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!

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!

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!

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”.

cold pic collage

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!

Kodable in Kindergarten

When people think about computer sciece, they imagine  people with pocket protectors and thick glasses who code all night.-Marissa Mayer

This week is the “Hour of Code” week.  Students from kindergarten through 12th grade are learning computer code through online tutorials.  This campaign is a push by President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates in an effort to create interest in computer science in students in the U.S.

Not one to miss out on all the fun, we found a great app for coding in kindergarten called Kodable.  Kodable is designed for children ages 5-7, but I will say that I know a few grown-ups who have spent an hour or three on it. There is a free version of the app and the Pro version is .99 in the App Store.  Here is a screenshot of Kodable Pro:

KodableappThe object is to program the fuzzy ball to move through the maze to eat the coins by putting the arrows in the correct sequence.  My students were immediately engaged.  Their conversations were analytical and full of strategy.  They worked on this app for 45 minutes and were upset when they had to stop.  What surprised me was how quickly some gave up and how others persevered.  Actually, I should say I was surprised at who gave up and who persevered.  It was not at all as I thought it would be.

Why code?  Well, why not?  It’s always been widely accepted that it is easier for children to learn a foreign language when they are young.   Using these devices is as natural as speaking to our students. Why not let them learn a computer language?

After my students worked diligently on Kodable yesterday, today we took it a step further.  They created a code that needed to be solved by a friend.  They drew the track for the fuzzy ball and had a friend sequence the arrows to correctly move the ball.  First they designed the track, then they added the coins to be obtained, and finally, they drew the number of boxes at the top for each arrow to be placed in sequence.  This means the student had to go back and count for themselves how many turns were needed in order to know how many boxes to draw.  Here are a couple of samples:

coding1

coding2Once it was created, they passed it to a friend who then drew the arrows in the boxes provided to show the correct order.  The friend also had to count the number of coins earned and write the number on the sheet.  They loved this!  Seeing their enthusiasm, I printed out some pre-made track and put it in the math center.  This way they could cut and build their own if they wanted without having to draw.  Here is one a student made at the math center:

coding3

The track was the length of a sheet of paper.  They could cut and edit how ever they chose.  This one had 10 gold coins.

Kodable was a great find.  I am sure we will be working on coding for much longer than this week dedicated for it.  My young inquiring minds are eager to continue and there’s not a pocket protector anywhere to be seen!

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:

photo 3photo 2-2

photo

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!

Braving Technology in the Classroom

Do one thing every day that scares you -Eleanor Roosevelt

spiral stair caseWhat scares you? I’ve recently decided I’m afraid of open heights…you know, high places with very little barrier, or steep steps with open spaces in between where I can look waaay down…I usually make my husband go in front of me and I hold on to his shoulder, or else I get stuck right there!

This wasn’t always the case.  It has developed only recently but it’s still a strong fear.   I feel ridiculous talking about it because it seems so silly but my heart races and I feel all panicky when faced with a situation involving high open spaces.

In the classroom, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about being brave and what that means.  It could mean trying something new, speaking up when we aren’t sure of the answer, facing a bully, or doing something by yourself.  All of these can be daunting when you are 5 years old.  I’d venture to say some of these are daunting to adults as well.  My students are beginning to ride their bikes without training wheels these days and many come in reporting about their bravery in this feat.  Their pride is quite evident when it seems they’ve conquered something new.

Of all the scary things in their big, wide worlds, technology isn’t one of them.  A recent visitor went to one of my students and asked him about how he learned to do all of the things he was doing on the iPad.  He looked at her quizzically and said, “I didn’t learn it, I just do it.”  So Nike’s theme aside, “just doing it” seems to be how they all think about using this device.  It’s no big thing.  So why are the adults all standing on their heads about teaching kids how to use the device?  Possibly because we see the device in a different way than they do.  Obviously, we need to teach responsible use and digital citizenship, but I do not teach my class as a whole group how to use apps.  I work with a few students in a small group and they usually end up working with each other and helping each other.

illusionMany of you have seen this illusion  where you have to determine if it is an old woman or a young woman.  Some people have difficulty seeing the image as 2 different images.  I found that I saw the old woman first and then saw the young woman later.  I also found that once I saw the young woman, I had difficulty seeing it the other way without really concentrating on that.  As educators in connected classrooms, we have to be able to adjust our vision and see as our students do.  If we only see the “old woman” in the photo, we are missing out on the possibilities of the “young woman”.  We can’t be credible to our students if we are singularly minded.

Change is scary.  By keeping our eyes forward, not looking down or back, and letting go of the handrail, we can navigate that big open staircase.  It also doesn’t hurt if there is someone in front of you to hold on to…

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

Let There Be Light

Technology is anything invented after you were born. -Alan Kay

At this moment, I’m in the airport in Portland, Maine waiting to fly home.  I have been at the Leveraging Learning in Primary Grades Institute as a presenter and keynote speaker for their annual conference in Auburn. This institute is all about customizing learning in the early grades with the use of iPads. As a presenter, it is often difficult to find time to get into another session to hear someone else speak but I was very fortunate to be able to sit in on the final keynote today given by one of Apple’s employees, who serves as Director of Learning.

As the speaker was talking, he showed this graphic on screen by Dr. Eric Mazur:

Brain Activity

This graphic represents a 24 hour period of EEG’s taken on the brains of students.  It is to be noted that their brains are more active during sleep than during class.  This is because learning is passive during lecture.  You will notice a similar wave pattern (or non-wave, as the case may be) during the time the student was watching television.  Learning simply must be more than the transfer of information.  We must focus on creation, curation and collaboration in our classrooms.  The richer the experience a student has, the more likely he/she is to learn.  The speaker emphatically pointed out that the last thing we need is a monoculture in schools that produces the exact same product.  Content without context and community is not an efficient way of learning.

As the opening quote by Alan Kay states, technology is anything invented after you were born.  Think about what technologies have been invented since you were born.  Many of our students have grown up with some kind of computer technology in their homes.  For them, turning on those devices and using them are as natural as using the switch to turn on the lights.  Think about it…few of us would think of “lights” as technology at this point.  Back in the day, you would see signs such as this posted: Edison-Electric-Light-Sign

 So what do we do now? We know that “the way we’ve always done education” is as outdated as that sign.  It was encouraging to see the faces of the educators at the conference in Maine…to see their determination to move beyond using the iPad as a substitution for paper and pencil or as a gaming device.  As advocates for our students, we must speak up about creating real change.  It starts with each one of us.  Plant a seed, watch it grow, change the world. Let there be light!

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