Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives: Power Up in Virginia

The latest installment in our series of Profiles in Effective PD Initiatives takes a look at one Virginia school on the cusp of integrating technology into instruction. They used Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning by Jen Roberts and Diana Neebe to plan for the transition, examining and planning for possible pitfalls, and easing the anxiety of many teachers who are not quite as comfortable with technology.

power-upNext February, Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, Virginia, will have universal wireless connectivity as part of a new Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) initiative adopted by the Loudoun County Public Schools. Instead of having to reserve a laptop cart or time in the busy computer lab, teachers and students will be allowed to use tablets, smartphones, and other personal devices to access the Internet and collaborate online anytime they want. Although many educators are excited about the possibilities for extended learning, they are also anxious about the changes to instruction, assessment, and classroom protocols.

“All the staff are in different levels of implementation of these devices in our lessons,” explained Blue Ridge principal Brion Bell.

So last summer, when sixth-grade English teacher Roberta Pomponio shared a copy of Power Up: Making the Shift to 1:1 Teaching and Learning (Stenhouse, 2015), Bell immediately found ways to use the book with his faculty. He engaged his administrative team in a collaborative study of Power Up, and the principal also began attending twice-monthly meetings with sixth-grade English teachers who read the book together for professional learning. Bell hopes they will share strategies and recommendations with other Blue Ridge teachers in the coming months.

“No one in our entire county is as well versed as the authors are,” Bell said. “By reading the book, we were able to look at everything from assessment to delivery to teacher connectivity and using learning management systems. Everything they’re talking about, it’s like it had an immediate connection.”

Thinking About Logistics

Throughout the book, Power Up authors Diana Neebe and Jen Roberts coach teachers through changes in pedagogy, planning, classroom organization, and collaboration so they can be successful in a 1:1 environment. They offer advice about avoiding common problems, as well as suggestions for using technology to provide immediate feedback to students, improve workflow, and reduce paperwork.

Pomponio, who discovered Power Up through a Twitter exchange with the authors, said one of the most valuable parts of her collegial book study has been thinking through potential trouble spots with technology integration. For example, she and her colleagues wondered how they would avoid losing instructional time when someone’s phone battery dies at the start of a lesson or what to do when students use the Internet for inappropriate activities. The Blue Ridge teachers said the authors’ classroom-tested strategies and good humor have given them the confidence to proceed.

“We guarantee you that lessons will not always go smoothly. The website you used last week could be blocked by the content filter this week. The power will go out. The app you were sure was free no longer will be,” Neebe and Roberts write. “We could go on, but we think that’s enough to terrify you for a while. All of these issues are temporary, solvable, or rare, but they might slow you down for a day or two. Have a backup plan, and don’t panic. It is tempting to give in to frustration and vent a bit when things like this go wrong, but remember: your students are watching you.”

Such frank talk emboldened Susan McWhorter, a sixth-grade English teacher who’s been reading Power Up with other members of her content-area team. A twenty-year teaching veteran, McWhorter was anxious about the school district’s expectation that technology integration become a routine, rather than an occasional, part of classroom instruction and assessment.

“For some of us older teachers, it’s kind of scary. It’s a big step for us,” she said. “The book helped my thinking, especially reading about the other teachers using it. It’s really just about flipping your classroom around. The book is helping me to plan better, helping me to think about how I can set up something that students can immediately get into when they enter the classroom.”

Using the Free Study Guide

McWhorter and Pomponio said the book’s free study guide, available on the Stenhouse website, has been an invaluable resource. The discussion questions provided by the authors were especially helpful in preparing teachers for collegial study and filling awkward silences when the conversation ebbed.

“I would definitely recommend using the book and study guide together,” Pomponio said. “It made everybody focus on the topics and then stay focused so we didn’t get too far offtrack.”

In her own classroom she has begun trying some of the authors’ recommendations, such as using Google’s online forms to provide feedback to students and simplify her workflow. One of her favorite chapters in the book focuses on differentiation strategies and how 1:1 learning enables teachers to offer accommodations to students without calling attention to their learning challenges.

“The examples the authors give with in-class situations have been very helpful too,” Pomponio said. “My copy of the book is completely marked up and used. It’s turning out to be our bible.”

Karin Nixon, the school’s sixth-grade dean, said reading Power Up as an administrator has helped her anticipate problems teachers might have with 1:1 learning and what kind of training they might need. Because she’s been out of the classroom only a few years, Nixon said she appreciated the authors’ message that good teaching and assessment practices don’t get replaced in a 1:1 classroom. Rather, they are enhanced through tools that are more motivating and engaging to today’s adolescents.

“Good assessment is good assessment. It does not matter if it’s electronic or in person. It’s just a shift in how teachers are thinking,” Nixon said. “Once we gain comfort, the possibilities are endless.”

Add comment December 21st, 2015

Blogstitute Week 6: Capture student thinking and learning with a classroom blog

If you’ve been thinking about starting a classroom blog, but wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, then this week’s post is for you. Carol Bedard and Charles Fuhrken, the authors of When Writing with Technology Matters, share some of the reasons teachers might want to consider starting a classroom blog in their literacy classrooms.

Traditionally in literacy classrooms, students participate in literature circles to share their thinking about the books they are reading; they might also respond in journals to capture their ideas and express their puzzlements. Setting up a classroom blog can add to these experiences in a number of ways:

  • A blog gives students a wider audience. Two literature groups reading the same text can share and compare their thinking. All students, regardless of their text selection, can read the blog to see what’s happening in other literature circles.
  • A blog affords students more “think time” than is possible in face-to-face discussions.
  • A blog makes students’ thinking public, which tends to cause the bloggers to be purposeful and thoughtful about their ideas and opinions before (and while) putting them in writing.
  • A blog invites all students to share; no “talk hogs” are allowed, and no one is silenced—not even introverted students.
  • A blog is open 24/7; students are not restricted by classroom schedules, because bloggers need not respond at a particular time of day or a particular pace.

Given this kind of space, students can take their responses in a number of directions. What we found is that, although the writing in students’ journals sometimes consists only of recording major plot events, the students’ blog postings began shifting toward sharing deeper and more personal connections as well as showing higher-order thinking. For example, a student named Marie, deeply invested in the lives of the characters in her book, had an emotional reaction when one of the characters died:

Gregor the Overlander is kind of sad, but it’s cool. I wonder why a good character had to die!!! (I cried a lot when a good “thing” died.) You should read it. Get your tissues ready!!!

Another student, Caleb, after discussing Lunch Money with his literature circle group, decided to continue his “review” of the novel later that day. At 7:00 p.m., Caleb signed on to the class blog to write the following:

I read Lunch Money and I think it is even better than Frindle! The story is solid, like all of his books. The thing that separates it from his other books is the way the characters are. My rating is Story: 10/10 Characters: 10/10 Art: 8/10 Drama: 6/10 Overall:  9/10.

In this post, Caleb showed evaluative thinking by making a judgment: Lunch Money is better than Frindle. He also drew on the features of a movie review to rate some of the story elements. (Author Andrew Clements should be pleased with a 9—Caleb was a notoriously tough critic.) Students who came across Caleb’s post saw a new way of thinking about and responding to books that they could incorporate into their own blog postings.

The blog can be a tool for students to utilize with any number of assignments and projects in a literacy classroom, not just for responding to literature. During a moviemaking project, elementary students went to the blog to ask peers for help with ideas, to report their progress, to plan next steps, and, yes, even to blow off some steam. Alonso was feeling the pressure of creating “something awesome” that would soon be shown not only in front of his peers but also to family and friends:

We’re barely on the second & third scene with making props, and we’re practically all over the place doing all sorts of stuff. I only slept 4 like, 3 HOURS and NO MORE.

As the day of the movie premiere approached, the blog once again united the community of learners—scores of bloggers related to Alonso’s anxiety and expressed their own last-minute jitters.

The blog, though, is not just for students. Blogs are a rich data source for teachers to mine. Teachers can assess acquisition of academic language, content knowledge, readership, writing styles and conventions, and student interest and engagement, for starters. How often do teachers really have access to what students are thinking?

The elementary students learning about moviemaking told teachers plainly—via the blog—what they were learning. This is what Leslie had to say one day:

Today we’re doing scriptwriting and at first it was easy but then it got hard. Now I understand that the more details you put in the story the better it is!

Leslie’s words—“Now I understand”—unmistakably indicated that she believed she had gained an important insight into what makes writing good. She had discovered, in working with her group on their movie, that more details make a story better.

Julian also reflected on what he was learning and, in doing so, showcased his acquisition of academic vocabulary:

Today we finished the narrative and now we are doing a storyboard. In storyboarding we are doing a picture and we are writing the most important parts of the movie we’re going to do. We start at the rising action, then we go to the climax, then we go to the falling action. That’s the last part.

Julian competently related the important parts of story structure—first rising action, then climax—and even clarified for his peers that falling action is “the last part.”  From reading this post, the teacher knows that his or her lesson that day about using a storyboard to capture the story structure stuck with Julian.

What students reveal they have learned—or not learned—can inform teachers’ instructional planning in the future. The blog becomes a record of students’ thinking, and, over time, the pages tell the story of how their thinking and learning have evolved. Because a blog steps up the level of access that is afforded, teachers can sweep in at any time and see what’s on students’ minds. With close inspection, they can be witnesses to new understandings, lightbulb moments, and valued feelings.

Just imagine, over the course of a year, the amount of writing that students would do on a blog.


Charles Fuhrken and Carol Bedard are the authors of When Writing with Technology Matters. You can buy their book — or any other Stenhouse book — 20% off when you use code BLOG on the Stenhouse website. This week’s winner of a free book is Gloria Wilson. Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a free Stenhouse book of your choice!

12 comments July 24th, 2013

Quick Tip Tuesday: The process behind writing digital stories

While digital stories rely heavily on technology, at their core they are still stories that have to be planned, researched, and written. In this week’s Quick Tip, Lisa Miller, author of Make Me a Story, outlines the writing process her students go through as they plan their digital stories.

Surprises pop up all the way through the process of creating digital stories. Students are surprised by what they write, by how their art and text work together, by how their voices sound reciting their own words.

Students love putting the stories together with images and music on the computer, but before they get there, they must do the writing. Writing is thinking, so through writing they find out what they want to say and how they want to say it in the scripts. Even though the visuals are an important part of digital stories, this thinking/writing is what digital stories are built on. You’ll want to take students through at least some parts of the writing process, the different steps writers go through to create stories. The process will help them see themselves as writers. It will help them get the writing done. And it will make the stories stronger than if students concentrated mostly on the images instead of on the writing.

There is no one process, no one way of talking about the steps writers follow. My friend and mentor Don Murray, who pioneered the writing process, revised his own models through eight editions of his book Write to Learn. In the seventh edition (2002), he listed the steps as these: focus, research, draft, revise, and edit; in the eighth edition (2005), he listed them this way: write before writing, research for writing, begin writing, keep writing, and finish writing. You can tailor the process to your students, whatever grade they’re in, to help them be successful.

Although the texts for digital stories are short, students can still follow the steps of the writing process to create good scripts. In fact, the brevity of the scripts can be helpful; students may find such texts easier to work with and revise than longer ones. As we grow as writers, we develop our own processes that work for us. But for young writers, a model such as Murray’s provides a coherent way to talk about how students can get from an idea to a finished draft, and a way for thinking about writing in general that can serve these students well all through school and beyond. The writing process models show students that great writing isn’t created by magic—that published writers’ pieces don’t suddenly appear perfect and whole on the page. Students learn there are steps they can follow, practice, and improve upon. If they run into roadblocks while writing, they can go back to one step and work on that step to solve the problems. The process also offers students ways to experiment and find out what writing techniques work best for them—and they can apply this experimentation to other writing projects they do. If they practice a process again and again, they’ll always be able to get the writing done. And they’ll make discoveries about what they have to say and about themselves as writers along the way. I’ve encountered students who, through the process, discovered what was most important to them about families or friendships or places they’d lived, or what most interested them about a subject they’d researched, like the child who wrote fiction about a polar bear but did factual research and then decided to focus on the polar bear’s search for food.

Here are the writing process steps and the associated tasks I’ll discuss in this chapter and the next:
Write before writing. Finding a subject; brainstorming, mapping, and other prewriting activities; asking questions about the subject.
Research for writing. Recollecting details about an experience; asking questions about a research subject; conducting research in the library and/or on the Internet; interviewing others; and collecting images.
Begin writing. Finding a focus; beginning a draft; considering point of view and audience; and planning the story, which includes thinking about images that might go with the story.
Keep writing. Developing a whole draft with a strong beginning and ending, transitions, concrete language, and interesting details; putting together the images; storyboarding to figure out what images will go with what text; and splitting the written script into pieces to go with the images.
Finish writing. Putting the story together in the computer, with images, transitions, voice-over narration, and music; revising as needed; and showing the stories to an audience.

This model implies that the process is linear, and of course it’s not. A writer may focus and research, then go back and refocus, then move to drafting, then decide more research is necessary, and so on; students will revise through the drafting of scripts and up until they finish the stories. The model is simply an effective way to talk about writing and sets out ways for students to work through writing projects. It also offers students ways to experiment and find out what writing techniques work best for them.

Much of this—the collecting, focusing, and drafting—can be done (or at least started) in the classroom without computers, unless you want students to conduct research or find images on the World Wide Web, use computer clip art, or type up their scripts on computers. Once they’ve completed a draft of their text, collected their images, and created a plan for matching images with text, they’ll be ready to work on the computers with a program such as Microsoft Photo Story 3 and begin putting all the elements together.

I’ve known first and second graders who, with some one-on-one help, have gone through part of the writing process and put their stories together on a computer, using Photo Story 3. I know that some of the youngest students won’t be ready to go through all of these steps in depth or answer all of the questions I’m going to pose to help students through the writing process. You can pare down the model to the basics: find a subject, get the information and images you need, write the script, figure out what images go with what text, and put the text together with images using a computer. You can add any of the exercises, strategies, or questions I suggest if you think they will help your students through the process.

With first- and second-grade students you may want to concentrate mostly on finding a subject and on making the pictures and words go together. In fact, the first time you have students do digital stories, whatever the grade level, you may want to concentrate on focus—what main thing each student wants or needs to say—and making the pictures work with the words. When students do additional digital stories, you can have them consider other concerns, such as writing great beginnings and endings, or showing and telling.

You may decide to have students work together in pairs or groups on digital stories rather than having them do individual stories. For an online story about holidays (Digital Storytelling in the Scott County Schools Web site), first and second graders were split into teams. Each team dealt with one aspect of the story: images, music, scanning, cropping, or story. The digital story featured a different narrator for each holiday. Other examples of collaborative stories on the Web include one about the life cycle of the Granny Smith apple by a third-grade class (Granny Smith, Digitales Web site) and one about the battle of Antietam written and illustrated by three young authors (A Young Man’s First Battle, Digitales Web site).

Sometimes teachers work with a class to create a group story: Students paint or draw one picture each, write a short poem or a paragraph to go with the picture, then turn it over to the teacher, who uses the material to create one digital story.

A couple of teachers I worked with did this with their students’ poems and drawings about nature. They still recorded each student reading his or her poem so that all of the students’ voices were heard. Even if students are doing individual stories, you might want them to work in pairs so they can help and support each other as they go through the writing process and work on the computers. The important thing is to make the projects workable for you and your students.

Before you have students create digital stories, you may want to do one of your own so you’re comfortable with how the story and images go together. Teachers in digital storytelling classes I’ve taught have done personal narratives, introductions to books their students are going to read, and introductory lessons on subjects including clouds (to introduce students to the different kinds) and the making of a peanut butter and banana sandwich (to introduce students to the writing of how-to pieces).

1 comment May 17th, 2011

Quick Tip Tuesday: Technology and Writing

This week’s Quick Tip comes from Peter Lourie and David Somoza’s new book, Writing to Explore. First, Peter talks about how he uses technology during his adventures and how technology enhances his writing. Then David talks about how this applies in his classroom. The full text of Writing to Explore is still available on the Stenhouse website for browsing!

Using Technology in the Field
Peter Lourie
Portable audio recorders, digital cameras, high-definition camcorders—these are the tools of my trade. Oh, and
notebooks and pens. When I begin an adventure, whether to the Arctic or the Amazon, I bring plenty of tools to record the details of my journeys. Not being blessed with a photographic memory, this is the only way I can come back with the rich layers of material (stories, characters, history, atmospheres,settings) that I need to write my adventure books. What makes these tools so important in the digital age is that I can use the sounds and pictures—and now HD video clips—in ways that are complementary to my writing. Telling the kids about a particular experience in the jungle is nowhere near as dramatic as showing them howlers running through the trees and stopping to roar or whales surfacing and blowing water vapor from their blowholes in the Beaufort Sea. I like to use photos, tape recordings, and videos to excite kids about ancient cultures, distant lands, and foreign places. I also can use short clips on my Web site or blog. (In fact, I developed a whole Web site around such digital stories].

Iñupiaq Eskimos and scientists alike tell their own stories in their own words, all of which I hope will demystify the Arctic and bring the complex issues that exist above the Arctic Circle into people’s homes.) I sometimes sell photos and footage to national magazines. And I always end my writing workshops with stories about collecting material in the field.

But I don’t want to give the impression that this is tedious work. In fact, it’s a ton of fun. I love holding a camera or tape
recorder; I love to capture such rich stories for future use. Since good writing is detailed writing, I show kids how much detail I can collect with these instruments of my trade. When I get back I listen to the tapes and look at the photos and video, and from these records I write my first drafts.

The truth is, if I were a kid today, I might choose to become a videographer rather than a writer, because on video you can collect setting, character, and history all in one dynamic place.Video is so immediate and exciting. With Movie Maker or iMovie or the one I use, Final Cut Pro, a videographer can create rich and exciting adventure stories. For now, however, my collections of digital files are used to write more effectively. They help me remember: DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS.

Using Technology in the Writing Classroom
David Somoza
I never intended to use technology to such an extent in the teaching of writing, but it sort of evolved over time. And I keep stumbling on new ways to use various forms of technology in teaching kids to write. When most teachers think of integrating technology into teaching,the first subject that comes to mind is usually not writing. But when you think about writing as a way of connecting with the world, it makes a lot of sense to use technology to help kids create this link.

This is particularly true for a research project like the state adventure, where the Internet can become the vehicle that connects the kids with the world (see Chapters 6 and 7 for a full explanation of the project). Maybe it’s just for a brief while to gain a better understanding of another place, another person, or a potential adventure, but the Internet allows kids to have virtual adventures and bring back valuable information. In fact, without the aid of the Internet, the state adventure project could not be developed to the extent that we do, because it’s the addition of online research that allows us to better ground the adventure essay with factual and detailed information. It’s this detailed information, so easily accessed through online research, that allows us to revive the research paper and turn it into a journey
that is deeply personal.

In addition to the Internet, there are many easy-to-use software programs available that can synthesize images, audio, and video to create multimedia vignettes that can launch an adventure project. Once these vignettes are created, the presentation equipment is key to the effective delivery of this material to students. In other words, the kids will become engaged in the video and music to a greater or lesser degree depending on the equipment used to present it. With a larger, clearer image and with higher sound quality, students will become more engaged in the writing prompt—and therefore more engaged in their writing. The combination of equipment, programs, and Internet-based research makes for technology-rich, multisensory experiences for the writing student. Ultimately, it’s what takes
them out of the classroom and into the world.

Add comment December 28th, 2010

Podcast: Lisa Miller on digital storytelling

Lisa Miller’s new book, Make Me a Story: Teaching Writing Through Digital Storytelling, shows teachers how to integrate technology into their writing instruction. In this podcast Lisa talks about how easy and simple it is for teachers to create a digital story with their students.

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Add comment September 1st, 2010

Review and podcast: Make Me a Story

Melanie Holtsman, technology integration coach at Chets Creek Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, took time out of her summer vacation to do some professional reading. She was so excited to read Lisa Miller’s new book Make Me a Story, that she decided to interview Lisa and record a podcast. Read her review of the book and listen to their conversation:

Add comment August 2nd, 2010

Johanna Riddle receives grant to rebuild media center

Johanna Riddle with Laura Bush

When the former Samsula School (now Samsula Academy)  in Volusia County, Florida, became a charter school in 2008, one of the biggest task facing teachers, students, and the community was rebuilding the school’s media center.

Because charter schools cannot receive capital dollars that fund regular public school media centers, Samsula Academy had to rely on book fairs, fundraisers, and cash and book donations to resurrect its media collection. Now a $6,000 grant from the Laura Bush Foundation will help the school reestablish a cutting edge media center. Johanna Riddle, the school’s media specialist and author of Engaging the Eye Generation received the award from Mrs. Bush during a ceremony at Jose de Diego Middle School in Miami-Dade County.

“I’ve dubbed the rebuilding effort ‘Project Phoenix’,” said Johanna. “It seems that even though our school has been around since 1912, circumstances continue to consider new incarnations for the shape and focus of our little school. But that’s what keeps us growing.” Johanna said that when the school received the grant, she was moved by the many students who thanked her for getting books for their school. “It was very touching, and it reminds me that I am in the right place”

Since its inception, the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries has funded more than $7.3 million to 1,433 schools in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Norhern Mariana Islands.

Add comment June 9th, 2010

Classroom blogs: The experiment continues

It’s time to check in again with Amanda Villagomez, who’s been chronicling her adventures with blogs in the classroom. The last time we heard from her in January, she was experimenting with online book clubs. Today she says that despite some bumps in the road, she is more and more excited about using technology in her classroom.

With anything related technology, flexibility and a willingness to experiment are essential. Third quarter was a good reminder of that. At the start I was excited and gearing up to have my students begin their own blogs. Based on feedback from parents, they were more comfortable having their students begin blogging internally. When I realized that I would not be able to make their blogs private without paying a fee on Edublogs, I decided to have my students blog with Blogger. I was also excited about students utilizing Google Docs since they would need a Gmail account to sign up for Blogger.

I thought I had everything planned out. I had a meeting with parents to discuss the new technology and why it would be beneficial, each parent signed a permission slip, and students signed an appropriate use agreement. The big day arrived, but when my 7th graders clicked the button to set up their account most of their hands shot up, and there was an instant buzz, “Mine says…” Aside from a few who were excitedly saying theirs worked, the rest of the class had the message that they did not meet the age requirement. I couldn’t believe I had overlooked that little detail. I had to check in with all of my 6th and 7th graders to let them know that for now the plans were on hold.

Even though I was initially disappointed, it gave me a chance to reflect. The one great part that came out of this roadblock was the discovery of Google Apps Education Edition. Both of the universities that I am associated with have their email via Google, but I had not realized it was free. With this, my students will still have access to everything I had wanted, except Blogger, in a more controlled environment. As far as student blogs go, I am planning on waiting until the 8th grade year when all students will be 13. My 6th and 7th graders will continue to have discussions on my classroom blog, and eventually I will allow them to post comments on the 8th graders’ blogs. I am also exploring other options to give them access to other technologies.

Despite not being able to create their own blogs yet, students were excited to interact more on the classroom blog this quarter. After piloting a book club with a small group second quarter, I had all students participate in an on-line book club. Although I was not able to give as much support as I had initially planned because of less classroom time due to some state testing, at least all students got their feet wet. I will need to continue to scaffold the depth of ideal responses as well as appropriate voice for on-line discussions.

I was, however, very pleased with one of the groups that had a large concentration of students from the initial book club. They had already received additional scaffolding from their previous club and were able to provide a model for the new additions to their group. This made me realize that next year when I introduce on-line book clubs instead of trying to support all students on my own, I would launch with a small group again, but then I would have them lead a small group once the whole class participates.

Technology is such a fascinating field with so much new to learn all the time. At the start of the year I was thrilled to be able to have a classroom blog for the first time. There is still so much more that I am exploring and rethinking with blogging, but I am also considering other technologies to better meet the needs of my students. In the near future I will have the opportunity to integrate iTouches. I also plan on learning more about wikis over the summer in order to use next year. The more I let go and embrace the process of familiarizing myself with new technology, with all its advantages, along with the frustrations of complications, the more ideas I get to prepare my students for the ever increasing emphasis on 21st century literacies, while still making sure that my practices are aligned with my literacy philosophy.

Add comment April 7th, 2010

Classroom Blogs: Online Book Clubs

We’ve been following the progress of Amanda Villagomez during her first year of using a classroom blog in her middle school language arts classes. In her prior posts, Amanda talked about setting up the blog and her initial experiments with it in the classroom . Now, midway through the year, Amanda continues to be excited about the possibilities created by the blog. In this post, she reports on the successful integration of online book clubs and talks about her plans for the remainder of the year:

Another quarter has flown by, and I am officially half way through my first year of integrating a classroom blog. Throughout the quarter I was able to continue posting Author Tip Tuesdays on the weeks that I was teaching in English (I teach half of the time in Spanish). My students seem to look forward to them. They especially enjoyed a week integrating a YouTube video that Mary Amato created about her revision process , as well as a Q&A with S. Terrell French after a group of 7th graders read her book as a book club.

The most exciting part of the blog this quarter was a successful integration of an on-line book club. I originally thought of it as a new way for my students to interact for their book club discussion. However, before I started the club, I realized that it opened up many more possibilities, including being able to facilitate multi-grade level discussions. Students also enjoyed that other staff members, parents, and relatives left comments of encouragement. I recently blogged about more of my reflections on this first book club.

Next quarter students will participate in more book club discussions via the blog. Collaboration with people outside of the classroom will be an exciting component. One group will be reading Pride and Prejudice, and I requested some suggestions from Kelly Fineman to provide support for my students, as I had appreciated her previous chapter by chapter notes about Northanger Abbey earlier in the summer. Some of my students had mentioned an interest in Austen, but they quickly lost their motivation when they were not able to understand it well enough attempting to read it on their own. Fineman was gracious enough to send me detailed suggestions to guide my students through the reading. Actively blogging on my own has been very beneficial in networking with different authors and bloggers to further engage students. Other future possibilities may include having university students in children’s/YA literature classes comment on discussions, having parent and staff members participate in book clubs, and having book discussions with students in other classrooms.

For third quarter my biggest new blogging venture will be having my 7th graders set up their own blogs. Within the next few steps I will be guiding them through the process. They will begin blogging by creating posts such as book reviews, slice of life stories, and facilitating their own book club disscussions. I would also like to incorporate podcasting eventually, but it may not be until 4th quarter. I am still debating whether or not to have my 6th graders begin their own blogs this year, depending on how smoothly it goes with 7th grade, but they will be able to view 7th graders’ blogs as mentor texts and will be encouraged to leave comments and participate in book clubs that they facilitate. Moving into the second half of the year I am still very enthusiastic and excited about the amazing opportunities that blogging has created in order to enhance my language arts instruction.

1 comment January 21st, 2010

Classroom blogs: Exploring and experimenting

In July, Amanda Villagomez, a middle-school language arts and social studies teacher from Oregon, shared her plans for starting and maintaining a classroom blog. We checked in with her recently to see how the blog was doing now that the schoolyear was well underway, and to find out about her plans for her blog.

My classroom blogging journey had a later start than I initially expected. As my school is growing, another building on our property was partially renovated in order to house my new classroom. I was able to move into my new classroom one week before students arrived, but the technology was not ready. While planning over the summer I failed to consider the possibility that all of the technology might not be in place at the start of the school year. It ended up that my projector and Smart Board were not up until about 5 weeks into the quarter. I decided to hold off on blog posts (with a few exceptions) until all technology was in place. Nonetheless, I had a chance to get my feet wet with classroom blogging with the second half of the quarter.

Learning to navigate Edublogs has been relatively easy. Whenever I was confused about a difference between Blogger and Edublogs, a quick skim over the options or Edublogs help support solved my issue. This quarter was a chance to begin exploring and experimenting, but I still have so much more that I would like to do with my blog. Rather than getting frustrated that I was not able to start integrating my classroom blog into instruction from the beginning of the year and utilize it as much as I originally expected, I decided to choose areas where I would be able to start easing into the process once my room was completely set up. So far I was able to establish a couple of consistent types of posts. I began with Author Tip Tuesday posts. Over the summer I got the idea to have a weekly feature with writing advice from authors who responded to my request for a tip aimed at middle school aged students. Then I began to post writing mini-lesson information. I created a handbook tab that will serve as a quick way for students to access resource information that would otherwise be harder to find as I start to utilize the blog more. 

Incorporating a classroom blog into my instruction has been fairly easy up to this point. One area where I had to be careful was using other teacher’s ideas. Because many of the handbook posts were inspired by other teachers, I gained permission to use information before posting it. I realized that using a wall chart in my classroom was different than posting the ideas on the Internet. Even though the intended audience (my class) was the same, I knew that a larger audience could access my blog, and I did not want to infringe on any copyright laws. Now I have a procedure in place. After checking in with individual teachers or publishers, depending on the information I want to use, I make sure to always attribute the source once permission is granted. 

At the start of second quarter I am excited to see the new ways that I will be able to use my blog. It did not take me long to realize that it will be a long-term process in order to integrate all components that I would like, so I decided to have goals for each quarter. Second quarter I want to:

*Continue posting handbook information. I will have students gain more familiarity navigating this resource from their laptops during workshop time.

*Start having one book club group discuss on-line via the blot. Once I try this out with one group and have it running smoothly, I will expand this to more groups. 

I have many more long-term goals that I will begin if I have the chance. However, for now I wanted to make sure that I had reasonable goals, as I am also experimenting with other new components in my curriculum. I look forward to seeing the way my blog will evolve this quarter, the rest of this year, and future years of teaching.

2 comments November 5th, 2009

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