Make RSA Animate Videos

14 Oct

Okay, I love this idea!

Check out this blog to learn about making RSA Animate videos with your students.

If you don’t immediately recognize RSA Animate, check out this video. It’s one of my favorites – so fun (and true)!


It’s Connected Educator Month

11 Oct

Connected Educator Month is kind of like an illustration of my general teaching philosophy. We all need to have the time and support to be out there participating in the conversations happening in education. There are so many great resources circulating around the internet right now; here are a few:

A great list from Edutopia with ideas for becoming a connected educator

A Pinterest board to help you build your professional educator network

Also from Edutopia, a roundup of resources related to Connected Educator Month 2013

Now that I have this blog, I mean, I must be pretty connected, right? Yeah, well, I’m getting there. Here’s my real question – I’m still not on Twitter. What do you think – to join, or not to join? Am I missing out? Clue me in here!

In what ways are you connecting with other educators? And, on that note, if you have a blog or any favorite blogs to read, feel free to leave the links in the comments.


On Creativity

10 Oct

Gosh. How much do I love TED? I heard this a few weekends ago on NPR and thought it was a really lovely collection of thoughts on creativity.

I love this quotation from Abigail Washburn:

“Is it an original idea? Or is it something where you’re literally a creative collagist? You’re taking pieces of the world that you see around you and that are inside of you and put them together in a way that you see fit.” — Abigail Washburn

I am most definitely a creative collagist at heart. For most of the decades of my life, I’ve kept a journal. I’ve taken a hiatus over the last few years (thanks a lot, kids!), but I’m definitely ready to get back to it and have slowly begun that collecting that used to be so central to my life. In my little purple notebook so far – teaching ideas, thoughts about the garden, funny things the girls say, quotations from texts I’m reading, charts, drawings, and diagrams, a pressed flower, general musings, memories, lists – I’m getting back to my old habits of collecting words and ideas, and I’m really thankful for that.

What’s your medium for creative expression? How do you make time for your art, whatever it is? Are you a creative collagist? How so?

Collaborative Practice

8 Oct

Man, check out this spot-on blog post from Education Week.

The post references a paper from the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, which suggests a number of structures that would help schools to retain teachers and help, overall, to professionalize the field. My favorite of the bunch – time in schools for collaborative practice. Yes, yes, and yes.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a job listing at one of the schools in the High Tech High network in San Diego. They were looking to hire a director of faculty research. What, what? A DIRECTOR OF FACULTY RESEARCH. In a high school. Mind = blown. Teachers having access to the conversations going on in the field! Teachers contributing to conversations! Schools supporting teachers’ contributions to the field! How about that? Seems like a pretty good idea, I’d say.

So, yeah, thanks, state teachers of the year, for making a point public that is so important yet so forgotten. We get better by reading and writing and reflecting and participating and listening and speaking and contributing. Let’s make some time for that.

Flash Fiction

4 Oct

Check out the NYTimes’ post on reading and writing flash fiction. There are some great questions here about what makes a story and some fun ideas for expanding and compressing texts. There are also links to all sorts of interesting related materials. Fun!

Have you or your kids tried your hands at flash fiction? Do you have a favorite piece? Please share 🙂

Book Review: Comprehension and Collaboration

4 Oct

Daniels, H., & Harvey, S. (2009). Comprehension and collaboration: Inquiry circles in action . Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Wow. I am definitely all geeked-out about this book. What are inquiry circles? Essentially, they’re like book groups, only instead of reading a book together, kids choose a topic or question they’d like to explore together.

Here are some touchstones:

  • Students at Best Practice High School in Chicago work together to negotiate the curriculum the kids will encounter the next year. I love the idea of giving the kids some say in what they’ll study the next year.
  • In 2007, a study by Pianta and Belsky found that American fifth graders were spending 91 percent of their school day either listening to the teacher talk or working alone. Shocking! What an artificial situation we’ve set up. How many people would choose to spend that much time sitting and listening without contributing?
  • Inquiry circles don’t allow kids to research just anything. The teacher’s job is to draw on the kids’ background knowledge and curiosity to evoke deep and real questions about their concerns and the curriculum covered in class.
  • Conventional projects often fail because they are not based in true inquiry. Students need to have choices. They need to be able to collaborate and interact and talk. They need to have access to lots of texts of all different types, and they need to have real purpose and real audience. Without those elements, we might as well still be having them make shoebox dioramas.
  • Gifted and talented kids aren’t the only ones who should be experiencing energizing, kid-driven projects! Come on, now!
  • How should we decide what content to teach? The authors reference the “backwards design” movement’s four screens for determining what curriculum is vital and, implicitly, what other topics can be safely deemphasized: (1) Is the topic potentially interesting to students? (2) Does the topic lie at the heart of the discipline? (3) Does the subject require uncovering? (4) Does the subject connect with everyday life? According to these screens, curricula worth teaching should get the kids wondering about ideas that are important and complex that have relevance to their daily lives.

I think the idea of curricular inquiry circles and lit circle inquiries is exciting and a productive first step. But, man, do I love the idea of open inquiries. I’ve never tried something like this, but the idea really makes me want to go back to teaching introductory composition. What would kids in those classes do if presented with an open inquiry project? Do we even have as many questions as teens and adults as those darn curious second graders? One of the problems / benefits of composition in general is that the subject matter is up for grabs. Would there really be any disadvantage to allowing students to pursue their own projects?

The last semester that I taught freshman composition, I had all students involved in community-based projects. They chose an local issue that was important to them and composed a series of texts related to their topics. From confronting parking problems on campus to advocating for proper signage for ATVs on public trails, the topics that my students chose represented their interests in a way that my previous semesters’ rigorous focus on topics chosen by me had not.

The best part of this book is the way that kids’ questions are valued. If I were to sum it up briefly, I would say that Harvey and Daniels want us to remember that kids ask questions, naturally, and if we follow their lead, there will be a whole lot less dragging behind and a whole lot more bounding ahead.

Thinking is not a spectator sport.

What Colleges Will Teach in 2025

3 Oct

If you haven’t read this piece from Time yet, consider doing so. My oldest daughter will be a high-school senior in 2025. What will school look like for her? Well, some of that depends on which question we decide to pursue: should we be asking what students should know or what students should know how to do? The easiest answer, in my mind, is ‘yes’ to both of those. And I would elaborate:

  • Do they participate in the conversations of their communities?

In my mind, this is really the central issue. Participation requires asking questions. It requires finding and developing honest, well-argued, complex, balanced, open-minded answers. It requires reading and writing and listening and speaking. And it can exist anywhere. Whether you’re a lawyer or a student or a homeowner reading your water bill or a citizen in a town attending a town meeting or a pet owner interacting with other pet owners or a politician or a child or whatever, are you participating? You know, lurking is one thing – acquiring information without responding to it – but we want our communities, whatever they are, to be filled with individuals willing to speak up.

I can’t remember everything I’ve read, and there is a whole heap of literature that, as an English major, I probably should have read but haven’t yet. I am of two minds about this: first, you can’t read everything, so there’s that. However, it is important to have foundational knowledge. When I was in graduate school, I constantly saw parallels between what I was learning as a graduate student in rhetoric and composition and how I had learned French. I remember that transition time when I was learning French, right before reaching a level of fluency where I could have a conversation and feel like everything I had learned was coming together. In graduate school, when I began reading texts that referred to other texts with which I was familiar, I began to anticipate that same transition to fluency, and that feels good. It feels good as a person to feel like you are a part of a conversation. Kids need to have access to that dynamic as well. And it’s absolutely impossible for us to teach this to them as little pills of information to swallow. If we want to do better, we respect them as individuals, connect them to their communities, and watch them grow.