Using Mentor Texts for Powerful Writing

I think if you really want to write in a powerful way, you’ve got to read powerful stuff…Ralph Fletcher

I have served as a mentor for new teachers over the years and while I want each of them to grow into the best they can be, I want them to find their own methods and their own voice as they grow as an educator.  I provide a framework,  a model for good teaching, and hopefully, inspiration.  Good mentors can shape who we are and who we will one day become.

In the same manner, mentor texts are an important part of my literacy instruction.  I want my students to read and write powerfully and mentor texts serve as a conduit for both.  Mentor texts are necessary to teach our students to think deeply about their own writing.  Students often need to see someone doing something in order for them to do it themselves.  Watching another’s craft gives inspiration, direction and courage to try. Mentor texts inspires us to read and learn more.

Teaching very young children to write requires a lot of modeling, mentoring and a wee bit of rocket science.  Getting students to add detail to their emergent writing is a daily mini lesson in itself.  Recently, we read Lois Ehlert’s Pie in the Sky.  It has a lot of simple sentences describing what the narrator sees in the illustration, but more importantly, it is simply descriptive.  Using this as a mentor text has been tremendously helpful to my students. My students even refer to the book by saying they wrote, “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Here are a couple of examples of student work on the iPad.  They used their camera to take a picture of something in the room and then they wrote what they saw.

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Some of my students were sharing their work with their friends and I overheard a few offering suggestions about making their sentences more like “Pie in the Sky” sentences.  Peer editing…in kindergarten.

Mentor texts give our young writers not just a framework or reference, they give them a dose of courage to try writing like the author…not using the author’s words, but courage to find their own words.  They can be road maps for powerful writing.  They show students what good writing looks like.

Here is a Writing Workshop sample from one of my students recently:

Mackenzie

Creating good readers and writers is a critical part of teaching.  Mentor texts provide powerful examples for our students.  Regardless of what grade you teach, your students need your guidance while they learn to write, take risks and stretch their literary wings.

Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

Listen to Your Brain!

I thought about it in my brain, my brain gave me the answer and I liked the answer my brain gave me.-Isabelle, Age 6

If you ever need good quotes, just step into a kindergarten class.  I’m repeatedly told I need to write a book of their sayings.  It’s never a dull moment around here!

My students have choices about demonstrating their learning.  We recently finished a pond life unit and the work they had done during the unit was pretty extensive.  I felt pretty confident in what they knew and what they had learned.  As we were wrapping it up, a student asked why they hadn’t done any projects to show me what they had learned.  I explained that they had done several projects over the last 2 weeks and they had done a really good job on those.  Their puzzled faces indicated that they didn’t realize they had demonstrated their learning.  I pulled out some of their work samples they had uploaded to Showbie.  I put them on the Smart Board and we talked about several of them.

PicCollage

We talked about this example and what animals were chosen and how they were chosen.  I asked what else they learned and was told, “We learned how to find pictures on the web in Pic Collage without going into Safari and we learned how to cut around them.”  popplet

We looked at this work sample created in Popplet Lite and we talked about how they didn’t know about water striders and how they walked on top of the water.  (Living where we live, it is not unusual for alligators to live in ponds.)  I asked what else we learned in this work sample and someone said they learned they wanted to go to that child’s house to see the alligator!

I reminded them that both of these projects show me what they know and what they have learned.  Someone piped up that he didn’t know that he was learning AND having fun at the same time.  (Ah yes…my work here is done!)

So, how did we get to this place…this place where learning and fun co-habitate, where children don’t even realize they are “doing work”?  It started back on day 1 in August.  It starts with children having voice and choice in their activities and moving on when they are ready… not when a worksheet, a basal reader, or a workbook page, or even a teacher tells them they are.  The work samples above were taken on the same day.  One student chose Pic Collage, another chose Popplet and yet another chose Book Creator.

It also means including the students in the information gathering process.  We made this anchor chart together and refer to it often when we are working on new learning.

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My students know that “an expert” can be an adult or another student in our classroom.  They know to ask for help when looking on the internet for answers and they also know where to find resource books in our classroom to reference.  We work hard all year to instill confidence in our students’ abilities to think for themselves….to “listen to their brains” and think about what their brain is “telling them.”

It is an ongoing process that gets refined all year long.  I want my students to go to first grade ready…ready to learn, ready to think and reason, and ready to have fun!

Today we will learn exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Digital Storytelling in Kindergarten

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. -Confucius

I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate more photography in my classroom.  It is a recent passion of mine and I think there is a lot of value in incorporating pictures into student work and writing… not my pictures, but their own.  After all, young children have a unique perspective on the world.  Their pint sized view lets them see things from different angles than adults.

Their iPads have cameras and they love using them to photograph everything from a spider in the room to their left nostril.  We have used the iPad cameras to document their work and their learning. For a change, we used my Olloclip on my iPhone.  You can check out the Olloclip here and here.  I’ve been using it to take several macro shots of foliage, but the fisheye lens was very intriguing to my students when I showed it to them.  After a few days being cooped up inside with rain, we took to the outdoors to try out a few shots.  I put their pictures in Showbie and they downloaded them into their PaperDesk Pro app.  This is a great app for journaling.  Once their photos were downloaded into their notebook, they wrote about what they saw.  Here are a couple of samples:

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Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 12.53.03 PMThis takes a little while so we are doing a few each day until everyone gets a turn.  Because it was different from our usual writing workshop, the kids were excited to write about their picture.  They wanted to take more pictures and write about them.  Because we offer choice in our classroom, some children are taking screen shots of their creations in Blokify and are importing them into Paper Desk Pro and writing about them.

While some young writers struggle with traditional literacy, using digital storytelling engages students and encourages them to employ different kinds of literacies to complete their final product.  The PaperDesk Pro app allows you to add voice notes so students who have difficulty writing can dictate their story, or students who want to read what they have written may record themselves doing so.  Simply generating text can be daunting to a child.  Incorporating images, speech, or even music enables students to create in a way that they couldn’t otherwise.  The technology allows us to redefine the way we learn.

As we move into the final 45 days of school, I want my students stretching and exploring, learning and creating.  We will be app-smashing, building, photographing, experimenting, and continually redefining what it means to be literate in today’s digital world.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it.  

Back to Blokify

Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve. – Roger Lewin

So, Blokify has turned out to be quite the hit in our room.  I wrote about using the app last time. It has been amazing what has transpired in just one week! We Skyped with Jennifer at Blokify last Friday.  The kids wrote out their questions ahead of time for her.  They had very thoughtful questions and she spoke to them in a way they understood.  She was printing out one of the structures in her office on the 3D printer and she sent us a couple of samples.

Blokify structuresThese arrived in the mail today at school and you would have thought it was Christmas with all of the excitement.  The kids made observations on the objects.  One is heavier, one is with color blocks, and one has more details on it.  They speculated about what the material looked like before the objects were printed and some even drew sketches of the objects on their Drawing Pad app so they could use them in writing.  In the math center, some took wooden unit blocks and tried to re-create the structures.

One of the best things that has happened as a result of using this app is the collaboration between the kids working together to problem solve to build the structures in the app.  One student grabbed some drawing paper, drew squares to represent the blocks and gave it to a friend.  “Here’s your blueprint” he said. That friend then worked in Blokify to try and build what the friend drew for him while the other child made it with unit blocks.

unit blocksIn a recent Kinderchat about Math on Twitter, several of us lamented how math was hard for us in school and that we struggled with it.  We realized that through those experiences, we work harder to make sure our students don’t have those some experiences.  Whether it’s hands-on or virtual activities or a combination of both,  we are working to build critical thinking and problem-solving skills with our students.

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Tucker is trying to recreate the pirate ship in Blokify from the 3D model.

Listening to their conversations, I find even I am impressed…”I need to do more research on how the 3D printer works.” “I can help you make that.  You have to see it in your mind first.”  “I will take a screen shot of my structure and then you can try to make it look like mine.”  “I can’t draw in 3D on paper but I can create in 3D on my iPad.” “Ask (Child’s Name)…he is an expert!

When another colleague found Blokify and suggested we download it, I had no idea the depth of thinking, problem solving and conversation that would take place.  This is definitely not a flash-in-the-pan app for us.  I see my kids sticking with it, building, problem solving and thinking critically for some time.

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

The “Art” of the Matter

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. -Oscar Wilde
As a classroom teacher, I see many personalities and temperaments daily.  As we work together, it is impossible not to know a child’s likes or dislikes, their interests and what turns them off.  All of my students want to shine.  Some shine more brilliantly than others, in a way that no one can miss.  Others shine more softly and feathery, like the moonlight.   The key is to weave these differences together into a tapestry that works and thrives together in a classroom.
photo-15One thing they all have in common is the love of art.  They love going to art class for special area and they love cutting, gluing, pasting, coloring and painting in class.  Most of them create excitedly and without hesitation, but a few of them have been bitten by the “not good enough” bug and are afraid to draw a bold line and get started for fear of doing it wrong.  When my students are creating, their engagement is nearly unbreakable.  So, why do we put art off until “after you finish your work?”  In our class, when we are creating content,  art is a necessary part of the process.
As adults, sometimes we see art as frivolous and something one does in one’s free time.  (And really, how much of THAT do we have?)  When we remove creativity and creation from our classrooms, we are teaching our children that it doesn’t have value…their creative selves are to be kept separate from their thinking selves.  Art is so much more than drawing and coloring.  Art is photography, music, poetry, writing, film making, and more.  How can these not play an important role in learning?  When students are able to use their talents, or develop and explore talents they didn’t know they had, they are learning how to be diverse individuals who have something unique to contribute.
I’ve always been interested in photography, but never really pursued it for many reasons, all mostly just excuses.  I finally made room in my life for it and can’t believe what I have missed out on for so long in not pursuing it.  I can’t imagine my life now, without it!
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As I watch my students work individually and collaboratively on projects, it is gratifying to see them encouraging each other as they work on creating content.  The creation apps on our iPads such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Pic Collage, Strip Designer, Popplet and iMovie all contribute to the wealth of workflow in our curriculum.  Each piece of work is as different and unique as the child that created it.  And THAT is exactly why I teach…to celebrate and develop the uniqueness of each child.
I encourage and challenge you to look for the art in your classroom.  Is it put on the shelf for when work is finished or is it integrated into the workflow of the day as a regular part of learning?
Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

Cultivating a Love for Reading

My mother was my world and she brought reading into it. -Donalyn Miller, The Book Whisperer

I was fortunate that I came from a family of readers.  Everyone read and the love of it was instilled in me very early.  I wish the same could be said for all of my students, and because it isn’t a priority in every home, I make sure to make it is a priority for the 7 hours they are with me Monday through Friday.

We talk about books and immerse ourselves in literacy building activities all day long.  We compare books and authors.  We compare writing styles and illustrations.  We do author studies and we use mentor texts in our Writer’s Workshop time.  I create books for my students in iBooks Author and in Book Creator.  I put them on their iPads and they have “just right” books at their fingertips all the time.  So, it isn’t surprising to me that my students are eager to make their own books.

Our favorite app for student-created books is Book Creator.  I’ve written about my ongoing love affair with the Book Creator app many times,  and now, you have the ability to draw within the app itself.  After introducing my students to this versatile app, I was immediately asked if they could make a book.  Many work on them during their free choice time.  At this point, they are fairly short books.  Here are a few screen shots from one of the first books a student created.

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IMG_0861Because he recorded his voice reading the book, I can’t upload the file.  This book was 5 pages, including the ever popular “The End” page.  He worked every free chance he had over a couple of days to complete it.  Because we use Showbie, I can upload his book to the shared folder and all of the other students can download his book and have it on their bookshelves.  This is a great way for students to share their work with their peers.

Another student started a Space book in Pic Collage.  It is not finished but her intention is to create several pages, save to her camera roll and upload into Book Creator.  Here is one of the first pages of her book:

IMG_0859I love the enthusiasm and creativity of these children.  I love how their excitement over creating a book is so genuine.  I love how their eyes widened and they bubbled over with excitement when they saw the Book Creator app and what it could do.

Giving children choice in how they demonstrate their learning is a mainstay in our classroom.  My students take charge of their learning through the use of these creation apps.  They think nothing of using  multiple apps to create a final product.  They create and combine on their own with confidence.  They are able to upload their final work to Showbie independently.  They are proud of their work and are eager to share.

As a parent and as a teacher, I want my children and my students to feel the joy of being a reader.  By bringing my own love of reading to the classroom, my students are discovering they are able to create their own books, make their own art, and share the joy with others as well.

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it!

 

Teaching and Leading

A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. -Lao Tzu

medium_6550520What do you need today?  A moment of peace and quiet? A push to get moving on a project you’ve been neglecting? Better yet, when was the last time you were even asked what you need?  As educators, we often are so focused on others, we don’t take the time to nurture ourselves either personally or professionally.  Today, I got something I needed. I had the ability to reunite with a cohort of teachers; ones with whom I had the privilege of spending one day a month in intensive Literacy Leadership training two years ago.   Our trainers brought us all back to share our stories and how we’ve changed since our training.  We also had great discussions on being educational leaders, why leadership is important and how teacher leaders extend their reach to touch others.

In preparing for this reunion workshop, we had to reflect on how our teaching has changed, how we’ve changed, over the last 2 years and be ready to share with the group.  Wow…my last 2 years have been just a little busy.  You can say it was the perfect storm of events.  The original literacy cohort began the year I received iPads.  The merging of the professional development highlighting student literacy with the versatility of the iPads completely transformed my teaching. I was encouraged to start this blog by a visionary friend who saw the magnitude of this story long before I did.  Then, I was chosen to be an Apple Distinguished Educator which gives me the amazing opportunity to speak to educators and leaders globally about my work.  (I used italics there because this still blows me away!)

Today, after writing out our transformation into teacher leaders, we were then asked to set a goal about where we go in the future.  I. Had. No. Idea…Really.  If you had told me 2 years ago I would be doing what I’m doing today, I would have never believed it.  So, there’s no way I can predict the future.  What I can say, is that by being open to the process all this time, doors open.  That’s it.  Show up everyday, be true to what you believe about how children learn, and doors open.  I do have to give MAJOR praise to my principal who supports me at every turn.  He truly exemplifies an educational leader.  He understands that the collective wisdom in the room far exceeds his own as an individual and he nurtures teacher leaders.

As for the iPads, what I need to say is this:  No one ever picked up a pencil and said, “THIS is truly a transformational tool needed for learning.  Let’s build an entire lesson around this!” The iPad can be a transformation tool as long as it is not the focus of the lesson. It can transform your teaching as well, if you are open to the process.

So, to all of you out there I say be open to the process.  Refresh yourself with a class or workshop. Collaborate!  In the words of my cohort leader, “Teachers can’t afford to be in private practice.  We have to collaborate to be effective.”  True story.

Thanks to all of you who show up here on a regular basis…I’m grateful to have you as readers.  You too, bring something to my table.

Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!

Photo credit:  Creative Commons

Using iPads to Work and Learn Together

Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success. -Henry Ford

Ah yes….working together….I can’t help but be reminded of the the preschool song “the more we get together the happier we’ll be”.  Working together, planning together, and achieving goals together is a beautiful thing.  It is not, however, something that is always done easily and it does require planning and effort.

We have been diligently working and planning together in our class.  Besides working on instructional goals, we are also working on our soft skills.  It is never too soon to work with children on their “EQ”…emotional intelligence quotient.  These are the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.  They complement hard skills.  Learning these skills now help transition them into adolescence and adulthood. In today’s world,  soft skills relate to a person’s ability to interact effectively with coworkers and customers and are broadly applicable both in and outside the workplace.

That being said, it takes time and planning to build community in a classroom full of egocentric 5 year olds.  We have been working on planning our day, working together on activities and projects as well as sharing with each other our completed work and work in progress.  This involves listening to each other, offering praise and helpful suggestions (helpful being the operative word).  This takes modeling and practice!

This week, we shifted from writing the plan for our day on a PDF on our iPads to actually typing it in the Notes app.  This has been very efficient and the kids feel “grown up” making a real list by typing.  They have their 5 “must do’s” listed on the Smart Board and they choose the order in which they want to complete them.  Currently, I am assigning the apps, but soon they will be choosing which apps to use to complete the assignment.  smartboard captureThe picture cues to the right assist them if they forget as they move through the day.  Kids are working individually, in pairs, or small groups by their own choice all throughout the day.

Here is a sample of the word work created on this particular day in the Magnetic Alphabet app.  The kids take a screen shot when finished and upload to Showbie for me to check later.

magetic abc workHere are 2 Pic Collage examples from a different day using the vocabulary words “mitten” and “cold”.

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Mitten pic collageOnce the students draw their pictures in Drawing Pad app, they save to their camera roll and upload into Pic Collage.  They then type the sentence using the vocabulary words for each picture.  They save it and upload to Showbie.

This schedule allows for a lot of collaborative time with each other and with me.  I am able to conference with children, assess, work with small groups and facilitate all throughout the day.  Because students have many opportunities to work collaboratively and interact with each other, we can practice modeling those soft skills we are learning about each day.

By setting up the classroom environment to reflect the values of learning through choice and collaboration, students are able to learn valuable skills that will carry them into the future.

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Building Vocabulary with iPads

Vocabulary is a matter of word-building as well as word-using. -David Crystal

We are in transition…in the process of moving from our choice board centers to more content creation centers.  This will take us a couple of weeks to migrate over to that system.  I will write more about this as we go, but for now, we are  adding various components daily that will be a part of our day.

How do you know when it’s time to change?  Every class is different and some can handle this change sooner than others.  I have a few signs I look for.  I look to see if the students are able to work more independently on iPad activities involving creation apps (such as Pic Collage and Explain Everything).  I also look to see if they are mostly able to upload their work to our digital portfolio app, Showbie independently.  But the real indication that really spurs me to move to the next phase in centers is they are driving me freaking crazy in the ones we currently have.  Even with frequent changing of manipulatives, activities and games, they suddenly stop using them purposefully.  Unifix cubes are no longer being used to pattern.  They are becoming light sabres and swords, or guns that attack others. And I am on the verge of yelling, “C’Mon Man!”  When you begin to feel the crazy creeping up and you want to retreat into the bathroom for an hour of sanity, it’s definitely time…and  I’m apparently the grown up and something has to give.   :)

So to get ready to transition, we start working on vocabulary.  This will be one center the students will have once we move away from the choice board.   This week we are reading The Snowy Day (appropriate and all polar vortex-y).  This is our mentor text while we talk about onomatopoeia.  We talked a lot about the words “crunch” and “plop”.  These words in the story relate to snow, but we don’t get snow here.  We thought of other things that can crunch and plop.  The next few days we will work on just 2 words but we will eventually move to 4 vocabulary words each week. These words are usually unit related.

The students took these 2 words, crunch and plop, and drew a picture for each.  It was saved to the camera roll, then uploaded into Pic Collage.  The students then wrote a sentence to go with their pictures using the vocabulary word in the sentence.  The finished Pic Collage was saved to the camera roll and uploaded to Showbie.

Here are a few examples:

Vocab Pic Collage 1

Vocab Pic Collage 4Vocab Pic Collage 2

Working with onomatopoeia is fun and a good way to start introducing vocabulary to young students.  As students become more proficient in their learning and in their ability to handle more responsibility, moving into more robust content creation is a logical next step.  And don’t we all have those really bright students for whom we just can’t dig deep enough for their requirements?  This type of activity allows them the freedom to move and groove on their own.

The best part of student-centered classrooms is giving them the ability to soar when they are ready.  We are always moving toward more student voice and choice.  I mean, no one wants to listen to my big talky head all day.

Stay tuned.  We are on the move!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!

Word Work and iPads

Teaching reading IS rocket science! -Louisa Moats

I’ve probably used this quote before…but it certainly bears repeating.  We are immersed in literacy activities all day long in our classroom and it is starting to bear some fruit.  Nearly all students are reading and we are 75 days into our school year.

Since we follow the Reading and Writing Workshop Models daily, we spend a lot of time doing word work activities.  We have been working diligently on word families and rhyming words.  We have used our iPads quite a bit to do this word work. The Magnetic ABC app has worked well in making words together in small groups.  We have also done a little app smashing with Drawing Pad and Pic Collage.  Here are a few samples from that:

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At the risk of being Captain Obvious, we were working on the -an word family.  They were able to choose 2 words in that family to illustrate in Drawing Pad.  They saved those drawings to the camera roll then uploaded them into Pic Collage where they typed a sentence with each word.  After saving the Pic Collage, they uploaded it to Showbie for their portfolio.

This relatively quick activity ( 30 minutes start to finish) will be a building block for when the children move into planning their own day and they have vocabulary words for their word work.  These 2 frames will eventually become 4 in Pic Collage.

What are the challenging parts right now?  We are still working on using the space bar between words when typing.  Back spacing and starting again provides an almost miraculous cure to that!  A few still need guidance in saving their Pic Collages to their camera roll.  Other than that, they are rock stars!

Word work is an important part of early skill building in literacy.  We play many quick games daily both on the iPad and in small skill groups.  Word Work helps them become better readers and writers.  If you are unfamiliar with the components of the workshop approach, I encourage you to read Lucy Calkins’ books.  These are easily found online and are great resources for the Reading and Writing Workshop models.

The difficulty of teaching reading has been greatly underestimated.  It is a complex process and requires a repertoire of strategies.  The iPads are providing me with another tool in my toolbox to reach all of my young readers!

Today we will do exciting new things.  Let’s get to it!