Category Archives: Connections

Giving Students Ownership of Learning


Credit to Geralt from Pixabay

I always look forward to reading the new issue of Educational Leadership and the theme of this issue is ‘Giving Students Ownership of Learning’. I love that theme! It is full of relevant articles. I shouted out with delight to see Will as one of the authors in this issue. It is so appropriate to see Will’s article “Footprints in the Digital Age” in this outstanding issue. It is online and available for you to read. I’m so glad he ended up in this particular theme as he has been advocating giving students ownership of learning for some time now and continues to fight the battle, day in and day out. Will talks about the importance of self-directed learners being adept at building and sustaining networks. He gives five ideas that will help you begin to build your own personal learning network. He calls and has continued to call for this shift that requires us to foster the development of engaged learners and to rethink the roles of schools and educators. He issues this challenge: “More than ever before, students have the potential to own their own learning- and we have to help them seize that potential. We must help them learn how to identify their passions; build connections to others who share those passions; and communicate, collaorate, and work collectively with these networks. You need to forward it as a ‘must read’ to many others. Good on you, Will! Thanks for all you continue to do to make a difference in the lives of our students!

This issue of ‘Educational Leadership’ has lots more articles that are right on target. Get a copy and read each one!

Let those connections begin!

It feels so good to be back blogging with the J. H. House students in Mrs. Emmert’s fifth grade class! I wish you could have seen their faces as they read Harley’s great, big “woofing welcome”! This group peppered me with questions about Harley and his owner. They loved the creativity aspect of this type of blogging and they let their imaginations run wild. I asked them to think about things they were learning in class and what characters could make for interesting blogging. One clever student said he wanted to be a cell and inform others of all the good things he was doing for our bodies. Good thinking, huh? Lots of creative thoughts were flying around the room!

If any of you have student blogs already up for this year let me know and I’ll have my students comment on their blogs. Last week they commented on Harley’s blog. I did a quick intro on comment starters. The students are going to create some comment starters of their own so we can “bump up” the thinking when we comment.

One of my goals this year is to help them with their reflections and start that process of learning from each other. I need to rethink and add to this previous post, “Bumping up reflections”. I can’t wait to get these conversations started. Join in with us!

Harley barked to us ever so softly,

“I hope when I read your blogs and comment and ask you good questions,
then you’ll come here to read mine and comment to me. We can learn so
much from each other when we collaborate and make connections!”

So Harley gave us such a warm and “woofy” welcome!

Thanks Harley!!

We’re ready!

Let those connections begin!

boy and world

Flickr photo, “Atlas, it’s time for your bath”
by woodleywonderworks’ photostream

Learning from others

On the Yahoo Groups list for classblogmeister Lorraine from New Zealand shares her reflection templates to use in blogging. She was inspired by reading Konrad’s post and has created a post/article reflection and a comment reflection.  Her link led me to a great wiki that contains excellent info on their collaborative learning community. I really like this wiki. Thanks Lorraine for taking the time to share!  Keep up the great work! And as you know, one link leads to another – here’s her blog. It’s a good read, too! One post was about the danger of embedded links. Look at the comments to see how our community responds! Here’s her follow up post on this issue. And of course I have always been a fan of SlideShare. Look how they address the dilemma here. I second Lorraine’s “thumbs up” to SlideShare.

Visual or Virtual Think-Alouds

I’m continuing sharing my learnings from TRLD. In Sara Kajder’s session on “Digital Reading, Digital Writing” she shared one of the best ways I’ve heard to make active connections by readers using technology. It’s a technique she developed to get students to really think about their reading and make connections. She walked them through visual or virtual think-alouds.

She uses the time line in iMovie. Her students use the visual lines by creating digital images of their own drawings or through the use of digital images. They are making a mental movie that encourages a great deal of rereading. They reread to determine what kind of images the reading projects to them. She really has them thinking with this process.

The second line is the audio track and it is the read aloud of that text.

The third audio line is where the student performs the think aloud.

She is having her students create these monthly. She has found that students are able to articulate what they are doing as readers. They also will have an artifact of their reading at different points in time and will be able to conference around this artifact. She said it was critical that the students owned the pictures they use. The other beauty of this technique is the multiple “visual think alouds” that will be created from the same piece of text. Now that is awesome for different perspectives.

outsideinNow I have just given you a brief outline and I still have much to absorb here. I have ordered her book Bringing the Outside In so I can really process this technique and learn more from Sara. I really love the way she mixes in the visual aspects of literacy.

Sara told us how proud the students were of their work. They valued them more than the book trailers they created. Sara explained that these are the times when they are working as readers. They have never particularly fit in that role before nor have they been valued in that role. Everybody gets to see everybody else’s text if they are willing to share. All of hers shared. Isn’t this powerful?

Sara Kajder

Sara Kajder is a terrific speaker and a dynamite educator. She was kind enough to let me record her session at TRLD so much of this post is her voice. I was able to attend all three of her sessions. They were well worth it. Having it recorded is truly wonderful because when you get the opportunity to hear from incredible educators like Sara and then you can listen again it gives you to oppportunity to truly reflect on her message. She is an Assistant Professor of English Education and Literacy at Virginia Tech. She is also teaching full time in an 11th grade as part of a research project. She is a previous high school and middle school English and Chemistry teacher.

She talked about how what it means to read and write has irrevocably changed outside of school and then challenged us with the question:

“How much of what it means to read and write has changed inside your classroom?

She made reference to the Time magazine article that ran about a year ago on “What it means to be a 21st Century learner?” She said it was further implication of Mark Prensky’s idea that kids are digital natives, and we are digital immigrants. She doesn’t agree with his methaphor because it immediately deposits the kids in the position of OK they already know it, we teachers don’t have to teach it, they are just doing fine on their own, etc., etc., etc. She believes instead that kids might be growing up in a time where they are accustomed to the tools and they can think with the tools in ways that we might not be thinking with the tools but that does not mean they can communicate with the tools. It doesn’t mean that they know how to engage with the tools to do the kind of learning that we want them to be doing in the classroom. Those are 21st century literacies and they change and transform our roles as teachers. Her teaching and her teacher education has changed as a result. Professional development and the buildings she works in havechanged. Get this though, her classroom computer is an Apple Classic IIe. The faculty at Virginia Tech have offered to come and max it but Sara said no, she needs to work within the same conditions as her colleagures. There is a lab in her school building that is outfitted how she’d like to see the classrooms outfitted but the lab is for the business department.

Her first day in class she asked the kids to tell her about their writing in school. The kids wanted two lists – in school and outside of school. In school was pen, paper, pencil, typewriter/computer. Outside school was weblog, iMovie, highlighters, pods, video games, post-it notes, Wikipedia, digital cameras, Wikipedia, and cell phones.

Here what the kids argued was their best writing tool:

Sara didn’t talk about how to do old things with new tools. She wanted to talk a lot about how to do new things with old tools. Our teaching has to change to where kids are. We also have to choose how we assess what modality kids are writing in. It is a lot more complicated than she thought it was going to be.

First, she shared the things her kids wanted to be sure we

  1. If we had an internet connection in the classroom you are no longer, as teacher, the smartest person in the room. They felt about this emphatically because they all had a social studies teacher in 10th grade who teaches the most dynamic class she has seen. At no point in time is this social studies person the lone person in the classroom offering what’s coming. He has a Skype connection each day and has different experts involved each day, usually community of experts who are involved
  2. It is about knowing when and why to podcast or blog or “tweet”, not knowing how.
  3. The teachers they believe who they have been working with spend an awful lot of time teaching how to point and click. It’s about knowing this is the place where it is going to amplify my teaching. Teachers she works with don’t have any schema for what that looks like. (The Front Line special was about 90% on how we all should be afraid of what is online and shut it down.) There are some glimmers of hope.
  4. They don’t come to us not knowing how to work with tools. They are not multi-modal blank slates. They come in knowing how to podcast, video, but we aren’t taking any advantage of that.
  5. As teachers and administrators we don’t know what games our kids play. This is the first generation where we can unequivocally say that as a blanket statement. We haven’t played them. We don’t
    understand the ways in which they work, the literacies that are involved, the skills that they are exercising as they move through them.

Sara said that this was critical and that there is something really important there that we need to think about.

Her two guiding questionsfor the rest of the session were:

1. What are the unique capacities and limits of the tool that we are looking at? What can I do with this thing that I can’t do with anything else?

2. How does this tool allow us to do something better?

She starts with an instructional challenge and says there has to be a question or something about your teaching before the technology even comes into it. Book talks were a problem for her. So she tried movie posters. She asked students to create a poster that represented a synthesis of their reading of the text. She paired this with reflective writing. There had to be something compelling and important agout the way it was presented. She then took this a step further and challenged kids to create a book trailer. They spent time focusing on the genre of a movie trailer. They used a book that no one had checked out of the media center – The Number Devil. They only had 40 minutes to put it all together so Sara required to entry tickets to get in the lab – a storyboard and a script. When assessing this you have to try to look at all the different layers in this kind of writing- they are writing through the composition of a sound track, they are writing through the images, they are writing through the transitions that come between the images, the effects on the images, they are writing through the storyboard, they are writing through the script that they are doing. She pairs this with reflective writing to tell why they made the moves they did. She has now started to allow them to podcast that piece, lets it be an
oral recording – a talk aloud of why they have done what they have done.

Here’s one very key element of what she does:

She does what she asks the students to do—-creates a model
and shares with students.

Sara created a wiki “Promise Into Practice”. Check it out. Now I can’t wait to share what she does with visual or virtual think alouds. That’s another post. This post is getting a little long but it’s not everyday I get to come across educators of the caliber of Sara Kajder. She is making a difference!

Great way to start a Monday morning!

bloggingAlong.jpgI received an email from the instructional technology specialist at the elementary school where I have done a lot of blogging projects these past few years. Hillary told me about Julie McCullers who taught third grade and had participated in a class blog in one of the projects.It was entitled McCullers Weblog. I want to point you to one of her posts from back then, A Final Goodbye. It is absolutely one of my most favorite posts coming from a classroom. It got the kids engaged and having fun as they were learning. Steve Dembo even commented to them! Julie is a creative teacher who does great work with kids. Her current blog, Blogging Along…. is so inviting! Check out this post, School Now. I like the questions she is asking the kids. I can’t wait to follow this blog this year. Welcome her back to the world of blogging! Julie has moved on to another elementary school closer to her home. We miss her but now her blog will keep us in touch and just think of the learning and sharing.

A School of Voices

Last week I finished up a blogging project with elementary kids (sniff, sniff). It’s hard to let go of these wonderful groups of students. So I thought I’d jump into another project I’ve been wanting to try.

I have a blog “A School of Voices.” I created it to encourage voices from students and teachers everywhere to get their voices heard about events that are going on in the world today. Current events needs to be discussed by students and teachers so we can learn and grow together and be responsible global citizens. It was active for awhile but with all the research I’ve been buried in this year it was neglected.

Then an idea popped into my head that had been brewing for a bit. I am going to bring it back to life. I invited a previous student blogger of mine to co-author the site with me. Katey is the young lady who will join me on the journey. She will be a sixth grader next year. We will be communicating through email about the blogging. I’ve wanted to see if this would work with this age student. Her mom was in agreement for Katey to participate. I communicate with Katey through her mom’s email. I told Katey we would learn together. I also told her that if at any time she wanted to move on to other things to let me know. I would still feel the same way about her blogging or not. I didn’t want her to feel like this was something she had to do. I want this to be fun and a learning experience for us both. We’ll see where it leads.

Katey was delighted. Katey made great strides in her writing while blogging and she loved it. So Katey has officially made her first two posts. If you have a moment go comment and encourage her! The first post for the project starts with my post, A Shift in Direction. Her posts follow. Her post name is mind4blogger.
For those of you who might be interested here is a post that gives a little more background on why I think current events should be required for every student. And this was in 2003!!

Canada/Georgia Connection on Gizmo

The blogicians and the students in Darren Kuropatwa’s Pre-Cal 40S class participated in a Gizmo call last week. The blogicians had prepared some questions that they wished to ask the high school students. Gizmo has a neat feature that lets you record the conversation as you are talking. It did pretty well but does have an echo effect from time to time. As I listened to these podcasts I really marvel at the learning that occurs. I kept thinking how much was going on and how much can be fostered with these types of connections. I think you have to have a plan of action as if you just connect and talk you may lose some focus. It was a thirty minute call that was filled with some many unexpected turns that were so worthwhile.

What a good space to give kids practice with public speaking. Both ages were nervous but the experiences they got speaking will serve them so well. I think both sides learned so much from each other. The older students were unaware of some of the constraints involved while teaching elementary students (listen to the chat box podcast), the ability to look for dramatic and outstanding pictures for presentations (listen to the Flickr podcast).

On a scribe post after the Gizmo talk, Grey-M one of the high school students said the following:

I must say that trying to answer something on the spot is brutally hard (These weren’t easy questions either) so people, including me, were a little hesitant at times to respond. So that was a fun deviation from our usual routine.

The younger students are in awe of the older students but in these kind of connections they learn to step back and decide if they agree or not. They learn that that is OK.

Johnny from the blogicians posted the following after the talk:

We just did a gizmo chat and it was quite delightful with a pre call math class and it was nicely spoken by me and my classmates. Mr. K was the teacher of the class I asked about chat box and how they use it and Danny replied “We use it to learn all over the web and it sort of saves time instead of commenting”. I sort of agree with him what do you thing do you agree or do you disagree? If you don’t know what it is try looking it up and using it.

You get to discuss so much and the best part is you are having authentic conversations with the students and encourgaging their honest input. It builds great learning communities. This can only make things better in our classrooms. This is great practice for them and us. The teachers get to do a lot of learning too. We’re learning how to best orchestrate these experiences. We’re learning how to help these kids on their path to becoming global citizens. The more experience we can give the kids with this type of learning the more they will be able to help us shape its’ most effective use. These are the types of literacies we need to be developing in all our schools.
I’m still thinking about all this….. the possibilities, how to involve others, and on and on….

It was a day to remember – a day of connections and learning between some very inspiring students in Canada and Georgia.


Links to podcasts:

Podcast 1 Introduction and special bond

Podcast 2 Eddie Chris Online Safety

Podcast 3 Eddie Vincent Being responsible while blogging

Podcast 4 Emmy Danny Flickr

Podcast 5 MV Chris Craig B.O.B (Blogging on blogging) and convincing middle school teachers to let students blog

Podcast 6 Tina Vincent Grey-M The best and the worst of blogging

Podcast 7 Johnny Richard Danny Chat Boxes

Podcast 8 Eddie Aichelle How does blogging advance your learning as a fifth grade student?

Scott asks “Know a great commenter?”


Scott McLeod of Dangerously Irrelevant has a post “Know a great commenter?” Well it just so happens that I know many but I would like to recognize three bloggers who comment frequently on all of my student blogs. Their comments are kind, helpful, relevant, and very thought-provoking for the students.

I nominate:
Lani Ritter Hall
Chris McIntosh
Carolyn (not sure of her last name)

For those who are nominated Scott has created a neat badge that you can place on your blog, if you like. Thanks you for making a difference in the lives of students.

Nominations like these are great but they also leave me thinking that I left people out so with that thought in mind I’d like to say a huge thank you to all commenters. You all make a difference.

Shaping our learning through comments

I am constantly amazed at how much students learn from the comments they receive on their blogs. The other relevant aspect to this is that the learning is so applicable to the standards we are asked to teach. Today I browsed through the student blogs and reread some comments they received over the past school year. I just thought of one standard for each- I could have selected many more standards but this will give you the feel for the awesome power of commenting on our students’ learning.

Anni and Donna

Anni on her post entitled Water stated lots of good reasons supporting the need for a water fountain on her school’s playground

Donna, a teacher from Queensland, Australia commented back to share how each of their schools had rows of “bubblers” outside for student use. She congratulated Anni on her foresight in regards to this issue. Then she added more good reasons for installing a water fountain that Anni could think about as she tries to persuade her school to consider this action. Donna made the point that adequate water consumption is required for optimal brain function! Now I’d say that’s pretty relevant to student learning, right?

Here’s one standard that applies:


ELA5R3 The student understands and acquires new vocabulary and uses it correctly in reading and writing.

Anni’s learning from the comment. I’ve seen her search for a word or head over to the dictionaries in the lab. Plus we now have Answer Tips installed on each blog and that makes it even easier. I love that tool! Anni will remember lots of these words because they are relevant to her. They were meant just for her. New words to add to her vocabulary – bubblers and foresight for starters in this comment.

Eddie and Darren

Eddie’s post on The Language of Math prompted a response from Darren Kuropatwa, a high school math teacher in Winnipeg, Canada. Darren made math come alive in his comment to Eddie. He explained numerous ways math is everywhere. This led Eddie to further explore and communicate about all these concepts. Were they communicating mathematically? IYou can count on it!. And that post fostered lots more comments that kept coming in over the following days. New conversations about math continued both inside and outside our classroom.

Here’s one standard that applies:


M5P3 Students will communicate mathematically.

Eddie sums up his feelings here:

I have made new friends outside of school because of blogging. I have had teacher form other states and countries comment to my blog. I had a teacher from Winnipeg, Canada named Mr.Kuropatwa comment on my blog. He teaches senior math and the children in his class were overwhelmed because of what I knew. He even showed his class my blog and they made a podcast and sent it to me. I have also had a person named Lani comment to my blog and she is from Chardon, Ohio. She’s always trying to encourage me to write better. She always gives me tips and strategies on how to read and write better.

(The above is from The End of My Blogging Year)

Victoria and Kate

Victoria‘s post, Melting Down the Ice , explains that the ice in Antarctica is melting and she points to a movie that shows how this may cause the polar bears to drown and become extinct. Victoria picked up on this concern by reading joey girl, a blog by Kate. Kate is a student in Mr. Fisher’s class in Snow Lake, Canada. Several commented on this post and information was being shared and ideas were exchanged.

This standard applies:


ELA5LSV2 The student listens to and views various forms of text and media in order to gather and share information, persuade others, and express and understand ideas.

Victoria has done an exceptional job of applying the above standard. Her post Are We There Yet? says it all.

Now I could find many more examples and in most cases more than one standard applies. Students need practice with the standards that are being taught. Blogging is a great way to provide that practice. Blogging helps make it authentic and important to the student. They have ownership. Now again the classroom discussions are very important- it is crucial to take the time to share and reflect on how the comments are shaping our learning.

I may come back to some more of these. Better yet wouldn’t it be neat to let the students find samples. Hmmmm I’m going to ask the blogicians what they think about that.