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!

Using Blokify

We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.  -Albert Einstein

Minecraft1The room is currently a beehive of activity.  There is some serious problem solving going on here.  Teamwork, collaboration, super-focused engagement, and high-level conversation are also taking place.  Here is a comment I overheard, “We need to strategize where to put the portal!”  What could cause such excitement that it filled our entire indoor recess time?

Blokify is our newest discovery.  It is similar to Minecraft, but it is free. Blokify lets builders create block based models free-form or through a guided building experience. Once the model is complete it can be 3D printed to take the fun from virtual to physical play.  So, no…we don’t have a 3D printer but the kids are beyond engaged in this activity.  Blokify is easy enough for my young students but sophisticated enough to create more complicated designs.  There is a free build mode and a challenge mode.

There is a greater conversation out there about gamification in education and you can find a number of opinions on either side of the issue.  I think I fall in the middle somewhere…I believe in balance.  However, what can’t be ignored is the engagement, conversations and collaboration going on today.  There is also a lot to be said about the spatial relation skills  needed for this activity.  It is also interesting to note that all of my students, both boys and girls were equally as engaged and had sustained attention to problem solving.

minecraft4When the app downloaded today, I told them it was similar to Minecraft and they immediately went to work.  A couple of them asked me some questions when they got stuck and when I explained I didn’t know how to play and I had never even played Minecraft, they were stupefied.  I am clearly a loser.  Another student took the puzzled ones under his wing and shared his expert knowledge after only engaging with the app for less than 5 minutes.

I count this app a success.  We definitely need to strengthen problem solving skills.  These young children will be in charge one day!  I overheard one of my students say he was going to write about it during Writer’s Workshop today.  It just doesn’t get much better than that!

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!

 

Educating Each Child

Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? ” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? ” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.” -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

IMG_0102(1)Grown ups do love their figures…it’s all about data.  We have to quantify something, measure it, analyze it and dissect it down to its very bones before we decide if something has meaning or value.  A recent article in our local newspaper ran in giant bold type the front page headline that the use of iPads in our district is not resulting in significant gains in scores.  If you are looking to sensationalize a hot-button topic, then the more negative the headline, the better.

The funny thing about data is that it doesn’t take into account many important factors.  Factors that can’t always be measured.  We have had our iPads for 3 years.  Some would say that’s enough time to show some major growth.  This would be true if iPads manufactured intelligence and poured it into the mouths of our students.  iPads are not a magic bullet or get smart quick scheme.  They are not integrated equally into every classroom, nor are they used in a cookie-cutter way in every lesson for every student.  Some teachers use them extensively for in-depth learning, and others…well, not so much.  Meaningful staff development is critical and my district has done a good job of working with teachers in best practices.

But what about each individual child?  Since the iPad is merely a tool, it must be used in a way that enhances individual student learning. Information is an essential key to learning.  Accessing information is a logical need.  How does a class of 30 plus students access information equitably in a classroom with 2 desktop computers (if that)? We don’t use card catalogs, hard bound encyclopedias, or phone books any more.  We rarely use paper maps (which is just as well, I can’t ever fold them correctly).  With the fading away of these sources of information, where are we to get information?

Wholesale dismissal of the use of iPads after 3 short years of implementation is short-sighted.  They provide necessary accommodations for disabled students, that have never before been available.  Vision impaired, speech impaired and autistic children have an open avenue of accessibility that is not just necessary, it’s their right.  Students who have learning disabilities or have learning delays can have learning experiences that are “just in time” for them.  Similarly, students who excel and are more advanced than their peers have the ability to work at that higher level with the iPad.  It is because of these abilities to personalize learning for my students that 100% of my students have gone to first grade reading above grade level for the past 3 years, that my school has earned the Apple Distinguished School award 2 years in a row, and earned an overall rating of excellent, scoring 99.3% on the Federal Report Card.  Our school rating went up to 5th in the school district from 8th in the 2011-12 school year.

Where is that headline?  That never made the newspaper.

My students learning experiences are richer, more in-depth and more rigorous because each of them have access to a powerful learning tool.  I can’t imagine teaching without them now.  Think of the many ways you access information today.  My guess is, you do it automatically without thinking of the technology necessary.  How inconvenient would it be if you lost access to that technology? How backward would it be to say, “I’m sorry, you aren’t making statistically significant progress in your work life so we are going to remove your access to information.” ?  Heck, if my SmartBoard goes down for a day or I don’t have internet access at school for a few hours I feel handicapped.

This is the world we live in and it will only become more wrapped up in the need for technological access.  Dissect that data all you want…but behind every number is a child.  Are you going to look at that child and say, “Sorry, but you aren’t worth the expense to adequately educate you for the future.”?  I know I can’t say it.  I’m grateful I work in a place that can’t say it either .

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

Augmented Reality with Aurasma

When you think of any aspect of life or work, augmented reality is completely going to change how we do it. -Ori Inbar

I’ve been reading a lot about augmented reality.  It is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, thus providing a composite view. Wait, what? My inability to wrap my brain around that has kept me from exploring it until just recently… Think about the yellow first down line you see on TV when watching a football game. That’s augmented reality.  Why do I need that in my classroom and how does it work?  Enter Aurasma.

imagesAurasma is a free app that allows you to create auras.  The auras allow you to embed content, video, weblinks, or even 3D animation.  All you need are pictures to serve as the trigger and a device to read the aura such as an iPad.

So, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only teacher who gets repeatedly interrupted during small group instruction by students asking for directions (that you’ve already given) for an activity.  I’ve been looking for a way to use QR Codes to post directions for different activities, but haven’t been able to use them because You Tube is blocked.  So now, I just create an aura using an image as a trigger.  I record myself giving directions for the activity.  This is the overlay.  I save the aura to a channel and print out the trigger image.  My students open their Aurasma app, hold the iPad over the trigger image, and my video plays automatically.  This allows them to get the directions as often as they need.

Other uses could include student-created auras demonstrating learning, sharing stories, solving math problems, or scavenger hunts. Individual students could have instruction tailored to their needs by simply scanning an aura.  I talked with my PE teacher today about having students in PE create auras for a circuit training activity.  The uses are truly endless.

So, as you are reading this and thinking you aren’t sure you get it, just as I did, don’t despair.  I created a PDF giving you step by step directions on how to create an aura as well as how to set up student iPads so they can read the auras in the classroom. Click here for those directions:  Aurasma Directions

I’m excited about exploring different uses for this great app.  My kindergarten students were excited to use it and have already asked if they can make their own! That will be our next step.  This takes personalizing learning to a whole new level.

Give it a try! I’d love to hear how you use it in your classroom!

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