects it has on our kids. He urged us all to “create the time and space” to work together to improve outcomes for all students, reminding us on the Civil Rights Legacy and the need for equity and excellence in education found in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Education is central to a democratic society, and our students must see a diversity in teachers and administrators around the nation!

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There were many notable conversations and shared stories; here are my Top 4 Take-Aways:

  1. Open Education Resources (OER) – In a time when technology can afford equitable access to the most relevant content, best instructional strategies, and engaging lesson designs, OER should top the list of every educator. Applying the 5 R Permissions of OER: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute helped many of us create a working definition of OER. Kristina Peters, K-12 Open Education Fellow at the US Dept. of Ed shared insights of this emerging focus at the DOE  sharing, “OER is changing conversations at a district level for intellectual property. As a member of an OER platform  via Amazon Education, Amazon Inspire, I see this culture of sharing happening daily! Kaye Henrickson shared the movement of OER in Wisconsin, WISELEARN. OER is a way to support each other collegially by sharing rich content and pedagogical strategies that work best for our students. But as with all groups, Steve Dembo (incredible thinker, educator, and favorite thought-provoker) offered these considerations: Free does not necessarily equal open, reallocation of funds must be considered, how can the best resources bubble to the top in these curation receptacles?  This, of course, launched into further discussions which sparked a “hallway” conversation and future actions. ThinkOER!  ThinkOER
  2. Literacy – Literacy is the responsibility of ALL educators. In multiple sessions I attended during the day, the importance of literacy resonated throughout. Technology has not only opened the floodgates to global information, but brought with it the opportunity for students to read, write, communicate, and learn in multimodal means. The evolving definition of literacy and what makes someone literate penetrates all grades and disciplines. To simply ignore this reality is detrimental to the success of students. Digital literacies is a passion of mine. It is my focus and drives much of what I read, write, and learn. It was only fitting to include literacy throughout the day. Whether in Genius Hour or Passion Based Learning, equipping students with the skills and strategies to discern digital resources and to create their own seeped into many conversations. Along with that, I was fortunate to meet both Barry Saide and Juli B two passionate literacy educators I have connected with virtually for years, but only face to face at EdcampUSA. These two consistently fuel my passion and shared snippets of literacy love throughout the day!                            IMG_0428 (1)IMG_0395
  3. #BlackLivesMatter: Social Justice and Culturally Relevant Practices in the Classroom – One of my favorite discussions during the day focused on social justice and cultural relevance in the classroom. Many ideas were shared, rhetorical questions asked, and passionate stories told from the group. Shout out to Valerie Lewis (an incredible educator from Atlanta) for Periscoping the session to share with the world! Watch it here. Literacy was again referenced as a way to not only build connections and relationships but as a model to reinforce diversity in learning. Juli and her colleague Justin shared insights from the book by Chris Emdin For White Folks who Teach in the Hood, “ in schools, urban youths are expected to leave their lives at the door and assimilate to “school”  causing trauma to the child and the “village”. How then can we expect young people to invest in their community? Adam Bellow (an incredible educator who  is now CEO of BreakoutEdu and gets to drive a cool bus around)  raised a great point, “often times we begin with Slavery and America, ignoring the important contributions and victories won dating back to Ancient Civilization.” This lack of balance across all content areas reduces diversity to an event or celebration. It needs to be assimilated into the curriculum and an intentional part of the agenda!IMG_0437 (1)
  4. Connected Education – My final takeaway reaffirmed the importance of being a connected educator. There are so many passionate educators who are helping to make education great, get out there and meet someone new. Attending an edcamp at a new location helps to foster new connections! First, it was incredible to be reunited with Krissy Venosdale, Wanda Terral, and Chris Aviles; we were all in the final Google Teacher Academy together, and as Chris said, “broke the mold.” I was also grateful to have the opportunity to connect with Josue Falaise, an incredible eduleader with vast knowledge in professional learning and leveraging community support! Kharima Richards,  Joyce Valenza, and Matt Frat were among the many educators that I met throughout the day whose thoughts and kindness made me pause and think! Finally, I am fortunate to be surrounded and supported by a group of educators who push my thinking and offer an endless supply of laughter and good times – thank you, Kristina, Bob Dillon, Kaye and Adam . My first time in DC was Epic! YOLO!                        All session resources can be found here!IMG_0445