Friday, March 28, 2014

Free Access. . .If You Don't Count Your Time

Close Reading,
Common Core Writers Workshop,
and Free eBooks

My Life in Squares
(Photo: Mary Ann Olsen)
             Still trying to shed the guilt from not having blogged last week. Wish I could say I had escaped to some place beachy and warm. Instead, I have been busy with my latest passion project which seems like it is taking forever. With each self-imposed deadline not achieved, I am reminded how difficult it is to cost base average between have-to's and want-to's. Isn't 21st century living all about cost base averaging our time? If we lose so much time with one activity we can leverage out another activity/activities in order to make up for the loss. Is time our most precious asset? How we use our time is becoming more and more like contemplating and strategizing the $22.47 stored away, safe, in the piggy bank back when you were eight years old.  The rub of course is that now there is little time for contemplation.

            So, I will quickly get to the point. A lot of good stuff has passed over my computer screen in the last few weeks. If you are a follower of my Pinterest boards you will know I favor free -- and in fact probably have only two paid items pinned (not counting recommended books:) out of 14,000 pins. Today's post is based entirely on quality information you can get FREE.

             Within the last few months, Heinemann Publishing began their marketing campaign for Lucy Calkin's new writing Units of Study K-8 . These were written for grade level Common Core writing workshop curriculum. To promote these units, free grade level samplers were created. I passed the links on to several friends in California but decided maybe I could request FREE sampler units shipped to my home rather than having to print them all off--to save time, right. Done! Easy-Peasy! Since my current passion project has little to do with writing, I have been doing my best to ignore this enticing cardboard box consisting of 9 books of Lucy K-8 treasures. I couldn't help but peak and yes, they are amazing and all are averaging about a 100+ pages. The actual workshop units must be fabulous, and certainly worth the price of under $180.00 per grade level set. That being said, you can glean a lot by just using the sampler. Meanwhile, if you are in a coaching, professional development, or administrative role you need all grade levels of the FREE sampler units. FYI: Lucy is currently working on the high school curriculum. For additional free samplers from Heinemann authors click here.

             Over the last few months, more and more FREE webinars are being held. It is completely dependent upon you gaining access to the right websites. This past week, P. David Pearson from Cal Berkeley did a webinar on Close Reading for the Developmental Studies Center. It is now posted on YouTube. Pearson spoke on 1) Where close reading came from and where it is headed, 2) What does text-based and text dependent really mean, and 3) Do we have to forget everything we have learned about prior knowledge? You might feel like you are back in the college classroom, but Professor Pearson makes some very good points and uses a great demo activity for modeling thinking. The PowerPoint presentation is available here.

                  "We can amplify each kid's natural inclination to dream,
                  we can inculcate passion in a new generation, and
                  we can give kids the tools to learn more, and faster,
                  in a way that's never been seen before." ~  Seth Godin

Translation: GIVE kids the tools to learn while we [teachers] motivate and cheer-lead them on.

             I still order a fair amount of books each month. I know I am retired. . .I just can't seem to break the habit. All my favorite authors, just keep pumping out new great books. Earlier this week, I downloaded a FREE book I have had on my computer for a month or so: Stop Stealing Dreams: What is school for? by Seth Godin.  Honestly, I don't know too much about Seth Godin, but as I read this book I kept having J Lo moments--lots of goosies. This is very, very powerful stuff concerning the technology implications of traditional schooling and where we are headed. This book had the same effect on me as Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat. I can't stop thinking about it and keep wondering where have I been? Of course I understand, its hard to see when you are standing right in the middle of something. This is why you need to read this book.

             I had no idea we were so close to a complete paradigm change. Folks, this is so much bigger than the curriculum Common Core is suggesting and the political polarizing effect it is having around the country. The students are way ahead of the teachers in technology and will be for quite some time. How this all plays out is going to be very interesting. By the way, Godin provides a very great rationale for flipping your classroom.

Finally, here's a few more FREE eBooks:       
Preparing Students for Work in the 21st Century by Rob Mancabelli and Will Richardson
Mobile Learning by Jackie Gerstein
Focus by Leo Babauta
Time Management for Writers by Thursday Bram
The Writer’s Manifesto by Jeff Goins

       Hopefully you are comfy and have grabbed yourself a cup of coffee with a bit of time to play around with some of these links. If not, stop back by when you can. Have yourself a great week and especially a very Happy Saturday.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pinkston Middle School's Literacy Fair...Now that's a Celebration!

         Growing into Life Long Reading

"The man who does not read great books 
is no better than the man who can’t."
Mark Twain
Allow me to introduce the super stars of today's blog

Jennifer Drewry and Karyn Jones
English Teachers
Pinkston Middle School  ~  Mountain Home, Arkansas

               It's no coincidence that today's blog connects to my last one about motivating readers with the hope of ultimately creating life-long readers. Yesterday, I was one of several who judged student entries for Pinkston Middle School's annual Literacy Fair.  Displays were created by all 7th grade Pre-AP students and any other 7th grade English student who wished to participate. The result: 80 dazzling entries. 

               I interviewed Karyn Jones and Jennifer Drewry, the two teachers responsible for this magnificent literacy celebration. Karyn and Jen have also generously agreed to respond to any questions you might have--which I bet might include a request for a copy of judging forms, etc. (Isn't sharing what we teachers do so well!) You will find their emails at the end of this blog.

              This was my second time judging, so I felt like I had a better handle on what I was looking at and listening to when the students presented their books. In addition to creating a tri-fold display for their choice of  book (and genre selection) students were required to design and present:

 A Creative Display

·          a creative display based upon salient aspects of the book
·          a well written summary of the book
·          an interactive, age-appropriate literary activity to create an interest in the text
·          an interactive, age-appropriate content area activity to create an interest in the text
·          a well-researched component to include bibliographic references

A Polished Oral Presentation

·        a succinct summary of their book
·         direct eye-contact and professionally appropriate body language
·         demonstrations of their interactive activities
·         answering of any clarifying questions from the judges 
Because of our stretched thin time tables, the interview was short but I know you will enjoy hearing these ladies' thoughts on this assignment which improves from each year's tweaks and additions. Along with the interview there is a pictorial celebration of some of these remarkable achievements by their students. If you haven't already, please grab a cup of coffee, get comfy, and enjoy.

The Interview

      Saturday Morning: Is this a cumulative, end-of-the-year project? If yes, what do you expect the students to have under control by the end of Feb? Would you list all the skills needed to complete this project.

Jennifer and Karyn: I would say it is a cumulative activity. The students are required to complete 6 creative book projects, with 2 projects being completed in each of the first 3 quarters of the school year. We provide 2 project options and students have the choice of which they prefer to tackle first. Along with the project each student is required to complete a book assessment form that focuses on language arts topics being taught in the classroom. By the end of February, students should have presentation skills, basic research skills, and a strong knowledge of identifying writer’s craft.   

     Saturday Morning: You had mentioned you had added a research piece this year. Can you talk a little bit about this?

Jennifer and Karyn:  With each year, we have identified the need to challenge students at different levels in order to prepare them for 21st Century. One of the areas that we identified for this year is the need to increase student ability to conduct effective research. Although this piece is challenging for students this age, it is a great introduction allowing them to grapple with the steps involving research. Adding the research piece strengthens the educational value and ties into Common Core.

Saturday Morning: What are the pro’s to this project? Cons?

Jennifer and Karyn:  The benefits are that students gain knowledge on how to analyze literature for multiple curriculum connections. They get to the see the value of the book, not just for enjoyment and entertainment, but also for those teachable moments. Students are able to reach the highest levels of Bloom’s by evaluating, analyzing, and synthesizing information presented in their novel.  Students' natural tendency to procrastinate is a deterring factor.  Some students struggle with correctly creating quality activities and overall presentations due to their lack of experience. However each student shows pride in their accomplishments when they complete the project. 

           Saturday Morning:  What do the students take with them in terms of learning?

Jennifer and Karyn: Participants of the Literacy Fair take away the ability to not only understand the content at hand but also the value of the social experience. Students must present themselves in a manner that is appropriate for the professional field; they are learning and practicing interviewing skills, speaking, listening, eye contact, composure, and the overall aspect of having an educational conversation with others.

     Saturday Morning:  What are you most proud of in terms of this assignment?

Jennifer and Karyn: The most fulfilling aspect for us, the teachers, is the pride that each student projects through the displaying and presenting of their projects. They begin to understand and experience the intrinsic reward of a job well done.

      Saturday Morning:  How do you equalize the opportunity for students who do not have family assistance and support?

Jennifer and Karyn: Our student body has a vast array of parent involvement, for those students that do not have access to technology or access to the materials needed to complete the project, we provide it for them. By the time this project comes around we have built that student/teacher relationship to a point where we know our students’ needs.  We provide all students with access to computers at any time they need them, as well as attending computer lab once a week.  Many of our lower income and/or struggling students are also in a study skills class where they can use that time for research or printing information. Each year we recycle project boards in order for students to have if needed, and every teacher keeps a set of art materials in the classroom for student use. Other faculty and staff are very helpful in meeting EVERY student's needs.

The Student Creations

               The projects were amazing. Two things struck me even more than the technical artistry of the boards and the students' incredible creativity.  Every student was articulate and able to present their project with ease and to demonstrate their interactive activities with such professionalism and pride. In most cases I left them with one final question: How would you rate your book on a scale of 1-10? Their faces brightened by at least three shades, eyes sparkled, and without hesitation most said "At least a 12!" Do I think Jennifer and Karyn have created life-long readers? It certainly looks promising. How did Jennifer and Karyn feel about this year's Literacy Fair? Once all the students had left the gym for lunch, they were huddled together, already plotting new ways to make this wonderful learning experience even stronger for next year's students. They came up with some really great ideas, but my lips are sealed.  You'll have to wait til next year :)

               As always, thanks for hanging out with me for a few minutes. Enjoy your week and especially, have a very happy Saturday.

P.S. If you have any questions for this assignment, don't hesitate.  Please feel free to email me at or email Jennifer or Karen directly. Their emails are or