Wednesday, December 30, 2009


A whole year has passed since I began this blog and I thought it would be a good time to recap some of the main points from my journey. I've worked in a lot of school districts this past year with teachers that are facing similar issues, such as:

  • Providing evidence of student learning
  • Being a reflective, and data-informed, teacher
  • Letting the content/tasks drive the instructional sequence rather than the tool/resource
  • Learning to work together in a collegial/collaborative way
  • Developing a Learning Network beyond the school
  • Understanding one's roles and responsibilities (administrators too!)
  • Developing district initiatives that are process driven, rather than product driven
  • Learning to relinquish outdated traditional teaching practices in favor of modern/research-based effective teaching strategies
  • Realizing that none of what we do matters without the students
  • Believing that everything we do is in the best interest of students

As I look back over the last year, both in my practice and in what I've shared on this blog, I feel like much of what I see as the "pulse" of things is reflected in what I've written. I also see some areas in which I can improve and extend as a staff developer and let what I'm doing and what I've done drive my next steps. I want to practice what I preach, and know that I am being every bit as reflective and transformative as the teachers I am working with.

Everything that we as educators are doing now is game changing. We are empowering students and ourselves through global connections and an insane amount of constantly changing resources. What does this mean for the classroom teacher? It means that you keep doing what you're doing. It means that the content is still more important than the shiny new web tool. It means that the most important 21st Century Skill is still "THINKING." It means that you don't have to jump on every train to reach a new destination, you only need to be "willing to travel."

Now, for the recap! These are some of my favorites from 2009:

Favorite Web Tools of 2009 (meaning, the ones I use most often!)

  • Wordle - Generate Word Clouds from your text!
  • Etherpad - Work together in real time!
  • Twitter - Microblogging service that lets you share what's going on right now! (Perfect for developing your Learning Network!)
  • Wikispaces - Easy and collaborative website building.
  • Google Docs (especially Forms!) - Collaborate on documents or use as online storage for your own documents!
  • Diigo - Social bookmarking service. Save and share all of your "favorites" in one convenient place!
  • Flickr - Save and share your photos.
  • Aviary - Creation Station! Edit photos, audio, take screen shots--lots of creative opportunities here!
  • Blogger - Easy to use/update blogging service.
  • Cooliris - Presentation software that allows you to show a "wall" of images in a cinematic and really cool way!
  • Shmoop - Mega Resources for Literature and History - geared toward both students AND teachers. Really awesome website!
  • Animoto - create videos from your pics, text, movies, and audio--easily!
  • Storybird - Collaborative storytelling that starts with the visual - then invites the textual response. One of my Ultimate Favorites this year!
  • Ning - Facebook-like social networking that teachers and students can use privately.

Favorite Posts from the blog - 2009:

Happy New Year! I hope 2010 is your best year yet!

It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be. - Isaac Asimov

Picture is of my mother and mother-in-law with their iPod Touches. I thought it underscored what I meant by being "willing to travel." This new technology has opened a lot of doors outside the classroom as well!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas "Presence" (with a Technology Twist)

I am in Kannapolis, NC this week doing Professional Development with local teachers.  I attended church at Kimball Lutheran this morning where the pastor talked about Christmas "Presence" instead of "Presents."  Meaning, giving the gift of yourself, whether in person or through volunteer and humanitarian efforts.  As an addendum to MY PREVIOUS POST about Christmas related technology, I thought it would be worth posting about how your "PRESENCE" could make a holiday difference for others.  (Thanks for the inspiration, Pastor Rhoades...)

  • Give a GOAT! - You can help save the lives of starving children, families, even communities. You can help do it by making a gift to provide a family with a goat. Goat milk is a wonderful source of life for children, and there is just no better-adapted, hardier animal on the planet.
  • KIVA - Kiva's mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.
  • Salvation Army - Through your support of The Salvation Army, you are giving back to those who need it most in your community; helping provide toys for kids at Christmas, coats for the homeless, food for the hungry and many other social services throughout the year.
  • United Way - United Way is a worldwide network in 45 countries and territories, including nearly 1,300 local organizations in the U.S. It advances the common good, creating opportunities for a better life for all, by focusing on the three key building blocks of education, income and health. 
  • Be An Elf - At participating Post Offices you can read real letters to Santa from needy kids, and choose one or more letters that touch you. Then send your gifts in the US Mail, marked "from Santa" if you like. 
  • Toys For Tots - The mission of the U. S. Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots Program is to collect new, unwrapped toys during October, November and December each year, and distribute those toys as Christmas gifts to needy children in the community in which the campaign is conducted.
  • Tis Best Philanthropy - TisBest Philanthropy created this fantastic donation gift card for friends, family members, sweethearts, customers and everyone else truly important.  The recipient spends their TisBest Charity Gift Card by donating to a charity they believe in.  

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Storybird for Christmas

I've been playing with a new web tool called Storybird. It's a service that lets kids (or you!) write stories that are prompted by pictures. If you are at all interested in nonlinguistic representation, Storybird is a great starting point. Kids are able to choose a bank of pictures, then choose individual pictures from that set to tell a story. The stories are embeddable so teachers and kids can put them on blogs, wikis, websites, practically anywhere.

Here are some examples:

In My Momma's Arms on Storybird

Not So Long Ago on Storybird

There are additional examples of student work on John Mikulski's blog. (He's a local teacher and used these with his students.) CLICK HERE TO SEE HIS EXAMPLES

With my PREVIOUS POST on Christmas ideas, I thought I would share some of the ones we've made and hopefully inspire you to make your own.  These are a great way to tell stories digitally, get anyone (but especially kids) motivated to write AND read, and are a touching and personal way to share literacy with your friends and family, especially here at holiday time!

We'll be reading ours tonight at bedtime...


Homework Addendum...

I'm adding a little more about homework today, as I found a gift from a student of mine from a few years ago.  This student wrote the above out and framed it for me as an end of year gift. (This was a 7th grader...)

I thought it apropos in the wake of my previous homework post.

I questioned what I wrote in the earlier post as the responses rolled in both here and on Twitter; but I don't think I've changed my mind much about how I feel about the differentiation of homework practices.  I agree with some of what others have written, where sometimes homework is necessary as a continuation of classwork, or as part of an ongoing project, or in preparation for classwork.

What I was discussing was more about 1) rote activities that were not much more than busywork, 2) homework counting a "too large" part of a student's grade, 3) students not being valued for what they've learned because they didn't show it in the preferred way of the teacher, and 4) the need for teachers to inject some choice into homework practices (differentiating that the way they would any other learning practice).

I don't disagree that teachers feel accountable to teach life skills and job skills and responsibility, but there has to be a better balance, particularly if kids are failing because of homework only, and especially when they can demonstrate that learning is occurring.  Some kids may be motivated by grades, or motivated by the possibility of a low grade, but that doesn't mean that what works for most will work for all.

There's no easy answer here, but I think as long as we're searching for improvements and doing what's best for kids (by understanding their individual needs), then we're heading in the right direction.

Thanks to those that responded in the previous post and on Twitter. This is a discussion that is very necessary.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Holiday Technology (Gifts, Fun, Resources)

I'm compiling a list of websites that offer holiday themed technology. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comments section, and I'm sure I'll be adding to this as time goes on!
  1. Send a free "snail mail" gift card with THIS WEBSITE from the folks at Google!
  2. Create a WORDLE of your loved ones favorite song or wedding vows, print it, and frame it for a unique Christmas Gift.
  3. Visit and trade your used books for "new to you" books. All you pay is shipping to ship your books to another person. When you choose books, people ship them to you for free!
  4. If you haven't visited ELFYOURSELF before, you'll want to go there immediately!
  5. MAKE YOUR OWN SNOWFLAKE with this Flash Website.
  6. Directions for How to MAKE YOUR OWN SNOW GLOBE!
  7. Find the songs that were popular when your loved ones were young and then download them with iTunes and make a custom CD as a gift!
  8. Watch HOLIDAY FAVORITE shows and movies on ABC Family!
  9. Download FREE CHRISTMAS MUSIC in's 25 days of Free Music!
  10. Tell a story online and SHARE YOUR STORY with your friends and family with Storybird.
  12. (NEW 12/07/09) Download 99 Holiday Classics at Amazon for just $5! (You read that right! 99 songs for $5! Great deal!)
I'll add more soon!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who's Failing Who?

Tonight in a workshop on differentiated instruction, I was talking with a teacher about her son who is a high school senior.  She talked about how smart her son was but that he was failing virtually every subject at school.  The reason? Homework.

The kid just doesn't do it. 

I asked her how he did on tests.  She said very well.  I asked her if this was something new, this "not doing homework" thing.  She said no, that it had been ongoing since elementary school.

I told her that her son was not a failure.

It's him that's being failed by a system that is hell bent on holding kids accountable for behaviors with grades.  The doing of homework is a behavior.  It is an action associated with continuing practice, but not all kids need it.  I told her that this story was perfectly applicable to our purposes here tonight.  The "DOING" of homework is a process oriented task that leads, usually, to a formative assessment of the understanding of the material taught.

Formative assessment is meant to drive instructional practice to ensure that the learning is sticking and if not, establish a plan for reteaching, reframing, or restructuring how the material is going to get into a kid's brain.

It is not meant to be punitive.

Grades that reflect behavioral actions or that are punitive are WRONG. 

Let me say that a different way.  If our collective objectives are to teach students, then what we teach and what they LEARN are the priority factors, correct?  How we teach and how kids learn are as individual and unique as the way we look.  If a kid needed extra time because of a reading problem, we would accommodate.  If a kid needed a special adaptive technology, we would accommodate.  If a kid needed additional copies of notes or specific after school support, we would accommodate.

But when a kid demonstrates, time and again, that homework just isn't their bag, why do teachers exclude that from the list of things for which we would accommodate?  There are many ways to differentiate process and product besides homework, but many teachers would rather call the student irresponsible and then punish them with low grades that DO NOT REFLECT WHAT THE KID KNOWS.

Why do teachers get hung up on this?  Does the kid who doesn't do homework deserve not to graduate? 

Why is homework such a dominant factor in the overall grade?

I'm not saying that homework doesn't have a place.  I'm just saying that some kids don't need it.  It's a perfect opportunity to differentiate instructional strategies and provide opportunities for students to do things in different ways.  I'm not talking about more work for some, less work for others, I'm talking about truly understanding a kid's needs to the point of blazing new trails of instructional strategies that may be outside of our own experiences and/or traditions.  The way that things have always been done is a poor excuse for continuing to do them.  There are other ways to hold kids accountable for their learning without punishing them with bad grades because they are a poor fit for an instructional strategy chosen by a teacher, by a professional who should know more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak.

In this holiday season, I'm reminded of a certain reindeer who was pushed out of the traditional learning path and took a different path to proficiency. What Rudolph learned in the nontraditional way served him so well that he became the most successful and famous reindeer of all.  Can't we create opportunities/choices for our students like that?

Like much in education today, homework needs to be reframed.  It's part of the paradigm that needs to be majorly shifted.

Ten years from now, I have a feeling, we are going to look back at many of the practices we participate in today, and be embarrassed by what we did to kids.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

New Web Stuff 12/02/2009

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Differentiated Instruction

A few of the workshops I'm doing over the course of the next few weeks involve differentiated instructional practices.  I'm doing them as a "coaching" model where I work with just a couple of teachers at a time and look at a particular area that they want to improve, develop a plan and help them implement it, then reflect on how it worked. 

During the course of my time with these teachers, I'll be sharing a couple of resources for developing our plans using technology.  They may or may not come up with every teacher, but I thought I would share some of the resources here, with you!

I'll add more as we uncover what teachers need during my sessions.  We will be discussing what we can differentiate and why we do it.  Additionally, any new websites I save will be in my Delicious account and tagged with "differentiation."