Vol. #91: *How* I Turned Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging [Crosspost]

For the discussion on *WHY* I Turned Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging, read that post here.

The first step for me in creating a custom technology tool that met my needs was to know Paul Cancellieri. Luckily, if you don’t, he has explained the process in detail on his blog Scripted Spontaneity and I am crossposting it here for my readers. The process we have developed is the basis for our two presentations this week at ISTE.



1. Create a blog: The video below illustrates the simplest method (in my opinion) using the free WordPress.com service.  Edublogs is a hosted version of WordPress that is specifically designed for classrooms, but you need their “Pro” level paid service to activate the “post by email” feature that makes this process much simpler.  So, I recommend going to WordPress.com as a free alternative.  After creating the blog, you can customize the site to include a school or district logo, or just tweak the colors to make it more appealing.  Note: Any blogging platform that supports the “post by email” feature will work for this purpose.


2. Create a form: The video below demonstrates how to use Google Docs to create a form that collects the information that you find important.  Keep in mind that some of the collected information will be used to generate the blog post, but other information (e.g., student identifying details) can be kept off the blog and only viewable by the teacher for the purposes of assessment.  Feel free to start with my template, but be sure to go to the File menu and Save a Copy before editing it.


3. Use a plugin to convert the submitted form into an email message: Here I explain how I used formMule to perform this function, including the important step of matching the format that WordPress.com accepts in their Post by Email feature.


4. Create a submission page on the blog: The final step is to embed the Google Form on a page of the WordPress.com site that is password protected so that only your students can submit blog entries.  You can moderate all entries so that no unauthorized submissions get published as blog posts.


Tips and Troubleshooting

  • If the blog posts are not showing up on your blog, start by checking that the form is saving information.  Do this by looking at your Responses spreadsheet in Google Docs.  If entries are found there that are not posted on the blog, move on to the next bullet.
  • Next, go to the Dashboard for your WordPress.com blog and go to the All Posts area.  Check to see if the posts are sitting in Draft form or otherwise waiting to be published.  You may need to tweak the language in the formMule template to get the blog posts to be published automatically.
  • Be aware that the author of the post will be you.  The blog post author’s name will match the name of the WordPress.com account that activated Post by Email.  You may want to adjust the official name on that account to look more like “Student Blogger” or something similar.

Vol. #90: Why I Turned Independent Reading into Interactive Blogging

blog-684748_1280I started Teaching Speaks Volumes in June 3 years ago. Each year in June, I’ve updated the look of the blog and reflected upon its impact as a powerful catalyst for growth and change.

Blogging – writing with a real-world audience – has become an important staple in my reflective practice as an educator, but also in my instruction.  Besides authoring this professional blog about teaching, my students blog about the books they choose to read independently. Reading and writing for real purpose with an open reflection and engagement of ideas with an audience of peers is as powerful for students as it is for professionals.

My students write reviews of books they chose to read on the class Reading Blog. I’d tried many different approaches to independent reading over the years, from traditional book reports and presentations, to book talks and reading logs.  These are very typical of any English Language Arts (ELA) classroom, though I’d always designed my own reading logs, project menus and rubrics. However, for the last several school years my students’ blogging has had a powerful impact for my classroom independent reading.

Publishing independent reading reviews has made my students’ analysis of their reading interactive and authentic in several ways. First, when written on paper as a reading log or project and submitted only to me, spelling and punctuation sometimes seemed an afterthought. However, when published in front of their peers and the world, most students make a genuine and concerted effort to apply conventional spelling and grammatical rules, showing their best work. This has changed the dynamic of my students as viewing themselves as “published writers”.

The “search” option allows visitors to the Blog to search titles, authors, topics, and even friends’ names to see what they are reading. (Students often post comments to each other about the reviews, although this is optional.) Because middle schoolers are social by nature, the ability to see what their friends are reading and reviewing is a powerful motivating force to read.


Several authors have contacted my students about the reviews about their novels by posting a comment directly to the students on the blog. For example, the 2014 Newbery Award winner Kate DiCamillo responded this past November to one of my very own students!  No doubt googling their own book title, authors arrived at my students’ reviews and felt compelled to reach out to the young adults who reviewed their works. For all these reasons, this Independent Reading Blog is the very definition of interactive and authentic work by a middle schooler.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 11.43.01 AM

To reap these benefits and make the switch to paperless book reviews shared to the world, I used the free and open source blogging tool “Wordpress” and I created a blog for my students. The structure of the submission form creates the post. Drop-down menu choices become where each review appears in the blog’s menu. (image) Anyone visiting the site can search all “fantasy” reviews or all “five star” reviews written by my students. The same book may appear in the five star reviews for one student, but another student’s review of the same book might appear with the three-star reviews, if that is how each child rated the book.Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 1.17.42 PM

Students can easily research what their peers are reading, and even use that information as a point of inspiration for what to read next. All of the reasons stated make reading interactive with their peers and this social aspect is very important to young adolescents. By designing this blog for my students “from the ground up”, creating a product similar to Shelfari or Goodreads but with my students’ specific needs in mind, it has revolutionized my instruction.

My ever-techie colleague Paul Cancellieri (@mrscienceteach) who blogs over at Scripted Spontaneity was instrumental in my setting up this interactive blog. He has created a how-to step-by-step guide on his blog.

Vol.#89: Pondering Interactive Notebooks

As a year-round school teacher, I still have a month of school left whilst also planning my next school year’s start. My students take the state standardized tests next week but my new year starts in July. Some in year round call it the “bend” (beginning + end), others the “clopening”. It’s always a crazy time.

This week, teachers at my school need to post their supply lists for next year’s students and for the first time in fifteen years, I think I will not be asking for that 1″ binder and five tab dividers. I will be asking only for one marble-top composition book and Elmer’s glue.

Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks ~ Literary Elements for Common Core 4-8 by Erin Cobb @ TpT
Interactive Reading Literature Notebooks ~ Literary Elements for Common Core 4-8 by I’m Lovin’ Lit @ TpT

I am considering using Erin Cobb’s interactive notebooks for my students next year.

Since becoming part of the TpT community, I’ve become a huge fan from afar of Erin Cobb whose TpT store,  blog,  and Facebook Page  are all titled “I’m Lovin’ Lit.”  A fellow 6th grade language arts teacher, she is able to create student engagement and interactivity where I have not: using paper.

Digital student engagement and interaction? Sure, I’m your girl. My students interact on Edmodo, collect group efforts in Padlet, and get instant feedback on their reading in ReadTheory. They complete questions on a story by scanning color-coded QR codes I’ve created on QRStuff to arrive at a Google doc which, when completed, are scored and results are emailed to students with Flubaroo. Need iPad apps for language arts? How about FREE iPad apps for language arts?  No problem.

But my notebooks… Well, I rarely “give notes”, and if so it’s usually a flipped lesson. However, the real usefulness of the notebook I ask my students keep for my language arts class? Dubious at best.

I initially considered going completely paperless. While I could do that, I think some students are tactile and need some “tangibility”. Also, parents often expect something they can touch, see, and feel that students are completing and for reference to help their child study. (And I don’t issue the literature textbook.) Creating a custom permanent reference is appealing.

In addition, I like the division this gives me. If it’s something they need for reference (content, test goals, logins, etc.) it becomes part of the interactive notebook. If it’s work generated by way of practicing a skill, its completed in a google doc, with an App, on the Edmodo wall, etc.

notebook-738794_1280

Hard-copy content.

Paperless practice.

Both interactive.

…I like it.

This is especially an important decision for me, as it’s not only a shift from old habits, but material management it such an issue in sixth grade. Students come from the elementary school “classroom with a cubby” and have to now travel to multiple classrooms and deal with lockers. Asking students to have different binders per class means they always forget or have the wrong one at home or in class. One big binder with everything it it is hard to organize. My students have had the most luck with large Case-it binders, but they’re too expensive to require in my opinion. Screen Shot 2015-06-07 at 2.30.25 PM

Come July, we’ll see how it goes.

How do you use interactive notebooks, technology, and/or other tools to help students stay organized? Please place your tips and tricks in the comments!

Vol.#88: A New Principal Wish List

I am in my fifteenth year of teaching. In that time, I have had eight principals, including two interim principals. That current, eighth principal, who just hired me this school year, has been named a high-school principal in a neighboring county.

girl-619689_1280Part of the process in my county of employment is for the area superintendent to come and speak with the staff about their wishes for the new principal before they begin interviews. I’ve attended four of these meetings before. Each one has been distinctly different, but also had some recurring themes.

The Media Specialist at my school wrote the following about what she wants in a principal. She posted it on her blog, The Keeper of All Wisdom, Folly, and Knowledge, and also allowed me to share it here with you.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

What I want in a future principal

I want a principal who will take the time to understand and truly appreciate the culture of positive learning that has been created at our middle school.

I want a principal who loves middle schoolers with all their quirkiness and hormonal energy.

I want a principal who listens to her students when they want to share a problem or concern, or just updates about what television show they watched last night.

I want a principal who lets her teachers take risks, allowing her teachers to try innovative instruction.

I want a principal who empowers her teachers to take on leadership roles and who supports their professional growth.

I want a principal who is well respected in the community, who makes connections with parents and business leaders.

I want a principal who is a teacher leader first and foremost, never forgetting what it takes to do the hard stuff of teaching on a daily basis.

I want a principal who stands up for her teachers and students when the time comes.

I want a principal who listens to her teachers when they have a concern or a problem or a solution or they just want to share some personal news.

I want a principal who is seen on the campus, in the classroom, in the media center, in the cafeteria, on the athletic field.

I want a principal who implements strong teaching and learning programs that will impact student achievement.

I want a principal who makes the most of her dollars, imploring sound financial abilities to effectively and efficiently provide the materials and resources to run our school.

I want a principal who recognizes, appreciates, and supports all levels of learners from special needs students to academically gifted students.

I want a principal who understands and can effectively assess the data to make important instructional decisions and support successful teaching practices.

I want a principal who is honest, tenacious, caring, professional, vibrant, personable, organized, savvy, accountable, objective, and positive.  I want a principal who is “real”.

I want a principal who is a cheerleader, recognizing teacher and staff professional achievements and student academic, behavior, and athletic achievements.

I want a principal who communicates her expectations to her teachers, students, and parents.

I want a principal who asks questions.

I want a principal who realizes that this is “our” school – it belongs to all of us– the staff, students, parents and community — and we are all vested in our future.

~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

Here’s to number nine being all this and more.

Something you’d add? Please post it in the comments.

Vol.#87: Thoughts On “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate”

I really love kinetic typography, and if the video is about education, all the better.

So I came upon this video this week:

I sent it to about a half-dozen other educators to see their take, because I really wrestled with the message.

On one hand, I really relate to the message that 17-year-old Suli Breaks passionately delivers, refusing to be reduced to a number on a test. I’ve written in both prose and poetic forms that students are “more than a score”. The insanity over standardized testing was even featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. (You should really watch if you didn’t catch it, and if you’re not offended by some salty language.)

Anyway, back to Mr. Suli Breaks. I found much of what he said to be powerful, relatable, and certainly fair.

And yet…

There seemed to be a hint of devaluing academics in general; a playing down of the importance of one’s education, which made me uncomfortable. Several of the teachers I sent it to felt the same.

I posed this question: How does he show he values education, if he understandably does not value the testing, and that’s all he’s known education to be? How do we expect him to separate the two?

The conversation that ensued had me thinking deeper about this and how it relates to educators. I think it is similar to the crux of the problem those of us opposing the current state of standardized testing face:

  • How do we demonstrate our willingness for accountability when it has become synonymous with standardized testing?
  • How do teachers convince the powers-that-be that we value criticism, but not uninformed critics?
  • How do we explain that we value high standards, but not high stakes?

Vol.#86: Facebook vs. Twitter 

From colleagues to family, some have asked why I use both Facebook and Twitter. What is the need for two different social media venues? How much can I possibly have to say?

While there is no one way to use any digital tool, for me there is a stark difference between how I use Facebook and how I use Twitter. Simply put: Facebook is personal, and Twitter is professional. This again is certainly not the only way they could be used, but it is the way that has worked for me. I find myself often explaining how my use differs using a metaphor, and some have told me the analogy helps them. I’ve described it here in case it helps you or perhaps someone you know.

pool-115850_1280Facebook is your own personal swimming pool. You decide who is allowed to come and socialize and swim. You need to monitor your settings to know who is able to see into the windows of your establishment. You can mark people as “close friends” to follow them as a VIP and keep in closer contact with them. Your resort style might be an intimate gathering, a large vacation spot with many friends and family, or a wild spring break party hot spot. It’s a social time, fun with friends and family. And while you can’t control the conversation of all your ‘guests’, you can decide whom to invite.

niagara-218591_1280Twitter is the social media Niagara Falls. There is no controlling the deluge of information and tweets that flood the stream of social media on Twitter. You can choose who to follow, and people can choose to follow you, but essentially it’s a free-flowing river of information and you are simply targeting which ‘water’ you are more likely to sip.

When I want some ideas in the classroom, I search the key word or appropriate hashtag (#). I won’t catch everything in that topic or every tweet from someone I follow (unless they tag me in it with my @teachingspeaks name or direct message me). I just fill my cup as needed, and send out other links, images, and tidbits that I think may quench someone else’s thirst.

Cybraryman has a list of all educational chats. Following a chat is much like a chat-room of the 1990s about that topic. Following a chat is a great introduction to Twitter, since it has a structure and time parameters. It’s also a great way to find people to follow who are interested in similar topics. Of course, education is far from the only topic in Twitter. From politics to crafts, famous tv shows to obscure books, whatever your passion, there’s a feed and folks to follow.

tl,dr: Facebook is learning what’s going on in the lives of people I know, and Twitter is learning about topics I’m interested in, mostly from people I don’t.

I’ve recently added a Teaching Speaks Volumes Facebook page, which is a huge departure from the approach I’ve used for years described here. It’s an experiment still unfolding.

How do you use Social Media?

Vol.#85: Toil & Trouble

As testing season soon approaches, visions of #edreform dance like sugar plums in teachers’ heads…

Bubble Bubble

Just one of those that’s been dancing in mine.

Carry on.

Vol.#84: “Is This A Grade?” [Infographic]

They say there is no such this as a bad question, but, “Is this a grade?” makes me think otherwise. This is one of my least favorite questions of all time, and teachers are asked this by students often.

It reveals a student’s thought process on if a learning experience is important and worth their time or not.

I have tried several approaches to this question. I have tried to ban  the question from the classroom without success. I have tried consistently using the vague response, “All things in life are assessed.” They have been undeterred.  My students have even gotten savvy enough to know to ask, “Is this formative or summative”?

I decided I do not want to answer this question again. To that end, I have created a flow chart to post on my wall:

Is this a GRADE-

PS: I love you Piktochart.

If you would like it for your classroom as well, it is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store here.

What habits of your students do you try to break?

Vol. #83: Continued Professional Evolution

concrete

Just some recent tweets and thoughts about the importance of continued learning and collaboration for educators.

Essential Questions:

  • How do we fight the urge to become complacent?
  • How do we encourage reluctant colleagues?
  • How do we get funding for professional development reinstated?

Vol. #82: Read Theory

I set up ReadTheory for my students Friday and I am wondering where this FREE tool has been all my life! It definitely belongs on my list of free reading RTI strategies.

ReadTheory is a literacy tool which tailors itself to the student’s individual performance in reading. It selects a passage and questions for the student at random from the pool of available quizzes at the student’s level:

Students “choose a level to start.” My students were not aware that it meant “grade level” and some assumed they would start on “level 1″. After completing a passage that was entirely too easy, it quickly adjusted for them.

The video references how it adapts to a student’s performance as they go. Here’s how:

Level up: If a student performs outstandingly on the quiz (score 90% or more), then the quiz is never shown again and the level increases by one.
Level unchanged: If the student passes this quiz (score between 70% and 89%), it is never shown again and the student remains at the same current grade level of reading.
Level down: If the student performs poorly on the quiz (score 69% or less), then the quiz is replaced into the pool of available quizzes and the level decreases by one.

The teacher receives data charts and progress reports which are interactive and intuitive. The class average, student start level, current level, average level, and number of tests completed are all shown.

I especially like that students get immediate feedback on the questions they get right and wrong, and that for incorrect passages, they can click to get the “explanation behind the answer”.

There are several ways ReadTheory could be improved:

  • Being able to upload a csv file would have been really nice, although entering  students’ names one at a time didn’t take too long.
  • I would have really appreciated an easy pdf download by class that has the website, default password, and each students’ username in rows to cut apart for easier distribution.
  • I have some parents who would love a parent log in, similar to what Edmodo, Class Dojo, and Class Charts have, so that they could see their child’s ongoing progress.
  • Some of my students have noted it’s a lot like Study Island (which many of them had in Elementary school) but without the fun gaming/reward part.
    • Study Island costs money and I appreciate that Read Theory is free. It does keep “points” in some fashion, but I’m unclear how these are obtained and what they represent. They do not appear to be attached to badges or any type of reward within the actual web App outside of the statement of “You now have X many points.”  As I learn more, I may look to how I can reward them “outside the screen” in my classroom.
  • There’s no “stop”. Our students are trained to look for the stop sign when testing. These passages keep going on until a student chooses or a teacher tells them to stop. Choosing how many passages to do (or a time limit) and having a “stop” pop up would be a nice option.

These suggested improvements aside, I really like ReadTheory so for its ease of use, intuitive data, and personalization for students.

Writing Volumes About Teaching Whist Learning Volumes About Teaching

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