From Cutting Edge to Just Cutting

My mind typically races at a million miles per hour all day long.  It makes it great for having creative thoughts, horrible for my memory, and makes sleep nearly impossible.  How does that apply?  Let my walk you through the frightening neuron firings of my mind!  Last week I listened to a replay of the PrincipalCast podcast, during which @DrSpikeCook mentioned some really cool things one of his teachers was doing with Augmented Reality.  I also started reading a lot of information from Eric Sheninger about digital leadership.  This week we also filled out for our CSA a “Dream List” of things we wanted.  Mine included a new multi-user smartboard, document camera, and many other resources.  What I later added a 3d printer and 1:1 iPads.  Next came a Tweet from @MisterMinor asking what we use technology for in our classrooms and if I could use it for something else, what would it be?  All of this got me thinking… When did schools go from cutting edge to just cutting?

When I used to hear about the first computers from my dad, where could you find them?  Schools!  When I was young and we got our first computers, they came from schools! When I first saw a “lap top” where did it come from? Schools!  I got my first iPod and started using digital files, where?  SCHOOLS!

Now I take out my iPad or my phone and my 6-year-old students have the same or better technology in their house.  In a district that is nearly 50% free and reduced lunch, most students have better technology than my classroom.  I am lucky to have 3 working computers.

My answer to the previous question from @MisterMinor was simply: right now I am using my technology as a visual aide and a manipulative.  I would rather be using technology to create and investigate a learning environment.

As I explored the concept of Augmented Reality (digital overlay over top of the real world around us) and realized its potential in SCHOOLS is limitless.  Imagine a true classroom environment where students can explore content and indulge their inquisitive nature.  Create an activity that when looked at, creates links to limitless knowledge and resources for students with ideas and questions.  What educator would argue that a classroom like this is not their dream?

Where did we go wrong?  Who should be learning to manipulate these amazing new technologies?  Could anyone argue that entrusting the learning of these technologies to children is the best way to invest our time and resources?

As educators we need to be open once again to embracing the newest, most dream defying technology so that we can help children unlock its true potential and develop the dreamers of the next generation.  In return, we need an investment in using that technology throughout the school system and reinvigorate students and schools in the process!

Thanks for reading!


Spreading the Love

I didn’t get to share this yesterday, but when something awesome happens in your classroom, I am a firm believer that you have to shout it from the mountain tops!  This has been a year where my mountain climbing days have not come frequently enough for my liking.  I need to be the first to admit that a large part of that is my own fault.  The reasons for that could probably fill up 3 posts (and not all of it the kinds of positive things I want to share.)  

While reading Horton Hatches the Egg, I had one of my students that needs the most help made a comment that created a moment that made my week (not just my day.) During a rather uneventful reading session, we came to a point in the story toward the end where the controversial moment appears.  SPOILER ALERT: for those of you who somehow have not read this story…

As Maysie the bird flies into the tent and finds Horton, she demands her egg back!  At which point my student says, “Well, yeah its her egg!”  

I could have ignored this statement because he called it out, but I was too tempted and could not resist!  All I said was..”Is it?”  All of the sudden I got a surprise.  They were almost perfectly split, but time is up… we are going to lunch!  Right before we leave I said, “we are changing plans and will have a debate later today.”  

“What’s a debate?” my first graders responded.  

“You’ll find out when we start…”

I had tried this sort of spontaneous act with my class before.  Typically when taking an idea and running with it, we run head first into the wall!  But, I will never stop trying and this is why…

The students picked their side of the argument Horton or Maysie.  I made one a recorder for each group and gave them time to write down everyone’s ideas.  I brought each group back to share their ideas and told them I would judge, not on what I thought, but on who convinced me the best.  Each side had reasonably good ideas, so I decided to give them rebuttal opportunities.  We recapped each sides idea and I gave them some talk time.  Then asked them to explain “This argument is not important because…”

The answers were more profound than anything I had heard from my class all year.  

That day I could not do any work after school.  All I could do was spread the love.  So many people have negative things to stay about the kids in my room.  I find myself trying to defend them too often rather than talk about their best qualities.  This for my class was a HUGE win and a big step in the right direction.  It made me realize that I need to start spreading the love, not just about the big wins, but the little ones.  

When your class or your school does something awesome, something good, or even something to make you smile or laugh.  SPREAD THE LOVE. Share your stories and let the world know.  If you don’t, who will?

Thanks for reading!

Take What You Need and Leave the Rest…

I recently read another blog about the Common Core (uh oh, he said a bad word) that read, “I was naive about the Common Core.”
As I read I swore the words came out of my own mouth. What a great idea, student-centered learning, spiraling standards to build and gradually develop, getting students ready for college (at least community college.)
How can this be bad? They took the outrageously long set of standards we had here in NJ and simplified them down to the key concepts a student should know, right?
As time goes on and more information is dispersed about them, I start scratching my head. I work in a very good school, but we are very small. When the standards were going to be adopted we started looking into them. I didn’t get a book or an assessment that said “this is the CCSS.” I had the standards as I read an interpreted them. I built my curriculum around that and i was happy with the change.
Fast forward three years. Book companies have put out their “aligned” materials, companies pushing out testing materials, and I feel like everyone has lost their minds.
When I look at the material and listen to the opposing sides debate, I feel like I was way off base. Surely I couldn’t have been so wrong about what the handful of standards that comprise the CCSS.
I realized, I don’t care what the publishing companies say. I haven’t “followed a series” in my teaching career. Why start now?
I decided that those are simply resources. Like all of the old resources I have drawn on from over the years, they are pick and choose. When it fits what I want, take it, if not then leave it and make it yourself!
The standards are ok,if you treat the materials associated with them (the things people make money on) as just another option. If the work isn’t valuable, don’t do it! Teach with a brain! Following a series is not going to make your students better, teaching them with best practices is how they will grow! Teachers should be the interpreters of the standards, no matter what they say!

Thanks for Reading.

Enter the Matrix…

As Educators we all have something within us that drives us toward improving. Some have had that spark dim, while others have the fire blazing within them. Regardless, as educators we are learners first.
While I always have had that desire in me to learn, over the past five weeks I feel like Neo being exposed to the truth of a greater world around him (reference to The Matrix…). I had always breezed past things on Facebook or kept up with a few ed blogs, but just a short while ago, i ventured into the Twitterverse.
It has opened my eyes to so many great educators sharing and learning!
To all those I have interacted with in the past several weeks, THANK YOU! You have opened my eyes!
Now I feel a bit like Neo in that i have the urge to expose the rest of my fellow educators to the greater world around them! If you are not on twitter already, the rest of this post is for you! (I apologize for my gratuitous use of exclamation marks but I am genuinely excited about sharing this)

Now for those of you who are not yet on Twitter or are new to it, I am going to give a quick run down of some educators I have found very interesting or helpful (everyone is very helpful to positive educators!) but that have posted some great stuff for being a “connected educator.”

These are my must follows so far for interesting, valuable information:

Great Ed Leaders (who also post great blogs!):




@8Amber8 also check out these links she has sent out about people to follow and why you should be on twitter!  &




@PrincipalCast also check this out live TV featuring some of the Principals listed here!


There are too many great teachers to share with for me to list them all!  Just lurk in chats and learn as much as possible.

This link I found.  I cannot find where I first saw it, but it lists SO many great chats, their # and when they occur!  There truly is something for everyone.


@burgessdave Teach Like a Pirate

@dianeravitch Reign of Error


and of course I love anything associated with @TCRWP and their many staff contributors!


Good Luck to you newbies.  Remember the 3 L’s until you feel comfortable: Look, Lurk, Learn!  So step into a whole new world of coming together with the educational community.  Let’s take off the blinders and start communicating with each other to start making a difference!  Every educator connected can be a positive contributor for improving our children’s lives!


Thanks for reading.  Hope to see you in a chat soon!


Saturday Reunion: Like the 4 Minute Mile!

Thousands of dedicated professionals, running up and down stairs, laying across floors and sitting on tables, all eager to absorb information from 1 of the 150 or so sessions on Literacy that make the Teacher’s College Reading & Writing Project Saturday Reunion an incredibly special place.  This was my first time attending, and I wish I could have stayed longer for sure. While it was an amazing experience, there were a few things I want to throw out before I recap the amazing sessions.

There is really only one thing I wish would change:  With so short a time between sessions, I often felt I had to leave a session early to get to any of the choices for my next session, let alone to stop by the area where the great resources were being offered.  I would have certainly stayed longer to have that opportunity!

Now on to more important info!

Before you read too far into this, the sessions I attended are K-2 focused.  If you are were looking for other grade levels, I am sorry not to be able to help, but would love to hear others recap!

I know I cannot do these wonderful presenters justice, but the value of their words should be shared with as many people as possible and to recap my learning from each session will hopefully help me put all the ideas and great concepts into perspective!

Session 1: Presenter-Celena Larkey Making Reading, Writing, and Content Area Connections:  Using Best Literacy Practices to Teach CCSS Science and Social Studies

I literally ran into this session!  Grabbing a seat as the class was beginning, I was able to get some great ideas in a short time.  I will try to bullet them for ease of use:

  • Use partners or clubs for Science and Social Studies, best practices for reading & writing are also best practices for teaching
  • Anything can be “text” photos, maps, brochures, books, videos
  • Hints for images: study pictures, still images are easier to get ideas from than lecture or video- story tell, note taking, categorize, and study images
  • Use I see/I think T chart for pictures- can also reveal pictures in quadrants and have children revise these charts with partners or clubs as more is revealed
  • gather books in similar bands of text about a similar topic for reading clubs about content areas
  • Develop conversation, support talk time in either a whole class or a group
  • How does what we read fit with what we know?  Engage students awareness of a topic.
  • Use RAN charts (What I Think I know, Yes! I was RIGHT!, Oops! I Don’t Think That Anymore, New Information, Now I wonder?
  • Before and after text, use words and phrases from the text to engage students ideas on the topic, have them use those words to talk about the topic, to ask questions about it and make “I Think” statements

This was a great session and while I only hit on a some of the ideas, it will be very helpful for me in the upcoming weeks, months, and years.  Also, I love the way Celena Larkey had us turn and talk through ideas, she presented the way she was telling us to teach!

Session 2: Presenter: Christine Cook Robson   Topic: Mastering the Art of Powerful Book Introductions to Support Guided Reading Groups

This was the only session I attended with colleagues.  It was also the last time I would have an actual seat in a session!

Here are my notes & tweets recapped on this great presentation about ways to use book intros to enhance comprehension and make reading groups more valuable

  • Know your children – as Kathy Collins put it, students is a word for school, children is a word for life…  In terms of reading groups this means two things, 1. know their interests to try and make it interesting 2. take and use running records to know what students are working on so you can use the book intro to guide that focus in the story (MSV).
  • Meaning – for J readers and above especially, start using genre to develop an idea of the story… How do these types of books usually go?
  • Meaning – with chapter books, USE THE BLURB on the back.  It will literally tell the kids everything they are going to need to look for in the story. (my own add in- No Blurb? have your students write one for the story/chapter to help others know what the story is about!)
  • Meaning- know main idea, prior knowledge, introduce unfamiliar concepts, model using pictures & new vocabulary
  • When picking out a book, does the content have any relevance to your students?
  • Remember what is important to unpack in the story!
  • We need to discuss structure changes, and difficult structure as part of our intro.  Literally say “This book talks funny!” Then model how it is written differently than your speech.

This was a great session and showed me how valuable a book intro can be when done correctly.  Don’t just flip through the book or “preview” it, provide your group with the information that will make them successful and then they will be!

Session 3: Presenter: Amanda Hartman  Topic: Making the Most of Small Group Work to Radically Help Student Writers

Wow!  It was clear why people were laying across the floor to squeeze into this one!  While every session I was at had so many great concepts and information, I felt like this one could have gone on all day and I would not have noticed.

  • Vary our teaching practices within the group and student to student- (seems like a no brainer but sometimes we all need to get hit across the face with the obvious!)
  • content comes from assessments, make sure not to go too far or you will feel like you are pulling teeth (your frustration becomes theirs’)
  • release scaffolds- more work by the students and less by the teacher- some students will need more, others less…
  • mix your groupings- help student a once, student b 3 times and student c 2 times all in the same time span by having varied groupings that are still working on the same general skill (similar but not the same, equitable but not equal)
  • guided practice- should be your main teaching practice (ultimately leading to inquire, self reflect, teach self)
  • partnerships – loved this, give student something they are good at, then have them teach it to others
  • (my favorite tweet from sessions) Phonics is a major part of Writer’s Workshop!  Use phonics lessons throughout writing lessons to reinforce and strengthen understanding of phonics skills!
  • Have a mini-anchor chart to refer to while students are working (person next to me suggested keeping a collection of mini anchor charts in their writing folders!)
  • Getting kids to write more than 1 sentence per page in books with question charts
  • How can I say more & teach more with my writing? – Make students feel like they are teaching… for each page of an informational book ask “who, what, when, where, or why”  “Which Question do you need to ask yourself?” and show students the chart
  • Get all students engage before going to coach!  Be patient, do not begin helping unless they have started the process
  • Foster inquiry about writing to engage students in editing “How am I using ___ in my writing?”  Students can create mentor texts, refer to mentor texts & charts.
  • Another favorite tweet- Give kids the tools to be successful, don’t be the tool! -” If they can only do it with you by their side, what is the tool?”  Instead, teach students how to use the tools they have to solve their own problems.  This leads to more coaching opportunities too!
  • Every writer should be asking, “How can I teach/reach my readers?”

As I said, there was so much in this short hour, and there were many videos that are available on through the project that were used in this session.  This time flew by, and I barely made it into my 1st choice session 4!

Session 4: Presenter: Brianna Friedman-Parlitsis  Topic: Lifting the Level of Questioning in Your Read Aloud:  High Level Questioning and Thinking Even in Low Level Texts

Sometimes there is such beauty in simplicity.  This session was also so packed into a tiny, hot room and I had to fight through the door closing in my face to stay in that room!  It was worth it!  It dealt with Depth of Knowledge level questioning in a way that simplified it down and made it so easy to understand the process of creating high level questions!

  • Level 1 DOK questions – questions are specific, look and find, pertain to 1 page only
  • Level 2 DOK questions – Sorting, comparing, go across the text (whole book or multiple pages)
  • You need Level 1 questions to be able to access Level 2 questions if students cannot answer about 1 page, how will they compare across the text
  • Bring in pictures, background knowledge, videos, enhance Level 2 questions by questioning across multiple “texts”
  • In a low-level book (She used bands C & D for some of the demonstrations) you need to use the pictures, structure, concept of the story in order to get beyond Level 1 and 2.
  • “Some books are just about Fruit Salad” funny and true.  At the lowest levels, there may be no questions beyond level 2, AND THAT IS OK!
  • Level 3 Analyze & evaluate – She refers to a book about beaks and asks, what do the birds eat?  use clues, knowledge across subject matter to make determinations about the pictures & text beyond what the text gives you to discuss.
  • Level 3 questions ask students to go beyond the text to make determinations about questions that are not answered directly by the story or pictures.
  • Level 4 questions – design & create!  (referring to the beak book again) design a beak, what would that bird eat?  What features of the beak tell you what the bird eats?  Use those features to design a bird beak that would eat ___.  Great examples of how with a very low-level text, students can create & design
  • Another Level 4 idea, what if we made our own story like this about ____?  How would it go and what would happen?  We need to have knowledge of the story to create a new one in its image
  • Get kids to be the “teacher” and design questions for each other
  • Get kids to ask higher level questions by complimenting the “Super tricky ones”… Every kid wants to come up with the “super tricky one”
  • I loved a video she showed of a girl reading an incredibly low (B/C text) and letting her use an overlay with a thought bubble to read/tell the story.  After each page she had to tell what the child in the non-fiction story was thinking about for their future.  This child could barely read the story, but her insight and concept development was fantastic!

After 4 straight sessions Brianna was energetic and had everyone laughing.  Is it a comment on how overloaded we all were or that we are all as mature as our students that everyone laughed when she made a great “butt” pun after showing a video of how a skunk sprays?  Maybe both, but it was a great end to my 4 lap spring around Teacher’s College!

I wish I could have attended about 30 more sessions!  I hope others will recap what they got from their sessions as well…

I know that my random thoughts do not do these great presentations the justice they deserved, but I am hopeful that they will help inspire others to find out more, share more, and connect those who could not make the day or a session.  If you have questions about my less than complete bullets, I would be happy to expand, but this is all I can manage in one night!

Thanks for reading and also a Thanks to the 4 GREAT presenters who shared so much knowledge with me in those sessions!

Clap for Each Other

ImageThis Saturday I spent my whole day, away from my family so that I could fill my educational bucket.  From the moment I walked into Riverside Church to hear Diane Ravitch ignite the flame that would fuel us through the day, all they way until now, my head is swimming with amazing ideas for practice and sharing!  So where should I begin?  I can think of no better place than to begin with the end.  A closing address from Kathy Collins.  Sadly I missed this speech because the bus we took had a different plan.

Fortunately however, through the power of Twitter I was able to find so many inspirational words.  Those words capped the day for me and brought it all together so I should frame my ideas on the Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion with them:

-Kathy Collins told us that we need to find our people, our fellow teachers, and that we should be encouraging/clapping for one another.  We should be doing this beyond one day, but every day.  Share, laugh, cry, create, explore, learn and build a better world with your fellow teachers, administrators, and staff members.

-Remember that your students are children.  It is not enough to get students to “the next level”, but to help children become great people.  Too often we forget that these students in our classroom are so much more.  As educators we say “know the students in your class” but I think we need to do more than that.  Knowing students means we know their academic tendencies.  Instead we need to “know the children in our class”.  Knowing the children means we understand their interests, struggles, and what drives them.  This year I have known my students very well, but I did not feel like I started to know my children until much later in the year.  I feel that now, and I see a difference in my class!

-Finally, and perhaps my favorite message of the entire day, “The universal pleasure of being a teacher is seeing kids and the lovely, crazy, funny things they do.”  In every possible way this defines the attitude of great teachers.  While sometimes we laugh, cry or complain about all of the outrageous things that happen within the four walls of our classrooms, would you rather be anywhere else?  There is no more exhilarating moment than closing the door and losing yourself in the process that helps children grow.  Children are precious, remarkable, and amazing.  Every teacher lives for those moments where your students get it.  That “ah ha” moment, even when rare, is enough to sustain you on any day.

From the end, now to the beginning.  Diane Ravitch set the stage for a great day of learning.  Diane has been one of the most outspoken defenders of public education.  She is incredibly intelligent and well read on the topic.  While I do not subscribe to every single thing she says, I do love a number of her messages.  My first tweet from the conference was echoed by nearly a dozen other people.  “I have yet to meet the child who learned to read because his school was closed.”  We are the first, and in many cases, last line of defense between children and a life of isolation, poverty, and emptiness.  While that may seem to be a major responsibility (and it is), we,  educators, are that important.  We must band together collectively, work together and build a better education for children.  Our schools are not perfect, but schools are never perfect.  They cannot be fixed, they cannot be reformed.  They are ever-changing, evolving, institutions.  The concept of reform is what has allowed things to get stagnant and cause many of the concerns that people have about school.  Much of those concerns are glorified for the benefit of others, but regardless, we as educators should be coming together, collaborating, and enhancing education for all of our students, and for students to come.  Finally, while schools continue to experience instability and chaos, we need to create stability and routine for students to grow.  There is a difference however from stability and being stagnant.  A school can offer stability, routine, and safety for students without eliminating the desire to take risks, introduce new things, and embrace constant self-reflective practices to effect change.

Well over 3,000 educators packed into the halls of Columbia University on a beautiful Saturday.  I met people in sessions from as far away as Virginia, and read tweets from people attending that came from as far away as Maine!  The dedication of these educators is a testament to how amazing teachers are, and how much they care about their craft.  This was not something anyone was paid to attend, and the college offered it to us for free!  Thousands of teachers, young and old, running up and down stairs, cramming the occasional snack as they crammed as much knowledge as they could to bring back with them.  How many people who are not teachers would volunteer their time, give up a Saturday with their families (this was the first day I did not see my child awake in her whole 18 month life) to enhance their ability at work.  I salute the members of my profession.  I commend those who joined me at the Saturday Reunion.  Like Kathy Collins, I believe I have found “my people” and I have left refilled, rejuvenated, and inspired to help others find their people and then make sure we are all clapping for each other.  We deserve it!


My thoughts from each Saturday Reunion Session I was fortunate enough to attend will be upcoming!  Way too much info to share in one post.

Switching Blog Sites

I have just transferred over my blog to WordPress. I am excited to hopefully start blogging regularly. My last attempt at blogging was frequent in the summer but once the school year started, it trailed off. Hopefully I will be blogging about once a week.
If you are interested in my posts from my previous blog, they are uploaded in the “pages” tab. So many random thoughts from the first time around, some of which I still like as I reread, other thoughts I will likely update when I have nothing burning my mind to share!
I hope, whether you like it or not, it sparks some thought or debate for you all.
Thanks for reading!