Thursday, April 26, 2007

Learning to write - Writing to learn

The students at Runkle have been very busy using technology this week. Kindergartners just completed their Ocean unit and each child drew a picture, wrote about something they learned and then recorded their voice sharing one thing they learned about ocean life. I put the pictures together into a movie which you can watch below. The thing I love about this project is the combination of visual, written and oral expression. For students who are not quite ready to write full sentences, recording their voice provides them with the opportunity to show what they have learned. If you would like to download a copy of the video, right-click (PC) or control-click (Mac) this link.

It has been so interesting for me to watch the growth of our Kindergartners this year. I have worked with primarily with middle school students for most of my career as a teacher. Working at Runkle has allowed me the privilege to work with students in the primary grades. As I've observed our Kindergarten students in the lab over the course of this year, they have grown in both their technical ability and their literacy skills. When they first started coming to the lab, many of the students couldn't find the letters for their name on the keyboard, let alone write a full sentence. And, when they began writing words and then sentences, they rarely included vowels or spaces between their words.

As this year comes to a close, I am thrilled to see these 5 and 6 year-olds using vowels (even if they aren't always the right ones), including spaces, and easily reading their own writing (even when we can't). This growth has been fascinating and thrilling for me. I want to thank Runkle's Kindergarten teachers and paraprofessionals for all they do. They really are amazing teachers.

This is just one of the amazing ways that Runkle students are using technology. I'll be sharing more projects in future blog posts.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

To blog or not to blog...

that is the question. Why read blogs? Why write a blog?

We are living in an amazing time in history. Speech is truly becoming free. People everywhere are saying what they want to say and publishing their ideas for people around the world to read. Web 2.0 has given a voice to millions of people and also given us the ability to share our voice with other people around the world. Web 2.0 has taken out the middleman (middle person). We don't need a publisher to tell us that what we want to say is worth reading. It is the readers who will decide. And the readers who can tell you what they think. We no longer write in a vacuume.

What does this mean for teachers? Teachers are learners at heart. Reading blogs provides teachers with a community of colleagues beyond their own school. That community has ideas and opinions about teaching that can motivate and inspire. Writing your own blog is a learning experience in itself. You have to ask yourself, what do I have to say and how do I want to say it? Finally, it makes the teaching of writing that much more important. If blogging is the future, then writing is the future. We want our students to be prepared to make a point and argue it articulately and creatively.

What does this mean for parents? Parents are also learners. Reading blogs provides parents with a community with ideas and opinions about parenting that can motivate, challenge and inspire. Writing your own blog is a learning experience and also lends your own voice to the voice of parents everywhere. There is so much propaganda about parenting. Parents need to take control of their own issues. Finally, blogging by teachers lets parents in on what is happening in the classroom. It opens the black box. It allows conversations to take place within a classroom community that can lead to better understanding and learning for everyone in the community.

What does this mean for students? Blogging provides a public voice for students. It makes writing authentic. When writing a blog, you really have to consider your audience and be open to feedback. This provides incentive to students to think before they write and to write well. Blogging forces students to dress up their writing for a public audience.

What does this mean for school administrators? School administrators should be participating in a community of bloggers. Administrators can learn from each other about what is working and what isn't. They can provide each other with support, feedback and ideas to make schools work better. They can model writing and participating in the future of technology for their teachers, parents and students. And, they can make their goals and intentions transparent to the school community. Nothing keeps you more honest than laying it out on the table and opening yourself up to your community for ideas and suggestions.

Of course, the public nature of blogging is scary. Is anyone listening? Are they going to criticize my writing, my spelling, my ideas? As a community we need to respect the risk that bloggers are taking by laying their ideas and opinions out there. We need to presuppose the good intentions of the writer and honor his or her vulnerability by contributing in a caring and nonjudgemental way.

What do you think - teachers, parents, students, administrators? Are you willing to come on board? Are you willing to lend your voice to the blogosphere? To submit your ideas to the conversation? Do you need help to do that? Do you have questions? Ideas? Ask me, ask others. Let's get this party started.

David on classroom 2.0 at ning just shared this amazing wiki site on how to start blogging. Check it out!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A new literacy...

I am a reader. I love books, especially young adult and adult fiction. I know how to read a book. I know how to look at the cover, to read the inside flap, to find out about the author, to make predictions and connections as I'm reading. I know how to read from left to right and down the page. Reading books is a two dimensional experience. I'm pretty fast and I usually remember a lot of what I read.

Reading Online is a whole different animal, a "three dimensional animal" (Warlick, page 22). The more I do it the more I learn how, but it requires attention and practice. In a Web 2.0 world, it is just as important to teach kids to read and navigate information Online as it is to teach them on paper.

Just reading this blog takes a different kind of attention and approach. There is a lot on this page, pictures, videos, and links. As you are reading this blog there are opportunities to go elsewhere, to read and reference more than just what is on this page. That is the beauty of Online literacy, but also the challenge. It is easy to get lost, to wander off to explore a link and then lose the train of thought where you began.

I myself am just learning how to do this. So far this is what works for me: I first look over the whole page, reading headings, looking at pictures and reading links. I then read the article that interests me from start to finish. After I have read it through once, I start exploring the links on the page. This works for me, but I have had to figure this out for myself.

As teachers, we need to be able to support and help our students to do this as well. I think this is an essential skill for students to have. Students are constantly interacting with Online information. We need to give them the tools and skills to do so in an effective and efficient manor. And, this needs to happen inside the classroom, not just in the lab. This is not a "technology" lesson, but a reading lesson that involves technology. Check out this interesting Website: 21st Century Literacies, Tool for Reading the World You will find a lot of resources on how to teach these skills.

What do you think? Are you addressing this type of literacy in your classroom? If so, how are you doing it? If not, what kind of support do you need to start bringing this into your "reading" lessons? Do you agree that it is important?

Works Cited: Warlick, David F. Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century. Linworth Publishing, Inc. 2004.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Try it's Yummy!

If you aren't already familiar with the social bookmarking Web 2.0 tool, I highly recommend you check it out. With a account you can bookmark Websites and access your bookmarks from any computer. This is great for me because I work on a lot of different computers and my account allows me to find my Websites wherever I am. I can also share my sites with students and teachers, while still keeping some sites private. Finally, I can also look at and follow other people's Websites which often leads me to great Websites that I would never have found on my own. The Library and Technology department in Brookline is also working on a system-wide Website. If you want to learn more, go to and/or watch the screencast below which shows you how to get started.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

What is Web 2.0?

If you are reading this blog, you are participating in Web 2.0! What is Web 2.0? My idea of Web 2.0 or the read/write web is simply that the Internet has become an interactive environment. It is no longer a space where you go and watch and read, it is a space where you can contribute. In fact, to get the most out of it you should contribute.

There are many Web 2.0 tools that people use to interact on the web. This blog is one of them and if you comment or subscribe to my blog then you are interacting with me and others through the Internet. We become a community and as a community we share ideas and discuss them. One mind becomes many and many minds become one. And, our community can expand way beyond the Runkle School. Through the read/write Web the world becomes our community. That is what makes it so exciting and gives it so much potential for the classroom.

I am going to be teaching an Intro to Web 2.0 class for teachers on Thursday afternoons in May. This class will be worth 1 graduate credit. In this class we will explore many Web 2.0 tools and think about ways we can use them both for our own professional development and for our students.

Here is a look at a video that is often used to help people understand the concept of Web2.0. What do you think?