Sunday, February 28, 2010

The End of Wordle as We Know It?

There's some trouble in paradise. I saw a number of tweets yesterday discussing alternatives to Wordle, but I didn't think much of it. Apparently, Wordle is in some trademark trouble, as there is already a trademark for "wordle" by a photographer in California.

A number of people have said that they don't want to see Wordle change names. Here's my thought, though--what difference does it make what it's called? Call it Wordle, call it WordCloud, who cares? As long as the service is available. And between social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook, the number of users that could end up back at this site is fairly high.

Now, I'm sure I'm over-simplifying. I'm certain the legal issues are more complex than this. But a rose by any other name...

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Current Popular Reads

For a group of self-proclaimed non-readers, my classes are pretty amazing this semester. They've effectively created a community of readers, where they can share their reading without the worry of ridicule by their classmates--they're all in the same boat together.

I allow students to check out books from my personal library, especially if that book is either not a title in or school library, or it is checked out of our school library. Some of the most popular titles that are being passed around readers in my classes (we have a wiki that includes a wait-list for books students are interested in reading) are...

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod (Series) by Heather Brewer

I blame this series on one of my first period students, JJ. He wanted a book about vampires, but he didn't want to read Twilight, because he thought it was geared toward girls. The only other vampire book I had, Thirsty by M.T. Anderson, was already checked out by another student. So on one of my many excursions to Barnes & Noble, where I frequently make use of my educator discount, I picked up the first in the series, Eighth Grade Bites. Within a few days, he'd finished this book, come back to class raving about it, and already asking for the next one. This is the same kid whose papers I get with the symbols from this book on it. So he's been through the first and second, another student in the class has read the first and is on the wait list for the second (he got distracted by Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar). This book is already on its third reader, and we're a week into the second grading period.

The Hazelwood High Trilogy (Tears of a Tiger, Forged by Fire and Darkness before Dawn) by Sharon Draper

Tears of a Tiger I bought on recommendation from my mother years ago when I taught ninth grade. This is how I hooked a couple of boys who pretty much refused to do their independent reading. I'm currently on my fourth copy of this novel as my students tend to walk off with it. This is also on its third reader. I had one student come in on Wednesday--she was given Forged by Fire on Tuesday--and say she finished the novel. Then, she was upset because my copy and the library copy of Darkness before Dawn were both checked out. Two of the girls (interestingly enough) that are reading through this series were mad at me at the end of Tears of a Tiger because of what happened... mainly because they got into the novel, started to feel for the characters, and then a big event occurs and they couldn't believe it. Have I mentioned that I really like my job?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I present this novel by saying, "This is one of the best books I read in 2009. It makes my All-Time Top 5 list." That right there is enough to get my students interested. There was so much interest in this novel that I went out and bought a second copy. Both copies from my library are checked out, and both copies from our school library are checked out. Many of the boys who come talk to me about what they should read next ask for books with adventure. The Hunger Games is the first novel I think of, followed quickly by the next series, and the book after that. And the kids are going through them like crazy. This one, and its follow-up Catching Fire are page-turners. Both students who have my copies checked out come to class with their questions and their thoughts on what "crazy" thing happened in their reading since I last saw them. A must read.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Series) by Rick Riordan
What's funny about this series is that I didn't recommend it because the movie was recently released. A boy asked for adventure, my copy and the library copy of the next book were checked out, and I thought, "What else do I have or know of that contains adventure?" And I had to think for a second. But let me tell you, they're flying through these, too. The Lightning Thief is on its third reader, having been turned in on Friday. The student who started this viral read is now waiting on the third book, The Titan's Curse, which I need to remember to take to school on Monday. This is another one they come in talking about. And what's great, is that it's a simple introduction into Greek mythology, something the 8th graders learn toward the end of the year. It's  usually a fun unit, and creates background knowledge for the students when they have to tackle The Odyssey as 9th graders.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
One of the things I love about collaborating with people all over the country, whether it be via the Edmodo Classroom Connect project that Chad Sansing and I participate in, or via one of many PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) that I'm a member of, is that through that collaboration, I get to find out what other reading teachers and other students are reading all over the place. I bought The Maze Runner because some of Chad's students were reading it, which I found out when our students were talking about their reads one Friday. This book is also on its third reader: two on my recommendation, and the third on recommendation from a classmate. When I talked to the student who checked it out on Friday, I asked him if he wanted to wait until Tuesday to get it. His initial response was yes. About 10 minutes later he comes to me and says, "If I check it out today, can I take it home over the weekend?" Yes. Please do. Wow.

A couple of other books that are very close to this status are No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman, Unwind by Neal Shusterman, and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series by Jeff Kinney. These kids, these so-called non-readers are amazing me right now. I ask that they read three novels over the course of a semester. The idea is that they get through three and it'll be more than they've read, for the most part. I have students who have already read three, and keep coming back for more. It's a heady thing for a reading teacher. And it makes my job (harder) a whole lot of fun.

"Miss, I finished my book. What should I read next?" Because they want my help, and that makes me happy.
"Really? Already? Man, you're making me work."

Blogging? We have a Wiki

It's Saturday morning, and I finally have time this week to sit down and roll through my RSS feeds and the Twitter posts I've favorited. A Slideshare presentation, "11 advantages of using a blog for teaching" caught my interest right away. I like how Calberg compares blogs and wikis. There are advantages to both, I think, but it's difficult to incorporate everything.

Right now I'm in a place with my teaching where I want to do more than my students can handle. We've been using Edmodo since the beginning of the semester, and I just introduced a wiki into the mix. There are some students who already move effortlessly between the two--Friday's lesson involved pulling questions off the wiki and posting answers on Edmodo--but there are many who are having a very hard time with it. 

Ever since I learned the eChalk, the website host for my school district, had a setup for blogs, I've wanted to use them. And the more I read about other teachers and how they're using blogs, I just think: "Ooh, I want to do that." All in good time, right? 

I set up my wiki in such a way that each student has his/her own page on the wiki, where they keep track of the books they're reading, the books they've read, and their thoughts on those book. Other students (and the more savvy ones have already started doing this) can view their peers' pages, make comments, and get book recommendations.

For my audience right now, 8th graders with limited experience and bravery with technology and trying new things, the wiki is working well. It's changed the way I present independent work since I hate making copies. It's also easier now to give students make-up work. They got to the wiki, either to the page with the weekly agenda, or the page with daily assignments, and can complete them on a sheet of paper, or print the PDF and go from there.

Now, to get the kids who have a number of absences and no internet at home (which is most of my students) to make getting those assignments a priority.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Creative Thinking Questions Part II

I was hoping I'd get video of this activity, but I left my SD card at home yesterday morning.

What I planned as a 25 minute activity, ended up taking closer to 45, which I discovered when I looked up and the clock read 9:43. First hour ends at 9:45. I had planned time for students to edit their webpages, but in every class, that part of the plan got shucked for the day.

The order of events for the day yesterday was as follows:
  • Journal (Write down the question and answer it using your SSR book)
  • Read Aloud from When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
  • SSR
  • Creative Thinking Questions Activity
I think the activity went well. I looked at the results (5th hour didn't figure into this because we didn't finish the lesson), and found that out of 38 students, 52% showed improvement on their writing from the journal to the end product. That number may seem low, but there were an abnormally large number of students (almost 40%) who didn't follow instructions and write the initial paragraph. Or they wrote the initial paragraph and not the revised paragraph. Either way, they only had one paragraph on their paper. The majority of this number (11/15) came from my 4th hour class. This tells me that I need to do a better job monitoring my fourth hour class to make sure that they're doing as they're asked.

All told, if you look at the number of students who followed all of the instructions, 87% of those kids (20/23) showed a clear difference from their first paragraph to their second. I think using the t-chart made a huge difference. They were able to jot notes about their character or about their event, then use those notes and the notes they wrote about their object to find a match. It significantly improved the quality of the examples given from the text.

The true tests will be Wednesday and Friday. On Wednesday, they will have to revise a piece they wrote a week ago and many of them will have to take a wild guess as to which question they were trying to answer before. We'll use the color-coding strategy one more time. Then on Friday, when we do Edmodo Classroom Connect, they'll just get the question and they'll be left to their own devices to answer it. Let's see how they do.

"There is one friend in the life of each of us who seems not a separate person, however dear and beloved, but an expansion, an interpretation, of one's self, the very meaning of one's soul."
--Edith Wharton.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Wiki Anyone?

I just started a wiki for my class and I'm excited about it. There were a couple of reasons I decided to create a wiki:

  • I love doing book talks, and I love that my students are reading. I think my students should have a forum to list/discuss/berate the books they've read, too.
  • Students can look at the readings of their peers. So instead of a student coming to me and saying "Hey, Miss, what is Y reading?" (I got this question on Friday), the student instead goes to the wiki, clicks on the class period for the friend, and checks him/herself.
  • Students can also see the thoughts of their peers. Each student, when finished with a reading, gets to rate the book with stars (the same scale used on Goodreads).
  • A better way to keep track of what any given student is reading at any given time. I've tried making spreadsheets and keeping a written list of what each student is reading for the sake of continuity. Of finishing what you start or having a good reason to abandon.
  • Create a community of readers. On Friday, they realized that the wiki is theirs. It's their space to reflect on their reading, and share it with others who are also inflicted with the curse that is my class. But they see that they're all in it together and that they're all reading. It may be different books and at different levels, but they're all reading and they're all sharing with each other.
  • I realized that it's really hard to house everything in one website. I love Edmodo, don't get me wrong, but for this kind of tracking, Edmodo won't do it. By the same token, there are aspects of Edmodo that cannot be replicated in the wiki. So I'm resigned to have two websites and link them together. Next year, I think I'll make sure the usernames and passwords are the same for both.
  • There is a teacher in Indiana that I'd like to collaborate with (we're teaching the same grade now and she says it's a must). Her technology situation is a little sketchy, so I wanted to come up with something that could be managed on whatever computer time they have.
So a whole host of reasons. What's great is that I introduced this on Friday, after their Edmodo assignment, and many of my students were concerned that they didn't complete their entries before shutdown time. I chuckled and assured them that we'd come back to this, and that we'd be updating the pages until the end of the semester. Then they'll be able to look back at what they've done and say, "Man, I accomplished something this semester." 

The frontpage of my students' wiki!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Creative Thinking Questions

I'm always looking for new ways to assess my students' reading without making them do a book report. I honestly have never assigned a book report and I don't think I ever will. But there still has to be some accountability for their reading. How else would I know whether or not they do what I ask?

In thinking about this last week, I stumbled across the memory of attending the New Mexico AP Summer Institute in Albuquerque in June 2006. The presenter for the workshop I attended included a "Creative Thinking Test" for a specific novel in with our materials. My favorite question was #4, the Creative Thinking Questions. These questions asked readers to think figuratively about their novel, comparing a character or an event to an object, color, or personal characteristic. I have taken this idea and expanded it to a longer (and not finished) list of comparisons.

My students have answered some of these questions before, but many of them didn't come up with the result I was looking for. So I'm going to take a more structured approach.

Concepts Addressed
  • Test prep - how to respond to short answer questions.
  • Marzano: Similarities and Differences (and SIOP: use of graphic organizer)
  • Figurative language
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Revision
The plan is to model the activity step-by-step. So I'll model, they'll do. I'll model, they'll do. The goal is that they'll come to understand that some questions have more than one part that needs to be answered. I reformatted this list so each question will fit on an index card. The beauty of doing that is I can do this activity more than once, and students are not likely to draw the same question twice.

In looking at steps 1 and 2, I did organize it this way on purpose. Often, students will do a cold answer of a question without really thinking about it. I want them to be able to compare that type of answer to an answer that is well thought out, and the only way to do this is by not having them plan their answers first.
    The Activity
    Step 1: Each student draws a card, reads it, writes it down on his/her paper, then answers it.
    Step 2: Using a T-Chart, write down the characteristics of the character or event chosen, and the figurative term (underlined) on the card.
    Step 3: Look at how the question is broken down. Using colored highlighters or 3 different colored pencils, mark the three parts to the question.
    Step 4: Review answer written. Mark answer with corresponding colors.
    Step 5: One color at a time, expand the answer so that it completely answers each part of the question. Check those sentences for grammar and spelling mistakes.
    Step 6: Rewrite paragraph in a cohesive way, remembering to indent, etc.

    The Questions
    Creative Thinking Questions

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    Modeling SSR

    I know I've mentioned this before but modeling SSR makes a huge difference in a student' willingness to read. In the article "The Power of Independent, Self-Selected Reading in the Middle Grades" (Stairs and Burgos, 2010), Atwell is quoted discussing what she was taught by her students about independent reading and what independent reading within the context of school could do for them:
    The ability to read for pleasure and personal meaning, like writing ability, is not a gift or talent. It comes with the ability to choose, books to choose among, time to read, and a teacher who is a reader.

    To add to that, I must mention that it takes not only a teacher who is a reader, but a teacher who is willing to forgo the time for paperwork/attendance/whatever to pick up a book and show the students what SSR looks like. If you look at the presentation I posted last week on how people learn, it talks about how we learn most through vision. We are more likely to internalize the things we see. This is why modeling is so important.

    A particular event that came to mind was SSR one day when I wasn't reading. Usually most of my fourth hour class (save two who are adamantly against reading), will settle in and do the 15-20 minutes that I ask for. That particular day, the 7th grade Title I Language Arts teacher needed advice/guidance, so I talked to her during this time. Because I was talking, I think my students took it as a cue that I wasn't serious about reading, so they talked as well.

    I also think having read what the students are reading independently, as well as a willingness to take their recommendations, is key to fostering life-long readers. If a student can come to me and say, "You totally need to read this," and I come back later and say, "Okay, I read this and here are my thoughts," they realize that what they have to say has value. With validation comes the confidence to put themselves out there, not just when recommending books, but in other arenas as well.

    Stairs, A.J., Burgos, S. S. (2010). The power of independent, self-selected reading in the middle grades. Middle School Journal, 41(3), 41-48.