22 February 2015

Snow Day Reads

A snowy whirlwind two weeks since my last Sunday Salon post and it's been full of both online reading as well as two more books in my book a week journey. Since we've had a Kentucky snow storm (the most snow the state has seen in over 15 years), there's been plenty of time to curl up with books and my iPad to read. Naturally, keeping up with friends on social media has also been a fun way to know what's happening around the state and nation. My friend, Robin, captured this beautiful photo earlier in the week on her way to work. Fortunately for me, I work from home, so there was no need to venture out onto the treacherous roads. A foot of snow may not be much for places like Boston where they are also experiencing record amounts of snow, but for Kentucky, 12-18 inches of snow almost completely shuts things down. Both the public school system and the University of Kentucky cancelled classes this week.

Photo by Robin Hebert. Christianburg, Kentucky Winter 2015
As I've blogged about previously, we ended up in Kentucky because my husband wanted to study at the University of Kentucky where so many literary greats were and continue to be. This article by Lexington's Eric Sutherland highlights some of the literary expertise in our area.

Karen Schubert from Meet the Press offers a brilliant conversation with poet and editor of Accents Publishing, Katerina Stoykova-Klemer. I first met Katerina when she and I served on the Advisory Board for the Kentucky Women Writers Conference together. She's an amazing writer and woman.

Horse jockey Isaac Murphy was celebrated this week on a Lexington blog. If you don't know about Murphy, check out the poetry of Frank X. Walker to learn more.

Leadership & Work
Leadership continues to be on my mind. In 10 Negative Results of Believing People are Incapable I learned some valuable advice for working with people. When people appear to possess a lack of passion or a desire to push beyond the status quo, I'm frustrated with them and begin believing they are incapable of doing their jobs. This article reminded me that some of my behaviors fall into the category where I'll end up with negative results--things like acting with impatience and avoiding conversations. Yep. I'm guilty of those things with individuals who I want to change. Fortunately, the article offers me valuable reminders.

I'm interested not only in leadership, but women in leadership. A friend sent me this piece from Harvard Business Review about how Women Directors Change Boards. Fascinating.

I owe my parents the credit for teaching me about possessing a strong work ethic. They modeled this for me, and I've always been a hard worker. This article Worst Advice Ever? "Work Smarter, Not Harder" caught my attention because I've been hearing people offer this advice for the past few years, and I wondered what it was all about since a strong work ethic was drilled into me from birth. The author of the article, also smart and working on a PhD learned the hard way during his graduate work that to succeed he needed to work both smart and hard. Watching my husband, a very intelligent man, endure years of graduate work, I often thought he took the "work smarter" pathway.

One of my favorite print magazines, Cake & Whiskey, arrived in the mail today, so naturally I read it and also enjoyed their new launch of online content as well on their Sip & Slice blog.

Non-Traditional Schooling

Several school districts in Kentucky are experimenting with non-traditional school days when it snows. I start to cringe when I hear they are "doing packets," and I hope the packets are thoughtful and meaningful assignments requiring students to think, do, and learn, not merely complete busy work. A post by Kentucky teacher, Joe Harris, was encouraging since he highlights using Google Apps to connect with students and to encourage them to write creatively.

A school in Sierra Leone also uses non-traditional schooling since students have been unable to attend school in person due to the Ebola outbreak that ravaged the nation. Students tune into the radio to hear their lessons.

For a healthier approach to the school day, some schools are experimenting with standing classrooms. I know my son would enjoy anything that keeps him from sitting all day. Indeed, many schools fail boys by insisting that they sit so still. A Washington Post article earlier this week brought conversation via Twitter amongst a few of us who feel strongly about this topic.

My place of employment is hosting a huge innovation summit this week, and in preparation for that one of my colleagues blogged about the topics featured at the summit, including alternative school models. Read more here.

This post titled Innovation and Improvement Takes a Sustained Push by Tom Vander Ark explores the importance of school superintendents lengthening their stay in districts if progress around innovation is to be made.

Teacher Features
A teacher of deaf and hard of hearing children, Heidi Givens, shared her thoughts about education in this reflective blog post.

National Board Certified Teacher, Sherri McPherson reflected on why she became a NBCT.

It made my day to read this op-ed by Bob Rothamn on the Hechinger Report because I know and work with two of the teachers quoted. Fantastic teachers doing excellent work.

When a Philadelphia columnist wrote a scathing op-ed about why teachers shouldn't get snow days, a passionate teacher offered this rebuttal.

A short Youtube clip titled How the School to Prison Pipleline Ruins Lives Before they Start is worth your time if you care about inequities in our education system.

Literacy expert, Dr. Timothy Shannahan wrote this terrific piece about the importance of teaching content, not just reading. Again, here's another topic I've blogged about because it upsets me to see children offered such a limited curriculum, and it further upsets me that high level district officials demand this approach.

One of my favorite teacher bloggers is Lillie Marshall. She always includes terrific photos, witty commentary, and insightful travel tips. Check out her photos of the record 6 feet of snow in Boston.


The tenth of February brought the fourteenth birthday of my oldest son, so I revisited my blog post from last year where I shared how Ethan taught me to appreciate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Teachers leading schools continues to be a personal topic of interest to me. Read about how districts are beginning to turn to teachers to lead.

Teaching with digital tools explains the importance of re-thinking the way we teach writing in our schools. In fact, I used this article from 2011 in my own recent blog post on the same topic.

With writing (and writing instruction) on my mind, I also enjoyed this post about creative writing in the time of Common Core.

Being cooped up in the house had us experimenting with recipes. We enjoyed this delicious guacamole recipe and chuckled at the accompanying story.

Always a fan of poetry, I and others around the USA were sad to learn of the death of poet Phillip Levine. He wrote about the working class and his poetry, the hardships and worthiness of manual labor.

Something I've never understood in schools are those walls filled with test scores and rankings of students; it's always infuriated me. Kathleen Jasper articulates this same frustration well in her post titled Shaming Students One Wall at a Time.

When my son brought home his first little tokens printed on a 3-D printer, we thought it was cool, but when I read about 3-D printers being used to make prosthetic hands, the innovative possibilities became more clear and important. Imagine the possibilities in our schools if kids can help do something real with their 3-D prints!

15 February 2015

Students Should Create, Compose & Connect Digitally

In the past several weeks I have had the great fortune of working with dozens of teachers, both current teachers and pre-service teachers. Our conversations have revolved around digital literacy and the need to have our students not just consuming media but creating, composing, and connecting. I've heard a wide-range of enthusiasm for the possibilities, a genuine concern regarding access issues, and uninformed complaints about why it's impossible.

It just so happens that my book a week took me to Troy Hicks and Jeremy Hyler's book Create Compose Connect: Researching, Writing, and Learning with Digital Tools. What I enjoyed most about this book was the journey described throughout. Starting with Hyler's admission to previously being part of the "cell phone brigade," a focus on being intentional and purposeful emerged as a common thread.

An effective tool for making decisions about writing technology in the classroom is what Hicks calls a MAPS heuristic. Throughout the text, Hyler uses this tool to consider the various digital writing tasks his students create.
Visit the Wiki book accompaniment for more fabulous resources

The book includes practical advice, strategies, and tools as well as connections to the Common Core State Standards with each chapter providing a different focus. My personal favorite was chapter 4 titled Reading Our World, Writing Our Future. The mere title intrigued me, and those of you who know how much I enjoy nonfiction won't be surprised to learn this particular chapter was focused on reading and writing informational texts. Hyler wants "students to understand that informational texts can function in different ways, for different audiences and purposes (61)."

Hyler upgraded the ever popular Article of the Week assignment from Kelly Gallagher to be completed digitally, allowing for more interactivity with the article and collaborative discussion. The chapter also explores students creating book trailers and comic strips with digital tools such as YouTube, Animoto, and WeVideo. Finally, Hyler discusses his thoughts on reading logs, again emphasizing the importance of purpose and intentionality. He wants homework to be meaningful and reading to be enjoyable outside of class, not homework to be dreaded.

Indeed, reading and writing should not be dreaded but rather embraced, and when we move beyond the same five paragraph essay written with pencil on paper in every subject with little meaning and little writing about reading, we open the doors for our students to understand creative processes and writing for the future. In the opening paragraph of a 2011 Education Week article by Liana Heitin, the author begins with statements about how writing has shifted in recent years and then asks why most schools still rely on paper and pencil methods. She quotes Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the director of national programs and site development for the National Writing Project, saying "school are in catch-up mode."

I contend that in most schools we can move beyond catch-up mode with careful and thoughtful planning and with the use of devices available to teachers and students. Clearly, this takes administrators who support Bring Your Own Device options and districts who support students using wi-fi bandwidth (Two of the recent concerns I've heard from practicing teachers). Teachers who have shared their principal's issues with digital writing claim they are required to write five paragraph essays with paper and pencils because it will "help improve scores on standardized writing assessments."

Heitin's article as well as Hicks and Hyler's book address this concern arguing that technology can enhance writing and learning without sacrificing the fundamentals. Further, Heitin reduces the complaint about test preparation by reminding us "digital writing and standardized test preparation are not at odds. Both require that students know the fundamentals. Digital writing, by showing students how writing can be used, often enhances the drive to learn the basics."

In fact, a desire for students to learn and be engaged drove Jeremy Hyler past the point of his place with the "cell phone brigade" and onto a journey to determine exactly what caused his students to be distracted and disengaged. "I had to figure out how to connect with them, make my lessons more meaningful, and engage them in the types of literacy practices that they were using outside of school (1)." He claims this isn't just about the digital devices but about engaging students in meaningful learning that keeps students coming to school and learning what they need to know for success in life. And, isn't that exactly why most of us got into careers in education in the first place?

08 February 2015

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online January 26 - February 08

My work week on January 26th began with a trip to Denver, Colorado. Coincidentally, The New York Times published this article titled What to do in Denver the week before my trip. Though I didn't get to take in all the sites suggested in the video, I did enjoy a couple of meals at local venues. My colleague and I enjoyed lunch at Earle's before a meeting downtown at the Colorado Education Initiative, and we were treated to dinner downtown that same evening. The following day we worked all day with teachers who were analyzing student work and planning revisions to their common assignment units before heading out to the infamous Steuben's (one featured on Diners, Dives, & Drive-Thrus) for dinner.
Morning walk in North Denver

Students in Northern Kentucky took their desire to be makers into their own hands and created this makerspace.

Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world--read about a film exploring this truth.
Pressure for high-stakes standardized tests is apparently ruining creativity in China. Read more here.

"It's now more important than ever to teach students to think and speak critically" says Terry Roberts in this article.

Visions for Shared Leadership from district administrator Mike Stacey are encouraging.

In education (and other field) we are inundated with big data. In this article we are reminded of the importance of human perspective when we analyze data--yes!

Book review for The Test features a school right here in Kentucky using more performance based assessments to measure student learning.

Science teacher, Patrick Goff, writes about re-thinking the way we do science fairs, and I love this idea as a parent and as an educator.

We had the opportunity to see Jack Andraka live last weekend. If you've never heard him, I'd suggest listening to his dynamic TED TALK.


For inspiration to stay active, read about the American man who ran 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days.

As we approached the anniversary the 70th anniversary of prisoners being liberated from Auschwitz,  hear and read a survivor's story here.

Female Militants published a manifesto about it being acceptable for girls as young as age 9 to be forced into marriage. How is this possibly right?

For weeks now, I've been following the story of Raif Badawi, and was pleased to hear his flogging was once again postponed, and I keep hoping for his freedom.

Remember the nearly 300 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped? They are still not free. Here's a reminder.

A story about girls from Chibok who escaped and are now returning to school, defying the militants.

Madame CEO, Get Me a Coffee articulates some of the gender bias woman still endure in the workplace.

A story about Bob Dylan's speech at the Grammy's was a fun read as was this article about the intersection between art and literature.

8 New Jobs People Will have in 2025 was intriguing.

A delightful Google Doodle on the birthday of poet Langston Hughes.

06 February 2015

Raising the Voices of Teachers and Students

When I left the public high school classroom six years ago last month, I made a promise to myself to keep in touch with teachers and students and to advocate for their voices to be heard more frequently.  After all, a consistent lack of respect for teachers as professionals, a constant demand to practice for tests, and the lack of time for my family were three of the reasons I grew weary and needed a change from my role as a high school English and Arts & Humanities teacher.

In my blog post about why I left the classroom, I referenced the way I thought often about being back in the classroom because previously I knew no better way to impact education than by teaching students myself. Through the support of mentors and colleagues, I have shifted my understanding in recent months to consider how I can impact public education from outside the classroom by elevating teachers' voices, and one of the ways I do this is through blogging and through encouraging teachers to blog.

In November of 2014 Teaching Channel invited me to blog for them on the topic of teacher leadership. What I enjoyed most about that post were the anecdotal stories and quotes by fellow educators from around the USA. You can read the full post here.

In Kentucky, our movement around teacher leadership continues to grow as teachers throughout the state step forward and let their voices be heard. In preparation for an Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teachers and Teaching (ECET2) event hosted by the organization for which I work, I wrote a blog post explaining why we support teacher leadership as an organization. You can read that post in its entirety here.

Truly, there is no better time to be supporting teachers as professionals. By working together with classroom teachers we can change the experiences for all the students in our state and our country.

25 January 2015

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online January 12 - January 25

My bi-weekly Sunday Salon post is extra full this time of my favorite online readings. Let me know your favorites!


Technology & Innovation

Learn about next steps for Google Glass by reading Google Glass Leaving X Research Lab.

Impact International posted Top 5 Favourite TED Talks to get you thinking & they include Dan Pallotta who is coming to Kentucky in February. I first heard Dan on NPR several years ago, and was blown away about his take on how we should be raising money for charity. Makes so much sense. Listen to him & see him in person by attending Innovate: Educate in Louisville February 25th.

The Cruel Waste of America's Tech Talent is an op-ed in The New York Times that explains a sad situation of immigrant youth who have extreme talent yet are denied funding to attend college because their parents came to America illegally. Truly, a waste of talent to deny youth an opportunity to improve themselves and their situation because of decisions their parents made.

Two issues of importance to me (equity and technology) are captured in this news article titled Sheryl Sandburg Joins Global Women Leaders in Tech to Demand Gender Equality.

NASA Will Pay you $18,000 to Stay in Bed for 70 Straight Days caught my curiosity, not because I would ever do this but because it's interesting to read about how they explore what happens to the human body when muscles atrophy.

As I was preparing for teaching a class again at the University of Kentucky, this Youtube video caught my attention because it's just one more reminder for why we need to re-invent how we teach writing in our schools.

No More Worksheets--once again one of those topics all my readers know that gets me going. Seriously, we need more engaging learning opportunities for students in our schools. Most worksheets are low level thinking, wastes of paper, and busy work not suitable in our classrooms.


Business & Non-profit

Having worked in state government and local government (as a public school teacher) most of my professional career, I was surprised when I read this Harvard Business Review article about What Business Can Learn From Government with specific examples in the article coming from Louisville, Kentucky. More often than not, I've heard businesses complain about the ineffectiveness and inefficiency and nonsensical rules we often see in government.

Now that I work for a nonprofit, I have thrown myself full into exploring and learning more about the nonprofit world. Granted, I have previous experience as a board member on nonprofits, but now I'm seeing more from the other side as an employee. The Nonprofit Technology Network posted this article titled Engage, Inform, Recruit: How Nonprofits Can Use Social Media to Recruit Donors and Volunteers. Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a huge fan of social media for learning and networking purposes, so thinking about how it best serves organizations fascinates me.

A friend shared this Harvard Business Review article with me via Twitter. We Still Don't Know the Difference Between Change and Transformation by Ron Ashkenas.

I continue to be surprised by the number of people in the education, nonprofit and business worlds who question the use of social media to connect with students and other educators, or to advance a cause, establish a brand or connect with consumers, customers, or clients. Thankfully, there are people such as Marji Sherman who dedicate their work to showing us Why Social Media Deserves Respect

Hiking & Climbing

For a couple of weeks, I used social media and online news access to follow two hikers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson, as they climbed El Captain's Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park. Their perseverance, diligence, determination, passion, and drive inspire me. One of the articles I read quoted the hikers as they reached the summit and explained how they hope to serve as an example to Open People's Minds.

And because my closest English teacher friends know how much I love the novel Moby Dick, here's another article about the climb. My favorite part about this article are the literary references to Melville and Hemingway.

A Backpacker Magazine article shared tips about how to train for a thru-hike from Appalachian Trail thru-hike record holder, Jennifer Pharr Davis. Last year, I read her memoir about setting the record.



Another New York Times article that caught my attention was an interview with Judith Butler about what's wrong with saying 'All Lives Matter'.

International humanitarian issues speak to me, and it's not uncommon for me to obsess over specific stories knowing full well for all the stories that recieve media attention there are many more that go unnoticed in our world. The story of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi sentenced to 1000 lashes and ten years in prison continues to bother me because of the violence and inhumane acts of torture against a human being. This article explores Badawi's writing and ideas.

This Map showing 16 states with more people in prisons than in college housing was disturbing to me.

Melinda Gates Wants Women at the Top of the World Aid Agenda also provides input on this topic of gender equality.

The 2015 Annual Gates Letter also highlights equal access to education and technology for women and girls. Previously, I also have written for Cake and Whiskey Magazine and blogged about education for girls and women around the world.

Writing & Creativity

29 Ways to Stay Creative by Vicki Davis is a short video reminding us of specific ways we can continue to express our creative side.

Over the past couple of years I've read this particular blog post multiple times. If You Teach or Write a 5-Paragraph Essay--Stop It! gets people fired up, and rightly so. Seriously, are we training kids to write formulas or are we teaching them to be writers in an ever changing world? Who in real-life writes 5-paragraph essays anyway?

Since I enjoy writing and have made it a goal to work on my writing more and more with greater intentionality this year,  I found this article about writing as therapy also intriguing and wonder about the use of writing for therapy in our schools as well. Why is writing in our schools often relegated to formulaic, 5 paragraph essays to practice for the state assessment? That's enough to make someone blue.

The Benefits of a Lunch Hour Walk had me thinking about the benefits of keeping kids active in our schools too. Often, kids are required to sit all day and only get active after or before school. You can read my take on keeping kids active here.

As an optimist I try to keep focused on the positive, and sometimes I, too, need a little reminder about how to Turn a Negative Conversation Around. You may have previously read my blog post about dealing with naysayers and the inspiration for that post came from the children's book The Grouchy Ladybug. 


Teachers as leaders

Now, we're talking...a topic of great passion for me is teachers as leaders, so I was thrilled to read this article about School Districts Turning to Teachers to Lead.

Friends and family know my commitment as a parent to be involved in my sons' schools and to be an advocate for my two boys at every turn. This article suggesting teachers keep in touch with parents was a great read. I long for closer relationships with my sons' teachers because I believe together we can provide what they need. Believe me, when I believe in what's happening, I'm the biggest advocate for my sons' teachers too because I understand my children aren't perfect.

A Country Where Teachers Have a Voice by Sarah Butrymowicz explores how teachers in the Netherlands have time and increased teacher autonomy--something we need more of here in America.

I ended my week writing an article on The Fund for Transforming Education in Kentucky's blog about why our organization supports teacher leaders.  This is something to which I remain steadfastly committed.

18 January 2015

Getting Teens Up & Moving: A Vocabulary Activity Involving Movement

In my first year of teaching an especially hyper-active sixteen year old student taught me the importance of promoting movement in my high school English classroom. Andre (not his real name) had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that included requirements for moving, standing, and generally expending energy. Andre and I developed non-verbal cues signaling to me his need to be out of his seat and moving about the classroom. Andre also taught me that he wasn't the only one who needed to be active because a 90 minute English class + a 90 minute science class + a 90 minute history class + a 90 minute elective often meant active teenagers spent more time in a day sitting than moving unless as teachers we designed lessons involving more movement.

Now, with my own very active son consistently complaining of how little he gets to move in his academic classes, I'm once again remembering Andre and reflecting on activities I used in an academic classroom to get my students moving. Here's one of my favorites.

Let's Move: A Vocabulary Activity

1) Identify 10-20 words (approximately one word or phrase for each two students) or phrases associated with the major concept or theme in a text you are preparing to read together and write each word on a different index card.
2) Provide students the title of the text and the list of words previously identified. 
3) Organize students in pairs or small groups and ask them to predict what the text they will read is about (based on the title and list of words). This gives provides a chance to activate students' prior knowledge.
4) Have each student in the group choose one of the index cards containing a word they want to explore in more depth. Instruct them write their own idea of the word's definition on the back of the card. Then have them consult a dictionary (on their phones or a paper dictionary) to verify the accuracy of their definition. (This is an important step because they will be sharing their words/definitions with others).
5) Have students stand up and move around the room to find a person with a word different from the one on their cards. When they find their first partner, students will discuss the word, definition, and thoughts about how they think the word will be used in the text they are preparing to read. After sharing words with the first partner, ask them to move again and find a second partner.
6) Have students find a second partner with a word different from their original word and different from the word of their first partner. With the second partner, share and discuss words, definitions, and possible uses for the word in the text they will read.
7) Have students find a third partner and repeat the routine.

Note:  I was a big promoter of timers and music in the classroom. Both were signals when it was time to move to the next station or connect with the next partner.

By the time the vocabulary activity ends, students should have been exposed to four brand new words or phrases they will encounter when they read the selected text.  While some might say, "that's only four new words," I contend that it's better for students to learn and understand four new words well than to have a long list of words they memorize for a weekly vocabulary test and then forget. While reading the selected text, students can think about the different words they discussed with their partners and how the words appear in the text. They can also reflect on the conversation about the words to enhance their understanding of the text.

After reading, students can synthesize their understanding of the text as well as their learning of new words with the writing of a single summary sentence. While I never had access to individual devices and had to ask students to write on paper, I can imagine (from my GAFE Summit experience) the technology tools that would allow students to submit these summary sentences electronically.

This vocabulary activity is only one of many that I used to ensure students were active in my academic classroom, so maybe I'll share others in the coming weeks, but really, I'm curious about the activities you use to ensure students are active during the school day. Will you share your ideas below in the comments, please?

11 January 2015

Sunday Salon: What I Read Online January 1 January 11

December brought a break in my Sunday Salon series, but I'm back now to share a sampling of what I've read online the past couple of weeks. Since starting this curated bi-weekly post, numerous individuals have contacted me to share what they like best about what I've been reading, and they've also been sharing their own reading lists with me--making this an ideal learning/sharing opportunity.


Teachers Know Best: Teacher's Views on Professional Development from Impatient Optimists

13 Digital Strategies for Teacher Collaboration.

Hiking and Adventure

100 Years of the Christmas Truce. Longing for a New Narrative on the Public History Weekly site.

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