Category Archives: LIteracy

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!

More from Sara on The Book Trailer

What a treat! I was sinking as I thought more about the damage high-stakes testing is doing to our schools so it was so uplifting to read Sara Kajder’s article, The Book Trailer: Engaging Teens Through Technologies in this month’s issue of Educational Leadership.

It tells the story of students creating a two-minute video using still images, transitions and special effects (generated with MovieMaker or iMovie software), voiceovers, and a soundtrack. Students present the central characters, themes, or issues of the book visually and through written and voiceover narration. All trailers have to include the title of the book, the author’s name, and a presentation that is both authentic to the text and that works to “hook” readers. I also require students to submit their trailers with a piece of writing that explores the choices they made, with an analysis of the book that shows that they made decisions on the basis of the text, and not just by using the aspects of technology that would best captivate an audience.

Sara goes on to say that….

But technology is not the goal. Student writers and readers are at the center of our instruction. And we, as mindful teachers, must thoughtfully and deliberately prepare all of our students for success by critically exploring the new technological tools and then using the ones that can help us and our students to powerfully convey what we think and know.

I can’t think of a more exciting time to teach, as we’re immersed in new possibilities for working with words and with one another. When we teach creatively with emergent tools in mind, we stand a better chance of engaging reluctant students by giving what we teach real meaning. Each day is an invitation to examine, play, invent, reinvent, and join in the conversation.

Read the whole article. I’ve posted previously about Sara here and here.

TRLD Keynote – Donald Leu

Donald Leu was the keynote speaker at TRLD in San Francisco this past January. Jill Castek and Lisa Zawilinksi also presented. they are all members of The New Literacies Research Team at the University of Connecticut. Julie Coiro is also a member of this extraordinary team. Last year I had blogged about Julie’s sessions here, here, here, and here. You can see I had much to share. The same is true from this year’s conference. The keynote topic was “How Reading Copmprehension Has Changed While We Weren’t Looking.” Here is a link to his handout with contains links to some excellent resources. His link is about halfway down the page but you will also get other presenter links from some terrific sessions.

Leu made the critically important point about the new literacies of online reading comprehension and how we really have to pay attention to the kids who need our help the most because right now public policy is making it such that they are being denied the opportunity to learn how to read online.

Hear! Hear! I couldn’t agree more.

The two main questions this research team is studying are:

1. How do we read and comprehend information on the Internet?

2- How can we help teachers to teach these new skills?

Leu pointed out how these questions are much more complicated than educational research questions have been in the past. He talked about how we’re changing our reading content today from page to screen in hugely profound ways. He than began his argument for:

1. The Interent is this generation’s defining technology for reading.

2. The internet requires new literacies, additional online reading comprehension skills.

I got really excited when he made this point:

“Our weakest offline readers often surpisingly are some of our highest online readers. It is incredible but it is hidden. Most people do not look for it. They do not expect it.”

I have found this to be true and have commented to others about it over the years. I assumed in part it was because many modalities were being used and the students had some control over their own learning more. I thought about it frequently but this team is doing something about it. Their research is really honing in on this. You can read more about it and even see some samples with kids’ reading. See the links on the handout page.

He had some statistics that were interesting (from September). There’s also a link to this site that updates the statistics that will be helpful for all of us to use.

Here’s some:

  • Finland has a national professional development model for all of their teachers for literacies on the internet. They have a national training model and give every teacher 5 weeks of paid release time for professional development. finland knows that their students need to be prepared to work in the global information age.

Now I ask, why don’t we?

  • Japan has broadband 16x faster than what we are getting here. The cost is only $22 a moth. The government there knows that students read more outside school than they do inside school. they are doing everything to prpeare their children for the future.

What do we do? We block them.

Then Leu focused on the U.S and said not a single state measures a student’s ability to comprehend on the intenet. No state includes the ability to critically evaluate information that is found online. Few states permit all sutdents to use a word processor.

Then he told us about the decision The National Assessment of Educational Progress made last year. Maine made a decision that will have an effect for the next 10 years. They decided not to include online reading skills. meanwhile other nations like the UK and Australia are already measuring them.

Oh my, we have miles to go….

Next he started discussing their research on the new literacies. His team started pulling together a reading model, a model of reading information on the internet. These are the five areas that are novel skill areas and in each one there are novel reading comprehension skills.

  1. identify important questions
  2. locating information – reading search engines
  3. critical evaluation
  4. synthesizing
  5. communicating

Now I told you there was much to share from this group. I am just getting started. My next post will share more details on these components that are in this model of online reading that they are beginning to develop.

I am so thankful that this group is doing this research. it is going to make a difference. We all need to be well versed in what they are doing and how we can help make change happen!

Linkin’ (B)Logs: A New Literacy of Hyperlinks

Bud pointed to a new article, Linkin’ (B)logs: A New Literacy of Hyperlinks, in the English Journal column “New Voices” by Tiffany J. Hunt and Bud Hunt. They are the column editors for the EJ column. It is a terrific article speaking about the read/write Web  in this participatory culture. The article posts about the obstacle of filtering and how it “blocks” us. I really like reading the story of Bud’s learning from blogging and the community of readers and writers he has met along the way. I identify with that and also with the teaching of blogging being hard. It is the building of a different type of community and this article helps us define the literacy development better. It is so encouraging to me to see this quality of writing about the learning with students. We need more articles where work with students is shared.
Bud shares on his teacher blog how he encourages students to focus on writing three kinds of posts: research-related posts, speech-class content posts, and classmate-related posts. He provides a detailed description of each post type in the article. I like how he tells the students that they are free to write about whatever they wish that’s relevant to their course.

Kudos to Tiffany Hunt and Bud Hunt for sharing their good work! I look forward to reading more.

Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy

On one of my searches I came across a new book on educational blogging. The book is “Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy : The Next Powerful Step in 21st-Century Learning” by Diane Penrod. Diane Penrod is professor of writing arts at Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J. She directs the university’s masters program in writing and is the site director for the National Writing Project. The book was not available in the library here at Georgia State but I was able to check out a copy from Gil Express. In her preface she states, “Because literacy is a complex topic, as are the social aspects of blogging, to intersect the two creates a host of issues. To that end, I have based chapters on contemporary concerns. My hope is to make the material relevant to educators and parents who want to learn more about the blogging phenomenon beyond what is described in the mainstream media.”

The chapters cover these topics:

  1. Why blog?
  2. Blogging and New Lieracies
  3. Blogs as a New Writing Genre
  4. Gender and Blogging
  5. Ethnicity and Blogging
  6. Blogs and Bullying
  7. Encouraging Safe Blogging Practies
  8. Integrating Multiple Intelligences and Blogging
  9. Creating classroom Ethics for Blogging
  10. Blogging Matters

I like this book. I liked it well enough to buy my own copy. I particularly like to see books with a focus on literacy as it relates to blogging. Her last chapter discusses challenges facing classroom blogging and suggestions are offered for parents, teachers, and administrator. She poses lots of questions and possibilities. Lots of food for thought….

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?

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.

Google Maps

The blogicians have been having fun with Google Maps. They each have maps that list all the locations of their commenters. When we finish I plan to make one map documenting the locations of all the students’ commenters. What fun! Plus they can add other media. Hmmm, ideas are humming!

Then today Scott Floyd posted a comment to the blogicians sharing how he plans to use Google Maps this summer. Check out his great post on My Maps to Visually Document and Tell Stories

“Does it make sense?”

One of the intriguing pulls for me for attending this conference was the fact that Ellin Oliver Keene was giving the keynote. I have her book, Mosaic of Thought: Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop, which she co-authored with Susan Zimmermann. I have had that book for quite some time and it is one of my favorites. It’s the kind of book that you pick up and ponder the contents. It makes you think. Each time I page back through it I come away with more understandings and learning and yes more questions. I knew it would be a treat to hear her speak and I would learn more about comprehension and how we understand. The title of the keynote was “To Understand.”

She opened the keynote with a story about one of the students she was working with whose name was Jamika. She told a story of a young girl who apparently erupted in class after being asked one too many times, “Did that story you just read make sense?” Jamica probably rolled her eyes and said that teachers, her parents and everyone else kept asking her this question time after time. Jamica’s hurled back a question of her own. Apparently Jamika was quite exasperated with adult after adult asking this same question and she had had enough. I can just hear her in my head as she exclaimed, “All of you keep asking this question but none of you say “what does sense mean Why don’t you tell me what “make sense” means?” I could get quite a good picture in my head of the encounter. You know kids always come up with the best questions and send us on a quest like none others. So Ellin began a journey to figure out “what does Jamika understand?’ She looked through the teacher’s guide and discovered that a total of 69 questions were asked when the teacher follows the guide. Basically the student answers questions and retells the story. The process was one of answering questions and retelling the story. Ellin Keene stated that we could just look at the pictures. Answering questions, retelling and learning new vocabulary are the main components. Then Ellin Keene posed this question for the audience:

“Do students need comprehension strategy instruction if all they’re expected to do is retell and answer questions?” Ellin Keene questions if this definition is worthy of our student’s intellectual capacity?

How would you answer that question? We all need to give that question much thought. Ellin Keene went on to point out that the first three points assess comprehension. They do not teach comprehension strategies. She said, “We are not teaching them to improve thought processes.” Ellin Keene began to focus on the classroom practice. She wanted to observe students in the act of comprehension and give language to the process. Take moments of understanding and hone in on what the kid was doing at that moment. If we can define and describe we can learn more. Here are some nuggets that Ellin tossed out to the audience.

  • When you are deeply engaged the world around you disappears.
  • We dwell in ideas. We need time to be silent, to listen to our own thinking to reflect purposefully on an idea.
  • How much time do we give students? We have to give them time.
  • Understanding does not happen unless we give them time to think deeply. We have to give them time.
  • Students need a way to hold on to their thinking.
  • We understand when we struggle because we so want to know.
  • Talk is hugely important to the learning process.
  • To understand is to remember because it is important for us to remember – need those emotional connections.
  • Rigorous discourse with others.
  • We are renaissance learners – we allow ourselves to meander through a wide range of topics and understand texts and generalize.
  • We work to understand how ideas are related.

Her handout gave examples for making the dimensions of understanding come alive. Her first bullet under
When we understand:

  • We concentrate intensively – we are fervent, we lose ourselves in the experience of thought, we work intensively, the world disappears and we work hard to learn more, we choose to challenge ourselves.

She went on in the handout to give examples for making the dimensions of understanding come alive. Here’s one for the above bullet :

“We concentrate intensively, we are ferment-

  • Model — This translates into you sharing with your students about times you were intensely involved with learning and what triggered you to push those understandings further. Share the details. Did you happen to be studying something at the time that was an area in which you were passionately interested? What made you want to dig deeper? Did it lead you to more understandings?
  • Talk about how to develop areas of passionate interest. Such passions don’t come automatically to all kids. Talk to your kids in individual and group meetings to help kids find areas that most interest them. Talk with them about how to pursue topics of passionate interest. How do you do it in your own life- how might they do it?

I’m going to try this out in my classroom. Why don’t you? Come back and comment and let’s share the learning!

Julie Coiro


One of the highlights at this conference was getting to meet Julie Coiro. She is at the University of Connecticut and is part of the New Literacies Research Team. See the link here

This is an excerpt on this site about what they do:

We engage in systematic inquiry to define what students need to learn and how best to assess and teach these new skills. What also defines us is our extraordinary collaborative approach. We work as colleagues, recognizing the valuable insights that each person brings to the inquiry process. Professors, graduate researchers, teachers, school leaders, and others work shoulder to shoulder, equally contributing to the inquiry process and respecting one another as colleagues.

Her handout link from the session is here. Julie talked for a bit, then we participated in an activity. She talked about some things related to evaluatiing on the internet and we took a look at some scary things about kids on the internet in terms of what they don’t know. Most of her work has been with 5th to 7th graders.

She began her session with three stories that will really get your thinking. Take a listen to NewLiteraciesPerspective.mp3 .

Julie’s site has some dynamite activities with lessons to help our students evaluate relevancy, accuracy, reliability and point of view. She has tables showing student responses to some good questions. Ask your students some of the questions. You may be surprised at their answers. Students know you can’t believe everything on the Internet… but they do! She talks about how the authors shape the information and then hones in on the conversations we need to have with our students and questions we should be asking.

There is so much to share from her session and I am just beginning but another session calls for now.

I have so much to blog about from this wonderful conference. It’s going to take me a bit. Plus it is so encouraging to talk to the participants who are out there working for many of the same goals we’ve been talking about the past few years. You should consider attending this conference next year. It will be in January back in San Francisco!

And I had a fabulous night last night connecting with Chris and John McIntosh. It was such a special evening and I’ll be blogging about that.

I’m soaring!