Literacy Superhero…Away!!!!!

Photo by Dean Shareski

I love being on this side of teaching. Don’t get me wrong. I miss my English and reading classes at the middle school, but now I get to work with all of the staff and students on every campus. Being able to see our brilliant teachers and their students expand their technology use and enjoy it makes it even better.

But I also get to network with some really great minds outside of White Oak. One of those great minds resides only a few hours west of us in Burleson ISD. Kim Estes has gone above and beyond what many people would do outside of their every day jobs in helping us. I will expand on her work with our ePortfolios after I finish the monument to her in my office, though. 😉

As I was reading through her newly redesigned blog, I found what every tech-loving, literacy teacher dreams about: a course outline complete with 6+1 Traits standards (our ISD uses New Jersey Writing, but they are basically the same) seamlessly meshed with technology integration where the curriculum is driving the technology. She created the outline, and then she found tools that supported the work.

Kim, you are a jewel to share this with everyone. I honor you by reposting it below with credit to you for the hard work it took. Thank you for being so generous in so many ways to us. Everyone who uses any part of this: I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment below to let Kim know what a valuable resource this truly is for us.

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Flickr takes even more museums online

Paul R. Wood at the historic Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey

From the Flickr site:

The key goals of The Commons on Flickr are to firstly show you hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, and secondly to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer.

You’re invited to help describe the photographs you discover in The Commons on Flickr, either by adding tags or leaving comments.*

You are going to find photos from some really awesome resources. How about:

Flickr invites you to be a part of the experience by adding descriptions to images that you are familiar with. Some photos that have previously been listed with no information have had the back stories filled in by either the person in the picture or family members who were familiar with the history of the photo. This could prove valuable to those studying writing, art, history, humanities, or geography. I am sure there are many more content ties than that.

In case you are wondering what the above pic has to do with this post, only two people would know the back story (and a colorful one it is) about this image shot at the world famous Rutt’s Hut. An 80 year old historic location like that wants the stories to live on. Flickr is allowing just that through the photo history offerings from these museums. We should take advantage of the first person narratives many of them offer. I would say many or all of them would make for great story starters for young writers who are stuck or just like the challenge of creating their own back stories.

Oh Wiki You’re So Fine…

Having used wikis with my middle school students, I can say the transition is not a difficult one. They enjoy the opportunity to use technology, but they really appreciate the opportunity to work on a document from anywhere with the help of others regardless of being together or separate.

I remember a recent project. I specifically told this curious bunch of students I had in certain class that I was subscribed to the wiki via RSS and received all updates and changes. Furthermore, the wiki would tell me who changed what and when and also allow me to revert to previous versions. Anyone caught defacing others pages would be using School 1.0 to get his or her project finished. I had not seen any issues with the wiki through the first week, so I thought I was home free and the world was a happy place (my world anyway).

Then late Saturday night happened. I started getting notifications hand over fist about edits occurring on one certain site. Instead of looking at the changes in the feed window, I quickly navigated over to the wiki to shut down access to whatever terrible thing was taking apart one of my group’s hard work. I knew the offender had logged in with a student ID, and I was sure to confront him/her about it on Monday. So, I get to the wiki and start looking around the pages being reported as edited. Nothing. They looked fine to me. I could not see the difference from what I would have expected at this point.

So I went into the history to see what the kid was up to. And then it hit me. Editing. He was editing. This ESL, only in the country three years, never talks in class, speaks broken English kid was editing the work of his peers (one of which was one of my top students). He cared enough about his group’s work and its appearance to the public that he wanted it right. Were all of his corrections accurate? No. But most were, and he was doing English VOLUNTARILY on a SATURDAY night. That is what wikis and collaborative work is all about. I shut my machine down to go to bed knowing that my work had been a success. Even if he was the only one who chose to go the extra mile, he CHOSE to do it. That made it all worth it.

My students used the wiki to aide each other in weak areas. They found missing parts in their own work and asked others to help them by adding to it. Some took the initiative, others did not. But they all favored the Web 2.0 version over the School 1.0.

Online collaborative word processing sites (wikis, Google Docs, etc) allow people to share and mold and create and recreate information and ideas. It is an awesome opportunity. These people may never meet, but their ideas will. Their intellect will collide and combine in a virtual environment that will change the real world. This is powerful. Our students deserve to at least learn how to harness this power on a local basis, because after high school they will run into it on a global basis.

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Stories Online for Elementary Teachers/Students

I have blogged about this before, I think, but there have been some enhancements to the site that makes it worth repeating. The Storyline Online site is one where stories are narrated by actors and actresses. It is an awesome addition to the classroom.

The addition I have seen is the activities to download that go with the books. Very nice. Wish I had these when I taught first grade. I counted twenty-one stories as of today.

The screen capture above is Amanda Bynes reading The Night I Followed The Dog. Very. Funny. Book. Take a look at the site and see what it can do for you.

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When the Network is Useless/Powerless

In May 2008, Texas Education Agency announced it was finally going to require all public school districts to prove 8th grade tech literacy in an annual report. The tool was not given, and each school district was left to its own to make the best choice for itself. Through the kindness of Kari Rhame at Deer Park ISD, I moodleized an objective piece they had been using with their 8th graders. It was not the assessment I really wanted, but with a short timeline, we had to make due. I believe we shared that Moodle course on our server with about a half dozen school districts that did not have a Moodle of their own. I am not really sure how many times the file was downloaded from our wiki, but I suspect quite a few since it was freely offered via the TCEA Tech Coordinators‘ List Serve.

Anyway, TEA also announced the same day that they would be requiring the reporting of teachers’ tech literacy in the same report. Again, this was really no surprise since our district had been discussing it for a few years at this point. The surprise was that TEA is only requiring the STAR Chart self-evaluation as the instrument of choice. While this is definitely one way to do the assessment, I find it the weakest and worst choice. For one reason, the STAR Chart is the tool we use to show need in the district for training and funding (grants, budgets, etc.). Once the teachers find out that it is counting as their self evaluation with the state, they are going to ratchet up the scores to make themselves look better (not an unexpected happening). The bad thing here is that it will knock many school districts out of grant work because the need will not show through (TEA recently used the STAR Chart to decide who qualified for the large Vision 20/20 technology grant). We need a more performance-based assessment with the self-evaluation tool built into it. We are pursuing ePortfolios, but that is for another post.

Now, this is where I was headed with the network not working. The third component to be reported to TEA was a surprise. They decided that we would report administrator tech literacy at the same time. The issue here is that there was no tool/instrument in place and we would have to wait for its creation. Realizing that the NETS-A from 2002 was going to be the driving force behind its creation, I set out to see what was already out there. Enter Dr. Scott McLeod and the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE). Scott’s work had already taken him down this road, so he created the Principals Technology Leadership Assessment (PTLA) self-assessment for administrators. Basically, it took the NETS-A and used a Likert scale for what is a simple self-evaulation tool. Perfect. This is what we are needing for the current requirements. An email and discussion board conversation with Scott ended up with his full permission to utilize the tool however we needed. As a matter of fact, this is what the PTLA site has to say about how much CASTLE will do to help out:

The PTLA will be made available to K-12 school organizations and educational leadership
preparation programs as follows:

1. PDF Download. School organizations can download the PTLA assessment and instructions in
PDF format. Organizations are responsible for their own data entry and analysis using Excel,
SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school
organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

2. Questions Download. School organizations can download the questions on the PTLA
assessment in Microsoft Word format. The questions then can be cut-and-pasted into
organizations’ own online survey software. Organizations are responsible for their own data
analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to
K-12 school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

3. CASTLE online survey. Organizations are welcome to use CASTLE’s own online version of the
PTLA. CASTLE staff will send the resultant data file to organizations in Excel format.
Organizations are responsible for their own data analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data
analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school organizations and educational
leadership preparation programs if they grant CASTLE permission to use the data (anonymously)
as part of its ongoing nationwide research related to principals’ technology leadership knowledge and preparation.

4. CASTLE online survey and data analysis. CASTLE not only will host the online version of the
PTLA for organizations but also will analyze the data for them. This option is available to K-12
school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs on the same terms as
Option 3 but also will involve a small charge per PTLA participant to cover CASTLE’s personnel
and time costs.

CASTLE believes in making the PTLA as freely available as possible to school organizations. The
PTLA also is available for a small licensing fee to for-profit corporations and other entities that stand tomake money from their usage of the PTLA. We are open to other creative possibilities for the PTLA; please contact us if you are interested in using this assessment.

Can you ask for anything better than that? I just knew this was what TEA was needing, and it was going to save a lot of state time/money in preparing a tool/instrument for use. In less than a week of the announcement, we had what they were looking for.

After a few emails and phone calls, I ended up with the right person in charge of the instrument creation at TEA.  Now, I am going to skip some of the details because they would confuse you as much as they did me, but basically I was reassured that the NETS-A was the tool to be used (I think they meant guidelines, but my requests for clarifications about this were just met with copy and paste version of the NETS-A). Finally, I got word that they NETS-A was being given to the IT department to create an instrument to use. Yeah. The IT department. At this point, I had linked to the PTLA in several emails, offered to meet with them in person to discuss what Scott had created, and even offered to meet with them at NECC with Scott so he could answer their questions personally. No response.

So what does the tool look like that TEA is going to use? Well, no one has seen it as of yet, but I was told it is a five or six question Likert scale self-assessment. It truly is quite shorter than what CASTLE offered, but it lacks any level of detail that would prove helpful to the person charged with creating professional development for administrators. Worse, the main goal of the piece created was to provide administrators with a “quick and easy” self-assessment that would not scare them off. What? The STAR Chart that the teachers complete takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to fill out, and it provides a decent level of feedback. Since it is (was?) all anonymous, most teachers were quite honest about their skill levels and their opinions of other aspects of technology in the school district (budgeting, infrastructure, leadership, curricular support, tech support). The PTLA would have taken the same or less time and offered just as much feedback, yet it was either ignored or deemed too time consuming for leadership to complete (not by the local leadership to be clear).

So, you see, the network has failed. Not my network, mind you. My network came through like the champions they are. That is why they are my network. Who would question the experience, leadership, dedication, and sincerity of passionate educators spending their off time sharing resources with other like-minded educators? The sad thing here is that the state did not trust one of its own to help it out in a bind. It instead chose to use more state resources (which is already over-burdened from state mandates and being short staffed). Worse than that, it chose to use minimal standards to gather data apparently just for the sake of gathering data. I hope to see the bigger picture in this as we move further through the process.

Sad, really. Does it mean that the state leadership doesn’t understand the power of the network it leads? Does it mean that without the lobby power of textbook companies you cannot get a serious audience in the state office to hear you out?  Or does it simply mean that in government, it is business as usual? Whatever it means, it will not deter me from working toward a system in Texas that is efficient, effective, and focused on the main thing: providing the best education to the kids of Texas.

Here Comes Everybody, but is Everybody Else Prepared?


As I reviewed Will Richardson‘s archived interview of Clay Shirkey, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, there were a few things that jumped out at me that I noted and wanted to work through.

Clay started off discussing the typical learning/assessment style found in education today:
Individual assignments/individual grades – old school only known environment

He then goes on to discuss one literacy that he feels we are lacking in teaching our students:
“At least one literacy is collaborative literacy.”

These are some notes I made from his talk:

What does it mean to be a good collaborator? Two ways (essential literacies for the 21st century):

  1. When you are collaborating, how do you participate in a group that is valuable?
  2. How do you participate in a group where you are learning instead of just freewriting?

We want students to have a set of absolute basic skills (the three R’s), beyond that we want them to be able to figure out of all the thinking tools we give them, which ones are best for which kinds of challenges. Big challenge in school system in US is a move to a much more cut and dry measurement system (NCLB driven Testing) which changes the system away from more flexibility towards measurement. However, what we get out of that is the challenge. “A lot of what we want the schools to do can’t be measured in the way we measure them. There is a mismatch between the goals and the measurement.” The assessment is determinant of how we think about the rest of the curriculum. Consider goals and then consider measurement system. Industrial system of measurement is for widgets and creates an industrial style system of curriculum and measurement.

He also shared this: Internet provides basic support for collaborative work.

Funny he mentions that the Internet is the basic support considering all of the posts going on concerning one of the presidential candidates. But, I digress.

What Shirkey said struck a chord with those of us involved in helping educators utilize more technology in the classroom. Many of the so called Web 2.0 tools are built around this collaborative environment. White Oak ISD switched to Google Apps for email and the entire suite of collaborative tools that come with it. Some campuses have taken the lead in that area and utilize Google Docs to schedule student tutoring, detentions, testing windows, and more and share the document campus-wide. This is a great start for them to see the power of these collabroative tools.

The Official Google Blog - Insights from Googlers into our products, technology and the Google culture

The down-side is that schools in general are slow to adopt these tools, meaning that students are not getting the collaborative environment practice they so sorely need for today’s workforce. Take this recent post on the Official Google Blog for instance. Jonathon Rosenberg, Senior VP of Product Management, guest posts giving advice to students. He tells them to “major in learning.”

At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.

So what does that have to do with collaboration? Well, take a look at the primary factors Google looks for in hiring and evaluations:

… analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

… communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

… a willingness to experiment. Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a willingness to accept the evidence even if you don’t like it.

… team players. Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need to work well together and perform up to the team’s expectations.

… passion and leadership. This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

Pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me. Everyone knows about the great things at Google: unlimited sick days, in-house dining, truly personal spaces for offices, and the one that I like the most – 20% of the work week on job related personal interest research/development.

So the question is begged, can your students operate in that environment? Are they self-directed and self-motivated enough to handle this setting?

These characteristics are not just important in our business, but in every business, as well as in government, philanthropy, and academia. The challenge for the up-and-coming generation is how to acquire them. It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many required skills will change…

Rosenberg signs off his letter with perhaps one of the most profound statements we should be drilling into our students (something not tested on the state standardized test, by the way):

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn’t end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

Now, get to thinking about how it affects you as a teacher and lifelong learner. Consider change. Consider sharing your learning processes/struggles/successes with your students to model what being a lifelong learner is all about. Consider what your students and perhaps your own children are heading into once they leave the hallowed walls of your academic setting. What are you going to do about it?

Enough said. Let the conversation begin.

(photo credit: #1 – Me; #2 – Dean Shareski; #3 – Google Blog)

If I taught ESL….

I was perusing some links posted to Del.icio.us by Wes Fryer, who is in my network. He posted some really cool children’s literature links where one can read the books online without paying. I like this method because it gives ESL students plenty of practice with literature they might not have already come across, that have diverse themes, come in both fiction and non-fiction, and are available with any internet connection without having to go to the children’s section in the public or school library.

Now, I don’t teach ESL, but I really think this would make good practice for the students. It can be self-paced and allows students to use personal choice in their own learning. That has to be a good thing for students working hard to adjust into a country that probably already scares them.

The book above is from Lookybook. The link below is from Big Universe. Big Universe also lets you create your own book.

Clue for Writers… and then some

“a zoo at night” “a thief” “no one wants to help your character”

Those are the three story components given to me by the Interactive Plot Creator found at Writing Fix just in case I could not think of a story to write on my own. Winner of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers 2008 award, this is a wonderful little tool that offers your students a way to get out of the “I don’t know what to write about” slump they always seem to be in. Give it a whirl. Seems to me a neat use of just this feature would be daily/weekly writing time where you put the site up on the VGA and the kids all learn at the same time what will test their creative writing juices. It could even be turned into a circle story where everyone starts their own and passes it to the right after a set amount of time. It would be an interesting twist seeing as everyone has the same three components (setting, character, and plot) yet end up with entirely different stories.

By the way, you will also find plenty of other pertinent tools that will help in your writing classroom:

11) Author Studies Homepage

This site is created by the Northern Nevada Writing Project which is a part of the National Writing Project. I had a chance to meet these folks a few years back at the NCTE conference in Tennessee. They are extremely dedicated and are focused on improving the way writing is taught and viewed in the classroom. Their tools work write along your NWP, New Jersey Writing, or 6 Traits training. Trust me when I say, this site will change the way your students view writing in the classroom and how you create lessons for your students.

Pick your author, any author

Okay, reading teachers and librarians. This site is just neat in so many ways, yet it only does one thing. It finds you an author.

The premise is simple. Go to Literature Map. Type in the name of an author you (your students actually) like to read. Literature Map goes out and does some crazy style of mapping and finds authors that write like your chosen author and about topics similar to the ones your chosen author writes about. Not sure how it does it.

It seemed to do a pretty good job of nearly all I entered (one or two children’s book authors were not in there). The funniest response I found was when I put in Eric Carle (not one of my fav’s, by the way) and it suggested Stephen King as one of the options. I could not agree more, because Carle’s story lines bore me to death (get it? Death, Stephen King…insert cricket chirp). Sorry. I know it is more about the art than the words in his case.

Anyway, here is what it looked like when I did Lois Lowry. Consider that the closer the author name is to your chosen author in the center of the screen, the more alike the writing styles and other attributes. In this case, Judy Blume was closest. It may not be perfect, but it will get kids reading new authors. Neat stuff. Should have one computer in the library just with this turned on.

Free the Reading!

For those who do not blog or read blogs, I truly feel that you are missing out on tremendous resources shared by other educators. I was skimming through my Bloglines account today and found this jewel of a post from Kevin Jarrett over at Welcome to NCS-Tech! Consider this reading site.

Free Reading is a site devoted to offering high quality reading resources for grades K-3. They define themselves as:

Free-Reading is an open source instructional program that helps educators teach early literacy. Because it is open source, it represents the collective wisdom of a wide community of teachers and researchers. Free-Reading contains a 40-week scope and sequence of primarily phonological awareness and phonics activities that can support and supplement a typical kindergarten or first grade “core” or “basal” program.

What you will find on this site is research-based reading materials, the research that support them, and a collaborative group of educators sharing their resources to make your classroom instruction the best it can be. To me, this is what Web 2.0 is all about. Share great material with like minded individuals, and you will find equally as valuable resources to partake from. Here is the mission behind Free Reading:

* To help educators worldwide teach kids to read
* To make quality, research-based, explicit and systematic instruction for early reading widely available and free (in two senses of the word “free”: “at no charge” and “openly offered so as to be used, reused, mashed-up and shared again”)
* To nurture a community of educators who share effective methods in a form that others can easily apply in their own teaching
* To disrupt spending in education away from traditional textbooks and towards more customized instructional materials, more support and training for teachers, and better tools for data and knowledge management.
* Ultimately, as Catherine Snow has said, for kids to be able to “read books with enjoyment while lying in a hammock under elm trees”.

Though no individual skill taught here may be an end in itself, we believe each is a step on the path to that ultimate goal.

You will find many skills covered in categories including:

  • Phonological Awareness
  • Phonics
  • Comprehension
  • Vocabulary
  • Fluency
  • Writing

So dive into their resources and see what you surface with. I bet you will find it more valuable than anything out of the textbook. Besides, that’s their goal.

PS – Feel free to share some of your great curriculum with them. It is the only way to make the collective grow.

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