Slow Down. Not Just For a Day!

A 'loading cat' icon that net neutrality proponents can used to indicate their support for Title II reclassification.Wednesday was –in case you didn’t skim the headlines — National Slowdown Day! A day to bring awareness about who could control the flow if information through the plumbing of the Internet.

Whenever we discuss reading, we talk about the need to slow down. We are fighting the trend where skimming, scrolling, and headline-browsing is becoming the norm. (By the way, there’s a book titled Slow Reading.) We take for granted that with reading comes comprehension, but unless there is ‘absorption time’ no amount of reading time will improve literacy.

Enter something called Close Reading. We have just begun to adopt this as a reading practice for our students at Salt River Elementary. It means encouraging young people to a habit of reading that will ‘uncover layers of meaning.‘  It involves reading and re-reading. Slowing down for more than a day!

Here are two good discussions of Close Reading:



Celebrating International Dot Day

I am excited to be participating in an event that grew out of a book – The Dot, by Peter Reynolds.

The DotNever heard of The Dot? It’s a book about believing in yourself and your own ability to create something. Basically, to be able to leave a mark on this world (and on paper) that is truly unique.

International Dot Day is on Mon, 15 Sept.

To get involved, Nancy Yurek and I are encouraging every class to let students take a dot (a circle) and do something creative with it.

Some broad guidelines, if you are taking part:

  • Use your dot as the base of to create something larger than the circle provided- add other pieces to it!
  • Write something creative inside your dot – Your own ‘Dot story’, a poem, or something funny, 
  • Add cut-outs of pictures of yourself and your family
  • Add other ‘media’ to your dot
  • Paint or draw something 
Our plan is to take this into different aspects of school values.

We plan to:

  • Encourage students to read the book – on Tumblebooks, to which we subscibe
  • ‘Connect the dots,’ literally –on the walls in the hallways
  • Photograph them and create QR Codes for each group of class entries
  • Pick the winning Dot-stories, and feature them at our next school assembly

More about this event will follow. 

Digital Citizenship. Why Should You Care?

Last week, I began introducing the topic of Digital Citizenship.

It’s easy to see what it means to be a Digital Citizen, by looking at what happens when people have got caught not doing the right thing. Or why Google Glass, though useful to some, is upsetting. No shortage of these examples!

Plagiarism, bullying, and password theft are the big three in schools. But as more and more of students get into online sharing and commenting, we must think of Digital Citizenship in terms of how they perceive Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp., Twitter and SnapChat –and a slew of others coming right after these.

Alongside this unit, I am introducing something that gets 4th, 5th and 6th graders all fired up: Learning how to blog. This is a fun class, and not only because I’m a writer. Teaching students to publish content is a great way to recognize how language arts (the mechanics, even), connects with the digital skills they need to have. It gets them to consider what it means to have an audience!

It’s also fun because you don’t have to sweat bullets to make these units cross-functional, and multi-disciplinary –to be in keeping with the Arizona College & Career Ready Standards.

Here’s something that could be sent homeA Digital Citizenship ‘Family Contract’ for children to sign.

“If Not For Books, We’d Be Cavemen”

We just had a visit form a celebrated author, Joe Brown in our school.

He’s the author of the The Flights of Marceau, published by Scholastic.

What an amazing story, of an author who had been trapped in a body of a lawyer for some 50 years, and turned to writing at (get ready for this) 70!

I loved one of his quips, when asked if he always liked books. “Without books, we’d all be cavemen,” he said.

Joe Brown - Visit to Salt River Elementary SchoolThe book he read (and presented to each student) was “Race To The Rescue,” about Marceau the cab driver’s adventure (um, imagination) of how he got involved in animal rescue during Hurricane Katrina.

Joe had one big message for students. “Your teachers,” he said, “will tell you to read, read, read. I would tell you that while reading is very important, you must also learn to write, write, write!”

he urged students to take notes of the little things they observe, and the ideas that pop into their heads. “You never know where those ideas, and your imagination will take you!”

Joe says he plans to write a book each year. Can’t wait to see what the next in the Marceau series will bring!

Radio – not too ‘old school’ for digital natives

Is radio too ‘old-school’ for our so-called digital natives?

On the face of it, radio is not cool because it lacks visuals that most young people have grown up with. Also, given that the screen has become our interface of life, teaching for the ear gets a thumbs down.

If we give up.

I’ve recently discovered that, in class, radio –and the recorded voice—has a remarkable potential for engagement. I’m still trying to decide if it’s the hardware (a simple, cheap  corded mic) or the ‘studio setting’ I establish that gets a class all excited about creating content, and interacting.

The past few weeks, based on a lesson on sound and audio, I pushed my first graders to work on a format to make their own class radio show. I know what you’re thinking- First Graders?!  They may never ‘get’ why interacting (live) is big part of learning/thinking, right?

I beg to differ.

I give them 30-second practice-runs, and then pick a ‘host’ (based on the voice recordings last week) and get that student to basically run the show.

They make a mistake, no problem. We start again. They flub on their words. We re-record.

This is a lesson that combines technology and language. Technology at the service of language. My goal in this class is two-fold:

  • Let them discover a technology that helps them  communicate better, think fast. New Common Core standards call for integrating “information from oral, visual, quantitative, and media sources…”
  • Understand how vocabulary is key to describe an event (playing in the snow), appreciate a piece of content (a book review), show interest in a subject (the “I want to be a/an………….. because” prompt)

But by putting a child in the proximity of a medium (the visible hardware and the invisible software), I want him or her to see Language Arts through a new filter; To appreciate why good metaphors and word choices make good scripts, great stories…

KJZZ & Story Corps

I thought a lot about this yesterday, returning from Phoenix, after stopping by the Story Corps booth, at the Phoenix Art Museum. A mobile studio goes across the country letting people tell their stories. They may not have radio voices, and six-dollar words, but their stories are compelling. (While we were there, former Chief Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor was in the booth, recording hers.)

On the drive back, my 10-year old daughter insisted on listening to ‘The World’ –a news segment from Public Radio International, BBC and NPR. She’s a huge fan of the segment, Geo Quiz.

She’s a digital native. Yet it’s radio, not TV, that has sparked her interest in geography and world events.  It’s not as old school as you’d think.

That burning E-book question: Will it change teaching?

If you are a fan of the Kindle or the Nook, and wonder what it bodes for education, you should read Jeffrey R. Young’s analysis of the impact of eBooks on teaching in the Chronicle. (The Object Formerly Known as The ‘Textbook)

He makes an important point toward the end,  that textbook companies are morphing into tech companies. I don’t think this is cause for alarm. It’s not just a necessary part of their survival, it’s about moving where the puck is headed.

I’ve got mixed feelings about books vs digital. It’s not an either-or for me. (I’m a teacher, and I also write about the digital space.) I believe that ‘born digital’ content will not only originate from the publisher’s side. Teachers will one day find it so easy to blend their lesson plans and their accumulated wisdom into one space –presentations, hand-outs, hand-made videos etc– that they will use to create the upcoming year’s ‘textbook.’ Or is it Tech-book?

For this two things need to happen:

  • Schools will need to empower us teachers to take that leap. Teachers are terrific content creators, even though they don’t think of themselves that way;
  • Publishers will begin to partner with those teachers, and (since they have the tech tools/programmers on hand) help them become part of the process. Books embedded with simple jumping off points such as QR Codes and Augmented Reality, with mobile-friendly formats etc could be customized not just to the student but to the incoming class. Jimmy’s showing interest in trigonometry? He’ll have more challenging hand-outs just for him. Kim’s excelling in robotics? She will have her math word-problems oriented around missions and electronics.

It seems like a big leap, but it’s just two removes from what we are doing now, and a quantum leap from the canned literature squeezed into the same old books and piped through the online readers.

It will be a win-win-win for publishers, school budgets and, most importantly, the students who will demand these hybrid knowledge formats… er, books.

So, will digital textbooks change teaching? Yes, in ways we don’t yet know.

Computer-based reading tools, not magic bullet

Worth a read, even if you don’t agree. Peter DeWitt’s post on The Myth About Computer-Based Reading Software?

One point that struck out: Every child talks with peers about reading and writing.

Talking! Even while reading?

This is where technology can fail, especially when we put too much emphasis on the words on screen, and too little emphasis of the words (stories) in their head. I know most software tries to solve this by asking the online reader in an intervention program to ‘re-tell the story’. But I have a huge problem with that. Typing ain’t talking. Processing words through your fingers involves a separate part of your brain. Speech involves the frontal lobe, the Broca area— that we teachers sometimes suppress just for the sake of keeping the room quiet!

But re-telling a story to an inanimate screen is like getting someone to have a conversion with Siri, just because one can.  (Siri in the classroom is a whole new topic!)

SproutsMontessori_IMThink of why we read and what we do after we finish a book. We talk about it. For weeks, sometimes! By re-constructing the story, we revisit and embed some of the best parts of the writer’s craft – the grammar, the turns of phrase,  and of course stock our reservoir with a new vocabulary. I see this happen, almost in real time, at my wife’s Momntessori school, when 4-year olds pick up a book to ‘discuss’ it!

I’m not against digital books. I’m in fact a  big supporter of ePub, and am a heavy user of a Kindle. But it does not replace my belief that the mastery of reading comes from flipping pages (not screens) and talking about the content.