Monday, November 29, 2010

Upgrading the Reading Log

I love Shelfari, a social networking site for readers. I am an avid reader, but not a big collector of physical books. I don't have an ereader; I do read books. However, I get a lot of my reads from the public library or borrowed from friends. If I do buy a book and love it, the first thing I usually do is pass it on to someone else I think will enjoy it. Therefore, my bookshelves do not represent my life as a reader. Enter Shelfari. Now, I can have the pleasure of a beautiful bookshelf to display my books. It helps me remember what I have read and when, what I liked, what I loved.... If anyone else is interested in my reading, they can "friend" me and peruse my shelves. I have recently started including on my shelfari shelves the books I read aloud to my children, as well. I'm happy to have a way to remember those precious moments spent each night at bedtime, even after the physical books have made their way back to the library or shared with others.

I am a big believer in using authentic tools and processes to develop habits of literacy with students. One of my least favorite of all "schooly" inventions is the reading log. Real readers catalog and share their reading in a variety of ways, but I have yet to meet the adult reader who keeps a reading log showing how many pages read of a particular book at each reading session. I've even seen reading logs that require children to count how many words they've read and how many minutes they've engaged in reading. What real reader counts pages or minutes? It is ironic that an activity designed to help ignite a love of reading can be exactly what sucks the very life from it. Teachers looking for accountability have devised this tool with best intentions in mind, I am sure. However, as a parent I can tell you that the reading log, besides being inauthentic, is also difficult to maintain and provides no motivation or impetus for engagement. I know I could be fairly accused of being opinionated, however, it's not just me who has thoughts about reading logs. This post from a mom, titled "I Hate Reading Logs" garnered 692 comments!

Upgrading the Reading Log-
As an adult who loves to read, I also love Shelfari. This is the litmus test I use. If I find something motivating and engaging, if it is a genuine part of who I am as a reader, than I believe it is potentially useful for students who are developing their reading-selves and teachers who are helping them to do this. There are many possibilities for using Shelfari with students as a way to monitor what your students are reading outside of class. As an added bonus, Shelfari promotes the social aspects of reading, gives students a place to share with and learn from others, and helps students begin to understand that what they read is part of their identity.

In order to create a shelfari account, students must have an email address.
Shelfari How To

Once your students have created their accounts, they can create and upload avatars, add friends and start exploring the site. In order to add friends, students should use the "advanced search" and type in the friend's email address. This is easy to do if you use school email addresses with a predictable format. Teachers can also experiment with creating groups and having students add certain books to the group shelf. Students and/or classes who blog have the very cool option to create a widget to post their Shelfari shelf on their blog. Creative teachers will find that there are many ways to adapt the tool for your students. Try things out, explore and have fun. Please share in the comments if you have good strategies, things to watch out for or any other thoughts about using Shelfari with students.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Expert Opinion

I have a secret wish.
Sometimes I dream of going to one of the "big name schools" to get a PhD in education. It's not because of a desire to advance in the field or teach at a higher level; it's to get the stamp of approval so that people will listen to me with respect.

Not to take anything away from people who follow a path of formal study and research, but I question our cultural obsession with the opinions of experts. I could tell you a thing I have witnessed through direct personal experience. However, if that exact same idea was published as part of an article in the Harvard Educational Review, it would now be received through a lens of credibility that my anecdotal experience could never achieve. I suppose that is as it should be, but only to a point.

The problem occurs when we become unable to trust anyone who isn't deemed expert by virtue of a degree or position, when we give no credence to our own senses, when we are blinded to the messages of our hearts and minds. Experts are people- flawed, human and capable of changing their minds. Knowledge is in a constant state of flux. Statistics gathered through research are open to subjective interpretation. I am formally well-educated enough (by society's standards) to know that this is true.

I have always kept my own counsel. My father loves to tell the story of when I was 12 years old, and he took me to the orthodontist. The doctor was reviewing the x-rays with my father, showing him which teeth would need to be extracted, when I said, "You're reading them backwards." The orthodontist was stunned but admitted that I was, indeed, correct.

A colleague of mine was accepted into a PhD program at an illustrious institution. She is a brilliant educator and writer; I had no doubt that her application would be accepted. However, after visiting the school and learning more about the program, she decided that her gifts were better used in schools with students and teachers. Is she less of an expert than she would be if she was pursuing a formal PhD? She spends every day doing action research in the classroom, reading, learning, sharing, writing. I value her expertise more than that of a researcher who devises a study and watches from an objective perch, with no knowledge of the bigger picture of the situation.

I am a big-picturist. I think that everyone has a piece to the puzzle. To give more weight to certain pieces and completely ignore others lacks coherence and common sense. I think we have the responsibility to work as best we can with the facts we possess while trying to learn from others and consult with experts as indicated. Ultimately though, the decisions we make are our own responsibility. Keep your own counsel.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Planning + Collaboration = Success

I am so excited to share this fire safety PSA created by a second grade class. I think this represents an example of what can be achieved with good planning and collaboration between the classroom teacher and an integration facilitator- someone to help with the technology.
Many classroom teachers simply do not have the time and/or the technical skills to do such a project on their own, and a computer lab resource teacher does not have the necessary time to work and plan with the students.

The idea for this came from an email notification about The Fire Safety Project, a video contest for students. The teacher and I agreed that this would be a worthwhile and appropriate project for the class.
We spent several classes in the classroom, planning. This is something that, as a lab resource teacher, I was never able to do. It was hard to have students come into the computer lab and then not go onto the computers. If I tried to have them plan on the computers, the computers often got in the way, due to technical skills issues and other distractions.

Planning is key-
First we watched some fire safety public service announcements. The students took notes on the fire safety and prevention tips. We talked about what makes a video interesting, what makes a video stick in your mind, how to best communicate through this medium. We also discussed the idea of a PSA- using your movie to teach others.
Then we brainstormed ideas for our movie. Through the brainstorming process (which took two whole classes) students considered several different concepts and ideas for the video. They really took ownership- discussing, deciding, revising- until they agreed upon a slogan and 5 safety and prevention tips.
We filmed pairs of students saying "Stay safe, Be cool. Don't be a fool" and students created individual storyboards to generate ideas for filming the 5 tips. Finally we created a whole class storyboard:

We used the storyboard as a guide as we filmed each scene.

Student ownership-
This project completely belonged to the students. The students came up with each and every idea for how to film the scenes, what to say, what props to use. If they didn't think it was right, they did it again, changing, adding, subtracting, improving. I can not emphasize enough the involvement and ownership of the students in each and every decision. They showed patience, perseverance, creativity and an impressive ability to work together as a group.

Process and Product
The process worked, and the students are so proud of their video. Whether it wins the $10,000 prize or not, they have achieved success. Please take a minute and a half to view their video and leave them a comment.