Monday, February 1, 2016

#30secondbooktalk Challenge! It's ON! (Like Donkey Kong!)

A couple of months ago when Brad Gustafson (principal/lead learner at Greenwood Elementary School in Plymouth Minnesota), asked me if I wanted to help him create a "book talk" play-off podcast, of course I jumped at the chance. Since then, we've been plotting, scheming, designing, collaborating (mostly over Voxer) and collecting video book talks from some of the finest educators on the planet, so that we can bring you (insert drum roll here) ... 

The #30secondbooktalk Podcast Challenge!!!! 

The podcast features 16 educators giving a 30 second "book talk" for their favorite children's, middle grades or young adult book. These instructional titans will face off, head to head, in a bracket style challenge until only one BOOK TALK CHAMPION OF THE WORLD emerges! There is an admin side of the play-off bracket, which we're calling the "Lead Learners," led by Brad, and a Media/Literacy Guru side of the play-off bracket, which we're calling the "Literacy Legends," led by me!  Each booktalk is SO different. And I love them all. But only one of our Book Talkers can be named champion and win the coveted Vince Lombooki Prize. (Watch the video to learn more about this coveted digital trophy). 

So... how will we decide who will be crowned World Book Talk Champion? Well... that's up to you! 

Between now and the end of the Super Bowl (which Brad tells me means approximately 9pm EST on February 7th) we'll be collecting votes from students, teachers and administrators for their favorite Book Talk.  ANYONE can vote! And taking part is easy. Here's all you do:

1.  Watch the videos! 

#30SecondBookTalk World Book Talk Championship

2.   Cast your vote by either tweeting the Twitter Handle of your 
     favorite Book Talker to #30secondbooktalk OR use this voting 
     link:  to vote via Google 

While you can bet that Brad and I will be talking smack on the Twitters all this week, the real goal behind this project is to share a way in which more children can see more adults talking about the books they love.  To that end, Brad and I created some supplementary materials to help teachers replicate the #30secondbooktalk challenge in their own schools, including a blank bracket for you to fill in with the names of kids and adults who are ready to take up the #30secondbooktalk challenge AND a book talk scoring rubric to help kids pick their favorite book talks.  All of these materials are yours to use/share as you see fit. Our only request is that you use them to help kids become readers and that in those efforts you BE AWEsome!  

Finally, I want to send a massive, sloppy thank you to everyone who participated (including Oliver Schinkten who did all the commercials for us - because what would the Super Bowl of Book Talks be without commercials??) While the competition is a fun aspect of this, it's really about sharing our love of books and reading with kids. I'm so grateful to everyone who was willing to step outside of their comfort zone and create an AWEsome #30secondbooktalk to help us reach that goal.  Y'all are AMAZEballs! Truly, everyone who participated is a winner. (But let's be honest, the Literacy Legends are totally winning this thing!)

Now, without further ado...

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Stories Connect Us: 6 Ways To Empower Your Students To Tell Their Own Stories

I was honored when Todd and Adam over at #KidsDeserveIt asked me to write a guest post on their blog. The request came at a time when several disparate ideas were occupying my thoughts:
  • For months now I've been chewing on the idea of how stories connect us. This seed was planted in large part by John Schumacher (who quotes Kate DiCamillo almost as much as I quote him!)
  • I've also been thinking about how important it is for educators to tell their stories - the real stories - of what happens in our schools every day. And yet... 
  • At the same time, I've found myself disappointed by some of the things I've seen on social media lately - a disturbing trend in which popular educators (including librarians) seem to have shifted their focus to self promotion and away from what, in my estimation, really matters: making a difference for kids. 
  • And finally, I've found myself wondering about all the kids who come to school every day but who go virtually unnoticed because they don't cause trouble, are compliant and capable but generally fly under the radar. 
So... all of this was bouncing around in my head when I was asked to contribute something to the #KidsDeserveIt blog. This post (and accompanying infographic) about empowering students to tell their own stories is the result. And although much of this focuses on my experiences as a classroom teacher, I've been thinking of ways librarians can provide students with opportunities to share their stories and will share those soon. In the meantime, thanks again to Todd and Adam for challenging me to write this post and for keeping your focus on what really matters. #KidsDeserveIt

Stories Connect Us: 6 Ways To Empower Your Students To Tell Their Own Stories  

When I was a 3rd year English teacher, I made a completely spontaneous and totally reactionary decision that changed my instructional life forever. Frustrated with the quality of my students’ writing and convinced that, no matter how many drafts I assigned, no matter how many opportunities for peer editing I provided, and no matter how many times I repeated my belief that writing is a process of vision and revision (and then more revision), my students were not proofreading, and therefore not editing, their work before turning it in. And so, in a fit of extreme grumpiness I announced that from that moment forward, before turning in a paper, ALL students would be required to read that paper out loud, to me - with them holding one copy and me another. I was convinced that making them listen to their own words, lifted off the page, would highlight all the spelling errors, grammatical mistakes and instances of awkward phrasing that had become the bane of my existence. My students groaned, but I couldn’t wait to get started. I convinced myself I wasn’t doing this to punish them. Rather, I was going to teach them a “valuable lesson.” Little did I know that the person who would learn the most from that experience would be me.

On day one of our dictatorial writer’s workshop, as I sat and listened to one of my first victims volunteers nervously read her paper out loud to me, something completely unexpected happened. Listening to her trembling words, I had the sudden realization that I’d never heard her voice before. Now… this was by no means the first week of school. And I’d certainly called on her to answer questions in class or to read a short passage from a text before, but this was the first time I’d heard her speak for any length of time. This was a child who didn’t cause trouble, who didn’t interrupt, who turned her assignments in on time, who nodded at at all the appropriate moments, who was compliant and sweet, and, therefore, had gone almost completely unnoticed by me - the very person who was charged with making a difference in her educational life that year. Needless to say, I was mortified. 

Then something else happened.

Something she read caused me to ask a question about why she’d chosen that word or why she’d drawn that conclusion. Her answer, followed by more reading, led to more questions and more answers and then more questions, followed by even more answers and so on. And before I knew it, we were having a conversation. She was telling me the story of her life as a writer and a learner in my class, and I was listening. When she finished, and the next student took her place and began reading their words to me, I asked more questions and listened intently to the answers. All the while getting to know my students in new and important ways..

That afternoon I took out my gradebook. In those days, teachers at my school were instructed to fill our gradebooks with hieroglyphs. Next to each student’s name, but before the columns where we recorded their grades, we were required to mark symbols to remind us of certain facts about the young people we worked with. For example, a red dot next to a student’s name might mean that he/she had only obtained a very low score on the previous year’s reading assessment. A green square might mean that he/she was struggling with a specific learning objective, a yellow triangle might indicate that he/she had difficulty reading text above a certain grade level without support or a blue star might mean that he/she needed to be challenged with more difficult vocabulary, etc. The idea being that we could transfer everything we’d learned about a student from reading his/her cumulative folder and perusing their prior assessment data into our gradebooks via a secret code. And that code would, in turn, remind us to call on specific students when tackling skills they needed to master. Glancing over the dots and squares and other shapes next to the names of the students I’d conferenced with that afternoon shook me to the core. Despite everything I’d recorded, I didn’t really know my students.

I’d gotten to know their data, but I’d neglected getting to know them as learners or people. In short, I knew their statistics, but I didn’t know their stories.

And stories matter, because they connect us. When we know a person’s story we are more likely to care about what happens to them. We are more likely to empathize with their foibles and celebrate their successes. When we know a person’s story, we are reminded that, as Maya Angelou put it, we are more alike than we are different. When we know a person’s story we’re more likely to trust that person, to choose kindness over criticism and to offer a hand when they need help. 

Stories connect us.

And these connections matter. Because when we know our students’ stories, we’re able to move from simply knowing how our students perform to understanding why they perform that way. When we learn our students’ stories, we’re able to move beyond simply doing what works for most students to customizing learning for individual needs. And when we know our students’ stories, we are able to move from merely being invested in our students’ success to being invested in them as people.

In the days that followed I changed the way I taught, creating more opportunities for students to tell their stories. Weekly writing conferences continued, but along with them I added in class journaling as a way for me to get to know my students on a deeper level. Later, I created a blog and discussion board as a way to amplify student voice - in particular for those students who found face to face chatting difficult. Eventually, I gave up on the whole class novel and allowed students more autonomy to choose what they read (regardless of arbitrary reading levels) - feeling exposure to more stories, chosen in authentic ways, would not only increase their exposure to the written word, but also illustrate that I valued stories as a crucial element of learning. For this reason too, I also read aloud to my big, bad 8th graders on a daily basis, and when appropriate, I shared my story with them. I didn’t ignore their testing data or toss out the curriculum. Rather, I allowed my students’ stories to inform how I used the other instructional tools at my disposal to create more meaningful and far more personalized learning experiences for each of them. And together, we became a community of readers, writers, learners and storytellers.

Now, when I have conversations with educators about the students they teach I am sometimes troubled by the labels I hear attached to their young learners. Students are described as struggling, at risk, low income, ADHD, ELL, etc. These labels are a way for us to wrap our heads around the varying and often daunting needs our kids come to school with. I get that. And I know that they come from a good place. But our kids are more than the sum of their labels. Each of our students is as unique as their individual fingerprints. And in order to truly serve them, we need to know more of than their statistics. We need to know their stories. And not just because it will make us better teachers. But because, in the end, #kidsdeserveit.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Get Ready for Season TWO of #2jennsbookclub!

Last year, when Jennifer Northrup and I decided to start our own Virtual YA bookclub, we had two goals: to read more books and to have fun.  Now that Season 1 of our experiment is officially over, I can say without hesitation: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! When I look back on 2015, #2jennsbookclub will stand out among my favorite things. The books were great, the participants even greater and the conversations we all shared around the power of reading and young adult literature, in particular, made me proud to be a part of it.

As you may remember, in the run up to Season 2, we asked those who participated in the first season (and anyone else who was interested) to help us decided on our next 10 titles.  Once the votes were all tallied, we did a little shuffling, added a book here, took out a book there, and came up with a list that we think is pretty AMAZEballs!

And so now, without further ado, here it is: The reading list for Season 2 of #2jennsbookclub!

Our first chat of 2016 will take place on Thursday, January 21st at 8pm EST.  We hope you will join us to talk about Jennifer Niven's All The Bright Places.  For more information about #2jennsbookclub, including a complete chat schedule, click here.  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

It's the day before Thanksgiving here in the US and it seems like an appropriate moment for me to show a little gratitude to my ever amazing PLN.  

In January of this year, I joined the proverbial "dark side" and became Lead School Library Media Coordinator/Digital Teaching and Learning Specialist in my district.  Basically that big long title means that I now support all of the school librarians in my district. And a big part of that role is professional development. 

Now... here's where I'm going to get geeky, but I love PD.  And when I say I LOVE PD, I mean I loooooooove PD. Seriously.  I get totally geeked out over the chance to learn something new and become better at my job.  The only thing better is helping others do the same thing. And I say this as someone who has sat through some pretty bad PD! But those less than stellar experiences have only made me more determined to make sure each and every professional development opportunity that I'm involved with provides the folks attending with:

  1. a voice in the direction and expected outcomes.
  2. practical resources they can implement right away. 
  3. a legitimate answer to the question "why are we doing this?"

Still, even though I do my best to knock it out of the park whenever I step in front of a group of librarians, classroom teachers or principals, I also know that people in my district get tired of hearing from me. 

This is where my PLN comes in. 

This year instead of leading all of the PD I offer in my district myself, I decided to ask members of my PLN to help me. Honestly, I thought for sure I'd get some polite "thank you for asking me, but...." responses. However, everyone I have asked so far has said yes AND they've delivered some of the best sessions we've ever had. Here are some examples:

Example 1:
Once per month, I offer an hour long PD opportunity for the librarians in my district.  These monthly workshops are called Labs with Librarians.  They are held after school and are entirely optional.  Starting last school year, I began inviting members of my PLN to join/lead these monthly conversations. And because we use Google Hangouts on Air to conduct the sessions, they are all archived so those who cannot attend can watch later and those who did attend, can review the session later (which many, many of the librarians I work with have told me they do). Everyone from Joyce Valenza to Jennifer Northrup and Sarah Justice to Nikki Robertson to Elissa Malespina (plus MANY OTHERS) have led sessions for us! Thank you all so, so much! The experience has been incredible, and I am so very grateful to everyone who has shared their time and knowledge with us. 

Labs with Librarians

Example 2:
Over the summer, many of the librarians in my district took part in a bookclub study of Doug Johnson's The Indispensable Librarian. Their conversations were rich and resulted in real outcomes for their practice.  However, the experience was made all the more powerful by the fact that Doug agreed to meet with the group for an hour long Q/A once they finished the book.  Again, we archived the whole thing via Google Hangouts on Air. Doug made an already wonderful learning experience that much more meaningful by being incredibly generous with his time and I continue to be grateful. Thank you, Doug! You're the best! 

Example 3:
Recently, I was tasked with creating a session on using Twitter to build a PLN for my district's principals. I personally believe that while Twitter can be an effective communication tool, its real value is as a collaboration and story telling tool.  And whenever I talk about Twitter, I try to focus on my own stories and how using Twitter resulted in real outcomes for my students.  However, for this session, I wanted to be able to share more than my story, so I turned to... Twitter!  There I asked members of my PLN if they'd be willing to record a brief (30 - 60 second) video in which they share how being a connected educator and using Twitter resulted in real outcomes for students.  And boy did they deliver! Many, many people contributed (and there's more to come!) videos including rock stars like Brad Gustafson, Todd Nesloney, Steven Weber, Greg Garner, Gwyneth Jones and so many more! These "other stories" (as they are called on the webpage) tell a powerful story of how being a connected educator is important because, ultimately, students benefit from the learning we do with our colleagues from around the world.  And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I am so, so grateful. 

Twitter: A 140 Character Love Story

In the end, I know this much is true: I couldn't do my job without the support of many, many people.  This post is, at least in part, a big sloppy thank you to everyone who helped me as part of the three examples I shared here and countless others. YOU ALL ARE AMAZEBALLS and I am so lucky our paths have crossed. THANK YOU for helping me accomplish whatever crazy idea I came to you with and for ultimately helping to create even better learning experiences for students in my districts.  *mwah!*

And to those of you who are reading this post but have yet to become a connected educator, I have just one question: What are you waiting for? If nothing else, your students need to understand how to leverage tools like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope, Vine and WhateverComesNext to connect with experts, grow their own networks, contribute to conversations in meaningful ways and even engage with elected officials and participate in their government. YOU need to know how to do those things too if you're going to help them. Clearly, Twitter is a tool of choice for me, but the tool isn't nearly as important as the act of connecting itself.  If you're still on the fence, now is the time to jump off and get started.