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Sunday, March 10, 2013

How to Elaborate Writing with Telescopic Text

Telescopic Text allows writers a chance to share a story just one bit at a time, while revealing small and large thoughts alike in a measured manner. You can best understand this site by checking out the site creator's example.

Here's a video that explains the creation process and gives some examples:

Sample Applications for the Reading/Language Arts Classroom:
  • Use this site for students to practice elaborating simple texts (see one silly but effective student example). The fact is, elaboration is a tough to teach topic in writing. Telescopic Texts is perfect for tackling that topic in an interesting, unconventional way. If you're looking for some lessons on elaboration, I'd recommend you check out this blog post that references using picture books to model elaboration.
  • After studying genre, challenge students to create a silly story that changes genre with every extension of the text.
  • Assign students the task of describing historical periods in an expanding series of events.
  • Have students reveal changes in a character's traits or feelings over time.
  • Challenge students to write humorous texts through unexpected twists and turns in the plot.
Notes and Caveats:
  • Students should register for their own accounts and learn the difference between saving and publishing (saving allows future edits; publishing does not).
  • If students create telescopic texts, they can share them with classmates without saving them; be aware, however, that once the page is closed, the text is gone forever!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Google Docs Story Builder: Creating the "Back Story" to Documents

Most of us have used Google Docs in a collaborative setting, and we've seen how multiple users edit and add on to each others' comments. But Story Builder allows students to create a narrative around those changes by animating the discourse between fictional writers on a Google Doc. The best way to understand this site is to visit and see some of the sample stories there.

Here's one of Google's own examples:

Sample Applications for the Reading/Language Arts Classroom:
  • Two of a book's characters can describe a shared event, told from their unique perspectives. For example, two fairy tale or fable characters can each explain their side of a story, contradicting and correcting each other as they go.
  • Given a quote from a novel, two or three of the novel's main characters can begin discussing it, and possibly modifying it, to express their individual world views.
  • In the book Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen, we hear dual perspectives of the book's main events as the first person narrative switches from Bryce to Juli with each new chapter. Google Docs Story Builder would be the perfect tool for telling both protagonists' point of view in a novel such as this. You might even consider having students work in pairs, with each taking on the role of one of the book's characters.
Notes and Caveats:
  • I haven't pushed this app to its limits, and cannot attest to the maximum time or number of characters permitted. I'd recommend keeping it simple to start.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Responding and Reflecting; Collaborating and Collecting

If you've ever used Wallwisher, you know how powerful such a tool can be in creating collaboration and on-line dialogue between students.

Lino It is a similar tool, with an easier interface. Use Lino It to collect feedback, write together, and synchronously respond and reflect. This online bulletin board allows anonymous and instant posting, and only the posters (and the administrator) can move or peel off the stickies that have been added. Super easy with few frills to distract students.

Another neat feature is History, which highlights the ten most recent additions, allowing users to quickly see what was added since their last visit.

Check out example of students responding to Paul Laurence Dunbar's "The Sparrow" which was read in juxtaposition to Poe's "The Raven."

Applications for the Reading/Language Arts Classroom:
  • Demand Exit Tickets: all students respond to an open ended question based on the day's lesson.
  • Collect Ten Word Stories, ala Sparky Teaching's Ten Word Stories page.
  • Ask students to list running questions about a difficult text piece.
  • Encourage students to collect colorful figurative language and "cool sentences" from their reading. Some of these can later be submitted to Notable Sentences... for Imitation and Creation (see my write-up here).
  • Add a "What's New and Notable" bulletin board to your teacher's page. Include assignment updates, links to current events, etc. See my Lino board at the bottom of my main class site.
  • Share files and videos which are related to classroom discussion topics.
  • Get instant student responses to poems, song lyrics, facts, and quotations, perhaps as a warm-up to each day's lesson.
  • Allow students to record thoughts and questions as they watch a video or read a chapter.
  • Check out more ideas at this blog.

Notes and Caveats:
  • Limit the number of users on a single board to five or less. Otherwise, you'll have too much traffic and many redundant responses.
  • If you care to know who posted which items, instruct students to include their initials on posts. My students decided to assign a different color to each student to differentiate responses.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Case for Digital Portfolios

Check out Throwing Away 6th Grade - OR - The Case for Online Portfolios.

I don't have a lot to add to what you'll see at this post. But in short:
  • I teach sixth grade.
  • My students generate a lot of products.
  • We have online digital portfolios.
  • I get it.
Am I doing as much as I can with them? No. But at least I'm headed in the right direction.

How about you?
By Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon [LGPL (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Teachers' Domain: Digital Media Lessons Aligned with Core Standards

Are you seeking to integrate technology and media into lesson plans, but don't want to spend hours at the computer or reinvent the wheel? Teachers' Domain offers you incredibly complete, well-paced lessons that incorporate the best of what is freely available from public broadcasting. From the Teachers' Domain site:

Teachers' Domain is a free digital media service for educational use from public broadcasting and its partners. You’ll find thousands of media resources, support materials, and tools for classroom lessons, individualized learning programs, and teacher professional learning communities.

Resources are well categorized, and searchable by topic and grade level. Once you've registered at the site (it's free), you'll see that all lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards (aka the National Standards) as well as state standards, when available.

I also appreciate that rather than search through hundreds of plans, I can drill down to the specific skill or topic I'd like to see, as shown in the screen capture below.

If you need some help navigating the site, working with video files, or planning instructional units, Teachers' Domain offers online courses and teaching strategies in a number of formats.

Visit Teachers' Domain and see for yourself how easy they've made media integration. Then continue to check back as more resources are added.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Why Continue to Invest in Technology?

Tis the time of year when budgets are planned and votes are taken to approve said budgets. In most districts across my state of New Jersey, and probably across your state as well, jobs and programs will fall under the budget axe.

So when a parent or board member asks, "Why should we keep putting money into technology?" we should be prepared to answer.

I recently stood to defend technology at a board meeting in my own district. In order to remember what I needed to say, and in order for the audience to possible recall it later as well, I organized my thoughts into an ABCDE format. Note that it's short on statistics and buzz words; that's entirely intentional. Don't over-think this for yourself, or over-complicate it for your listeners.

Active Participation
When we were in school, the traditional model consisted of a talking head at the front of the class, and a sea of nodding heads filling the seats. Nodding either with dumb agreement, or with sleep. Either way, learning was typically a passive act.

With technology, and especially with on-to-one programs, all students are involved simultaneously. Technology throws learning back into students' laps. Technology allows students to control both the processes and products of learning. The teacher is just as necessary, but now fulfills a much different role. Excellent teachers create opportunities which allow work and dialogue to continue well after classroom hours.

Buy In
Everyone wants to know, "What's in it for me?" Students are no different. They embrace learning when it's more personally meaningful to them. The Internet allows students to connect what they're learning with the real world in real time. It helps them to realize that what they're learning is neither discrete nor isolated from the "real world."

Technology also allows students to become content creators. When I poled students at the beginning of the year and asked them if they had ever created content to post on the web, they were amazed at the possibility. That capability is now totally taken for granted; they are a part of the Internet.

Middle and high school students are social animals, thriving on peer relationships. We can harness this natural inclination in a healthy and productive way by using technology that allows students to work together. Whether we create team oriented problem solving scenarios or simply permit students to peer edit and comment upon classmates' work, we're demonstrating that the teacher isn't the only one in the classroom with the answers. Equally important, we're encouraging students to ask the questions and seek their own solutions.

A little-touted benefit of technology is its ability to differentiate instruction. For the most gifted learner, technology provides opportunity. For the struggling learner, technology offers opportunity. Within a single assignment, a teacher can offer and accept incredibly diverse responses, given the number of applications and programs with which students can express themselves.

Equal Access
Knowledge is Power. That expression is cliche only because it's been said for generations, and is absolutely true. Equal access to the world's information, via the Internet, overcomes socioeconomic variables, offering true freedom to pursue learning.

If my points are too simplistic for you, I apologize. But for me, this five point plan for discussing the benefits of technology is one I can rely upon. It's simple, yes, but absolutely proven in my classroom experiences with students.

Want more? Heather Wolpert-Gawron has put together responses to five common complaints voiced by technology naysayers. Says Wolpert-Gawron:

Frankly, there are many reasons to avoid providing technology as a more common and frequent tool in education. However, as stated in "Strictly Ballroom," one of my favorite movies, "a life lived in fear is a life half lived." Fear cannot shut us down from our mission: to educate students for their future.

How do you respond to those who say that tech spending should be cut in order to trim the budget?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Microsoft Word's Most Ignored Feature for Teachers

Learning Essentials is a free application designed to enhance teachers' and students' use of Microsoft Word. Word owners can easily download the program, for free, for use at home or school.

Learning Essentials is a suite of templates, tools, and tutorials which integrates easily and assists teachers and students in creating reports, projects, and assessments. Students and teachers use existing Microsoft Office programs more productively with the aid of ready-made assignments and helpful shortcuts.

The best way to see the features of Learning Essentials is to download the demo (tour) at the Microsoft site. You'll get a tempting glimpse of what's included in both the Educator Tools and Student Tools.

Another way to get a look at some of the application's features is to check out the Creating Writing Assignments tutorial at GreatSource/iwrite, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's companion site to their excellent Write Source books. (Another hot resource to see there is the series of videos on How to Write a Research Report).

While there, also check out the tutorial titled How Can I Use Learning Essentials for Writing Instruction?

Then, when you're ready, download Learning Essentials and give it a go. Let me know what you think!

And check out the resources at GreatSource/iwrite as well! Tons of tutorials and awesome resources for young writers. If you're in the market for grammar or writing texts, definitely request a sample of one of their books. I'm not a fan of grammar, never was, but this well-organized and well-written series serves as a fantastic classroom resource for students engaged in meaningful reading and writing.