National Writing Project Grows Lifelong Learners

In 2005-6 I was in the midst of my graduate work at the University of Texas at Arlington. Working toward a Masters of Education with a Literacy Emphasis fit very well with my love of teaching reading and writing. In the spring of 2006, I was given the opportunity to be a part of the Bluebonnet Writing Project’s Summer Institute. I would earn 6 hours of Masters credit and become NWP certified at the same time. Little did I know how much more that time was worth than 6 hours of grad credit.

I was tasked with studying brain research, writing research, pedagogy research, and… you get the message. I was challenged to write in all different types of modes that would extend my skills and experiences. I collaborated with writers in my class as well as the global audience provided by the National Writing Project through their digital portals. I was able to sit and work in the presence of greatness from school districts all around Texas during those five or six weeks. My skills as a writing teacher grew to levels I never thought possible.Not only did I become a trainer consultant, but I became a technology liaison. Both have given me extended opportunities to network with educators from other states in an effort to improve professional development in both their states and ours. It is a connection that was born out of six weeks worth of work one summer, but it is one that will hopefully continue well into my teaching career.

How important was this training to me? Well, if you consider that I live 3 hours from UT-A and commuted, I’d say it was pretty darned important.

From that experience with the National Writing Project, I’ve become a lifelong learner. I realized the impact of networking with other professional educators to build my skills, learn new methods of instruction, and how to impact my students in great ways through literacy. Thousands of students and untold numbers of educators have been touched by the National Writing Project through just my experiences in the last five years.

What value can you place on the positive changes that have taken place due to the National Writing Project’s untiring devotion to training educators nationwide? These are changes that happen one year and disappear the next. These are lifelong changes that can be directly attributed to the work NWP and those who have been trained by them have done.These are changes that go beyond any multiple choice test and right into the lives of teachers and students on a daily basis long after the tests have been scored and filed away for another year.

Do the right thing. Continue to fund this project for its proven, positive results. You want to fund the best programs available for the taxpayers’ dollars? Fund the National Writing Project.

“iPhone/Touch App” shared Doc has a new sibling: iPad Only

The Google Spreadsheet for iPhone/Touch Apps by subject area we (over 60 contributors) have been building since November 2009 has been extremely popular. How do I know? Well, the Apple rep said she has been sharing it with all of the other Apple reps and they have requested an iPad only version as well. I actually had that in the works, but I just never got to sharing it out. So, I’m doing that now.

iPad Only Apps spreadsheet is now ready for contributions. I shared it with the same crew who has been editing the iPhone/Touch apps sheet. Hopefully, this one will grow as plentiful and popular as the other. I have a few listed already, but I know there are tons more ready to be added.  Yes, I do realize the iPhone and Touch apps will work on the iPad, but there are some just for the iPad that will not roll backwards and are worthy of attention. Now is the chance for that to happen.

Leave me a comment below or shoot me a message on Twitter (@woscholar) if you want to be added as a contributor on either/both of these. I just need your Google Docs email address.

A Paradigm Shift in Classroom Design

Science Lab

Photo: Science Lab at Smithsonian in DC. We need one of these.

I have really been struck with the idea that we have reached a plateau in new technologies. I realize that useful, new gadgets and sites will continue to come out, but what we have currently will help us provide so much more to our students than we ever have before. So, why aren’t we seeing the change we need at the pace we need it and the pace the kids deserve it?

The answer is us. It truly is us. We are the problem. We are the disablers. We are the barriers the students cannot break through. Don’t get me wrong. We are using new tools with students in some amazing ways. We are engaging them like never before. Yet, we do it in spurts. It is just a modernized version of our old, standby friend the poster project. The kids get all excited, not because it is a good project, but because it is not a text and worksheet. That’s just wrong. To quote my friend and mind stretching mentor Dr. Gary Stager, “The blame lies within the bankruptcy of our imaginations.”

Yes, it is a start, but what good are starts if we hit the brakes every single block. It takes us forever to get across town where we should really be at already.  We should be buried in the middle of local conversations about how we could be changing teaching practices to better fit the kids we see coming through our doors. Seriously. What progress is made if we only automate the same boring routines? What new level (notice I said level and not concept) of learning is achieved if we continually return to the old textbook and worksheet far more often than open ended projects? And, yes, tests can still be passed if we do things differently.

It’s not just the teaching style that needs change, though. Shouldn’t it also be about the learning space? It is for them.

We have so many places we need to start with this. ISTE is moving forward with a new initiative as well.  Consider getting involved with it. But for now, let me begin with the presentation below. It is a nice conversation starter sure to thrill some, confuse some, and tick off others. Which category are you in? Wanna talk?

My Thoughts on Literacy and Publishing to the Web

Photo Credit: Behrooz Nobakht

Today, someone posted a question on a list serve I subscribe to. Being a longtime literacy teacher, it struck a cord with me. I’d love to hear your thoughts on both the question posed and my reply.

Her query:

We have a teacher who just started a literature circles blog where her 5th graders will discuss various novels. She mentioned that she is in the process of figuring out how to edit (correct) what they have written before she posts their comments. What do you all think about this? She has encouraged her students – and stated in the rules for the blog – that they are to use correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. If they do not, should the teacher make corrections before she publishes their comments? I’d appreciate any input that you can offer. Thanks.

My response:

Like Miguel, I’m a literacy teacher (but I’m not old 😉 ). I have extensive training in both New Jersey Writing and National Writing Project. I’ve studied just about every aspect of the writing process you can. While I can care less about state tests, I recall maybe one failure in the 7th grade writing test in my classes over a 10+ years at that the middle school.

All of that to say this: mistakes are an important part of the writing (learning) process. If we cannot let our kids make mistakes safely and learn from them, then we are not doing it correctly. Yes, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are important. No, they should not be the deciding factor between publishing or not. Mini lessons are meant to help in these such events. How do you fix the errors unless the kids recognize them themselves and buy-in to fixing them. 

Agreed, we do not publish the street lingo stuff (unless it directly pertains to the final product for a reason, see this for example: http://sites.google.com/site/bchscivics/unit/2-3-birth-of-a-nation/john-adams—4 ).

Consider that textbook companies publish and sell (with your tax dollars footing the bill) textbooks that are loaded with mistakes. They make it a multi-billion dollar industry. We teach our kids from mistake laden books.

So, remind your teacher that it is okay to let the “kids run with scissors” (credit to Gretchen Bernabei on the quote). Our students publish all of the time. The great thing about a blog is that it allows for editing. We all love to think we are perfect the first time, but we’re not. If it is a genuine effort to reach the publishing stage, then we publish. Anything less is cheating the child out of a learning experience.

Quick anecdote. One of the first collaborative literacy tools we used in class was a wiki. The kids grouped up and studied certain topics to present to the class via the wiki. I subscribed to the wiki so that I would know what was happening on it. One Saturday night, my email box begins loading up with “edit” emails. Someone was messing around on the wiki and changing things left and right. My first thought was a kid was thinking they could mess stuff up without getting caught. So, I went to the wiki to check it all out. It ended up being an Asian ESL student who was correcting spelling and such for my American students…ON A SATURDAY NIGHT. You cannot get them to do it on command, but they’ll do it if they OWN it. He owned it. He realized the errors in the group’s work. He edited it. We all learned from it (including the students who had their work corrected).

So, let them run with scissors.

Feel free to correct, chastise, or educate me.

My Session on E-Portfolios with Staff and Students


Slide Credit: Dr. Helen Barrett
I have had several inquiries as to how my poster session went that was centered on using free online tools (Web 2.0) in creating, organizing, and maintaining electronic portfolios for staff and students. Well, in a word, great! I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with so many others trying to do the same thing we are. While I am in a better situation than most due to a technology department and curriculum department that plays VERY well together, we still have our struggles. Training is one of them. There is so much to building effective
eportfolios that one person relatively new to the concept cannot learn and regurgitate it all back to staff in a productive way.

Thankfully, someone I admire for her knowledge and ability to share and teach stepped up to my session. Dr. Helen Barrett appeared in the corner of my booth. Fortunately, I saw her arrive and noted to everyone there that she was THE one to talk to about all things eportfolios. Anything I have to share about eportfolios would pale in comparison to this wonderfully read and prepared professor.  Another awesome piece of luck was that my curriculum director walked up behind me about the same time. I put the two of them together quickly to schedule some training in our district. If/When we are lucky enough to get Dr. Barrett in White Oak, our staff and students will never be the same again. We will be fully on track to creating portable archives of learning and teaching that all should be proud of. Exporting the eportfolio from the WordPress blog right to a flash drive will be a common happening for our students in the near future to allow them to take their representative work with them to college interviews, job interviews, competitions, etc. 

Another piece of luck came along when I ran into Sue Waters from Edublogs. After a lengthy conversation with Sue in the Blogger’s Cafe, my chief of technology and I decided it was time to move our entire WPMU blogging system to Edublogs Campus Ultimate where it will get the care and support it deserves. James Farmer, Sue Waters, and company will do more to keep up our system than we ever could. We know that this will now be the Cadillac version of our goals that we have wanted and needed all along. I have already noticed an unprecedented increase in speed in initial loading and navigating within and between blogs. Thank you, Edublogs! Our staff and students are going to be overjoyed when they log back in.


Photo Credit: AJC1 (Hartnell-Young, E. et al. (2007) Impact study of e-portfolios on learning partners.)
Another advantage for me in the move to Edublogs Campus Ultimate is the ability to batch create blogs and users. This was a headache when our system was at SiteGround because having a class or two of kids hitting the server at the same time never ended with anything but timeouts and 404 errors. It was what pushed us into seeking out a better host of our system. Considering we went from a Gig of traffic a month to over a Gig a day by the end of the year, we had to do something proactive before it all crashed down around us. You can go read for yourself all the benefits of making the move to Edublogs Campus Ultimate, but I can see this relationship being a very good one for all of us in White Oak ISD.

Stay tuned as we ramp up our electronic portfolio process with training by Dr. Helen Barrett and implementation by our staff and students this school year.

Blogging in the Classroom

I have a tab opened in my Firefox browser that I have not been able to close for several weeks because it keeps drawing me back to it. I figured I would post it here for my teachers to see as well in the hope that it will allow them to stop and ponder at the same time. The list is “20 Uses for Our Classroom Blog,” and it comes from Sheryl Forsman via Miguel Guhlin in San Antonio ISD. Thanks to you both. It is a great list that gives both wonderful ideas for immediate use and the opportunity to extend to newer ones.

20 Uses for Our Classroom Blog

Why did we create a classroom blog and how will we use it?
1. document our growth across the year
2. inform families of what we are doing
3. expand our audience
4. collaborate with other first grade bloggers
5. use another form of writing
6. learn about writing for an audience
7. learn about digital literacy
8. document favorite events of this year
9. integrate writing with other subjects
10. write book reviews
11. write journal entries
12. respond to class assignments
13. free choice writing
14. develop keyboard skills
15. communicate with each other
16. collaborate with reading buddies from other classrooms
17. collaborate with teachers from the university as blogging buddies
18.post pictures of our work
19. learn about visual literacy through the design of our pages
20. to have fun!

Now maybe I can finally close that tab.

Ideas to Inspire

Nope. That’s not my title. It is the title of a site by Mark Warner (picked up via Kevin Jarrett). This is a great site to visit when you are trying to find ideas for instruction to engage your students.

Mark has done a nice job of categorizing the ideas by either subject area (core and elective areas) or possible Web 2.0 tool that you are considering using. He has also provided nice, shared Google Presentations to walk you through them. Each slide is an idea. This makes it easy to just keep adding more as they come in.

If you don’t find exactly what you are looking for, there are enough ideas there to inspire something new in your mind. Then you can go back and share your idea with him so it can be added and maybe help the next person looking. That is what the collaborative web is all about.

Visit Ideas to Inspire today. In the meantime, consider these science ideas:

One goal down.

For the last few years, one of the items I had on my list of things to do was to get published in a national publication. While it was on the list, I had not spent a lot of time focusing on achieving it. Besides, I was too busy blogging.

Well, it seems as though blogging was what I should have been doing. Back in May I got an email from one of the editors at ISTE‘s publication Learning & Leading with Technology. She had read some of my blog posts and was interested in publishing one of my posts in the magazine. Needless to say, I agreed. Woot! Above is a photo of the page in all of its half-page glory. Feel free to read the original post HERE.

Since Learning & Leading is an international magazine and not just a national one, I guess I get bonus points for that goal. Sweet.  Another goal accomplished. What’s next on the list? (No sarcastic comments on that rhetorical question Tim Holt, Miguel Guhlin, Paul R. Wood, Brian Grenier, Kyle Stevens, Dean Shareski, Mike Gras, ……..)

Note to my teachers: See. Blogging has added benefits. Imagine what your kiddos would do with a little notice of their writing outside your classroom. Just imagine.

7 Year Olds as Digital Storytellers


Photo Credit: scragz

My wife and I are very fortunate to have such a wonderful second grade teacher for our son this year. She, Mrs. Richeson,  finds great ways to bring the parents into the classroom via technology. We have had the chance to watch our son retell stories through readers theater video podcasts. Now, she stretches their writing abilities and has them share them with everyone in audio podcasts.

During our parent conference the other day, my wife (a 6th grade language arts teacher) commented how she was not sure how Mrs. Richeson was able to do all of the things she does getting the recordings made and posted. She just smiled and said it was no big deal with the MacBook. As the instructional technologist for the district, it was a good confirmation for me that we are headed in the right direction with the right tools. I taught first grade myself. Everything extra is a big deal. To hear her share how easy she found it was affirming. 

First, a little background to my son’s story. La Cucaracha is “cockroach” in Spanish.  He has loved that Spanish word ever since he heard Phillips, Craig, and Dean in concert in Tyler.  They had a children’s CD that he wanted. Needless to say, the song about the bug is his favorite.  So, according to his teacher, Christian took a long time to write his story. She wondered what was slowing him up, but she also was glad that he was writing. A lot. It wasn’t until the end of the story being recorded that it all made sense. He was writing a story around a song with the internal goal of getting the song into the story as the closing and it make sense.  Pretty high level, if I do say so myself.  Yes, I’m proud of him.  So have a listen to his creation. Make sure you hang in there long enough to hear him sing in the end. About a roach. 🙂 

Listen to the podcast of the story “The Rock Boy” by Christian.

Explode that sentence!


One of my favorite literacy lessons with kids is exploding their writing. I tell them that if they want it to pop with the reader, they have to explode it. Telescopic Text is a great example of that. This one little website does a nice job of turning a three word sentence into a story worth hearing. It is a wonderful visual for the kids to see up on the projector. Keep clicking on the grayed out words to see just how far you can blow that baby up.

Consider letting them start this in a Google Doc or a wiki and watch it grow.