Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wikis Supporting Author Studies - Jenny Nash

I love author studies. Last year, we dove head first into our Allen Say author study while still in the early weeks of the school year and deeply involved in teaching rituals and routines. I was thrilled to see my students interests peeked so quickly in good, quality literature that challenged them to think deeper and stretch farther. I also noticed how an author study can quickly become an all-encompassing project -- involving not only reading and writing, but history, geography, and research skills. With an author such as Allen Say, whose works are widely historical and cultural in nature, I found it necessary to build my readers' schema and record our findings for future readings.

This year, I've found a way to make it even more effective and motivating for my students. A wiki.

With Melanie's help, we created a skeletal wiki. Pages were created for each book, as well as various other topics related to our study, such as vocabulary and historical references. The vision was that this wiki could serve as a publishing method for our responses and an opportunity for extending higher learners' thinking.

For example, during the course of our author study we studied the genres and elements of literature. Therefore, within each book's page students have recorded literary elements such as genre, characters, and setting. Another focus of our study was determining the theme of a text. So, this, too, is included on each book's page. We also, in part to prepare us for the DRA2, practiced writing short summaries of books - focusing on what is important, without telling "too much". You will find that student's short summaries for the Allen Say books are also included.

As I mentioned earlier, I find that, with this author study in particular, students need to develop a strong understanding of historical events and periods, specifically, World War II and Japanese-American Internment Camps. I conducted some searches and found a few websites with information I thought would be appropriate, meaningful, and useful for my students. I included links to these sites within the wiki, as well.

The author study includes a vocabulary component, too. On each book's page, students have identified "interesting language/new words". Additionally, a separate page was created to house a master list of vocabulary. Originally, the vision was to have students synthesize the meaning of these words by selecting an image from the internet to represent each word and insert within the page.

There are more creative opportunities, too! For instance, I created a readers' theater script for Under the Cherry Blossom Tree. My students rehearsed this in small groups and independently at home. I recorded their readings with my Flip Video and can add this to my wiki! Additionally, my students created a piece of original artwork, designed to represent their favorite book or piece of the study. These pictures were photographed and added to a VoiceThread. Students then recorded their "mini-response" to their reading to create a class response. This, too, will be included in the wiki, as well as our class blog.

This project, being the first of what I hope will be many, was not without obstacles. In retrospect, I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew! I had high hopes of creating a broad tool to serve a multitude of purposes. However, my students and I were just not ready for this degree of implementation. There was training to do and wrinkles to iron out. For one, hardware. With only the two student stations and one laptop available for my students during the school day, adding information was slow. I investigated the laptop lab, but was told there were issues with using it to upload content in mass. So, I invited students to join the wiki, get their own user name, and work from home. Unfortunately, they are at home with little, if any, technological support, so few students took advantage of this opportunity. I expect that with more experience in the classroom, and continued support for students and parents technological learning, my students' (and parents') confidence in technology will increase and so will their participation at home.

Ultimately, I remain convinced that this is the next step in my teaching. It has motivated my students, as well as opened avenues towards learning experiences that I only imagined were possible. My advice to those interested in trying it is -- JUST DO IT! Tackle it one step at a time.

Do not let your first be your last! My classes will soon embark on another author study together, for which we will create ANOTHER, entirely unique wiki. My purpose for this new wiki will be similar, but not identical, and the wiki will reflect that in its design.

In closing, begin with the end in mind. What is your purpose? What is your vision? What is the most essential piece? Begin there, remain focused, and you will be pleased.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Readers' Theater with Flip - Lori Metzger and Karen Morris

After watching our colleagues demonstrate how easy a Flip camera is to operate we thought we'd give it a try. What better way to show your students work with fluency than a Readers' Theater? We found the perfect play to read on election day in our social studies book. The message was about working together as a community to take a stand against something you don't agree with. In this case, a movie theater was going to be built on the children's soccer field.

Students were put into heterogeneous groups and asked to read the play three times out loud. Each time they were told to practice using inflection in their voices and pay close attention to the punctuation marks. We chose this particular group of kids and taped their first and third reading. Wow! What an improvement! Not only did their expression and pace improve but they read over a minute faster!

When we reviewed the video with the class their success was obvious to us all. It really demonstrated the power of re-reading!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Four Corners Weekly News Show-Meli Launey

I have learned more about technology since I started my journey at Chets Creek than I have in my entire life. I am by no means a seasoned “geek” (only a wannabe:) but I will attempt to show you how easy implementing a classroom news show in your classroom really is. This post will not focus on movie making, because I feel that is something we have already learned about through our past geeks. It will, however, show you how our News Show is managed each week.

Mrs.Lopez and I start each week out by selecting 3 students from each of our ELA classes that will act as reporters for the week. The students are selected by interest and behavior. Each student is invited to be on the crew with an official Four Corners Reporter Assignment Sheet. This sheet includes the subject the student will be reporting on and and a spot for daily notes to take throughout the week on their subject assignment. The assignment sheet also includes a spot to get parent signatures for permission to be in the show and to stay after Friday afternoon to tape. Our 6 subjects are Reading, Writing, Word Study, Social Studies, Science, and Math. You will find our weekly reporters actively taking notes throughout the week on classroom lessons.

On Thursday night the students sit down to write their report. They may look through their notes and choose one lesson from the week they particularly liked to focus on in their subject report. Or they have the option of writing a subject report about the week as a whole. The job of reporter is highly coveted, and the kids really get into working on their reports. Some of them even watch the local news station to get ideas.

Fridays are the big day. After school we all meet and prepare to film. Mrs.Lopez begins listening to each child practice their report while I work with the anchors to tape (using a flip video) the opening and closing pieces. We choose 2 kids that did an exceptional job from the week before to be our anchors. The closing is the only "teacher written" part of the show. It includes upcoming school news and reminders. As soon as Mrs.Lopez finishes coaching a reporter, they go and find a spot to report from. For example, the math reporter may want to report in front of the bulletin board with multiplication clusters on it. After choosing a location, they come to me and we begin filming. The taping goes by quickly and we usually finish within 45 minutes. We have also collected some great "out-takes". After one boy accidently dropped a microphone, he suggested we create a "bloopers show" for the end of the year. Keep your eyes open for that show coming up in May!

After taping is done, the rest is a breeze. First, I load the videos into my computer. I use imovie (on Mac computers) to create the show, but Windows Movie Maker will work just as well. I have found pictures on google images to use as the backgrounds you will see transitioning to the different reports. Since I already have the format down, I simply have to open up the show from the week before and "cut and paste" the new scenes into the old show. Then I save it under a new name. It only takes about 30 minutes to create. All the music I have comes from itunes. You can search "sound effects" and get some really cool intros and background music. After you save the show you will need to upload it to Teacher Tube so that you can get the embed code for your blog. Your students and parents can view the Weekly Wrap-Up each weekend.

This project will help your students with their fluency, speaking abilities, and writing skills as well as give them a sense of pride in themselves. It has been a great way to incorporate technology into instruction and give others from all around the world a glimpse into our classroom. I hope you enjoy a sample of our News Show below.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Collaboration Podcasting- Jessie Lipsky

In my opinion, the whole point in having a classroom blog is to share your work and ideas with the world and have the world give you feedback and new ideas in return.  One way I am using my blog this school year is through a collaborative project Melanie Holtsman was already participating in called: Students Teaching Students.  Kim Cofino, a teacher at an international school in Bangkok, Thailand, started this project to help teachers and students share and reflect on work we are doing in Lucy Caulkin's model of readers' and writers' workshop.  Students Teaching Students provided me with access to Chrissy Heller's blog in New Zealand and Aly McAloon's blog in Thailand (of course, the internet provides me access to every blog... but I like these.)  While reading Aly McAloon's blog, I saw that she had recorded podcasts of her fifth grade students reading their narrative writing.  I was struggling to find ways to motivate my fifth grade students to make their writing more descriptive so I decided to play some of the podcasts from Room 229 as inspiration.

 My students loved hearing the work of children who lived on the other side of the world! Soon, we recorded (and are still recording) our own podcasts so the students in Thailand could hear our stories as well.  

This collaboration has given my students a new and specific audience for their writing.  I have noticed dramatic improvements in their writing now that they know their peers in Thailand and New Zealand will be reading and listening to their work in class.  

Podcasting stands for Portable On  Demand Broadcasting.  You can listen to podcasts on your computer or an Mp3 player like an Ipod.  Podcasts are free and download to your computer via a subscription.  My hope with this "geek" post is to help other teachers record and upload podcasts to their blogs. On a PC, I use the program Audacity to record my students' voices and gcast.com to upload their podcasts to the internet and eventually my blog.  On a Mac, I use the garageband program to record my students reading their work. 

The best information I can give you on podcasting is from a blog called Box of Tricks.  Click here to watch "Podcasting in 5 Easy Steps."  In this brief tutorial teachers can learn how to record audio files, transfer files into Mp3 files, upload them to a podcasting website, and finally publish them on their blogs.

Once you get the hang of podcasting it is a fun way to share student work with listeners all over the world!