Reimagining the Writer’s Notebook


In a Writing Workshop classroom, the Writer’s Notebook  serves as the heart of the community. The notebook is a gathering spot for inspiration/brainstorming, recording learning gained from minilessons, along with many other purposes.

Traditionally, this notebook has been concrete, filled with blank paper eagerly waiting to be filled. The writer’s inkblood poured onto to it’s pages, scotch-taped quotes and pictures hung out from the edges, practice examples, quickwrites, rough drafts; all filled the emptiness. Depending on the teacher’s philosophy and preference, these sacred notebooks, NEVER, EVER… EVER left the classroom; in fear they would be lost, damaged, or forgotten at home.

Working in a district where all students were provided laptops demanded me to reimagine the traditional Writer’s Notebook to one in a digital form. My goal was not to be a paperless classroom, in fact, many of the images contained within our Digital Writer’s Notebook were first done on paper.  Instead, I wanted to:

  1. Increase student enjoyment in writing.
  2. Move all writers forward.
  3. Consume and create traditional and digital literacies.
  4. Share their writing with the world.

A Digital Writer’s Notebook allows the freedom to incorporate a multitude of mediums. The accessibility allows the writer to add inspiration to this collective spot via multiple modes (phone, computer, tablet) at any time and from anywhere. Freedom in text, embedding videos, or inserting images provides the writer choice in communication.

All of these advantages proved to encourage students to write more and think more about writing. They began filling their Digital Writer’s Notebook, not because it was the designated class time, but because they were inspired! And those students who chose to sketch, draw, or keep a paper Writer’s Notebook (I am a firm believer in student choice) uploaded pics of their notebook (if they chose).

Using a Google Folder students were able to organize their Writer’s Notebook into different “Sections” or documents. Using Google Drive allowed students access from any device and the ability to set the document to work offline for times when there was no internet access.

Example of a Writer’s Notebook “Inspiration/Brainstorm” found here.

Readbox, The Contemporary Book Report: Video Trailers, QR Codes, & Mobile Sharing

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Redbox, Hulu, & DVR have made the video rental store obsolete.  In our mobile society, consumers appreciate the ease, speed and ubiquity of entertainment.  This ever evolving industry provides inspiration for my newest idea…. enter, Readbox.

The Readbox,  aka the Redbox of literacy, displays student created promotional materials shared through a QR code that is printed and placed on the Readbox hanging in the library or classroom.

Just as a student would talk about a movie they recently watched, or share a movie trailer link to a friend; the Readbox would mimic the same concept. Through a variety of modes, students publish and share their current reads, enticing peers to check out a new release, their favorite romance author, or an engaging account of a young soldier during battle.

Technology has morphed the traditional book report into a multimedia display of student knowledge about a text recently read. Whether a book trailer on YouTube,  a podcast with the author, or a blog post shared on Blogspot;  student choice in project increases cognitive demand when working with a text. Answering the question… what makes this a good read? and then deciding on a medium to not only display their argument but also to share with a different audience than the traditional, lone teacher; increases engagement and relevance. … not to mention it is fun.

Upon publication, students use a free QR code generator. Cut and paste the link to their project, hit create, & download their unique QR code to be displayed on the Readbox.  When a student is pondering what to read next,  a simple scan of the QR code via their smartphone provides a multitude of options, all of which are created by their peers.

Choosing the perfect book to read, encouraging resistant readers to pick up a book, and promoting a love of reading can all be accomplished through The Readbox.  While teachers may have different objectives,  teaching points, or standards aligned to the “book report” itself; this contemporary alternative is a perfect way to engage students and promote a culture of literacy in the building.


(and in case you were wondering, the 2 larger QR codes above work, videos from my former students)

Connected Educator: The Why!


October is designated at “Connected Educators Month” (initiative of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education ) which has sparked reflection on my own journey of becoming  connected. Five years ago, I was a high school English teacher embarking on a new a district shift; an educational environment with ubiquitous technology access for students and staff. Every staff member, district wide, along with all students in grades 9-12 were given laptops.

My first year as a 1:1 educator was a “normal” progression in learning the educational device (laptops) and taking small risks of incorporation into daily routines. The second year of teaching in a 1:1 environment shifted my pedagogy and curriculum from substitution to redefinition. (SAMR model) Spurring this shift can be attributed largely to relationships built by becoming a connected educator. No longer was my classroom limited by time and space, instead my students were creating and collaborating with others around the globe. Participating in meaningful and relevant opportunities that allowed for deeper understanding of content, engaging and relevant project based learning, and understanding their unique voice and contributions to an online global community.

Last week I reconnected with Erin Olson , Bev Berns, and Nancy Movall. Erin, Bev and I initially met on Twitter. We connected our classes and met virtually before paths crossed later that year, providing a face to face opportunity. The blogging community we formed was one of my earliest and most meaningful collaborations as an educator. Our students were forming a virtual writer’s workshop, honing communication and collaboration skills. Students wrote and responded weekly to each other, participated in many local and national events (NYTimes Learning Network Blog)  and even added their voice virtually as Problem-Finders, not just solvers, to the ITU Telecom World 2011 Meta Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The love of writing, and the value of connecting from the blogging community is still communicated to me through student posts, tweets, and messages!

Our collaboration  turned to the state level when we were introduced to Nancy Movall, a forward-thinking leader whose motto, Better-Together to do the Right Work for Kids, has become a guiding compass for many of us! Nancy’s vision, which is still being shared, evolving, and refined is providing the best opportunities for students through the sharing of blended education via technology (this is over-simplified of course, but a short explanation). Iowa’s Communities of Practice provided opportunity for us as educators to share our passions and talents to develop blended curriculum for Iowa Student! Nancy believes in the power of a collective group and has championed for me personally countless times! Forever grateful!

So, how do the previous examples illustrate the power of being a Connected Educator? Consider the 4 Goals of Connected Educator Month:

  1. Helping more districts promote and integrate online social learning into their formal professional development

  2. Stimulating and supporting collaboration and innovation in professional development

  3. Getting more educators connected (to each other)

  4. Deepening and sustaining the learning of those already connected

Without drawing the obvious parallels between the Goals and my personal examples, the success of student learning found within my own classroom was fostered and enhanced by “getting connected”! Content understanding, transformation of knowledge to demonstrate one’s own learning, and searching out connections via social media to support their personal learning were the immediate student transfers.

October may be designated as Connected Educator Month, but building connections, sustaining relationships, and promoting the power of online collaboration should be part of every educator’s daily life! And if you already are a Connected Educator, do your part, get more educators connected!


A New Beginning

No, I am not new to the blogging world, and this isn’t my first rodeo; but I have decided to retire my old blog and create a new one. So this is it, welcome! And while I will still write about literacy and technology, this blog will include a larger view of education fostered by new learning and opportunities.


After thirteen years as a high school English teacher in small town Iowa,  I began a new “edventure” as a school improvement consultant for AEA267 this past August. As with any change, there have been many ups and downs beginning this new career. And when things get tough, besides reaching out to a few of my supports, I remember a post I read last year when I was considering this job offer. Written by Vicki Davis  “Developing a Mindset to Go from Good to Great,” the first sentence has continually resonated with me, “Sometimes in order to be great, you’ve got to leave some good things behind.”

So, after 13 years in the high school I have finally graduated, and just like all of my past seniors, I find myself treading in unfamiliar waters. I am excited, nervous, and continuously learning, all at the same time! And although I left a good school with awesome students; my sails are set, my goals are lofty, and I am eager to meet challenges knowing  great things are ahead!

(p.s. thank you to Aaron Becker, whose small comment encouraging me to share last week has has sparked this change ~ grateful)