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Embracing New Ideas

I guess you might say I continue to compile a book pile of ideas which I dip in and out of each week according to the needs of my students. In some ways, my professional book pile feels alive and responsive to where this group of students is today.

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Books on the Blog: Everything I Never Told You

by Sharon Williams

everything i never told you.jpgEach year I teach a historical fiction reading unit in the reading workshop format. Students are offered 14 titles to choose from and are paired with other students who pick the same title. When our grade level team of LA teachers first began teaching this unit, we had a limited number of novels from which our students could choose. Past practice found the LA teachers spending time combing through internet searches for historical fiction novels to add to our repertoire.

Last year, upon finishing our unit, I encouraged my students to do a bit of searching on their own to find a historical fiction novel to use for their independent reading and to report back to me any titles they found to be outstanding. I had a few students take me up on this challenge, and I have spent some time reading their recommendations over the past few months. One novel that a student had deemed a worthy read was Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Read more

Tool of the Trade: Technology as Teacher’s Pet

by Rita Sorrentino

How would you respond to the following poll?imgres.jpg

  • Were you ever considered a teacher’s pet in your K-12 learning years?
  • As a teacher, were you ever criticized for favoring a particular student over others?

Recently, on a late-afternoon ride to center-city Philadelphia via Market-Frankford Line, I overheard two adolescent girls commiserating about their day: a boring class, too much homework, unfair dress codes, and the existence of a teacher’s pet in a certain class. The first three complaints did not surprise me, but I was curious about the latter. With rubrics and standards for assignments, behavior and competencies, I would have thought the term “teacher’s pet” was no longer front and center in a repertoire of these students’ pet peeves.

Undoubtedly, both teachers and students face a plethora of pressures in their daily interactions with curriculum content, expectations, evaluations and communication. For the most part, policies and procedures are in place to support a healthy teaching and learning environment. However, preparation and planning make great demands on teachers’ time. Schoolwork, homework, and extracurricular activities often leave students with little time for relaxation and socialization. Fortunately, in today’s educational landscape, both teachers and students have access to apps and web tools to help make teaching and learning more manageable and meaningful.

Practical Ed Tech

Richard Byrne is one of my favorite go-to persons for all things edtech. In addition to Free Technology for Teachers, he also maintains iPadApps4School.com and PracticalEdTech.com.  Richard Byrne believes that technology has the power to improve student engagement and achievement. It enables teachers to form powerful, global, professional learning communities. Read more

FOR SALE: An Assessable Writing Process

By Pam DeMartino

In the real estate industry, housing is the sellable commodity. People want a house, or an apartment, or a building within which to operate a dream.  Realtors market these living quarters by highlighting the square footage, updated amenities, and location, location, location. Buyers will also be told when the structure was built, but curiously, not how the structure was built. Documentation of the building process remains buried amidst the title documents because it is the dwelling – the finished construct – that possesses the tradable worth.

As I listened to my colleague’s discourse during one of our department meetings, I realized that we, as secondary educators, are increasingly taking part in this type of real estate market with regard to student writing.  We devote time and attention only to the final pieces of student writing: the polished or publishable draft.  It is that typed and neatly stapled paper that carries the tradable worth in our departments; only the end of the building process garners our assessment. Rubrics and scoring guides separate organization, focus, details and other discrete aspects of the finished paper, failing in all respects to give recognition to the building of the literary publication. Read more

Teacher to Teacher: Mining Your Writer’s Notebook

By Lynne R. Dorfman

According to Ayres and Shubitz (2010, 101), “Writer’s notebooks are the open-arms that pull students into writing.” They talk about the value of reflecting on everyday living and ordinary moments. Every human being is a story teller. Each day we wake up with a brand-new page to write on. It is a page in the story of our lives, making our day-to-day experiences important and worth writing about. Fletcher (2001, 26) says that most professionals consider a writer’s notebook as essential to their writing process. For us, it is a place where we can write and share pieces of our writing with our students so they can see us as writers, too.  For our students, it is a place where they can engage in risk taking since notebook entries are not graded. As we guide students to return to their notebooks as often as possible, we are helping them to lead a writerly life and establish their unique writer’s identity.

The value in a writer’s notebook is not simply writing in it every day or nearly every day. The true value of a notebook is to be able to return to it whenever you like, for myriad purposes. To mine a notebook, you probably should keep one for at least three weeks or so. Try writing in it to record observations, make lists, try out memory chains, hand maps, heart maps, and neighborhood maps. Create snapshots with words of people, places, and objects. Read more

Approaches to Argument in an Era of Alternative Facts

by Tricia Ebarvia

Given the state of today’s political discourse and the complex challenges presented by social media sharing (and over sharing), it’s more important now than ever for teachers to take an active role in helping students navigating the information and misinformation they encounter every day. At this point, many of us might be already familiar with the Stanford study published a few months ago that found that many students cannot discern the difference between stories that are real and those that are not. As the Washington Post reported, “Some 82% of middle-schoolers couldn’t distinguish between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a real news story on a website.”

And it isn’t just students either. Even well-educated adults fall for fake news stories. Just this morning, on my Facebook feed, a friend posted a news story that turned out to be false (someone in the comments had done a fact check). Unfortunately, too often fake news sites have become adept at posing as legitimate sources. Now, when I see a news story from an unfamiliar source, the first thing I do is try to determine where it’s coming from. As literacy teachers, we can no longer just teach our students the traditional Rs of reading and writing. We need to also teach our students about third R—Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the study of persuasion, and today, there are plenty of individuals, friends, family, interest groups, politicians, corporations, and any number of organizations trying to persuade our students—to buy this, believe that, do this, don’t do that. Information that seems purely objective can be interpreted (or manipulated) in the service of persuasion. Even the youngest students can (and should) be taught to analyze text to look for biases. Just a few weeks ago, my six-year-old came home and told me about how his class was learning the difference between fact and opinion. Of course, teachers have always done this work, but the times seem to call for more. So how? How can we teach our students be critical thinkers, especially of information that might feed into our own biases?  Read more