Friday, January 3, 2014

Virtual Visits Motivate Students

Recently, I’ve discovered that one of the most effective student motivators is not myself the classroom teacher, or technology integration as I may have thought, but in fact a complete stranger. It helps when that stranger is an established children’s book author who according to fifth graders writes about the “coolest stuff ever!”

This year my fifth grade class worked with author Carole Vogel as our “author-in-residence” to guide us through a non-fiction writing unit. Carole made the trip to our classroom virtually through Skype every other week to check in on us and how student writing was going. She shared valuable insight with students around developing a topic and the importance of diligent research. She used examples from her own books as to how she acquired some of the information she did through endless trips to the library and first hand account interviews. We had been reading excerpts from her books in class so students felt connected and interested in the process it took to complete her books. The questions they asked were directed to how she was able to gather such detailed information.

One particularly inspiring lesson involved Carole talking to students about Internet research. It was a sigh of relief for students to hear that the Internet can be an overwhelming source for anyone, even an author. We discussed types of sites to trust, formulas for searching, and different avenues of databases and online library research centers to access. Today our students are digital natives, this is all they know, but they still need to be taught how to navigate the overwhelming digital landscape of the Internet. Students have the problem today of too much information to access, rather than a lack of as they may have struggled with years ago.

Through the use of Google Slides and the commenting feature Carole was able to login and see their books and give them some advice. Students slowed down and took the time to revise and edit based on suggestions given. Hearing from Carole that one of her manuscripts can go through upwards of 14 revisions was a realization for them that this is just as an important step in the writing process as any other. Students slowed down and spent another two weeks on reading their writing aloud, conferencing, and peer reviewing.

Being able to bring Carole into to the classroom throughout this unit served as a series of great “Virtual Trips.” They provided students a window into the world and expertise of a published author. They felt connected as they were having similar experiences when going through the book writing process. Students looked like mini-executives taking notes sitting around the interactive whiteboard asking her questions and furiously recording her answers. When they logged into their Google account and saw her comments they were exhilarated that she had reviewed their book and took suggestions for improvement seriously.

This experience is an example of how technology can connect classrooms in ways that allow students to feel that their work has a sense of purpose. Knowing that a professional would be viewing it and it would be posted to their blog evoked passion and meaning to their work. These are the types of real world experiences that we as educators need to give students, we are teaching in a time where information and experts are just a click away.

If you are a teacher interested in having an author Skype into your classroom check out the links below:

Note: This blog post also appeared on's Community board. You can view it here:

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

MassCUE Presentation

Thanks to all who attended our Google Apps and the Common Core presentation at the MassCUE Conference at Gillette Stadium on October 23rd and 24th. Below is the presentation. Some of the links will take you to project examples and some are blocked due to student privacy policies. Please feel free to email me with any questions.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Graphic Organizer FREEBIE!

This is a selection of a pack that I sell. It is a story map useful for both Reader's and Writer's workshop. It is CCSS aligned and a great extra organizer to have available to students. They can use this when writing a fiction story of their own or to map out a fiction story that they are reading. I hope your students use it as a writing tool as much as mine do!

Click Here to download this graphic organizer printable freebie

This freebie is in partnership with:

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday


Sunday, October 6, 2013

Blogging and Writer's Workshop

This post is focusing on the connection between the power of teachnology when integrated with writer's workshop. Last year I was a "pilot" Google Classroom in my school. We started mid-year and fifth graders were in pretty good shape with Google by the end of the year. They went off to middle school with their Google logins and had dabbled into the drive a bit.

This year it was my goal to get started right away. By the second week of school they picked up how to use their account pretty quickly. They were enthused to use a new program and really seem to enjoy when I post Google forms online for them to complete Reader's Workshop homework assignments.

In Writer's Workshop we are working on our first writing pieces of the year: Personal Narratives. We have been doing this for 3 weeks now and many are in the publishing stage. I decided to introduce Blogger to them. I have to admit my class is "over the moon" enthused about having their own blog to publish to. While introducing this I continued to get the repeated questions "We can really do this?" "This is ours to publish to?" "You are really letting us design it?" The energy in the room hit paramount levels.

An added bonus is that when students finish up a mini-lesson and are ready to integrate what was learned into their writing piece they can ponder in their notebook and then jump right into their blog to make changes and adjustments. This is helpful for those who don't have the motivation to go back and write more.

Watch for Blogging Part 2 where I will post some samples of student blogs with personal narrative writing.

Have you integrated blogging into your teaching? Please keep the conversation going!


Monday, September 16, 2013

Writer's Workshop FREEBIE

Today's freebie is a collection of my Personal Narrative Conference Cards. These have been so helpful in my classroom when conferencing with students. They are specific to personal narrative writing and taken right from the Common Core State Standards. These cards help with the dreaded "I'm Done" and many students are all looking for conferences at once. I decided to make them when no matter what organizational system I tried I kept getting interrupted! They have helped my students spend more time with their writing piece whether alone or with a partner. I wrote an article about using these cards in the classroom. Click Here to read it and get some more integration ideas for using these cards in your workshop.

Click Here to download.

This set is a selection of the cards that is free today. To view the full set preview click here.

This freebie is brought to you by:

Freebie Fridays

Classroom Freebies Manic Monday


Monday, September 9, 2013

Reader's Workshop Freebie: Choosing JRB's

Part of holding students accountable for what they are reading is to spend plenty of time in the beginning of the year teaching them how to choose just right books. One way I like to do this is by having them complete this chart about their book selections:

It allows them to record their own personal thinking as to what they are looking for when recording just right books. Now hopefully they will refer to my anchor chart about this from the mini-lesson as well and use some of those too!

Click here to download the free printable today.

Don't forget to enter my giveaway for a $25 Williams-Sonoma Gift Card too, only 6 days left. Click here to enter.

This freebie is linked up with Classroom Freebies today:
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How do you hold students accountable for what they are reading?

Over the summer I spent a lot of time updating my classroom library. As I try to do every summer I visited library book sales and frequented the local Used Book Superstore. I even splurged a bit at Barnes and Noble. I was prepared, I filled in the gaps in my series books and bought some new authors that I had heard about. I was ready for the students to come in and be wowed! And yes, they seemed to be. We have spent the last couple of days doing our carousel activities getting to know the books in my classroom library. We reviewed how we pick just right books too. Using the iPICK strategy has worked really well for me in the classroom. Students picked a couple and put them in their book bins. We also have worked to set up our classroom "norms" of what we do when we are reading.

Now that students have picked books and started reading I am noticing who my frequent "book abandoners" are going to be. I already had a good idea thanks to my Reading Log as to who had abandoned books over the summer. I included a category:

Book Finished (F) or Abandoned (A) column.

Two new strategies that I am working on this week to possibly keep books in students hands a bit longer is to first have students slow down and check off the iPICK page as they go through the book. As they read a few questions they will ask themselves a series of questions:

Does this book seem interesting to me?
Have I read a book similar to this in the past and did I like it?
Do I have a connection to this book? (Maybe you read this author before, it is a series or was a movie?)
Does the information on the back draw my interest?
As I start to read the first few pages do I understand what I am reading?
Did I have trouble reading any of the words on the first few pages?

Second, I will use a Post-It recording wall. I will have students write the title and their name on a post it and simply put it on an anchor chart in the classroom. This may slow down their desire to switch books and hold their interest for a few more pages. Sometimes if it is in writing and hanging in the classroom it seems a bit more permanent.

What do you do to prevent students from abandoning books?

Pics to follow!

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