Are you a writer? Show them.

Nate shares his Storybird about friendship with his class.

For the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to spend multiple days in many of our classrooms. Last year I wrote this post about my “principal’s visit” days and how enjoyable it was to spend quality time with students and staff.

These visits not only serve as an escape from the drudgery of office tasks, they allow me to see instructional strategies at work; how we address curriculum; the engagement of students in a variety of learning scenarios; how resources are being allocated; teacher-student relationships and peer interactions; whether schedules are appropriate; types of assessment being used; and planning processes.

There’s no better feeling than the jubilation of seeing a child excel at a task or when a teacher’s heart and love for kids lead her work with students each day. On the flip side, it’s possible for an administrator to develop a certain “gut feeling” when something doesn’t seem quite right in the classroom.

So far this year, I’ve had the chance to read interactive stories with kindergarten; facilitate small reading groups, review time concepts, and introduce Little Bird Tales in Grade 2; spend the entire day with Grade 6 inWashington, D.C.; help students create their first Prezis and collaborate using Google docs in grade 4; explore point of view through reading different versions of The Three Little Pigs (with one of my favorite tales, The True Story of the Three Little Pigswith some of our young English language learners; help students in our Life Skills classes interact with math activities on the iPad and explore phonics patterns; and analyze text structure and write collaboratively, complete small group math activities, and discuss the writing process in Grade 5. I am looking forward to time in grades 1, 3, and our special classes in the weeks ahead!

A month or so ago, Dean Shareski wrote a post entitled It’s not 1985, about the need for us to ensure our students become fluent in digital literacy, particularly in writing. That, if we continue to teach writing as we always have, we are doing a disservice to our students. I agree wholeheartedly, and one of the reasons why I so enjoyed my visit with grade 5 writing classes is because I had the chance to discuss with them my journey as a writer.

Had I taught this “lesson” a few years ago, there would have been no mention of blogs. Or digital footprints. Or comments and interactions with others. ClustrMaps. Blog analytics. Storybirds. iPhones. Facebook. Or authentic audiences.

It went a little something like this:

I have always loved writing. I filled spiral-bound notebooks with story after story. Then, when I was in middle school, my family got its first computer: an Apple II GS. And suddenly, I learned how to type. I became more prolific in my writing and could edit with ease. I learned how to cut, copy, and paste text. My pieces were more polished. So, as technology changed, so did my platforms for writing.

I showed them my blog. We talked about purpose and audience. I told them what a “digital footprint” was, and how it is shaped by everything we do online. Every photo we post or tag, every word we write. I emphasized that it is important that they control their digital footprint and make it a positive, lasting impression of which they can be proud. We talked about how I use embedded hyperlinked text, videos and images to lead my readers to other resources. I showed them my ClustrMap and Feedjit stream. They wanted to know how dots appeared in the middle of the oceans! I shared comments with them, and many of them understood the importance of quality commenting from their work with Kidblog in fourth grade. Then, I walked through the process of how I wrote my first Storybird, which I shared with them at our opening assembly. I had the idea while I was driving in my car. I didn’t have access to paper or pencil. I use my iPhone to record my ideas. Ramblings, really. I told them how my brainstorming paragraph was riddled with errors and that, when I started using Storybird, I was inspired by the amazing illustrations so much that I revised a lot of my original text. My story took on a life of its own when I engaged with the Storybird format. I shared how I shared it with my primary audience – our students and staff at an assembly, but also published it on my blog and shared with my virtual community as well.

Using my repetitive writing pattern as a model, grade 5 students have begun writing their own stories. I had the opportunity to read several of their stories, and they are beautiful. I am looking forward to working with their teacher so she can embed them on her webpage to share with families.

Do I think this conversation was meaningful for my students? Yes. I received a lovely thank you email from the teacher expressing her gratitude for taking the time to share my “story.” And isn’t that what we should be striving to do at every opportunity? Share our stories with students?

My “gut feeling” is that when we teach students to write, we do so too methodically. We sometimes allow adherence to form trump creativity. We assess according to state-issued rubrics that call for a certain structure to be followed. We “score” students on their abilities to be focused, include enough content, stay traditionally organized, use proper grammar and spelling, and use “style.” We neglect audience. We’re churning out writer-robots who spit back the format they think we want to see. We graphic-organizer-them to exhaustion.

Yes, we need to help them learn structures of writing. But we can’t stop there. We can’t repeat the same lessons year after year and expect them to produce the same types of writing over and over again. Snooze.

In a #cpchat conversation recently, we pondered, How do we know that our use of technology is improving learning opportunities for students? And we talked about the typical measures that schools/states/nations are using to determine if students are “proficient” in academic areas. Historically, our school has been high-performing on the state writing assessment. Last year we were in the top quintile of performance for schools in the state. What does that mean? That our students can write in response to a prompt, demonstrating they have control over conventions, organization, style, content, and focus?

(Incidentally, I hear many teachers state with great exasperation, Style is just so hard to teach! when we ponder over students’ lower scores in this area. Perhaps… if we allowed students’ creativity to flourish, and make it a priority… style would take care of itself? The students whose Storybirds I read were able to embrace style like they never would have on a paper-pencil assessment.)

But how would students’ command of writing on traditional state assessments translate to proficiency in digital literacy? According to the NCTE, what do 21st century readers and writers need to know and be able to do?

Today, the NCTE definition of 21st century literacies makes it clear that further evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies.

These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Administrators and teachers, consider the influence you could have on your teachers and students; on instructional methods and curricular choices; on developing your students’ 21st century literacy skills. If you are an administrator who has discovered the importance of ensuring your students are fluent digital readers and writers, how are you modeling this in your learning organization? How are you sharing with your students?

Sharing is contagious!

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user Funchye

Last year I spent some time throughout the school year snapping photos of student work that was displayed in the hallways and classrooms, creating slideshows using PhotoPeach, and posting “I Spy” tours of our student learning displays on our school websites to share with parents.

I Spy, March 5! on PhotoPeach

I admit that I have not been posting these slideshows regularly this year, and today I made a commitment to do so, because there is so much fantastic learning going on in our school! But then I considered why I didn’t feel as compelled to do this.

It’s not because what I see in the hallways or classrooms is any less enthralling or interesting than it’s been in the past … it’s because more teachers and students are sharing student work and learning themselves! It’s like we’ve all been infected with some sort of wonderful, crazy, addictive sharing disease that is spreading like wildfire throughout our school!

My teachers have grown so much in their willingness to engage students in different types of learning experiences throughout this year. Much of our increased ability to share student work can be attributed to the use of social media and the integration of new tools to enhance student engagement with the content.

Our primary students have created Voicethreads and teamed up with intermediate grade reading buddies to create digital stories with Little Bird Tales. They’re trying Voki, Skyping with virtual pen-pals (check out their visitor map!), and have really been dedicating time to writing on their blogs. We’re sharing our school events with descriptive slideshows.

Intermediate students have been broadening conversations with Today’s Meet, working with Xtranormal, garnering input for math data projects with Google forms, and creating Voicethreads. We’ve jumped into collaborating with Google Docs and students use Glogster to summarize their learning. They’re engaging in conversations with their families and visitors around the world! One of our fifth grade classes created a video tour of our school to share with their Oregon penpals, and some students even participated in our staff Sharing Showcase last week! I’ve seen some very eager Prezi creators, and enjoyed reading these Kidblog reading reflections. Our school “newspaper” has been moved online to help easily share our students’ writing and project work. Parents and teachers can more easily comment on what’s happening!

 

The benefits of sharing are endless. Parents have a wide open window into classroom happenings. Students are connecting with other teachers and students throughout our country and world. Students are active, engaged, and motivated learners in these experiences.  Teachers’ and student excitement is spreading…

Initially, I believe the teachers that felt comfortable risk-taking and trying new ideas with students were hesitant to share their joys about the process, for fear of “bragging” or looking they were trying to out-do their grade level colleagues. Similarly, I think teachers were timid about sharing the struggles they experienced throughout the change, worried that their frustrations might dissuade other teachers from taking risks themselves. We need to overcome this mindset. We need to encourage growth in ourselves and others.

Reading Shelley Wright‘s post this morning, I knew I immediately would share her words with my teachers, because her message to Improvise, Learn, Don’t Regret is one that I want my teachers, and students, to embrace. She has taken the time to document her journey into project-based learning and share that experience with all of us. We have gained insight, perspective, and appreciation for the process because she has done so. This doesn’t happen without honest transparency.

Thank you, Justin, for the challenge to share the wonderful things happening in our schools! We all need to spread the sharing bug… it’s an ailment worth enduring!

Three simple steps on a never-ending journey.

If it is one-of-those-days (weeks, months), and you are in need of inspiration, please watch Sarah Kay’s TED talk, If I should have a daughter.

Sarah is a spoken word poet and a gifted storyteller. She shares some very meaningful lessons with us through her talk, lessons that while simple in design, require commitment to achieve. She detailed three steps to embark on the journey of achieving life’s goals:

Step 1: “I can.”

Step 2: “I will.”

Step 3: Infuse the work you’re doing with the specific things that make you you, even when those things are always changing.

She challenged the audience to list three things they knew to be true, and explained that in leading this exercise with her Project V.O.I.C.E. students, participants realize that they often share items on the list; they have very very different items on the list; there are things listed that some participants have never before encountered; and there are list items that a participant thought they knew everything about before seeing the concept through another’s perspective. She stressed the importance of using experiences you have collected to help you dive into things you don’t know, and I was so moved by her sentiment, I try to walk through life with palms open, so when beautiful amazing things fall out of the sky, I’m ready to catch them.

Educators have the ability to help students realize they can. We possess the determination to help students act- they will. We owe it to our children to ensure they’re able to infuse their passions into life and learning experiences, because, as Sarah tells us, Step 3 never ends.

What do you know to be true? What do your students know to be true? Is your school a place where your students and teachers can discover, un-discover, and rediscover the things they know to be true and meaningful in their lives?

Be an artist.

In Linchpin, Seth Godin asks us to consider the task of emotional labor: doing important work, even when it isn’t easy. It’s the type of labor we often avoid, due to its difficulty and the fact that to some people, emotional labor is a gift given without reward. In reality, emotional labor perhaps yields the greatest benefits, to both the giver and the recipient of those efforts.

The act of giving someone a smile, of connecting to a human, of taking initiative, of being surprising, of being creative, of putting on a show- these are things that we do for free all our lives. And then we get to work and we expect to merely do what we’re told and get paid for it.

Godin’s message is to bring your gifts to work. Your initial reaction to this idea may be, “Why should I? I just want to leave work each day and go home and do things I enjoy and be around people I actually like.”

What gifts do you bring to your school? Clearly you seek to display your strongest leadership qualities on a daily basis, in the hopes of modeling and shaping learning for your staff and students. What art do you create on a daily basis, at work, that allows your organization to flourish?

If you believe that your role as administrator or teacher or parent does not fit the definition of “artist,” I ask you to consider the following:

  • Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.
  • Art is about intent and communication, not substances.
  • Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.
  • Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.
  • Art is the product of emotional labor. If it’s easy and risk-free, it’s unlikely that it’s art.

I didn’t want this to post to be filled with feel-good fluff and void of actual instances of how I know emotional labor is being expended each day in schools, and how this work benefits our kids. In our elementary school, there are artists creating at every turn.

  • My guidance counselor recently designed a “break the mid-winter-blahs” picnic lunch day for the entire school using her gifts of compassion and her awareness of our school climate.
  • For a few weeks of the year physical education teacher transforms our gymnasium into an amazing obstacle course, complete with hanging “vines,” hula-hoops, clever contraptions made of PVC-pipe, and opportunities for rolling, tumbling, running, laughing, and learning.
  • One of my kindergarten teacher’s many gifts is her unrivaled ability to break into song, dance, skit, funny character voice… basically whatever theatrics is necessary…to excite and energize her students and engage them in learning.
  • My 3/4 hallway has this amazing chemistry. You can feel it when you walk through the hall. It hits you in the face. I love their contagious energy!
  • An incredible group of teachers and staff imagined and implemented a now-annual Day of Service for our entire school community in honor of a teacher who lost her battle with breast cancer last year.
  • Grade 2 teachers designed a Parent Blogging Night, where they will introduce parents to the learning opportunities their children will be involved in using blogs and where parents will help their child write their first post!
  • Students offer to stay in from recess to assist a teacher. They offer to make posters and visit you at lunch time and give you their ice cream and deliver cupcakes to you when it’s their birthday.
  • Dedicated parents in our parent-teacher organization write grants for technology and run science exploration clubs for our young scientists. Another parent blogged with a third grade class on his recent business trip to Shanghai and visited us upon his return to share this experience with our students.

None of these given gifts are written as requisite activities in teachers’ job descriptions, nor in any of those instances do you see the words standardized testing, curriculum map, or homework. They clearly all involve love, care, and learning.

How will you be an artist today? How will your emotional labor and efforts change your organization? Take a risk. Your passion-driven efforts will not go unnoticed, and you will find that when you expend emotional labor, although sometimes exhausting, it will be deeply gratifying. What we often forget, as Godin reminds us, is “The act of the gift is in itself a reward.”

We consume. Do we produce?

CC licensed photo shared by Flickr user John*Ell

The relationships between consumers and producers in life cycles and food webs is introduced in the elementary years. Children genuinely enjoy exploring the relationships among animals and other organisms in our world.

As I navigated through the websites Stumble Upon recommended for me this morning, I got to thinking: We’re really good at consuming. How are we doing with producing? Sharing?

We’re in the midst of planning an upcoming professional development day for elementary teachers, and they were surveyed to find out what tech integration topics they’d like to explore. One of the responses indicated “websites for use in the primary classroom.” I guess I understand where that response is coming from, but a few keyword searches in a short amount of time could result in a list of such websites. Consuming.

I’m meeting monthly with a group of elementary teachers who volunteer their time after school to explore ideas and tools that will help them become more adept learners, and hopefully bring that knowledge into their classrooms for use with students. We discuss the “shifts” in education- the importance of connected learning- the tools and applications that can be used for students to authentically demonstrate their learning- there’s honestly too much to explore in the short time we have together, but I do appreciate the time these teachers are spending stepping outside of their comfort zones and working to produce. Not only are they creating projects as we explore certain tools, but they’re producing new ways of thinking and transforming their mentalities about teaching and learning.

I often hear, “Well, they have to start somewhere,” in reference to teachers taking on new roles and trying new things in the classroom, but at what point do we apply a little more pressure? How long do we allow teachers to either a) ignore technology and the “shift” or b) use it in superficial ways that don’t necessarily add to student learning before we push them to step outside of their comfort zones? Do we have time to allow them to continue to consume without at least attempting to produce?

Administrators need to provide opportunities for their teachers to become producers of content and ideas. Why? Because our students are natural producers. They act, they sing, they dance, they draw, they make up jokes, they journal, they create websites, they problem solve through social interactions, they establish their own YouTube channels and comment on peers’ work… they produce. If we don’t foster that love of creation in our schools, it will diminish.

Dean Shareski says, “If you generally think of the Internet as a ‘place to look up stuff’ you’re missing the best part.” Agreed. How will you help your teachers become producers and share their ideas? How will you help design learning opportunities for your students to do the same?

Without producers, the consumers will eventually dwindle away, won’t they?

Now I know.

thinking

This post was written for November’s Project PLN: The Admin Issue.


I used to think students should sit in rows. (Made it harder for them to chit chat while I was imparting wisdom on them.) Now I know they should sit…stand…hang…together. (Makes it easier for them to talk and learn from one another.)

I used to think I needed to cite standards in my lesson plans. (This handy-dandy cheat sheet will help me quickly identify standard 2.1!) Now I know we should evaluate the standards, using them to guide instruction, yet allow students to pursue their passions. (What does this learning mean for you, children?)

I used to think my good ideas should stay in my classroom. (I worked hard developing those lessons!) Now I know more students will benefit from the expertise of teachers who share. (Collective genius. Sharing is caring.)

I used to think I never had enough time. (Lesson plans…grading papers…surviving…) Now I know it’s important to work smarter, not harder. (Make time for the things that matter most.)

I used to think a child who scored poorly on an assessment didn’t study hard enough. (They had a study guide one week in advance! What is the deal with that kid?) Now I know a student who doesn’t perform well on an assessment does not have the problem. (The teacher does.)

I used to think sitting down with a parent was scary. (They’re older than me! They’re parents, for crying out loud! What could I possibly know that they don’t?) Now I know talking with parents about their children is enlightening and meaningful. (Parents are tremendous assets to every school.)

I used to think in-services were an opportunity for me to address my staff about important issues. (If I’m going to wear a suit to work, I may as well stand up in front of you with this PowerPoint presentation!) Now I know that I am not comfortable spending 6 hours of the day leading professional development sessions in which teachers have little ownership. (Let them lead the way).

I used to think teacher supervision was something that happened to teachers. (Everything’s ship-shape in here. Sign on the dotted line). Now I know teacher supervision is something that happens for teachers. (I appreciate your strengths in these areas. Where can we find opportunities for improvement? I will support you.)

I used to think a child who did not follow the rules was non-compliant and clearly did not want to learn. (A rigid system of consequences will help students realize what is expected of them.) Now I know every child who demonstrates the need for behavioral supports deserves an arm around the shoulder and our relentless care. (Let’s problem solve this together.)

I used to think people who put their lives out there on Twitter were crazy people. (Okay, some of them are actually crazy people. Why would you write about what’s happening in your school?! What if your superintendent reads it?!) Now I know my involvement in social media is the most powerful professional development opportunity I’ve had in the past year. (Thank you, PLN.)

I used to think bragging about our accomplishments was pompous. (Ugh, will that teacher ever stop yapping about how great her students’ projects are?) Now I know celebrating our successes spreads good ideas like wildfire. (It ignites teaching and learning!)

I used to think I wanted to be a teacher. Now I know I was right.

And more so, now I know I want to be a learner.
(Always.)

What does it look like?

children_learning

What does it look like?

Administrators visit classrooms. They may focus on “look fors” while visiting and consider “ask abouts” in their discussions with teachers. After reading Danielle’s Thoughts on Connectivism and Where We Really Are, and her struggles with finding ways to incorporate connected learning opportunities in her school where perhaps the administration and community has not yet embraced these ideals, I appreciated her list of “these-are-the-things-I-can-do”s. Because that’s what we’re asking for, right? For teachers to try to do things just a little bit differently? To consider the possibilities? To take risks and have an open mind?

After reading Danielle’s thoughts, Lisa Christen asked me to consider what connected, constructivist learning may look like in the elementary classroom. I told her that sounded like some fine material for a blog post. So here we go.

Opportunities for student collaboration – This is easy. Children are social creatures. Do they inherently know how to collaborate effectively to problem solve? No. So we need to model that for them and help them acquire skills for doing so. There are many ways to infuse technology into this practice, but the tools won’t ensure students are collaborating. Primary students can handle this. Example. Last week I observed a first grade lesson where students had just finished reading a picture book about the life of George Washington Carver. Their next learning task? Work in teams to invent something new with the “peanut” as the key ingredient. You get the same tools Carver had available to him. Brainstorm your ideas, draw your process, write your steps, present to the class. Think like scientists. The ensuing thoughts were not only hilarious, they were creative and sparked children’s interest in the process of invention. Peanut crayon? Genius. Peanut clay? I’d buy it. Students took on different roles: team leaders emerged, some jumped right into sketching their designs, others teamed up to describe their steps. Was there a test following this activity? Nope. Was there even a rubric? Nah. Did they learn anything? They clearly did. I watched them do it.

Outside of the classroom, there are so many opportunities for connected learning in which we need our children to take part. Skype with an author or a pen-pal class. Create and maintain a system for housing student blogs. The possibilities with writing, commenting, reflecting, and passionate learning are endless. Begin the process of having students develop portfolios of their work. What an amazing opportunities for them to grow and reflect as learners. Create a Twitter account for your class and use it to connect with other classes, schools, and parents.

Learning is connected – So many standards, so little time. Why we teach subjects in isolation in elementary school is truly mind-blowing to me. Here we are, in a school where a student is likely to spend his entire day with one-three teachers who know him really well. I believe we should be rewriting elementary curriculum to address basic skills in a way that is truly integrated across disciplines. Imagine the connections students could make if they spent two weeks immersed in Colonial Life. From the second they walked through the door, they were transported to a time of the early Americas where every problem they solved, piece of writing they composed, and book they read reflected essential learning strands grounded in that theme. They’d be living their learning.

Stay true to constructivist theory – What I want to emphasize here is that constructivism is a learning theory, not a method of teaching.  Constructivism suggests that children (aka people) learn by constructing knowledge out of their experiences. Students need to construct knowledge by connecting new material to the knowledge they already possess. (Or think they do.) Let’s also ask our children to “deconstruct” their knowledge. Question everything. Prove it to be so. Evaluate the “right answers.” Find the resources to do so. In an elementary classroom, this can be achieved with carefully thought-out processes for delivering content. Consider a math lesson where the objective for students is to learn how to add fractions with unlike denominators. In most instances, the teacher will demonstrate how to do this, explain the steps, review key vocabulary terms, then ask the children to practice a few problems, then do some for homework. Snooze. The child in that scenario is a passive, not active, participant in the learning process. Instead, present a story problem with fractions with unlike denominators as the key ingredients. Ask students to solve the problem. Give them manipulatives, access to resources, and each other to solve the problem. Don’t look for the right answer- look for the process, and for students to be able to explain to one another how they arrived at the “solution.” Bring the class together to evaluate the methods and determine a course of action for solving similar problems. Allow them to argue and make mistakes. Guide them along the way.

Student choice– In the elementary classroom, particularly in the primary grades, we are pretty skilled with providing differentiated learning opportunities for students based on their academic needs. Where we sometimes miss the boat is providing those same small group or individual, passion-driven learning experiences for students, or designing our lessons to allow for more student choice. How can this be accomplished when there is so much curriculum to “cover” and so many standards to address? We need to shift our energies from thinking that every student needs to master every standard, every year. It’s just unrealistic, and frankly, inappropriate. We need to start looking at the big picture. I believe we need to help our children learn how to read and comprehend what they read. From there, they will work wonders. Why not lay out for students the content topics to be explored in social studies for the year, and ask them to choose where they’d like to first start exploring? Or, within a science unit on ecosystems, give students the freedom to choose through which ecosystem they’ll show mastery of the big ideas? And allow them to choose the method in which they’ll demonstrate their learning. Maybe every once and awhile we need to just stop with the routine and give kids what they really want. They’ll never be more engaged.

Opportunities to connect with teachers outside of school – Here I’d like to see a focus on communication with the student and the family outside of school. One thing that has been really powerful for us this year is the development of our teacher webpages. While students are not always contributing content to the pages, the teacher is posting curricular topics, links to relevant material, examples of student work, photos, etc. to share with parents. The parent has access to our classroom experiences 24/7. We are fortunate in that parents are very involved in our school, but we need to do a better job engaging, rather than simply involving, parents in the learning process.

I met with a teacher today who truly wants to transform her practice and student learning. But she is at a loss. She doesn’t know how to balance the enormity of the standards and curricular demands with her passion for bringing individualized, engaging learning experiences to every one of her students. After combating a moment of helplessness where I thought, “How can I possibly tell her she can do this?”, we cracked open the curriculum and decided which of the listed standards were just unnecessary. We talked about the big ideas and ways she could start incorporating project-based, student-centered learning experiences into the content areas. We’ll support her. She’ll make mistakes, and I’ll be okay with that. She is so driven, so student-centered, that her students will learn more this year than ever before.

I’m confident about that, and I know that every time I visit her room and watch her children learn, I’ll know that’s what it looks like.

Leading the Net Gen., Part 2, Will Richardson

Will Richardson’s words, whether presented via a live session or found on his blog, Weblogg-ed, always inspire me to rethink.

Richardson stressed that we have to start rethinking our linear way of doing things. Education is in a moment of severe transition. My absolute favorite words of the day?

“Buckle up: you’re going to have to be open to the changes and shifts no matter how uncomfortable they make you.”

Richardson made the point that the shift in education is not around technology;  it’s around curriculum.  Consider the following:  if we know reading and writing are changing, what are we doing about it to change what our students are doing differently? He encouraged the educational leaders in the room to stop talking only about technology and reflect upon current curricular and instructional practices. How are we getting our students where they need to be?

As I tuned into Heidi Hayes Jacobs’ live Elluminate session last night, I realize she echos this sentiment as well. Her book, Curriculum 21, is currently sitting on my desk, waiting to be devoured.

This summer I will work to brainstorm and plan K-6 professional development opportunities for teachers in the areas of curriculum and technology, thus I appreciated Richardson’s remarks on offering PD to teachers: Don’t schedule how-to workshops; make it a prerequisite for teachers to learn the skill/tool BEFORE the workshop. At the workshop, make connections to curriculum, develop skills, and collaborate to produce meaningful, actionable plans for student learning. This recent blog post by Terry Freedman explores professional development in technology and highlights quality resources for those in tech integrator and admin roles to consult.

On a personal note, I appreciated having the chance to showcase this blog and be featured in a take-a-look-at-what-Twitter-is-all-about session in the afternoon. Richardson asked for a show of hands from those who blogged, and my lonely hand sloooowly went into the air. 🙂 I was glad it did, although at first the shock of seeing your blog plastered on three giant screens in front of hundreds of administrators is a tad bit intimidating. He offered compliments on my use of linked text and some of the content of my posts. We examined my ClustrMap, and it was affirming to see the diversity of visitors that read my blog!

The day’s take-away ideas from Richardson are that the most important aspects of successfully infusing 21st century skills into our classrooms are to model, emulate, and show the shifts in your schools. Consider your classrooms to be laboratories for learning, and realize that  in every lab, there is failure. Expect failure, yet try to mitigate it to yield positive student learning experiences.

Next year my elementary school is taking a cohort of admin and teachers to participate in Powerful Learning Practice,  “an ongoing, job-embedded opportunity built around emerging social Web technologies.” The great minds behind this endeavor are Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach.  I have confidence that the cohort I’ve selected has the enthusiasm, energy, and desire to be the catalyst for positive changes and will work collaboratively to set the stage for rethinking teaching and learning in our school. Read about the Year 1 experiences that await us.

Many thanks to both Jason Ohler and Will Richardson for an amazing day of reflection and inspiration.

Leading the Net Generation, Part I, Jason Ohler

Last week I attended a conference at IU13 – “Leading the Net Generation” – featuring Will Richardson and Jason Ohler. The conference was designed to be a two-day experience with several different presenters, but due to snow days and the school year extending into the original conference dates for most of the schools in the county, it was reconfigured into one day of immersion into the minds of Richardson and Ohler. Not too shabby! This post highlights the information shared by Jason Ohler.

Ohler began the morning with his keynote, asking us to consider, “How do we open doors for our students?” He remarked that his most meaningful teachers opened doors for him to engage in new types of learning.  Ohler also defined

Literacy- consuming and producing the media forms of the day, whatever they are

In the past, students were simply consumers of information. Now, students have Screasals (screen+easels); what some adults consider a simple phone for communication or a laptop for consumption of information, students use these tools to create! Students need to be able to write well whatever they read! Ohler goes on to explain the differences between Web 2.0, Web 2.1 (read, write, paint) and the evolving Web 3.0 – read, write, paint, THINK.

Ohler emphasized ensuring our students understand and create with visually differentiated text (from large blocks of text to collage) and need command of  the DAOW of Literacy:

DAOW-4circles2

Ohler also made a convincing argument for storytelling in the classroom. Since infancy, children have been engaged with story. They want information delivered in story format and respond emotionally when done so. Teachers should strive to incorporate story elements and storytelling into instruction and student initiatives. This will result in more meaningful learning!

This conference was for administrators, so naturally, we wanted to know how we can best support our teachers in these endeavors. Ohler presented the acronym CARES in summary of what administrators need to do to help teachers and students in their digital literacy and learning journeys:

Compensation – pretty straightforward (not always possible monetarily) but provide other types of compensation that make taking risks worthwhile for teachers
Assistance – provide needed resources and personal assistance; research grants and other opportunities to bring new resources to your schools
Recognition – celebrate those teachers who are taking risks with learning and literacy!
Extra time – get creative with schedules, provide opportunities for teachers and teacher teams to work on projects on company time
Support risk, pilots – if a teacher comes to you with an idea, support that risk; encourage teachers to participate in pilot programs; allow them to show you what learning opportunities are out there!

I enjoyed learning from Ohler last week and encourage all of you to explore his blog, which contains plentiful resources for educators.

We can all list reasons why not to branch out and take risks in the classrooms. Ohler’s final words:

Turn your concerns into goals.

Develop capacity in your teachers, administrative teams, students, and school community, and you can attack the concerns in a productive manner. Go forth and open doors!