5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journal

Rarely, do you see me without a notebook. I have kept a journal for the past 20 years and have filled hundreds of notebooks with handwriting expressing my successes, failures, hopes, dreams, and even mundane daily tasks. There is no replacement for the feeling I get when my favorite pen glides across a new page in my journal! 

Keeping a journal provides a safe spot for expressing ideas, wrestling with questions, and writing yourself into history. It is both therapeutic and creative. Journaling is inexpensive and accessible; the writing that occurs is self-regulated and shares patterns, behaviors, and experiences that have defined us. 

Journaling also provides a unique primary source during historical moments in time for future generations to read and understand. Journals become a  collection of thoughts and experiences from the people who lived through it. Currently, we are all living in another one of these historical moments and a Pandemic Journal is a perfect place to record how we are living through these uncommon times, as well as a creative and meaningful way to encourage our students to write. 

Here are 5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journals:

  1. Pandemic Picture – Inspired by the work of photographer, Gregg Segal, Pandemic Pictures depict a person surrounded by the items that are most important to them during this pandemic (and can be photographed). For instance, I told my daughter to collect 15 things that she couldn’t live without, were important to her, that she loved, or that brought her joy while sheltering in place. Her collection was filled with creativity, art supplies, music, technology, as well as TP, hand sanitizer, and a mask. This one photo represents her 12-year-old life during COVID-19 and will ignite memories to be shared with others in the future.

2. T-chart – Create a t-chart somewhere in the journal that will allow you to add to it throughout the pandemic. On one side list “Things I Love Right Now” and the other “Things I Miss Right Now”. Bike rides with my children, exploring nature, and the growing bond between siblings are a few things listed on my “Love” side. Flying and travel, extended family and friends, enjoying appetizers and drinks at a restaurant are just a few of the things I miss greatly. Having this space in my journal will allow me a dynamic spot to add to as time goes on.

3. Letter to Future Self – Letter writing has seen an increase during the pandemic. In your journal, write a letter to your future self explaining your current reality. How would you explain what you are experiencing? What would be important to remember? What hopes do you have for the future? Writing to your future will provide a time to not only grapple with current conditions but provide hope to what things will be like in the future. 

4. Listicle – A listicle is a piece of writing that is wholly or partly created by a list. This is another entry that can be ongoing, a place to record, in list form, things you want to remember. For instance, the price of gas (wow, is it low), what is missing from the grocery store, what people are hoarding, when businesses and recreation are closed and opened, how social distancing looks in the stores with the plastic guards and dots on the ground. There are many small things that have shifted in our daily lives, it will be important to note these differences. 

5. Interview – By our very nature, humans are social. And during these times, sheltering-in-place and social and physical distancing have become the norm, and in some places the mandate. Connecting with others is important for our physical and emotional health, and although we may not be able to meet for dinner or attend a celebration in person, talking with those we care about can be another entry to document in our pandemic journal. Interview a relative or friend and write down the conversation. What does their daily life look like now? What do they miss doing? What have they learned about their neighborhood, family, city, etc.? What sort of social norms are developing? What is closed? What is open? These interviews become part of a living history and help to stay connected to others. 

Journaling is not new, what is new is the current reality people across the globe are living through. Everyone’s life has been impacted by COVID-19 and it is important for us, and our students to capture our experiences and feelings to write ourselves into history. I encourage you to begin your own Pandemic Journal if you have not already done so, it is not too late. I would also encourage you to have your students and children write their thoughts in a journal during this time. It is not only therapeutic but a creative outlet that will benefit future generations to come. 

Have any other Must-Have Pandemic Journal ideas to share? Drop me a comment below!

7 Benefits of Audiobooks

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Is listening to an Audiobooks the same as reading a book? Is it cheating or lazy to listen to instead of actually reading it? Do audiobooks help to develop readers or hurt their development?

All of these questions were unearthed during a conversation I had with a fellow educator whose daughter was listening to books at home instead of reading them. The simple answer is YES, audiobooks are similar to reading and have benefits to the listener.

And now we have current brain research supporting this claim. The finding suggests words activate the same part of the brain no matter the input. “Fatma Deniz wants to take the experiment even further by testing on a broader range of subjects. She wants to include participants who don’t speak English, speak multiple languages or have auditory processing disorders or dyslexia.” Wins for educators and students!

Some date the origins of audiobooks to that of oral storytelling and how stories were passed down through generations before a written language and the act of reading was mainstream for the common person. In education, I was surprised to see the amount of research done around this area and found most agree that similar skills are used and when you consider the goal of reading, listening to an audiobook does count as reading.

The goal of reading is not to decode words and be able to pronounce them but to comprehend and think critically about what you read.

With this goal in mind, I offer 7 Benefits of Audiobooks:

  1. Independence – A student’s oral vocabulary far outreaches their reading abilities. When one accesses an audiobook, it promotes independence. It also is a great way to differentiate content in the classroom! 
  2. Access to Information – Audiobooks, and listening to text, provides access to those students who wouldn’t be able to read the text independently. When teachers deny students access to information based on their reading level they are promoting a division of inequity. There are many reasons why students struggle to read, but just because they can not decode specific words on a page does not mean that they also struggle to think and understand. Reading level does not equal intelligence, but limiting access to information because of it harms students.  
  3. Broadens one’s world, locales, accents, dialects, cultures – Stories have the ability to transport readers to different places, experience different cultures, and identify with others who are similar. Developing empathy and awareness can be achieved through audiobooks, with the bonus of hearing different accents and dialects.
  4. Linguistically Rich – Promotes Storytelling – Audiobooks promote storytelling. Students listen to a linguistically rich text and are inspired to talk about their book by connecting it to their own experiences or other things they have read or viewed. The more stories one collects, the more language they acquire to share their own voice.
  5. Increases: Motivation, Background Info. Content Knowledge, Vocabulary – Listening to audiobooks has been shown to increase motivation in reading which is an essential element for struggling adolescent readers. Research also shows audiobooks help to increase background information and content knowledge and is especially beneficial to our EL (English Learners) students.
  6. Models Good Reading – Audiobooks, similar to read aloud, models good reading to students. Hearing an expert reader adds experience to all growing readers.
  7. Improves: Critical Listening Skills, Reading Accuracy, Fluency – Audiobooks not only promote critical listening skills, an essential life skill but also help student reading accuracy and fluency. Fluency is so much more than reading fast. Audiobooks allow students to not only see words pronounced correctly but hear and notice pronunciation, rate, speed, pausing, stress, and intonation.

Better Listeners LEARN More!

There are many places to access audiobooks:

Check your local and school library.

Open Culture

Storynory

Learn Out Loud

Epic!  

Lit2Go

Project Gutenberg

Rivet App

Immersive Reader (add your own text)

Digital Storytelling: My Favorite Phone Apps for Editing, Typography, Gif-making, & Sharing

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is Top Global Teacher Blogger’s guide to what’s hot in tech. What edtech tools have dramatically supported/improved learning in your classroom environment in the past few years?”

The camera is often the most powerful app on any device to capture, edit, and share learning, and the current landscape of digital storytelling allows users innovative ways to share. In a generation of selfies and Snapchat stories, it is no surprise that mobilography has made its way into the classroom. Images allow students to capture their learning and share their stories all from their phone. Phone apps add a creative element to these images through photo editing, typography, gif-making all while sharing them one image at a time or strung together as a multi-image.

With the plethora of available options, I offer you my favorite FREE (mostly) apps that I use personally as well as in the classroom. Most apps are available for both Android and iOS devices.

Photo Editing Apps

  • Snapseed – a photo editor created by Google. Available for both iOS and Android Snapseeddevices, Snapseed is my favorite and most comprehensive photo editor. Tune images, apply filters, curve and rotate to change perspective; the possibilities are endless.  
  • Prisma – allows users to transform their photos into works of art based on the stylesIMG_2707 of famous artists, ornaments, and patterns. Available for both iOS and Android devices. Prisma is free and used frequently in the classroom to edit images so faces of students are not recognizable.
  • Pixlr – photo editing app that allows users to use a combination of effects, filters, and overlays. Available for both iOS and Android, Pixlr is free and also available as a Chrome Browser App!
  • Lively – Only available for iOS devices, the Lively App is perfect to create gifs, video, or different frames from Apple’s Live Photos. I have used this app multiple times to capture the perfect frame from a live photo when my eyes were open and not closed!

Typography

  • Word Swag – is one of the few apps that I pay for. It is a quick way to add text to images in seconds. It is available for both iOS and Android. Create unique text layouts that turn any image into a shareable post!  
  • Adobe Spark Post – allows users to create beautifully designed graphics. IMG_2201Templates, color palettes, sizes allow users to customize images. This free app is one of my favorites and allows you to share your message with aesthetics that match. Available for iOS and will be available for Android users soon!

New: Google recently released 3 new picture apps for phones, Storyboard, Selfissimo, Scrubbies as part of “appsperiments: usable and useful mobile photography experiences built on experimental technology.” I have recently added these apps to my phone and am excited to explore possibilities.  Storyboard is only available on Android Devices, Selfissimo is available on both iOS and Android, and Scrubbies is only available on iOS.

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  • Motion Stills – originally an iOS app, Motion Stills stabilizes Apple’s Live Photo and allows you to view as a looping gif or video. Now, Motion Stills is available for Android and includes a capturing mechanism that instantly transforms it to viewable clips (aka a live photo, sorta).
  • Loop or bounce – helps your Apple Live Photos come to life. Relive the exact moment in the photo, and through a simple swipe upwards, transform your capture into a short clip, perfect for animations and gifs. Pair with Giphy (see below) and create and share your own gifs.
  • Giphy – not only does Giphy have an extensive library of gifs, it also allows you to create your own. Plus, this is web-based which means no app needed but available on any smartphone. The fantastic thing about this option is that when paired with Live Photos in loop/bounce or Motion Stills, you can create your own gif, save, and share all from your phone. (The image for this post was done in this way.) Add text, effects, and stickers to customize your gif!
  • Boomerang – created by Instagram, captures short clips and loops them automatically. Taking 10 seconds of video, Boomerang creativity loops back and forth. Share to Instagram or save to your camera roll. Boomerang is available for both iOS and Android.

Sharing  (There are many ways to share images and digital stories. Here are a few to consider, and many of these have built-in filters and editing options to share creatively.)

  • Instagram Stories – share images and videos with your followers or hashtag. Stories disappear from your profile feed after 24 hours unless you add it as a highlight. Take or upload an image to add to your story. Users can edit, add text, create stop motions, etc. and add it to their story to share throughout the day.
  • Facebook Stories – short, user-generated photos and videos that can be viewed up to times and disappear after 24 hours. You can capture and share directly from the app. Facebook stories also have editing options, overlays, and filters. Users can also share their story with the main feed once done.
  • Snapchat Stories – is a collection of snaps played one right after the other. Stories can be viewed by anyone and last for 24 hours and disappear. There is an option to download Snapchat Stories to save and share a small video. Snapchat was the originator of Stories and Instagram and Facebook quickly followed suit. Upload your own images, or capture using Snapchat and add text, filters, or create a custom filter for your school or event.  Group stories and Geo stories allow multiple users to add Snaps!

The smartphone has turned millions of users into photographers, all of which have varying levels of expertise and artistic talent. Using images to tell one’s story or demonstrate understanding can not only be done via images but via beautiful and intention images with just the download of an app. I would love to hear your favorite mobilography apps or how you use them in your classroom!

Contemporary Literacy Practices, Go Where Your Students Are…

-Want to increase student achievement in reading and writing- Capitalize on the skills they use in their digital world.Education is slow to change. Before something is implemented it must be checked, researched, and statistically proven to impact student achievement before implementation occurs. While I  recognize the value of this system, it is the one that leaves professionals stagnant and places kids at a disadvantage. It also discounts the “gut-instinct” that teachers have when they recognize something is not working for their student and they need to change instruction.

The other day I was problem-solving with a building literacy coach at the middle school level. She spoke about a student, Allena (we will call her), an 8th grader who was classified as a struggling reader and writer by her teachers. The teachers wanted support in the form of strategies or programs that would help fix this child. A silver-bullet to implement that would magically make this student love writing.

In fact, the building literacy coach told me, all she cares about is watching YouTube and making videos for her own channel.

I paused, remembering a James Britton quote, “Go to where your students are – don’t make them come to you.” If you want to increase student reading and writing, go to where your students are in their “literary” worlds. Capitalize on the digital reading and writing that they do every day.

My question to the coach was How can we utilize YouTube to support this struggling writer? How can moviemaking and YouTube Stars be the vehicle in which she learns, practices, and demonstrates literacy skills? Could this entry-point then transfer to other areas of reading and writing?
Literacy is social, constantly changing, and impacted by the practices of a particular group. Contemporary literacy is multimodal, dynamic, and global. For students to be active participants in a global society it is essential to support student creation and consumption of 21st Century Literacies, even if it is driven by gut-instinct and has not had enough time to be deemed “research-approved.” Meeting students where they are does not only mean recognizing what skills they get and what they don’t, it also includes their interests, passions, and quite possibly YouTube.

5 Videos to Cultivate Empathy in Students

 

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “how do we cultivate empathy in our students? What role do educators play in creating kind and compassionate students?”

 

Shortly after Christmas, a new student registered and was placed in my freshmen English class. He was quiet, spoke broken English, and wore the face of a person twice his age. Burim, along with his mother and sister, fled the war-torn Bosnia in search of a better place to live. One without bombs, death, and violence; and he, fortunately for all of us, ended up in small-town Iowa. His classmates had no insight into the life that Burim has called normal for the past fifteen years. They woke up in peaceful homes with food on the table before they left in their new car to travel the 5 miles to school. As a teacher, I struggled to find the best way for classroom relationships to form between the refugee and the midwestern students. I didn’t want them to have sympathy for Burim, feeling bad that he witnessed his brother killed before his eyes, avoiding bullets and bombs as he protected his mother at a young age; instead, I wanted the students to have empathy for our new classmate. I wanted them to feel WITH Burim.

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“I want students who are not only best in the world, but best FOR the world,” (Erin Olson). The average person spends around 15% of their life in school from grades K-12, that’s about 12 years of teachers, classrooms, learning, and tests. But school is far more than content, learning involves the development of the whole child and as teachers are charged with a hefty task when you consider the quote above. Not only are we charged with educating kids in the areas of literacy, math, and science; but also developing the EQ skills needed to create productive adults and compassionate citizens.

As a literacy teacher, I cultivated compassion in the classroom, for Burim and others, through reading and writing. Storytelling allows students to socially construct feelings and emotions that allow us to feel WITH a person (empathy) not just for a person (sympathy). Empathy and storytelling transport us to another person’s reality, allows us to understand their perspective, and recognize and communicate these emotions. There are endless lists of books for all ages that educators can use in the classroom to cultivate empathy (Great one from Common Sense found here). Technology also affords us a digital form of storytelling through images and video.

Media Literacy has provided new modes for students to construct an understanding of emotions and experiences from people far different from themselves. This ultra-connected age we are living in brings opportunity to foster empathy not only for those close to us but on a global level. Combining the elements of visual, audio, design, images and video are powerful ways for students to empathize with others. It sparks discussion and action. As educators, we can utilize media as a way cultivate the whole child and foster compassionate and empathetic citizens of the world!

 

5 Videos that Foster Empathy

 

 

 

 

 

(This one was created by former students of mine, moved by empathy, wanting to make a difference)

Finally, 16 interactive images which show the realities of children. (Click on the background of each photo)

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Cultivating empathy is part of an educator’s job. There is no test to measure progress or a set curriculum to determine what is taught. Instead, empathy is fostered through modeling, discussions, reading, writing, and creating. And like most things that aren’t measurable on a standardized test, empathy is more important in life and directly impacts the society in which we live!

I love when people share additional resources with me! Here are more videos to consider