Archive for June, 2013

Blogstitute Week 2: Erik Palmer on practicing speech

Do you ever ask to hear the rough draft?

Yes, you read that correctly. I want to hear my students’ rough drafts. Every day, students are speaking in class. Often, teachers assign some talks with higher stakes than the daily discussions, answers of questions, and the like. We assign the quarterly book report in front of the entire class, the biography project final where students dress up as some historical figure, the report on smoking’s effects in health class, the presentation of the science project, the participation in a mock Congressional hearing, the talk at the DECA competition, and many more. At all grade levels in all subjects, at some point students will be giving a talk to a group. Before we expose the audience of students and/or parents and/or judges to these talks, we need to make sure that the talk is ready for prime time. I tell students to practice several times before presentation day, but occasionally some students do not in fact practice. I am sure this is just an issue I face, and you never have this problem. To avoid that problem, though, I want to hear the rough draft before my students give the final talk. I ask students to send me the rough draft of their talk so I can listen to it and offer advice. Do you ever do that?

Checking the rough draft is common for many writing assignments. The cynical among us may suggest checking the rough draft as a way to make sure students are doing the work they are supposed to be doing. The fear that the paper may not be started until the evening before the six-week assignment is due is real. Less cynical teachers may look at the rough draft as a formative assessment. Discovering mistakes and giving feedback before the final paper is due is more valuable than writing comments on the finished paper. For both reasons, I always asked students to do a rough draft before they handed in a major writing assignment. I collected and commented on the drafts and warned students that I would get quite miffed if those comments were ignored. I want the same thinking to apply to oral assignments—but with a twist. Don’t have students hand in a paper with the words they are planning on saying; require a recording of the talk instead.

There are many ways to record the rough draft. All of them contribute to preparation for the Common Core State Standards, by the way. Speaking standard 5 requires students to use multimedia in presentations. Beginning in second grade, students are expected to make audio recordings of talks; by fifth grade, students should be including multimedia components in presentations. This requirement is probably more daunting to teachers than to students. Far more of them than you realize are already quite adept at various ways of recording and posting audio and video. Today, I want to share some of the simpler ways we can record, and show you how to use digital tools to practice talks. Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse, 2012) is the source for those wanting to do more.

Every computer/netbook/tablet has built-in audio and video recording. PCs have some version of a webcam—the Dell computer I am using now opens a video recorder by accessing “Dell Webcam Central”— and your students will have no trouble finding it. If students have a computer at home, they can record themselves and attach the movie to an e-mail to send to you. If you have one computer in your class, students can take turns making videos of their rough drafts and leave the files on the desktop of that computer for you to check later. PCs also have Sound Recorder. Windows puts an “Accessories” folder on every PC. It contains a calculator, a snipping tool that allows you take screenshots, and Sound Recorder, among other things. Double-click on Sound Recorder, and a small box appears on the desktop. The red button labeled “Start Recording” couldn’t be more obvious. The blue “Stop Recording” button is impossible to miss, too. As soon as you stop, a screen opens and gives you the option to name and save the recording: “Muffin’s rough draft,” for example. Students who record at home can attach the file to an e-mail to you. Students using the class computer can leave the file on the desktop.

Devices using a Mac operating system have Photo Booth built in. Click on the icon on the dock, and you are ready to record. One option allows you to take a snapshot, but we care about the option that lets you record video. One click and—after a “3-2-1” countdown—you are recording. The recording is automatically saved. More tech-savvy kids may use GarageBand, also on the dock of every Mac device. It is a bit trickier to use, but if they know how, let them use it.

I read that 80% of high school students have smartphones. I downloaded a free app (Easy Voice Recorder) for my phone after a student of mine did a favor for me. I asked him to record something for Digitally Speaking, thinking he would go home to his computer and use a tool I mentioned in the previous paragraphs. Instead, he pulled out his phone, spoke, hit a button, and e-mailed me the recording. It’s in the book. Ask students to send you a spoken rough draft, and they will have ways to do it that we don’t know about. That’s fine with me. I just want to hear the practices.

Can your students get to the Internet at home or at school? Visit There’s no sign-up, no password, no cost—the home page has a big red button that starts the audio recording. When students finish, they can “Listen” to the recording. If the recording is not good enough, they can hit “Retry”; if they like it, they can copy the URL address to send to other listeners or hit a button that lets them e-mail the recording to someone . . . a teacher, for instance.

Think of the possibilities. Students can watch/listen to the recordings, critique themselves using a PVLEGS rubric, make adjustments, and improve. Audio and video can be shared in a group: each group member shows his or her rough draft and gets feedback from other group members. Recordings can be viewed by a teacher who can give important tips to improve a presentation before the due date. A Reader’s Theater team could record parts and send them to teammates as a way to improve before performing the book selection in class. The Poetry Café presenters can listen to themselves before getting up in front of classmates and parents. The recordings of a “This I Believe” speech could be useful formative assessments on the way to the final talk. And, of course, you have your own great ideas.

Why wouldn’t you want to do this? Improving speaking skills, avoiding dull presentations, updating instruction, and meeting Common Core State Standards can all be accomplished by asking to hear the rough drafts.

Erik is the author of Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology and Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students.

Check out last week’s post by Debbie Miller and don’t forget to leave a comment. Last week’s winner of a free book is Katie Whisner. 

26 comments June 26th, 2013

Blogstitute Week 1: Debbie Miller on letting kids “dig in”

A few reminders as we kick off our third annual Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute: A new post will appear every Wednesday morning for the next 9 weeks. No need to register or sign up, just return to this space for your weekly online learning. Visit and comment every week — we will raffle off a free Stenhouse book each week. Use code BLOG on the Stenhouse website to receive 20% off your purchase during the Blogstitute.

Ready? Here we go….

Planning with kids in mind

In Reading with Meaning (2013) I identified ten principles and practices that guide me in my daily work with children. Let’s take a closer look at this one:

Because I believe children need time to practice what I’m working so hard to teach them . . . every day you’ll see them engaged in workshops with a one-third/two-thirds balance of time: one-third of the time for me to teach and two-thirds of the time for them to work.

It’s easy to understand why things can morph into just the opposite, with two-thirds of the time for teaching and only one-third of the time for kids to have at it. Our job, after all, is to teach, and children have so much to learn! But when we over-scaffold children—when we model over and over and over again—we diminish student engagement, curiosity, agency, and independence. We also increase student conformity and compliance.

Instead of teachers doing all of the work, shouldn’t kids be the ones digging in, working hard, and figuring things out? Shouldn’t they be the ones who are growing as readers and getting smarter?

When we’re committed to workshops where students are the ones doing most of the reading, writing, and talking, what does this mean for planning? How do we go about it? These five big ideas guide me (see the planning guide that follows).

Planning Guide


So, what do you notice?

It used to be that, once I’d determined the focus of children’s reading work for the following day, I’d spend most of my time planning the lesson. I’d find that “just right” book, figure out where I’d think aloud and what I’d say, and identify places where I’d ask children to talk with each other about something specific.

Nothing wrong there—but here’s the shift: Now, once I identify our learning target, I no longer dive into planning the mini-lesson. Instead, I plan what students will do during work time to grow as readers and get smarter. What will they read, write, and talk about? How can I engage them so that they will be able to increase their stamina and sense of agency, independence, and grit? How will they demonstrate their understanding of the learning target?

Once I know what kids will be doing during their work time, planning the lesson falls right into place. I ask myself the following questions:

*What will students need most from me in order to do their best during the work time?

*How will I show them?

*What resources will I need?

To get a glimpse of how this might look in the classroom, take a look at the planning circle that follows. This lesson was for a group of first graders who were working on asking questions in their reading.

Planning Circle


I also regularly use a matching assessment to help keep track of student learning.

Matching Assessment


There are two parts to this matching assessment:

  1. Children record their questions on sticky notes as they read.
  2. Near the end of the workshop, children simply transfer their questions from their books to the think sheet. (This way I can spread their think sheets out, take a look, identify who is doing—and not doing—what, and consider implications for the next day’s teaching and learning).

There is no doubt that conferring is the most important way to find out where kids are and what they need. Let’s say that, on a really good day, we’re able to confer with four or five children. That’s significant, but what about the fifteen or so others? Assessments like this one give us at least some information about where the other fifteen children are when it comes to the learning target, helping us plan effectively for the next day. And that helps ensure that no child falls through the cracks.

54 comments June 20th, 2013

Preview three new books in their entirety!

Preview 3 new books from Pembroke Publishers (distributed in the U.S. by Stenhouse).

When Spelling MattersWhen Spelling Matters
Developing Writers Who Can Spell and Understand Language
Doreen Scott-Dunne • Grades K-8 • 136 pp • $22.00
Students need multiple strategies to help them spell. When Spelling Matters provides a series of explicit lessons that address the developmental nature of spelling and encourage students to apply their growing word knowledge to writing and editing.

8283tAttention-Grabbing Tools
Involving Parents in Their Children’s Learning
Jane Baskwill • Grades K-6 • 114 pp • $22.00
Get a rich array of communication strategies—take-home information and materials, parent conferences, learning nights, and digital and social media—to help establish and maintain a solid parent-teacher relationship.

8285tThe Bully-Go-Round
Literacy and Arts Strategies for Promoting Bully Awareness in the Classroom
Larry Swartz • Grades 4-12 • 32 pp flipbook • $13.00
Provides dozens of activities, lists of resources, discussion prompts, and tips for teachers on providing a safe forum in our classrooms to explore the complexity of the bullying issue from all perspectives.

1 comment June 13th, 2013

Stenhouse Summer Blogstitute 2013 coming soon!

PrintI know school has just ended or is in the midst of winding down for all of you. I know you are exhausted. I know you just want to sit by the pool/park/beach/backyard and think about… well, nothing.

But summer is short and while you are sitting by the pool/park/beach/backyard, you can also take care of your summer PD reading right here on the Stenhouse Blog. Our Summer Blogstitute kicks off June 20 and will continue for 9 weeks — all the way through mid-August. Each week we’ll bring you a short video and an article by some of our best and newest authors:

Debbie Miller
Charles Fuhrken and Carol Bedard
Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan
Erik Palmer
Lee Ann Spillane
Steven Wolk
Marcia Edson
Lee Ann Tysseling
Brenda Overturf, Leslie Montgomery, and Margot Holmes Smith

This is a great time to revisit our Blogstitute from last year and also to think about how you are going to use the awesome discount of 20% off and free shipping to stock up on PD books. Just use code BLOG starting now through the end of the Blogstitute.

We are looking forward to another summer of great — and short and sweet! — PD reading. I hope you will read along with us, ask questions, and share your thoughts in the comments section after each article. We are going to select a winner each week from the comments who will receive a free Stenhouse book.

See you June 20!

10 comments June 5th, 2013

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