Flash Mob Writing Groups?

No matter how many plans you make or how much in control you are, life is always winging it.-Carroll Bryant

book writingMy lesson plans said something completely different.  It was unscheduled, unplanned, and… undeniably better than anything I had on today’s agenda.  You’ve heard of a Flash Mob?  A Flash Mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment or artistic expression.  Well, That.  Just.  Happened.  No dancing or singing…this was definitely in the realm of artistic expression.  My students were working on their iPads when a group suddenly gathered in the middle of the room and started writing books.  This group (pictured above) was fully engrossed in their work.  They were discussing book topic, titles, text placement, and content. They stopped briefly, only to ask me to put on some “creative music”.   Once they started, they didn’t stop until they were finished.  Most had written a 4 page book.  Once they finished, they dispersed and went back to what they were doing before.

Flexibility is critical in a student centered classroom.  Kids need to feel comfortable making decisions about their learning…even at age 5.  Shutting down that activity because it wasn’t what I had planned for today, would have killed the creativity and spontaneity of that moment.  (Ok, that hour.)  If we are about the business of creating readers and writers, we have to give them time to read and to write.  I can’t always write on command; however, there are times when an idea strikes me and I can hardly wait to write.  It’s hard to stifle that feeling when you are inspired.

Setting up your classroom so that children can move in and out of small groups and make choices about their learning environment, helps foster a real sense of ownership. Allowing them the freedom to grab that iPad and jot down ideas, research a topic, read a book, or create their own book is what 21st century learning is all about. I will welcome a flash mob like that any day!

Here is Kaylee’s book commemorating the 100th day of school:

I Love 100! by Kaylee

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Kids Teaching Kids with Book Creator

collageKnowledge exists to be imparted.-Ralph Waldo Emerson

For a short time, I considered that it was highly possible I had lost my mind.  I was going to teach my kids how to use Book Creator on a Friday. Not only that, they were going to teach another kindergarten class how to use it later in the day.  Simmer down…my sanity is still intact.  I worried needlessly.  My iPad proficient five year olds created a 4 page book on Penguins in less than an hour.  They illustrated their pictures in Doodle Buddy, saved them to the camera roll, imported them into Book Creator, typed their text and exported the book to their iBooks app in the morning.  I demonstrated how to do this on the SmartBoard prior to their starting on their own.

In the afternoon, we hosted another kindergarten class to come learn from us.  At one penguin bookspoint, there were 50 kids in my classroom.  They were in groups of 2 or 4, working together.  By the end of our session, the other class had at least the book cover completed and some had their first page finished.  My children loved, loved, loved teaching them.  The engagement was instant.  Their conversations were instructive, relevant, and meaningful.  There were conversations about word choice and details in illustrations.  We even discussed getting back together and sharing our finished books with each other.

My students, in the end, wanted to know if they could show another class how to create their own books.  What a great way for all of my students to have an opportunity to be a leader.  Even the quiet and reserved students, who may otherwise be reluctant to share in front of the group, took a leadership role in the small groups.  While the finished products are going to look great, the process in getting there was priceless.  Not to be forgotten, the science facts they acquired as they wrote about penguins, their life cycle, and their habitats.  Combine that with the literacy aspect and the cooperative learning on the iPads, and I’d say today was a complete success.

Here is a screen shot of one of the book covers:

book cover

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iPads and the Common Core Standards

You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself.
― Galileo

common core 6One of the big questions I am repeatedly asked is about using iPads and implementing Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  When you study the standards and the purpose behind them, and you understand personalized learning, you can see how the two fit nicely together.

Personalized Learning is the tailoring of pedagogy, curriculum and learning support to meet the needs of the individual student.  Typically technology is used to facilitate personalized learning environments.  The CCSS are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our students need for success in college and careers. In Language Arts, the CCSS focus on students learning to read and write complex texts independently at high levels of proficiency and at a rapid rate to be effective.  The focus is on proficiency and complexity, yes, but also on independence.  We want our students to be able to do quick, on-the-run research when needed, to express their thinking verbally and in writing, and to summarize, analyze, and design without needing teachers to insert the key questions along the way or to walk them through step by step.  iPads are an ideal learning tool for these goals.  Having constant access to information, students are able to research when needed.  They are able to to write, compose, and create with various applications…all without having to wait their turn on a classroom computer.  The CCSS emphasize that every student needs to be given access to the thinking curriculum that is at the heart of the standards.

The Common Core standards is, above all, a call for accelerating students’ literacy development.  We must lift the level of student achievement.  This is not achieved by simply transferring a worksheet from paper to the iPad.  The CCSS call for true reform.  Reform needs to revolve around creating systems of continuous improvement that result in teaching toward higher expectations, personalizing learning for students-which in turn, increases rigor as well as student engagement. One way we can use iPads to implement the standards is iBooks Author.  iBooks Author allows us to create our own texts to move students up levels of complexity by providing them with many just-right, high-interest texts.

As educators, we have to enable our students to become strong and proficient readers and writers.  Using iPads, we are able to fortify our own teaching, our students’ learning and meet the high standards of the Common Core.

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Personalized Learning: Spelling

“Don’t they teach you how to spell these days?” “No, they teach us how to use spell check.” -Jodi Picoult

spelling beeI have to confess…I am one of those people who never had trouble with spelling.  It came easily for me and my nickname in middle school was “dictionary”.  I hated that then, but having the ability to spell has always served me well.  In this “spell check” world, it seems as if spelling may not matter.

Fortunately, my 5 year olds have some of the same desire for spelling correctly as I.  They don’t like to get things wrong and they get concerned when they are typing in Pages and they get the red, squiggly underline indicating they have spelled incorrectly.

Since we are focusing on personalized learning, I have different spelling lists for different groups in the class.  We are working on word family words mostly at this point.  Spell Test is a free (for now) app that is very basic and simple but provides me a helping hand in managing different spelling lists and tests.

How does Spelling Test work
1. Create a Spelling Test
2. Choose a Name for Your Test.
3. Start by adding Words to your test.
4. Record your own Pronunciations in an easy to use format.
5. Now Take a Test.
6. Listen to the Pronunciation and Spell the Word in the Box correctly.
7. Instant Feedback on how you did, Did you get that right or wrong
8. Complete the Test to see a Summary of Words.
9. Each time you take a test, you will know which words you got right and which you got wrong
10. Track improvements as you take the test multiple times.

The kids like using their own voice to record the words.  I can also record words if pronunciation is an issue.  The app doesn’t show them the words during the test.

This is an easy way to personalize spelling for each child.  I’m not ready to give up to spell check completely.  I still see value in teaching words, word roots, and phonics.  Practicing with an app makes it fun for the kids, but it also allows me to individualize each list if necessary. Because it is an app that is available for iPhone and iPad, parents can also have students use it at home to practice.

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Creating Writers

In creating, the only hard thing is to begin; a grass-blade’s no easier to make than an oak. -James Russell Lowell

writersAs a writer, sitting in front of a blank screen with a blinking cursor mocking the emptiness of the page, Lowell’s quote hits home.  I often have no idea where my writing is going until I begin.  Often, it goes in directions surprising even to me.  That “aha” moment…the one when you have clarity, direction, and purpose is utterly inspiring.

My students are working on making a book using the Scribble Press App.  This is our first attempt at book making with this app.  They love all of the choices of tools this app provides.  Even though it is January, my students need me to model the process.  I model the think-aloud process of deciding what to write about and I even model being stuck.  I sit in front of the blank iPad screen and think….and think some more.  I model starting out with writing about one topic and then deciding to discard that idea and go in a different direction.  I model not finishing in one sitting.  They need to see this process and learn how to work through the “not knowing”.  We are all about instant gratification…we have to learn to process, think, and wait.

Their books are a work in progress.  I am hoping they will finish by the end of this week.  The end product, however, is not the important part.  It is what is learned in the getting there.  They are fussing over fonts, color and illustrations.  They are grappling with word choice, sounding out those words, and very emergent keyboarding skills on their iPads.  The Common Core standards emphasize three anchor standards for writing:  argument, informational, and narrative.  Human beings grow up on narratives, on stories.  We live our lives hearing stories and telling them.  We plan and daydream and work and worry in narrative.  How important then, is it to spend valuable time in this genre?

As tempting as it is at times, to rush through to get something done, allowing our students to sit and stew, think, plan, erase and start again is critical to growth in writing.  We have to set the stage, model and allow time-protected time-for genius to develop.

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What’s Your Story?

I think it’s imperative to follow your heart and choose a profession you’re passionate about.-Steve Kerr

success1What’s your story?  We all have one.  Mine is chronicled here on this blog and while it may seem like a love note to Apple and iPads most of the time, it is more about the changes in my classroom as a result of innovation.

Teachers are innovators.  We have to be.  We are often short on time, money, and resources, but we are not short on passion, creativity, and a desire to make a difference.  It is easy to walk down the hall everyday to your classroom, close the door, and go about the business of educating each day.  It is easy to start believing that what you do doesn’t matter and even easier to drift into autopilot.  It becomes easy to reject new ideas and technologies because that brings change and change brings uncertainty and uncertainty brings…well, it brings a degree of discomfort.  And who has time for that?

There is a bigger story here.  It’s your story. How do you innovate?   What if you tried one thing differently today?  What if you said no to “what we’ve always done” and said yes to something you’ve always wanted to do?

Ok, enough about you, let’s talk about me…I’ve said before iPads have been a game changer in my teaching career.  I’ve always believed in my calling to teach.  It is who I am, but that doesn’t mean I am impervious to ruts, routines, and rigor mortis.  Jumping into this project with a “what if” mindset opened more doors than I even imagined.  Stretching, embracing the change, and learning to live in the uncertain was my personal lesson plan.  It was not (and still isn’t) without setbacks, do overs, and what-in-the-world-was-I-thinking moments.  Innovation does not come without your personal investment.  Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean setting the world on fire…I’d settle for setting my students on fire for learning.

Make a promise to yourself that you will try one new thing.  Stir your creative juices and stretch.  Your skin may feel a little tight; but in the end, you will find your story.  You will re-discover what it is that brought you to this profession and you will be better for it-both personally and professionally.

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Choosing Brilliance

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. – Howard Thurman

sparkling new yearJanuary is a good time for simplicity.  After all of the necessary messiness and decorations of the holidays, I like the simplicity of January.  January is a good time for reflection and renewal.  Beyond the usual “Get Healthy” resolutions, I find myself wanting to get to what matters.   Where does my professional passion lie? What makes me come alive in the classroom?

I will admit, getting up early this morning after 2 weeks off, I had trouble finding motivation.  Purpose.  Coffee.  But after arriving at school and having my students hug me and bubble over with excitement about being back in school, I realized they have no trouble connecting with their passion.  They said they missed their friends, they missed me, they missed their iPads.  They said they missed learning. I said it was time for Writing Workshop.  They cheered.  Their unabashed love for school, engagement, learning, possibilities, new things, and opportunities seem endless.  They show up everyday with wonder and brilliance.  When was the last time you showed up somewhere, anywhere,  with wonder and excitement at the possibilities?

As educators, our passion, our brilliance,  is easily lost amidst meetings, paperwork, lesson plans, less than supportive parents, criticism, behavioral problems, etc…I can choose to get bogged down in that or I can rise above.  I can choose to show up everyday with wonder… Wonder at what my brilliant 5 year old students can teach me about themselves and about myself.  I can choose to simplify my approach to teaching…to discard things that no longer work or bring my students alive.  I can come to work each day and be thankful for having a fully stocked classroom with supplies, an amazingly supportive administrator, and a district that believes in personalized learning and iPads.  I can connect with my own passion for literacy and learning and magnify what I am doing through this blog.  In the bleak mid-winter, I can choose to shine brightly. Let’s be brilliant together!

Where do you find yourself in this first chapter of 2013?

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